So on Friday night I took my family to Joyland, and we had a great time. The weather was unseasonably cool albeit a bit muggy.
What? No, really, we did. That’s the name of our local amusement park. Has nothing to do with the novel by Stephen King other than it helped with the mood. I finished the book after we got home.
Anyway, the day the book came out, I stirred my stick and went and bought a copy. At Wal-Mart.
For a Stephen King novel, it’s pretty short. It’s also not really the sort of thing you usually expect from him. For one thing, it’s not a horror story. Oh, sure, there are hints of a ghost (well, more than hints, actually, but not much more than that), and at least one of the characters has the Sight, but for the most part it’s a coming of age story, with a murder mystery thrown in for spice.
Set in a failing North Carolina amusement park during the summer and fall of 1973, it’s the story of Devin Jones, who takes a summer job at Joyland and gets a great deal more than he bargained for. For one thing, a murder occurred in the fun house a few years previously. Since then the place is rumored to be haunted. Jones is trying to forget the girl who broke his heart, and no, he doesn’t fall in love with the ghost.
He does heal. And he does stay on after the summer season ends. Eventually he meets Annie and Mike, a single mother and her dying son. And through them, he learns to live again. At least he will if he can survive a chain of events he’s set in motion, in part by befriending them.
The book didn’t resonate with me the way “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” or The Green Mile did. For one thing, the book starts off kind of slow. Still, I quite enjoyed the story. Most men can relate to the heartbroken young man who narrates the novel from the perspective of late middle age. And I’ve always been a sucker for carnival/circus stories, holding Something Wicked This Way Comes and Blind Voices up as masterpieces of the form. There’s something appealing about working as a carny, although I wouldn’t want to try it at my stage of life.
There were moments of pure creepiness, but not many, and it seemed King didn’t milk them for all they were worth. Not that I’m complaining; it wasn’t that kind of book. I’ve not read a great deal of his work, more short fiction than novels. But a number of the touches I’ve admired King for were there. The foreshadowing that’s also misdirection. The details that appear to be window dressing but turn out to be significant.
Joyland probably won’t be considered one of King’s major works, but it’s a solid piece of storytelling.
The Wall Street Journal published an article (link may expire) yesterday in which Stephen King announced that his next novel, Joyland from Hard Case Crime, won’t have an electronic edition. As you can imagine, there’s been no end of comment on the web. After reading some of the remarks, both supportive and not so supportive, I thought I’d put my two cents in, specifically where he said “…let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”
Dear Mr. King,
While I doubt you’ll ever read these words, or care very much if you did, I still would like to go on record responding to the comments you made recently regarding Joyland not having an electronic edition.
I’ve read a number of your books over the years, and I’ve enjoyed most of them. I particularly appreciate your publishing Joyland through Hard Case Crime as Hard Case is one of my favorite publishers. Your association with them is sure to strengthen their sales, helping to insure they continue to publish more books. And for the record, I’ve been intending to buy a print copy of Joyland, if for no other reason than I like they way the look on the shelf and have an almost complete set.
I’m not going to chastise you for holding onto the digital rights to your book. More power to you for doing so. I only wish all authors had that choice. Nor do I wish to take you to task for taking control of your career. I only wish more authors would. Then maybe publishers wouldn’t try to slip so many draconian terms into their contracts.
Over what I do wish to take issue with you, sir, is the statement you made in which you said “…let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.” I find that to be highly insulting. The are multiple reasons why I feel this way. Please allow me to explain.
First, being able to buy books without having to go to a bookstore is a huge advantage to many, I would even say most, readers. Many people can’t simply “stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore” because there aren’t any within driving distance. While there may be bookstores in every community on the coasts, I can assure you that is not the case in flyover country. When I was in high school the nearest book store was over an hour’s drive away. And I didn’t live in an isolated part of the country. Furthermore, not everyone who lives near a bookstore is physically able to go. A number of elderly and invalid persons have been able to enjoy reading through either electronic books or ordering books online who would otherwise not be able to buy new books.
And speaking of online bookstores, will Joyland be sold online through venues such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble? We both know it will. As well as in Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and other large discount box stores. If you wish to support bookstores, have you tried to keep your books from being sold there as well? I realize you probably can’t prevent your titles from being sold in those venues. But the big discounts those stores force on publishers have hurt authors and traditional bookstores.
The second, and more controversial, reason I take offense at your words, Mr. King, is that I’m beginning to question to what extent bookstores should be supported. I love browsing, but the experience is becoming less and less enjoyable. There are three stores in the city where I live that could be considered general interest bookstores that are not second-hand, religious, or university bookstores. One is Barnes and Noble. The other two are Hastings, which is a chain based here in Texas.
Hastings isn’t much of a bookstore. Most of its sales are from music, movies, and video games. The small portion of its floorspace devoted to books is a mix of new and used. The selection is poor, and many of the bottom shelves are empty. My experiences with what passes for customer service there have been so bad (to the point that I was treated as though I was a thief when my five year old son had to got to the bathroom, charging more than cover price for books, etc.) that I won’t spend my time or money there.
Barnes and Noble has been on a downward spiral since I moved to this city three and a half years ago. The space devoted to books has continued to diminish to make room for toys, games, puzzles, Nook accessories, and assorted doodads. The selection has diminished in quality and variety. Last summer I went in looking for two new hardcover releases, one mystery and the other science fiction. The computer said they were in stock, but they weren’t on the shelves. I assumed the store had only ordered a single copy of each that had sold out. Two weeks later I found out what was really going on. Multiple copies of the books had been ordered. They simply hadn’t been taken out of the boxes and were still in the stockroom after two weeks. This is typical of the customer service I’m finding at every B&N I’ve visited in the last year.
Tell me, Mr. King, why should I support that business model when I can order just about any book from my home, in either electronic or print edition, with only a few clicks? Why should I get out in the heat, put up with the traffic, endure a store full of unsupervised children whose parents have left them at the mall for the evening, and try to tune out the music blaring from the PA system only to find there’s next to nothing that interests me or that the recent release I’m looking for was never stocked?
I love bookstores and very much want them to stay. But the bookstores are going to need to rediscover who they’re truly in business for, the customer. Not the sales reps. Not the major publishing houses. Not even the authors. Bookstores which don’t have customers don’t stay in business. You speak and people listen, Mr. King. Rather than insulting your readers, next time please encourage the bookstores to be more reader oriented.
One of my favorite subgenres, and probably the one I read the least since I started this blog, is that of the private eye. And one of the top practitioners of the form is Bill Pronzini. His Nameless Detective series has been going since the 70s, with new entries still being added.
The most recent is the novella Femme, published this past fall by Cemetery Dance along with a reprint of another Nameless novella, Kinsmen. They were separate volumes, but Cemetery Dance had a preorder special. I snatched them both up. (The trade editions, but even without the signatures, they were a good buy and look great on the shelf.)
Both feature top notch covers by Glen Orbik; more on that shortly. Continue reading
If you’re a fan of Donald E. Westlake, you’ll probably be interested in this video that James Reasoner has posted on his blog. (And if you’re not a fan of Westlake, why not?) Although he started out in science fiction, he made his mark in mystery and crime writing. I’ve only read a small portion of his work (the man was prolific), but I’ve never read a bad book by him, whether one of the comic caper novels or one of his darker crime novels, such as the Parker novels under the name Richard Stark. Tomorrow would have been his 79th birthday. His final novel, The Comedy is Finished, was recently published by Hard Case Crime.