I know this will sound a little strange given my usual reading choices, but I’m a fan of Stephen King. He writes in a way that’s so easy to read, it’s as if he’s communicating telepathically. I love that. I also admire his success, and I approve of his obvious respect for writing, for reading, for books, and for his fellow authors. I think he understands the many relationships between them. He certainly understands the important effect of a book’s physical properties on the reader. He says,
Books have weight and texture; they make a pleasant presence in the hand. Nothing smells as good as a new book, especially if you get your nose right down in the binding, where you can still catch an acrid tang of the glue. The only thing close is the peppery smell of an old one. The odor of an old book is the odor of history, and for me, the look of a new one is still the look of the future.
I hope to meet Stephen King someday, in real life. I already met him in a dream once. It was back when I was in college, before I considered myself a fan. In my dream, I was mowing the lawn and then I went through the bulkhead door into the basement, and there he was with some people that I took to be his family. He told me that if I ever wanted to be a writer, he would help. Years later, when his On Writing book came out, it had a bulkhead door on the cover. I thought (and still think) that was an interesting coincidence. Sure, the symbolism is obvious, but I grew up in a house on a slab, so bulkheads were almost completely foreign to me.
King’s name came up in the news earlier this year. While promoting literacy, he said, “The fact is if you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don’t, then you’ve got the Army, Iraq, I don’t know, something like that.”
A lot of people took this as an insult to our troops, but that’s faulty reasoning. If I say, “That person is a girl. Her name is Pamela,” it does not follow that all girls are named Pamela. To infer from King’s comment that everyone in the army can’t read is the same kind of faulty reasoning. Some nonreaders may have no choice but to join the army, but that doesn’t mean that every person in the Army is incapable of reading. What he said was simply that your job options are more limited if you can’t read, and that’s true. If you can’t read, you can’t be a teacher or a doctor or president of the United States. That’s just the way it is.
People in the limelight risk controversy every time they open their mouths. No matter how carefully they phrase things, someone will find a way to be offended. I just hope that King is able to let this kind of stuff roll off his back, because his success as an author makes him an ideal literacy advocate, and we need him to keep fighting the good fight.