The Green Mile by Stephen King

Does King have to make books this size? Because this typeface is hella big.

“Peeing outdoors is one joy of country living the poets never quite got around to.” Not for me. But also, reminds me of a nature writer I read in a college class that said the travesty of nature writing is not being truthful i.e., nature writers are usually drunk/drinking while in nature and that certainly helps increase enjoyment. No idea who it was, but there were other gems in there as well.

There are small flourishes of words/ideas in the King I’ve read that always surprise me. I figured something so pop would be nothing but candy and that’s not the case at all. It’s certainly fun, maybe even mostly fun, but there are phrases that make me do a double take.

You couldn’t modify the redundancy once novelized and not serialized? Seriously, the serial pacing is the worst. Hey, here’s a cliffhanger, a good place to end a part and now let’s totally slow down and recap everything that’s ever happened. It’s so frustrating and perhaps a little insulting to think that no one could be bothered to edit this for the new format. The back of the book says, “THE GREEN MILE was an unprecedented publishing triumph: all six volumes ended up on the New York Times bestseller list–simultaneously.” So it made plenty of money in its serialized version and then to cash further in and be lazy about it is insulting.

Which brings me to the item of discussion: What the hell publishing industry? Film is bad, music is bad, television is bad, but there’s no one else so ignorant of the changes around them as the publishing industry. They’re still putting out 8 track cartridges. I like books, clearly. I do not own a kindle or other e-reader. But what the hell? If you want to put out something cheaply, do it as an e-book (but for the love of God, make it easily accessible. It is ridiculous that a property I own cannot be transferred from one device to another.). If you want people to keep buying physical books, step up your game. Know why vinyl still sells (I don’t have sales figures, but I believe it sells better now than in the recent past)? Because of hipsters, yes, in part, but they’ve always existed. Because record companies have made vinyl worth buying. There’s consideration of the packaging and it includes a digital download often times. I know this reads like an idiot ranting because that’s what I am, but I see an industry I love (though it’s not the industry, it’s the words I love) remaining steadfast while the world around them changes. Ugh. It’s kinda dumb. (But seriously, give me a book deal.)

Maybe to sound like less of an idiot, here are my solutions (for which I do not know the finances behind). Go ahead and make pricey, nice hardcover books. There are people who will buy them. There may not be enough of a market to justify this in and of itself, I realize, so include a digital print download and an audio download with the purchase. Know how much these cost? Next to fucking nothing, especially when you’re already selling the book. You’ll make the hardcover-nerds more open to digital files (which they’ll happily spend those few bucks on for a book they perhaps wouldn’t pay the hefty hardcover price) and the digital downloaders more likely to feel they’re getting their money’s worth should they chose to spend the extra on hardcovers (which will then make them more likely to buy future physical copies, unless you fuck it up and make it suck). Accessibility. Just make it easy. I know it’s changing rapidly and it’s easier to sit on this side of the line and yell for accessibility than it is to sit on the production side of the line and provide accessibility (especially when Amazon/B&N douche it up against one another), but that’s how you’re going to move units. Why would I move my library onto the kindle when there’s a strong possibility the kindle will be replaced by something new in a few years which is no longer compatible with my old files? This is no longer your industry, it’s ours and you’ll either have to accept it or get out of the way (that’s probably stronger than how I actually feel, but it’s a good ending-line, right? Or at least was until I undercut it with this.)

Valerie’s response

Mike, this is a great review, one of my favorites ever. What’s funny is that you really don’t talk about the story at all, and yet to me it works as a review.

King’s books are such a cultural phenomenon, in that he’s a contemporary popular writer who keeps cranking it out and really is making money at it, in an age when everyone is a writer. His methods are worth studying as writers to know what a successful writer does. His book On Writing is readable and practical.

His publishers are actually pretty smart (read: manipulative) when it comes to making money on the books, ebooks included, as frustrating as the models are. I too would like to see one purchase cover the hardcover or paperback+audiobook+ebook versions. The concern that the file formats will go out of date is totally valid, but the vendor doesn’t have to worry about that! The demand for whatever format will change as soon as the modes of consumption change, it will just be on to the next thing…

Accessibility is definitely a challenge: You can’t read an ebook you are “loaning” to a friend. Publishers decide whether an ebook is “lendable” or not, an ass pain you should consider when you buy it (most bestseller ebooks are not shareable — understandable from the publisher per$pective). Example: I am having a hell of a time getting Murakami’s 1Q84 ebook. I got an email saying it was available, but I didn’t have my kindle on when it delivered it, so it wouldn’t show up there. Then the library said I could download it to my computer, and transfer it via USB. My mac didn’t recognize the kindle as a drive, so I just gave up because I knew I wouldn’t be able to read 944 pages in a week anyway (that was the time limit on the ebook due to its high demand).

