All 77 Stephen King Books, Ranked

stephen king books
All 77 Stephen King Books, RankedSarah Kim
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There will probably never be another author like Stephen King. I’m not sure there ever could be.

Since the publication of his first novel Carrie, just shy of fifty years ago, King has held dominion over the landscape of horror. He arrived during a resurgent interest in all things frightening–following the success of Ira Levin's Rosemary’s Baby (1967) and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971)—and quickly set about reshaping the genre in his own image. King has regularly published two or three books per year, a stream of words that flows incessantly west towards Hollywood. Almost everything he has ever written has been optioned or adapted for the screen, in some cases several times.

Such prolificacy has often led to sniffing criticism from those who consider him “merely” a horror writer (as if horror is anything “mere”). But for millions of readers and writers, he is our North Star, our Southern Cross. We navigate by him. I have interviewed hundreds of horror writers from all across the genre’s wide spectrum, and when asked for their inspirations and their gateways to fearful fiction, so many leap immediately to King. Nat Cassidy, author of this year’s Mary: An Awakening of Terror, put it best, describing King as his “mother tongue.” He is not just a writer; he is an industry, an aesthetic, a genre of one.

Of course, in so long and varied a career, there are exhilarating highs, a few bewildering lows, and many unexpected diversions. The following list is an attempt to rank King’s published work in all its darkness, weatherworn beauty, and surprising weirdness. The man has written over seventy books, so some nod to brevity is required. Any published stories compiled within a larger collection will not be ranked singularly. That still leaves over sixty novels and more than a dozen collections of tales. Together, they form a dark constellation of stories that generations have traced, in wonder and fear and hope.

Below, I've ranked King's books in order from worst to best. Let’s get started.

Faithful

That Faithful has made this list at all is a sign of my obsessive completionism. This chronicle of the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 season is almost unreadable to anyone who isn’t an aficionado of baseball. Early passages in which King and fellow uber-fan O’Nan head to off-season training in Florida do capture something of the enthusiasm and nostalgia for the Great American Pastime. Beyond that, Faithful is a series of stats and fixtures as obscure as King’s most convoluted mythologies. A book for baseball fans only.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743267524?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Faithful</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$13.72</p>

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Faithful

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$13.72

The Colorado Kid

King’s first venture with the Hard Case Crime imprint is the most minor of novellas. The Colorado Kid is a half-baked tale of small-town journalism and an unsolved crime. For two-hundred pages King teases us with the ingenuity of the mystery—seemingly inspired by the case of the Somerton Man—before… simply leaving it unresolved. Though the point is that some things can never be adequately explained, such a philosophy feels like a breach in the contract between reader and mystery writer.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1789091551?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Colorado Kid</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$8.97</p>

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The Colorado Kid

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$8.97

Sleeping Beauties

Around the world a sleeping sickness plunges women into a strange, cocooned state. If awakened, they turn homicidal. King and his son screw this global story down to a small town and its prison, where the plague is revealed to be something far odder and more mystical. It’s a bold attempt to tell a large-scale, female-focused story, but the politics, the metaphysics, and the characters never feel fully developed. It has all the hallmarks of classic King, but it’s his most unengaging novel.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/150116340X?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Sleeping Beauties</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$19.60</p>

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Sleeping Beauties

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$19.60

Cell

The early-to-mid noughties saw the zombie shamble back to the forefront of the horror scene. At the same time, ‘90s technophobia got a new burst of digital energy. Cell brings the two together, with a malicious cell phone signal turning the populace into the very-next-thing-to-undead. Despite its barnstorming first chapter and a moving, uncharacteristically ambiguous ending, Cell is often considered the “worst” Stephen King novel. It’s hard to argue. Characters are flatter than usual, King has done the dream-invading antagonist far better elsewhere, and rather ironically for a story structured around a single-minded road trip, the book never feels like it has any particular destination in mind.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982189983?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Cell</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$7.49</p>

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Cell

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Dreamcatcher

This oh-so-weird tale of “shit weasels” and aliens made of cancer is the other candidate for King’s least-loved novel. In this case, it’s an opinion that the author largely shares. There is some justification here; King wrote the book while recovering from his life-threatening car accident, and he confesses that the book was written under the influence of Oxycontin. It shows. A superbly graphic opening (I repeat: SHIT WEASELS) is stretched too far and too thin. The final third is a confusion of italicized fragments as the heroes fight the alien foe on a psychological battlefield. Kudos for taking us back to Derry, where it is hinted that a great villain still slumbers, but it’s not enough to save this scatological misfire.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743211383?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Dreamcatcher</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$16.57</p>

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Dreamcatcher

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If It Bleeds

Roughly once a decade, King releases a collection of novellas that show his gift for building character and worlds on a smaller scale. His most recent offering is the weakest, relying too often on rehashed themes. The title story is an entirely unnecessary sequel to The Outsider (2017), led by a character King loves, but who leaves me cold. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a campfire tale of friendship between a teenage boy and an old man, featuring King’s patented Haunted Technology™. Rat is a Poe-esque story of madness and creative isolation that he’s already done so much more effectively several times before. Only The Life of Chuck swings for greatness. An elegiac experiment about the difference a single life can make, it’s genuinely lovely, but it doesn’t save the collection from feeling a little disposable.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982137975?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>If It Bleeds</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.70</p>

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If It Bleeds

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Cycle of the Werewolf

Cycle of the Werewolf began as an idea for a spooky calendar before King expanded it into an illustrated novella, organized around the monthly lycanthropic attacks on the town of Tarker’s Mills. As the bodies mount up, Marty Coslaw, a ten-year-old wheelchair user, investigates which of the townsfolk howl with the moon. Cycle is King’s slightest book; despite the pulpy gorgeousness of Bernie Wrightson’s illustrations, the format is unavoidably superficial. Perhaps the greatest shame is that it means we never got a full-blooded werewolf novel from King.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501177222?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Cycle of the Werewolf</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$13.59</p>

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Cycle of the Werewolf

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Later

If King occasionally repeats himself, well, it’s partly due to his obsession with certain themes, and partly because… c’mon… after fifty years and seventy-five books, how could there not be retrodden ground? It’s exceedingly rare that King fails to bring something new to the mix, however, and Later does offer a particularly malicious ghost and a thrilling link to one of King’s truly great novels. But otherwise it’s a strangely enervated trip to King’s school of supernaturally gifted children. Like The Colorado Kid, it's published under the Hard Case Crime imprint, but whereas that book had a damp squib of an ending, Later closes with one of the most astonishingly batshit answers to a question that no one was really asking.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1789096499?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Later</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$10.18</p>

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Later

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Finders Keepers

Though he’s written over fifty standalone novels, several loose sequels, and developed a whole multiverse connecting his fictional worlds, it took King forty years to try his hand at straightforward series fiction. The Bill Hodges Trilogy follows a middle-aged detective and his neurodivergent sidekick as they solve crimes. This, the middle volume, is easily the least engaging. As a crime story, Finders Keepers is… fine, one of King’s many explorations of the twisted relationship between writer and reader. In this case though, he has nothing particularly new to say on the subject.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501190369?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Finders Keepers</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.97</p>

