For those of you that don’t know me, I am a massive Stephen King fan. When I was just getting back into reading as an adult, one of the first books I read was a King book and I loved it. Then I read another, and another, until I was hooked. His works are partial responsible for making the big reader that I am today. Strangely, it has been about 2 years since I last read one of his novels, and so I just fancied doing something King related. Out of the 33 King novels I’ve read so far, these are my top 10!
Hey everyone, this is Future Harry writing. He ending up typing so much bollocks for each entry that he had to force himself to cut down swathes of what he’d written because apparently once you start him on a topic that he loves, like Stephen King books, he will just talk and talk and talk. Seriously though, I could talk about all of these books in thousands of more words. Count yourself lucky I saw sense before publishing this listicle!
10) The Shining
Everyone knows The Shining movie. Jack Nicholson plays himself as he goes slowly insane and chases him family around a weird hotel in the Rockies with an axe. Redrum, creepy twins, Here’s Johnny. And whilst the book is of course not this unknown entity, I was surprised to see how different this was from the movie (which I’ve watched many many times). At this point in time though it’s hard to separate the two from one another, but they both tell a different story using the same framework. The book leans into more overtly supernatural elements, delves more into the families past and Jack Torrance’s drinking problems, and on the whole being less ambiguously creepy and more thrilling scary. It’s one of King’s most known works for a reason, and it’s a great starting point for anyone looking to get into his works. Bonus points also go to it’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, which is a great follow on (even if, in my opinion, Mike Flanagan’s Directors Cut of the movie adaptation is better).
9) Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary was the first Stephen King book I ever read, and frankly I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a genuinely creepy book, one that’s deeply depressing in it’s subject matter and pessimistic in its final moments, but one that crawls under you skin and keeps coming back from the dead to haunt your memories. An essay on grief though the coked up lens of King, Pet Sematary is a must read for all King fans and horror fans in general.
8) The Dead Zone
This is an odd one. Part supernatural thriller, part political drama, part noirish murder mystery, The Dead Zone sees Johnny Smith (original name there) wake up from coma 5 years after an accident to discover he has a special gift. It’s a book that follows Johnny through his life over the course of a decade as he uses this gift in various situations, and the main antagonist, Greg Stillson, is one of King’s most despicable villain’s (and someone who is oddly reminiscent of another recent outspoken, blonde haired politician).
7) Mr Mercedes
Mr Mercedes is the epitome of crime thriller. A cat and mouse game between retired detective Bill Hodges, and twisted killer Brady Hartsfield, it’s hard to tell who is the predator and who is the prey as they constantly one up each other. Non-stop thrills, twists and turns aplenty, and a breakneck pace that never lets up, it’ll hook you from go and not let go. Whilst the rest of the Bill Hodges doesn’t quite live up (they are still good books), Mr Mercedes is a true page turner.
6) ‘Salems Lot
Often touted as one of if not the scariest Stephen King book around, I’d be hard pressed to disagree. ‘Salems Lot is a vampire novel done right, an American modern (if you can class 1975 as modern nowadays) retelling of Dracula. It’s here that Stephen King first showed of his ability to make the setting, a small town in Maine – always a small town in Maine – feel as much a character as the people that occupy it. In fact, there are large portions of this book that just explore these people’s lives, especially at the beginning. It’s a slow, creepy burn of a book, and again, it houses one of King’s more celebrated baddies, Barlow.
5) The Outsider
I don’t care what people think; the first part of this book is unbelievably good! It’s ridiculous how much tension, how much dread, how much “pressure cooker” build up happens in the first 100 pages, only to explode in a fashion that I genuinely put the book down and had to pace the room to calm down. I may have even flapped my hands in excitement! The book then takes a big breather, and we are treated to a mystery novel for the remainder of it’s runtime where we are never quite sure where we’ll end up, but the ride is brilliant fun. In my opinion, it’s the best book he’s put out in the past decade.
It’s the best thriller I’ve ever read. Just read it. Seriously stop what you’re doing and read this book. Now!
Okay, I’ll give you some more info to work with. 11/22/63 follows college English teacher Jake as he travels back in time to the late fifties to try to stop the assassination of JFK. This is a thick book, one that captures the political unrest of the world at the time, the ever looming threat of nuclear annihilation, and the sweeping societal changes of 50’s and 60’s America, whilst also being deeply routed in some of King’s best characters he’s ever brought to life. He brings this era of the US alive through Jake as he navigates this iconic time in American history, all the while being an incredibly paced, exciting science thriller. I was genuinely sweating when the story began to reach it’s climax and that fate day in November 1963 reared it’s head. It also contains one of his best endings, which is great considering he’s picked up a (undeserved in my opinion) reputation for not being the best at ending his books!
3) The Waste Lands
There had to be a Dark Tower novel on here. Frankly, consider this my entry for the entire Dark Tower series (READ THE DARK TOWER PEOPLE, IT’S SO GOOD AND SO STRANGE!). But if I absolutely had to choose one, it would be The Waste Lands, the third book in the series. Here, we get more lore on the Tower itself, the land of Mid-World, our own world, the paths of the beams. We get better character arcs for Roland and his crew, more surprises, more weirdness, more adventure, more action. Each Dark Tower book feels very distinct from one another, but The Waste Lands is just brilliant from start to finish.
Anyone up for a bit of ZZ Top?
2) The Stand
It’s obvious what my top 2 picks are going to be, however, they are both relatively interchangeable with each other.
For my money, I consider The Stand to be the quintessential apocalypse novel. Being well in excess of 1300 pages, it’s an absolute brick. But it’s a book about the end of the world, and the ultimate battle between good and evil, whilst also being King’s take on the Lord of the Rings (it’s longer than LOTR). This features a large cast of characters, all of whom are unique, memorable, and feel so real. Randall Flagg, a recurring bad guy in some of his other works, made his first appearance here, and he’s despicable! It contains my favourite scenes depicting the world literally ending and humanity descending into pure chaos, it’s brutal, terrifying and I love every second of it. The Stand is fuck-off big, but its one of the books that once it’s over, you’ll want to experience its horrors all over again.
Stephen King is often touted as the master of horror, so what better to be the number one pick than his, arguably, most lauded book. IT is a reflection on terror and fear itself, facing these fears both as a concept and as a physical manifest of the emotion in our main villain, Pennywise The Dancing Clown. But Pennywise is more than just a clown, it’s an entity with multiple forms, multiple abilities to strike fear into our main characters, The Losers Club. The kids of this club are mesmerising to follow as both kids and adults in this dual timeline narrative, of which makes this story both a coming of age tale and a book about facing childhood traumas. The small Maine town of Derry is an excellent character in and of itself, which many chapters devoted to fleshing out the horrors that plague this seemingly insignificant slice of country. It’s all of these things and more, but ultimately its true gem and deserving of its status and acclaim.
And that’s my top 10 Stephen King novels! I do have a strange lapse in my reading of King, seeing as I’ve barely touched any of his works from the 90’s and the 00’s (other than the Dark Tower books), so some big titles like Needful Things, Under the Dome, and The Green Mile especially, are all books that may make it into the top 10 at some point in the future. Frankly, however, out of the 33 books I’ve read of his, there are genuinely only a few that didn’t hit for me, but I know others who those books did land for. So if you want to start getting into Stephen King’s works yourself, literally choose any of them and get cracking!