I have finished the first book of my Great Re-Read of 2015
Usually, when I read this book (I say usually, because I have read it a fair few times now) I get ill or the people around me do, and I become royally freaked out (understandable I think, given the subject matter!) but this time it hasn’t happened, for which I am very thankful as my body seems to be struggling enough at the minute without adding any further burdens to it’s already strenuous load of having to exist and perform the daily tasks of living.
Anywho, before this turns into a health-related grumble- back to the book.
Stephen King’s The Stand is undoubtedly one of my favourite books, which is sort of weird, as it’s one of the very few books of his I’ve actually read all the way through. I say sort of weird, because usually, when an author has written as many books as he has, people tend to go the whole hog, and list them as a favourite author, maybe cherry-picking a couple of their books as examples of their greatness, but for me, as talented as the dude clearly is, it is that specific book that I adore, and that manages to blow my mind every single time I read it.
My first experience with The Stand was watching the TV adaptation with my Mum in the late 90’s. It terrified us both, her I assume because parts of it were genuinely spooky, and me because I was way too young to be watching it, in all honesty but I probably swore blind it didn’t bother me. Even now I can close my eyes and conjure a particular scene- I think where Stuart is trying to escape the plague centre, and the bodies by the lift door, so obviously it hasn’t in any way mentally scarred me…*ahem*
Then as a teenager I was in a Waterstones and saw the paperback “uncut” version (apparently big chunks were edited out of the original that King later replaced) and bought it on a 3 for 2 deal, read it, had my mind blown, and have continued to read it fairly regularly since, although I think it’s been about 2.5, maybe even 3 years since my last read.
I have now read it so many times that I feel like I actually know the main characters personally, and reading the book again is like going to visit old friends, with that sense of familiarity and homecoming, a sort of catching-up “hey, how’ve you guys been since my last visit?” but my story has changed each time whereas their’s remains eternally the same. That said, despite knowing exactly who everyone is and what happens and when, I still get All The Feels, each and every time. It’s not even like I forget parts of the story and am freshly surprised, I know what’s coming but it affects me all the same- that’s some pretty impressive shit, if you ask me. How well written does something have to be, that it can still cause laughter, gasps of horror, and real actual tears on it’s (estimated) 20th read-through? Very, I reckon.
If there is anyone reading this who doesn’t know what the book is about, first up: WUT?! Secondly- it’s about the majority of the population of the world being wiped out by a (man-made) virus, and about what happens after…and ultimately it’s a take on the oldest story there is- good vs evil. But it’s also about so much more than that- it’s about people, and how they cope in times of crisis (or not) and their capacity for change, and about love and friendship and about western society, and politics, and war. It covers so much, that it’s really hardly a wonder it’s so epically fucking long (my paperback edition has 1421 pages).
I usually end up staying up late, trying to finish pages/chapters/sections/the whole goddam thing, devouring it over 2-3 days, ignoring all other responsibilities, but this time I made a concerted effort to slow down. I still read some most days/nights in the last week (and it has still taken me only a week to finish it) but I kept telling myself not to rush, that I already knew the conclusion, so just to enjoy the ride. It meant I noticed things I haven’t before, things I was surprised by, such as the fact that there are two separate secondary characters in the book called “Rudy”. If someone had quizzed me, I doubt I’d have known that fact off the top of my head and yet, there it is. One of my most favourite books of all time, and it contains two characters who share their name with my youngest child, and yet consciously at least that never entered my head when naming him.
One of the Rudys is the guy who taught the “deaf mute” Nick Andros to read and write as a kid, and reading it again this year really cemented what I have always known to be true- that Nick is my absolute favourite character in the book. I told this to Chris (who has never read it, but heard me talk about it so much he probably feels like he has) and he told me that Nick had also been his Mum, Joy’s favourite character too, and that made me smile. I don’t know if she and I ever discussed the book, when you look back over years it’s hard to pinpoint specific conversations, or exchanges of information, it’s more a memory of talking with a person and feeling happy and comfortable in their presence, but it makes me happy to know we had that in common. Nick fucking rocks as a person. And so did Joy, actually.
That brings me on to another thing I noticed, or felt more acutely reading the book this time- the spiritual or religious element. I appreciated Glen’s observations a lot more this time, and I think for the first time grasped the enormity of the outcome for him. An atheist sociologist, paying the ultimate price in a war between good and evil- not because he believes in God, or the devil, but because he believes in a people and is willing to defend their right to live peacefully, even if it means sacrificing his own life in the process. That’s some heavy shit right there.
I also sympathised more with Larry than I think I have in previous read-throughs, and even, to a certain extent, Lloyd. I guess as I’m getting older I can appreciate more the subtleties of human beings and how many shades of grey there are in-between good and bad.
All in all, it felt really good to read it again after such a long gap since the last time, and like all good books that stick with you in some way, when you read it, you don’t only get the memories of the book itself, but your own memories from previous times you’ve read it. I could see my past self trying to read it one-handed whilst breastfeeding (virtually impossible due to the thickness of the book!) or hunched over in the lamplight in the bedroom of our old flat, or sprawled out on the carpet, beside the floor-length window in my room in the children’s home. And yet no matter how many times I go on this adventure with this book, it’s never exactly the same as the time before because I’m slightly different myself, so my focus shifts or different things spring out at me in different ways- like me just noticing the Rudy thing this time, for example.
So, my plan for ‘The Great Re Read’, had been to stick to set headings, such as:
What the book is about
Why I love it so much
How long it’s been since I last read it and
What it was like reading it again this time
but clearly I have totally failed to do that here, and have just rambled at large, although I think I’ve kind of covered all those things…sort of…so I guess that’ll have to do, and I’ll try to be more structured with the next book, which I’ve decided is going to be…
Yep, so far I’m sticking to list order! Before that I have a couple of (new) books I want to read, so I’m going to wait until February to revisit this one- see you then!