Underappreciated literary connoisseur, Scott Woods, has warned that he is putting together his rated guide to the complete works of Stephen King. This has been inspired by the release of the new adaptation of It, which I have failed to see yet, despite being invited by different people.
I'm not a horror guy. Or a fast rides guy. Or a Haunted House guy. But I've read every twentieth century, and most of the early twenty-first century books. And since The Esteemed Mr. Woods has me pondering whether or not to read any of the more recent books, or whether I might want to revisit some of the classics, I present you with the first ten choices from my own rating guide.It's highly subjective, and attached to my memories surrounding the book, as well as the books' literary merit. Caveat emptor.
11. Misery: If this list were based purely on merit, this book should be much higher. It contains actual metaphor. It's about his own life without being as cloying as the self-references are in the later Dark Tower books. And it's probably the most realistic book he's ever written. No magic powers. No inhuman monsters. No mythical wish fulfillment. This is just the story of an author and His Biggest Fan. Which makes it, in many ways, more terrifying than most of his books.
I just don't have any personal anecdotes about it. It's a good book. I read it. I recommend it.
12. Nightmares And Dreamscapes: During the conversation that prompted these posts, I admitted that I hadn't read a single book King had put out since The Dark Tower. I had purchased a few, but they sat on a small bookshelf, not so much as glanced at since I bought them.
So I picked up his novella collection, Full Dark No Stars, and after giving each story about twenty pages, decided that it was probably for the best that I wasn't reading his recent stuff. It felt...clumsy. It certainly didn't feel like a Master Storyteller had been anywhere near it. It was basic tropes told poorly about a bunch of two-dimensional characters.
Nightmares And Dreamscapes had made me want to write short stories. These weren't just unpopped kernels of ideas at the bottom of a 1990s air popper. These were delicious bite-sized stories. When I looked at the list of all of Stephen King's works, I didn't remember much about this book other than I Liked It. But all it took was a glance at the table of contents, and I remembered about a dozen of the stories very vividly, and am considering going back and rereading some of them.
13. Pet Semetary: I mention in the very title of this series that none of Stephen King's books gave me nightmares, and that is True. But I have several times dreamed that pets recently buried have come back from the grave to hang out. Luckily, none of them were bloodthirsty zombies.
It's been a while since I've read this, but I don't think it suffers from as many negative tropes as most Stephen King books. And I like the idea of a Magical Mainer much more than King's usual alternatives.
14. Wizard And Glass: I waited forever for this book. The third book stopped practically mid-sentence, and left me hanging for six Fucken Years. And I swore that if this book did the same, I was going to pretend the series stopped with Drawing Of The Three, and never read another Dark Tower book as long as I lived.
While it did begin mid-scene (as it had to), it did offer a complete story, AND it drew one of my favorite non-Dark Tower books, The Stand, into The Dark Tower mythology.
I wasn't reading comics at the time this came out, so I wasn't familiar with Dave McKean, and didn't buy the hardcover with his illustrations.
I was managing a liquor store when I got around to reading this. I have mainly bad memories of this job. But I had recently reconnected with an acquaintance who stopped into the store to hang out with me for a bit, and I was reading this behind the counter when he came in. He wasn't a Stephen King fan, but I mentioned the Wizard Of Oz overtones of this book, and we got into a long discussion about literature and books that we liked, and TV shows. He was still hanging out by closing time, so I bought some beer and Zima (it was the late 90s), and we went back to my house to keep the conversation going. His name was Ryan.
15. Firestarter: This is another book I haven't read in forever. So I'm mostly rating it by my memory of reading it, not by its actual quality.
I read this shortly after reading The Shining, and thought that they were moderately similar. I had the idea that Firestarter should be a sequel to The Shining. Where Danny has met someone else with The Shining/Push, and they have given birth to Charlene.
It's opening is somewhat similar to the opening of The Stand, in the whole Running Away From A Government Agency That Has Fucked Up And Needs To Contain Or Kill You Before They're Discovered. But I remember The Stand's version vividly, and have only a vague recollection of it in Firestarter.
16. Dolores Claiborne: I bought this at the same bookstore where I was given the autographed copy of Needful Things. I had gone back and forth about whether to buy this book or Gerald's Game (which came out around the same time, and the owners convinced me to buy this one.
