Boyd Tonkin: Why money isn't everything (even if it's $60m a year)

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me. So sang Aretha Franklin and so chorused Stephen King as he sniped at enemies on the American literary scene when pocketing his National Book Award for lifetime award.

King enjoys an annual income estimated at more than $60m (£35m) and writes at a pace and volume that summons up the supernatural powers so often evoked in his fiction. King has enjoyed global acclaim and a string of iconic movies inspired by his work. But it all seems to count for nothing when highbrows diss your rep.

Over the past decade, writers and critics have begun to take King more seriously. A few weeks agoMcSweeney's magazine publishedMcSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. King wrote a yarn himself.

True, King's new novel, Wolves of the Calla, reverts to many of the tiresome tricks of his early career. Yet books of the 1990s, such as Hearts in Atlantis and The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon, showcased an ambitious writer keen to extend his range. They were applauded by the haughty literati that King now accuses of treating him as a hack with lucky breaks. He could still whisk you up a nice line in haunted and blood-soaked Indian graveyards. But he is also devoted to the Modernist motif of writing-about-writers: The Shining and Misery are the best-known examples.

In 2000 King committed his advice on literary life to print in On Writing, a valuable guide well-received for its insight and balance. He also now pays his respects to the likes of Tom Clancy and John Grisham even though critics agree that he towers head and shoulders above them.

So is King truly the Charles Dickens of post-Sixties American literature? Close, but no cigar. That dude does exist, but his name is John Irving.