When I was a child, I read everything. And I mean everything, and all the time. I was reading Nancy Drew mysteries by the time I was 8. I tackled The Yearling (although, if I finished it, I don’t remember the ending) while still in elementary school. I was a solitary, quiet child who preferred a good book to just about anything.
My parents never suggested I *not* read something, and they were both readers themselves. One day, my dad came home with a book by an author we hadn’t heard of before.
“My coworker really likes this guy,” he said. The book was for him to read, but I eventually co-opted it. Because it was something to read.
The author was Stephen King. The book was Firestarter.
I was 12.
Stephen King finds it pretty fucking incredible that he’s a famous writer. He is floored that more than 600 people stood in line in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, to buy tickets to see him speak live. He is also grateful, and honored, and funny as hell.
To paraphrase King, who was paraphrasing John Grisham, he said, “John said to me, ‘We are famous writers in a country that doesn’t read.’ So thank you for that.”
When he finished the evening, giving us nearly 90 minutes of his time, and we all stood to give him a standing ovation, he applauded us as well.
The true story of my ticket is that I didn’t buy it. I stood in line for close to six hours, and I was six people away from the door of the Penguin Bookshop when they sold out.
I was glad I had sunscreen in my purse, because what started out as a cool morning was 80 degrees by 2 p.m. I didn’t have water, or cash, or snacks, though, which was a little sad. I really could’ve used water.
When we handed in our contact information to the owner of the bookstore, and we were all dismissed from the line, I walked across the street, got myself some water and a bagel sandwich, and went home. It took all my strength not to cry. I was seriously disappointed. I was also berating myself. Why hadn’t I gotten up earlier? Why hadn’t I gone to wait in line sooner? Some people CAMPED OUT OVERNIGHT. I had fucked up my only chance to see my favorite author of all time. I posted a “poor me” post on Facebook, and went to eat my late lunch.
And then Meghan texted me. “Hey, do you want my extra ticket?”
Uh, are you serious?
“Sure. I was going to do a give-away at the library, but I feel bad you stood in line so long.”
Yes. YES I WOULD LIKE YOUR EXTRA TICKET. Please.
So, last night, Meghan and I met up at the Sharp Edge for dinner, then walked over to Sewickley Academy, and settled in.
I met Meghan through our children’s daycare. Her older son and M are friends, although her son is one year older than M. We spent one field trip to Riley’s Farm talking Stephen King books on the back of the bus. We follow each other on social media, and take our sons on the occasional outing together. She’s great. Also, she did this, which is pretty awesome. I’m the friend mentioned near the end of the article.
Stephen King is a tall, shambling guy, 68 years old. He’s a little stooped, and all over gray-haired now, but the facts that he’s 1) alive and 2) able to stand up and walk around a stage at all, are pretty amazing, and King recognizes that. He is dressed in jeans, black sneakers (that his grandson bought for him), and a black tee-shirt.
He didn’t read from prepared notes, he just told some stories of Pittsburgh, and of writing. He read a soon-to-be-published short story, not from the just-published End of the Watch. He explained how he got his ideas by launching into a rambling lecture about odds.
“The American Insurance Group says that in a group of about 500 people, about 5 or 6 of them have forgotten to lock their cars. And, the American Insurance Group says, that statistically speaking, out of a crowd of, say, 1,000 people, one or two probably forgot to lock their houses.” We in the crowd start giggling nervously. “So, yeah, a few of you probably forgot to lock your cars. Or you left the house unlocked because you were so excited to get here.” He invokes the image of the maniac with a knife, an unlikely character; even King and the American Insurance Group know that. “I don’t want you to think about it, don’t even let it cross your mind, but you’re going to get in your car to go home later tonight — ” more nervous laughter. “You’re going to go to bed, and when you get up to go to the bathroom, you’re going to look at your shower curtain and think, ‘Did I close that before I went to bed?’
“And, it’s cool, you’re laughing now because you’re all together, and we’re safe. But sooner or later, you’re going to be alone.”
This is what Stephen King, the author, does. He reminds us that sooner or later, we’re all alone.
King has always said that to be a writer, one also has to be a reader. As a child, he says, he was a voracious reader. And one of his older neighbors called him on it one day. “Hey, Stevie. I see you all the time walking around with your nose in a book. What do you read so much for?” King says in the moment, he was a little embarrassed to be a reader; he felt like he was doing something wrong. “But if I could go back to that 9- or 10-year-old boy, I would’ve told that man, ‘You only get to live one life. But with these books, man, With reading, I get to live ten thousand lives.'”
The picture at the top of the post is just one shelf of the Stephen King books I own.
My favorite of all his works is The Stand.
Thank you, Meghan.
Thank you, Steve, for giving me, and all your Constant Readers, ten thousand worlds in which to walk.