Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book snobbery or intelligence? Maybe a bit of both?

I recently agreed to a deal with one of the members of my book club to delve into a book we haven't read that we felt the other person should read.  I chose "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger for her and she chose "The Shining" for me, by Stephen King. 

Today, I began my adventure into Stephen King.  I sat down on my comfy couch with nothing going on at all except for the book.  Television was off.  Music was off.  Phone was off.  Complete silence.  Let's really get submersed into this one and give it a fair shot.  After the first few sentences, I already wanted to give up.  Thankfully, there was a quote by Edgar Allan Poe before I begun.  Very good.  But, on to 'The Shining' by Stephen King...

Poor dialogue.  Short sentences creating false suspense.  Listen.  Learn. Grow.  Be.

I kind of felt like laughing at the work because I felt it was written for someone who didn't actually read books.  Kind of like training wheels on a bicycle.  I know this sounds sort of elitist, but this is how I felt.  I promised myself I would at least get through the first chapter, and I did. 

But I learned some valuable lessons:
  • Obvious one - I don't like Stephen King. 
  • The way I read is different now.  Years of reading the classics have maybe not taught me what good literature is (though, I have some ideas here), but it has definitely taught me what it is not.  As a child, I read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and loved it.  I explored.  I imagined.  I generally felt some sort of growth.  I would hypothesize that if I were to read the book again, I may laugh as I did with my Stephen King experience today.
I battled myself in my thought process here.  Am I a book snob?  Could this actually be construed as a good thing?  I suppose that the answer to these questions, like all of life, is strongly based on perception. 

Is a gourmet food critic a snob?  What about someone who likes the symphony and not Britney Spears?  I suppose that the answer to these questions, like all of life, is strongly based on perception. 

I wonder if any of you have gone through your lives reading, not noticing that you're subconsciously evolving your pallet (see how I stuck with that metaphor? :) to literature until some inciting event teaches you - wow, I have really grown here.  Would love to hear some stories.

LATE DISCLAIMER: I don't apologize for my views on this work and Stephen King's writing style, but I do apologize if you really enjoy his work and this post offends you.  Different strokes for different folks, and we should all be accepting of this.


Teacher/Learner said...

Oh dear, that's too bad you didn't like The Shining. Not to be defensive, but I wouldn't write off Stephen King too quickly--it is possible to love both classics & King (I do!), even though he's a "popular" writer (whatever that suggests). I should point out that The Shining is written the way you described deliberately (and only in parts) as the young boy, Danny, is the main character, much like Room by Emma Donoghue is written from Jack's POV. If I may suggest something, and if you were willing to try him again, I would recommend Carrie. It's one of his sharpest books.

Eclectic Indulgence said...

We will respectively have to disagree. I've read plenty of books where it's easy to identify specific styles to convey a point. Faulkner is really effective at this and while I think Mark Haddon fell short, 'The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time' was an attempt at this. Nabokov does this beautifully in 'Lolita'.

Dan Brown writes in a certain style, but it's meant to capture attention. My opinions of Stephen King is that he writes for fans of entertainment and not literature, and I doubt I will change my thoughts on this. The Shining had a poor feel - like you feel when guilty about doing something - something in the back of your mind that says... should you REALLY be doing this?

(Parenthetically, I didn't get to the 'Danny' parts - so the juvenile writing style could not be inferred onto a specific character).

Thanks for the recommendation on Carrie. Each Stephen King fan tells me something different about 'the Ultimate Stephen King'. It will be interesting to hear what everyone else thinks as well and see if we get to a consensus.

Eclectic Indulgence said...

Randomly - I remember really liking 'The Client' by John Grisham. I wonder what I would feel about that should I read it again.

John Irving seems to be more of a writer, even though some of his books like 'The Fourth Hand' are pretty horribly done. He has the skills to turn it up a notch - into works like 'The World According to Garp' and 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'. I don't get the feeling that King can 'turn it up a notch.'

