Joyland: A Paper Experience

Stephen King has been a favorite author since picking up The Stand. Known as the master of terror, my favorite King books are not Carrie, TommyKnockers, Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, or The Dark Tower mythology, which touches a vast number of his characters and tales in one fashion or another. These are all solid books and is the body of what he is known for. The book It still makes me look twice at clowns, and I can’t help but remember The Stand when I catch a cold. My favorites are the ones that tell a good story; yet, don’t give me nightmares. Maybe, I have grown soft through the years.

Some still look at me twice when they find out these favorites were written by Stephen King. There is The Body, which most know as the movie Stand By Me. The ending still stays with me, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” And Eyes of the Dragon is probably one of the best fairy tales written. It’s even got a spinning wheel. And finally, the best of the lot is Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption. I’m still a believer that this should have won Best Picture. It was a good year for movies with Forrest Gump taking the title so I can’t complain too much. Still, the short story blows the movie out of the water.

 If you take anything from this review of Joyland, go out and read Shawshank. Make sure you have time–because you will read the 100 pages or so in one setting.

When I heard that Stephen King was doing a mystery novel, I was all in. The description from Amazon describes this in the same vein as Shawshank Redemption. So, I turned on the Kindle and went to look for it in the store… and I couldn’t find it. I assumed that it wasn’t released yet. Then, I went back and looked and it was ready to be ordered. After a quick search on Bing (no Google at team Microsoft), I found that he wasn’t releasing an electronic version. This was the author that put out one of the first electronic books. Why wasn’t the tale coming to Kindle? It had to be coming later. After another search, there were no plans to go digital.

This put me in a tough spot. I had to go out and actually find a paper copy of the book. Yes, they still have these places called book stores. I had to make a couple of stops because this book was apparently in demand. I found one at Barnes and Noble, the stores last copy in stock.

I have actually been laughing most of the week comparing this new technology called paper to an electronic book. The power never goes out, turning the pages has never been easier, and you can read it in sunligh. And I can loan it to my neighbor and resell it if I want. Sure, it’s been a round a few hundred years and improvements could be made. I do believe that searching could be better and it is a bit heavier than the electronic counterpart. Heck, I can put 1,000 books on a Nook or Kindle. Think about the sheer weight of that many books. Not that I would ever carry 1,000 books with me at the same time but it’s still something to tout, or at least a seldom used feature.

This forgotten technology makes Joyland a throwback experience. It’s a coming of age book about a college kid (Devin Jones) who had his heart broke and takes a job at an amusement park during the summer. He meets friends, tries to get over lost love, and does his best to rise through the carney ranks. In this first person narrative, Devin is thinking back on his time at the amusement park and how it shaped his life. And throughout the book, Devin often wonders why his first true love didn’t love him back. Despite him telling this tale later in life, he never gets a satisfactory answer. It is never meant to be. That’s why the book feels real at times. Sure, there is a ghost story, a fortune teller that can really see the future, and a young kid that has the sight. But who hasn’t heard a ghost story in their day, especially growing up. And nothing here is over the top.

The book is published by Hard Case Crime. There is a mystery to the tale and I won’t spoil it for you. I really believe that the characters are what matters. You will take something away from this book. Toward the end, Devin gives a kid the perfect day and gets more from it in exchange. “All I can say is what you already know: some days are treasure. Not many, but I think in almost every life there are a few. That was one of mine, and when I’m blue–when life comes down on me and everything looks tawdry and cheap, the way Joyland Avenue did on a rainy day–I go back to it, if only to remind myself that life isn’t always a butcher’s game. Sometimes the prizes are real. Sometimes they are precious.”

I may not be losing sleep after reading this, but Joyland will stay with me. This may not be Rita Heyworth and her poster. Still, it’s King at his best.


  • And no, the post image isn’t the cover of Joyland. But I do understand the joy and challenges of printing a book at scale.
  • And feel free to purchase a solid hardcover book, crafted with care.