Avoiding 'The Stand' since '78, and I'm not going to read it now
Thirty years ago this May, Doubleday published what was, at that time, called “The Complete & Uncut” edition of “The Stand” — Stephen King’s gargantuan 1978 novel depicting the chaos leading to the moral and philosophical breakdown of society after the accidental release of a biological weapon causes a lethal influenza pandemic.
I hadn’t read the book when it was first published, which turned out to be a mistake — since King had restored
329 pages to the text for the 1990 release — but I do remember once holding a later edition of the “Complete & Uncut” version in my hands at a local bookstore, by then knowing the basic plot, and filled with a silent dread that I was living in such a world ... a world where books could be that long, and heavy.
I never did get around to reading the 1,152 pages of “The Stand,” although I did sit through most of the six-hour 1994 television miniseries, but the book itself obviously was in the news this week for a couple of reasons.
On March 8, King felt compelled to tweet that “No, coronavirus is NOT like THE STAND. It’s not anywhere near as serious. Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions.”
It appears that readers, however, are not taking King’s advice to “keep calm” ... at least when it comes to his novel about a plague that is not the coronavirus. Hardcover and paperback sales of the “The Stand” were said to be up 163 percent worldwide this month, with ebook sales up 58 percent.
One of those sales, however, will not be to me. It has nothing to do with the author (I’ve read my share of King) or the subject matter. On some level, we all like to see how close we can place our hand to the flame. (Heck, if we didn’t, would the 1995 howler “Outbreak” — the one where Dustin Hoffman trundles about in a yellow HazMat suit looking for the monkey from “Friends” — be one of the most-streamed titles on Netflix?)
No, my aversion to “The Stand” is far more rudimentary — it’s too damn long. Even if I were to pick up the original 823-page version, I’d be defeated before opening the cover. I made it through “Moby Dick,” basically the length of a King footnote, and by the end was rooting for the whale to put Ahab and me out of our miseries.
Besides, before making the time commitment to reading something over 1,000 pages that I’m doomed not to finish, I have plenty of other books in piles around the house that I feel obliged to tackle first.
When we moved in the summer of 2018, we did what we thought was a vast whittling of read (and unread) books. If you’ve ever bought a book, you know what happened next.
So, now we have books scattered across the bedroom floor, hidden in cubbyholes, and buried in paper grocery bags. I have a lovely stack of three to four titles on the end table at my side of the bed — ready to be started (or resumed) whenever the mind is willing and the body able.
Given the circumstances, it makes you feel a bit like Henry Bemis — the central character of “Time Enough At Last,” the classic episode of “The Twilight Zone,” who wants nothing more than the gift of time to read and gets it after he survives a nuclear holocaust, only to ...
(Oh, c’mon, it’s “The Twilight Zone.”)
We all have time now to read, or watch the movies we have in queue on our recording devices, or binge-watch those TV series that we never saw the first time around. (Might find myself zipping through “Mad Men” or “30 Rock,” for instance, though I doubt I have the stomach for “Game of Thrones.”)
Heck, we might get to that list of projects around the house that’s been growing since (in my case) the summer of 2018 ... or even have long talks with our significant others.
(OK, let’s not get crazy here. Remember, the guy who wrote 1,200 pages about an influenza pandemic told us to keep calm.)
Besides, I have a plan. Well, it’s not my plan ... it’s actually Rob Gordon’s plan, and we have the same initials. Well, to be honest, it’s not Rob Gordon’s plan either. It’s actually Nick Hornby’s plan in the novel “High Fidelity” (when “Rob Gordon” was “Rob Fleming”) which became the movie “High Fidelity.”
I’m going to reorganize my record collection.
The records (which is really a combination of records, CDs, and an 8-track of the score from “Fiddler on the Roof”), you see, had not suffered the same fate as the books during the move. We sold a few at a yard sale (which was held in a parking lot), but most made it to the new home — where they’ve been somewhat haphazardly placed ever since.
Rob (Gordon, at least; I don’t know whether Fleming does this, having never read the book), sets about rearranging his collection not alphabetically ... not chronologically ... but autobiographically, as in the order he bought them.
“If I want to find ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac,” he tells a friend, “you have to know that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983, and then didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”
My memory isn’t that sharp, although I do remember buying a 45 of “Feelings” by Morris Albert in 1975 and giving it to a college girlfriend — a less-than-slick move that caused me as much embarrassment as Dustin Hoffman must’ve felt seeing himself on a movie screen trundling about in a yellow HazMat suit.
So, while it won’t be autobiographical, I still don’t know how I will categorize the music collection. Compiling a list of options should take a week or two, followed by pulling them out on the floor of the living room, realizing I still have some titles that I thought I sold, having some others that I have no memory of obtaining (Jethro Tull?), reminiscing about artists and concerts from the daze of futures past (Tom Waits and Leon Redbone ... now THAT was a night), and finally playing dozens of albums to find songs to hum while I’m washing my hands.
By that point, the cat will have made a jumbled mess of CD cases and album covers, and I’ll be told to put those things away because we’ve received the all-clear signal to go back to theaters and restaurants and resume our close-to-normal lives.
Not to mention, once again I’ll have successfully avoided reading “The Stand.”
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin was not named Robert Fleming in the source novel for firstname.lastname@example.org