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God save the King

It was a lovefest at the showcase BOOKED! event, the Stephen King tribute on Friday evening. The 1,300-seat John Bassett Theatre looked to be at least two-thirds full, and the crowd response started at “wild” and went from there. The first of many standing ovations came when King was spotted simply taking his pre-show seat in the front row.

Once the presentation got under way, authors Margaret Atwood and Clive Barker each spoke briefly about King’s influence; Barker essentially credited his own career to an early King review of his work. Susan Moldow, King’s publisher at Simon & Schuster imprint Scribner over the past 10 years, also spoke briefly.

The main event was an onstage interview with Chuck Klosterman, pop-culture commentator and King’s fellow Simon & Schuster author. Among other things, Klosterman asked King why people like to be scared; whether King considers himself a literary version of the band AC/DC; how fast he could write a novel at the height of his powers (“could you write one here, right now?”); and whether King thinks about his literary legacy now that he’s, ah, getting on. (To be fair to Klosterman, all of it came off better at the time than it probably sounds here.)

King was genial, relaxed, and funny, and took the chance to praise a few Canadian books, mainly Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy but also Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Alistair MacLeod’s Island, and the work of Robert Charles Wilson and Andrew Pyper. “I’ve been reading Canadian fiction all my life – I understand the sensibility and devotion to story. I love story,” said King, decrying the “look at me dance” approach. “I have very little use for novelists who turn their books into discotheques of the mind.”

Canadian Booksellers Association president Steve Budnarchuk presented King with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Libris Award. King is the first non-Canadian to get the prize, which was launched in 2001. Past winners include booksellers Charles Burchell and Judith Mappin and authors Pierre Berton, Carol Shields, and Timothy Findley.

In return, King injected the fledgling BOOKED! fest with some valuable star power. Friday’s event – billed as King’s first public appearance in Canada – was well covered in advance and was filmed by Book Television (one measure of King’s celebrity was the fact that even before he took the stage, a camera was trained on him at all times to catch reaction shots). And although advance notices about the show explicitly stated that there would be no signing, a handful of book-wavers pressed (vainly) toward the front row anyway as King exited.

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