THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 25—The Stephen King Books

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.

EPISODE 25: THE STEPHEN KING BOOKS

My cousin Maryanne, left, and me at Thanksgiving at my house in 2010. Maryanne is the reason I write scary stuff today.

It’s hard to believe that my father let me read books like The Andromeda Strain, The Word, Jaws, and Catch 22—but I was forbidden to read any books by Stephen King.

I never really thought to ask him why. I suspect now that—because none of King’s books were ever in our house—it was because my father didn’t like King’s writing; I don’t think it was because of the craft, necessarily, but because Dad didn’t really seem to gravitate toward anything scary (in fact, all I heard from him when he was alive about my work was, ‘why the hell are you wasting yourself on all this dark stuff?’). Big on spy and contemporary thriller and science fiction, I think King never struck Dad’s fancy. My mother loved scary stories—but wasn’t a reader. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw her read anything but The Bible and those great old 1970s feel-good things like Anger is a Choice and The Less is More Cookbook.

I lucked out, though, and got to read King’s work at one of the most impressionable times in my life—between the ages of ten and thirteen.

Because I had an older cousin who had a shelf full of his books.

Every Sunday for the first 14 years of my life, we went down to have dinner at my Aunt’s house in West Haven. My cousin Maryanne and I didn’t really get along when we were kids. But that would change one day when I was in her room, looking at the books on her shelf. I don’t remember the conversation, but I remember asking her about them. She pulled out Cujo.

I was instantly fascinated by the cover art: I had been attacked by Doberman Pincers in our neighborhood when I was so young I was terrified of any dog, even hers, who was really no more than a friendly excitable puppy at the time.

“Wanna read it?” she asked.

At first I wasn’t sure if it was a trick to scare me (remember, I said we didn’t get along well for a number of years).

“It’s really good,” she said. “You totally won’t be able to put it down.”

I remember feeling a pit in my stomach—I was afraid of getting caught; you’d think she was offering me crack or something, like if I dared open that book I’d ruin the rest of my life. But anything that promised to be too good to put down was too tempting to resist. And oh, that cover art (someone somewhere said that fear and fascination are tied together, and I’d have to agree). I dove into Cujo.

So, every Sunday thereafter, while the women would talk as they cleaned up dinner and my Dad would either be talking or watching sports, I hid out in Maryanne’s room reading every King book she had. She even went to the trouble to put paper bag covers on them, so that if one of my parents walked in they wouldn’t know what I was reading.

It was shortly after that I started writing scary stories, and once I started writing scary stories, the only things I wanted to read were scary stories. Once I got into my late teens, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted, so that became easier. In fact, once I went to college, Dad would always buy me books—and ironically, many of them were Stephen King. I read Nightmares and Dreamscapes (which contains one of my favorite short stories, “Rainy Season”) on a long car drive to Lake Placid, New York. I read Night Shift when I was working at the URI Security Office in the summer of 1992 (that was totally creepy; the office was in the basement and I was usually only with one other person and he hated me). I read Delores Claiborne when I was married to my first husband and we had no money for cable.

The rest is history. As for Maryanne, we’re really close now. We love all things dark and scary, not just books. We love to get together and watch horror flicks like Gargoyles, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and Poltergeist. And we usually do all of that when she’s staying at my house helping me get ready for a party.

The cover of Cujo, the very first Stephen King book I ever read.

The hardest things to get rid of were my books—and I still kept many, don’t worry. But these King books weren’t the ones I read in that darkened purple shag-rugged room full of glass unicorns—they’re copies I got at tag sales years later, so I’d have them in case I ever wanted to re-read them. It’s the memory of those secret afternoons that I want to keep alive, not the books themselves—and since many of them are King’s classics, I can always get them another time.

Of course, Maryanne is such a collector of King’s books that she has all the copies that I read from. So they’re still out there. But for right now, it’s time to say goodbye. They went to a library book sale this past summer.

The cover of Carrie, which was the second book I read. I recall little of it, other than that I couldn’t put it down, and that I was really grossed out by the shower scene and all that blood—but on the other hand, I could understand it. At that time, we had just started the whole ‘taking showers after gym class’ thing in school, and I was often teased because I was larger than the other girls.

Pet Sematary scared the living hell out of me—mostly because we had a cat, Cuddles, for many years, who just before I read this disappeared. Dad insisted Cuddles had run away, but dense, creepy woods surrounded our property, and I was convinced then—as I am now—that he lied and that cat is buried someplace in those woods. While I was reading this book I was haunted by visions of the dead cat coming back in middle of the night.

The VHS of Pet Sematary. I bought this second-hand at a video store up at the University of Rhode Island, and made the mistake of watching it one night on one of my long security overnight shifts in the summer of 1992. The guy who hated me did manage to put his feelings aside and walk me home after work, but I remember jumping at every sound. I’ll eventually get this on DVD, so I figured, why keep it?

Christine didn’t scare me as much as the others, although the idea that a car could have a personality terrified me—especially when I thought of the old green 1970s Pinto we had. Dad told me he’d gotten rid of it because if someone hit it in the back end it would blow up.

Firestarter was the only one of those first books of his that I read that didn’t feel like it fit—I remember not really understanding the whole scene with the parents and how they’d hooked up (for those of you who know EXACTLY what’s going on in the book and may be sitting there saying, ‘there’s no scene like that,’ I don’t remember books well, which is why I re-read them. It’s often the images in my mind I recall best. I haven’t read this book in thirty years, so all I’m recalling are a few vague images my mind invented to accompany the words).

What’s funny about Salem’s Lot is that I don’t recall any of it. I’m not really surprised—I’m still not a big vampire person, book or film-wise.

Actually, I’m not getting rid of this—it’s rare now, I think. It’s the April 1997 issue of TV Guide that printed a never-before-published prologue to King’s The Shining called “Before the Play” in honor of the new made-for-TV miniseries that was airing that week. Charles was out somewhere—at a play rehearsal, maybe, I don’t exactly recall—and I was home alone. I had just gotten divorced and moved out of a tiny one-bedroom I’d shared with my ex into this brand-new house that was bigger than the one I’d grown up in, was totally isolated on three acres up a long, dark, winding drive, and contained very little furniture so my voice echoed everyplace my went. I couldn’t wait to read King’s prologue, so I sat up on my bed and started reading—only to be left terrified to reach over the space between my bed and the nightstand. Just as I’d swallowed my fears and was doing that—to turn on an extra lamp—Charles walked into the house and yelled, “Hello!” I totally screamed like I was being stabbed. I slept with the lights on for weeks after that—and I was 26. So why am I showing you this as part of The Goodbye Project? I tore out the pages that contained the prologue and threw out the rest of the magazine.

Maryanne and me at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties, New York, September, 2010. She is trying garlic ice cream for the first time (so I guess I got to introduce her to something new, too!) Going to the festival has become a tradition for us over the years, and when we come home, we always have a few drinks and watch some scary movies. In 2010, we watched that old 1970s made-for-TV movie turkey Gargoyles.

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About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, is a co-editor for Read Short Fiction, and co-hosts the Dark Discussions Podcast. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her horror novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info: www.kristipetersenschoonover.com

Posted on November 3, 2011, in The Goodbye Project and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’ve read every classic King book, and have them all in hardcover. I passed them down to my daughter to be terrified.

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