The other day Leah and I went to McKay’s, a used bookstore here in Greensboro. I love used books, because I love reading and I love bargains. And I love used bookstores, because I love reading, I love bargains, and I love trying to add to my Stephen King book collection. King, if you didn’t know, is my favorite author. We could talk about his novels (mostly hits, but a few misses), or his short stories (he’s the best short fiction author living today) ad nauseam, but nausea is bad, so let’s just narrow the topic down to my hobby: accumulating rare and interesting editions of novels related to Mr. King and his craft.
For me, the “holy grail” of Stephen King books are titles published under the pseudonym “Richard Bachman.” King wrote Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man, and Thinner under this pen name. Around the time The Shining came out, Signet Books (and other publishers) believed the public would never accept an author who came out with more than one book a year. Richard Bachman was thus invented, and as much as an experiment as an outlet. King wanted to see if his success up to that point was a fluke or talent. So he published two books a year, one under each name, and then compared the results.
Bachman’s sales were mediocre, but before the experiment could run its full course a journalist matched Bachman’s style to King’s style and blew it up. Since 1985 King’s published a few novels under the Bachman name, mainly as a joke. Finding those original titles is, however, where the fun is. I have an original copy of Thinner which I got at a swap meet in Albuquerque, NM, complete with a picture of “Richard Bachman” on the inner dust jacket (the picture is really of King’s agent’s insurance salesman). I also have a copy of The Bachman Books, which came out “post-outing,” but the collection is notable for carrying Rage, which is no longer published.
King took Rage out of print after thinking it inspired a school shooting. Sadly, since 1997 when the discontinuation happened, there’s been even more shootings. The connection between the two is tenuous to me, though this isn’t a book I’m aiming to get. But back to McKay’s: so many fans of Stephen King consider The Stand to be his greatest work, and it also has an interesting publication history. In its “glory,” The Stand is 1153 pages long. Depending on how the pagination works out in different editions, either it, IT, or Under the Dome is King’s longest work. But notably, The Stand wasn’t originally published in its entirety.
In 1978 King didn’t have enough cachet to get away with not listening to editors. The first version of the novel is much shorter, and I picked up two last week. The first was a hardback, and I had high hopes it was a first edition—what all collectors want. I didn’t end up being so lucky, though I’m excited to read this edited story, as the unedited version always seemed bloated to me. Also, I picked up an unedited paperback copy of the novel, because you can never have too much King, right? And now you know—if you were unaware, book collecting exists, and Richard Bachman is a name to look out for. Now good luck in starting your collection!
–Jeff and Leah
A side-by-side of the exact same “author” around the same year