There have been two occasions recently where I have gotten into discussions about the work of Stephen King, once online and once at a barbecue a few weeks ago. The online discussion included the fact that King is known pretty singularly as a horror writer. There is undoubtedly some truth in this. Almost every book of his has moments that are at the very least unsettling and at the most pretty horrifying. But King is really much more than that. He’s written fantasy, westerns, crime novels, and non-fiction. His writing is definitely not for everyone. Some think he’s too verbose. Some just don’t like his style. And some people don’t like anything even a little bit scary. That’s all fine; I would never presume to tell you what should move you when you’re reading. I personally enjoy horror, and King has been my favorite writer since I was in my early teens. Combine all of this with the fact I just finished reading his latest novel Mr. Mercedes yesterday and it made me decide to do a top ten list for King’s works. These are my personal favorites, and if you pick up one of these you may have an entirely different reaction to it than I did. Some of them mean what they do to me based on the time in my life I read them, some because I just love the characters. I’ve read most of his work, so this list is fairly inclusive. I have not read his non-fiction books (they’re on my ever growing list) and I have not read 11/22/63 or Dr. Sleep yet. Finding time to sit down and read lately has been an effort, and King’s books require a chunk of time. But as of right now, here are my favorites.
All images from Goodreads. If there is not an image, it’s because the Goodreads cover is one I honestly just don’t like as much.
1) Blaze –
This is one of the works that King wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman. The Bachman works tend to be a little grittier and more crime based than King’s other works. This book is about a semi-retarded man who kidnaps a baby for ransom. The main character, Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., is a prime example of why I love King. He is drawn with such understanding and compassion I truly felt horrible for him, even though he has done this horrendous thing. King has a talent for creating characters I love and relate to, and it’s well done in this book.
2) The Eyes of the Dragon –
I talked about this before in my list of favorite kids books. This has a wonderful, sit by the fire, cozy story-telling feel to it. A pure fantasy set in the kingdom of Delain, it has dragons, a scheming wizard, and a wrongly imprisoned prince. Plus some pretty great artwork, if you like that sort of thing. (I do).
3) The Talisman –
This is another work that at least borders on fantasy. Jack Sawyer, a 12 year old boy goes on an epic hero quest to save his mother. He has the ability to flip back and forth between this world and a world that lies adjacent to ours, known as the Territories. This is just a great work about the power of determination. There is also a great deal of ugliness in this book, and Sunlight Gardner is one of the most truly terrifying characters I have ever come across. But to me the overall theme of this is the power of love, family, and friendship.
4) Cycle of the Werewolf –
The name pretty much says it all. Pure monster book. Fun and creepy. Also, great artwork.
5) The Dark Tower III – The Waste Lands –
I’ll be honest, I could include every volume of the The Dark Tower Series. I love this series so much. It’s epic in scope, in concepts of good versus evil, in so many ways. It gave me Eddie Dean, who is probably my favorite fictional character ever. But this volume is something special in a series that is nothing but great. I definitely would not recommend reading one without the others. I don’t even know if I can define why I love this more than the others, unless it’s because of the insight you get into Eddie. Nonetheless, it is my favorite of the Dark Tower Books.
6) IT – Probably the cause for a great many clown phobias, IT takes place in a small Maine town named Derry in two different times: summer of 1958 and in 1984. A small group of “losers” band together to fight an evil being (who sometimes wears the face of a clown and goes by the name Pennywise) that kills children. This one I love for the characters. I don’t re-read this one in it’s entirety very often since it’s also over 1100 pages, but I dip into it a lot. I like to go and visit Bev Marsh and Ben Hanscom, and laugh with Richie Tozier. This is one of those books that’s on the scarier side, but it also makes me laugh until I cry in places. I love every single one of the Losers.
7) Insomnia – Ralph Roberts is an elderly widower who is waking up earlier every morning and unable to go back to sleep. He starts to fear he will never sleep again, and worries about going crazy. But there are forces at work in his hometown of Derry that have a use for him. This work to me is about the importance of each life, whether on a grand scale or a small one.
8) Hearts in Atlantis – This is a collection of five stories, and my favorite is the second one. This is a comprehensive work about Vietnam. The first story doesn’t really deal with it, but the other four do. And you see it from all perspectives. From someone who felt she had to protest it, to someone who volunteered to serve, to a draftee who feels guilt for the things he did, both there and other places. Spanning from 1960 to 1999, the five stories weave together in a way that reminds you everything done has consequences. And, once again, about the magic of friendship
“What I remember best about that day – the only thing about it worth remembering – is that Bobby Garfield stood up for me. Sully was bigger, and Sully might have stood up for me if he’d been there, but he wasn’t. Bobby was there, and he carried me all the way up the hill. He did what was right. It’s the best thing, the most important thing, anyone has ever done for me in my life.”
9) The Green Mile – This was an interesting experiment that King tried. An offhand conversation between two associates of King’s brought up the fact that many of Dickens’ novels had been published in serial installments. There was then some speculation on what would happen if it was tried by a current popular novelists. Well, Stephen got a hold of the idea and ran with it. At the time it was pretty risky, a book put out in six parts. It turned out to be a huge success, based at least partly on the following that King has. But mostly I think because the book is just so damn good. It’s also one of the only movie adaptations I have seen of King’s work that I truly love. The story of John Coffey, a man who has been found guilty of murder and sentenced to die, it’s truly a powerful work. It’s told from the POV of Paul Edgecomb, who is a great narrator for the events of the story. John Coffey is one of the best characters I have ever read, and he has a speech that never fails to make me cry
“I know you been worryin, but you ought to quit on it now. Because I want to go, boss”
“I’m rightly tired of the pain I hear and feel, boss. I’m tired of bein on the road, lonely as a robin in the rain. Not never havin no buddy to go on with or tell me where we’s comin from or goin to or why. I’m tired of people bein ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head. I’m tired of all the times I wanted to help and couldn’t. I’m tired of bein in the dark. Mostly it’s the pain. There’s too much. If I could end it, I would. But I can’t.”
10) The Body – This is my number one, my very favorite work. It’s actually one of four stories in a book named Different Seasons. Most people are familiar with this work, but not many people know it was written by Stephen King. This story was adapted into the movie Stand By Me, which most everyone I know has seen at one time or another. This is the first work I ever read by the man who would become my favorite author, when I was about 12, I think. I’ve read this more than any other work, about 15 times probably. For awhile I read it once a year, and I’m way overdue for another re-read. The basic plot is four friends take a walk down the railroad tracks to look at the body of Ray Brower. But it’s an excellent snapshot to what life was like in rural Maine in 1960. It’s also a story of friendship, which is a running theme through many of my favorites. The movie is pretty good, and the casting was fantastic. Keifer Sutherland as Ace Merrill was inspired. But my love will always be for the novella, because that’s how I found my way into the world that King writes in. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Vern laughed. “Goin without you’d be like goine with Slitz instead of Budwieser’s, Gordie.”
“Ah, shut up”
They chanted together: “I don’t shut up, I grow up. And when I look at you I throw up.”
“Then your mother goes around the corner and licks it up,” I said, and hauled ass out of there, giving them the finger over my shoulder as I went. I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?
Well, there you have it. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to compile this list because I honestly love pretty much every single work of King’s I have read. So thanks for letting me ramble about my favorite writer for a while.