The Pop of King

It's Alive! Alive!

Stephen King on books he recommends. The master of horror dissects popular culture in his monthly column

Stephen King on books he recommends

Want some good news? can't help you, haven't had any in years. Good eats? Nah, if your house is like my house, everybody's watching their calories. Good TV? Sorry, but both ''Friends'' and ''The Sopranos'' are outta here, and ''Kingdom Hospital'' is going too, alas (more on that another time). Good movies? Fuhgeddaboudit, it's almost summer -- ''Van Helsing'' time, check your IQ at the door.

Good books? Ah, that much we can do.

Usually once each spring and fall -- when the publishers issue their major titles for the year -- some ill-tempered dodo whose familiarity with American fiction ends with Sherwood Anderson will proclaim the novel dead, nothing but a time sink for adults stuck in airport lounges between planes or for kids at camp with lightning-bolt scars decaled on their foreheads. Don't you believe it. The Great American Novel is livelier than ever, and here are three that prove it; just pick the one(s) that fit your hammock.

''The Stones of Summer,'' Dow Mossman (Barnes & Noble, $19.95): If 20th-century America produced a book of ''Moby Dick'' stature, it's probably this one...but don't let that stop you, or even slow you down. All I mean is that like Melville's fish story, this is one whale of a tale that has somehow found an audience in spite of mind-boggling hurdles, including going out of print (Bobbs-Merrill quit doing fiction not long after it published ''The Stones of Summer'' in 1972) and only a smattering of reviews. Nor was the author exactly up to a PR tour; when his only book was published, Mossman was still recovering from a nervous breakdown he suffered after finishing his 10-year labor of love/hate.

The novel is difficult to get into -- the first 30 pages read like an extended set of Bob Dylan liner notes from 1965. But then pure narration takes over, and readers are treated to a magical mystery tour of adolescent life in America's heartland during the '60s. Because Mossman is a poet as well as a crack storyteller, the result is both lyrical and gripping: Think Jim Morrison crossed with J.D. Salinger. Oh, and sometimes it's fall-on-the-floor funny, too.

Once you've read the book -- which takes some doing -- treat yourself to Mark Moskowitz's documentary ''Stone Reader,'' which played a pivotal role in bringing this forgotten book back into the cultural mainstream. Reader (available on DVD) chronicles Moskowitz's search for Mossman, who dropped from view 30 years ago. It's also a love sonnet to books and reading.

So is ''The Shadow of the Wind,'' by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves (The Penguin Press, $24.95). If you thought the true gothic novel died with the 19th century, this will change your mind. Shadow is the real deal, a novel full of cheesy splendor and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots. There's a haunted house (ah, but by what?) called the Angel of Mist, and the only horror greater than the thing rotting in its bricked-up crypt is (but of course, senor) the horror of doomed love.

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