In earlier posts, I have made a few mentions about my love for reading. However, I wasn’t always the voracious reader I am today. When I was a kid I hated reading, mainly because I was a contentious little shit who usually did the opposite of what my parents wanted. My parents were constant readers, but I always saw reading as a punishment. I had a wild imagination that I liked to foster on my own, and I did not need the help of someone else’s boring words.
I did read, of course, but I rarely enjoyed anything. I cannot remember anything that I read in High School except for The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I also read The Shining at home around the same time. I enjoyed those books, but it did not keep me engaged. Aside from a few other books that my parents coerced me into reading, I really did not read a whole lot then.
Of course, I grew out of that ridiculous phase, and I now love books. I mean, I really, really love books. This started sometime at about age 21 or so when I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, and then One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I remembered liking The Shining, and so I re-read that. Then, a friend recommended the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, and I got hooked on the first three books. I also remembered attempting to read The Stand by Stephen King in High School, but never got very far. So, I bought it, and loved it.
I mentioned in another post that I tend to get obsessed with the music that I listen to, and when I want to hear one particular artist I will often listen to only that artist until I am fully sated. I am the same way with books. As I was discovering my love for reading, I also discovered that I loved reading Stephen King. While in my 20s, I read, and then re-read every single Stephen King book at least once (meaning I read them all at least twice—jeez, what a clumsy sentence).
With the exception of a couple collections, I read everything of his up to 2008’s Duma Key. I stopped reading his books mainly because my interests changed, but also because I decided to read all the old classics that I should have read in High School. I had a lot of catching up to do.
And so, to sum up those last two awkward paragraphs, up to 2008, I have read everything of King’s at least twice, and I considered myself an aficionado on his works.
I researched a few lists of his works online and tried to compare my own lists with others, and I found that most King fans have wildly varied tastes. With the exception of a few obvious classics (The Stand, Misery), the lists change with each reader. One person’s favorite is another’s most hated. I find that amusing, and typical, I guess.
Anyway, I was thinking recently about my favorite King books. Depending on how you count them, there are about 50-70 different books from which to choose. I tried to be as honest as I could, and not go with my obnoxious contrarian nature, and here is the list I came up with. In order:
10) The Dead Zone
One of the first five King books that I read, I was fascinated by the idea of someone having severe head trauma, and then being able to see people’s futures. I was also intrigued by the idea of changing the future if you could. Would you, if you could?
9) The Shining
This is a pretty obvious choice, and for good reason. I remember reading this as a young teen after watching the movie on TV with the family. My mom had the book, and I wanted to read it. I cannot remember if I was disappointed by the differences between the book and the movie, but I do remember enjoying the book. I need to re-read this again, since it has been about 20 years since the last time I read it, and I do not remember a lot of the details. I still watch the original movie with Jack Nicholson every time it is on!
8) Different Seasons
This collection of four novellas is a favorite just because three of the four are pure masterpieces in their own right. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, and The Body are classics in the King canon, and all three made brilliant movies, to boot! The fourth novella, The Breathing Method, is pretty good as well.
7) The Dark Half
I thought that this was one of the creepiest books I have ever read. I don’t always go for slasher books, and I certainly do not go for slasher films, but this one gripped me. The original concept fascinated me as well; what if your evil and imaginary twin came to life and wreaked havoc in your name as a sort of revenge? Creepy! The movie was good, too!
One of the few movies that worked out for a King novel, Misery was classic King. I won’t say too much about this book, since the movie was so wildly popular, but I will say that the “hobbling” scene in the book was so much better than what happened in the movie!
5) The Talisman
A young boy’s journey across two worlds to save his dying mother, this book is otherworldly and beautiful in a Tolkein-esque way. It was co-written with Peter Straub, but it is clear whose passages belong to whom. It is my impression that King wrote the majority of this one. Am I wrong?
4) Bag of Bones
It was hard for me to rank this at only four. I really love this book. I love a good ghost story to begin with, and the love story that is intertwined with the creepiness of the ghost story just made a lovely story. I see that this book gets maligned often, and that is because people think that King did not do his best writing. Keep in mind, the book is told from the perspective of a second-rate author, and I think that is the voice we are meant to read, not King’s. By-the-way, the movie, starring Pierce Brosnan, was virtually unwatchable!
3) The Green Mile
This book originally came out as a serial novel, meaning that only parts of it were released each month. The story fascinated me, and I usually read each installment in one day, only to wait more than a month for the next release. It was a cool gimmick, but I was happy to re-read it later as a complete novel. Oh, I am sure you have seen the movie; it is one of the most successful King movie adaptations, so I won’t say too much. But it still ranks as one of my favorites.
2) The Dark Tower Series: Wizard and Glass
The entire series is a masterpiece, and I believe that this particular installment is the best of the lot. That may be because book 3 ends in a brutal cliffhanger and we had to wait six years until this one came out. When it did, my wife and I read it together because we would have had to buy two copies otherwise. Makes for a nice memory attached to this book. Why it took six years to write this 4th book, I do not know, but it came out perfect! It is exhilarating and heartbreaking all at once, and masterfully crafted. It could easily have been my favorite of his books if not for…
1) The Stand
A post-apocalyptic tale of a super flu that wipes out most of the (U.S.?) population resulting in a battle royal between good versus evil, and I wish I were living in the middle of it all? Yeah! It’s that good! He really hit his stride with this monstrous epic. It was only his fourth full-length novel released, and it remains his greatest work to this day. I wonder how that makes him feel. I hope he is proud. I think he should be. I think most authors dream of creating such a lasting epic.
Since I could not bear to leave these off the list, here are a couple to grow on…
11) Rose Madder
This is one of the books that often ends up on King’s Ten Worst books list. I have always liked it. It is an otherworldly tale of escape, with an abused woman leaving her husband and literally disappearing into another land. I think this book gets a bad rap because it was the third book about abuse that he wrote in a short period. Also, it is terribly graphic, which may be off-putting to some. Still, I remember devouring this book. I did not want to put it down.
12) Lisey’s Story
One of the last King books that I have read, to date, Lisey’s Story is another that is often maligned (unfairly, in my opinion) as one of his worst. However, I have also seen it on other’s top-20 lists, so, whatever. The widow of a famous author must unravel clues and visit strange worlds to resolve some issue. Again, I love the crossing other worlds gambit in King’s writing—not exactly an overused theme, but a familiar theme nonetheless. I do not think this will go down in history as one of his best-loved, and that is too bad. It is a really good book!
So, that’s my list. There are a few other classics that I left off for various reasons. It was a brilliant book for the most part, but it had a few moments that failed me. Same with The Tommyknockers and Salem’s Lot. I can only think of three King books that I immediately felt were clunkers: Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and The Regulators. Oh, I’ll add Dreamcatcher to that list. Otherwise, he is still one of my favorite authors, and I will read and re-read his stuff again.