2. Just read the main books in the proper order: Gunslinger, Drawing Of The Three, Wastelands, Wizard And Glass, Wolves Of Callah, Song Of Susannah, The Dark Tower.
1. The Stand: It is sacrilege not to start with the first Dark Tower Book, The Gunslinger. But Stephen King books shouldn't be a religion. Like The Bible, The Quar'an, or Dianetics, Stephen King's bibliography is fictional, full of Very Bad Advice, and includes some concepts about Otherness that are Flat Out Wrong, and Fucked Up in 2017, but you could see how a talented drug addict trying to make ends meet in Maine in the 70s and 80s would have had those Fucked Up ideas.
In my Very Biased rating of Stephen King books, I had this as #9 on my list, so it may seem weird that I say that, technically, this is A Better Book than The Gunslinger, which I placed at #1.
The main problem with The Stand is that The Complete & Uncut version, which is the one you should read, accept no limitations, is that it is Fucken Long. 1400 pages. The second, almost as main problem is how race is discussed in a way that is totally in line with how someone socially progressive in the 1970s wouldn't realize they were being Fucked Up. It can be a chore to forgive, just know that King would almost definitely Not Be This Level Of Fucked Up in 2017. And not because he doesn't think that Fucked Uppedness would sell, but because he is, by all accounts, A Man Who Is Trying To Be Better At All Times. He's not your All Lives Matter Uncle on Facebook, he's a product of a time where racism was different, and most white people, particularly in fucken Maine, didn't have progressive discussions of race.
What makes The Stand great is that almost every chapter in the first 100 pages or so could be The Opening Chapter. He is constantly introducing new characters or situations that makes it seem like he's starting to tell you a story, so, even though this book is Long, it's paced such that the beginning flies by.
It is heavily tied-in, thematically, with The Dark Tower series. It also introduces one of the main villains. And, again, it's a great story. And it makes sense to start with it. Partly because it's well-told, but partially because it's almost too long to put anywhere else, as it doesn't contain any of the main non-villain character from the series.
2. The Eyes Of The Dragon: Deep inhale.
I haven't read this book all the way through. I haven't tried since I was in high school, and I have a visceral memory of Hating This Book.
This is, however, Firmly Set in the world we encounter in The Gunslinger, but it takes place earlier than The Gunslinger, and Oh Shit, it's the same villain we met in The Stand. Only instead of being in a late 20th century apocalyptic story, it's an epic fantasy about magic and political intrigue in ancient(?) society. So...is this The Future of The Stand?
3. Everything's Eventual: This is a short story collection, and you do not have to read every part of it. You're on a schedule. I get it. If there is a local or used bookstore near you, you should buy it there. If there is a Barnes & Noble, you should just read a couple of the stories there, and not feel bad about it. Those robots can mainline a rust smoothie.
The first story you're going to read are "The Little Sisters Of Eleuria". It's a cool pre-Gunslinger introduction to Roland Deschain and his quest for the Tower.
The second story to read is "Everything's Eventual". It will in no way be clear what this has to do with The Dark Tower. Go with it.
4. The Gunslinger: The true, actual beginning of The Dark Tower series is my favorite and, arguably, The Best. It's a Western-themed post-apocalyptic story featuring the main protagonist for The Dark Tower series, as well as introducing some other characters who will turn up later.
The important thing is that you Should Absolutely read the original version of The Gunslinger, not the 2003 re-edit. The re-edit is a George Lucased version of The Gunslinger. King went back and added some effects, changed the motivation of some scenes, and added more Tower Talk (language that he used more and more frequently as the series went on). It's not bad, but it's not how you should read this. Go to the library, go online, find the unaltered version. Trust me. There are Reasons.
5. The Shining: There are massive differences between the book and the famous movie starring Jack Nicholson. Massive. But at the core of both is a young boy with a power of foresight called The Shining. This power will factor hugely in the quest for The Dark Tower. And at least one character from this book will show up a couple of more times in this chronology.
Fans of the movie should know that the book is more about the crumbling of a marriage and what children understand than it is about the creepy hotel. The hotel is still creepy as Hell, but it's more sinister than just vomiting an elevator of blood.
6. The Drawing Of The Three: Picking up as close as possible to the end of The Gunslinger, this book brings in the rest of The Major Players for the rest of the series.
It's an 80s crime book, it's a Civil Rights story that deals with mental illness, and it's the story of a little boy who fears he's going crazy. They're all tied together by good old Roland The Gunslinger, who has his own battle at the beginning of the book.
Everything in this book melds together really well. And the writing in the Roland portion of the story is the tone that the series will mainly feature for the rest of the series.
