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The Extra Shelf

A Slightly Dark Place for Slightly Dark Book Lovers

My Top 5 Stephen King Books

Greetings, fellow book lovers!

Let me start by saying I understand there are only four books in the above photo. Sometimes I make the mistake of lending people my books and never see them again. I could write a whole blog post about the topic of book lending. I’ll file that idea away for the future.

Anyway. I’ve read pretty much every King book minus Firestarter and a couple others I’m not able to think of. It’s hard to pick favorites. Since he’s run the gamut from one end of the Gothic genre to the other as well as dabbled in crime and fantasy, it’s easy to fall in love with a lot of his books for different reasons. The way I judge “favorites” is by whether I’d see it as worth rereading. Like many book lovers I’m in a constant battle with myself not to buy more books before I get to all the other ones I plan to read and already have. I could read every waking moment for the rest of my life and still have so much more to go. As such I’ve never been much for rereading, but occasionally I’ll be in the mood to revisit something– 75% of the time it’s a King book.

Here are the 5 books from my collection that I’ve either already reread or would like to, because they are really just that damn good.

1. Bag of Bones. I’ve always loved a good ghost story, and this is as intense as they get. This book actually resonated way more the second time I read it (which upon first reading at the age of eighteen I really didn’t think was possible.) The narrator is Mike Noonan who is, like many of King’s protagonists, a writer. Noonan has just lost his wife unexpectedly and what I like most about the book is the way King focuses on the agony of trying to get on with one’s life after such a loss. How do you interpret what you’ve been left with that the person is not around to explain? How do you deal with finding out secrets they may have been keeping? How do you move on romantically? These were all effective the first time I read the book but I had not personally experienced anything like it. Then when I was twenty-three one of my closest friends died after a year-long battle with esophageal cancer, and when I revisited the book a few months ago I was struck significantly harder by the parts about the emotional aftermath of a loved one’s death. There’s a lot more to the book than that, but the strongest feeling it left me with both times is that people who have died can still remain very much alive through their connections to those who still live.

2. Desperation. This book has a little bit of a different reasoning behind its selection. I actually wouldn’t want to reread it as it is actually a highly unpleasant book to read. But that’s what’s great about it: it scared me. Like, really scared me. I remember being down the Cape in the summer and reading it in the living room in the dark when everyone else was asleep. I remember being engrossed and suddenly looking up thinking that I shouldn’t have gotten so absorbed because now something was obviously standing in front of me waiting to kill me. Nothing was there, of course, but damn did this book have me on edge. The premise is basically that an evil demon spirit is inhabiting a dusty desert town and keeps possessing people (for the first portion of the book the victim is the town Sheriff.) The possession turns them into warped, disgusting versions of themselves that murder other people in the most brutal ways possible, children not excluded. If I’m ever stopped on a desert road by someone in a Sheriff’s outfit, I’m going to have a lot of trouble not flooring the gas because of this book.

3. The Talisman. Dark fantasy meets horror in this collaboration between King and fellow horror master Peter Straub. King does a lot of work with parallel universes; some examples include Rose Madder and the entire Dark Tower series. The Talisman is also a foray into fantasy dimensions, and follows a little boy named Jack Sawyer who is one of King’s younger protagonists. I enjoy a younger hero in fantasy books; children are yet to understand so many things about the world (although sometimes not as many as we think) and this is part of what makes Fantasy, even Young Adult Fantasy, so popular among full-grown adults. Fantasy is just more effective through the eyes of a child. However this  is no YA novel; this pair of authors does anything but keep things PG-13 when they put Jack face to face with a barrage of absolutely vile and detestable villains. It’s good stuff.

4. Finders Keepers. This is actually the second book in a recent crime trilogy King came out with. The first and third are also very enjoyable, but it was the middle that I really liked most because it departed from the story established in first book while still maintaining a strong enough connection to it that the third book was an effortless tie-in rather than an awkward reintroduction. Finders Keepers centers on a hardened criminal and a young man both obsessed with the same author and who encounter one another over some long-lost copies of the author’s final works. What separates his crime novels from others is that he doesn’t drag the reader through and suspend their “AHA!” moment until the end along with the characters. King likes to write his stories in a way that the reader usually knows exactly what’s going on and is along for the ride while the characters try to figure it out. He uses his multiple POV’s to show a full picture of the situation from all sides, and these books are classic King in that way. You know what’s going on now but not what’s going to happen next, and for the amount of information he gives you it’s surprising how often you end up biting your nails in suspense anyway. His storytelling style really lends itself well to the mystery novel, and while he moves back toward his usual theme of supernatural happenings in the third book, this series is largely about realistic human behavior in the face of evil and depravity.

