This Week in Reading: Masha Gessen and Stephen King -The Toast

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Previous installments of This Week in Reading can be found here. Most recently: Books That Should Be Banned.

I read two terrifying books this week, gang. One was about Vladimir Putin, and the other was about a traveling posse of polyester-wearing ex-humans who feed off the steam released by torturing psychic children. I’m not even done the latter yet, but why let that stop me from talking about it?

Let’s start with Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Oh, man. You should already be reading this book. Let me make this abundantly clear: it is not boring. It is basically a Tom Clancy novel but real and by a woman and about Vladimir Putin, who should be in jail. If you have any hesitation about buying a biography of a foreign head of state, the Vanity Fair article that resulted in Gessen’s book should allay those concerns. She’s a clear and entertaining writer, and she is incapable of stepping back from her subject, which could really screw the pooch, but doesn’t. What it does, instead, is remind you that she is writing a living history. She’s mad and frustrated and intermittently hopeful and has enough dead journalist friends to be very conscious of the skin she has in the game.

Despite being a biography, The Man Without a Face is most fascinating in the insights it provides into civic engagement: the forms it can take, and the festering that comes from its repression. Gessen and her wife raised their young family in Russia (they are emigrating to the United States later this year, however), and the passages in which she wonders how best to explain her country and its seemingly eternal leader to their children are intensely moving. As a parent living in a semi-dictatorship, how do you raise your children to view the system?

images-1And now, we come to Stephen King (may he live forever and write until the end that never comes.) I love Stephen King. I love everything about Stephen King. I love The Tommyknockers (did you know they made a movie of it with Jimmy Smits in 2004? me neither! tell me more.) I love reading his reviews of things in Entertainment Weekly. I love his children. I love long articles about his children. I hold people who sneer at Stephen King in the utmost contempt. I have never heard anyone sneer at Stephen King who was a better writer than Stephen King, or who turned out to be decent in bed. On Writing is phenomenal. I’m done with this rant now, we’re going to talk about Doctor Sleep.

This morning, I woke up at 3:15am and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I went down to the kitchen, made coffee, and started reading. That was pretty dumb of me, and now I’m very tired, but, in some ways, it is the only way to read a Stephen King novel. Stephen King’s ideal reader is a shiftworker who’s had too much coffee, and the more you can do to recreate that atmosphere for yourself, the better.

How is it? It’s what you expect, and ideally what you want. It is very frightening. It is also, perhaps, King’s strongest writing about substance abuse (Danny Torrance not having escaped this aspect of his father’s legacy.) You do not need to have read The Shining, but I would rather die than tell someone not to read The Shining.

Okay, I’m going back to it now. If it becomes terrible I’ll let you know.

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