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100 Book in a Year: # 58 UR by Stephen King

By Brian Prisco | Books | March 13, 2009 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | March 13, 2009 |

I got me a Kindle. Or more specifically a Kindle 2.

I read all the friggin’ time, and constantly bounce between books, finding myself sitting around on public transportation or waiting before the movie starts, so I wanted some way to cut down on my need to lug four or five books with me. I was tempted by the discount on book purchases, plus the ability to own a book presumptively at will, by downloading it in minutes to the device. Yeah, it’s nearly $400 dollars, but so are most videogaming systems, and you pay $50+ a game for those. But yes, it’s true. I’m paying mad amounts of money for what I can get from the library for free.

To pimp their device, Amazon optioned Stephen King to write a novella exclusively for the Kindle. King took the project to heart (and wallet) choosing to write a story that itself was about the Kindle. At times, it actually feels like one big complicated commercial, like the Mini Coopers in the Italian Job or Snapple on “30 Rock.” King takes the Kindle and creates a story around it. But like a song written for Build-A-Bear Workshop or a webisode, it feels crassly like prostitution. Which is to say, I got what I paid for, but it wasn’t necessarily as enjoyable as the real thing. At least this time I don’t have most of a dead Kindle rotting in my trunk. What?

The novella might be over 200 pages. That’s one of the problems with the Kindle. With an adjustable font size, there really aren’t page numbers. Instead there are “locations” at the bottom of the book, which add to a status bar that tells you percentage wise how far you are into the book. My brother and I sort of guessed that every 9 locations is about a page. So UR seemed to come in at around 220 pages. But even if it’s less, I’m cranking through 900+ page books, so I’ve earned a fucking gimme. However, without the page numbers, you find yourself reading faster. The text is delivered in bite sized chunks, so I breezed through UR in a matter of hours. Which is about how long Stephen King mad-libbed this junk food novella together.

UR is about Wes, a college professor teaching English at a small low tier Kentucky university. Wes bought a Kindle for revenge, a justifiable reason for any large purchase. His ex-girlfriend, Ellen, the coach of the successful women’s basketball team, accused him of being a bookworm. She taunts “Why don’t you read off the computer like the rest of us?” Which prompts Wes to purchase a Kindle. Which is just one of a number of weirdly advertisory notions raised in the book — like a girl telling her mom she could really go for a Fanta because she’s feeling not so fresh.

Of course, because it’s Stephen King, and he already blew his advance for the haunted lamp book on Fenway Franks, the Kindle is “haunted.” In fact, Wes’s Kindle’s not just haunted, it’s “Dark Tower” haunted. Yes, Vagina, UR is of Childe Roland’s adventures to the Dark Tower. I think 65 percent of King’s books are now retroactively about the Territories and Roland following the man in black. I’m waiting for him to announce how 7 or 8 of his Entertainment Weekly CountryTime Lemonade porchsit articles are secretly DaVinci coded with Dark Tower lore. Dada-chum, didda-chee?

So naturally, I ate it with a spoon. I’m a fucking sucker for the damn Dark Tower lore, even if he burned me like a fat girl on prom night. My brother — who purchased his Kindle at the noble permission of his understanding fiancee for just this express purpose — is strumming through the King pantheon of the Dark Tower. Which is why when I read UR, I was going, “Ahhhh.” And his response was the hyper “What? What? What am I missing?”

For you see, Wes’s unique pink Kindle has special functions. It allows him to download UR Books, books from one of the 10 million alternate universes that span the Dark Tower. In these alternate worlds, Hemingway wrote a dog book, Poe lived to publish 6 novels, and Faulkner doesn’t even exist. Again, it gives King a chance to namedrop — and schoolyard slam (suck it Patterson!) — some authors whose books — like our own Stipe42’s Katorga — you can purchase and read on the KINDLE!

Yet it keeps getting stranger, as Wes explores the other functions of his uber Kindle. The problem with the story is that it itself feels a bit like another author doing an UR version of King. Except for his hallmark ineptitude with writing dialogue for anyone under twenty anymore and the strange turns of phrase — Maine aphorisms are not meant for Bluegrass lips — I would suspect that it was an experiment in the guise of The Green Mile (his chapbook publish) or even Desperation/The Regulators.

And that’s the thing. Even with this goofyass Papa John’s style novella, King’s doing shit that’s out there. What other author would pull this off? Or could? I would actually love to see Amazon take advantage of the instant gratification and exclusivity of the Kindle and hire some authors to do subscription installment books. You pay $5 and James Rollins prints a new story in eight installments each month. Or better yet, some one like Palahniuk, who’s blogsplatter style would rule in bitesize chunks fisted into your gullet.

Anyway, the novella’s incredibly sitcomish, but for devotees of the exploits of Roland, you’ll be giggling with glee. And I dig reading on the Kindle. I find myself reading faster. Also, thanks to the advantages of the public domain and some generous torrents, I’ve already filled my Kindle with over 100 books. Yeah, granted, I’m probably not clamoring to pound through Du Maurier or Dumas immediately, but the point is Now I Can. Also, this was how I read Dustin’s memoir, and how I’ll be able to read anything people .PDF me. Which is a boon for a poor ass scribbler like me.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

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