Stephen King Says the Clowns Are Nice, and Other News


On the Shelf

This clown? Totally fine.

  • Today in clowns: you may have heard about the rash of nefarious clown sightings we’ve faced here in the contiguous United States. It’s hard to keep one’s cool with clowns on the national prowl. But Stephen King, who knows from psychotic clowns, has offered a public-service announcement: do not fear the clowns, America. “King’s clown creation, Pennywise, has terrified readers since he appeared in his novel It in 1986. ‘There was a clown in the stormdrain. The light in there was far from good, but it was good enough so that George Denbrough was sure of what he was seeing,’ writes King … But despite his own contribution to coulrophobia—the fear of clowns—King has urged his millions of followers on Twitter not to worry about the rash of sightings across the U.S. ‘Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria—most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh,’ he wrote.”
  • Publishers: it’s time to stop pretending that your short-story collections are novels just so you get better sales. The Goon Squad–ization of the story collection is a complete and utter sham, Michael Deagler writes: “When reviewing a linked collection, a reviewer will sometimes (bafflingly) simulate confusion as to whether the book is a collection or a novel or something in between … It is far easier to publish a novel these days than a collection of short stories, so much so that many pragmatic writers have essentially abandoned the form. Fantastic short-story writers end up spending their careers producing middling novels, and our literature is poorer for it. So in those rare cases when a short-story collection does manage to be published (and reviewed and sold and read by a large number of people), to deny that collection its genre—to call it a novel, as though the world really needs another novel—is to rob the medium of short fiction of a hard-earned victory.” 

  • While we’re wagging our fingers, might as well give the lie to this whole “literary pilgrimage” nonsense. Here’s Maia Silber: “We praise great literature as ‘universal,’ able to transcend space and years. Yet literary fame has us traveling back to the place where an author lived and worked, or awaiting the arrival of an old book whose basic contents we can easily and fully access any number of ways. Don’t Shakespeare’s words read as sweet in paperback? Is Dickinson’s house a fairer one than Possibility? … Literary tourism—whether the site’s a sham or a study in historical accuracy—might not help us understand the literature we cherish.”
  • Anna Altman diagnoses the truly terrifying thing about migraines: they’re symptoms only of themselves. “A migraine, writes Oliver Sacks, has ‘the essential features of being ill—of trouble in the body—without actual illness’ … My colleagues try to understand. One sees me crying in the bathroom and tells me it will only make the headache worse; she holds me by my shoulders until I can control my sobs. Another tells me I need to do more yoga, that it’s stress that’s getting to me. Others ask me again and again if the doctors have figured out what’s wrong. It’s inconceivable to most people that this is it—there is no other, underlying condition. The headaches are the condition itself.”
  • There are many ways to learn the art of fiction—perhaps one of the more underrated methods is to watch as one of your parents lives out an elaborate lie. It worked for John le Carré. Ian Buruma writes, “One of le Carré’s great strengths as a novelist is his gimlet eye for the nuances of dress, speech, and manners that distinguish such institutions and that marked off England’s upper classes … He views the world with the sense of wonder that goes with being an observant child who feels like an interloper in the schools and institutions that he is compelled to be part of …  Living with a con man—some of whose secrets the young boy found out by literally spying on his father—taught le Carré the art of make-believe (such as pretending at school that his father was a wartime secret agent when he was in fact a black marketer). ‘I remember the dissembling as we grew up,’ le Carré writes, ‘and the need to cobble together an identity for myself, and how in order to do this I filched from the manners and lifestyle of my peers and betters, even to the extent of pretending I had a settled home life with real parents and ponies.’ ”