Stephen King has been my favorite author since high school, when I realized that there were books out there other than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first King novel I read was Salem’s Lot, which didn’t end up making my top ten list, but I give an honorable mention to along with Under the Dome and The Mist. You’ll notice that none of the Dark Tower series made it onto my list. King may consider the Dark Tower to be his lifelong masterpiece, but I think he wrote better novels along the way.
10. The Eyes of the Dragon – I will never recommend a Stephen King novel to children. Except perhaps here. A fantasy with a castle, a dragon, and a dark sorcerer (you’ll recognize this fellow if you’ve read The Stand or the Dark Tower). This tale is thrilling and appropriate for mature children and adults alike. A sheer oddity of King’s, it does not contain his usual level of gruesome imagery, yet does not suffer for it.
9. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon – King reminds us that not all horrors are supernatural. I would have had a hard time making it to the end of this one if it weren’t so disarmingly sweet at times. Parents, read with caution.
8. The Long Walk – Stephen King writes as Richard Bachman when he really wants to depress you. But, it’s often worth it and always interesting to read the Bachman books. This one has shades of Shirley’s Jackson’s The Lottery, and Hunger Games fans might see some similarities. It is the only Bachman book that made my top ten.
7. Firestarter – Another hard one to read if you have children, sorry parents. This gripping novel was one part elaborate chase and one part battle of the minds. Tones of this can be seen in King’s later novel The Institute. I marvel at how well he writes his child characters.
6. The Stand – This one hits a bit too close to home during 2020, but it simply can’t be left off a list of King’s best. Tip: Read Joe Hill’s (King’s son) novel The Fireman to see another glimpse at a post-pandemic world.
5. The Wind Through the Keyhole – While the original seven books in the Dark Tower series didn’t make my list, this add-on novel that was published after the completion of the series was one of my favorite reads. Using “a story in a story in a story” technique, King reveals more about everyone’s favorite gunslinger Roland Deschain and arch-nemesis Richard Flagg. There’s also an allusion to the Chronicles of Narnia that I found intriguing.
4. Revival – This would have been my #1 pick if I didn’t take exception to the persistent nightmares it gave me. Truly terrifying and painfully captivating. Reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein before tackling this is helpful. Also noteworthy, this main character is the closest King gets to representing himself, besides the cameo he makes AS himself in the Dark Tower.
3. Doctor Sleep – Obviously, read The Shining before you read this sequel. The Shining is scarier, but Doctor Sleep is more meaningful. King addresses alcoholism, but adds his particular brand of magic to enhance the experience.
2. Different Seasons – A compilation of four novellas, with the Shawshank Redemption being the most popular. However, the story I’m pointing you to is the last, The Breathing Method. King writes like an old-school horror author with a twist. This story shows just how deep his writing “tool bag” goes.
1. Joyland – I’m not a fan of crime novels, but this was brilliant. It had everything. Mystery, emotion, humor, imagery, and both worldly and otherworldly horrors. This is my “never judge a book its cover” convincer. I’m sometimes not a fan of King’s endings, but this one nailed it.
I would like to note that my favorite King character is Holly Gibney, whose novels and short stories didn’t make it into my top ten. We first meet Holly in King’s detective trilogy Mr. Mercedes. She appears for a cameo in The Outsider, but if you want to experience the true wonder that is Holly take a look at If It Bleeds, one of King’s most recent novellas. Thanks for listening!
Some of these titles can also be found in our digital collection. Check it out!