My Month with Stephen King

So this has been a long time coming.

Last month (October 2015) I embarked on a mission; a crazed, stress-inducing, pointless mission. One I did not have to put myself through. One that there was literally no stress in doing, but I still managed to work myself up in a frenzy over completing it. Such a weird thing for my anxiety to make me obsessed with.

I decided to read five Stephen King novels in a single month.

Look, we could easily analyze the reason behind why I thought reading this amount of books in such a short time (while managing a full time job and an active social life) was a good idea, or the reason why I became so obsessed with meeting deadlines and putting so much pressure on myself to get it done – but that’s a discussion for another day, really.

In short, despite stressing myself to the brink, I don’t regret taking the opportunity to read more King. Up till last month, the only two King books I’d successfully finished were On Writing and The Green Mile. Not an impressive list, I know. I’ve been looking for a chance to read more of his work, and I thought – October leading up to Halloween and all – this would be perfect.

And I did it. I successfully finished all five books in under a month, then watched the film adaptations of each of them (though I didn’t get to watching two of the films until last week). This left me stumped. What could I do with this sudden intake of King knowledge? Well, first off, write a poem. Duh.

But then I figured, hey, I’ve got this blog. Maybe I can talk a bit about the experience. That sounded kind of boring and like a thing not many people would want to read, so I went ahead and did it anyway because obviously I haven’t stressed myself out enough yet.

Fair warning: spoilers galore ahead. If you have not read/seen The Shining, Misery, Salem’s Lot, Carrie, or Pet Semetary and would like to avoid all spoilers, you should probably stop reading now.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

The Shining

Pre-reading predictions: I’ve seen the film version, but it’s been about eight years since my last viewing. That being said, The Shining is such a classic and has been spoofed so many times before by film/television, so it’s kind of impossible to forget what the film’s about. Of course, I’ve heard the book is different in many ways, but I’m assuming the “man-takes-family-to-deserted-hotel-for-winter-and-gets-a-little-murdery” plot is probably still present.


Post-reading opinions:

I definitely chose a good one to start with. The Shining had a slow start, but picked up rather quickly as the book progressed. There’s some insanely (pun intended) good writing in this novel. I especially like how it switches perspectives between the three (four if you count Dick) characters featured.

The tension throughout the book was great, but it lacked a lot of the scary imagery I vividly remember from the film (what the crap are these hedge animals??). A creepy read, to be sure, but honestly not that scary? When looking at “Top Scary Stephen King Books” lists online, this one usually takes the cake. Perhaps I wasn’t scared of it because I’ve seen the film before, so I knew what to expect? There were definitely some “on-the-edge-of-my-seat” moments, but nothing that made me throw the book down or need to go turn on another light (or hide the book in my freezer).

Speaking of the movie…


Let’s throw the film into the mix:

So, I’m pretty sure I spent 90% of this film pointing out to Stephen the differences between the book and film (sorry Meads). There certainly are a lot of differences, but both mediums are still pretty terrific. The film very visual; the book intricate.

The movie is filled with all these shocking images (old woman in bathtub, blood gushing out of elevator, murdered twins, frozen Jack, etc. etc.) and is beautifully shot, while the book spends a lot more time developing characters, looking into their pasts, and examining what all’s going on inside their heads.

For this, I found I liked the book so much more. In the film, Jack’s descent into madness is so… so… instant. It just happens right off the bat. In the book, you get to actually experience his descent, watching as his mind slowly slips more and more into the control of the hotel (I also like the book’s strong focus on how the hotel is actually alive and controlling everyone/everything). I’m more in favor of book-Wendy as well, who isn’t quite as passive and definitely not as vulnerable as she is in the film. I also prefer Tony in the book – with him being inside Danny’s head, that is – though I understand why they had to change that aspect to make it work better for film.

Basically? Classic, beautiful movie, but I found the book had so much needed depth to it.


Pre-reading predictions: Another film I’ve already seen. I really like the (original) film a lot, but know very little about the book – besides that it was King’s first success. I can’t imagine it’ll be too different though?


Post-reading opinions:

I’m starting to see a trend of young people having supernatural abilities in King’s books.

Much like The Shining, Carrie had a pretty slow start but, again, it picked up quickly (very quickly in this case, since this book was so short). This one was pretty much almost exactly what I remember from watching the movie – except for the big fire at the end and the way Carrie (and her mother) die.

