Reading Stephen King may be hazardous to your health

I am about 200 pages away from finishing Under the Dome. Reading the book has made me extremely uncomfortable, and not in the way you might think. Perhaps the following anecdote will give you some idea.

This is a true story.  In 1986 I had back surgery. In that ancient year, a person actually stayed in the hospital for a few days after such a procedure instead of being sent home in a couple of hours. So there I was, a day or two post-op, sitting up (more or less) in bed reading Stephen King’s It, and my doctor came in to check on me. When he entered the room, he started laughing out loud. I looked around wondering what could have set him off like that. I didn’t see anything funny; my back still hurt. “ItIt,” he managed to say between giggles.

Here is what he told me. He had just come from visiting an elderly patient who had been brought to the emergency room by ambulance complaining of chest pains. After X-rays and an electrocardiogram the staff found that his heart and lungs were strong for his age. They could find no reason for his suffering. However, when my doctor examined him, he discovered a bruise on the man’s sternum. Had he fallen or been struck there? No, he couldn’t remember anything like that. Finally, the cause of the chest pains was diagnosed. The old fellow had been reading It in bed, and, in his frail condition, the 1100+ page tome had beaten him black and blue. The doctor prescribed putting the book on a table and reading sitting up.   He was released from the hospital sooner than I was.

Under the Dome is about 60 pages shorter than It, but King’s latest must have nicer paper, because the new novel actually weighs a few ounces more, coming in at nearly four pounds.

Even knowing about the old guy with chest pains, I’ve tried reading Under the Dome in bed, and I’ve tried reading it on a stationary bike (I think there is an SK story there), and found that nearly impossible until I got near the middle and had a couple of pounds on each side as I balanced the weighty novel on the handle bars.  Mostly, I’ve read it sitting in a chair. Still, holding the book open makes my thumbs hurt.

Maybe it’s time to put a warning on Stephen King books: “Reading in bed may be hazardous to your health,” and a list of possible side effects would be helpful.

Next time I write about Under the Dome, I’ll have finished the book, sore thumbs and all. The folks in the town of Chester’s Mill have been extremely uncomfortable so far, and for the reasons you might guess.  And very few of those hospitalized in the small town will ever go home.

Mark Graham reviewed books for the Rocky Mountain News from 1977 until the paper closed its doors in February 2009. His “Unreal Worlds” column on science fiction and fantasy appeared regularly in the paper for over 20 years. He has reviewed well over 1,000 genre books. If you see a Rocky Mountain News blurb on a book, it is likely from a review or interview he wrote. Graham also created and taught Unreal Literature, a high school science fiction class, for nearly 30 years in the Jefferson County Colorado public schools.


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