I’m reading my first Stephen King novel, 11/22/63. With my holiday gift certificate “burning a hole” in my sequined backpack, I biked to Antigone Books today as soon I found out they were open. After years of avoiding King’s scary stuff, “11/22/63” was different.
Fifteen years ago, when I owned OZ Children’s Bookstore in Southwest Harbor, Maine, King lived in Bangor (still does), an hour’s drive down the road. Kids would come in the store looking for “Carrie” or “The Shining,” and we would try to point them to less horrific tales.
I finally wrote to King, commending him for major contributions to pediatric wings in Maine hospitals, his unending support of little league baseball fields, and other civic-minded ventures. But I said I couldn’t, in good conscience, sell his books to kids. They could check them out of the library; I didn’t support censorship.
King wrote back, sending a signed copy of “The Eyes of the Dragon.” His then 13-year-old daughter was too scared to read his books too, he said, and he wrote the fantasy for her. We sold the hell out of it.
One election year, King, a loyal Democrat, recorded one of those robo-calls that I hate. But I didn’t complain because he was so cheerful, ending the message with “Go Red Sox.”
When my niece, now in her early 40s, attended college in New York, King’s son was a fellow student. He would go through the dorms announcing that his dad was sending their private plane to pick him up for vacation; anybody who needed a “ride” home to Maine was welcome.
Lately, King has been contributing/raising money for low-income Mainers whose heating costs have skyrocketed while state assistance has been drastically cut. My favorite story about the Kings’ generosity goes back some years to the Bangor Public Library’s fundraising campaign for major expansion. King’s wife, Tabitha, gave about $1.8 million to the effort.
Her comment: I don’t consider this a donation; I consider it a debt repaid. Anyone who loved to read as a way of surviving those long, frigid Maine winters can appreciate her sentiment.
Stephen King and I are around the same age. We were teens when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, a horrific event in our history. I’ve only read the first 50 pages of “11/22/63,” when the protagonist high-school English teacher first returns to 1958. What might have been if the Kennedy assassination had been thwarted? Would there have been a Vietnam war?
An alternative history? Where will King go with this, not his typical horror story? The only one of his books I have read was “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” which was terrific. We share a love of politics, a hope for a more compassionate United States.
And these days, it’s American politics that’s a horror story.