Top Shelf

When I was about eight years old, I got it into my head I was going to read a grown-up book, so I carried a stool to the bookshelf and pulled Stephen King's "IT" off the top shelf.

It was a 1000+ page monster, and, after dragging it up to my platform bed, I read every single page and understood about half of them (not because the writing was difficult - it was remarkably clear - but some of the ideas were beyond me).

After that, there was no such thing as a grown-up book; there were only interesting ones and boring ones. I moved from "The Hardy Boys" to Ken Follett, Michael Creighton, Wilbur Smith, and Tom Clancy. "The Silmarillion" was a quagmire, but I tore through "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," and "The Chronicles of Narnia" without pause. I wish I'd had a tool like Goodreads back then, because I'd love to know what I thought of them at the time. A friend's father turned me onto the "Discworld" books (thanks, Mr. Cooper), and the military fed me entire lists of recommended reading.

I was on my way back from a wedding, recently, when my plane was delayed by a conscientious pilot and a flat tire (it takes both). Since I had an hour to kill, I picked up "Mr. Mercedes" at an airport kiosk and started going through it (Review here: There were no supernatural elements except a vague sense of fate, but I didn't feel let down like some reviewers. Reading Stephen King as a new writer is a different experience from reading it as an eager kid.

I like to think I appreciate the finesse of his work more. It's no longer the adrenaline rush of a spectator, but the pleasure of seeing a fellow practitioner do something well. I admired the spareness of the prose, the way he maintained the tension of the plot and twisted it whenever it became predictable. I realized on several occasions I was out of my depth and have a LOT to learn, but also noticed some things (alright, two of them) I would have done differently. 

I've come a long way from tracing lines I had a hard time with, my head resting on a giant stuffed lion, but that little thrill of reaching for something that's  beyond me is still there. It's just going to take a little stubbornness, a couple decades, and a whole lot of writing.

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