Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Stephen King's Blockade Billy / Morality: Barnes & Noble vs. Amazon

Photo: The book's hard cover, from

The small hardcover of Stephen King’s Blockade Billy / Morality is handsome to hold and to look at, and it looks different than any of his other actual physical books.  The two stories inside are the same: very different than usual for him.  Not bad, exactly; just different.  But to compare them to his other works—and their quality—is like comparing apples to oranges.  There simply is no comparison.

"Blockade Billy" is about 80 pages long; "Morality" checks in at about 50.  They're both written in an oddly (for King) distant tone.  I wonder at that writing choice, especially for the second story, because it seems like he could have done more with them if he'd focused his lens a little more upon them.  "Morality," especially, could have gone places if he'd created actual scenes from the man's and woman's POV, rather than just tell the story in a detached, long distance way.  It's like he wanted to tell the stories without focusing on them too much.  The stories aren't bad, exactly, because of this; it's just that they could have been better.

The first story was published in a (very) limited edition previous to this.  The second story was previously published in Esquire, which seems right.  It's definitely an Esquire type of story--and a bit of a Playboy story, as well.  King's been published in The New Yorker and in Esquire recently.  He's always been mainstream, of course, though now he seems to be more of a mainstream writer for mainstream literary magazines, which is quite new for him.  You can add his column in Entertainment Weekly to this phase, too.  I don't know quite what to make of it, if anything.  I suppose the tremendous (and well-deserved) success of On Writing opened these doors for him.

Lastly, something needs to be said for the quality of stories that King gives to limited only editions.  All of his novels, of course, come in limited editions--signed, gold-plated, leather-bound with ornate boxes; you name it, he's got it going on--but some, such as this, come in editions that are only limited.  Even previously-published stories such as these are usually later published in mass-market hardcovers and paperbacks.  Stories of this length would be packaged with two others and sold in a book of four, like Different Seasons, or Four Past Midnight.  Why weren't these, and others like these?  (I'm thinking of the Hard Case paperbacks recently reviewed.)  I don't know, exactly, but I have to assume it's because he felt that they weren't worthy of such packaging and selling.  Are these two worthy?  I don't know that, either.  But I'm going to say No.  I think that because, as I mentioned, King himself seems to have just sort of let these go.  You have to sell what you write, of course, and they'll sell because King wrote them.  So you sell them to Esquire, or a (very) limited edition, and then you package them into a book.  But then why not mass market that book?  I come back to how he wrote them: tells more than shows; no exactly focused scenes in either story, exactly.  The first one is a dramatic monologue (a la Dolores Claiborne) told to Stephen King himself.  Huh?  This conceit is left completely unexplained.  I feel that he wrote them, and sort of shrugged, and didn't know what to do with them.  Then someone called him, some limited edition publisher, and asked him if he had anything.  He did.  Then Esquire called and asked the same thing.  And then, later, when the rights reverted back to him, he realized that they didn't go together with any other two longer short stories (fifty pages isn't quite a novella, in my opinion, though eighty pages is), and so he packaged them together for another limited edition publisher, since I feel he felt them sort of unworthy of mass market sales.  I mean, can you package a baseball meets In Cold Blood story with anything else?  How about an Indecent Proposal meets sadomasochistic behavior story?  Nope, not so much.

Well, whatever.  Stephen King fans will like these two stories.  Baseball fans will like the first one, as a certain 40s or 50s era game is brought back, though the players described seem more 1890s to 1910s to me.  Fans who've read his Esquire and New Yorker pieces will like the second one--and I read somewhere that it's won some awards somewhere.  This was the last of his (relatively normally published; not-so-limited) books that I didn't have, and I was annoyed because I remember seeing this at Barnes & Noble when it was released for (seemingly) a few days.  I didn't buy it because I was in some sort of mood; I remember thinking that a baseball story didn't belong in the same book as an S&M sort of story, and I remember thinking that some kid would buy it for the baseball story, and then be shocked out of his pants by the second story.  I was nuts at the time, of course.  I went back to the store, and they didn't have it anymore, of course.  But they could order it for me for $25.  Um, no.  So I went to my local used bookstore.  Nada.  So then, belatedly and with a sigh, I went to Amazon (which you should never do when buying a book because the author usually won't see a cut of it) and bought a brand new, never opened copy, delivered to my door, for a total of $11.  I hated to do it, but I can't afford to pay $14 more, not including tax and shipping, from the bookstore.

So I'll leave this rambling review with that.  I had to buy a limited edition book, from an even more limited edition run before it, from Amazon, because the bookstore charged way too much (it was a bit less on, but nowhere close to what Amazon had it for) and because the limited edition (limited, for whatever reason) didn't produce enough copies for a used bookstore to have a realistic chance to get it.  I know this is bad, and that I would hate it if people bought by books on Amazon for a penny, rather than from the bookstore for the real price, because I wouldn't see a cut of it at all, and it would be literally be taking money out of my pocket.  And that sucks, but in the same exact position, I'd have to do it again.

Would you?

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