Series books are moneymakers; in The Green Mile’s case, the popularity of the author made the novel version of his miniseries worth doing. But savvy readers start to get sick of this shit quick, so maybe that’s why his series was a one-time thing. I also read this book in the one book rather than six-book format, and I agree, the serialization recap at the start of every book is mind-numbing. It’s a waste of paper and the reader’s time in this format, and yes, the publisher should have edited it down. But: they could probably up the page count on the book by including it, thus knocking the price up a few bucks.

Anyway, back to this story… I suppose you’ve seen the film version? I thought it was a good version of a book (streamlined – no recap upon recap!). Funny you mention it as being “fun” — because I too found this death row story fun, King is always fun to read, like you say, “nothing but candy,” with those flourishes that make me say, “damn, he is a good writer.” The Green Mile is the last and most recent of his books I’ve read. But I could go back and read The Bachman Books any time and enjoy it, and I probably will read his other new ones when I’m hanging out at my parents’ house (my mom is a fanatic and buys all his hardcovers, and purchased the series of the Green Mile as well as the one-book versions).

Mike’s response

I feel like (in my limited experience with him) you kinda have a pretty good idea what to expect from a King book and you’re either onboard or not, so to have gone into plot and whatnot would’ve been silly. As you seem to be onboard, dealing with the exterior things around King seems to make sense. He’s a phenomenon. A mammoth beast of literature and the publishing world. Something which is fairly rare (I can think of no other examples offhand). To observe his business practices and learn from them only makes sense. (Or, in my case, to figure out what I would do differently but have a really fucking good idea of why that is because you’ve gotta be damn sure of yourself if you’re going to buck the trend which is Stephen King.)

I haven’t read On Writing, though I think it’s in the pipeline somewhere (or at least it should be, but right now no reading is in the pipeline. I’m in a writing phase wherein I feel reading others would sway me, which is silly and egotistical and will probably ultimately hurt me, but you gotta do what you gotta do to keep the creativity flowing), but I did see an excerpt at some point in which he says morning are for writing, afternoons are for naps and evenings are for Red Sox games, which made me quite happy as it’s a similar structure to mine (though my afternoons are spent doing work which actually pays me money).

Accessibility has to be figured out somehow, right? There was probably a time shortly after Gutenberg when people were like, well, we can make books now, but how do we get them to people? And there was probably a bidding war for distribution (as in mailing) and I’m sure the system was fraught with issues (the carrier said he could have it delivered in 6 months, but it took him a year; the carrier dropped the one existing copy into a pond), but eventually people figured it out and it was okay for a while. I think the problem lies in the fact that it feels like the world should be this amazing fucking place where everything is awe-inspiring and we live in the future and holy fuck! can you believe that just happened!?!? It will never actually feel like that on a day to day basis, but I do think we can use the tools we’ve developed much better than we currently do. (Shh, sometimes I daydream/fantasize that you and I will be the ones to revolutionize this system. I think it needs to come from nobodies. Without doubt, a large publishing company will take the new system and coopt it for themselves, but it starts small.)

I’ve never seen the movie. Other movies I have not seen: The Terminator, Aliens, Rambo, Rocky, The Goonies, The Princess Bride, Jerry Maguire, Titanic, Labyrinth. There’s a lot more, but that’s a good list to start. Anything that was large while I was a child, I have not seen. (Not entirely true, but a fairly decent rule of thumb.)

If I remember correctly, there are only 2 deaths in this “Death Row Tale,” which allows it to be fun (1 of those deaths is pretty gruesome, which lets the reader enjoy the gross-outness of the account and the other is a freak occurrence and deserved, if you’re into that whole death for murderers thing). If people were dying all over the place, people whom we’ve come to feel compassion for, the book would be markedly less fun.

Mike, later

I just read and have a couple responses and this seems as good a place as any to deal with it, since we were kinda talking about the publishing industry here.