Melody said...

I've read a couple of Stephen King, and while I have to agree that it seems he's more interested in the entertainment aspect than achieving a certain quality of writing, I don't think that he is without talent in his writing. He is more of a storyteller than a lover of language perhaps.

Apart from King specifically, I do agree that your 'literature pallet' does develop if you put time into it, just like food/wine. I think it is compounded by personal growth/life circumstances. I used to enjoy suspense and light romance, and now I mostly feel like it's a waste of time...and I think that's partly just because I'm a different person than I used to be, even apart from refined sensibilities. (oooh, that sounded so Jane Austen!)

Teacher/Learner said...

I do agree that style isn't King's strong suit. I would say plot and character is--Misery's Annie Wilkes is a classic villain. I'll give you John Irving--he is a strong writer all around & I love Garp & Meany. I also happened to love Haddon's book--that was a unique style & character. I will sheepishly admit to having not read Faulkner yet--I'm not afraid of him as some claim to be but just haven't gotten around to him. And to me, Dan Brown is much more "populist" (in terms of writing, not sales) a writer than Stephen King, on par with James Patterson with the short chapters and often paper-thin characters. Interestingly, Grisham is also popular but not a bad writer--The Firm remains one of my favourites and I also liked The Client. What King, Patterson, and Grisham all have in common is they've gotten less sharp with the number of books they've published. Whew...sorry for the rambling. I enjoyed the discussion & was glad to have a civil debate :)

Roof Beam Reader said...

Stephen King's The Stand is a much better example of his more literary works, in my opinion. I enjoy King, though, and I also enjoy the Classics. I don't think there necessarily needs to be a "one or the other" on this - for me, it's all about the mood I'm in. If I'm not feeling a book at a particular time, I figure out why and pick something more suited for me in that moment.

Also - Crichton is a much more analytic and scientific writer, so I bet you wouldn't be too disappointed if went back and re-read it now. Although, there would certainly not be flowery, Proustian prose.

Danielle Zappavigna said...

I happen to love SK's work (most of it anyway!), but I like it for what it is, I recognise it's not the best 'literature' around, but I do think it's great storytelling - I guess I can just enjoy it on that particular level. I don't think not liking SK makes you a snob, I agree with you, different strokes for different folks. I think where snobbery comes into play is if you had made intimations about the general intelligence of people who enjoy those books, or made assertions that his books have no value etc etc.

Danielle Zappavigna said...

I know you're going to say thanks but no thanks, but I think his novellas 'The Body' and 'The Shawshank Redemption' are very different kinds of work of his and worth reading.

Agrippina Legit said...

Reading this makes me feel like I should dig out one of my Stephen King novels to see whether I still enjoy them as much as I did when I devoured everything he'd written as a teenager. I suspect I'd still get something out of them. I read a lot of fiction that would never qualify as literature, and enjoy it on a completely different (and pleasantly brain-free) level to the classics. That said, I have a feeling I wouldn't consider him quite the talent that I once did. I'm almost afraid to re-read It, just in case it's completely lost its lustre!

(Also, hi! I stumbled upon your blog a couple of days ago and was thrilled to find someone blogging about the classics in amongst all of the romance and YA blogs.)

Rebecca Chapman said...

I've never read anything by Stephen King but I have always had the idea that people either seem to love him or hate him. It could be that which you are responding to, rather than any book snobbery?

Shannon (Giraffe Days) said...

You are a book snob, but so what? It makes things more interesting!

I had to read The Shining for a class at uni and I didn't like it much - way too verbose and long-winded, utterly boring in parts, and not something I could get lost in (and I didn't like the characters). When you break down the plot, what really happens? Not a lot. And yet it's so looooooong! The movie was marginally better. It was also shorter.

I haven't read much else of King yet, but I did read The Gunslinger which is the first book in the sci-fi/fantasy series he wrote, and it's very surreal (and very short). I'd be really curious to hear what you thought of that one!

