Friday, May 23, 2014

A Review of Andrew J. Rausch's "The Wit and Wisdom of Stephen King"

The book I'm reviewing today came out in 2011, so this is not exactly a Johnny-on-the-Spot review.  Sorry about that, y'all.

Actually, no!  I'm not sorry at all!  Dadgum it, there's no need for me to apologize!  Fact is, I didn't think this book would amount to a whole heck of a lot, so when it came out, I kind of just shrugged at it and put it where I put a lot of things that interest me but only to a certain degree: on my wishlist.

Every once in a while, though, when I'm buying other things from Amazon and have a bit of money left to spend, I'll scroll through that wishlist, and if the price is right and the mood strikes me in the correct manner, I'll pluck an item or two or three off of that list and migrate 'em over to the shopping cart.

And so it is that when I recently bought a few other books about Stephen King, I decided to go ahead and pick this one up, too, because hey, why not?

Turns out, that was a pretty good decision.  This book is well worth having and reading.

In my mind, I think I expected that it would be a hangdog collection of pithy sayings from King, many of them undoubtedly of the sort that you've heard a million times if you're a King fan.  And there is some of that here, but only a wee bit.

Instead, you get plenty of extracts from King interviews, lectures, and essays on subjects such as censorship, fear, horror films, ideas, money, fame, and so forth, from the macro (such as those examples) to the micro (such as directing Maximum Overdrive).  A great many of these come from interviews that many King fans will have encountered before in books such as Bare Bones and Feast of Fear, but there is also quite a lot from interviews that came after those books.

I was also mentally envisioning something like there being one quote per page, so that the book largely consisted of white page space.  It would not be the first such quotation book I've ever seen.  This could not possibly have been more incorrect on my part, however; the book is slender (127 pages), but it's wall-to-wall text, which means that what you get is a decidedly more substantive experience than I expected.

As far as writing a review of the book goes, I don't have much more to say than that.  I suppose a few photos might have been nice, but that's the best I can do in terms of negativity.  The quotations from King are uniformly excellent; the book's title is maybe a bit on the cheesy side, but I can't really argue that King is both a witty and a wise man, and the quotations in this book go a long way toward proving it.

Highly recommended.

I also picked up a second book by Rausch:

Those quotes from Garris and Gordon on the back cover give you a good idea of the sort of book this is.  They do not exaggerate; these quizzes are hella difficult.

Can I be honest?  (I'm always honest on this blog, but occasionally I feel the need to ask your permission; this is my way of making you complicit, you see.)  I don't really give a shit about quiz books.  There are a number of King-quiz books on the market, and this is the only one I own.  To be honest, I'm not even sure why I bought it.  I didn't want it particularly; it just sort of . . . happened.

Which is not to say it's a bad book.  It isn't.  (Even though Rausch misspells Abagail as "Abigail" numerous times.)  It's 360 pages worth of savant-level trivia questions about King movies.  You WILL learn something from this, unless you are God Almighty and already know it all.  Even God might not be able to answer a few of these questions; why would He feel the need to know things about some of these shitty-ass movies?  He doesn't need a starship, and he also doesn't need to know what snack the undertaker offers Hutton in The Mangler.

Most of the quizzes are broken into three sections: Easy, Medium, and Hard.  I know a good bit about King and his movies, so I do okay at the Easy.  But I've also got a shit memory, so "okay" is the best I can do.

For the heck of it, I will now take the quizzes on one of the movies (we're going to go with Maximum Overdrive) and report my success/failure level to you.  I won't cheat, because why would I?  This ain't that kind of blog.

Easy: of the 15 questions, I got six correct.  Medium: again, six out of 15.  Hard: only four out of 15 this time.

What can we learn from that?  Well, we can learn that I am full of enough shit that I can average roughly 35% on these quizzes (based on an admittedly tiny sample).  So there's that.  We can also perhaps learn that Rausch has a different idea of how to separate things based on the Easy/Medium/Hard scale than I might have.  I think some of them are flat-out in the wrong categories.  For example, one of the Easy questions for this movie asks which two nominations the film got for the Razzie Awards.  That knowledge cannot be gleaned from the movie itself, so I would argue that it belongs in the Medium category.  Then, later, the Hard category asks the name of the movie (also based on King) in which co-star Frankie Faison appears as Don Gaffney.  You know the answer, I'm sure.  And it certainly isn't Hard.

But why quibble over stuff like that?  It's in the eye of the beholder.

One complaint I have is that the book leaves out a couple of films.  It runs through 2009, so it includes everything up to that date except for the two Lawnmower Man films.  And yeah, sure, I get it: they have nothing to do with King's work, realistically.  Neither do movies like Creepshow III, the Children of the Corn movies, Firestarter Rekindled, or any of the other fauxquels "based" on King's work.  And yet, they're all included here.  So why ignore The Lawnmower Man?  If I had to guess, I'd guess that it was due to the lawsuit that resulted in King's name being taken off the movie.  Well, that's fine from a legal standpoint, but it doesn't change the fact that the movie WAS based -- however loosely -- on a King story.  So for my money, if you're including Creepshow III, you ought to include The Lawnmower Man and its shitty sequel, too.

That's a minor complaint, though.

I can't imagine myself ever actually reading this book cover to cover, nor do I know offhand of a social situation that might cause me to put it to use with friends.  But that's just me.  Other people may be able to do one or the other, or both, in which case this seems to be a very solid example of its genre.  I don't regret the purchase at all, and have had fun leafing through it at odd moments.  If you enjoy trivia books and like Stephen King movies, then you will probably love this book.

Until next time, I leave you with this stumper:

What is the fire chief's name in Secret Window?


  1. No idea on the fire chief, alas.

    I bought a Cheers trivia book, thinking I had a better command of stories, guest stars, production detail, and incidentals and would do quite well. But it was damn hard, and I got annoyed at most of the questions. And particularly how they were organized. Dumb stuff, not unlike the SNL sketch with Shatner where he's asked for the locker combination in his quarters from "This Side of Paradise," etc. I only bring it up as it's the first thing I think of when it comes to quiz books.

    There was a Superman quiz book that I had as a kid that was like a primer for the Mort Weisinger years. I didn't know a single answer, but I loved reading it pursuant to reverse-engineering the Silver Age Superman.

    My first thought reading your review of the Wit and Wisdom one is, if we can get stuff like this, why can't we get a King Non-Fiction Omnibus?? Maybe one of these days. I hope so.

    And yeah, no excuse for leaving out either Lawnmower Man (Lawnmower Men, if we refer to both?) when you've got Creepshow III in there. Poor form.

    1. I'll say this for trivia books: they mostly make me feel as if I'm not quite as big a nerd as I sometimes fear I am.

      "My first thought reading your review of the Wit and Wisdom one is, if we can get stuff like this, why can't we get a King Non-Fiction Omnibus?? Maybe one of these days. I hope so." -- A-fuggin'-men.