7. the first half of Waste Lands: Back to the main characters! Back to the tone set in Drawing Of The Three. This is a straight-up Dark Tower book. No part of it is not vital to The Dark Tower series. I don't like breaking up a book into portions for this list, but this one definitely makes better sense this way.
8. 'salem's Lot: This is going to seem extraneous. It doesn't feature anyone you've met yet, and it's a damned vampire book. Vampires? Ugh.
But it's a fun, fast read, and while you will spend the whole book wondering what the fuck this has to do with the Dark Tower series, trust that it will. And not in a minor way. And no, it's not that The Dark Tower ends up being about goddamned vampires.
9. It: This book is technically not Essential to the Dark Tower books. In fact, if you read It already, or saw the movie, you might be thinking, Why The Fuck Is This Book On The List? Well....there are some parts of It that seem like nonsense if you haven't read The Dark Tower, but it turns out they're all terminology from The Dark Tower universe, and Pennywise has some relatives who are very important to the series, so check it out.
10. the second half of The Waste Lands, and then Wizard And Glass: The ending of The Waste Lands was extremely frustrating, as the books were coming out, but they're all out now, so you can Ask yourself "Why Would A Writer Leave Us In The Middle Of The Scene? That Cruel---Oh, I'll just pick up the next volume then."See how easy that was? That cliffhanger? Totally hung. Umm...that's phrased wrong. I just mean that you don't have to sweat the situation they're in because it's right at the beginning of this book. This also begins the practice of some of the previous books that didn't seem so Dark Towery suddenly becoming Very Dark Towery, as we end up in the aftermath of a previous story. There's also some decidedly non-Stephen King books drawn in, but don't worry, you don't need to hunt them down and read them unless you want to, you totally know this stuff.
11. Hearts In Atlantis: While this doesn't say Part (Whatever) of The Dark Tower series, this is a series of connected novellas that all deal with the mythology of The Dark Tower. It has echoes of "Everything's Eventual", and, at this point, you should figure that these characters are getting drawn into the major story at some point.
This also the most Veitnammy Baby Boomery Porn you're going to experience. But it does serve a higher purpose. The Tower. All Things Serve The Beam.
(I originally placed the Stephen King/Peter Straub book Black House before this one, but I found Straub's writing incredibly frustrating, and removed it from the list. But if you want to read it, it would have been #11.)
12. Wind Through The Keyhole: This book is billed as The Dark Tower Book 4.5, as it takes place between Wizard And Glass and Wolves Of Callah. It was written well after the series was wrapped up, and it's mostly an excuse for Stephen King to tell some backstories, as this is essentially Roland telling more of his history to his assembled companions.
On the whole, it's not great, but the story within a story within a story is totally worth it.
13. Insomnia: Another case of Not Explicitly About The Tower if you haven't read the series, it is Very Clearly a Tower book when you're this far into the series. All Things Serve The Beam, damn it.
14. Doctor Sleep: It's time to revisit with the survivors of The Shining, as their lives are totally hella normal now. Wait, they're not? (Placed here partially for the joy of putting a book about sleep after a book abut insomnia.)
15. Wolves Of Callah: Back to the whole main adventurey quest for the tower that's, you know, the whole point of this. And, hey look, it's characters from those seemingly non-Dark Tower books. Turns out, they Are Important to this story. Cool! Plus, another major non-Stephen King book is tied into The Dark Tower. You don't have to have read it to follow any of what happens in this book. But you've probably read it. Almost definitely.
16. The Regulators. It seems cruel to separate Wolves Of The Calla and Song Of Susannah. But there are two books which include Todash monsters (which we've seen in the official Dark Tower series, as well as in It) and take place in mirrored universes of each other. I had originally had The Talisman and Black House on this list as twinned books but I can't get into Peter Straub's writing. Luckily, I have no such problem with Richard Bachman.
18.Song Of Susannah: Picking up directly where Wolves Of Callah left off, we tie into all sorts of past plot points that you might have thought were buried a long time ago (and no, I'm not spoiling a return from the dead, I mean buried plot points, not people or monsters).
It also really starts to feel like we may actually get to that friggen tower they've been talking about since The Gunslinger.
19. The Dark Tower: Finally. Gods. How long have I been reading this series? We're at the end, though. Hoooo-buddy. So now I present you with a choice. It's an important choice. I don't want to say Matrixy pill choosing because the Racist Pieces Of Shit Currently Ruining Our Country use that analogy, so let's say this is a Kobiyashi Maru.
I have mentioned before that you SHOULD NOT READ THE EPILOGUE. You shouldn't You just shouldn't.
So, if you don't read the epilogue, then this is the end. The quest is over. Hooray!
Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut...if you Do Read The Epilogue, then there's one more book for you to read.
20. The Gunslinger Revised Edition.
But...but...but you said to...and now...NOW?...but...but.
Yeup. Trust me.