Man vs Bookshelf: The Dark Tower

This entry is part 38 of 48 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Time is a funny thing.

If you’re reading this blog on release day (doubt it) it’s been ten days since a Man vs Bookshelf blog was last released. (This one.)

As for me, I’m sitting in Costa writing it (yeah, I’m one of those dickheads) on Thursday, two days before it’s due to go out. The closest to the deadline I’ve ever written one of these blogs, since the first.

This is also 19 days since I finished and scheduled the last blog, the biggest gap yet.

My younger brother – James Ayre, I suppose – outside Minnie Mouse’ house

19 days isn’t that long. In that time I went on a two week holiday and those days slipped through my fingers like water would. During that period I also read the entirety of the series this blog may at some point focus on – Stephen King’s Dark Tower.

That’s eight books (including 4.5, The Wind Through the Keyholes). and amounts to 4,466 pages. A rather impressive 235 pages a day.

Yet, while my holiday raced by, it feels a million years since I wrote that Killing Floor blog. As long since I started the first Dark Tower book, The Gunslinger.

Actually, I did read it a few years ago as well as a few days ago, but that muddies my point.

So time is funny, and it’s weird a series where time plays it’s fair part should highlight this.

Anyway, with such a gap between blogs, I could be out of practice, clunky. Not that I’ve been lax on the blog writing front. I wrote four since typing the last of the Killing Floor.

But nothing on Man vs Bookshelf.

Could be a negative but I’m hoping not.

If I’m being honest, a certain amount of lethargy had crept into my later reviews. There are many reasons for this but no excuses. After all, if I’m going to do it, I should do it right. Through crap books, through time constraints, through whatever else.

If I don’t I suffer, my readers suffer, and society suffers.

So let this blog, and my recent holiday, mark a break. Phase one of Man vs Bookshelf (which covered 37 blogs and 52 books) is over. The Dark Tower marks the start of phase two.

Sound exciting?

No?

Well, sod you, I’m being enthusiastic, and that’s rare.

So, let’s get into this week’s blog.

Stephen King and Me

When I wrote the introduction to this series I announced the first book would be Stephen King’s Lisey’s story.

I was on a run of Stephen King books anyway at the time, and it made sense to continue the trend. Plus, the reason I was reading King was also my inspiration for Man vs Bookshelf. The Great Stephen King Re-Read by Grady Hendrix. A fantastic series of blogs I would recommend to anyone interested in Stephen King.

In the end, I didn’t start with Lisey’s Story. I chickened out. Thought it was too long. Worried I would shoot my confidence through the heart if it took longer than a week to read.

I read Horowitz Horror instead, a real easy, chicken’s beginning.

After that, I did read Lisey’s Story, and my fears proved unfounded. Even fifty whatever books later it remains one of my favourites and I finished it in six days.

Which is to lead into my next point – that I won’t be talking much about my relationship with Stephen King here. To hear more, check it out on my Lisey’s story blog (it’s a good one).

The Dark Tower

So, let’s skip straight to the series in question – The Dark Tower. A series I have long held but never finished.

Let’s go.

Why did I want them?

I’m not sure how long I’ve had the Dark Tower books. I am certain I bought them as individuals (or in small groups) over as little as a few weeks.

I remember searching for them in a WH Smith while my ex puzzle hunted for her mother’s birthday. That must have been five years ago.

The more interesting point is why did I buy them?

At a guess, I would say it was likely around the time I decided to read all King’s books in publication order. Not including Richard Bachman.

As mentioned in my Lisey’s Story blog I knocked off Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining before sticking on The Stand.

Too long. Too slow. Etc. Etc.

Could be I turned to The Gunslinger (the first book in the series) around this time.

I’m not sure why.

I was enjoying King, but they hadn’t blown me away. The Shining was great but I found it dragged in places. Carrie had been an easy enough read but I didn’t like the diary entries and newspaper column segments.

