When I was a tween I found Stephen King. Over the next years I read everything he’d written (including Danse Macabre which, let’s face it, why did I read Danse Macabre?). This morning I was reading one of the myriad articles slamming GRRM for his private/rude/secretive relationship with his readers, and reflected on what a different relationship I had with authors 25+ years ago.
I distinctly remember going to the local library and pulling out a thick tome called Who’s Who. I looked up Stephen King. It mentioned some of his popular works, then listed some works-in-progress. I still remember how excited I was to get a glimpse into a writer’s future. I knew something that few others did–Stephen King was working on a book called The Plant. Now, as far as I can tell, The Plant never came out (or its title was changed, or it was a short story/novella and not a full novel) but I’m still connected to the excitement of that discovery. All I had were the lists of “Other Works” at the front of the paperback, and the dutiful checking of store shelves for one I’d missed.
So, back to Danse Macabre. Why did I read Danse Macabre at 12? Because the only way to connect with a beloved writer was by reading his published work, even if it was nonfiction. The writer was a person who could only be connected to by reading, like a long-distance relationship with bursts of intimacy punctuating a state of yearning, hope, and anticipation.
It’s a different world now. I read dozens of tweets a day by writers. I know their works in progress in real time. I read interviews, and op-eds, and blog posts. I know when they’re having a bad day, I know their kids’ names, I know their tastes in whiskey. Shamefully, I connect with writers without ever reading their fiction. I have also stopped reading writers’ fiction I liked because I didn’t like their politics or what I gleaned of their personalities.
This isn’t a nostalgic screed against social media culture, but it is a lament for the lost experience of surprise and discovery and covert book knowledge. A eulogy for the discovery of a unexpected book in an unexpected place at an unexpected time. I miss the hunt and the reward that followed.
So GRRM, I hope that you are planning the biggest retro-surprise in history. I hope that you drop the rest of the Ice and Fire series unnanounced. I hope I walk into a bookstore and simply find it on the shelf, sitting there without fanfare, without media storm, without the clerk even realizing what they’ve got.
And if you do that, I promise I won’t tell anyone.