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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happy Dr. Sleep Day and Place of Horror in Literature

Whether you are still a huge Stephen King fan, or you got bored with him years ago, everyone has to admit that today's release of Dr. Sleep is a big deal.

While The Stand is still King's best work ever, at over 1,000 pages, it is not the place most people begin to read this American storytelling master.  Rather it is with The Shining that people new to King most often (and should) begin.

The Shining is still the best example of a modern (post 1970) ghost story.  It has set the bar for all haunted house stories since, and it established that King was not a fluke. With The Shining the world took notice of King's talent, and he has rarely disappointed us in the three and a half decades since.

King is also a very popular choice with advanced readers, and with its young protagonist (Danny), The Shining is also popular with teen readers.

All of this being said, after 36 years of waiting, there are millions of people who want to see what has become of Danny in the years since he battled both his father and the ghouls at the Overlook Hotel.

So, it came as no surprise to me that on Sunday, the New York Times Book Review ran Dr. Sleep as their front page review.  But what did come as a happy surprise was that the fabulous and intelligent Margaret Atwood wrote the review.

Look, even if you don't think you need to read the review as a librarian because you already know who likes King at your library and you already know it will be in huge demand, you still need to click through and read this review because she goes into a longer discussion of King's place in the history of American literature AND talks about horror's importance in general.

From the second page:
Some may look skeptically at “horror” as a subliterary genre, but in fact horror is one of the most literary of all forms. Its practitioners read widely and well — King being a pre-eminent example — since horror stories are made from other horror stories: you can’t find a real-life example of the Overlook Hotel. People do “see” some of the things King’s characters see (for a companion volume, try Oliver Sacks’s “Hallucinations”), but it is one of the functions of “horror” writing to question the reality of unreality and the unreality of reality: what exactly do we mean by “see”?
That is just a taste; there is more here.  Thank you Margaret Atwood.  I already loved you, but it is nice to have you join my fight.

Even if you don't plan to read Dr. Sleep, read this review. I promise, you will learn a lot about the appeal of horror. And, that information can only help you to help your patrons, especially as Halloween draws near.

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