The reason turned out to be that they had a pre-ordered a signed copy of Gerald's Game. I am pleased to report that it was not signed TO me, as that would have been a creepy gift for a fifteen year old.
I *think* I read Gerald's Game first. You'll note it's not on the list yet. There is a cool moment in both books where a solar eclipse takes place, and the two characters see each other, but that's the only point of crossover that I remember.
Doloros Claiborne is a murder confession given by someone who is defending themselves against a false murder accusation. There's no magic. No monsters. King isn't always great when he writes female protagonists, or when he sets out to tell a monsterless story, but I remember really enjoying this one.
17. Night Shift: This is another collection that I admit, might be much higher on the list if I were to have read all these books as an adult.
I'm pretty sure that I didn't get around to reading this until my senior year of high school. By that point, I'd seen all of the So Far produced movies and TV episodes based on the short stories in this. And some of my favorite actually short stories (as opposed to novellas) by Stephen King are in here. And, in absolutely every case, the stories are all vastly superior to the movies. Some King adaptations range from Decent to Excellent. But most of the movies that came out of this collection aren't even interesting t watch. But the book is definitely worth reading, particularly if you enjoy very short horror stories.
18. The Dark Tower: This book is only this high on the list with the following caveat: DON'T READ THE EPILOGUE. It will be tempting. After all, this is the culmination of thousands of pages (probably tens of thousands if you include all the non-Dark Tower books that King also ties into the story) of a story that began so well. And even though there are some Massive Missteps in the series (the cliffhanging ending of Waste Lands, the use of 9/11 as a plot point in Song Of Susannah, the sometimes interesting but sometimes Too Much use of Stephen King as a character in much of the later books), Some of the threads of the series are tied up nicely, and leave a satisfying ending PROVIDED YOU DON'T READ THE EPILOGUE.
This came out during a time when I used Livejournal frequently, and I made a spoilerless rant on my LJ about the end of this book. An acquaintance whose work I admired noted: Stephen King Told You To Put The Book Down And Not Read The Epilogue. Why Didn't You Trust Him?
So, if you're going to invest the time to read this series, tear out the epilogue, burn it, and use the ashes to spice the food of your enemies. DON'T READ IT.
19. Carrie: Yea, yea, yea. It's a classic. Yea, yea, yea. It's his first book, and it is actually good. It's not as Dated as you might imagine based on some of his other early books.
It's only this low on the list because there have been fifty-seven? movie and television adaptations, and a fucken Broadway fucken musical.
I read it. It was good. But I don't remember when I read it, or it affecting my life other than my thinking, "Stephen King's first published novel was pretty good. That's cool."
20. Everything's Eventual: I wasn't sure whether this or Hearts In Atlantis would be the last on my in-depth list. They're both collections of stories rather than novels, they both tie into The Dark Tower series, and I may have read them back to back, smudging my ability to rate them individually.
In the end, I decided I liked this one better purely because of the way each of them is set up.
Hearts In Atlantis has a lot of Vietnam-era nostalgia that appeals more to Baby Boomers than anyone else. I understand its importance and influence over American culture in the late 20th century, but TV and movies and books were inundated with the material so much that writing a Great Book About Vietnam in the 21st century is akin to writing A New Take On Vampires, or A Non-Problematic Story About A Woman Being Raped As Written By A Man. It's possible, but statistically unlikely.
Hearts In Atlantis is also a mostly chronological tale of interweaving stories while Everything's Eventual, according to King, was arranged by shuffling a deck of cards, with each story being represented by a different card.
While only one of the stories in Everything's Eventual is directly tied to The Dark Tower, it's an important story, and would be worth reading on its own.
Other books by Stephen King which I read and either enjoyed, or, at least, didn't hate, are Hearts In Atlantis, Four Past Midnight, Tommyknockers, From A Buick 8, Bag Of Bones, Wastelands, Wolves Of Callah, Song Of Susannah, Insomnia, and Cujo.
Books I couldn't get into at all: Eyes Of The Dragon, The Talisman, Christine, Green Mile.
Books I read all the way through that were So Awful I Was Angry: Dreamcatcher, The Regulators, Desperation, Rose Madder, Cycle Of The Werewolf, Gerald's Game.
Ruminations on television, movies, and serialized novel series with an emphasis on creating a continuity or discussing the relationship between franchises.