The Stand by Stephen King.

I have a confession.  I _didn’t_ read the Stand in the last week.

However, I feel eminently qualified to talk about it here, as I have read it at least 12 times in my lifetime.  You tend to remember a lot about a book when you read it that many times.  Yes, it is a favorite.  I read it for the first time at 12 years old and probably read it last a year or two ago.

Apparently David Foster Wallace and Jennifer Weiner also felt it was worth it.  They listed it in their top ten.  They might have read it 12 or more times too but maybe not.

I was ecstatic that at least one of King’s books made it in this book.  I personally think The Shining should have also been in here, but eh, I wasn’t asked for my top ten.

Today, I will be covering three areas.  My prior debate partners will be thrilled I’m sure at the three areas and my forecasting of them.  First, I will cover The Stand itself and a couple of brief notes on the mini series made from the book.  Secondly, I will cover why I personally feel this is some of the best apocalypse literature out there.  Finally, I will cover people’s misconceptions about Stephen King and people’s close minded views on him and his career.

First thing about The Stand.  It is long.  I don’t think it’s quite as long as Les Miserables, but it might be.  However, it is infinitely easier to read.  There are no sections on The Battle of Waterloo for the sole purpose of using the last two lines to introduce characters.  There are no sections on argot.  King isn’t interested in making long, involved meanderings from the narrative to make comments on poverty.

King covers a few different main characters from start to finish.  King describes the characters, not by description per se, but by narrative involving them.  For instance, Stu, one of the main characters is in a gas station in a small Texas town in the beginning.  King manages to give you more about his character by showing his reaction to a car plowing into a pump than by the description of him.  Larry, another main character, has a hit that climbs the charts (he’s a musician).  King shows his downward spiral as he throws the longest and hugest party in a long time.  King shows his character by describing his walk onto a beach with an acquaintance who wants to give him the hard truth, then his resulting actions, and his arrival back in New York City and his mother.  He describes Fran, by showing her reaction to a pregnancy and a confrontation with her mother.  He describes Harold, a neighbor of Fran’s by the clothes he wears, the language he uses, his actions of resourcefulness.  He describes Nick, a deaf-mute by the beating and resultant jailing and resultant friendship with the sheriff, more than by his descriptive words of him.  This is one of the things I love about King, he may use a lot of words, but in the end you feel you know the characters almost or better than you know yourself.    The story is about what happens when the government accidentally releases a “super-flu” with a 99% transmission rate and a 100% fatality rate.  The flu works by constantly shifting.  Like if you have the influenza virus, your body creates antibodies to fight it.  The super-flu works by constantly shifting antigens, basically the type of flu you have.  King describes the trail of the beginning of transmission, which I always have felt is neat.  He describes different people as they contract it and die from it.   The main characters (of which I only listed a few) all are immune, as you might have guessed.  At the beginning, before they too are infected, the government does try to find a vaccine (because apparently they weren’t smart enough to have developed it to keep themselves safe) by taking people from Stu’s town to isolate them, then figure out why Stu doesn’t have it.  Eventually, all of the people are dead except those that were immune.  King then takes a few pages to describe the people that die from a second wave of events, like a child falling in a well, a woman firing an old gun that backfires and kills her, a man jogging himself to death due to grief.  The next section of the book describes them making their way across the country (the survivors).  They have been having two dreams, one of an old black woman in Nebraska and one of the “dark man” or Randall Flagg.  The black woman represents security, goodness.  The dark man, terror.  They eventually find Abigail Freemantle, a prophet and seer, who says she has dreams to go to Boulder Colorado.  In the panicked days, a rumor had started that the flu was originating from a source in the city.  There was a mass exodus, leaving the city strangely empty.  They settle there, survivors keep trickling in.  They implement a government of sorts.  Then the battle of good versus evil (side of Abigail vs. the side of Flagg) begins.  This is where I will end, in order not to spoil the ending.