That being said, much like Shining, we got a lot more in depth character analysis and backstory. I loved getting to read about Carrie slowly discovering her powers and experimenting with them, and really enjoyed how, simultaneous with the story, we get these snippets from future books / interviews / trail transcripts from people who were at the “Carrie White attack.” It was a great, insightful storytelling technique.

Also like The Shining, this one didn’t really scare me. Again, probably because I’m so familiar with the film. I did feel very unsettled during a few parts though, like when the girl’s are brutally picking on Carrie at the start and right before the pig’s blood falls.

Also: Tommy was so nice in the book. SO NICE. I felt horrible once he died.


Let’s throw the film into the mix:

Stephen and I ended up watching both the original and the 2013 film, one right after the other.

The original is best (no duh), but the newer film does contain moments the first movie left out (but also elaborated and added in moments that were in neither predecessor). I do prefer the entire cast from the first film acting-wise; although, it was nice to see that in the newer Carrie they made an effort to cast actual teenagers (or people who at least looked like high schoolers). Not to mention the filming techniques in the first film are so much better. CGI doesn’t hold a candle sometimes.

For me, the book and original film are pretty much on par. While a handful of differences between the two exist, both are gripping, eerie tales that basically go hand-in-hand.

I was, however, pretty bummed that the version we watched of the 2013 Carrie didn’t have this ending.

Pet Sematary

Pre-reading predictions: Finally! A book I haven’t seen the film adaptation of and know nothing about! I mean, deducing from the different edition covers and the book’s title, I can predict that there is a cat and a pet sematary (spelled that way for some reason?).

My guess? Zombie cat goes crazy and kills everyone.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got… I really hope that’s not the actual premise of this book.


Post-reading opinions:

First off, like the previous books, this one had a slow start. Slower in fact. I didn’t feel myself really getting into this one until about one hundred or so pages in. I kept forgetting character names and found myself not caring at all until I was well into the read.

Second off, this is – without a doubt – my favorite King book of the month.

I kind of wish I hadn’t read King’s introduction to Pet Sematary. As I said, I had no idea what to expect, so I could have gone into the read completely blind. I ended up reading the intro though, in which King talks about playing with all the “What If?”s of his family’s personal experiences that inspired this book. I was able to do a lot of guesswork and figure a couple things out before they even happened. While there were still plenty of surprises and shock moments, it would have been nice to have had even less things spoiled.

Anyway, after getting over the initial lack of caring at the start, I ended up caring a lot about all these characters – specifically the Creed family. It really is a heartbreaking story, watching the crumble of this ordinary, happy family.

Pet Sematary was the first book to actually scare me… kind of. I mean, I was never truly terrified, but there were definitely moments where I was on the edge of my seat gripping the book and storming through the words while holding my breath. I also dealt with some deep, gut-wrenching nausea at points. This book speaks a lot about death anxiety, which is something I have dealt with for several years now (although, unlike Rachel, I didn’t witness the horrifying death of my sister, so there’s that).

Plus there was just something eerie about the whole book. It’s weird, but this one felt so much more grounded in realism than the previous two. Maybe it’s because in the other two, right off the bat, we have a child (Danny) and a teenager (Carrie) who show obvious traits of supernatural abilities – whereas in this one the supernatural element isn’t introduced until the book has already been going on for a while. Yet, while no supernatural elements are introduced at the start, there’s still something unsettling about the text in its entirety. I’d probably have to read it again to really place my finger on it – and I probably will in a year or two.

(Also: Louis’s daughter, Ellie, does have a couple prophetic dreams, which ties in with my “King loves psychic kids” theory.)

All in all, a marvel of a book.

Let’s throw the film into the mix:


One word: disappointing.

While keeping all the major plot elements from the book, this film lacked finesse, depth, and a reason for the viewer to give a shit. Plot details were simply handed to the audience; all tell, no show.

It… it was bad, friends. I loved that book so much. I demand a better film be made.

The best part of the entire movie was Stephen making fun of Fred Gwynne’s accent.



Pre-reading predictions: Another film I’ve seen, but like The Shining it’s been so long that I really only remember the huge plot points (especially the breaking of Caan’s foot (feet??)). I can’t really remember how it ends or all the minor moments.

I do remember that after I first saw this film Kathy Bates started appearing in a ton of other movies and shows I was watching at the time, to the point where I was somewhat convinced the world was having her work stalk me. I clearly remember one time when I yelled at my computer screen at some ungodly hour in the morning, “ANNIE WILKES, STOP FOLLOWING ME.”


Post-reading opinions:

I’m starting to see a trend in King books: they all have insanely slow starts. This one had the slowest by far of the month – mostly due to the shift of character casts.