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Finders Keepers

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Gwendy's Button Box

Gwendy’s Button Box is a belated return to Castle Rock, the fictional Maine town that we shall visit many times in the following entries. It also features a villain with the initials R.F. For the initiated, this anchors the story firmly in King’s wider mythology. For everyone else, it’s a simple Faustian bargain between the darkly-becloaked fellow and twelve-year-old Gwendy, for whom the titular box brings both personal reward and broader tragedy. I asked Richard Chizmar what it was like to collaborate with King. His answer: “Sheer terror and a wonderful experience.” Though the terror doesn’t manifest on the page, some of the wonder does, resulting in a book that’s closer to Ray Bradbury’s idyllic American fables than horror. It’s a lightweight start to a trilogy that grows in grandeur.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501188291?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Gwendy's Button Box</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$9.32</p>

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Gwendy's Button Box

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The Wind Through the Keyhole

Nearly a decade after the conclusion of the epic Dark Tower series, King returned to Mid-World for this inessential yet enjoyable addendum to the story. It falls somewhere in the middle of the overall saga as Roland and his Ka-Tet (this will all make sense later, I promise) weather a brutal storm telling stories. What follows is a pair of nested tales featuring dragons, wizards, and the fearsome Skin-Man. The Wind Through the Keyhole is only a minor extension of the vast world-spanning series that preceded it, but it does add flesh to the skeleton in Roland’s oedipal closet.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501166220?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Wind Through the Keyhole</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.60</p>

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The Wind Through the Keyhole

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The Institute

I was so excited when news of The Institute broke. Gifted children, a creepy facility deep in the Maine woods, massive page length, and early comparisons to IT: the stars seemed aligned for a return to the classic King of the paperback racks. In reality, The Institute is a solid novel, though only in its gasping escape sequence does it ever become more than that. It suffers a little from similarity to Stranger Things, and the orphaned Luke doesn’t quite capture the heart like other King children. But no one else writes adult fare from a child’s perspective so well, or so terrifyingly, and there are moments when the cold apathy of the Institute’s staff is more disturbing than any kiddie-devouring entity could hope to be.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982110562?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Institute</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$16.50</p>

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The Institute

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Black House: A Novel

Black House is King’s first direct sequel, continuing the story he and Peter Straub began in The Talisman. Jack Sawyer the boy-hero has grown up to become a police-officer in pursuit of the child-killing “Fisherman.” It’s only fair, one supposes, that after setting the first book in King’s New England, the sequel should relocate to Straub’s Wisconsin. That’s seemingly as far as Straub’s influence goes, however, as Black House essentially serves as a satellite text to King’s increasingly engulfing Dark Tower mythos. Black House is a fun read with a memorably awful villain, based on the unmentionable crimes of real-life killer Albert Fish. However, I wonder if in forcing the book to serve the beam, it doesn’t squander some of the unique magic that King and Straub bottled the first time around.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501192299?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Black House: A Novel</p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$16.99</p>

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Black House: A Novel

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The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah

It’s almost impossible to convey the complexity of the Dark Tower series, even if you proceed in book order. So what chance is there when starting with the sixth book of seven? Especially when that book is a metafictional experiment connecting not only our world and the world of The Tower, but also all the worlds created by Stephen King. Oh, and King… he’s a character in this one—a sort of literary MacGuffin whose survival is key to saving existence. It’s a testament to King’s character that he somehow pulls this off with humility and self-deprecation. Song of Susannah is not a bad book, just one that’s forced to do a lot of heavy metaphysical lifting in a series already weighted with mad ambition. By this point, though, you’re already in all the way.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743254554?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$12.49</p>

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Christine

The first of King’s big ‘80s bestsellers to feature on this list, Christine is beloved by many. To me, it’s the King book that comes closest to hubris (and yes, that includes the previous entry in which King himself is a nexus of all realities). This story of a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury and the twisted love triangle between the car, the boy, and his girl has plenty of rockabilly B-movie appeal, but not enough to warrant nearly 600 pages. It’s clearly a labor of love, as the effort of obtaining rights to a long list of ‘50s lyrics shows, but it’s the least successful book of King’s early prime.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501144189?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Christine</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.99</p>

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Christine

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Elevation, by Stephen King

Another recent novella set in Castle Rock, Elevation is at once a tragicomic fairy tale and a critique of the petty prejudice of small New England communities. Scott Carey is losing weight by the day, though his mass and appearance remain unchanged. At the same time, he comes into the orbit of a beleaguered lesbian couple. Frustratingly, Scott’s condition is never explained, nor does that speculative aspect of the plot entwine satisfactorily with King’s well-meaning but naive take on LGBTQ+ issues. Nonetheless, the climax is a small moment of bittersweet joy, most reminiscent of my favorite short story, “Pop Art,” written by King’s son, Joe Hill.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982102322?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Elevation</em>, by Stephen King</p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$8.99</p>

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Elevation, by Stephen King

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End of Watch

The concluding chapter of the Bill Hodges Trilogy is better than the second and slightly inferior to the first. There is a sense that King has either lost confidence in the gritty crime aspect of the series or that he’s just bored. Either way, he can’t resist injecting some supernatural shenanigans into the mix. The concept of a bed-bound villain with the ability to drive his victims to suicide is potentially chilling, but when King introduces a mesmeric mobile phone app, things take a turn for the silly. End of Watch refines the central pairing of Bill and Holly to great emotional effect and more than earns the pathos of its ending, but I was glad to move on from the series. The book itself suggests that King felt the same, but no! He’s since given us another two Holly-centric stories, with yet another, the unambiguously titled Holly, coming next year.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501134132?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>End of Watch</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$7.48</p>

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End of Watch

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The Tommyknockers

What is it about being high that gets King thinking about aliens? Dreamcatcher was written on painkillers and The Tommyknockers was created with King’s “heart running at one hundred and thirty beats a minute and cotton swabs stuck up my nose to stem the coke-induced bleeding.” This story of extra-terrestrial ghosts and their weird technological influence is often considered to be the nadir of King’s fiction, so readers may be annoyed to find it ranked above Christine. However, despite the ridiculousness of the premise and an anticlimactic ending, the book has an endearing, freewheeling whimsy. And an early section, in which the alcoholic James Gardener drunkenly navigates the cocktail party from hell, is a great example of how sometimes King’s character-building diversions can be the real treasure buried in the story.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501144286?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Tommyknockers</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$12.99</p>

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The Tommyknockers

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The Regulators

1996 was the year that Stephen King seemed to grow bored of the standard approach to novel writing. Not only did he opt to write The Green Mile in Dickensian installments, but he also wrote Desperation and The Regulators as a pair of “sister” novels with the same characters, though in very different universes. The former was credited to King whilst The Regulators, the more off-kilter of the pair, was posed as a posthumous release by Richard Bachman (King's pseudonym). In The Regulators, the demonic Tak possesses an autistic child and leverages the boy’s obsession with TV shows to transform a suburban street into a lurid pastiche of the Old West. It’s a bizarre, often nasty variation on the community spirit that is so often the warm heart of King’s fiction.