But I have a few others of his to read, The Stand and The Running Man, and I still have Bag of Bones from years ago when a mail-order "book club" gave it to me as a bonus book and I never got around to reading it. So I guess I have more King to explore. I wonder how his newer books compare to the older ones?

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Very thoughtful post. Yes, I've reread books I read at a young age and found them trite. It's a sad experience.

I like this week's two Hop questions. The short answers are a million books in the TBR (and anybody who doesn't say the same is either lying or isn't really much of a reader) and everything (I don't have a favorite genre...I love them all!)

I'm joining in Book Beginnings on Friday today for the first time. I'd love to have you stop by and take a look at the first lines from Beautiful & Pointless at my blog, Readerbuzz. I always follow back! I'd also love to have you enter the June Giveaway for Anna and the French Kiss!

Anja K. said...

Finally, someone else who is not a rabid King fan! I know there are some people who swear by him but I just can't get into him (and I read several of his books before I threw in the towel). I don't consider myself a snob at all, as I similarly dislike Charles Dickens, another author some people love dearly and consider a true classic. I have tried and tried to read him over the years and I just can't manage, and I'll read almost anything - "classics" and "popular" alike. There are good and bad books of all genres/writing styles.

I have been reading all my life and my tastes have definitely changed quite a bit since I was young. I have no patience for writing that is not up to par - writing that is clunky, etc. When I was younger I think I was more able to overlook that but now there are so many well-written books out there I'd rather just read one of those and not slog through something that is just not enjoyable to my eye.

Lauren B said...

I say to each his/her own.
I have a Ph.D. in English literature and I adore the classics - Bronte, Austen, Twain etc. but I also enjoy popular literature - including Stephen King (not the Shining though). I also can't stand Catcher in the Rye. I consider it badly written and boring.
I'm not sure that righting off an entire genre because of one bad experience makes one a book snob but it certainly limits one's horizons.
I hope that you will give popular lit in any of its forms another chance.
Happy blogging.

Jon said...

Simple words. Short phrases. Maybe that's why Hollywood was able to make a successful movie out of it.
Stopping by from the Hop.
The Steel Bookshelf

Eclectic Indulgence said...

Lauren B,
I read a lot of popular literature in addition to classics, and there are definitely some gems. That said, the magnitude of books I read to find those gems are generally larger than when I read classics. I guess this is why they are largely referred to as 'classics' - they seem to have a higher probability of being a gem.

BioPeach said...

I love this post because I can relate...people are always trying to make me read Stephen King and I'm always telling them to bug off. I have tried! I tried The Gunslinger. I tried Misery. I tried Insomnia. I didn't finish any of them. I did like The Green Mile though, mainly because I adore the movie and the book added some depth to the story. I also liked his memoir On Writing, but in a feel-good, inspirational way I re-read it later and found it less likable. Kind of corny and too self-conscious.

And I don't think I am book snob. Yes, on occasion I drop Dostoevsky's name like acid, but I do the same thing with Charlaine Harris or Sue Grafton. Both, I feel, are just better writers than King.

I'll give him another try, someday.

Rebecca Reid said...

I can really relate. I haven't read a Stephen King novel (not in to horror) but when I was younger I loved John Grisham and Tom Clancy. Recently I tried to read a Tom Clancy novel (HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, which I loved as a teen) and I just couldn't stand it. I've moved on in my reading preferences, I don't think it snobbery to not like the writing style of a certain author.

That said, there are some light fiction books that I still like reading a lot. I just have to be in the mood or it will irritate me a lot...

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I often feel like a book snob. I never really dare to tell people the truth of what I feel about the books they recommend to me. Brave you.

Here's my attempt to pick my favorite literary device. Also, I'd like to invite you to throw your name into the hat for a $25 Amazon gift certificate in Readerbuzz's July Giveaway!It's international!