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The Best Stephen King Novels

  • Sep 20, 2009
  • by
Well, seeing as how I did a list for the movies, I might as well tackle the books themselves. Stephen King has established himself as being a good author. Even people who aren't big fans seem to have at least one King novel (or movie) that they enjoy. Here we'll take a look at some of King's best books.
1
The Shining
The Shining is what made King a household name.  Beyond that, however, it's probably his best book.  It seems to be the one which scares fans the most, but more than anything it has one of the perfect story arcs.  It is a fairly slow paced story, but watching as Jack Torrance sinks into madness and the fear we feel for Danny ad his mother in the Overlook Hotel soon becomes very absorbing.  The Shining hit such a high point in the literary world that some college campuses use the book as a means to teach the arc of rising action, climax and falling action.  Of all of King's novels The Shining is often said to be his most "perfect".  In particular, I love the writing style and the powerful imagination evoked from it.  If there's one King novel you MUST read, it's The Shining.  Well, that and number two on this list.
See the full review, "One of King's Most Powerfully Envisioned Novels".
2
first edition
Between The Stand and The Shining, it's very hard to choose a number one book on the list.  The Stand, however, is King's epic masterpiece (outside of The Dark Tower).  It's a post apocolyptic story unlike any other out there.  The way the book combines all of its themes together is amazing.  It's a lengthy book but you'll find it flies by because you're taken away by such an amusing tale.  Much like The Shining it's something you've got to read at least once.
See the full review, "Making a Stand".
3
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This is required reading for King fans. Period. You want to learn what influenced and made Stephen King into the writer he is today? You have to read this book. You want to know how King goes about his craft? You have to read this book. King's On Writing is so artful and good that it's probably one of the best books he ever wrote. A non fiction memoir that talks about his own writing craft and style. Not only is it clear that King understands exactly what he's doing, but he provides concrete examples as to what makes good writing and what makes bad. It is very obvious that King has a huge passion for writing. Reading this book allows us all to share in said passion.
4
Misery
Of all of King's books, Misery is the one which frightened me the most. The classic story of a sadistic nurse who takes her favorite writer hostage is terrifying and very real. There are no supernatural entities at work here, just a really psychotic woman. If there's one book which King shows us he is very good at character development, it's probably this one. Despite Annie Wilkes being crazy we can still feel for her... even understand her. You're probably doing things right when even the villain can appear human.
See the full review, "All Too Real, And That's What Makes It Scary!".
5
Different Seasons
How do you silence a Stephen King critic? By handing them Different Seasons. Some of King's best stories can be located here. Including Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (later adapted into the film: The Shawshank Redemption), The Body (later adapted into Stand By Me, but often labeled the best short story King ever wrote), Apt Pupil (also made into a film) and The Breathing method. What's unique is that none of these stories are really horror stories. They're all about human experiences and the human heart. The Body in particular is one of the best stories that King EVER wrote. Even the majority of his novels don't compare to the stark honesty of The Body. As for The Shawshank Redemption, upon reading the story in Different Seasons, I had more appreciation for the film. It's one of King's more complex narratives. It's also one of King's most uplifting stories out there.
See the full review, "A Different King".
6
'Salem's Lot
King's second novel is among his most powerful and terrifying. When vampire invade a New England town things get crazy really fast. Drawing from Dracula, Stephen King's Salem's Lot is probably one of the most powerfully imagined vampire novels to be released in recent years. If you're a vampire fan you MUST read Salem's Lot--there are no excuses for not having done so. It shows why King is a master of character development.
See the full review, "Welcome to Salem's Lot".
7
Stephen King, It
Almost everyone knows "IT". If you saw the movie you're obsessed with Pennywise being a clown... but he's definitely not just a clown. He's a shape shifter of sorts (in the book he spends a large amount of time NOT being a clown), but perhaps the reason IT is so good is because it is the ultimate story of how children grow up to become adults. Because we learn about the characters from childhood to adulthood. King has never been shy about writing about the horrors children face. He often did it during the eighties because he had his own children and feared so much for them that he did the Edgar Allan Poe thing... and wrote about his fears. IT is the one of his ultimate tales of terror.
See the full review, "That's IT".
8
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Pet Sematary is one of King's best horror tales out there. Inspired by The Monkey's Paw, Pet Sematary focuses on a family who has to endure a tragic loss... that of their young son. In an attempt to resurrect him, the father buries him in the Pet Sematary, but discovers his son comes back as an evil entity. Pet Sematary was so frightening and disturbing to King that he actually put it away in hopes that it would never be published. He felt even he crossed the line there (let me say that again: The guy who wrote IT felt like he crossed the line). Thankfully it was published, and it turned out to be one of his best tales of horror.
9
The Green Mile
The Green Mile started off as a serial novel, divided into six parts before it was finally all put together. When Stephen King steps outside of horror he often writes some of his best works when doing so. The Green Mile is among the best. King has never been one to dig into deep themes. In particular King writes for the sake of giving us a good story. This is what The Green Mile does. As a result it's a remarkable story of sorts, but of all his non horror stories, it may be among the best. It isn't quite as remarkable as Different Seasons, but it's close. King has the power to infuse a lot of emotion into his books, and The Green Mile can do that too.
See the full review, "Whatever Happens on the Mile... Stays on the Mile".
10
The Dead Zone (Signet)
The Dead Zone isn't really horror. Rather it's suspense at its finest. Johnny Smith realizes after he's been in a pretty bad accident that he has the ability to see into the future of those he touches, and discover things about them. The story is mostly about Johnny dealing with his newfound gift. Yet what he discovers upon shaking the hand of Greg Stilson he finds that the man running for President will eventually doom the entire world to World War III. It's up to Johnny to stop it, and he goes through great lengths to do so.
See the full review, "The Threads of Fate".
11
Carrie
King's first novel is still a very strong novel. Mostly because it can be read as either a typical horror story, or as a story about bullying. Carrie is not the best of his early novels by any means, but it is one that showed us what King was made of. Although I would argue that Salem's Lot is truly what introduces us to the kind of writer King is. If anything, Carrie shows us that a good story doesn't have to be overly complex and wrought with themes all over the place. You can either dive in and discuss certain themes that King brings up as well as issues, or just sit back and enjoy it. The story gets bogged down thanks to certain portions spliced in, but we still come to identify with Carrie because most of us can remember the hell we were put through in high school ourselves... or the hell others were put through.
See the full review, "Stephen King's First Novel and it Still Has Strength".
12
Christine (book)
The haunted car idea started here. But Christine is actually more of a messed up love triangle than anything else. It's perhaps one of the more popular King movies (why?) but there's something special about the book. It seems like one of the more forgotten books, but it's definitely one of his better ones. It isn't very scary, but it has a good amount of suspense.
13
Desperation Stephen King
King rarely writes a story in which he hits the ground running, but Desperation does and it's a fast paced romp through one of the loneliest towns in America. It's an amazing tale that even has God as a character. It has a few good themes in there, and it really had to be careful about what it was doing, but it works out just fine. King is by no means a religious man, but he has often dived into bringing about questions and sometimes arriving upon the answer that there are some things we don't know... and some things you just have to have faith in... even in the face of evil.
14
Bag of Bones
One of King's slowest books but one of his most endearing. It has a good story and even has a bit of a love story tucked away in there. From time to time King has referred to Bag of Bones as being one of his favorites. It may be slow but has great characters. It isn't quite scary but it is very haunting. Where as King is still very much a popular writer, Bag of Bones is one of the books that truly shows how he has grown as a writer.
15
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
Skeleton Crew is by far one of King's best collection of short stories. It opens with the novella The Mist and continues on with one story after another. King isn't exactly a master of the short form, but he does have quite a few interesting stories within Skeleton Crew. The introduction is also quite fun and humorous.