I believe this to be one of the great apocalypse stories for a couple of different reasons.  Unlike a nuclear apocalypse, King derived a way to keep the world intact, if empty of people.  King also describes in great detail the things that the survivors do, like canned food, siphoning gas, etc. etc.  I love how he describes both during and after.  I always think apocalypse stories leave too much out.  It’s probably why I like The Walking Dead so much too.  He does have characters die during the story, but it fits in perfectly into the story he weaves.  I can’t think of any other concrete reasons I can put down here.  I have read a lot of apocalypse stories and this one remains my favorite.

Finally, I get tired of people’s misconceptions and refusal of Stephen King.  There are those that refuse to read him since he got away from the bloody horror stuff.  I know, I know, there are probably straight genre readers of horror and King’s genre readers didn’t like where he has gone.  However, if they bothered to read, they would find many of his stories still carry a tone of horror, a tone of the supernatural.  Many people like this stopped reading way before Bag of Bones, one of King’s greatest horror stories in my opinion.  And they refuse to read it.

Then there are those that stopped reading after Gerald’s Game or some other book that they didn’t like.  Um, the man has written around 68 books as of 2013.  I’m sure that anyone that had written that many  (that wasn’t a franchise writer such as Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts who like to put the same character types in a different setting while trying to tell the same story) would have a dud or two.  I’m sure most of those that stopped reading have never written a thing on their own, so a judgment based on one book they didn’t like is asinine.  I personally disliked The Tommyknockers when I read it, and it was published in the mid 80s.  I still disliked it when I reread it in 2012.  However, there are many of those 68 books written since then that I have adored.  Bag of Bones and Duma Key to name just two.  So I urge those of you that gave up on King after one book you disliked to try again.  You might rediscover an author you previously loved.

I also want to address those “literary” types.  King has been criticized his entire career by critics, by other authors and by those readers that read a book because it makes them look intelligent.  Again, the man has written 68 original books (each story is different and unique, not formulaic at all), have any of those people done that?  I think a little bit of it is jealousy.  There seems to be a prejudice against an author that makes a ton of money and sells a lot of books.  Maybe they believe that only books that sell limited copies and make limited amounts are good, as your average reader doesn’t like great works of literary fiction.  King has won a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American letters.  Here is a list of the number of awards King has won since his career began.  It might be time for people to suck it up and read one of his books.

King tells a good story.  That is his main goal.  And that is what he achieves in most of those 68 books.  If you dislike horror, guts and gruesomeness, read his later works.  Some of them are almost not even close to horror.  If you like blood and guts, read the earlier books, then read the rest.

If you want to read what King himself thinks of “literary” types,  read the introduction of Full Dark, No Stars.  Which by the way has some very non horror fiction in it.

Thanks for listening to my rant 🙂  As you can tell, King ranks up there on favorite authors for me.  I grew up with him.  Well he was already an adult of course.  I read my first King novel, Firestarter at 10.  I’ve been reading him since.  I have re-read a lot of his books.  I read them so fast the first time that I want to find the things I missed.  And they are just as good as the first time.  Also, another note, King always, always makes sure his novels are unabridged when put on audio format.  He also reads Bag of Bones himself, which is amazing.  He finds the best audio book narrators.  If you don’t feel like reading one of his books, pick one up and listen.

Ok.  The end.

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Genesis–Part 2

I have divided Genesis into 3 parts.  Though not as long as some books, it does take awhile for me to read sections of the Bible.

I apologize for the lateness of this post.  I present the reasons of Thanksgiving and all night Black Friday shopping.

For a list of which authors listed the Bible as one of their top ten, and why it’s important in the realm of literature, see my original post.  In this blog post I’ll talk about the following:  the story of Abraham and Sarah,  the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the story of Lot and his family, Isaac and Rebecca, and Esau and Jacob.

