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Reading, re-reading and blah-blah-blah - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Reading, re-reading and blah-blah-blah
I'm waiting impatiently for a series I ordered for the library to come in, and am annoyed at myself for initially dismissing it as "too young," just because it had talking kittycats. I mean, I know better than that! Watership Down, anyone? Hell, we even stock those Brian Jacques books, which aren't WD level, but are still of interest. And now I must have my Warrior Cats! :p


I don't get not liking reading. I mean, I get not liking some books, but reading in general? That's like saying you don't like eating because parsnips don't do anything for you. Maybe you're a picky reader/eater, but the process itself isn't to blame for that!

I generally re-read books while commuting (a couple of experiences of ending up several stops past where I meant to get off because I didn't notice the stations passing taught me not to open something I was in that desperate stage on), and after my little diatribe about the King criticism, I decided to re-read The Stand.

The Stand has always been my second favorite King book, after It, but my stand-alone favorite of his worlds. It's very vividly imagined and poignant, and driven by obvious love. I think the only reason that the book itself isn't my favorite is that the nominal heroes, Frannie and Stu, both bore me to tears--but Nick, Larry, Mother Abagail, Harold, Leo, Glen, Nadine, Trashcan Man, even Lloyd... those folks really work for me. I have a particularly warm spot for Glen and Larry, Glen because he's the consummate academic, and Larry because he's so unsure of what he's doing, fumbling around and convinced he's screwing up at every turn. And there's that neat moment when his mother is dying and this petulant voice rises up, complaining about how it's going to screw things up for him, and he feels horribly guilty about it... it's a feeling I think everyone has had from time to time, but it's rare to actually show it, because it's one of the feelings we're all genuinely ashamed of, and therefore we often judge people harshly for admitting it. It was a risk to show it with a "good" character.

This time through, I was looking at Leo Rockway, aka Joe, who becomes Larry's adopted son, and thinking about the scene where he learns to play the guitar--an exact mirror of the scene Alice Underwood describes of Larry himself learning to play. In a real way, Leo is Larry--a Larry who hasn't yet become the perpetual screw-up he sees himself as--and that kind of softens the blow of a spoiler pretty much don't need to warn on for a book that's been out this long.

I also took another look at Harold's last letter, and it definitely doesn't come off as "pathetic," as (I think) Stu later describes it. Harold is a character who understands too late what he's done, but he does finally come to understand it, to realize that it had been his choice to hold onto all that bile, to fuel his resentments instead of becoming someone good and important. The fact that he really could have contributed and had been doing so really comes home, and he realizes what a colossal waste he's made of everything. He takes responsibility. "I was misled" sounds like dodging it, but it really isn't, because he understand that he chose to follow, and acted of his own free will. It's a fairly complex sentiment, and I was always sorry to see it dismissed so easily.

And then there's poor, crazy Trash--used and abused by everything, and--unlike Harold--genuinely not acting of his own free will. The Dark Man seduces him, and God (apparently) uses him as a guided missile. I have to admit, I feel much like Mother Abagail felt when he passed nearby: a lot of pity.

I wish we'd seen more of the dreams that led to people choosing the Dark Man. Trash's was the only one we saw. Lloyd's loyalty was based on concrete actions (though we're told that he, like the other survivors, had always had vivid dreams), but I have to admit, like Dayna Jurgens, I wondered what it was in these people who were drawn away from a clearly good and kind image, toward a violent one. They are not, as is noted several times, monsters. What did they see in their Mother Abagail dreams? What did the Dark Man show them? We get hints--one guy is a policeman who thought Flagg was going to bring order and Mother Abagail chaos--but I'd have still liked to see it. (I can imagine Julie Lawry's dreams--in one, she's a rock star with tons of lovers, and in the other, she's forced to listen to gospel music with "boring" people all day.)

I don't know. Anyone want to talk The Stand?
22 comments or Leave a comment
From: magnolia_mama Date: April 25th, 2006 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't get not liking reading. I mean, I get not liking some books, but reading in general? That's like saying you don't like eating because parsnips don't do anything for you.

