Dwight Allen Is Not A Constant Reader

photo credit: dwightallen.com

Dwight Allen recently published a rambling article in Salon titled, “My Stephen King Problem.” Allen admits to being a “snob.” That’s not exactly what comes across in the article. Try, self absorbed. Does Salon have editors? Actually, Salon notes that the article originally appeared in the L.A. Review Of Books.


Throughout the article Allen called King a “genre” writer. This alone reveals that Mr. Allen knows absolutely nothing about Stephen King! In fact, even though he read 11.22.63, Mr. Allen didn’t get that the book is ultimately a romance! That King writers much, much, more than horror is evidenced in The Body, The Eyes of the Dragon, Bag of Bones, The Dark Tower series, From a Buick 8, The Talisman and so much more. To keep beating that old drum really reveals the box Allen is in, not King.

Allen does not consider King to be a good writer at all, saying, “By bestowing rewards on writing that is not all that good, has not the literary establishment lowered standards and pushed even further to the margins writing that is actually good and beautiful?” Of course, Allen does not discuss some of King’s greatest works; The Stand, IT, Salem’s Lot, Carrie, The Shining, Misery, The Green Mile. Personally, I think by bestowing rewards on King, the literary establishment has heightened the standards of what is good.


Instead of discussing King’s work, Allen takes us on his life journey. Really, this is about him! He tells of the many times he didn’t read Stephen King. He tells about the times people told him he should read King. He discusses the times he almost read, but alas. . . did not. This is a 4,500 word essay!

Reading this article introduced me to Allen’s favorite authors (not King), Allen’s wife (she works in the medical profession) and Allen’s adult son (he’s 24)  (His name is George). I feel like I know all about Dwight Allen! Maybe that was what he really wanted. The article could have been titled, “Introducing all things Dwight Allen, who happens to not like Stephen King.” In fact, I’m surprised Salon put a picture of Stephen King at the top of the article instead of Allen’s family photo.


Finally Allen let’s us know he did read a Stephen King novel. The reader wants to applaud and hug him, “thank you, Mr. Allen! Thank you for at least getting to a Stephen King book.” So what book did he read? He dove right into Christine. Great starting place, eh?

I loved Christine, but Allen found the characters hollow. I didn’t. I thought it accurately portrayed teens, their struggles and in particular their relationship with their parents and cars. But Allen admits he’s a snob, and I’m not sure snobs always identify well with teens.


It’s not just Stephen King who is set neatly in Allen’s crosshairs, it’s those who love Stephen King. Allen writes (and note the name-dropping here):

“My wife felt it was wrong to stand in judgment of people who read fiction in order to escape from life, and I said she was right: I didn’t feel morally superior because I read John Cheever or David Foster Wallace or William Styron or Zadie Smith or Mary Lee Settle instead of Stephen King.”

So the constant reader of Stephen King is just reading to “escape” life. He wouldn’t think about judging those poor souls! The statement itself is a judgment. I don’t read Stephen King because I need to escape life! I read King partly because he stirs my imagination, and his characters seem quite real.

Hold on, because Allen is not done insulting the Constant Reader – which consist of much of the reading American public. He writes,

“I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.)”

So it’s actually Allen who needs a book to escape life! He doesn’t read for entertainment or the joy of reading, he needs it to somehow sustain him. And yes, he is acting “morally superior” to other people. At the end of the day, we’re just people reading a book! People like Allen make reading no fun at all.


About 11.22.63, a novel I enjoyed quite a bit, Mr. Allen writes: 
“The characters are tinny and flat, and the period detail is slathered thickly on, as if to hide some vacancy.”
Actually, though Jake is not a particularly complicated character, I found Sadie to be very multi-faceted. And the period detail was delightful! The detail was certainly not there to “hide some vacancy.” The novel had lots of plot, lots of character – there was nothing to try and hide! In fact, the first time Jake stepped back into the past, I felt like I’d gone with him. I understood my parents better!

I came away from 11.22.63 with a deeper appreciation of the sixties, the effect John Kennedy had on a generation, and what life was like in another era. King did what no history book could have done – he transported me there!

Erik Nelson Speaks Up:

Erik Nelson gave a fantastic response to Allen, published at Salon on July 6th. He wrapped up by saying to Allen, “Stephen King has written a series of treasures that will endure the slings, arrows and rusty hatchets of envious writers whose faces are bitterly pressed against the glass of that Cultural Temple. You ain’t getting in, and Stephen King already has a far beyond-his-lifetime membership.” (Salon, HERE)

Dwight Allen’s article, “My Stephen King Problem” can be found HERE.


  1. Once more the so called literary establishment speaks it's mind. A curious paradox as it doesn't all that interested in books.

    In fact, one Allen mentioned the words "Good and beautiful" I remembered a book of literary theory written by Edmund Burke using very similar words, the difference was Burke championed fairy tales and stories of suspense and adventure as the "Good and beautiful."

    As for Allen, I think it's interesting that Christine is the book he read through. If he's as much a snob as he says he is, I don't think he'd have finished the book. The fact that he did is interesting.

    I think Allen finished the story of Arnie Cunningham because though he might deny it on the surface, subconsciously he identifies with Arnie Cunningham ("Arnie was a natural out").

    If Allen in some sense sees himself as Arnie, all I can say is people like that need all the help (and prayers) they can get.


  2. I get what Allen is saying. He's at least honest about the fact that he's a snob, I guess. All I can say is that he's entitled to his opinion, and I'm entitled to ignore it.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Is it bad that I really wish I'd gotten to read that comment?

  3. I would call King a genre writer, but anyone who can't see the fact that his novels are more about the characters and their reaction to whatever horror genre situation they are in are most definitely 'snobs.' I don't read King or any other author or book for that matter to escape from life, I read because I love a good story that can take you to different places, have you meet different people, and make you feel all the emotions that a human can feel. And that doesn't have to come from a book by an author deemed "great" by the literary establishment, it can come from any story that is simply told very well.

    Also, if you have to keep emphasizing the fact that you are not morally superior, YOU PROBABLY ARE.

  4. The problem with snobs is that they think snobbery is a virtue. It's not, and it doesn't suggest breeding either. It's a variant of "hate," and with Allen's education, I can't imagine why he hates writers like King.

    1. I only have one full year of college under my belt but I took many literature classes, and I remember the sort of snobby attitude that certain genres were "art" and others were mere entertainment, and that a novel that was entertaining was worthless.

      But those who got it worse than ever were so-called "genre" writers. First of all, I hate the entirely false notion that "genre" writing is about "escaping reality". Sorry, no. It's about visiting other realities. In so doing, we often can learn more about the reality we are in. Speaking as a person who has written in both horror and fantasy (full novels in both cases, still seeking publication) I can say with certainty that you cannot write either one without extensive research INTO REAL LIFE.

      One can learn much about humanity and what drives us, scares us, makes us what we are, entirely through genre fiction. Sometimes it makes it even more obvious thanks to being so removed from settings we recognize (fantasy, at least).

      It sounds like Allen is one of those guys who ascribe to the idea that the only fiction worth their time is A) not genre, B) about something Important and C) something that lends itself well to endless classroom discussions. I would argue that all fiction can be discussed to death in a classroom setting, but people like Allen, and my college professors, cannot possibly believe that anything that doesn't fall into the first two categories (especially the first!) could possibly fall into the third.

      King has a lot to say about idiots like that. I like that a response was written.