This week I’d like to talk to you about my favorite book of all time — a book I haven’t re-read in more than thirty years.
That book is The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. I’m not going to spoil the book, don’t worry. And I’m going to talk less about the book than why it is my favorite book of all time.
I remember where I was when I got The Talisman (at a bookstore near my grandmother’s, where I picked up a used paperback with money I’d earned doing side jobs).
I remember where I was when I started the book — sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car on the way home from my grandmother’s. It was one of the few books where the opening GRABBED ME and demanded I keep reading.
And I remember where I was when I read the rest of it —mostly on the bus to and from summer school where I was taking a math class I’d failed.
I didn’t have many friends. And the few I had, none of them had gone to summer school with me.
So I was all alone, riding a bus filled with kids who either ignored me or didn’t like me, taking a class that hated me.
Seriously, Math freaking HATES me!
The Talisman served as my escape for that summer.
As Jack Sawyer set out on a mission to save his mother by crossing into another world, I was with him every step of the way.
I don’t remember much of the book, but I remember the magic of being transported into this weird, wonderful other place with twinners, bad guys, and did I mention a freaking werewolf?!
I’d write more about the story, but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read it.
What I want to talk about instead is what The Talisman meant to Young Dave.
Firstly, it transported me to another world (two worlds, actually).
Secondly, it made my bus rides to and from hell, er, I mean summer school, fly by.
Thirdly, it helped show me what two writers writing together are capable of (which I’d later find out firsthand with Sean).
Fourthly, and most importantly, it helped me become best friends with Todd.
For longtime readers, you may recall me mentioning Todd before. But there’s stuff below I haven’t said before.
When Todd and I first met, I didn’t like him.
In fact, I had a borderline hate for him. He was like Math personified. Seriously, he was a genius, and looked like every nerd you ever saw, with big glasses, an unfortunate hairstyle, and preppy clothes.
Otherwise, he looked like me, but smarter, and waaaay more sarcastic.
However, he was friends with one of my friends, and I sort of inherited him. Additionally, Todd had a monster of a step-father (worse than Math, even!).
After a while, I realized that he wasn’t really a sarcastic jerk, but sarcasm was just his defense mechanism — similar to my own.
Deep down, he was a super nice guy. And he was into a lot of the same things as me — Dungeons & Dragons, all the same music, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz (well, Dean R. Koontz, back then.)
So, flash forward a year after I read The Talisman.
I was (to nobody’s surprise) going back to summer school.
For freaking Math.
However, this time, I actually had a friend on the bus — Todd.
You see, Todd was so smart that he actually took summer school classes because he wanted to get ahead — instead of catching up like my stupid ass.
So, one day on the bus, I was telling him about The Talisman, and how awesome it was. He wasn’t allowed to watch TV or movies, or really read anything.
I told you his stepfather was a monster!
So I lent The Talisman to Todd.
And that whole summer we talked about the story. He’d update me on where he was in the book, and we’d talk about how cool the scenes were.
It might be the first time I ever had discussions with someone about a book we’d both read. And there was something about that shared experience that bonded us even closer. He’d gone from annoying pain in the ass that I hung out with because I felt bad for him to truly my best friend.
I liked talking about The Talisman with him so much, I started walking the 20 extra minutes to get to his bus stop just so we could have more time to hang out together.
Yes, I walked 20 minutes in the hot Florida summer.
Over that summer, and subsequent years, I shared all my favorite books with Todd. And we’d talk about them. And it was awesome to have someone to geek out over stories with!
After a while, I started sharing stories I was writing with Todd.
I figured if he liked Stephen King, he’d like my stuff. Not because I thought I was as good as King, but because King so obviously influenced what I was writing at the time. King was like a shared language between us.
We went from dissecting King’s stories to dissecting mine!
Todd was the first, and perhaps only, person that believed I’d be a writer someday. Not just a writer, but he was certain that I’d be “a famous writer, like Stephen King.”
I’m nowhere near King yet. May never be. But I do make a living writing stories for people who seem to like them, so I feel like he’d be proud. Not too shabby for someone who failed Math at least three times in high school.
Unfortunately, Todd died in a car accident before he ever got to see me publish a book, or even read a story that I’d completed.