This was such a great observation I had to share it with my mother. She, in turn, loved it so much she wants to know if you would mind if she shared it in a newsletter to her customers (she owns a bookstore). You'd be credited, of course, as Fernwithy, or with your real name if you prefer (you can e-mail me at magnolia_mama (at) earthlink (dot) com with your real name if you want to share it, but don't care to broadcast it over the Internet).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 25th, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
FernWithy's fine, and she's welcome to quote it. I don't think I've even been quoted in a newsletter before! :)
From: magnolia_mama Date: April 25th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Excellent! Thanks so much. :-)
ashtur From: ashtur Date: April 25th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the problem is that people don't like the process proper... something about "just sitting there reading a book" is what bugs them. Of course, being a fanatic reader, it's hard for me to be sure, since that's not my problem.

Of course, there's always the issue of those who have trouble reading, and therefore don't want to bother, and would rather be spoonfed by television.
mincot From: mincot Date: April 25th, 2006 03:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes--when I talk to people who don't read, almost inevitably it is because they don't have the vocabulary, or they can't parse a sentence and have it make sense, or they read so slowly that they lose the thread of the story.
polly_locket From: polly_locket Date: April 25th, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Word -- that's exactly what I was about to say. Many of my friends don't understand how I can spend whole days reading, but that's because the process is too much work to be enjoyable.

And there are those weird types who actually enjoy being adventurous to reading about someone else's quests. Bizarre, no? ;)
the_jackalope From: the_jackalope Date: April 25th, 2006 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
So are the warrior cats books worth picking up then? I keep seeing them all over the place and dismiss them for the same reason, which is totally stupid cause I did the same thing to the Bartimous books, and those were fabulous. It's kinda sad though that dismissing books like that is partially necessary because for every really good one out there, there are about 5 really bad ones.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 25th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've only read one of them--the third one in the "New Prophecy" series, Dawn, but it was enough that I'm quite looking forward to reading the others. (I'm told that toward the end of the initial one, events are a little deus ex machina.) I liked the set-up and the cat-characters are engaging, and have real problems (like starvation out in the wild, and being preyed on by an eagle). It's not great literature on the Watership Down level, but it's not totally dopey kidstuff, either. Just a pretty good adventure in a pretty good world. Worth an afternoon or two.
matril From: matril Date: April 25th, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, it's one thing for people who have a valid reading disability - i.e. dyslexia, that makes the mental process of reading difficult and frustrating. But as for those who just don't enjoy it, yeah, I really don't get it either.
austenrowling From: austenrowling Date: April 25th, 2006 03:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Its been over 10 years since I've read The Stand, (though I've watched the miniseries several times since then); its one of my favorites. Though, my favorite King is Bag of Bones.

I agree with ashtur, I believe a lot of people don't like to read because they aren't good readers.
sarah531 From: sarah531 Date: April 25th, 2006 03:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's so weird -I was just thinking about The Stand today. I don't actually own a copy, but I read the one at school all the time- I was thinking today that I really ought to go and buy a copy.

Yeah. Anyway. I love it loads, the world and the characters- I like Stu and Frannie, though. Sometimes I can see what people mean when they say Franne's boring or mean, but as soon as I read the book I completely forget about that.

My favourite character's probably Dayna, though. She's underrated.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 25th, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think Frannie just irks me because she's, like, "I am pregnant-woman, hear me roar!" and then there's not much else going on. Stu, I think I just resent because he survived when Glen and Larry didn't. ;P

Dayna's pretty cool; she probably could have handled more page time than she got. Leo's that way for me--the character who I could have happily read several more chapteres on.
From: underaloggia Date: April 25th, 2006 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Can't comment on The Stand since horror squicks me like little else, but I was interested in the "not liking reading" idea. One of my best friends, an academic like me, is like that. He only *very occasionally* reads for pleasure (HP, for example [grin]), and in all other situations would prefer some other method of relaxation.

