We’ve reached Day 13 of the 15 Day Book Blogger Challenge hosted by Good Books and Good Wine. And what seemed like an easy topic for the day is proving to be a bit more of a challenge than I anticipated.
I was so sure I knew of a book that didn’t get the kudos it deserved but that everyone should read. But I actually don’t have a book that meets both parts of that statement. Not technically anyway. Though I’m still going to list it as my underappreciated book. And then fight the good fight as to why I think it is “underappreciated” and why I think “everyone” should read it.
If you’d like to join this challenge for the last couple of days, head over to Good Books and Good Wine and read the “Let’s Get It Started” post. And if you really feel like challenging yourself, you can tackle all previous challenges in one single post. That could be fun!
Anyway… today’s challenge is…
THE LONG WALK by Richard Bachman, a.k.a. Stephen King
Originally published July 1979
Most people don’t think of Stephen King as having any book that could be deemed underappreciated. He has legions of fans and has sold millions and millions of books. Though there are many fans of his work that think of his Bachman books as somehow being lesser than the works published under his real name.
And for the most part I agree. His Bachman books tend to be a bit less complex, with much less worldbuilding. Much less imagination. Much less substance.
But even with a less expansive world, even with a more simplistic framework for his story, THE LONG WALK has just so many layers. Layers that don’t necessarily reveal themselves immediately. But when they do it’s like getting a punch to the gut. And you’re left feeling hollowed out and empty. Or just very, very sad.
Over the years that I’ve been a fan of this author, I’ve met many readers who have liked some of King’s work but never picked up this particular novel. Which is why I say it’s underappreciated. People gravitate to his more epic novels like THE STAND or his more acclaimed novels like BAG OF BONES or his more iconic novels like IT, CARRIE, THE SHINING. So, in the world of Stephen King, THE LONG WALK tends to be one of his more underappreciated works.
And while King’s writing isn’t for everyone, which means I won’t recommend most of his books, because there is just so much to this story, it is a book I recommend to EVERYONE.
A little background.
I have read THE LONG WALK more than any other book I’ve ever read. I re-read this book every year. And I never grow tired of it. Even knowing what comes next.
There is some new revelation with each read. Some new way I experience the book based on the place I am in my life. And some new sorrow I feel when I see what happens to the characters in this book.
What it’s about.
THE LONG WALK is a dystopian novel. Set in a militaristic future. The characters are teenagers. There is a competition. There can be only one winner. Sound familiar?
THE LONG WALK isn’t considered a young adult read. Not that there was such a category back when this book was first released. And as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been marketed as such in recent years. Even with its most recent printing in 2012. Perhaps it’s because Stephen King is considered a “horror” author. Perhaps because the story is harsher than what is deemed acceptable for young adults.
But as someone who read this book as a young adult, and continued to read it yearly every year since, I didn’t find its level of cruelty beyond what I was capable of handling. But I don’t make the rules. I don’t set the standards.
THE LONG WALK is just that – a long walk. But it’s so much more. You see, it’s a story about one hundred boys who participate in a yearly competition – a walk. In this harsh future a prize of riches is dangled in front of them. A prize that will guarantee their family will never want for anything.
They choose to participate in the walk. They have that invincibility that only comes with youth. That confidence that they can withstand anything. And that losing is not an option. They’re even given the opportunity to back out before the walk begins.
But once it begins there is no leaving, there are no pardons, there are no exceptions to the rules. They’re in it until they either defeat the other 99 long walkers or their bodies or minds beat them. There are only two results to the walk – you win or you die.
And what makes this so sad is that the simplest of things can mean the difference between life or death – the wrong pair of shoes, a cold, a cramp. What makes it even sadder is that at some point that invincibility is stripped away, the confidence wanes and the horror of the situation is realized. But only when it’s too late to do anything about it.
This book is but a fiction. But it manages to touch upon so many realities of human nature. From the morbid fascination of the spectators, to the gamesmanship between the competitors, to their camaraderie, to their sheer will to survive. It’s horrible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s utterly devastating.
And this author manages to make me feel for the characters he introduces with every single read. Even the ones who aren’t the most sympathetic earn my sympathy. He blew my mind when I first read this book and continues to do so. Every. Single. Time.
I see the deeper meaning in this story. And when I, too, set out on THE LONG WALK each spring, I’m reminded of just how cruel human beings can be. How unsympathetic. How unfeeling. And how flawed. But I’m also reminded of how strong we can be when we need to be. How our compassion can overcome our cruelty. How we are capable of setting aside competition in favor of friendship. How any one of us could be the winner or the loser at any given moment. And how fragile this thing called life really is.
So… yeah… I may have taken this post just a little bit too far. But this is one of the most important books I’ve read. It’s had the biggest impact on me. I cannot recommend it enough. And I think it is such an underappreciated book.
Is there a book you feel hasn’t gotten the appreciation it is due? One that you would recommend to anyone and everyone? If so, I’d love to know what that book is and why you feel it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves!
And I will be back tomorrow to talk deal breakers. Though, I’m still pondering what those might be. I’m guessing book-related deal breakers and not blog-related ones. Hm….