Sematary and Shining focused on families and went back and forth in perspective, and in Carrie there’s an enormous cast of characters the reader gets to know. In Misery there’s really only Paul. Well, Paul and Annie, but we’re never given Annie’s perspective (which is good, because it’s much scarier that way). It took me a while to adjust to just one character perspective, after reading three of King’s other books.

Misery definitely didn’t frighten me as much as Pet Sematary, but damn if it didn’t come close. There was a lot in the story that I forgot from (or was left out of) the film. Despite knowing where the story was headed, every time Paul left his room or Annie was in one of her moods I couldn’t help feeling nervous.

So far this month King’s batting four-for-four; another enjoyable read as a whole.

misery stage

Let’s throw the film into the mix:

This movie. This goddamn movie is the reason it took me so long to get this blog entry posted. I put it on hold at the library mid-October, thinking that it surely would get to me by the first week of November at the very latest. Nope. Turns out the library only has one copy of the film, and I was very far back on the holds list. I finally shelled out three bucks to watch it on Amazon.

Misery as a lot like my experience with The Shining: both films are undeniably classics at this point, but while amazing cinematic feats I still prefer the books. Getting the insights to Paul’s mind and what all he’s taken notice of / plotting makes the story so much more intense.

H’okay. That’s all I’ve got. I’m still too angry about how long it took me to get a hold of this film. Ugh.

Salem’s Lot

Pre-reading predictions: Okay. So. Honestly, I always assumed this book was about witches… probably due to the fact that the word “Salem” makes me think of the Salem witch trials (that or a shitty city in Oregon). But apparently it’s about vampires? And… yeah. Much like Pet Sematary, I have no idea what to expect.

Fun fact: Vampires are not my jam. They creep me out and I have physically gagged while watching vampire attack scenes in films before. I figured, if any of these books are gonna really scare me, this is the one.


Post-reading opinions:

Congratulations, folks. We’ve done it. We have found the King book that TERRIFIES ME.

Did I mention I don’t like vampires?  Oh crap, I do not.

That being said, I liked this book. A lot more than I was expecting to. A slow start (which I was expecting), and like the previous book it had a huge shift in characters – this time so many friggen characters. It was like reading a George R. R. Martin book: almost impossible to keep track of everyone. King throws an entire town into your lap, and while certain characters were memorable and easy to follow, there were several that I’d keep forgetting even existed.

The most horrifying element of this book was not the vampire attacks – though I did squirm through a couple, they weren’t described in depth (thank goodness). The most horrifying part of the book for me was how fast it all goes down. Bartlow rides into town and gets one person on his first night. Then a couple more people the second night. Then double that the third night, double that the fourth night, double that the fifth night, and that’s the town. Math is scary, folks.

This book also helped me figure out what it is that I like so much about King’s material: he writes about extraordinary things happening to somewhat bland, ordinary people. There’s nothing special about Jack Torrence, Rachel Creed, Sue Snell, Paul Sheldon, or Mark Petrie. They’re all normal people placed in these extreme, supernatural situations, and because of this absolutely every action they perform is humanly realistic. The bursts of bravery are just as believable as the cowardly acts. I dunno, watching people behave normally in terrifying situations is just something I really enjoyed this month. It felt like a nice change of pace.

Let’s throw the film into the mix:

I watched the three hour long mini series from the late 70’s. I stayed away from the remake, since I read only awful things about it. There were three real takeaways from the film:

1) It did a pretty good job sticking to the material. Obviously the whole cast wasn’t in the film, and some characters had to be combined. But mostly all of the major plot points where present and accounted for.

2) I was so bored that I fell asleep during the film at least three times.

3) This was the only one of the six films I watched to make me scream because THIS GUY POPPED OUT OF NO WHERE ALL OF A SUDDEN CHRIST ON A CRACKER NOT COOL.


So what have I learned?

  1. I really like King’s books and would like to read more in the future.
  2. Five 200-800 page novels in one month is insane. DO NOT DO IT AGAIN.
  3. There was a distinct lack of LGBT and POC characters (I find it so hard to believe that there’s an entire Maine town being ravaged by vampires and NOT A SINGLE PERSON OF COLOR LIVES THERE). However, these are all some of King’s older books, so I would hope that King’s newer work over the years has more diversity.
  4. Lots of characters who are writers, school teachers, or have some job that involves a lot of writing. HMMMMM.
  5. Never put faith into the adaptations Stephen King has spoken fondly of (ie. Salem’s Lot and Pet Semetary).