It sounds like a question for "Family Feud": What do the pope and Stephen King have in common?
The answer's not "Utah." The pope has shown admiration for the state. King thinks we spend our time memorizing Jell-O recipes. And as for the devil, John Paul II prefers to pray him out of you, not scare him out.Touchstones between the two are few and far.
Except this fall. This fall both will have mega-selling books out with big-time American publishing houses. King's "Insomnia" should sell a million copies the first week. The pope's "Crossing the Threshold of Faith" will likely hit the mark fairly early as well.
Add to the mix James Herriott, a writer who - next to Robert Fulghum - is the best in the world at spinning touchy-feely thoughts into golden essays, and you have a fall made up of "The Good, the Bad and the Snuggly."
"Locally, there's always interest in Stephen King, but things are pretty soft for us when it comes to what the pope has to say," says one local bookbuyer.
On the national level, however, bookstores are bracing for some brisk papal business. The popularity of the new Catholic Catechism caught publishers and sellers so much by surprise this year, they're going to make sure they're covered on "Crossing the Threshold of Faith."
For now, Knopf - the publisher - is doing little to provide teasers and advance page proofs, choosing instead to let the book splash across America in one wave come November - not unlike a Christmas movie. Publicists are upbeat, however.
"The pope's decision to reach out to lay people in this way, through the pages of a book, will enable him to speak in a thoughtful and personal way, rare for one of the world's great religious leaders," says Alberto Vitale of Random House, Knopf's parent company.
Apart from that quick backhand to other world religious leaders, Vitale is right about the pope. A playwright and poet in Poland before becoming pontiff, John Paul II's running battle with the media and a desire to expound on morality, faith and Christianity in more than 10-second sound bites could well have prompted him to write his book.
It does set a precedent, and not a bad one. If the pope is a man of the people, then it's natural he'd reach them in a popular way. And mass-market publishing is as a good way as any.
As for King, Utahns may be soured by his sour comments on our provincialism (from a writer out of Maine, of all places), but that will not stop locals from snapping up "Insomnia." Stephen King has gone beyond popularity all the way to cult status. In some circles, if you haven't read the latest King, you might as well be dead.
"Insomnia," which will hit the stores in October, is the story of Ralph Roberts, one of King's "Maine men" with a problem. Roberts, who lives in the town of "Derry" (remember "It"?) begins losing sleep after the death of his wife. Soon he's seeing auras. Not long after he's witnessing horrors. The pro-choice, pro-life debate is the backdrop for the story.
The book, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, will come out covered with bells and whistles. Matthew R. Bradley of Viking says there will be a $1 million marketing campaign that will include "stealth advertising," 3-D floor displays and full-color magazine ads. He calls the novel "intricate," "timely" and "inventive."
Those who've read King before can supply their own adjectives for the book - good or bad - even before it comes to town.
As for James Herriott's new book, "Cat Stories," it trods the turf his other works have - small tales from the life of a gentleman vet who loves animals. With "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and its companion volumes, Herriott took the world of animals and made it a metaphor for our own. He's at it again with cats.
And at his best, Herriott splits the difference between King and the pope - good storytelling coupled with some down-to-earth thoughts on humanity, morality and life in general.
This book, like his others, will be a pop culture classic.
So, in the end, you pay your money and get what you pay for. With the price of hardback volumes getting into the $25 range now, chances are you won't get all three of these books for your birthday. But you might get one.
And depending on who you are, that book will be a good indicator of how well your friends and relatives really know you.