I’ve been rereading my battered copy of Stephen King’s The Stand, “the complete & uncut edition,” and I almost feel like Billy at the beginning of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride: “this is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”
The edition of The Stand that I own is the 1990 revision, re-released in 1994 in conjunction with the TV mini-series. It has Gary Sinise (Stu) and the incredibly miscast Molly Ringwald (Frannie) on the cover. (For the Wall Street Journal watchdogs amongst us, I was fourteen or fifteen when I first read this story. Captain Trips and Randall Flagg are about as dark as you can get…) I remember getting all the way through and pretty much hugging it and loving it and naming it George. I raged about how much the mini-series left out and the casting snafus (I’ve never gotten over Laura San Giacomo as Nadine Cross). I insisted that this 11411 page epic was the pinnacle of brilliance, that I’d read every single word of it, and that it surely must be better than the original abridged version. Now, 20 years later, I am so calling “bullshit!” on my teen self!
Don’t get me wrong, I love this book and can quote it effortlessly (“Sixty-four has a way of forgetting what 21 was like”), but I absolutely, categorically, do not believe I read it the first five times without skimming. Because, at 33, I’m at Chapter 26 going, “An editor, an editor, my kingdom for an editor!” It’s like the literary equivalent of Larry and Rita’s trip through the Lincoln Tunnel (which still gives me nightmares). I love me some Stephen King but, seriously, I refuse to believe that me and my lifelong short attention span read this book line for line. I can guarantee I skipped entire sections about Lloyd and Starkey, while lingering over the Frannie and Larry bits like they were a divine dish of ice cream. Because that’s basically what I’m doing now!
It raises the question: When we read how much are we actually reading? I’ve always been a speed reader, so I absorb paragraphs at a time instead of sentences, but aside from lines that stick out here and there, how much does my brain actually process? Is this why even a badly written story can have a following…? Because you’re, ultimately, absorbing an over-arching concept rather than consecutive parts of the whole?