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What's All This Then?

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The Long Walk
by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Field-Tested by Will Leitch

in the back of Mrs. Gardner’s classroom in Mattoon, Illinois

This is one of the ‘Bachman Books,’ that collection of four novels that Stephen King wrote when he was, like, 19. Two of these aren’t very good (even the one that inspired The Running Man, which is, god yes, quite good), one is decent, if kind of creepy in the wake of all the school shootings (Rage), and one is balls-out awesome. That’s The Long Walk.

The premise of the book is simple. In one of those not-too-distant futures that people love to write about, a dictator called The Major stages a yearly ‘race’ called The Long Walk. 100 young men all line up and walk. You have to walk four miles an hour, and if you go under that speed three times in an hour, you’re shot dead. That’s it. That’s the whole book. We meet all the different competitors, some of whom are compelling, some clichéd, some just faceless, nameless dead guys. Because he was about 20 years old when he wrote it, there’s a lot of psychological, metaphorical mumbo-jumbo that King would be smart enough to remove when he got older. But it’s just a long, long walk, with a bunch of guys talking to each other, watching each other die. It’s a brilliant idea for a book, and I must have read it about 100 times in high school. When I’m in-between books now, I’m prone to pulling out my old ratty, rotting copy of The Bachman Books to read it again. It’s not brilliant, but it rivets me every time, even if I always know how it’s gonna turn out. I read a lot of really boring books that I’m ‘supposed’ to enjoy, but I still read this, over and over, and it never fails me.

This book captured me when I was about 13 years old. Why? Because it grappled with issues of morality, death, sex, brotherhood in an easy-to-read way that still made me feel like an adult. I’ve read much better books since then, ‘serious’ books, but this still appeals to that 13-year-old who learned that, hey, books can be pretty fun! Who knew?

Will Leitch is the author of three books, including the recent God Save The Fan. He was the founding editor of Deadspin and is now a writer at New York magazine.

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