Posted in Book review, Miscellaneous

IT-along: The Last Update

In the summer of 1958, the small town of Derry, Maine, suffered one of its periodic outbreaks of murder and death, as it did every 27 years or so, as far back as such things were recorded. That summer was different, however. Because that summer, someone fought back.

That summer, seven prepubescent children bonded together, seemingly by coincidence. Bill, Richie, Ben, Stan, Mike, Bev, and Eddie had virtually nothing in common except the bullies who harrassed them, and their personal experiences of the frightening oddities of Derry. These experiences led them to the conviction that something was hunting the children of Derry: that, in fact, this something, which they came to call IT, had killed Georgie, the younger brother of Bill, as well as several other children, and was trying to kill them as well. Out of this conviction came the inescapable conclusion that they had to kill IT first.

And 27 years later, they have to kill IT again.

The terror begins on page one, with the horrifying death of little Georgie Denbrough in the fall of 1957 and the equally vicious murder of a gay man in contemporary Derry. (As an aside, recalling that this book was written in the early 1980s when the AIDS scare was at its height and gay men blamed for all manner of societal ills, I’m proud of how King portrayed the police officer involved in the investigation of that murder. It would have been so easy — and so in keeping with period — to make him a stereotypical small town homophobe in uniform.)

King then introduces his major characters through the simple device of a phone call from home with a reminder of their childhood promise to come back if IT ever reappeared. With one exception, none of the group remembers their childhoods or what happened that fateful summer. Only Mike had remained in Derry, and only Mike remembers. After the gay-bashing murder, Mike reluctantly concludes IT has returned and places his fateful phone calls. Prompted by that call, the others begin to regain their memories, in bits and pieces, each bit more horrifying than the last. And they pack their bags for the return.

The remainder of the novel alternates between the story of the summer of 1958 and the children’s first encounter with IT, and the adults’ contemporary preparations for what they hope will be their last encounter. The flashback sequences drive the action of the contemporary story, but these flashbacks are the absolute heart of this novel: compelling, absorbing, gutwrenching, heartbreaking. King has a gift for getting inside the heads of children, adolescent boys in particular, and this gift serves him well indeed in IT.

And as fantastic as the events of the story are, King makes the reader believe them, because the children believe them. IT embodies their every nightmare, their darkest secrets, their innermost insecurities; IT plucks their deepest fears from their minds and shows it to them in living breathing deadly Technicolor. And IT specializes in children. It’s not an accident the most frightening face IT puts on is that of Pennywise the Clown, nor that the most terrifying object is a simple helium balloon on a string. “We float. Yes, we float. We all float down here…”

You’ll float, too, in this mad trip through the streets and alleys and sewers of Derry. And you’ll be glad you did.
Thus ends the review portion, fit for public consumption and containing no spoilers. Stop reading now if you wish to avoid discussion of a spoilerish nature, or click the MORE tab to continue…

Continue reading “IT-along: The Last Update”

Posted in Books, Reading

It-Along Update: It’s Banned Books Week!

I suppose there are some individuals out there who are NOT aware of the American Library Association’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. If you, dear reader, are among them — or if you’re not and want more information anyway — click the above badge to be taken to the ALA’s webpages and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the subject.

But read the rest of this blog entry first, okay?

I’m on page 662, roughly halfway through the behemoth that is IT, and believe at this point it’s highly unlikely I’ll finish by October 14. Getting ready to move to Georgia is cutting into my reading time, darn it! Right now, the adult versions of our kid heroes have gone walkabout in Derry after the horrifying end to their reunion luncheon. Ben’s encounter with Pennywise in the library still gives me chills.

It strikes me as perfectly appropriate to be reading Stephen King at the start (and throughout) Banned Books Week. Mr. King is one of the authors whose works are frequently challenged and/or removed from school and public libraries. In fact, he wrote an essay about just that fact way back in 1992. And while I may agree that his work doesn’t belong in an elementary school library, I find it hard to believe that any child over age 12 (that is, in middle school) hasn’t already seen or heard worse violence or language on cable or at the movies. Frankly, I find Spongebob Squarepants and The Fairly Oddparents more offensive and detrimental to children than anything that can be found on the shelves of a public library. Of course, I feel that way about most television programming aimed at children. Okay, most television programming, period.

(DISCLAIMER: I actually love television, but I’m extremely selective about what I watch. The major networks lost me long ago with their Videodrome-like emphasis on bogus reality shows, asinine sitcoms, and recycled hospital and/or cop dramas, not to mention their penchant for canceling any show I found remotely intriguing (Flashforward, anyone?). These days it’s mostly BBC America, National Geographic, Science, and History Channels that keep my attention. Well, and the occasional smart network sitcom, like The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother.)

