I keep threatening to read Stephen King again – I should. I love him. And I haven’t read any of his books for about 20 years. They’re piling up and I’m miles behind. But where to start? I still haven’t read all of the “classic” titles, let alone finding the best of the new ones.
Well, I thought about my 10 favourite – in terms of the impact, as much about how and when they found me or where I was when I found them. So here – to date – is my Top 10 Stephen King Books:
my Top 10 Books by the horror master, writer of some 60+ novels and a dozen story collections.
One of the first King books I read by Stephen King – actually it was the second (I really should chuck an honourable mention to Pet Sematary for getting me started on the journey). The achievement of it (over 1000 pages) was formative. I was about 13 and this was easily the biggest book I’d ever attempted – and I was instantly pulled in (like Georgie, lol). The filmed adaptations are fine enough I reckon but they can’t access the magic of absorption the way this book did.
2. Different Seasons (1982)
Four novellas – each one linked to a season so that the title overarches. When I read this I had already seen The Shawshank Redemption and was curious to know how it had come from the pen of Stephen King. And of course I’d seen Stand By Me more than once, and knew that was from King but was also interested to know how that worked. I think the movie Apt Pupil arrived very shortly after I finished reading this. (Apparently The Breathing Method is being developed for film). So I loved the idea that all four of these stories were so very filmic – and both The Body (Stand By Me) and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption are immaculate pieces in both written and filmed form.
Not just a brilliant non-fiction book from Stephen King but actually one of the best How To writers guides that I’ve ever read. Practical advice, inspiring stories, the right proof (his back catalogue) that it actually works. I think this book also ‘legitimised’ King somewhat away from just his fan base. Having sold some 400 million books there’s really no need for that of course but this is the one Stephen King book I can usually guarantee that other writers have read. And with good reason. It’s an inspiring and motivating story.
4. The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition (1990 – from 1978 source material)
As with It this is as much about the achievement of making it to the end – climbing the hill. The complete and uncut edition of The Stand was some 1400 pages and I read it as I was finishing high school and moving to university. I’ve been thinking about re-reading it but that won’t happen. I’d be better off catching up on the dozens of titles I’ve not yet read right? But the new mini-series, while far from perfect, really did re-ignite the interest, gave me flashbacks to the book – and how deep the story is, how brilliant the layering and unpacking of this epic tale is. Not to mention it’s more prescient right now. It’s funny too, thinking about how there’s so much in this book that two attempts at filming it for the TV mini-series format failed. (I can’t wait to rock my brand new T-shirt of The Stand – Tees By Dug!)
5. Night Shift (1978)
I’m pretty sure I’d knocked a few novels off before I ever touched a Stephen King short story collection. Also certain that this was the first one. So for that alone it would make the list. I also just loved how many film adaptations came from it (many of them terrible – but at the time Sometimes They Come Back and Trucks and Children of the Corn and Cat’s Eye and Graveyard Shift and Maximum Overdrive were all available in my local video store. And I could rent them without my mum having to come in and vouch for the fact that I was old enough – they made for great gateway horror-movie watching). The stories in the book though, sharp, engaging, creepy, funny, dramatic – quirky and weird. And basically just wonderful. I was so deep in the zone of King fandom when I read this – how could it ever be anything but brilliant?
6. The Bachman Books (1985)
The Bachman Books were collected up in 1985 and published in this way, under King’s name finally because he was so prolific and had recently released Thinner (also a gem) under the name Richard Bachman. The publisher couldn’t keep up with King at that point and then rather than slow him down (since the money kept coming in) they decided to unveil exactly who Richard Bachman was (King’s pen-name) by compiling four novellas into one book. They are Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981) and The Running Man (1982). The Running Man was turned into a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. It barely resembled the story but just recently there’s been some talk of a new version of the film on the way, one that actually is a proper adaptation. I loved these Bachman Books because they felt like a secret being unlocked. The style is different too. My favourite from this set is Rage. But it’s not a popular choice these days, given it’s been seen as a partial influence on many of America’s high school shootings.
7. Skeleton Crew (1985)
It’s weird that I missed both the TV series and film of The Mist given I loved the novella – I’m now keen to read it again since it was republished as a standalone. Again, a few other film adaptations arrived on the back of this – and it’s just a great collection of stories. Well, it was when I read it. I sometimes wonder about things like this – is it just nostalgia? Does it stand up? The brilliant KingCast – a podcast devoted to all things Stephen King – has deep-cut big-nerd fans talking about their favourite books and films and they often name-drop individual stories. I’ve almost got the pen and paper out to marry up the names to the collections after. Almost.
8. Needful Things (1991)
Needful Things was probably the first of King’s novels that I read as a new release; which is to say I was anticipating it arriving in stores and I all but lined up to get a copy. It was a big book too – not quite the size of The Stand and It but one of the bigger ones (around 700 pages) and I remember devouring it in a couple of days. One of the first books where I was up late at night sneaking extra reading time. The film version was a dud, but I didn’t hate it. That’s what happens when you’re hooked on something.
9. Gerald’s Game (1992)
Gerald’s Game arrived after Needful Things and I no doubt read a couple of older titles in the wait – but again this was exciting because it was brand new. And it felt a little bit naughty. The film was pretty good eh – especially given what seems like a rather unfilmable premise.
10. The Green Mile (1996)
I don’t think I would have cared much for this if it wasn’t a serial novel – so I read it as each volume was released, collecting them up. I remember it vividly. It was summer holidays and I was cleaning cars. My dad was paying me $1 an hour – lol. The idea being it was payback for the year at uni – a service in return. I was happy with that. My $40 at the end of each week was enough for a couple of jugs of beer and sometimes a movie. Or a Stephen King novella.
So that’s my list of 10 – as you can see it’s as much about when I found them or how they found me as it is about the actual contents. That’s how it should be with lists.