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The Regulators

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Thinner

Thinner was the last novel published under the Bachman alias before King’s alter-ego died of “cancer of the pseudonym” in 1985. It’s a simple morality tale about a man cursed to lose weight regardless of how much he eats, but it has all the Bachman hallmarks—a streamlined narrative, amoral characterization, and an ending that is pure, cruel comedy. Thinner is one of a series of morsels served between the grand feasts of The Talisman and IT, but it leaves a delightfully nasty taste.

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Thinner

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Mr. Mercedes

The first book in the Bill Hodges Trilogy opens with an act of vehicular violence that has only grown more horrific in light of similar attacks at Charlottesville and elsewhere. That it also ends with an attempted bombing of a teeny-bopper concert seems almost disturbingly prescient, considering the attacks at Manchester Arena in 2017. All of this is to say that reality has made King’s crime thriller more powerful than it seemed upon release. Mr. Mercedes has the best plot of the trilogy, and Hodges’ accidental hero is a sweetly shambling presence.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1476754470?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Mr. Mercedes</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.01</p>

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Mr. Mercedes

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

King’s short fiction bounces between the silly and the profound. He excels at the grotesque moral fable, elevated by his brand of robust realism. Less frequently, he achieves a miniature meditation on life, death, and everything in between. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is far from King’s finest collection of shorts, but it does contain his clearest efforts at braiding these two strands. There is a homespun philosophy in stories like “Morality,” in which a struggling couple debate the ethics of enacting someone else’s sin, and “Afterlife,” which explores a highly bureaucratic version of purgatory. More obviously speculative tales like “The Dunes” and “The Little Green God of Agony” betray the aging author’s interest in mortality and bodily limits. Even King’s oft-derided poetry is given two poignant outings. “Tommy” is a free-verse tribute to the Counterculture, while “The Bone Church” is a gore-streaked take on "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” with ghost elephants.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501197959?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Bazaar of Bad Dreams</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$12.39</p>

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

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The Eyes of the Dragon

At the time of publication, The Eyes of the Dragon was considered a major departure. This dark fairy-tale—in which the young heir to the Kingdom of Delain is imprisoned by the usurping magician Flagg—was dismissed by many fans as a children’s book. In truth, King did write the novel with his children in mind, yet though the story’s edges are softened, King’s narrative craft is still sharp. Also, although The Eyes of the Dragon may be a pleasant confection, it has significance beyond itself. Not only does it contribute to the Dark Tower mythos, but the backlash inspired King to write Misery. For that, it should be forgiven its naivety.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501192205?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Eyes of the Dragon</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$12.99</p>

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The Eyes of the Dragon

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Desperation

Desperation is the desert-dwelling twin to The Regulator’s suburban killing spree. To reiterate: two books, same characters, different universes. Desperation is the better of the two, though not without its own flaws. Once again our characters are doing battle with the demonic Tak, this time in an isolated Nevada town where the sheriff may have gone mad and killed everyone. It opens phenomenally well, as the main characters are hunted down on the highway outside of town. The violence they suffer early on leaves us with no doubt that King is unleashing hell. The trouble is that none of those characters are memorable, save perhaps the sheriff and the alcoholic writer, Johnny Marinville. It’s that blankness of character that makes Desperation a good, but not great example of King on pure horror form.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/150119223X?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Desperation</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$16.99</p>

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Holly

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1668016133?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Holly</p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$16.19</p>

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Holly

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Danse Macabre

Surveys of horror culture are hardly rare, even if few have such noteworthy authors. What sets Danse Macabre apart is its focus on the ‘50s, '60s, and early '70s. It’s a period when horror was considered a degraded artform, yet King has a wholehearted enthusiasm for the comic books, television serials, and pulp magazines that kept the black flame alive. It’s written in a conversational style with plenty of great insight into King’s imaginative development. Inevitably, the references have aged in the forty years since publication, and despite a 2010 re-issue with an updated section, Danse Macabre still feels a little like a relic. But it remains a thrilling dash through the history of a genre that King had already begun to reconfigure.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1439170983?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Danse Macabre</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.98</p>

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Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep is a flawed book saved by a fantastic villain. Though King fans were thrilled to hear that King would pick up the story of Danny Torrance nearly forty years after The Shining, it turned out to be Rose the Hat who really stole our ink-black hearts. She leads the True Knot, a tribe of geriatric vampires who travel the country in Winnebagos, seeking sustenance from the murder of children. Danny and a very-Kingian group of well-meaning associates stand against them, but too much of the drama plays out on an internal psychological landscape. The abstraction neuters the horror. Only one scene ever really earns the right to be considered alongside the utter horror of The Shining, though that moment—in which the Knot torture a young boy to death—is among the most distressing things in all of King’s fiction. Long live Rose the Hat!

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1476727651?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Doctor Sleep</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.94</p>

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Four Past Midnight

Of the four temporally-themed novellas in Four Past Midnight, one is truly memorable. The Langoliers was inspired by King’s nightmare of a woman holding her hand to a crack in an airplane wall. Something of that dream logic persists throughout the tale of a plane and its passengers suddenly unmoored in time. It’s a fantastic premise and one of King’s best novellas in terms of concise character work (the paper-shredding Crag Toomey is an especially creepy addition). But the other stories don’t have the same impact. Secret Window, Secret Garden reiterates the neurotic relationship between readers and writers, while The Sun Dog is another shaggy tale of cursed technology. The Library Policeman tickles a childhood fear and has some great moments, but nothing rivals the The Langoliers and its cosmic reveal of where every yesterday goes.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501143492?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Four Past Midnight</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.69</p>

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Gwendy's Final Task

King sat out the middle of the Gwendy trilogy but returned to collaborate with Chizmar on the conclusion. Credit to them—they leave it all on the field. What began as a small novella about a small girl in a small town has grown into its own kind of miniature epic. By book three, Gwendy is a US Senator on her way to space! Problems persist, however; the dreaded Button Box has returned and Gwendy has developed early-onset Alzheimer’s. King’s skill at evoking fragmented psychology serves in communicating Gwendy’s fears and her coping mechanisms. The authors’ shared sincerity helps end this slightly goofy saga on something approaching a high.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982191554?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Gwendy's Final Task</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.29</p>

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Just After Sunset

Editing the 2007 Best American Short Stories rekindled King’s passion for the craft, and Just After Sunset contains many tales written in that ensuing burst of activity. The enthusiasm is clear on the page, but this would nonetheless rank as one of King’s least satisfying collections if not for the incredible saving grace(s) of “The Gingerbread Girl” and “N.” The first is the story of a woman who moves to Florida and takes up running. When she meets a Very Bad Man on an isolated Key, her newfound athleticism is put to the test. “N” is an overt homage to the Weird classics of Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, as well as a little Lovecraft. It offers the haunting implication that maybe, sometimes, our neuroses contain awful truth.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501197657?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Just After Sunset</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$13.49</p>

