You can group the books about Stephen King into three basic categories. You’ve got the heavy hitters, the ones that look at King from a literary perspective (often these can feel impenetrable, but for the scholarly yet accessible work of people like Michael R. Collings). There are the pop studies, which make up the majority of the work on King – anything from Douglas Winter’s classic Art of Darkness, to Stephen King: The Nonfiction, by Rocky Wood and Justin Brooks, to any of my own books on King. The pop studies can focus on a specific aspect of King’s career – King and comics, King movies, King on audio – or offer a sweeping overview, such as George Beahm’s gateway drug The Stephen King Companion. They’re generally quite readable, and allow fans to become more familiar with some of the intricacies of Stephen King’s life and work, often prompting them toward more serious study.
Then there are the Stephen King Fun Books. We’re talking the quiz books, the trivia guides, the checklists, even the books for kids. The books that urge you to approach the work of a literary giant with a sort of whimsy, with a sense of play. It would be easy to dismiss these works as lesser than the other two classes; after all, they don’t treat the work with any sort of reverence. Or do they? One can argue – should argue – that these books are intrinsically important to anyone looking to broaden her or his knowledge of a writer like Stephen King. Just as the pop studies give way to a deeper, more nuanced look at King’s work, the fun books – like the new collection The Wit and Wisdom of Stephen King – offer the first evidence that that deeper world exists.
The Wit and Wisdom of Stephen King, edited by journalist and screenwriter Andrew J. Rausch, is the first book of its kind in the Stephen King field. It follows a great tradition of books that round up the best quotations of quotable figures, notably Alex Ayers’ Wit and Wisdom series focusing on American greats like Mark Twain, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Rausch has divided his book up into a wonderfully varied array of topics on which Stephen King has commented, from the vast “Ideas” and “Fame” segments, to the charmingly specific “Stanley Kubrick and The Shining.”
The book is meticulously researched. Every quote is attributed to a source and a year, the sources varied and vast enough so that it paints a multi-faceted picture. This aspect of the book will prove invaluable to future researchers, who can chase down the quote to its root and expand from there. One of the more fascinating aspects of this book is seeing how multi-faceted King is, and how his opinions tend to shift. For example, in the “Money” chapter, King’s 1984 quote is “In the end, you don’t even [write] for love, although it would be nice to think so.” By 1994, King had revised his thoughts: “I never wrote from money … I wrote from love.” These changes in attitude don’t seem like contradictions so much as the thoughts of a writer whose business is revision.
Rausch opens this slim volume with two forewords – one of his own, and one by Stephen King expert Tyson Blue (Observations From the Terminator, The Unseen King), who refers to the book as a “light autobiography … hitting the high points … [and] providing the essentials in a compact form.” In short, it’s like a Stephen King’s Greatest Hits compilation, and doing a best-of’s job in whetting one’s appetite for the larger oeuvre. Blue also provides a fun story about how his life bisected with King’s years before he met him; for King readers, stories like that are always pretty cool.
Rausch’s own foreword gets to the heart of why this collection is as important to an understanding of King as King’s own work: “Stephen King matters,” Rausch argues, “what he has to say matters, [and] what he thinks matters.” By extension, that is why The Wit and Wisdom of Stephen King matters is an important, necessary little book … that also just so happens to be fun.