I was one of the fortunate few hundred at the Sacred Heart Nims Center in New Orleans this Saturday when Stephen King read from and discussed his new novel 11/23/63. Like everyone else in the audience, as soon as found my seat I cracked open my copy of the novel to see if I’d managed to snag one of the 250 King had signed earlier. There were no winners among my group, but someone a row up from us was showing his copy around. The signature is like the man: lean and unadorned. When King took the stage, he thanked the audience for being there, for being a part of something that didn’t “have anything to do with movies or reality television or a sporting event.” He thanked us for being “the people of the book.”
Despite joking that speaking in front of large crowds was his true fear, King played to his audience like he’d been born for it, abandoning the podium to stroll around the stage and injecting some of his wry humor into everything he said. For example, he gave us some actuary statistics of people who go to large group events. One in 50 forget to lock their car doors; 1 in 100 forget to lock their homes. He then alluded to the statistical probability of a knife-wielding maniac lurking in the car or the bathroom of someone who was there that night. “We can all laugh about these things now,” he said, “because we’re together and the lights are on. But later you’ll be alone. And it’ll be dark. Then you’re mine.”
What followed was a buffet of information on forthcoming novels, his influences and anecdotes on the life of a famous writer. He stoked interest in his next two books, The Wind Through the Keyhole, a Dark Tower novel, and Dr. Sleep, a sequel to The Shining focusing on an adult Danny Torrence. King told us that for years, he’d responded to questions about another book about those characters with a joke about Danny marrying Charlie McGee (the girl from Firestarter). When the audience laughed, King shouted, “You see, this is why I love book people! You get that!” King then moved on his current novel, 11/23/63, a book about a high school English teacher who is given the opportunity to change the past, specifically the Kennedy assassination.
All in all, the event was exactly what you’d expect a Stephen King reading to be. I laughed, I was intrigued, I was made to think. And yes, I checked the bathroom for knife-wielding murderers when I got home. Just in case.