Anyway, back to book stuff…

I was lucky. My mother read to me all the time, probably from the moment I was born. I honestly don’t remember when I learned to read myself. I know I was already reading by the time I entered kindergarten at age 4, although it must have escaped the notice of my kindergarten teacher. Mom told me once that my first grade teacher called her shortly after the start of school and asked her if she knew I could read. Mom said, “Of course.” Teacher said, “No, I mean really read, not in a halting one-word-at-a-time fashion, but easily? In flowing sentences?” Mom said, “Of course, why wouldn’t I know that? I taught her.” My mom rocks. (But she’s still not getting that afghan. Well, maybe she is. Daughter-guilt is not a pretty thing.)

This was the library when I was a kid.
Now it’s the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.
Every Saturday in the summer, when Mom went into town to do the grocery shopping, she dropped my sister and me off at the public library. I still remember running up the big stone steps and then down another set of stairs which led into the basement where the children’s section lived. Sissy and I would spend a couple of hours reading and picking out new books to take home. We always checked out as many books as we were allowed, devoured them through the week, and brought them back the following Saturday. During the school year, we had access to the school library and didn’t visit the public library all that often.

My folks never questioned the appropriateness of any book we brought home from the school or the public library. We were reading and that’s all that mattered. And I read everything as I grew up: horse books, abandoned children books (such as Island of the Blue Dolphins and Green Mansions), Mother West Wind stories, science fiction, biographies, horror, fables, fairy tales, books about science and rocks and dinosaurs and geology. I read the books my parents had read: mysteries and crime fiction, mostly, with the occasional steamy romance tossed in for good measure. I was forbidden to read a book only once. When I was 11 years old, The Exorcist was the hottest title on the bestseller lists. Mom bought it for herself. When she finished reading it, she told me, “You may not read this book until you are older.” “Okay, Mom,” I said, and never gave it a second thought. With the wide open freedom I had to choose my own reading material, being barred from one book in which I had only a vague interest was not a big deal.

So how is my being barred at age 11 from reading The Exorcist not censorship? Simple. My mother exercised her parental prerogative to control the reading material of her minor child within our family unit. And then she stopped. She didn’t try to prevent other people’s children from reading it. She didn’t mount a protest with the school or public library to have that book removed from their shelves. She and Daddy didn’t write letters to the editor of the local newspaper proclaiming that devil worshippers and Satanists were trying to indoctrinate the youngsters of San Luis Obispo, and stop them, stop them, stop them now!

Parenting. Yeah, they did it right.

That’s where the line gets drawn, though. At the edge of the family unit. No one, I repeat, no one other than myself has the right to dictate what my children (if I had any) will read. I applaud those librarians who tell the naysayers and it’s-for-your-own-good-niks to stuff it. I weep for the school boards who cave under the pressure of a very loud and vocal minority. I want to buy a copy of every book removed from a middle school or high school reading list for every student in that school. I want to tell every single one of those parents who object to any book their child brings home to leave their objections at the door of their house. They have no right beyond that. My goodness, if they’re that afraid of what their children might be reading in school, why are they sending them to school in the first place? Home schooling is an option in every state of the Union, you know. (Although I have a rant about home schooling, too. I’ll save it for some other time.)

Books open minds, point in new directions, reveal different viewpoints, question received wisdom. Book encourage thought. Books are powerful. This power threatens certain individuals. I get that. But be afraid in your own house, and stay out of my library.

By the way, 40 years later, I still have not read The Exorcist. Not because my mother still forbids it. In fact, when relaying this story at a family gathering some years ago, Mom said, “Well, you’re allowed to read it now if you want to.”

Thanks, Mom.

Posted in Book review, Miscellaneous, Work in progress

The “official” IT-along update

I’ve been waiting a month to tell this story.

I’m currently on page 427, and taking an leisurely trip through Derry. As you may recall, this is my third time through IT. As such, it no longer holds any real scares for me, and I’m actually reading more for nuance of character and those little details one often misses during that first breathless read.

But the first time, oh, the first time…

…was in late fall 1991. I was 29 years old, soon to turn 30, certainly old enough to know better, but still young enough not to care.

It was late afternoon/early evening in Northern California, still light out, still gorgeous weather, with a slight nip of autumn in the air, just enough to warrant wearing a cozy sweater while I sat in the back yard of my friend’s house. We were getting ready to go out for the evening, and she was inside the house finishing her makeup and hair. I relaxed on the patio, reading. Although relaxed is probably not the right word, because I was reading IT.

I took IT everywhere with me that fall because I could hardly bear to put IT down. That evening was no exception.

The neighborhood was silent. A slight breeze rattled the dying leaves on the backyard oaks. Other than the occasional bird calling out softly, the only noise came from the rapidly turning pages as I crept along the Barrens and ran through the streets of Derry with our heroes, Ben and Stan and Bill and Mike, Richie and Bev and Eddie. I barely noticed as the light began to dim and the sun began to sink behind the surrounding hills.

