I cannot remember a time I could not read. I was one of those lucky kids who just “understood” these things called letters. My earliest reading memory is of a translated Richard Scarry booklet about an airport. I could not have been more than three or four at the time. When Primary school came along and we had our “See Jane Run” readers, I was miles ahead of the class. (I was not this lucky when it came to 1+1 = 2)
I spent my youth in the library. Tintin and Asterix were my go-tos. You could not borrow them, they were “read here only”, and I spent many a happy hour in the library’s chairs giggling over the antics of the diminutive Gaulic (is that even a word?) warrior and his fat friend carrying rocks around. But the books I could borrow were standard age-appropriate fare. Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew-esque adventures. Nothing to write home about.
My first life-changing book came along when I was a mere twelve years old. And when I say life changing, I mean it in the most profound and literal way. My life can be split between the days before that fateful Tuesday evening in 1998, and after. Nothing was ever the same again.
My society was very conservative, and children should stick to children’s topics. You cannot read an “adult” book, God forbid! You! Get your butt back to the kiddies section where you belong! Come back when you are 34.
Fortunately, my father had no such traditionalist reservations. We were on our fortnightly library run (My parents are/were prodigious readers), and my father shoved this thing in my hands. It was shaped like a book; it had pages with words on them, but it was twice the thickness of our front door. I’ve seen these impenetrable tomes on the shelves, but attempt to read one when the best I’ve ever done was a 96-page story about early teenage mischief? Never.
“Read this,” was his simple instruction. The book weighed more than I did! How can I read such a thing? Especially when teachers and grown-ups forced me to read ‘age-appropriate’ fare. My English teacher would have a heart attack if she saw me with such a volume.
On the cover of this intimidating book was a menacing looking red car with screaming headlights, and the name on the cover was ‘Stephen King’. Over 600 pages of severely age-inappropriate horror story about a Plymouth Fury named ‘Christine’.
Fucking. Loved. It.
There is no other way to put it. Look, I struggled, okay? This was not an easy task. It was miles removed from the ‘orrible age-appropriate things I was allowed to up until this stage. Complex characters. Involved story lines. An expansive vocabulary. It sucked me in and kept me there. Every spare moment I had, it was Uncle Stevie and me, accompanied by my pocket dictionary.
Christine changed my life because I realised what writing could be. What story-telling should be. There was no “great moral message” in it, nor was it littered with semiotics and hidden meanings and allegory the way our school setworks were. It was pure reading joy! A story about a pimply-faced youth and his haunted car. And even the geek which was Arnie Cunningham got the girl in the form of Leigh Cabot – who lent her name to my own Leigh McCabe in an overt homage. It opened up the world of story for the sake of it. Reading for the sheer unadulterated pleasure it can bring.
Since, I’ve become one of the millions who is Steve King’s greatest fan, and I’ve read everything he has ever published. I think.
Is Christine his best work? Hardly. I can wax lyrical for hours as to which works of his are much better, and why.
But Christine opened the way, and nothing was ever the same again.