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Just After Sunset

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Firestarter

Only five books into his career and you can already see that King is straining at his horror writer leash. By the end of the decade, he would bloody his teeth on those restraints, but Firestarter is an early hint that King’s approach to genre is malleable. It’s a very streamlined tale of a girl and her father on the run from sinister authorities. Both wield devastating powers, and the first half is an almost uninterrupted chain of ostentatious action sequences. However, once they’re captured, Firestarter turns inward, exploring the psychology and uncomfortable sexuality of both the heroes and villains. It’s a character study appended to an action movie, superbly entertaining but always somehow second tier amongst King’s early novels.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1668009927?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Firestarter</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.55</p>

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Blaze

This maudlin crime thriller was offered to publishers as King’s sophomore effort, but was rejected in favor of ‘Salem’s Lot. Though that was probably for the best, Blaze is still a hugely affecting story of a criminal with a learning disability who kidnaps and promptly falls in love with a wealthy man’s child. It’s basically what would happen if the Lindberg baby was stolen by Lennie from Of Mice and Men. When it came to publishing the book decades later, King said that he edited heavily to reduce the sentimentality. If that’s true, then I can’t imagine how devastating the original must have been. Reading Blaze, you know that King is manipulating you, and not subtly. But you can’t resist its heavy-handed charm.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501195913?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Blaze</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.21</p>

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The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger

“Go then. There are other worlds than these.” These eight words are amongst the most iconic King ever wrote—and they come true in the career-long, book-spanning multiverse that King constructs around his totemic Dark Tower. That the words are first uttered by a young boy sacrificed in our hero’s mad pilgrimage goes some way toward conveying the harshness and cold brutality of this initial entry into the series. It’s a deeply weird book—either a gateway or a barrier to the richness to come—and it’s structurally episodic. It took the young King over twelve years to write; you can feel each hiatus and resumption in the story, as well as King attempting a very different narrative voice. In 2003, The Gunslinger was reissued to smooth over inconsistencies with the wider saga. That refined version is the recommended choice for newcomers to Roland’s decaying, fantastical version of the Old West, but be prepared: much of the original’s disorientating strangeness remains.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501143514?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.89</p>

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Insomnia

Insomnia is a bold move. A near-900 page novel with an obscure plot involving abortion rights and figures inspired by Greek mythology, it’s also a vehicle for King to begin mapping the metaphysics of his Dark Tower mythos in earnest. Altogether that means this is probably not the best place to enter King’s back catalogue. Nonetheless, Insomnia holds a special place in my heart. Not only is so much here crucial to understanding the latter stages of Roland’s trek towards his Tower, but it’s also a welcome return to Derry, the small-town stage for the battle with Pennywise the Dancing Clown and his deadlights. If none of what I’ve just written makes any sense, then see me for a reading list before you tackle Insomnia.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501144227?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Insomnia</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$13.99</p>

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The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla

The fifth Dark Tower entry begins King’s breakneck dash towards the series’ end, but it’s a notably static novel in itself. Our group of heroes pause in their journey to help a small farming village fight off the “wolves” that come once a generation to steal their children. If that sounds like a crazy rewriting of The Seven Samurai, it is, and the nods to popular culture don’t end there. Lightsabers make an appearance, as do details from the Harry Potter universe. It comes close to ruining the purity of King’s storytelling, but only because we haven’t yet been shown the extent to which these novels are busy refracting all textual realities around their central Tower. Ultimately, Wolves of the Calla is a book that’s hard to judge on its own. It’s a pivotal text in The Dark Tower and, by extrapolation, all of King’s fiction. It finally shows our Gunslingers in their full, lethal capacities, which is exciting. But it’s a book that’s strangely hard to love.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743251628?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.39</p>

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The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla

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The Dark Half

It’s good that we’ve had the chance to cover the Richard Bachman situation already, because The Dark Half uses it as the launchpad for one of King’s leanest, meanest horror stories. The premise is simple and ingenious: a literary author “kills” off the pseudonym whose popular fiction has been paying the bills, only for that alter ego to take murderous, corporeal form. Within the killing spree that ensues, King offers some profound observations about the schism between high art and popular culture, while also exposing his own worries about legacy. In any other writer’s career, The Dark Half would be the apex of self-reflection and self-confrontation, but of course, there is Misery to come…

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501144197?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dark Half</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.49</p>

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Everything's Eventual

There are more links to The Dark Tower in this collection. “The Little Sisters of Eluria” is a chapter from Roland’s youth that reads like an especially grisly episode of The Twilight Zone crossed with that weird Clint Eastwood movie, The Beguiled. It’s a fun toe-dip back into Roland’s world, but it’s not the only meat in a collection that shows off King’s great range. “The Man in the Black Suit” is often considered one of King’s finest stories. A folktale in the tradition of Hawthorne, it was published in The New Yorker and won multiple awards. Less lauded, but no less impactful are “The Death Room” and “1408.” The latter, a story about a cursed hotel room, sounds derivative of The Shining but is actually terrifying on its own terms. The former is a two-hander set in the torture chamber of an unspecified South American regime. King describes it as Kafka-esque, but in truth, it feels closer to the queasy tones of Roberto Bolaño. All these comparisons should tell you how highly I consider King’s stories.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501197967?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Everything's Eventual</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.96</p>

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Everything's Eventual

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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

If Faithful battered us into boredom with baseball stats, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is King’s ode to the game’s emotional power. None of it takes place on the diamond, of course. Instead, we spend the majority of this short, terse narrative lost in the Maine woods, alongside nine-year old Trisha McFarland. For comfort she turns to the Red Sox commentary on her radio, and later to the voice of the titular pitcher in her head. At this point the book is already twisting the reader’s empathy into a garrote, but then King introduces the terrifying presence tracking Trisha through the trees. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is easy to overlook among so many bigger novels, but it’s one of King’s tightest character studies and perhaps his best experiment with the ambiguity of fear.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501192280?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$9.99</p>

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The Bachman Books

Following his pseudonym’s untimely demise, King published this collection of novellas previously released under the Bachman moniker. It’s most famous for being the King book that has gone out of print in the US due to the somewhat romanticized school shooting scenario in the opening story, Rage. King declared this a good thing, but even in such a problematic tale, you can see the author’s ability to marry high-concept storytelling with grounded human drama. The Running Man and Roadwork are solid examples from either end of that same spectrum, but it’s The Long Walk that really endures. This dystopian drama of an endless marathon is everything that King does best, pared to the bone. As a long distance runner myself, I find the thought of a race without end and the competitors’ slow-dawning desperation one of the most nightmarish scenarios King has ever conceived.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1444723537?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Bachman Books</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$18.58</p>

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Gerald's Game

King has often been criticized for ignoring the female experience in his fiction. It’s a questionable point, but nonetheless one he seemed intent on confronting in a sequence of ‘90s novels hyper-focused on female protagonists. Gerald’s Game is the first, and it has a horror concept for the ages! Jessie Burlingham is engaging in some light BDSM when her husband suddenly dies, leaving her handcuffed to the bed in an isolated cottage. Psychological drama ensues as the voices inside Jessie’s head begin to unearth a traumatic history of sexual violence. A figure introduced halfway through the book injects some genuine terror, but it also perhaps shows a lack of confidence in keeping the drama confined to Jessie’s mind. Regardless, Gerald’s Game is excellent pulp. It is also very prescient about issues of consent and marital rape, a year before the act was finally criminalized across the USA.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1444707450?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Gerald's Game</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$17.69</p>