5. Under The Dome. Finally, we come to the Ultimate. My favorite King book of all time (so far, anyway. He’s still churning out gold and he could still surprise me again!) I was in a different world while I was reading this book. I was not in West Roxbury, the most suburban of the Boston neighborhoods. I was in Maine in a quiet little town called Chester’s Mill, stuck inside a mysterious giant dome with an increasingly psychotic police force made up of delinquents and rapidly depleting resources. I was in the diner eating with the main characters hoping for the owner Rose to make cinnamon buns. I was in an abandoned building smoking crystal meth with some psychos hoarding much-needed generator fuel stolen from the town supply by the despicably corrupt mayor. I was every terrified townsperson fleeing from the mayor’s sick, twisted son being turned into a murderous monster by a brain tumor no one knows he has. Constantly shifting points-of-view keep the reader on edge as people are wiped out left and right in ways that are very up close and personal. There are some books, such as Finders Keepers and its counterparts in the series, where King backs off from death scenes and leaves some of the happenings to the imagination. This is not one of them. This is pure horror, and the scariest part about it  is that there is nothing supernatural at play. Every horrible thing that happens is the result of human behavior when a town is run by corrupt people with too much power and suddenly, nobody is able to leave. Shut off from the outside world, people begin to realize that the traditional rules no longer apply when there’s no one to answer to anymore except those in power who will do anything to keep that power for themselves.

Well, there you have it. My favorites. I’m actually considering rereading Under The Dome now. I very much would like to continue chipping away at my new book pile, but I’ve been plugging away at it all summer and perhaps I should allow myself a rereading period. I always advocate reading what you actually want to read; what’s reading for pleasure if you feel obligated to do it? There’s nothing wrong with switching books and taking breaks. Some books I never finish and that’s okay. Read what you enjoy, and enjoy your reading!

Want to share your favorite King book? Got any suggestions for other horror or dark fantasy novels you think I should try? Comment away! I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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All the Missing Girls: a review

“There is nothing more dangerous, nothing more powerful, nothing more necessary and essential for survival than the lies we tell ourselves.” 

Having read my share of mysteries and thrillers, I can rattle off some things that most of those books include. A deliberate murder or two; a few people with a motive; victims whose characters are never really flushed out, leaving the live characters as the main focus rather than the dead ones; sometimes an additional death while the mystery solvers are trying to unravel the truth; and very often, another person with a motive we don’t know about until close to the end. 
Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls does conform to that formula…but not comfortably. Actually, there is nothing comfortable about the experience of reading this book. If you’re anything like me, you’ll say you can’t stand it and then when you’re done, start looking for more books like it. And I’m not sure there is one.

Due to the disjointed way in which it’s written, I’ve honestly been having trouble organizing my thoughts about this book into something coherent. The story is advertised as being written in reverse, which is true but also not entirely accurate; I’d classify it more as timehopping than strictly being told in reverse. The narration is in the voice of Main Character 1, Nicolette “Nic” Farrell, whose best friend Corinne–or Main Character 2 according to me–disappeared ten years before when they were eighteen.  I name Corinne as a main character despite her being dead because a significant percentage of the book is dedicated to describing her troubling tendencies and rather deplorable character while trying to simultaneously explain why people, particularly Nic, were so drawn to her despite her awfulness. This gives rise to a host of reasons why various people may have wanted to kill her, and the timeline jumps back and forth between two different periods: the two weeks in the present leading up to the book’s conclusion, and the few weeks in the past surrounding Corinne’s disappearance. 

While I have to say the whole distorted timeline thing kind of confused and annoyed me at certain points, I can’t see the story being what it is were it to be told in a more linear fashion. Miranda includes quite a bit of outspoken ruminating about the nature of time and memories, so clearly the back-and-forth plotting device she was using is meant to say something about the nature of time itself.  What I took away from her words and her plotting is that there can be a realness to the concept that time is not linear despite that we normally do experience it that way. Each of us has doors through which we can instantly be transported to the past for better or for worse.  It may be skeletons in our closets or simply strong memories that tie us to what we perceive as being our most important life experiences; some parts we embrace while others we push away. This is a book about the ones we push away, the parts of the past we leave as far behind as we can and yet never detach from at all. “You change. But the past, it’s still there. The only thing moving is you.” 
I’d recommend reading this book in as short of a period and in as few sessions as possible. The more time you leave in between what you’ve read, the more likely you may be to get lost in the structure of the narration. Sometimes I’d find myself questioning certain detail, wondering how it had come up without my realizing it and whether I should go back and read some previous part of the book again, before remembering of course that it’s purposely written out of order. It drove me crazy the way my mind was reaching for understanding of things I wasn’t supposed to understand yet. And yet the more I read, the more I began to understand that this is probably the way real murder mysteries unravel. Look from a new angle. Find a clue. Go back and examine the context of that clue. Take that as far as it goes. Sometimes it branches off into something else and the trail continues; other times you lose the scent and that roll you were on stops cold. That’s what reading this book is like; you never know when Miranda is going to push Stop and Rewind, or catapult you back into the present, or where she’ll send you next. You just know you have to find out what happened, almost as bad as Nic herself. Or perhaps even more.

