A Masochist's Journey To The Dark Tower For Readers Who Hate Stephen King, Part 2: Hearts In Atlantis, Brain In Insomnia
In September, I suggested a reading order for the extended universe of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, a series I loved, but hadn't read any of since Volume 7: The Dark Tower came out in 2004. I realized that I missed the characters from the series, and wondered if the reading order I suggested would really hold someone's interest all the way through. I scoured some local bookstores, and then the internet for the hardcovers of the books, and prepared for my quest to read a Super Long series of books.
I believe I'm over halfway through my reading of the expanded Stephen King Dark Tower universe. I'm certainly at the halfway of the official books, as I've read The Gunslinger, The Drawing Of The Three, The Waste Lands, and Wizard And Glass, which leaves Wind Through The Keyhole, Wolves Of Callah, Song Of Susannah, and The Dark Tower.
Maybe you are envious of this project but you don't really like Stephen King's writing style. You can still have a similar experience. King's work is loaded with allusions and references. I don't feel they often overtake the narrative (though the final chunk of Wizard And Glass is a bit too on-the-nose Wizard Of Oz for me), but they're there. I've taken somewhat lazy notes during the first half of this journey, and I present you with a list of books that approximate the Dark Tower chronology experience. You can also consider this a For Further Reading List, if you ever do decide to read through the Stephen King chronology. Though, really, you'd be better off getting a time machine, and reading these first, so that you catch all the references during the Dark Tower.
1. The Case Of Velvet Claws. Hearts In Atlantis is chock full of book references, as the main character has his coming of age moments via literature recommendations from an old man who moves in upstairs. This is the Perry Mason book that Bobby Garfield is reading at the beginning of the book before he meets Ted Brautigan.
2. Ring Around The Sun is the book in Bobby's hands when he first meets Brautigan, who informs him that it's a great book, before offering him a job to read the newspaper to him on a daily basis. I haven't read any Simak, but this will be the first one I do once I"m done with my own Dark Tower chronology read through.
3. Lord Of The Flies is the classic book that Brautigan recommends and that Bobby falls in love with. The moral play of the kids on the island factors into many of his decisions as the story progresses, and even other characters later in the book are noted to have read or be reading it.
4. The Midwich Cukoos is the basis for the classic movie The Village Of The Damned, which Bobby and Brautigan go to see together in theaters.
5. But Brautigan claims that Wyndham's best book is The Kraken Wakes. I don't intend on repeating many authors, or having too many books in the same genre back-to-back, but since both of these are mentioned, I thought I'd include them He also mentions that Day Of The Triffids is very good but that this book is better.
6. Cosmic Engineers marks three sci-fi books in a row from the recommendation of a fictional Breaker from The Dark Tower series. King, himself, also recommends this book in On Writing.
7. Roman Hat Mystery is a closed-room mystery,and the first of the Ellery Queen books. Bobby Garfield sees it on a library cart, and debates picking it up and reading it. The period mystery is a nice break from the sci-fi books, I hope.
8. The Inheritors is another novel by The Lord Of The Flies author, this one about prehistoric man, and the extinction of the Neanderthals. This is the book that Bobby Garfield picks up in place of The Roman Hat Mystery.
9. The Complete Stories Of Flannery O'Connor is the first book mentioned by Carol Gerber, Bobby's young love interest. She mentions that she should be in her dorm reading one of these stories instead of going to see a movie with another student.
10. I debated putting The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien on this list, as it's one of my all-time favorite books. But If I Die In A Combat Zone is one of the many phrases that shows up in the second section, so I thought this book might be a slightly better fit.
11. As has become evident, much of the latter portion of Hearts In Atlantis is about the Vietnam War. This was the first twentieth century war that Americans were willing to admit being ambivalent about. (We way over-romanticize our involvement in World War II considering how long we waited to get involved.) Jerry Lembke is a Vietnam vet and a sociologist who attempts to dis-spell some of the false narratives that have sprung up about the Vietnam era in the past forty years. I thought a non-fiction book might be a nice change of pace here.
12. I'm not a big Hemingway fan, but The Sun Also Rises gets name checked as one of the books recommended to one of the characters.
13. Finally moving into The Wind Through The Keyhole, here's the story of a changeling, which is awfully similar to The Skin Man that Roland is sent after in the story-within-a story, and which Tim Ross is afraid of encountering in the story-within-a-story-within-a-story.
14. Wild Seed is another book that deals with the changeling trope. I'm always looking for an excuse to put Octavia Butler on a reading list, and this fits real nicely here.
15. Our story-within-a-story-within-a-story features a young boy whose father dies, and he and his mother are thrust into an adventure when she remarries. Queen Sugar is about a mother and daughter in a similar situation.
16. Tim from our s-w-a-s-w-a-s is on a quest that blurs the lines of fantasy and reality, and takes him along various literature references along the way. Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy's Joe The Barbarian is a more modern take on that trope, in graphic novel form. The story is great, and the art is lovely.
17. During his journey, Tim encounters creatures that I visualized as very similar to Swamp Thing. Alan Moore has the most famous run on the series, but in 2012 Scott Snyder began his run, which isn't better than Moore's from a storytelling perspective but Yanick Pacquette's art is mesmerisingly good, so I recommend checking that out instead.
18. Has it been mentioned at all that Roland is supposedly descended fromhis world's version of King Arthur And His Knights Of The Round Table? That seems important. And Maerlyn keeps getting name-dropped over the course of the series, but this is the first time we meet Maerlyn by his name, so nows as good a time as any to brush up on Arthurian legends.
19. The ka-tet's journey to the tower is along the Bear-Turtle Beam, which gets referenced with some frequency both in the main series, and in It. Mainly, it's the turtle who gets the headlines, but they do have to defeat Shardik The Bear in The Waste Lands. But in the s-w-a-s-w-a-s, Tim is journeying along the Eagle-Lion Beam. He meets Maerlyn in the form of a tyger, and believes him to be one of The Beam's guardians, but Maerlyn points out that the guardian of this beam is Aslan, sooo...Narnia is a part of The Dark Tower, too.
20. When one of the characters in Insomnia starts to lose his shit, he starts quoting a bunch of Bible verses. We don't have time to read The Bible for this chronology but Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler's God Is Disappointed In You is a great modern, illustrated cliff-note version. Well worth your time.
21. The aforementioned Bible quoter is fixated on a powerful female historian named Susan Day, who is fictional. I think Hannah Arendt is one of her real world contemporaries, as this book would definitely piss off Ed Deepnau. And, really, in this horrible time in American history, it never hurts to read up on how The Origins Of Totalitarianism threatens.
22. Closing off this list, although I'm only 100 pages into Insomnia right now, is Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, which is the book Deepnau is reading when Ralph approaches him after a significant event in the book. Tom Robbins is one of my favorite writers from when I was in high school.