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Rose Madder

If Gerald’s Game examines the implied abuse at the heart of a marriage, Rose Madder paints a picture (pun very much intended!) of the institution as an unending nightmare. It’s King’s take on Sleeping with the Enemy, in which Rosie Daniels flees her unspeakably abusive cop-husband to begin life anew. He follows her, and what ensues is a supernaturally-inflected game of evil cats and surprisingly resourceful mice. King considers the novel uninspiring—an example of why he prefers organic storytelling to plotting. Having put off reading it for years, I found it enthralling, even if the details of abuse are almost egregiously unpleasant.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1529311136?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Rose Madder</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$20.42</p>

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Revival

What if you took the mad electrical science of Frankenstein and married it with the existential implications of Lovecraft and Machen? The results don’t sound pleasant, do they? And in truth, Revival is one of King’s most downbeat novels. The life story of Jamie Morton and his childhood minister Charles Jacobs is a nihilistic carnival ride in which experiments into resurrection reveal the cosmic lie behind our silly human notions of heaven and hell. It’s part of a sequence of books that fans took to their hearts in the early 2010s, and though I admire it greatly, I'm not as fond of the book as others. Revival’s bleak vision leaves me excited, but unmoved. For me, King is at his best when he leaves a crack for light to shine in. There is no such chink in Revival’s dark armor. Perhaps only Pet Semetary comes closer to horror without hope.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1476770395?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Revival</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.06</p>

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Revival

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The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone has a great villain in Greg Stillson. A maniacal politician on the rise who will bring about Armageddon if left unchecked, he may explain why the book came back into the public consciousness during Trump’s presidential tenure. Opposing him is Jonny Smith, the most everyman of King’s many everymen, who just happens to have the power of precognition. Though The Dead Zone galvanizes itself by bringing Jonny and Greg into collision, the first half of the novel is spent setting up Jonny’s condition and his role in helping to catch a serial killer. It’s a slice of small-town life before the storm, like Sherwood Anderson in a bad mood. When Stillson does enter the fray, things get more expansive, but The Dead Zone remains quality, low-key storytelling.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501144502?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dead Zone</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.25</p>

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Lisey's Story

Lisey’s Story is King’s favorite of his own novels. By contrast, I find it a singularly frustrating read. Not because it’s a bad book, quite the opposite—but because its moments of insane, heart-breaking brilliance are almost undermined by a tangle of repetition and linguistic mischief. Following the death of bestselling author Scott Landon, his widow Lisey goes on a journey to the past to excavate Scott’s traumatic childhood, into an otherworldly realm that may offer the true answer to that age-old question: where does a writer get their ideas? It’s a book in which grief and affection outweigh horror. You can feel King’s love for his own wife burning in the words, but his efforts to portray the internal language of a marriage clutter up the telling of a great story. Nonetheless, the book packs a real emotional wallop.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982147792?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Lisey's Story</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.99</p>

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Carrie

To combat the claim that King is disinterested in women, one only has to point to his first published novel, a book that takes place almost entirely in the bedrooms, locker rooms, and internal chambers of the female heart. Though Carrie may begin and end in bloodshed, the bulk of its slim length is concerned with high school tragedy as poor, bullied Carrie White inches towards acceptance, only to be rebuffed in the cruelest manner. It’s well-known lore that King threw the manuscript of Carrie in the trash after losing confidence in his ability to write about such intimate female experiences. If not for his wife Tabitha, who convinced him to continue, the entire landscape of horror culture would be different. Carrie itself may have aged and become something of a footnote. But what a footnote!

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1984898108?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Carrie</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$13.84</p>

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Carrie

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Nightmares & Dreamscapes

More short stories, and lots of them! King’s third collection is testament to the transparent prolificacy of the man at that point in his bestsellerdom. It’s also proof of King’s delight in the grotesque and the gruesomely absurd. In the foreword, King discusses the influence of schoolyard legend and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! on his imagination. This “wonderful sideshow” is present in the houses-cum-spaceships, the carnivorous joke teeth, and the frequent flier vampires that caper through these twenty-three tales. Each contains a pitch-black punchline or an image that pokes at the rational mind, much like the inexplicable digit poking from the drain in “The Moving Finger.” I first read Nightmares and Dreamscapes during a week-long drive from one US coast to the other, and its childlike wonder matched perfectly with my traveler’s heart. I will always love it.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501192035?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Nightmares & Dreamscapes</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.99</p>

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Bag of Bones

Bag of Bones was the first newly-released King book I ever bought. At fourteen years old, having devoured The Shining, IT, and a few of the pulpier short stories, I was a bit bemused to find King had written a literary ghost story about grief and racism and generational trauma. Through adult eyes, it reads as King’s most mature supernatural fiction. A graphic scene of sexual assault is both necessary and truly distressing even for King, who has never been afraid to wield the horror of such acts. It’s a strange comparison, but Bag of Bones is The Great Gatsby of King’s back catalogue: a novel that requires the experience of both love and loss to be truly appreciated.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501198890?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Bag of Bones</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$17.01</p>

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Billy Summers

I think King had a bullet left in the chamber after completing his “Save JFK” adventure, 11/22/63. There is no other way to explain that novel’s similarity to Billy Summers. Billy arrives in town, a hitman with a heart, and inveigles himself into the community in order to complete one last job. It’s an inversion of Jake Epping’s attempt to stop Oswald in 11/22/63, but it has the same rose-tinted tone and gentle pace. In this case, repetition is welcome, because it’s a delight to spend time with Billy during his undercover summer. In a review that made its way onto the rear cover of the UK paperback (breathe Neil, breathe!), I called Billy Summers King’s best book in years. I stand by the claim, because although the book isn’t a classic, it stands out sharply in a lackluster sequence of releases.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982173610?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Billy Summers</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.79</p>

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Billy Summers

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Needful Things

King loves a Faustian bargain (see Gwendy’s Button Box and “The Man in the Black Suit”), but he’s never had such delicious fun with the premise as he does in Needful Things. When nice, elderly Leland Gaunt opens a shop in Castle Rock, he offers each customer their hearts’ desire. All he asks in return is that they play a little prank on their neighbor. Over 700 pages, King slowly severs the ties that bind his quaint little community until it collapses in an orgy of violence and petty retribution. Despite several intense moments of bloodshed, Needful Things is one of King’s funniest books—a satire on Reagan-era greed, corruption, and hypocrisy that has grown more, not less relevant with age. It’s sometimes derided as over-long or indulgent, but the evil glee with which King tears his town apart makes every page a gem.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501147412?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Needful Things</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.99</p>

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Full Dark, No Stars

This often-overlooked set of stories earns its pitch-black title. Of King’s numerous novella collections, it is the most unremittingly dark, both “propulsive and assaultive” as King admits in the Afterword. Big Driver is a rape revenge thriller that never looks away from the physical horrors of both the crime and its aftermath. It’s a low-key slice of violence and vileness that feels very much like a Bachman book. A Good Marriage asks what secrets your loved ones may really be hiding. The best of the lot, however, is 1922. It’s a rare period piece from King, a Midwest Gothic of murder, poverty, and perversion that reads like Steinbeck and Faulkner getting together to indulge their worst impulses.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501197940?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Full Dark, No Stars</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.43</p>

