Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Stand on principles
My terrible habit of stealing books (from hotel libraries where they're covered in dust, from coffee shops where they're languishing unread in favor of a copy of Candyland missing half the pieces, from well-intentioned friends who lent me a book that I forgot about and then rediscovered as one of my favorite books) may be an outgrowth of my much better habit of accidentally giving books away. I lend books out to friends and then either forget completely that I used to own the book or just don't want to pressure someone into returning something they may not have read yet. That's how I lost the first three books of The Baroque Cycle - I let a friend borrow them and couldn't bring myself to ask for them back.
A similar thing happened to my copy of the complete/uncut copy of The Stand - I bought it to read on my honeymoon, finished it, lent it to the friend whose house I was staying at, and have never had the heart to ask for it back. I got married in 2011 so I figured I had to let it go and buy a new copy - no great loss, that two people who like the book get to read it more frequently.
I first read a tattered copy of The Stand that my high school library eventually threw out, allowing me to rescue it from the recycling bin. It was a really early paperback, maybe '81 or '82 so it was the shortened version. I reread it probably ten times before I realized there was an even longer version available. The uncut edition is WONDERFUL and I actually have trouble imagining reading the edited version again because I don't think I'd enjoy it so much without the wealth of details that washed in with the republication.
Let's get this out of the way: a lot of people hate this book. Most of the people who seem to detest it either can't get around the changes from the '79 edition OR they would have hated either version for being too long and tedious or too "preachy". Spoilers out there for those who dropped they book because it was preachy - you're idiots. Any universe that King writes is not one that is home to a just and loving god. Good and evil is NEVER black and white in a King story. For the people who couldn't hang with the length or the number of characters or whatever, go back and try again. Please. Parts of the story can get a little slow, sure, but a book isn't a shot of cheap tequila; it's more like a glass of wine - savor it, even if it doesn't taste great at first, to see what it's made of.
So anyway, a lot of people don't like this book but I do. I like the depths to which the characters are examined and the depravity that examination yields; I like that I like the bad guys more than I like the good guys - the bad guys are, with a few exceptions, better written and more interesting. This is one of those things that I'm talking about when I say good and evil isn't black and white in King's universe: he's the one who wrote these horrible people to be more accessible, more fun to read, and more sympathetic and human than the characters on the "right" side of the conflict. I like that even the characters who are "good" aren't all always good - sending Tom as a spy is enough to prove that they're more self-interested than saintly.
I'm also one of those fans who switched - I can't read the older version anymore, the complete and uncut edition of The Stand has too much going for it that I adore. Greater depth to the characters is fantastic and all, but I think my favorite part of the new edition is The Kid. He's dark and gross and hilarious, don't tell me, I'll tell you. The best part of either edition is, of course, Kojack. It's hard not to like a dog in any sort of context, but it's impossible not to love a dog who's another plague survivor trying to bring back a world where he feels safe.
King, Stephen. The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition. Random House. New York: New York.