Abraham was originally called Abram.  Sarah was originally Sarai.  Sarai was barren.  She made Abraham take her maidservant Hagar.    Sarai was very cruel to Hagar, so she ran away.   An angel of God came to Hagar and asked why she was running away, she replied that she was running from Sarai.  The angel told her to return to Sarai and serve her.  He promised her  “I will increase your descendants that they will become too numerous to count.  You are now with child and you will have a son.  You shall name him Ishmael.  for the Lord has heard of your miser.  He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.  And so Islam was born.  Then God came to him “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God”.  Then the covenant of circumcision was born, as God required that as Abram’s end of the covenant.  He pronounced that Abram (99 years old) was to get circumcised, as well as all of the males of his household.  He said any male at eight days old was to be circumcised.  At this point, Ishmael was thirteen.  Arabs, those of Islam faith, consider themselves descendants of Ishmael, so circumcise when the boy is thirteen.  He promised Abram that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky.  At this, Abram wondered, as his wife, Sarai was quite old.  They were both nearing 100.  God promised him though, renaming Sarai, Sarah.  Time passed.  Sarah was still barren.  God told him he would have a son, and name him Isaac.  Sarah laughed upon hearing the repeat of God’s promise by God outside of their tent.  God replied “Why did Sarah laugh and say ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?  Is anything too hard for the Lord?  I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son”.  Then the angels and God were to go to Sodom, to destroy it, as it was completely infested with sin.  Abraham pleaded for Sodom asking if God was to find x amount (he started at fifty and worked down to ten, possibly in an attempt to save his nephew Lot and his household) would he save those people even as he destroyed Sodom.  God replied He would.  He and his angels came into Sodom and the men captured the angels and wanted to do very very bad things to them, the things that often happen in all male prisons nowadays.  Lot pleaded that the men of Sodom (as he had recognized the visitors as God’s angels) to take his (Lot’s) daughters instead, virgins, and that the men could do what they wanted with his daughters.  They then told Lot that they would treat him worse than the angels, as he was an outsider who had moved to Sodom.  The angels told Lot to take his family and flee.  He told his family, but his sons-in-laws (which confuses me and my self study Bible doesn’t explain, if Lot’s daughters were virgins, how did they have husbands?  My only thought can be that they were fiancees who were already called sons-in-laws, or else Lot’s daughters were very special virgins indeed), laughed at him.  The angels grabbed Lot’s hands, those of his wife, and those of his daughters and led them out of the city.  The city was then destroyed.  Lot’s wife, disobeying the angels of the Lord, looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.  Apparently, the southern end of the  Dead Sea, even today, salt formations exist that are reminders of her fate.  Lot and his daughters end up hiding in a cave.  The daughers are scared that their line will die out, so get their father drunk and force him into sexual intercourse.  (Note; this is where the promised incest in the last entry is).  The older bore Moab, the younger Ben-Ammi.  The narrative then goes back to Abraham and Sarah, who are in a foreign land.  Now, Abraham liked to lie and say that his 90 year old attractive wife was his sister.  The ruler became upset with Abraham as Sarah was very desirable and men wanted her, but to lay with Sarah would have been a great offense, since she was Abraham’s wife and not his sister.  (Abraham would say this out of fear for his own life, that she would be desired and he would be killed in order for a man to have her).