October Book Review: Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger 

​I just finished this book Ink and Bone, my first by Lisa Unger. I’ve fallen off of thrillers since my teens and early twenties, mostly because they all start to run together. Once in a while one jumps out at me, and this one did not disappoint. 

The book begins with Finley, a young heavily tattooed woman juggling the college experience with something less conventional: she sees dead people. Though unwilling to cede control of her life to her visions, she is connected with a family looking for their missing daughter. Once she becomes involved in the search for young Abby, this pink-haired motorcycle-riding spiritual medium (who minus the motorcycle reminds me a lot of myself, or at least what I wished I was like as a younger adult) soon finds extricating herself from the situation is not only impossible, but also not something she wants. Can she really ever live a “normal” life when so many people need her help? Her battle against who she is meant to be will surely resonate with the millennial age group, but I also doubt it will be lost on older adults. 

I consider a mystery or thriller a successful read if there are things about it I know I’ll remember; in this case it’s the young adult protagonist. I’m a fan of YA lit and while this book is not advertised as such, it fits the category via some of the characters without actually becoming the type of coming-of-age book you’d expect in the Young Adult universe. The story is narrated from multiple perspectives encompassing a full range of age groups, and it’s safe to say all of them do some growing over the course of this pulse-pounding book. 
In the past I’ve had a tendency with newly discovered authors to go crazy and start flying through all of their work consecutively. But I’ve noticed that no matter how good the books are the result will be that they all start to run together on me if I take in too many too fast. This woman’s work deserves better than that! So instead of jumping headfirst into a pile of her books, I’ll keep her on one of my many literary back burners for next time I’m craving a suspenseful book. She’s written plenty and they’re not going anywhere.

It’s hard to be reasonable and read one book at a time when there are so many of them out there that I’m aching to read. But one at a time is the only way they can really be experienced, so I might as well enjoy it. I’m actually still reflecting on what I gained from this particular book, so rushing right into the next would mean cheating myself as well. 

Parting Ways

I was raised by parents with opposite views on owning things; my father is basically a hoarder of books and DVDs, while my mother screens the house for clutter on a constant basis and is always trying to make more space. She cringes when my father comes home with a new pile of books from the thrift store or some new trinkets, which is three to five days out of the week.

As a result of this feud, which I give them credit for balancing relatively peacefully (although my mother is always kind of freaking out about it on the inside) has resulted in me growing up unsure of how much stuff I should have. I declutter every few months and toss a couple things I may not have touched, used or otherwise appreciated for a good deal of time. Overall I don’t consider myself overly attached to my possessions. But when it comes to getting rid of books, I am always conflicted.

On the one hand, keeping all of the books I read provides me with a visual record of my literary experiences. I like this about book collecting. I even like to keep books I didn’t finish or wasn’t crazy about, because there’s always the chance I could revisit at a different point in life and find appreciation that I previously couldn’t muster.

But what about the books I know I will never read again? I’m talking mostly books I read for school throughout the eight years it took me to achieve my bachelor’s degree in English. I organize my books alphabetically and by category, one of which I have dubbed the literary Classics, divided into British, American, and a few others. Some of these I did enjoy and I’m proud that I read them, so those are keepers: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin; Dante’s Inferno; Kate Chopin’s The Awakening; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Tess of the D’Urbervilles; various collections of Modern American short stories. These are forever part of my collection.

The then there are the ones that, to be honest, I hated. This includes most works of Shakespeare (I’m sorry!) and the almighty Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to name a few. Some of these I read both in high school and in college, a couple up to four times in my school career. They’re those books that sort of prove you went to school and serve no other real purpose aside from making it look like you’ve read a whole lot of books. Which I have, and I do like having a reminder of that. But I’ve decided it’s time to let some of these books go. I’ll sell them used so that other students can be tortured… Um, I mean educated by them.

I always hate pulling books from my collection to be disposed of, but now that they are out and pulled together I feel pretty good about letting them go. Appreciating literature is not about liking everything you read or keeping everything you read, or even finishing everything you read. There are so many books in the world I can’t wait to read and so little time to do it, I shouldn’t feel bad about the ones that just don’t fit the bill for me personally.

And now that I have some more space, time to buy some new books! 

Do you have any very popular books that you just can’t stand? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! 

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