Staying up late with 'Doctor Sleep'

The first picture-less book I remember reading was "The Boxcar Children," a sentimental story of a pack of orphans who take up residence in an old boxcar. Adventures ensued, and life lessons were learned.

The second word-heavy book I recall finishing was "Stuart Little." E.B. White's masterpiece told the story of New York City mouse Stuart, who seeks adventure in Central Park on a homemade boat. It's a great book, and if you have kids, you really should pull them away from the "Call of Duty: Black Ops" video game and have them read it.

The third book that sticks in my mind is "Pet Sematary" by Stephen King. It tells the story of a doctor named Louis who moves to the Maine countryside from Chicago. He promptly buries his daughter's cat in an old Native American burial ground and watches in morbid fascination as the kitty returns from the grave. Of course, people close to Louis start to die, including his son, and they are interred in the Pet Sematary. Much horror and blood-letting ensue. I'm not sure if lessons were learned, but I had a great time reading that book.

I was blessed with groovy parents who didn't care what I read as long as I was reading something. I'm sure they had their limits on what was acceptable, but I never pushed those parameters. Had I been caught with one of my uncle Kevin's "Hustler" skin mags, there would have been trouble. (I hope you're not reading this, Ma. And if so, I'm sorry. Oh, and uncle Kev, thanks for leaving the cabinets in your garage unlocked. Everything I know about love and romance I learned from those pilfered Larry Flynt publications.)

After "Pet Sematary," I went on a bit of a Stephen King binge. Next up was "Salem's Lot," the only truly scary vampire story ever written. Then it was "Christine," about a killer 1958 Plymouth Fury. I put down a few more during my long bus rides to and from school. I had a 70-minute commute each way, so it allowed me a large block of reading time per day. I only wish I had that kind of time these days for pleasure reading.

I burned through most of King's work from the fourth grade to my sophomore year in high school. Around my junior year, my reading tastes became more varied. Also, King's work started to stagnate.

I never got into the "Dark Tower" series, and some of his ghost stories, such as "Bag of Bones" and "Insomnia," were dry and a bit goofy. The other thing that cramped King's style during his later career was his diarrhea of the word processor. Good god, did the dude really need 1,245 pages to tell the story of some possessed desert animals surrounding a small Arizona town?

In the end, the King book that stuck with me the strongest over the years is "The Shining." I believe it is King's best book and one that future English majors will read and dissect.

"The Shining" scared the hell out of me when I read it in sixth grade. It sort of ruined my life for a few weeks. I couldn't go anywhere alone without the feeling that the woman who rises from the bathtub in room 237 was following me.

I literally felt a chill up my spine as I wrote that previous sentence. For anyone who has read "The Shining," the room 237 sequence stands out as a pinnacle of a writer's power to manipulate his audience.

I left King behind for several years. In college I was crushed under the weight of a vigorous English program that was a challenge and a pleasure. After college, work and such took over more of my time. And when those hours presented themselves, I was more inclined to pick up a Larry McMurtry or Neal Stephenson novel than the newest King.

And then a couple years ago, my friend John recommended King's "11/22/63," which is about an alternate reality springing up around the JFK assassination. I was skeptical but found myself hooked after 50 pages. I had missed King's dialogue and the sometimes kooky musings by his main characters. It had been awhile since I stayed up late reading a book because I couldn't put it down.

This brings me to "Doctor Sleep." It hit shelves (or your Kindle) last week, and I'm nearly done with it. It's a sort of sequel to "The Shining" in that it is about Danny Torrance, the kid who survived the earlier novel. Danny is a portrait of PTSD since his Overlook Hotel experience. He struggles with booze and works in a hospice center. He connects with dying people, who have come to call him "Doctor Sleep."

Of course, a murderous cult and some ghosts show up, but ultimately the book is about a damaged soul trying to make sense of his life after suffering a terrible event. I stayed up late last night reading it. It's not a literary masterpiece, by any means, but it has kept me awake when I should have been asleep. And I haven't turned the television on once after getting home these past few days. It feels like I'm back on the school bus.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or

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