I think it has something to do with what they say about learning, but applied to relaxation: some people are visual, some people are aural, etc. My personal favorite form of relaxation involves curling up with a book, but I can totally see his argument that we read *for a living* (applicable to many other professions as well), and that when he finally gets to put his research or grading away for the night, the last thing he wants to do is stare at more words on a page. He'd rather do something active, or blow things up on a computer screen...

So yeah, I think that although there are people who don't like it because they find it hard, there's a whole 'nother group of people who simply aren't drawn to the activity itself, especially as a form of fun...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 25th, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh... I guess I don't even see it as an activity in itself, more as a conduit to an activity--the motions of reading are just there. The real action goes into the imagining part of it, which is very different from book to book!

However, it is sedentary, and I can definitely see wanting to get up and move instead.
ladyaeryn From: ladyaeryn Date: April 25th, 2006 04:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Stand is the only King novel I've yet finished - about halfway through It - and though I'm enjoying both, so far I do think I like The Stand more. The world King's realized in The Stand feels a lot richer and easier for me to imagine myself in (brutal as it is, though I think that's part of the richness) than the one in It, and by and large I find myself invested more in its characters. (Stu and Fran started out okay, but gradually became fairly meh for me - as did Flagg - but I liked nearly everyone else, especially Larry and Nick.) This may be partly due to my finishing TS in just a couple of weeks, whereas I've been reading It irregularly, though.

And there's that neat moment when his mother is dying and this petulant voice rises up, complaining about how it's going to screw things up for him, and he feels horribly guilty about it... it's a feeling I think everyone has had from time to time, but it's rare to actually show it

Agreed, that's why Larry's a favorite of mine as well. Though the moment that sticks out now that really made him real for me was when he finds himself unable to bury Rita, leaving her corpse behind in their tent. He knows burying her is the 'right' thing, but he simply can't bring himself to do it, because it's such a gruesome task. We all want to think we'd be able to do the noble/right thing in that circumstance and give that fellow human being a decent burial instead of rotting out in the open (as Fran was able to do for her dad - that struggle was one of the main moments I did like her character), but how many of us are sure we would actually be able to do it? It wasn't an admirable thing, but it was a brutally human thing. (It's also one of those ugly details that makes the world King created in this book more fully-fleshed for me - no matter how optimistic and strong-willed you may be, a world where 99% of the human race has been wiped out by a plague is not going to be a pretty place, and he doesn't shy away from showing the ugliness.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 25th, 2006 07:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, the world of the stand is a lot richer--it's this huge, grandiose vision. I just like the Losers better than Fran and Stu.

The bit with not burying Rita was excellent as well, and so was the fact that he was so revolted at the thought that he'd been sleeping beside her after she died. Man, that was real.
jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: April 25th, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, me! Me! I'll talk The Stand with you all day! It's been a couple years since I last read it and that was when I read it aloud to the kids. But it's my favorite book and I think I've read it enough over the last twenty-five years to speak with some level of knowledge. :)

I think you & I have, at some point, discussed the fact that Larry Underwood is my favorite literary character. You're right that King risks our opinion of Larry several times by showing him in an unfavorable light and I know that for me, it really cemented his goodness. In his own mind, Larry is admitting his faults - he magnifies them and sees them in the wrong light, but he is willing to admit them, which is better than a lot of us. I know some people think Larry ended the book still at war with himself, but I think he had reconciled his demon and was at peace with his good guy.

And you're SPOT ON about Harold. I always felt exactly the same way about his final letter - it is a complex sentiment and again, very difficult to admit, especially to the people you've wronged. Katie (the daughter you haven't met) seemed to feel that Harold thought the letter was an attempt to 'let himself off the hook' for what he did and I always saw it as the opposite. I think he's blowing the whistle on his own weakness and there's really nothing 'pathetic' about that.

Katie wrote a high school character development essay about Nadine - there's another character with a lot of depth. We had frequent discussions of how her story might have changed if Larry had accepted her when she came to him in Boulder. I do believe, though, that she knew he would turn her down - and that by doing so, she could use that as an excuse to absolve herself of her actions (and further hurt Larry in the process.)