I’d read ‘Salems Lot, but to my memory, I didn’t much enjoy it (we’ll see if that’s changed later in this challenge).

I had failed to get through to The Stand.

The reason I’m not sure why I would pick up The Gunslinger is because I do not enjoy books set in places other than Earth.

I find proper fantasy landscapes a turnoff and have read few of them. Yet, for some reason, I picked up The Gunslinger. Bought it, and added the rest of the series to my catalogue of unread books.

All this time later, I couldn’t tell you what it was that pushed me to buy. I don’t know anyone else who has read these so it wasn’t recommendation. The blurbs? Re-reading them, I doubt it.

More likely it was the cool covers and “The Dark Tower” being spelt out along the side of all seven spines. Means you can’t get only one. Looks silly. I had the same problem with the Friends DVDs back in the day.

But I’ll never be sure.

One, I suppose, for the Mark Ayre scholars (Ayreites) to discuss in the future.

Have I read them before?

What matters is I bought them and placed them on my shelf.

But, as you’ll know, reaching the sacred bookshelf is no guarantee of reading. Seeing many of the books on display you might think I am some sort of collector. Compiling rare volumes, afraid to touch them, lest I ruin their purity.

Like Calvin Tower in the series itself.

Not so.

More it’s my tendency to always be picking up new books and –

Well, let’s not go over all that again. It’s the point of this challenge, isn’t it? Clearing down these books that otherwise would go unread.

But, in answer to your original question: yes, I have read some, though not all, of The Dark Tower books before.

I can’t tell you much about when this happened, only that it must have been a few years ago. Soon after I bought them, at a guess.

I do remember reading at least one of them on a family holiday in Center Parks. The memory is weird in how clear it is. Lying on a single bed a half metre from my brother on his own single. I’m reading a The Dark Tower book, he’s playing Pokemon.

During this period I read the first four books and I’ve no idea why I stopped.

I enjoyed all four but the fourth (Wizard and Glass) was by far my favourite.

Why, then, would I stop when the going was getting so good?

Another question for the Ayreites, I’m afraid. This is not an uncommon occurrence, as you’ll see later in this challenge. The Cherub books, one of my favourite series, I have yet to read the last few books, one of which I own, the rest I do not. No idea why.

I stopped reading Harlen Cobern’s Bolitar series because there was a first person book all a sudden. I can’t handle it. So I switched off.

Often it is superfluous things that get me to stop, which makes it even harder to say.

I stopped at the end of four, but now, I have read the lot.

That rating, explain yourself

I have said before (to myself if not on these blogs)no book deserves a five out of five, or a ten out of ten, or a 1,393 out of 1,393.

You get the point. A perfect score.

Because nothing and no one is perfect. Not even Emma Stone.

It’s what frustrates me about the Goodreads five point scale. Give a book a one or a two and you’re saying it’s good for nothing more than toilet roll. Three is bang average and so everything above average is a four.

Above average, good, great, fantastic, transcendent, Mark Ayre written – all a four.

Ridiculous.

At least on a ten point scale, five is average and six, seven, eight and nine cover the various categories above it. Much better.

So, I’ve given a lot of fours.

Every Dark Tower book one through six got a four even though they offered varying degrees of quality. They were all above average. They all deserved a four, within these parameters.

Then came the day I turned the final page of the final book. I turned back to Goodreads and I hovered over it a long old time, thinking.

I’m not sure where it fell within the ranking of the individual series books, but it wasn’t the best. In fact, it fell towards the lower end, and was some way off the fabulous Wizard and Glass.

It had to be a four, didn’t it?

I came to this conclusion, then hit ‘five stars’.

For a long time after, I sat in silence, waiting. Certain the sky would collapse like the roof of my uni house after that final day party. Sure the ground would open and I would fall into hell for punishment. For calling a book a five when nothing is perfect. When it wasn’t even as good as a lot of the books I had already given a four.

