Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Shining

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what I want to read in the next forty to fifty years.  I'm sure that sounds strange.  But I've been an obsessive-compulsive list person for the last decade or so, utilizing the top 100, or top 1,001 as guides and checklists.  This has sometimes felt constraining, leaving me missing a lot of new and contemporary fiction, as well as non-fiction entirely, in pursuit of a specific goal.  On top of that, it has "forced" me to read a lot of books that simply weren't worth my time investment.  It's "forced" me to read some books that weren't worth the paper they were printed on.  Yes, there have been triumphs as well, being "forced" also to read books that I ended up thoroughly enjoying, but never would have picked up on my own.  But there have been real stinkers.
This problem, the stifling nature of the lists was brought home to me by what I will call my Crash problem.  I have Ballard's Crash.  I've picked it up a few times intending to read it, getting a few pages into it and putting it away.  It makes me sick.  I don't want to read it.  But if I ever want to finish this one particular list, I have to read it.  So I've been asking myself: is the goal worth the torture and the wasted time? 
Which brings me Stephen King's The Shining.  I've read Carrie, which wasn't bad.  I've read quite a lot of his short stories, which to be honest I didn't like.  I've tried to read The Green Mile, but didn't like it.  I've tried to read The Stand but didn't like it.  And I'm someone who once enjoyed, to some extent, a number of the movies that were based off his books.  I've always said that King has great ideas, can create great atmosphere and suspense, but is a terrible writer.  The Shining confirmed that, and then some.
I'm not sure where to start about my dislike for this book.  Jack Torrance is despicable; I had absolutely no sympathy for him.  The idea that these ghosts have to drive Jack insane to kill his son, but at the same time they need him to keep the boiler in check…not really logical.  And the fact that this wonderful hotel, obviously making plenty of money, can't afford to upgrade their boiler?  If your hotel could go sky high because a few hours go past without someone checking the boiler…maybe it's time just to get a new one?  And by the way, there aren't caribou in Colorado.
Perhaps I wouldn't have had time to consider these things, but I was bored through the majority of the novel.  The Shining is teaming with unnecessary information and poorly executed exposition – so much so that by the last quarter of the novel I was skimming whole pages.  It's not that I don't like wordiness.  I love wordiness.  But I want it matter; I want it to be essential.  Probably 100 pages of this novel could have been axed by a good editor without negatively affecting the story.  I believe it would have enhanced it.
There were good points about the novel.  It was creepy.  The hedge animals that moved (but come to life, just too weird).  The woman in 217.  The elevator.  The seclusion.  The atmosphere of the novel.  Those were good.  But all of that did not add up to enough to make the novel worth it.  I recently finished Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was just as atmospheric, creepy, otherworldly.  But technically much better executed, and much more enjoyable to read.  It has always felt sacrilegious to say this, to disparage Stephen King, but I'm not alone.  In 1977, the New York Times review of The Shining said that King, "is a writer of fairly engaging and preposterous claptrap….Mr. King is a natural, but he lacks control; he simply rears back and lets fly with the fireball, and a lot of wild pitches result."  I concur.
Perhaps all this is because I'm a parent now.  Perhaps it's because I've grown more sensitive in my "old age."  I think mostly I've just gotten impatient and have decided that my reading time is too precious to be spending it on books that I don't like.  Which brings me back to my Crash problem.  Immediately upon closing The Shining for the last time, I put on my discard pile.  Then I went to my bookshelf, picked up Crash (along with a few others) and put them on the discard pile as well.  My experience with The Shining answered my question.  The goal of finishing a list is not worth the wasted time.