Dang - I wish I didn't have to get back to work! I could have this conversation all day! :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 25th, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're right that King risks our opinion of Larry several times by showing him in an unfavorable light and I know that for me, it really cemented his goodness.

I think that his mother's observation early on about how she sensed that there was great good in him, but she was utterly stymied about how to get it out, really helped. She was also incredibly imperfect, but a very strong character, and I loved the way King drew their relationship, especially the way she went out and bought "every damned thing in the world that he liked." And I loved the fact that he was a rock star, but that was just a fact of life, not the arc of his character development. It was just his job, no more important than Fran's major at college, and less important than Glen's position. I don't know why I like that, except that I like to see performers being actual characters.

I think one of the reasons Larry comes out as good is that the things he's beating himself up about are very, very normal failings, and only a good person would obsess over them to the extent that he does. When I wrote the scene in Shades where Remus eats something transformed that he shouldn't and was agonizing over it, a commenter said, "He really needs to learn that real wolves don't worry so much about what they eat!" and that reminded me of Larry--he's convinced he "ain't no nice guy," but the amount of pain that causes him belies it.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: April 25th, 2006 05:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read The Stand long before it became the mini-series, which I skipped due to pregnancy nightmares (didn't need any fodder for those) when it first came out. I should see if Netflix has it, but historically, my fav novels never make good movies...

The Stand is the only SK I've read besides Carrie. I tried to read The Dead Zone last year, but it annoyed me so much that I put it down after the first chapter and sent it back to the library unfinished.

I liked The Stand when I read it. When the expanded (unedited) version was released, I picked that up and my appreciation for editors exploded. What a horrible novel it started out to be and what a good novel we ended up with!

I loved the whole apocalyptic nature of the book. I never expected SK to produce a work with such transcendent themes, like the nature of God's love and the destruction of His enemies. I thought the book was a perfect example of irony in many places. (This is where we discuss what the reader brings to the work. Most of my friends who read the book thought I was nuts.)

I would have thought that it is a one-time read. It was so compelling the first round that it would be disappointing if I didn't have that same reaction, so I've never gone back. But I think I'll have My Librarian pick it up for me.
lacontessamala From: lacontessamala Date: April 25th, 2006 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think I've probably read The Stand six or seven times since the first time I read it back in the seventh grade, so I could read this discussion all day long.

I found myself in anguish over Harold's foolish refusal to accept the love that people wanted to give him; he chose evil so he would be important to the Dark Man, instead of choosing good and accepting a less visible, but more valuable role with Mother Abigail.

By the way, I'd pay good money to read a ficlette series by your pen about the dreams that wooed different characters over to the Dark Man.
durayan From: durayan Date: April 26th, 2006 04:42 am (UTC) (Link)
My husband is, I would think, a capable reader. He has an undergrad degree in philosophy from Rice University, and a law degree from a top ranked law school. But, oddly enough, he does not read for pleasure. (He has listened to all the HP books on CD, however).

This has always intrigued me, because I have difficulty understanding how you can acquire enough knowledge of the world, of human nature, of *anything*, if you don't read for pleasure.

He explains reading as an "active" pursuit. It's something he does with a specific objective in mind. Reading as a form of entertainment totally escapes him. He simply won't do it. I do know that I read faster than he does.

So I ask him--and we determine this: While he is capable of reading, comprehending and analyzing text (with I don't doubt more focus and greater skills of analysis than I typically do), he does not read at a "speaking pace", nor does he hear any sort of character voice when he reads. I, on the other hand, can hear every character's voice as I read, and I do read that's really quite a bit faster than a speaking pace. I suspect this makes reading a far more pleasurable experience for me. I suspect most of you who do read for pleasure share this trait.
sannalim From: sannalim Date: April 26th, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Total latecomer, and not in the Stephen King discussion at all--

Ever since I finally got around to reading The Wind in the Willows, I have thought that that book is a MUCH better comparison for Redwall than is Watership Down.

That's all.
22 comments or Leave a comment