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Full Dark, No Stars

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Pet Sematary

From darkly comic to just plain dark. Pitch black, in fact. Abyssal depths of darkness. Considering its reputation as the book that King was reluctant to publish, Pet Sematary seems a rather small story about a young family who move to rural Maine. A busy road is the obvious danger, and it strikes their life with stunning tragedy. More insidious is the clearing in the wood behind their home where generations of children have interred their pets, though not all stay buried. “Sometimes dead is better,” says one character, and Pet Sematary makes it hard to argue. The un-death offered by the burial ground is one form of hell, but Louis Creed’s grief and loneliness are equally torturous. Amongst all the “Monkey’s Paw” imagery of death and decay, it’s a funeral scene in the middle of the novel that evokes the greatest discomfort. Reading it as a teen, I was awakened to the potential for true horror in the most mundane of human experiences. Perhaps Tabitha King put it best when she described Pet Sematary as “awful, but too good not to be read.”

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743412281?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Pet Sematary</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.25</p>

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The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three

After beginning with The Gunslinger’s ventriloquist act, King continues The Dark Tower saga in a more recognizable voice. The Drawing of the Three reads almost like a soft reboot, picking up with Roland alone and dying on an alien beach, finding doorways that link his world to ours. On the other side of those doors are some of King’s most beloved characters, as well as a grand-standing sequence that begins on an airplane and ends in a gunfight straight out of Scorsese’s finest. King seems far less self-conscious this time around, taming the excessive surrealism of the first book (though keeping plenty) and anchoring the story in characters we can know and care about. This is where the search for The Dark Tower really begins. It feels like the precipice of something unique and truly wondrous.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501143530?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.99</p>

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You Like It Darker: Stories

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1668037718?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>You Like It Darker: Stories</p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$18.90</p>

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You Like It Darker: Stories

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The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands

I’m plunging straight on with the very next book in the series because, although they were published four years apart, they feel very much like two halves of the same immediate story. The Waste Lands begins with another bizarro sequence involving a gigantic robot bear called Shardik (the first hint of the pop culture cross-pollination to come). From there Roland continues to gather his group of adventurers, this time resurrecting a lost ally via a portal in a haunted house before traveling on to the grungy city of Lud and its insane, riddling metro system. I know how madcap this all sounds, but it works. The Dark Tower is already compelling enough by this point, but it’s in The Waste Lands that it really starts to sing.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501143549?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$12.98</p>

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Skeleton Crew

A good proportion of these twenty-two stories would test even the most ardent fan’s memory. Who out there feels their heart quicken at the mention of “Nona,” “Cain Rose Up,” “Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1),” or either of the two poems that quite frankly should have been put back in King’s trunk, and that trunk set on fire? And yet Skeleton Crew also contains excellence. “The Jaunt” and “Survivor Type” are a double-whammy of purest horror, two of the nastiest stories King has ever written, each concluding with a killer sentence that I will be able to repeat until the day I die. But the main event here is The Mist, an extravaganza of trapped shoppers, unnatural weather, and eldritch monsters. What begins as a B-movie premise gradually accrues weight, like a Lovecraftian snowball. It’s arguably King’s greatest ever novella and reason enough alone to rank Skeleton Crew so highly.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501143506?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Skeleton Crew</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$12.99</p>

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Cujo

“He had always tried to be a good dog.” This may be the saddest line in all of King’s fiction. Despite the terror experienced by Donna Trenton and her son, besieged in their car by the rabid Cujo, the reader’s sympathy still lies with the pooch. King says he has very little memory of the book, having written it at the height of his drug dependency. While you can spot that stupefying influence in The Tommyknockers, here he appears to be at the very peak of his strengths. Cujo sets the board, eliminates all the unnecessary pieces early, and then plays out its endgame to the cruelest possible outcome. It could be another pit of darkness like Pet Sematary, but King renders Cujo in such tragic innocence that when he is infected by bats—after chasing rabbits to play, no less—you almost feel too much. Everything that follows breaks your dog-loving heart.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501192248?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Cujo</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$12.62</p>

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Cujo

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The Outsider

Following the end of the Bill Hodges Trilogy, we never expected to meet Holly Gibney again, yet she turns up once more to help solve King’s most cunning mystery. The Outsider poses an impossible question: how can it be that that the man we know murdered a young boy in the Oklahoma scrubland was filmed at the same moment, miles away? Purists may consider it a cheat that the solution isn’t exactly rational, but by that point the mystery has already morphed into an action-adventure novel… and with storytelling this good, who really cares about the rules anyway? Many may disagree, but The Outsider is King’s best book of the late 2010s. It even made me like Holly Gibney.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501181009?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Outsider</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.86</p>

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Dolores Claiborne

Remember those ‘90s King novels that focused on women? Well, Dolores Claiborne is the best of them. It’s the most ambitious, the most heartfelt, and the most authentic. Despite Dolores’ Maine vernacular (lots of “gorry” and “ayuh”), she is never a caricature. Rather, she feels like an homage to King’s own mother: a tough, hardworking, no-nonsense woman with zero time to brook anyone’s bullshit. Dolores tells her own story in a long, chapter-less monologue, and the relentless claustrophobia of the form perfectly suits a narrative of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and the things a mother will do for her children. Thankfully, all this grimness is leavened by the begrudging friendship between Dolores and Vera, her wealthy employer, who may once upon a time have killed her philandering husband. The two women are rich and poor versions of the same covert fight against male authority, and if the word “bitch” pops up repeatedly, it’s never misogynistic. Instead, as Vera says, “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto.” Dolores Claiborne is a remarkable example of King’s literary ventriloquism, and one of his very best “minor” books.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501147420?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Dolores Claiborne</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.98</p>

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Dolores Claiborne

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Under the Dome

Under the Dome is a late return to the kind of storytelling that made King’s name. It’s encompassing, immersive, and takes an entire town as the stage for an otherworldly eruption of the norm. In this case the uncanny element is on the grandiose side: a transparent dome blinks into existence around Chester’s Mill, cutting it off from the outside world. We are subjected to a microcosmic version of societal collapse, as malignant powers use the crisis to pursue their goals. The heroes in this story are slightly forgettable, but the villains are for the ages. Big Jim Rennie is one of King’s scariest bad guys because his creeping fascistic control is all-too recognizable in the real world. King based Rennie on Dick Cheney, but fresher likenesses now come to mind. Under the Dome’s final reveal is notoriously anticlimactic, but the slow journey of tightening dread to get there is some of the best political horror of the last few decades.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1439149038?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Under the Dome</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$16.81</p>

