I saw it sitting on a desk, the desk of a fellow seventh-grader named Beth H— (yes, I can remember her name; that’s how influential this whole thing is). Actually, I guess what I should say is that I saw It sitting on a desk, for It was indeed its name. It was a book, an unbelievable thick paperback book called It written by a man named Stephen King. Now that man’s name held no attraction for me; I had no idea who Stephen King was (and am not totally sure that Stephen King was then who he is now). The fact that the book was a new release also held no attraction for me, either (until that time, I had always just figured that books were and didn’t know that they were released; I wouldn’t become aware that media was released and of how media was released for quite some time after that). The title, though, did; that simple but clearly foreboding title It, printed in a huge red and ragged font, held an immense attraction for me. And if that title wasn’t enough, there was the cover art which showed a green reptilian claw reaching out of a sewer grate toward a young boy’s paper boat. Two seconds of looking at that title and that art and I (that is the I who had been enthralled by monsters for several years, the I who would stay up until midnight to watch the cheap scares of Chiller Theater ) knew I had to read it; I knew I had to find out what It was; I knew I had to face It. And I did. For some reason, I actually purchased the book from a local convenience store; what made me think I had to buy it rather than borrow it, I don’t know, but I did; I actually laid down the few bucks I had, the few bucks I had somehow scrounged up somewhere and had been hoarding for some time, on the convenience store counter and took the paperback off the wire rack by the door. And having bought it, I read it; I read it all the way through; I was young and the book was long but I read it front to back during the fall of 1987 (I’m pretty sure it was ’87; the book was released in ’86, but I’m figuring the paperback version would have reached my hands a year later), read it during that more primitive time when there were no Amazon.com reviews to consult and the only possibly spoilers could come from friends who had read the book before I did, read it during that time when it was just me and the book.
Now the book itself was great. It was the monster story I had been hoping for, sure, but it was a love story as well, a story of a great love not just between a boy and a girl but between a group of friends (“The Losers Club”). It was, in fact, and still is (as a recent rereading has convinced me), a masterpiece; a flawed masterpiece, perhaps (I don’t think the parts of the book are as evenly distributed as they should be and the final confrontation is a somehow less climactic than it could be; I don’t think Richie should have caught It’s tongue), but a masterpiece nonetheless. Beyond that, though, way beyond that, was the experience of reading the book. The experience of reading the book was more meaningful to me than the book itself. I had always been an avid reader; I had been reading since before I could remember and often carted home my limit from the local library (four books at a time, I believe). However, I had always read children’s or teen’s book; I had not yet entered the world of adult fiction, nor had I tackled a book as long as It (1000+ pages). It, then, was my entry point; it was the threshold into adult reading, and once I crossed it, I never looked back. I read almost all of King’s works after it (Salem’s Lot, Christine, Firestarter, Cujo, Pet Semetary, etc) and went looking for other adult authors as well. And though my tastes run differently today (I’m much more apt to grab a Robert Parker book and than a King), It no doubt is and always will be my favorite book; It has a place in my heart which no other book can take; It was it for me.
So I had an experience, and the thing about these experiences is that you never can figure out what made them what they were. Was it the book, or the time, or the time of year, or me? I can’t answer those questions. Here’s what I know, though: I picked a book by its cover, and I got lucky.