Some books are held for pleasure, to paraphrase AC/DC, meant to be picked up, carried, engaged in. Novels are like that. Biographies, trivia books, collections of Chuck Klosterman essays, even historical exposés, provided that they’re written by accessible geniuses like Doris Kearns Goodwin or Sarah Vowell. Bibliographies are the other kind of book. You use them for research, or to corroborate dates and times if you’re writing a report or an essay or a thesis. They huddle like stuffy owls until they’re needed, and then they’re forgotten about again. They’re shelf books.
The subject of Stephen King tends to bring out the playfulness in books you’d least expect. Justin Brooks’ new Stephen King: A Primary Bibliography of the World’s Most Popular Author, 2013 Revised Edition falls squarely into this category. Certainly its primary goal is as a reference book, and it’s a damn fine one at that. Poring through the pages (do we still call them pages if it’s an eBook? Let’s say sure.), one cannot help but be astonished by the sheer amount of work put in. Brooks’ bibliography aims to provide a complete publication history for every English-language work Stephen King has written. Think about that. Considering a comprehensive list of just King’s novels would be staggering: the first printing, the large-print edition, the paperback printing, the movie tie-in edition, the UK printing, and what if the book’s ever been excerpted anywhere, ever? That’s all in there, and not just for the novels. It’s everything King ever published: books, short fiction, short non-fiction, poetry, plays, screenplays, and weird stuff like puzzles and recipes.
And everything? Means everything. Brooks’ Primary Bibliography has a very forgiving interpretation of the term “published,” including stuff King self-published when he was young. There are listings for the semi-famous “hidden” work like People, Places, & Things, and the adaptation of “The Pit and the Pendulum” King referenced in On Writing. But here’s where things get mind-boggling: just as King expert Rocky Wood (who writes a fun foreword here) recently revealed a trove of uncovered King stories in his Uncollected, Unpublished: Revised & Expanded, Brooks dredges up even deeper stores of King work. Have you ever heard of “The Undead”? Or “Trigger-Finger”? How about “Code Name: Moustrap” (yes, spelled that way)? Brooks has, and there are listings – and background information – for all of them, and more. So much more.
No one would begrudge Brooks if he contained his exhaustive research to published output, but no: the entire second half (the dark half?) of the book is dedicated to King’s unpublished work. There are twenty listings for unpublished (often unfinished) novels. There’s mention of a heretofore unknown story called “The Points Dig Deep” that won King a National Scholastic contest in the early 1960s. And there’s more than just juvenilia revealed here: stories King wrote around the time Carrie was written get their unveiling here, thrilling, unheard-of titles such as “The Insanity Game,” “The Null Set,” and “Mobius.” Along the way, Brooks cleans up titles, dates, and rumors that have long been accepted as fact; one of the book’s main strengths is transforming speculation into information.
These listings, and the in-depth research behind them, help Brooks’ Primary Bibliography transcend the designation of shelf book and become something both fascinating and compulsively readable. It’s a reference book, but it’s also fun; not many bibliographies achieve that status, but Brooks manages the feat with aplomb.
Stephen King: A Primary Bibliography of the World’s Most Popular Author is now available as an eBook, readable on most platforms.
Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information. He has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the upcoming Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. His first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming.