Despite many able to argue that attempting to rank the talents of Stephen King in a ‘Best Stephen King Books’ type-article is a foolish battle, I am going to give it a go as it’s a great excuse to get my King collection out. First time King-readers will also hopefully benefit from this, as let us remember that the great Stephen King has published over 60 books by the age of 64, and with the inconsistency that inevitably brings – reading the wrong novel first might put you off King forever. And oh what a crime that would be!
13 best Stephen King books
The following best Stephen King books list is based on a broad number of criteria, including the number of sleepless nights caused from the nightmares that swiftly followed reading the books…
Misery was one of the first King stories that I got my hands on, and I remember reading it from start to finish over the span of no more than three nights. It makes for a fantastic introduction to Stephen King’s writing and I thoroughly recommend it as a potential first King novel to read. Misery is the chilling story of an author named ‘Paul Sheldon‘ who has spawned a series of popular stories about a woman known as only ‘Misery‘. Paul Sheldon decides he wants to write about something new, so he kills off the character known as Misery. On his way back home he has a car accident which overturns his car, leaving him knocked out. He then awakes to find he has been saved and being looked after by a strange woman named ‘Annie Wilkes’, who also happens to be his number one fan. Annie is not impressed with Paul’s decision to kill off Misery, and so Paul, who once wrote to make a living, is now writing for his life. A truly fantastic story, which admittedly should be avoided if you are weak at heart, as there are some tremendously vivid and terrifying gory scenes.
The Green Mile is a highly acclaimed novel that was originally published over six short separate instalments, each being released a month after the other and ending in a nail-biting cliffhanger. Those were the days…
Many have you have probably seen the movie-adaptation in which Tom Hanks stars, need I really say more? Unlike many other movies based on books, the movie is a loyal and strong interpretation of the book accompanied by remarkable acting. However, despite being a great movie, the book is still king (pun unintended) thanks to the many twists and sub-plots that did not make it into the movie. The story is set in the 30’s and tells the emotional tale of the experiences of prisoners on death row and the guards. The green mile is wonderfully well-written – you feel part of the fictitious world that is full of oppression and segregation that leads to multiple memorable thought-provoking and moving moments. Who said Stephen King can only write horror gems?
Bag of Bones is possibly King’s most ambitious attempt at having a love story. Similar to The Green Mile this is another of Stephen King’s novels that doesn’t strictly follow his early horror style of writing, and as such is not as popular as some of his other work. Which is a shame, because if given the chance, this is another truly wonderful ghost story full of twists and vivid characters. The main character is, as you’ve come to expect with King, a writer called Mike Noonan. Mike’s wife suddenly dies and causes him to have a severe case of ‘writer’s block‘. In order to get over his writer’s block he returns to his summer-house, where he discovers that his wife was on the trail of something highly sinister. With countless twists and turns concluding to a haunting ending, you will undoubtedly be left as breathless and mentally exhausted as I was. Great read…
Firestarter is perhaps one of Stephen King’s lesser known novels and doesn’t often feature in lists of the Best Stephen King Books. It might have something to do with the underwhelming reaction people had after seeing the movie-adaptation – many people see films and then read the book if the movie was any good. Whatever the reason is, a lot of King fans are missing out on a very good story which they would surely love. Firestarter is the tale of a father and his young daughter with pyrokinetic powers, who have to constantly be on the run from a government agency trying to capture the young girl to use her powers for their own gain. The plots are cleverly connected and the likeable characters make you genuinely care for their well-being. Recommended.
The Gunslinger is the first entry of King’s The Dark Tower series and follows the protagonist, Roland, on his quest to the Dark Tower, but before he can get there he must locate his enigmatic antagonist that he kindly calls ‘The Man in Black‘. King took twelve years to write this book, but came up with the epic first line while still at University: ‘The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed’, gripping start for sure and there’s a great deal more of it as you discover how Roland is capable of extreme violence, yet somehow still manages to come across as kind. A great start to a great series and a must-read for any Fantasy/Western book-lover.
Pet Sematary (purposely misspelt) is one of King’s most enthralling and chilling novels. I read it for the first time when I was 14 and the disturbing nature of the story hindered the quality of my sleep for weeks (months?), I wasn’t able to pick it up for several years, and for that reason I would wholeheartedly recommend this novel to every horror-lover. The story starts out when the Creed family, a happy family of four and a cat, decide to move house. In their new home, unspeakable evil things start to happen and are certain to keep you on the edge of your seat. Thoroughly frightening and definitely not one for the faint-hearted.
It is the story of a sleepy town in Maine, called Derry. Every three decades, mysterious and unspeakable evils occur, first come the rare sightings that are quickly followed by a series of murders of young children. The local residents refer to the being that causer of these acts as It, and not much is known about It, apart from the fact that it can shape-shift and appears to each person as a combination of their worst fears. A group of outcast teenagers decide to take a stand against the ultimate evil, and as adults return to Derry three decades later to fight It. The beauty of this book is in how King sets the mood of the story, by making It live in places within our very own homes that we take for granted, such as drains and sewers and the strong chemistry between the main characters as they are naturally gravitated towards each other due to their outcast status.
Different Seasons is a collection of four different stories that saw one of Stephen King’s first attempts at writing something not strictly horror, however do not despair, there are still plenty of gory moments to keep the hardcore fans satisfied – Starting with Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (Hope Springs Eternal) which tells the story of an innocent man in prison convicted of murder, plotting his escape. With fantastic characters and a gripping story, it is a great start to the book. Many people will be aware of Frank Darabont’s adaptation of the book into a movie which revels in the brilliance of the story – Shawshank Redemption, however this should not be the only reason to pick up this book, the rest is just as good. The second story in Different Seasons is called The Apt Pupil (Summer of corruption) and is about a seemingly normal teenager who discovers that a local resident is a war criminal, and causes him to develop a morbid curiosity about Nazi death camps. The third story is called The Body (Fall from Innocence), which is the touching story of four teenagers who are dared to go into the woods to confirm the existence of a dead body, and ends up becoming a coming-of-age story. Finally we have the macabre The Breathing Method (A Winter’s Tale) which tells of an unmarried and pregnant woman determined to give birth, no matter what… All four stories are severe page-turners and will have you go through a range of strong emotions. Highly recommended for a rainy day.
Carrie, as you are probably aware already, was Stephen King’s first novel and kick-started his incredible career. It is hard to believe that this masterpiece was a writer’s first published work, and the popularity and cult-status that it created still remains intact to this very day. Carrie takes you into the world of a lonely and tormented teenage girl who has problems both at home and at high school. Unable to connect with anyone, Carrie finally snaps and unleashes her rage using violence mixed with her telekinetic powers, causing havoc in the usually quiet small town.
Salem’s Lot was Stephen King’s second novel, following the hit that was Carrie. It was released in 1975 and immediately became another massive hit by terrifying even the most hardcore of horror readers. The protagonist is author Ben Mears, plagued by personal demons, decides to move to an old mansion in Jerusalem’s Lot in a bid to rid himself of them and write a new book. However, Ben quickly discovers that things are not as they seem, and that his home town are under siege by the dark forces of evil. This is a vampire novel, but unlike the recent wave of romantic vampire stories around, these vampires are not friendly or charming at all, they are pure evil. The characters are, as expected, well-developed with believable back-stories that will keep you engaged and highly interested.
The Dead Zone comes in at number seven on this Best Stephen King Books list and is a book that I personally was mysteriously put-off reading for a very long time, I still do not know why that was, but I was very mistaken to not pick it up sooner. It was King’s fifth published novel and is one that Stephen King himself later admitted to being one of the few novels that he plotted and actually liked. The Dead Zone is a fast-paced story about a man called Johnny Smith who after a terrible accident is left in a coma for several years. When Johnny finally awakens, he quickly discovers he has obtained the unique ability to limitedly see into the future of people he touches. With this new power and strong desire to use them for good, he unwittingly foresees terrible events. What makes The Dead Zone so special is that the writing is controlled and well-paced, but above all the character development is fantastic.
The Shining is a chilling story that follows the dysfunctional Torrance family with a sickening past plagued by alcoholism and abuse. The father of the family, Jack, was a teacher until the day he spotted some of his students damaging his car and ended up punching them. After losing his job, the family are forced to move to a far away and isolated hotel, as that was the only place that would offer Jack a job. During a terrible winter the Torrance family are snowed in and forced to look after the hotel on their own, initially things seem under-control, but as the iconic ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ statement, all is not well…. There are not many characters outside of the family of three, allowing the novel to provide vast amounts of information and back-stories to all them, leading to stand-out character-development, which must rate among Stephen King’s very best.. One of my favourite novels ever written and an absolute must-read for any book-lover – even if you have seen the critically acclaimed movie starring Jack Nicholson.
To conclude our Best Stephen King Books list, I leave you with the book that marked me the most and despite giving me countless cold-sweated and sleepless nights, I read at least four times. A true premier horror classic that will remain in every horror and King aficionado’s library forever.
The Stand is a book that most readers are familiar with. Initially I thought that having to state a number one for a best Stephen King books list would be a tough task, but after remembering The Stand, it was the easiest one of the list. The story starts in the early 90’s in the California Desert, where a deadly mutated flu virus created by the U.S government manages to escape from a biology testing laboratory through a contaminated guard by the name of Campion. Unwittingly, this panicky character sets off a domino effect where 99% of the world’s population is rapidly killed off by the deadly virus. The only survivors are those lucky (or unlucky) ones that happen to be naturally immune to the virus, but they are terrified and forced to survive in the depressing and desolate landscape. What follows is an incredible story of desperate struggles filled with humanity and real depth. This is possibly the best horror book I have ever read and if you have not read it yet, what are you waiting for?
…King’s delicious talent for story-telling makes his novels tremendously engrossing…
That concludes this Best Stephen King Books list, and I wish I could have included many more, a few notable absentees that I’d like to mention are: Skeleton Crew – A collection of stories, The Long Walk – 100 boys meet for a race, if you break the rules you get a warning, exceed three warnings and what happens is truly terrifying and lastly Christine – The story of a teenage boy who falls in love with Christine, a rather ‘special’ woman.
Stephen King’s vast imagination is one to be jealous of. King’s delicious talent for story-telling makes his novels tremendously engrossing, and his ability to weave and connect his worlds with the vague perceptions we have of our own is remarkable and causes us to have strong feelings and even desires that these tantalizing worlds could actually exist in an alternate universe somewhere. If you have never picked up a Stephen King book, I couldn’t recommend strongly enough to research the one that might initially suit you best and let yourself become absorbed by the incredible worlds of the King.
Let us know your own Best Stephen King Books list in the comments section at the bottom of the page, we’d love to read them.