Skipping ahead to Isaac and Rebekah.  Abraham on his deathbed, makes his servant promise to go back to his homeland to find Isaac a wife (the Lord had told him to not find one for Isaac in the land they currently lived).  The servant prayed that when he got to the town, the woman meant for Isaac would offer him and his camels water.  Rebekah did.  They went back to her home, and when her father heard, he willingly gave Rebekah.  She was Abraham’s great niece.  She wed Isaac in Sarah’s tent.  Abraham died and left everything to Isaac, but gave the sons of his wives after Sarah died, gifts.  Ishmael’s sons are also named, and the last part of that section says “And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers”.  Rebekah became pregnant with twins, who began fighting even in her womb “The babies jostled each other within her”.  She asks the Lord why is this happening?  This was the response; “Two nations are in your womb and two peoples from within you will be separated;  one people will be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger”  (in direct contradiction of the rules of the time that said the eldest inherits and the younger serves the elder).  The boys come from the womb and Esau is hairy and redhaired from birth.  Jacob, smooth and not redhaired from birth.  When the boys grew, Esau became a skillful hunter, Jacob a quiet man, staying among the tents.  Esau was Isaac’s favorite, Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite.  When Isaac was on his deathbed, he told Esau to go hunt two animals down, fine specimens, and to bring them back for Isaac, and he would bestow his blessing on him.  Rebekah heard this, and conniving little liar that she was, called Jacob to her.  Isaac had gone blind.  She told Jacob to go find two young goats and to slaughter them.  He wondered how Jacob would mistake them as Esau was so hairy and he so smooth.  Rebekah attached goat hides to Jacob’s hands.  Isaac was suspicious when Jacob went to him, but bestowed the blessing anyway; “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.  May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness–an abundance of grain and new wine.  May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers and may the soons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed”.  Jacob leaves.  Esau comes and Isaac is upset, saying that he already gave his blessing to Jacob.  Esau begs for a blessing, even one, from his father.  He gets “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.  You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.  But when you grow restless you will throw his yoke from off your neck”.  Jacob flees to Laban, out of fear of what Esau will do, having been warned by his mother.  Before he goes, Isaac Isaac tells him to not marry a Canaanite woman, but to return to where Rebekah lived, and to take a wife there from the daughers of Laban, Rebekah’s brother.

Jacob goes to Laban.  Laban has two daughters.  Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but she has an older sister, Leah.  After a month there, Laban asks Jacob what he would like his wages to be.  Jacob states that he would work for Laban for seven years, and then would like to marry Rebekah.  Laban tricks Jacob and gives him Leah instead.  The day after the wedding night, Jacob is understandably upset and goes to Laban “What is this you have done to me?  I served you for Rachel, didn’t I?  Why have you deceived me?”.  Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.  Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work”.  Jacob agrees, loving Rebekah like he does.  Laban gives him Rachel right away, after Leah’s wedding week is over.  Leah bears Jacob sons, including Levi, whom the future priests, or Levites descended from.  As well as Judah, who was the ancestor of David and ultimately of Jesus.  Rachel becomes jealous of Leah’s fertility, as she is barren at that point.  She tells Jacob “Give me children, or I’ll die!”  Jacob asks her “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”.  She then gives him Bilhah, her servant, so he can sleep with her to bear children that Rachel can claim.  Leah stops having children so has Jacob lie with Zilpah, her servant.  Leah keeps having children.  Then finally God remembers Rachel; He listens to her and opens her womb.  She names her son Joseph.  Jacob works a deal with Laban to build a herd by taking the spotted and marked goats from his flocks.  Laban, showing his brotherhood to Rebekah, takes all those animals out of his herd and spirits them away.  Jacob begins to have the herd drink from water with branches from poplar, almond and plane trees that he marked with stripes.  The flock that drank from these became spotted.  Jacob eventually flees from Laban, having had his wages changed ten times and having served Laban for twenty years.  Rachel steals Laban’s idols before leaving, showing that she hasn’t quite given up her pagan ways.  Laban chases down Jacob, demanding why he felt the need to steal from him.  Jacob is confused and tells Laban to search the tents, and if he finds the idols, Jacob will kill the person that has them.  Rachel, showing that family’s deceptive streak (Jacob does too), puts them under her saddle.  She tells her father she has her period so cannot climb down.  He believes her and idols are never found.  And this is where I leave you in the narrative.