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Under the Dome

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'Salem's Lot

From one beleaguered Maine town to another. ‘Salem’s Lot is, in King’s own words, Dracula meets Peyton Place—the author’s attempt to answer the question of what would happen if bloodsuckers suddenly arrived in contemporary America. It may sound like a pastiche, but it’s a surprisingly mature novel populated with realistic characters whose everyday lives are already filled with a low-grade, grinding horror before the vampire even arrives. When Barlow does leave his coffin, there are great set pieces, surprising deaths, and a wonderful showdown between the vampire and the local priest, Father Callahan, that’s picked up again three decades later in The Dark Tower. The most lasting image, however, is young Danny Glick pawing at his friend’s window. It’s a scene that traumatized a generation of kids in Tobe Hooper’s 1979 adaptation. One wonders whether next year’s remake can match it. Regardless, for an introduction to the essence of Stephen King as a horror writer, there is no better place to start than in the Lot.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0345806794?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>'Salem's Lot</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.28</p>

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'Salem's Lot

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Duma Key

The first time I read Duma Key, I hated it. After rereading it years later, I thought it was a masterpiece. As well as showing just how pointlessly subjective lists like this are, my changing opinion suggests that expectations can be a problem for King’s readers. Duma Key is not a horror novel. Yes, it has a haunted house of sorts and a spectral presence that prowls its empty coastline, but it’s really a book about recovery, art, and reconciliation with yourself. All of this happens within a wider gothic framework of historical tragedy and old money families, but it never feels like King is particularly invested in the spooky stuff. Instead, he spends time on the languor and beauty of finding a new path later in life. As a result, it’s one of King’s gentlest “scary” novels, told at an unhurried pace that may test a horror fan’s patience. It refreshes the spirit of those who persevere.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501192256?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Duma Key</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$17.04</p>

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Duma Key

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Hearts in Atlantis

Stephen King never went to Vietnam as a soldier, and Hearts in Atlantis is the closest he’s come to visiting in his fiction. This collection of five stories, ranging from novel-length to a few dozen pages, is King’s eulogy for the sixties, the war, and the slide from innocence to bitter experience. Though the stories are linked by characters, they are each very different. “Low Men in Yellow Coats” is actually part of The Dark Tower mythos, though it can also be read as an engaging standalone work. Three shorter tales deal effectively with the horrors and the aftermath of Vietnam, but it’s the title story that lingers. It’s an almost plotless character study about college, doomed love, and the looming threat of the draft. It’s a Springsteen song in prose. The story may be subdued, but King’s language has rarely been more poignant. “Hearts can break. Yes, hearts can break. Sometimes I think it would be better if we died when they did, but we don't.” Lines like this walk the blooded edge between poetry and mawkishness, but reading this book in my late teens, I felt my own heart break a little for an era and a hope that I never experienced.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501195972?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Hearts in Atlantis</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.96</p>

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Hearts in Atlantis

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Joyland

Joyland is an underrated delight. It’s where King’s work with Hard Case Crime is most successful, the pulpy sensibility of that imprint being a perfect home for this sepia-toned piece of all-American storytelling. It’s basically the story of one magical summer, which Devin Jones spends working at a ramshackle funfair in North Carolina. There is an obligatory plot concerning an unsolved murder, but it’s entirely secondary in a novel that is essentially about vibe. And good vibes, at that. Stakes are low, but the details are perfect: the smell of corn dogs, the stifling heat of the mascot costume, and the lovely melancholia of first love. I read Joyland in one sitting and it remains one of the most memorable reading experiences of my life.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781162646?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Joyland</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$14.95</p>

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Joyland

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Fairy Tale

King’s latest novel is a blazing flash of creativity. Though the synopsis may sound familiar—a young boy must travel to another world to save it from evil—he hasn’t ever written anything else quite like it. The closest comparison is The Talisman, but whereas that book was King (and Straub’s) take on Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Fairy Tale is closer to a grimdark reinvention of Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The otherland of Empis is a fine place to spend time, but King, who seems to no longer care at all about narrative structure and balance, spends the first half of the novel in the humdrum of contemporary Illinois. Yet this is where the book is most engaging, in the interplay between young Charlie, the elderly Mr. Bowditch, and his dog Radar. This dog will heal your heart, break it, then heal it again. She’s the best thing about King’s best book in over a decade. She is a very good girl.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1668002175?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Fairy Tale</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$11.99</p>

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Fairy Tale

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Night Shift

King’s first short story collection is undoubtedly his best. Most of the contents were written in the early to mid ‘70s, and they contain the freewheeling thrill of someone writing for fun, for the hell of it, or just for a paycheck. “The Mangler,” “Trucks,” and “Graveyard Shift” are pieces of absolute pulp. “The Ledge” and “Quitter’s Inc.” are dark jokes, like something Roald Dahl and Alfred Hitchcock would get together to write. But “The Children of the Corn” is perhaps the clearest indication of King’s storytelling prowess. A nasty modern folktale about a cult of homicidal children, it may be the single best idea King ever had for a short story, and it shows how well he can build a whole mythology in just a few dozen pages.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0307947297?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Night Shift</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$10.49</p>

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On Writing

I’m not sure King has ever enjoyed better reviews than for this memoir-cum-instruction-manual. It was the first book he published following a near-fatal road collision that left him in pain and struggling to write. On Writing reads with all the brio of man falling back in love with his own skills, but none of the bullshit. Both the anecdotal history and King’s advice on “toolkits” is delivered with a grounded, almost taciturn attitude towards good writing (and good living) as having far more to do with hard work than magic. But there is such inspiration here. If ever your creative candle fizzles out, I recommend turning to this book for your spark, and a reminder, in King’s words, that “you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982159375?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>On Writing</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$10.91</p>

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On Writing

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The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower

And so, we come to the end. It’s hard to judge this final leg of Roland’s story on its own merits, burdened as it is with the emotional baggage of so many years and so many pages. But no one could say that King half-asses it. There is enough tragedy in these last 800 pages to outweigh almost everything that has come before. The climax is so defiant that King hides it within a coda, with a warning not to venture further. The first time I finished I threw the book across the room in a rage. The second time I had to smile at its transparent audacity. It’s an insane way to end one of the most ambitious fantasy series ever written, but whether you like it or not, it makes sense. And let us all raise a glass to Oy the Brave.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743254562?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$13.69</p>

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The Green Mile

The Green Mile is a triumph of plotting. It has great characters, a quiet, beckoning narrative voice, and it conjures emotion like a rescue dog video on Instagram, but King has rarely had a better grip on unfolding events. That in itself is a small miracle, as The Green Mile was published in six serialized volumes, with the first released before the story was complete. In the foreword King describes writing “like a madman… trying to craft the book so that each part would have its own mini-climax, hoping that everything would fit, and knowing I’d be hung if it didn’t.” It’s a high-wire act inspired by Dickens, and although King shies away from the comparison, he nonetheless pulls it off. Death row in the Depression-era South is ripe for melodrama, and King doesn’t tamp down that urge. Like the best Dickens novels, The Green Mile runs the gamut of human experience: life, death, love, and brutality, almost entirely in the confines of a single bulb-lit corridor.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501192264?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Green Mile</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.35</p>

