If you put a gun to my head and ordered me to tell you what my favorite book is, it’s sad to say that the Ruttle clan would be busy right now planning my funeral.
No, much like how you can’t eat just one Lay’s potato chip, I can’t pick just one book to call my favorite. There are fiction works that have stayed with me in so many ways, and there are non-fiction selections whose messages have helped shape me as the person I am today.
A good book is memorable. A great book leaves a life-lasting impact.
The author of most of my favorite books is none other than the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King. His works have helped me look at the world and its multi-layered shades of humanity in various ways, asking questions of my fellow man and the things we might be capable of, and if you’re looking for a much less pretentious explaining why I’m such a fan, King has just straight-out scared the crap out of me more times than I care to count since I began reading his work as a kid.
I believe I was 12 when I picked up my first book written by The King himself. It was ‘Cujo’, King’s bloodier and much more nightmarish take on ‘Old Yeller’ in which a friendly St. Bernard dog is bitten by a rabies-infected bat, and over time the poor animal becomes more and more violent to the point where it begins killing people.
The book is heartbreaking on two levels; one, because it’s basically a story about an animal’s increasing levels of mental and physical suffering to the point where it becomes the very thing a dog shouldn’t be – a monster, and two, because all too many of us can relate to having a dog or really any kind of pet that is suffering to the point where it needs to be put down in order to end its pain and misery.
I could read ‘Cujo’ as a kid because I was young and immature, and to my simple pre-teen mind at the time, it was just cool reading such ‘mature’ content that was opening my eyes to a whole new literary world. You have to understand that my idea of horror literature before Stephen King was the popular Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. I loved ‘Phantom of the Auditorium’ and ‘Werewolf of Fever Swamp’ as much as the next kid, but once I got a taste of what King was offering, I was hooked.
Today, I know in my heart that I couldn’t read ‘Cujo’. I don’t even know if I could watch the movie adaptation that was made out of it. Not only did my family own a St. Bernard that eventually had to be put down (still miss you, Heidi!), but I’ve personally been through the pain and heartbreak – twice – that comes with making that decision to end a dog’s suffering. Mind you, Bud and Kola weren’t bitten by rabid bats and went all ‘Cujo’ on the neighborhood, but as great as King’s book is, I couldn’t pick it up to read today because the subject matter would just hit way too close for comfort.
Though I wouldn’t pick up that book again for personal reasons, I can’t begin to praise the other works by King that have made their mark on me.
There’s ‘Misery’, for instance, which is both a fantastic book and incredible film adaptation. In the story, an author becomes the victim of a car wreck in the middle of a snowstorm and awakens to find that a stranger has taken him in. That stranger turns out to be a huge admirer of his books, and we come to learn that she is basically the definition of ‘crazed stalker fan’ as the author realizes that he is basically her prisoner.
Then there are King’s short stories, such as ‘The Body’, in which a group of young teen boys go on a lookout for the body of a fellow kid and end up learning life lessons about comradery, doing the right thing, and realizing that the people you grow up with probably won’t last all that long in your life as you become older. Most people might know the story by its movie version entitled ‘Stand By Me’, which is both incredible and a very true-to-page-and-tone adaptation of King’s original story.
Then there’s my own very small but very meaningful connection to King himself by way of a signed contract I have with him to adapt a short film based on one of his stories, but perhaps that story is best left for a future edition of this column.
I know, I’ve probably just hooked your interest, but you gotta leave ‘em wanting more, don’t ya?
For this week, that’s been the Ruttle Report.