Faith standpoint:  For me, all these stories are important.  Even before Jesus comes and saves us, all these people in Genesis were making big mistakes.  The Ten Commandments weren’t around yet, but they lied, mated with their daughters (though the daughters were more to blame than the father in this endeavour), they did not trust in God (Sarai and Hagar).  Oh!  Forgot the story of Abraham and Isaac.  God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham, though of course he didn’t want to murder his promised descendant for a sacrifice, obeys.  God intervenes at the last moment, telling Abraham that because of his faithfulness, He is sparing Isaac.  This isn’t something done wrong, but rather right, but since I forgot that story wanted to get it in there.  This sacrifice, this instant, predicts the future sacrifice of God’s own son, Jesus.  Also, back after Adam & Eve are cast from Eden, God makes it pretty clear that He intends for women to become of one flesh with their husbands, thereby dictating that a man should have only one wife.  Obviously, from above, you can see that they didn’t exactly listen to that.  They were fornicating everywhere.  Also, there is doubt of God’s promise, when Sarah laughs at God’s promise.  Anyway, it’s a hopeful thing to me, that all throughout the Bible, there are people messing up, and God still considering them as His.  There are times when it hits me, how much of a sinner I am.  I think this is important to understanding the grace of God and Jesus’s death.  It always bugs me when I go to a church where there is no confession of your sins (in Protestant churches, this takes place as a group confession, with the belief that you can go directly to God with your personal sins instead of the confessional).  I don’t like churches that only focus on grace, that make you believe and feel that you are perfect once you are “born again”, as the death of Christ only promises that you will continue to be forgiven, but that you still want to endeavour to lead a godly life.  I dislike churches that _only_ focus on God’s love.  I believe that one can’t truly appreciate the complete grace and understand it, without understanding the complete miserableness that sin makes us.  /end rant.  Also, for me, there is the beginnings of the promise of Christ that help me to understand the eventual events leading up to that sacrifice.

Literary standpoint:  The stories are fascinating to me.  I mean, you have conflict everywhere, you have people fighting, lying, fornicating.  It’s a very engaging read, even with the brevity of each story and the lack of detail as to how the sand got in their eyes and their hair, etc etc.  Also, I think it was Wally Lamb, in “This Much I know is True” (if I have misnamed the title, forgive me) who reference Jacob and Esau.  I find references all the time to the above stories in both classic and current literature.   With the amount I read, I see it all a lot.  I’m sure Dave can also attest to the recurrent themes that began from day 1.  There is a story coming up in the last part of Genesis that I can directly correlate to a classic novel, but I will leave you in suspense until next time to find that out.

Tune in next time to hear about sibling rivalry, selling your siblings into slavery, dream prophecies, and of course the famed multi colored coat.

Grimms Fairy Tales Continued

I know, technically today is supposed to be Dave’s book, but as I was unable to complete my task of reading the fairy tales last week, I am continuing for this week.

So, last week, I know I promised to tell you the tales that Disney didn’t want you to know, but there were really no other Disney tales left, only Rapunzel was left.  As some of you may know, a few years ago the movie Tangled came out, which was a retelling of the Rapunzel story.  The woman that kept Rapunzel locked up was painted as a  selfish, vain woman who wickedly keeps Rapunzel to herself, lying etc etc.  In the original, Rapunzel’s parents are not kings and queens as in Tangled, but just simple folk.  They live next door to a witch, who grows a garden behind her wall.  The pregnant woman, gazing into the garden, sees rapunzel (a type of plant) and desires and craves it so much and will die without it.  Her husband sneaks in and steals some.  The wife eats it and then craves it again.  When the husband sneaks back in to steal more, the witch catches him.  She agrees to give him the rapunzel but only if she can have the child if it’s a girl.  It is a girl, the witch takes her, and to keep her safe from the world puts her in the tower.  Years pass, and a prince going by hears her singing (Rapunzel not the witch) and figures out how to climb her hair.  They fall in love and he comes in the night since the witch comes during the day.  Here’s where the story has a couple of different versions before Disney changed it more…in one, Rapunzel complains about her dress getting tight and the witch realizes she is pregnant.  In the other, she says something one day about how the prince gets up there so quick and the witch so slow.  The witch then casts her out to wander the world, and cuts her hair.  She lures the prince up and shoves him out the window, where he pokes out his eyes with brambles and is blind.  Then Rapunzel & he find one another and her tears give his sight back and she had twins during the interim.  Cue the happily live ever after.