Then, I caught movement, just at the edge of my peripheral vision.

I looked up from my book. A solitary white balloon floated delicately over the wooden fence. It wafted down to the grass, and bounced once, twice, three times across the lawn, trailing a white ribbon behind it. Then the breeze caught it and sent it aloft again, over the fence on the other side of the yard, where it drifted upwards and away, until it was out of sight.

Holy crap on a stick. Heart racing, I threw IT down and ran for the house, barely remembering to open the sliding glass door before barging through. Sliding it shut as quickly as I could, I locked the door behind me, and stood with my back against it, guarding the house and all its inhabitants from Pennywise the Clown, who was standing outside behind me with his bright red nose pressed up against the glass, a multi-colored bouquet of balloons in his white-gloved hand; I knew he was there, I just knew it, even though I refused to look. I reached to the right and pulled the drapes shut without looking; then, and only then, did I step away from the door and dare to take a breath.

My friend poked her head out of the bathroom and asked what all the commotion was. I told her. She laughed and reminded me it was homecoming at Auburn High School that night.

Oh. A homecoming balloon. Not Pennywise. I felt a little foolish.

But not too foolish. Because we all float. Yes, we do. We all float down here.

Posted in Book review, Book stash, Miscellaneous, Work in progress

IT-along progress

I know I’m not due for a blog post about IT for another week or so, but here’s a few random thoughts anyway, taken from my Goodreads updates. No spoilers, I promise.

9/1/12 — On page 34. Deep breath. I’d forgotten how quickly this book starts with the bad stuff. And doubly forgotten about the gay-bashing murder right at the beginning. And, considering when it was written, I gotta say I’m proud of the way King portrayed the police officer involved in the investigation. It would have been so easy — and so in keeping with period — to make him a stereotypical small town homophobe in uniform.

9/2/12 — On page 175. And the gathering begins. I love how King introduces his major characters, and by extension some of his minor characters, through the device of the phone call from home and their preparation for the trip.

9/8/12 — On page 262. Ben’s encounter with Henry on the last day of school, and his encounter with Pennywise the winter before. At this point, I don’t recall if Henry and company get their comeuppance. Given the nature of IT, I should probably feel bad if they do because, after all, they’re just kids. Bullies. But kids. Right now I’m not feeling that charitable.

Sundays are good days for IT-along updates, so you’ll probably see one a week for the next several weeks. As we get further into the book, it may be more difficult to avoid spoilers, but I’ll do my best.

Posted in Book stash, Miscellaneous

Prepping for the IT-along

I posted a couple of days ago that I joined the IT-along. IT’s been probably 15 years since I read IT and I no longer have a copy, so I went to the ONE used bookstore we have in town today to buy IT.

They didn’t have a copy. Every OTHER Stephen King book ever written was on their shelves, but no IT. I found a couple of other books that suited my fancy, though:

a rather beat-up mass market paperback of Mystery Walk by Robert McCammon, which I may or may not have read some 20 years ago;

and a nice hardback copy of The Children of Men by P.D. James, which I have not read. Happy acquisitions, but I was still lacking the book I came for. Next stop, the mall and the giant mega-chain book store.

This store recently rearranged all ITs shelves, so IT was a bit of a hunt to find where Stephen King was now hiding. In general fiction, of all places. Again, every Stephen King title known to man, five or six shelves full, except for IT. I asked the store clerk; nope, out of stock, but they’d be happy to order IT for me. No thanks, said I, I have a couple other places to check first. But hey! Do you have Jenny Lawson’s book? Why yes, yes they did.

And so Let’s Pretend This Never Happened came home with me.

Once I got home, I promptly went to Amazon and ordered a used copy of the damn book IT in trade paper, along with a new copy of Dune in trade paper. Because Dune was due for a re-read, as well.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Project planning

We all float down here…

So, um, I’ve been lurking in my friend Softdrink’s blog. (No, that’s not her real name, but I’ve known her by that name for so long it feels weird to call her Jill.) And then suddenly I wasn’t lurking any more and I joined her read-along. Or an IT-along, in this case, because we’re reading Stephen King’s IT. Supposedly a clown nose to don while reading is on ITs way. Hmm.

Two months to read and a couple of blog entries to write. I can handle that. Other participants will be tweeting their reactions. I’m not on Twitter; no tweets from me, folks, sorry. Well, not sorry, not really. It’s not like I need another internet/social media distraction, um, addiction, um, outlet. All power to you Twitterers out there; I’ll use up bandwidth over here and on Facebook. 🙂

Regardless of the social media aspect, I haven’t read IT in at least 15 years and, believe it or not, am actually looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with Pennywise and company.

We all float down here.