Todd has inspired a lot of my stories. You can find a bit of him in Charlie from Yesterday’s Gone. You can find a bit of him in the boy from our short story, Monsters. There’s bits of him in Karma Police. I consider it an honor to have his spirit live on, in some way, in my stories.
Without him, and the shared experience we had with The Talisman, I’m pretty sure I would never have had enough faith in myself to become a writer.
I’ve thought about re-reading The Talisman. I’m not sure how it stands up over time. I’d hate to not love it as much as I did. But I think sometimes the best books aren’t really about the books, but rather how you experience them and what they add to your life.
Maybe even the friendships they help create.
So, what is your favorite book? And is there a story behind why it’s your favorite?
(This post first appeared in the Collective Inkwell Weekly Newsletter. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here and read more stuff like this on a regular basis. As well as get the first two books in the bestselling #1 horror and #1 sci-fi series Yesterday’s Gone, and info on our books and stuff.)
I’ve had a couple of books impact me this way. One was “What Dreams May Come” by Richard Matheson. It was the first book I read that gave me that feeling where I wanted to keep reading it to see what happened, but I didn’t want to read it because I never wanted the story to end.
Another, or two others, actually, were “The Man Who Turned Into Himself” and “The Discreet Charm of Charlie Monk”, both by David Ambrose. I read them one after the other several years ago and can’t really separate them in my mind now, but I have very clear memories of my jaw literally dropping open more than once while reading them.
All three of these books I’ve read only once for the same reason you’ve only read The Talisman only once; I don’t want to risk ruining the memory I have of that first experience.
There have been others that affected me in various ways, but this post will become novel-length if I talk about all of them.
I would love to list one of your books as a fave, but I’m having a strange and terrible problem. Starting around the same time I discovered you guys through Better Off Undead and SPP, my autism kicked into high gear and I’ve barely been able to finish a book or audiobook since. In the past few years I think I’ve managed to finish four or five books, whereas I used to read for or five a month, simultaneously.
I’m hoping my brain lets me read like I used to again one day, because it drives me nuts listening to you guys talk about your work (most of which I own) while I’m sitting here unable to read or listen to almost any of it.
I continue to buy books, ebooks and audiobooks, though, if for no other reason than to support writers I believe in, such as your good self.
(Note: this is the second time I’ve tried to reply to your post. If it posts twice, let me know if you need me to delete one!)
Thanks for sharing your favorites. Have not read those, though Sean has talked up The Man Who Turned Into Himself, and I likely bought it after he talked about it.
As for the autism kicking in right around the time you started listening to Better Off Undead (Worst Show Ever) that’s probably some sort of defense mechanism designed to protect you!
As for the comments, I have it so people have to be moderated on their first post, but not subsequent ones. So you should be good to go on future comments!
Your stories about Todd and your friendship have kept him alive and we have come to know him as a friend from reading about him. I really appreciate you sharing that with us. As a child reading was my security blanket and my escape. There are so many stories that had an impact on me. I’m going to say that my favourite book is, “Trinity” by Leon Uris. It came into my life when I needed it and was recommended by a friend that I admired greatly. We had long chats about that book. There was a time when I re-read it once a year (late fall before Christmas season began). I haven’t done that for some time. Maybe I should.
Thank you. I like that, books as security blankets!
The Talisman is a great book. Did you read the follow-up? The Black House, I believe it’s called.
I’m a big fan of King and I also love Peter Straub. Ghost Story was amazing.
No, I haven’t read Black House yet. I want to re-read The Talisman first.
Thanks for the article, very enjoyable. I have to say that I don’t think I can name one favorite book, but there are three that I’ve reread over the years, which I rarely do so that’s saying a lot. The Stand is one, just had to read the unabridged version when it came out and I still go back again every 8-10 years. I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle three times as a novel and a fourth when the graphic novel came out. It had a huge influence on my childhood interest in science and space. I recently read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett a second time because my book group chose it and I’d already read it and enjoyed it as much as the first time. Though I’m looking forward to the tv series I’m also wary since I like the book so much. Keep up the blogs and Spilling the Ink, really enjoying them!