I think it is interesting how stories do change over the years, as evidenced by the cleaning up of the too tight dress to the remark about climbing speed.  In Grimms, many stories have same elements, some having the same character with similiar events, but still fairly different.  I assume it’s because over the years different regions developed the same story different.  I like to imagine someone moving from one village or town to another, then telling the tale and as the decades pass the tale changes, thereby creating two very different tales.
Three of the major types I found as I read through them were the animal ones, where animals were all the main characters or where the animals are the ones that save the hero or heroine (the human is often kind to an animal and then later given a heroic quest that must be achieved to either win the princess or to keep their life) and the animal returns to assist.  These ones also follow into the next subset, the hero quest stories, which the hero, usually some young guy who doesn’t want to be at home anymore, wanders off, and hearing of a task a king has set for anyone to achieve and marry his daughter, goes and takes the task.  They complete the task, but the king actually doesn’t want said commoner to marry his precious daughter so continues to give tasks.  The clever lad completes all and wins the girl.  There are also the ones where the girl is the clever one.  Another set is the one where one girl or one boy is unselfish and giving and because of that gains untold riches and gifts.   Their sister, friend, brother, father or mother are not unselfish and attempt to obtain the same riches, only to be killed, forced to have frogs fall out of their mouth every word they say or their eyes pecked out (the Germans must have been very afraid of eyes being pecked out).  There was also the religious category where tales sprang up around the apostles, God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  They were often morality tales.

As I was reading through, I often felt like I was listening to someone tell a tale.  Like getting a whiff of old campfire smoke or old fireplace smoke, I seemed to get a whiff of the old times, where there was no tv and these tales were the tv of the night.  Or the tv of the day while people did their work.  That right there made it worth my time to read them all, I felt a sense of history.  However, they are also entertaining.

I read my two favorites from when I was little, that I had forgotten until I read them again.  One is Rose Red and Snow White, in which two beautiful daughters of a simple woman are close as close can be.  There is such a playful humor to the tale that I think that is partly what captivated me as a child.  I still loved it when I reread it.  The other one was Six Swans (which I could find nowhere to link to for it), which shows a youngest sister of 6 brothers sacrificing her voice and her ability to defend herself for six years, until such a time as she was about to be burnt alive and the years ended and she was able to defend herself.  It is a lyrical almost haunting tale to me.  I recommend if you have a copy of them look this one up.

I would definitely recommend to anyone reading this, irregardless of whether they have children or not.  But these also would make a great gift for a young child, girl or boy above the age of 6 (it’s not illustrated so with whatever reading skill they are at).

Starting in on eleven and a half years of books…

My friend Kim was talking to me the other day. She had picked up The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books edited by J. Peder Zane and she had an idea.

Apparently, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books compiles lists of what a ton of various authors (Barry Hannah, Francine Prose, Ben Marcus, Emma Donoghue, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and many others) consider to be the ten best books of all time. They even compile various lists out of the lists. Books and books and books.

So, Kim came up with the idea that it would be fun to start a book blog (this) and go through book by book, reviewing each as we went. I was game, so that’s what we are doing.

Now, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books lists a total of 544 total books. The intro claims that if you read one a week it would take you eleven and a half years to finish. Seeing as that was about the rate we were planning (trading off), we suddenly had a clever name for the blog.

I should mention, we may not do each and every book. We might not keep this up for eleven and a half years, and may not stick to our planned schedule exactly. Some of the books on the lists aren’t even books (such as references to the entire work of an author or an entire form of their work). As it is right now, I’ve already read about 167 of these (not counting partials for the vague references mentioned a second ago) and may not want to always revisit. I also currently refuse to read any more Henry James.

We also might wander around a bit. We might talk about some of the authors who gave their opinions and how their work has influenced us as opposed to the books they talk about. We might even talk about totally different books. Really, we might do just about anything we want. However, it will likely all be (or mostly be) book related.

As such, feel free to follow along. Our opinions are just our opinions, but we have some great books to talk about.