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January 06, 2010
one more i would like to see on the list is insomnia. the undertones of aging, the romance, and the supernatural abilities contained in the book are very reminiscent of what i thought of my own grandparents. it also scares me to think a little guy running around with scissors can cut my life balloon at any time haha. just a thought but the rest of the list is very nicely done
 
September 24, 2009
Another cool list. I've been considering doing a review for either "The Shining" or "The Stand", but I'd have to do some major research and it wouldn't feel complete to me unless I could get an interview with the guy and that's probably not likely, despite the fact that he lives just under two hours away. But, who knows?
September 25, 2009
The Shining is my favorite from King, but finding stuff out about the book is really tough.  The copy I have has an introduction where he talks about how he wanted to make Jack Torrance a more real character, but aside from that it's hard to find stuff on many of his books.  On the other hand, I was up in Estes Park about a month ago and touring the Stanley Hotel and they are really interested in that book up there (you could say The Shining pretty much saved that hotel, it was really going down before the release of that book).  On the tour they spend about thirty minutes or so talking about The Shining and what King's stay was like, but that's pretty much all the info I was able to get.  So I can't really write a review that would give background... yet.  But touring the Stanley was interseting.  It has a lot of history behind it.
 
September 21, 2009
Great choices. I also, prefer King's earlier works.
September 22, 2009
On Writing is the latest on here, I think. Much of what he's written since his accident hasn't been as strong... although I did like Duma Key and Cell quite a bit.
 
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About the list creator
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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