During the month of October I try to consume the horrific in every format possible. I watch it, I read it, and for the first time ever, this year I listened to it. When I say “for the first time ever,” I am referring specifically to audiobooks, and therefore excluding the probably hundreds of times my cousins and I all sat in the pet cemetery in my Grandma’s backyard while one of my three Uncle Mikes (I thought all uncles were Uncle Mike when I was little) told us ghost stories. Uncle Mike B. is an expert storyteller, and he played our terror like a well-tuned fiddle. His ability to legit scare the crap out of us could also have been influenced by the fact that we were perched on logs atop the final resting site of no fewer than twenty or so cats and a couple of dogs; I sometimes worry about what will happen if the new owners of that house decide to, say, dig up the backyard and put in a pool and come across roughly twenty-four animal skeletons. Anywho. I recently realized that, given the right audiobook, listening to a novel can make my normally brutal commute go by a bit more snappily, and, remembering how much I love listening to ghost stories, I decided to listen to some horror for the month of October. The horror I decided to imbibe via my ear drums was Stephen King’s The Shining.
I read most of Stephen King’s work when I was in high school, when I was too young to really care that he was an occasionally sloppy writer. He’s a phenomenal storyteller, and so that should make listening to his audiobooks super awesome, right? Well…sort of. I mostly enjoyed listening to The Shining, but with a few reservations. Occasionally it was highly apparent that King would have benefited from an editor to rein his shit in; there was one drive home that was almost entirely dominated by listening to Jack, the protagonist, read old newspaper clippings about the Overlook Hotel. I want you to think about that for a minute. Think about your reading habits when you read fictional newspapers in novels; if you are anything like me, you kind of skim through it to get the gist of whatever the fake news is supposed to convey, and move on. That’s not possible when you’re listening to an audiobook. You actually have to listen to the entire thing; zoning out isn’t really an option, because then suddenly you snap back into it and you have no fucking clue why everyone’s so angry and where did he get that roque mallet, anyways?
Reservation number two: the subject matter. In case you somehow made it to adulthood without ever having a) read the book or, b) watched the movie, The Shining is about a young family who spends the winter acting as caretakers for a secluded, snowed-in, and haunted as shit hotel in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains; the dad, Jack, gets possessed by the skrillion ghosts inhabiting the hotel and goes totally fucking insane in a “let’s try to murder your wife and young, psychic wizard of a son” kind of way. The reader spends large swaths of time in Jack’s head, which means you actually get to go insane and get possessed right along with him; you hear his violent, homicidal thoughts, and even when you don’t, you get to experience his deranged howlings through the eyes of his terrified family. When I’m reading this kind of book, I tend to read really, really quickly because I have to know what happens; but now that I’ve listened to a truly frightening horror novel, I can say that reading horror rapidly serves a second purpose in that it allows your brain to move swiftly through disturbing material without lingering overlong on sticky details. Again, not possible with an audiobook; your rate of consumption is determined by the speed at which the story is being read. I actually found that I got physically uncomfortable as the plot got more drenched in blood; every time Jack bellowed something about a puppy taking its medicine I had to turn the volume down because it was almost too much for me. You might say, “oh, what is the difference between that and, say, watching a horror movie, another thing that you love?” Well, it’s quite different, when you think about all the words used to describe what comes down to a five minute scene of intense cinematic horror. So, it’s a lot. Listening to violent, murderous insanity for hours and hours is a lot.
In closing, for the first time ever since I started listening to audiobooks while commuting, I had to ask myself, should this shit even be legal? There were times when I was so absorbed in listening to Danny caper about with topiaries and trip balls about REDRUM that I would suddenly snap out of it and realize that not only was I gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles and kind of jerking each time a hedge lion swatted at him, but I was also almost at my destination with little to no recollection of the actual act of driving. Reading is, after all, a totally absorptive act that basically makes you hallucinate like crazy once a story has its claws in you, and last time I checked hallucinating while driving was generally frowned upon.
Bottom line: maybe I should just stick to music when I’m driving? Nah.