First, I don’t know if I care about independent bookstores. This warmth and community that people always talk about when they lament the loss of independent bookstores? Never experienced it. Like at all. The closest was when I bought House of Leaves and they guy at the register said, “This is a really good book,” and I said, “I know.” (It’s a full-color edition and I couldn’t resist the purchase, even though I’ve read it before. In fact, I recently sold all my books (and gave away the ones Pegasus wouldn’t purchase) and did not sell House of Leaves) No personalized recommendations, no fresh-baked cookies. It’s usually pretty awkward really. I know I’m awkward and so part of that’s me, but look, you’re (this is a general you’re and not VV-specific) talking about how great these places are because they’re populated by weirdo-s and guess what, that makes it awkward (in fact, I’ve gone into Book Zoo to find the owner with a tall boy in his hand, which would’ve been awesome to me when I was 20, but I’m more or less a grumpy adult now and it’s a little off-putting to try to buy a book and get a face-full of alcohol breath).

That all said, I also recognize that I get to have the privilege of complaining about independent bookstores and a lot of people cannot because they have nothing nearby. And I recognize that the independents are a thousand times better than the chains, which have all the same problems as the independents and a shitty book selection, which is inexcusable. I should not walk into a store and see no book I want to buy. How is that possible? I can’t even do that at Goodwill.

People rarely cite any sort of hard facts about what good the independents do (They keep money in the community and all that, but if no one buys books, then it’s irrelevant. You can keep all the money in the community, but if it isn’t much money, then what does it matter?). It’s always shit like, “’A civilization without retail bookstores is unimaginable. Like shrines and other sacred meeting places, bookstores are essential artifacts of human nature. The feel of a book taken from the shelf and held in the hand is a magical experience, linking writer to reader.’” Which is total bullshit. It’s romantic, idealist crap. It’s a book. It is not the hand of God. I’m fairly prone to grandiosity and this is a little grandiose for me. And it makes the argument (in part) that it’s the physical books that matter and not the words within, which is ridiculous. Ultimately it’s the words that matter and words aren’t going to die out, so maybe just relax.

Quit complaining about the Amazon juggernaut and recognize that the potential for democratization is out there. If you’re complaining and do nothing to try to fix things then you are a terrible person. People are going to read that as me saying to take down Amazon and all that anti-crap, but that’s not what I mean. Just ignore it. I don’t see what the big deal is for people not entrenched in the publishing industry (for those who are, you should probably find something to do as well. And also, why are you reading this little blog when you could be giving me a book deal?). It was a system owned by a few people to begin with and never worked all that well from what I can tell. Why isn’t there an author going the Louis CK/Jim Gaffigan/Aziz Ansari route and releasing his/her book easily, DRM-free and cheap? I know it seems like the Internet was made so you could complain, but it was actually made to be awesome so go be fucking awesome already.

Oh yeah, and seriously: “But as Amazon’s six other publishing imprints (Montlake Romance, AmazonCrossing, Thomas & Mercer, 47North, Amazon Encore, The Domino Project) have discovered, in certain genres (romance, science fiction and fantasy) formerly relegated to the moribund mass-market paperback, readers care not a whit about cover design or even good writing, and have no attachment at all to the book as object. Like addicts, they just want their fix at the lowest possible price, and Amazon is happy to be their online dealer.” You’re trying to tell me that people who read mass-market paperbacks don’t care if the book is “good?” Perhaps it doesn’t fit your definition of good (meaning literature, I suppose), but they wouldn’t read the book if it didn’t bring them pleasure of some sort you pretentious ass. And the addict thing? Maybe a little over the top. If people were addicted to books, the publishing industry wouldn’t be crumbling. And when you act like this, I have to say it’s probably a good thing it’s burning to the ground.

(Again, this is probably all a little harsh and certainly not as nuanced as this discussion really needs to be, but these couple pieces upset me and I just finished a first draft with a very contrarian character and I think I’m still in that mindset a bit)

Valerie’s response

I have a gross amount to say about ebooks so will start a new thread, but allow me to respond to a few thoughts here:

Good points about the awkwardness of bookstores. Indies are really not overrated though as you (MB) note, in your contrarian devil’s advocate persona. I lament indies increasing disappearance over sterile book barns (& Noble). I like used bookstores and they are a rare endangered species these days. The town in which I live has not one used bookstore — it’s really an uncivilized place, this place…

And we could try to ignore Amazon — I will join you in that effort, so we may do what we need to do, which is read and write. But for the sake of this discussion let’s just wallow in its nastiness for a bit…


2 thoughts on “The Green Mile by Stephen King

  1. Pingback: The Royal Family by William T Vollmann | The Heart of Literature

  2. Pingback: ebooks, freebooks, seebooks, webooks | The Heart of Literature

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