First things first: I’ve never finished a Stephen King novel. I’ve started a few, but in the end I’ve never really enjoyed the genre enough to submerge myself for hundreds of pages. I’m not trying to be hoity-toity about it (I’ll leave that to Harold Bloom), I”m just letting you know: I’m more or less a neutral observer when it comes to Stephen King. I’m not a fanboy.
But I can see why he’s sold a zillion books! I find his prose compelling, and when I’ve encountered the odd essay or short story, I’ve gotten pulled in. I like reading his introductions to his books, and I like reading his accounts of things that have happened to him. I’ve read his book On Writing twice. I didn’t take too many writerly lessons from it, but for sheer enthusiasm about sitting down and the typewriter and opening a vein, it’s hard to beat.
You learn along the way, even through this cursory reading, that King has deep blue-collar roots and a real decency toward the people around him. He’s wrestled with some demons. But he also seems like a genuinely nice guy. I wouldn’t mind having him as a neighbor, which is not something I’d have thought before reading the book.
And then there’s this gem from the recent Vanity Fair article on the Rushdie fatwa:
There was one more surprise. A few days earlier B. Dalton had announced plans not to sell The Satanic Verses, and Waldenbooks decided to remove it from its shelves. This in turn had prompted a call for readers to boycott the two chains. At the Columns, writers denounced the giant booksellers; yet at the same time, many worried about the impact that a boycott might have on sales of their own books.
Viking’s Nan Graham and Chuck Verrill got an idea. Maybe the king of horror fiction could make this particular horror story turn out right. They reached out to Stephen King. And King called B. Dalton’s chief, Leonard Riggio, the same day. King gave Riggio an ultimatum: “You don’t sell The Satanic Verses, you don’t sell Stephen King.”
B. Dalton carried The Satanic Verses—and sold it by the thousands.
“You can’t let intimidation stop books,” King now says, recalling the episode. “It’s as basic as that. Books are life itself.”
The article is fascinating; you should read the whole thing. A lot of authors behaved decently and courageously. But this little anecdote about King impressed me the most.