There is a reason for this.

A good one?

No, but a reason none the less.

When I clicked that ‘five’ I wasn’t rating The Dark Tower, the book. I was rating The Dark Tower, the series. I was remembering those eight books and was showing how I felt about them as a whole. Not as individuals.

Sure, no one will be able to tell that when they look at my rating but hey, I don’t care, I didn’t do it for them. I did it for me.

It was perfect then, this series?

Don’t look at me like that.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Nothing is perfect. I wasn’t even calling it perfect. I’ll explain that in a bit. First though, I got to explain what lifted it above that four.

The truth is this series moved me.

Ugh, I hate saying that. Sounds stupid, but it did. This journey – and I won’t drift into spoiler territory here – grabbed me and pulled me along. I became invested.

More invested than I’ve become in a fictional journey before.

The world was so vivid. The blend of worlds, switching between The Gunslinger’s world and New York’s of various times was fab. Then there was the central conflict. Good vs evil, but without seeming silly.

The baddies are evil, and the goodies are pure and good. Roland the Gunslinger represents a nobel and selfless order, and in many ways, he is exactly this.

But he’s also flawed. He’s humourless and unimaginative and singleminded. Plus a whole host of other things that should make him a terrible lead, but it doesn’t, he’s brilliant. We watch him slaughter people – innocents and not – without ever losing our compassion for him. We get involved in his quest even though it’s selfish at its heart.

The core characters in this series are it’s key strength, in fact. Eddie, Jake and Susannah are all amazing and unique. Even if it is annoying how Susannah says “Sugar’ at the end of every sentence.

They carried this story from beginning to heartbreaking end.

So it was engaging, and beautiful, and inspiring, especially for me as a writer.

It was like nothing I have ever liked before and I loved every minute of my journey reading it.

And here’s what the five represented. Because it wasn’t a perfect score. With four’s for the other six books this series as a whole is a 4.14, putting it .14 above anything else I have read so far.

That may seem like a silly, minor statement to you but to me, it was kind of important.

The Kingness (i.e. The negatives)

I could go on forever about how amazing this series was, but that isn’t what I’m about.

I’ve not said much, actually. I’m not here to recommend or to sell anything to you. I’m not sure why I’m here, to be honest.

But I can’t be positive, I do know that, and didn’t I say nothing is perfect?

There are plenty of Kingisms in this books. Hallmarks of that great writer that piss me off every time I read one of his books.

First off, the habit of his characters to burst out laughing to themselves. Over nothing. It happens several times a book and it’s forever annoying to me, because it seems jarring.

Second up, while these books are fast paced throughout, it still dips for a few pages. Here and there. Every book. An example top of mind is rom book two. Where King treats us to the life story of a pharmacist who only appears in one scene.

This is classic King, and it’s annoying. It feels like wasted pages and wasted time, learning about this person we’ll never see again.

Beyond this, it is classic King in writing style and tone, but it is like nothing else of his I have ever read. It is a different type of story, while it links in to so much else he has done. Compared to the rest of his oeuvre, it’s a cut above.

My final word

I already said I’m not here to recommend and I’m not a sales rep for Stephen King.

I mean, it’s not like he needs one.

But if you’re looking for a series inspired by so much popular culture – LotR, Harry Potter, Seven Samurai etc. Etc. – And yet unique to anything else out there, this is worth looking into.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like fantasy, because neither do I.

Might as well try the first one at least. It’s pretty short.

Next Up

I can’t handle another saga such as The Dark Tower. Too much of an emotional toll.

In fact, I can’t handle fiction, for a while, as the next three books I’ve lined up are all the kind of fiction that is non.

Next up we’ve gone for a little bit of light relief, in the form of a book of one of a true national treasure.

It’s Karl Pilkington’s The Moaning of Life.

See you then.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: The Killing FloorMan vs Bookshelf: The Moaning of Life >>
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International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

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