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From a Buick 8

This is King’s second novel about a supernatural car. Forget the nostalgia for Christine, because this one is so much better. It’s a lovely slow burn, which seems an odd way to describe a novel that features dimensional portals and tentacular things shambling out of a 1953 Buick Roadmaster. The secret is in the storytelling, though. From a Buick 8 is told through a series of meandering recollections by members of a rural police troop, all reflecting on the unusual vehicle sitting in their storage shed. In between the alien incursions and a couple of quite frightful deaths is the history of Troop D and the surrogate family they’ve created over decades of service. It’s the kind of naturalistic storytelling that only someone relaxed and confident could pull off. From a Buick 8 may not be King’s finest book, but it is undoubtedly his most underrated.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743211375?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>From a Buick 8</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$17.53</p>

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Different Seasons

Some Constant Readers consider this not only King’s best collection of novellas, but some of the best writing of his entire career. The first claim is certainly true, and in terms of cultural influence, Different Seasons is a powerhouse. It includes the source material for two of the most beloved films of all time in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body, which became Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Both tales are wonderful, but not enough is said about Apt Pupil. It’s one of King’s most amoral stories: a dark twist on his penchant for friendships between teenage boys and old men. What happens, after all, if that kindly septuagenarian is revealed to be a Nazi war criminal? King wrote Different Seasons to show that he wasn’t a one-trick horror pony, but the horror creeps in nonetheless, without any need for ghosts or monsters.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501143484?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Different Seasons</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$12.69</p>

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The Talisman

As a collaboration between the two greatest horror writers of the era, The Talisman was predicted to be “The Greatest Horror Novel Ever Written.” It isn’t. Instead, it’s a book that hops back and forth between genres, much like its boy-hero jumps between worlds. Boiled down, the story is the classic hero’s journey that sends Jack Sawyer in search of a mystical Talisman that will save his mother’s life. The journey itself, though, is wildly original, featuring murderous cloven-hoofed barkeepers, a trolley ride through irradiated lands, a terrifying stay in a Prison-School for Boys, and the most endearing werewolf in the history of genre fiction. The Duffer Brothers are planning the long-awaited adaptation. Perhaps they are emboldened by the success of Stranger Things, but I doubt that any filmmaker can do this book justice. It’s a benchmark for bizarre fantasy, a dizzying, dazzling work of dark imagination.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501192272?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Talisman</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$18.05</p>

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Misery

In Misery, King finally addresses his concerns with legacy and literary standing. King’s thoughts on being considered a “horror writer” constitute their own narrative in the forewords, afterwords, and interviews that accompany his fiction; it’s a psychological journey too complex and shifting to cover here. But Misery says it all as bedbound Paul Sheldon is tortured into torching his literary aspirations and returning to the genre fiction that made his name. It’s a life-or-death deal enforced by his “number one fan” Annie Wilkes, the terrifying avatar of King’s own rabid readership. Misery is the King novel I’ve read most often (blame a thesis on metafictional Gothic!), and I’ve never failed to find new elements or a slight shifting of sympathy toward Annie or Paul. It’s King’s cleverest novel by far, and it looms above every other word he has written on the pleasure and pain of the creative life.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501143107?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>Misery</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$13.27</p>

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The Shining

The Shining is King’s most famous novel, due in no small part to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation. Yet, though the bare bones of the plot are the same—the struggling Torrance family overwinter as caretakers in the haunted Overlook Hotel; madness ensues—King’s vision is entirely different from Kubrick’s in all the things that matter: tone, atmosphere, and character. The novel turns on the axis of love—it’s about a man trying desperately to hold his family and his sanity together in the face of economic and demonic pressure. The Shining is almost the pinnacle of King’s work in the register of true horror (more on that below), but it’s no violent revel. Rather, it’s a slow-burning tragedy that just happens to hinge on a haunting, and a key text in the tradition of American supernatural fiction.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0345806786?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Shining</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.45</p>

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11/22/63

King first conceived of this time-traveling epic before he had ever published a novel, but like the equally vast Under the Dome, it took him years to feel ready to write it. The wait was a good thing, as it allowed King to outgrow the need to inject outright horror where it isn’t warranted. The elevator pitch may be “man goes back in time to save JFK,” but at its core, 11/22/63 is a love story between Jake, a man out of time, and Sadie, a woman out of place. With a seismic political assassination in the wings, King still manages to make the small things matter, whether it’s a high school play or the threat posed by Sadie’s ex-husband. It’s baggy for sure, and Novel Writing 101 would probably dictate that the entire first section be cut. That misunderstands the pleasure of spending time in a better world with good people. Why would anyone want to make that shorter? 11/22/63 also has King’s best ever ending. Not the ending you may want, but it’s the ending that the book requires.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1451627289?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>11/22/63</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$19.11</p>

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The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass

I said that the final book in The Dark Tower series contained almost more tragedy than anything else in the saga. This fourth installment is the reason for the caveat. Starting directly from the end of The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass quickly grounds the forward journey to a halt, going back to Roland’s early manhood for a Wild West story of gunfights, witchcraft, and young love. For the uninitiated, it’s as close to a standalone story as you can get in The Dark Tower. For fans of the series, it paints its Portrait of the Gunslinger as a Young Man in powerful strokes. Wizard and Glass is full of adolescent joy, but it funnels down to an inevitable tragedy so harsh that even now, after multiple rereads, I still find myself hoping for something else. King has written of love, and adventure, and politics and horror brilliantly elsewhere, but in this book it all comes together, “calling bird and bear and hare and fish…”

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501143557?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$15.29</p>

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The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition

Let’s start by just agreeing that the uncut version of King’s longest novel is the best. The 400 pages he added back in take the novel to over 1300 pages in paperback, but they are necessary to do justice to the scale of the story. Captain Trips, the lethal plague that sweeps America, would be the main menace in a lesser novel. In The Stand it’s just a way of clearing space for a titanic struggle between good and evil to come. It’s a clichéd comparison, but The Stand is horror’s War and Peace: a huge, continent-spanning chronicle of death and rebirth. From Kansas cornfields to the Indiana oilfields, the freshness of the Maine coast to the fetid darkness of the Lincoln Tunnel, Boulder, Colorado to Las Vegas, Nevada, The Stand is an overwhelmingly American epic. It’s about as much fun as you can have reading a book about the end of the world.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0385199570?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$43.94</p>

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IT

Anyone who knows me (or who read my list of The 50 Greatest Horror Novels of All Time) will know that this was coming. IT is, quite simply, my favorite book of all time. It’s King’s treatise on everything he's learned about his dark craft by this point in his career, all poured into the story of Pennywise, a fear-devouring entity that takes the form of your worst nightmare, and the gaggle of outcast children who choose to fight. There are plenty of outlandish moments. The final confrontation(s) are a frantic tour through King’s fictional cosmology, and many of Pennywise’s appearances have the dream logic of nightmares. But the eccentricity balances perfectly with the romanticized myth of childhood summers and the grain and grit reality of 1960s Maine. IT has many moments of devastating horror: Georgie’s blood running in the gutter, the voices of dead children rising from Bev’s drain, all the way to the final reveal of IT’s true nature. You remember them all after reading, but you also remember the dam-building, Richie’s impressions, Ben’s haiku, and the stone fight that sends the bullies running. It’s a huge book, featuring the ultimate monster, but like all of the very best things King has ever written, it’s really about the love that helps you stand against the darkness.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982127791?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10054.g.41054461%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p><em>IT</em></p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$16.27</p>

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