Top Ten Stephen King Books
Lately on Twitter, I’ve seen a few posts asking about what Stephen King books are best or are good introductions to his vast catalog. As a fan of his work, I thought I’d put my own list together.
While compiling, though, I realized just how many novels this amazingly prolific master storyteller has written. “Metric shit-ton” is the technical term, I believe. I thought I had read a lot – about 25 books of his – but discovered I’m not even half-way through his catalog. (At least on the bright side, I’ve got a lot of reading to look forward to.)
To give some context of what I’ve read and what I haven’t, after the top ten list I’ve also included his titles on my TBR, which means I’ve already got the book stashed somewhere in my overcrowded bookshelves. I’ve also listed a few other titles I know I’ve got to go purchase and read.
For this list, I’ve included any series as one item as those books really are better when read together. I also didn’t include any Richard Bachman titles, though I probably should have. Maybe I’ll included them when I update this list at some point down the road.
In reading Stephen King, in my opinion, the biggest misconception is that he only writes horror. While he truly is a master of the horror genre, there are several other outstanding novels that I would categorize as fantasy. This includes two of my favorite titles: the Dark Tower series (all eight books) and 11/22/63.
As will become clear, I’m a much bigger fan of King’s early works. To me, they feel more straight-forward, plausible, and grounded and, as a result, more chilling. Disagree with my selections? Let me hear it in the comments.
My Top Ten:
Dark Tower Series (Gunslinger, Waste Lands, Drawing of the Three, Wizard and Glass, Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and the Dark Tower.) – King’s self-proclaimed magnum opus, I wholeheartedly agree. The fantasy epic is complex, thought-provoking, and wholly original with rich and realistic characters – both good and evil. My particular favorite, Wizard and Glass, is a story within the story, offering insight into the backstory of the hero, Roland Deschain. With storytelling at its finest, it is one of the top five books I’ve ever read.
11/22/63 – Also more fantasy than horror, this character-driven story follows a regular man dropped into extraordinary circumstances as he travels back in time with an opportunity to stop the assassination of JFK. But should he? A page-turner (of 800+ pages) that I read over a long weekend.
The Shining/Doctor Sleep – So much better than Kubrik’s movie – which is outstanding in its own way – The Shining is much more about supernatural forces than a man falling into madness. The hotel is a much bigger and more sinister character, and the ending is quite different. Written over 35 years later, Doctor Sleep picks up with an older Dan Torrence who must again call upon his ‘shining’ to stop a troupe of modern-day killers. The two novels work well together when read back-to-back as some elements of The Shining come through in the Doctor Sleep finale.
The Stand – Another epic novel, this story hits closer to home as it illustrates the impact a deadly pandemic can have on society before it follows two groups of survivors with vastly different approaches on how civilization should be reborn.
Needful Things – Just how petty are humans, especially when the object of their desire is dangled in front of them? Turns out, they’re not just petty but manipulative, violent, and sinister. Watch out when the devil starts antiquing in your neighborhood.
Firestarter – Based more in science fiction than horror, the backstory of this novel surrounds just how much we don’t know about the human brain, and the problems created when we chemically fiddle with it. MK-Ultra anyone? When a little girl inherits powers from her parents, the government wants to study her, but both she and her dad have unique ways to fight back.
Misery – The best reason, at least as far as I can tell, not to become a bestselling author is to avoid the psycho superfans/stalkers who would do anything for you (or to you.) Though our poor hero ends up writing one of his best books in years, I’m not sure it was worth the cost, and you’ll never look at a sledgehammer the same way again.
Christine – The moral of this story is, don’t be a dick and bully other people. Because those people that are shunned, will go out and purchase demonic cars that play 1950s rock and roll and will run you down on the street. (Similarly – and part of my TBR – they may also have telepathic powers and might kill you at the prom.) Just be nice.
Pet Sematary – This book explores another generally good rule of thumb: don’t bury things in ancient Indian burial grounds. It’s sacrilegious and will undoubtedly piss off the spirits. But what other recourse does Louis have when his two-year-old son is killed? You roll the dice, you pay the price.
Mr. Mercedes/Finders Keepers/End of Watch – Not up to the same level of the other entrants on the list, this is where my reading has let me down. I should probably have Salem’s Lot, Carrie, or IT on this list, but alas, I have not yet read them. So, I’ve got to wrap up with the Bill Hodges trilogy which are grittier and gloomier than many of King’s other works. More despairing than chilling, these three books are more crime mysteries than supernatural horror stories.
For context, here are the books by Stephen King that are on my TBR. I own them but just haven’t cracked them open yet.
The Dark Half
From a Buick 8
Hearts in Atlantis
The Regulators/Desperation - Bachman
Other famous novels still to buy:
The Dead Zone
The Running Man – Bachman
Thinner – Bachman