Monday, October 28, 2013

Worst to Best: Stephen King Books [Revised 2013 Edition]

With two new King novels having hit shelves this year, I figure it's about time for another revision of my trusty old rankings-of-King's-books post.

So, here it comes.  I re-ranked them without consulting the previous version of the list, and some of the differences are significant.  Any list like this is always a work-in-progress, though, as far as I'm concerned, so let's treat it as such.

Incidentally, if you happen to have read that earlier version, I've mostly cut and pasted the text from it to here, and simply rearranged accordingly, so much of the text itself is identical.
  



Google Images wasn't a huge amount of help in finding an image to match the phrase "worst to best," so this will have to (continue to) do.


Before we begin, a quick note: I omitted a trio of titles that I included the first time around.  The Bachman Books -- which are included individually, so including the omnibus seems a bit pointless -- got shafted, as well as the two unauthorized collections of interviews, Bare Bones and Feast of Fear. Those are both excellent, but to be honest, I remember their contents well enough to rank them individually.  So, out they go!

#69 -- The Dark Man



Not only is this the worst Stephen King book that I own, it's the worst by a large margin.  The art by Glenn Chadbourne is good, but the poem the book is built around is mediocre at best, and as far as I'm concerned the book exists only to milk a few dollars out of hardcore King fans.



Of which I am one, and so -- of course -- I bought it.

A more extensive review can be found here.


#68 -- Ghost Brothers of Darkland County




I debated whether I should include this at all.  Because despite the fact that the edition of the soundtrack that includes a physical copy of the libretto is advertised as a "hardback," it is nothing of the sort.  It's a flimsy, poorly-printed paperback, and my final opinion was that it was really more of a set of overblown liner notes than a book.
  
Still, just for the hell of it, I included it, and my snap judgment was that it deserves to be ranked near the bottom of the list.  It isn't bad; but as readability goes, this does not compare at all favorably with the other published script of King's (Storm of the Century).  Combined that with the fact that the "book" itself is difficult to hold, unpleasant to look at, and even a little smelly, and what you have is a book that I simply have a desire to rank lowly.
  
Perhaps future incarnations of this list will find me in a better, more forgiving mood. 

A lengthier review, mostly focused on the music, can be found here.


#67 -- Blockade Billy

 
  
  
It's merely a short story given its own front and back covers, and not a great one at that: readable, but that's about the best I can say for it.  It probably ought to have just been held for inclusion in the next story collection.  The mass-market edition adds a second story ("Morality") that is considerably better, but not enough so as to change my mind about where to place this one.
  
   
 #66 -- Secret Windows

This shaggy-dog collection of nonfiction pieces (plus a couple of short stories) focused on the art/craft of writing was released as a Book-of-the-Month Club exclusive to cash in on the hullabaloo surrounding On Writing. It has at least one big strike against it: a big chunk of the book consists of a reprint of a section from Danse Macabre.  In fact, all in all, about half of the book's contents are recycled from easily-obtainable appearances elsewhere (examples: reprints of Skeleton Crew's "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" and the Foreword to Night Shift).  
  
Here's the saving grace: the remaining half consists of material that would otherwise be substantially harder to find.  And it's all well worth reading, especially the essay "On Becoming a Brand Name" and a couple of especially fine transcripts of talks given by King.  This stuff is pure gold, and makes Secret Windows well worth tracking down.  
  
Someday, King needs to sit down and edit together a proper collection of his nonfiction writing, which is frequently as dazzling as the best of his fiction. Until then, Secret Windows is the closest thing we've got.  Sadly, it is a missed opportunity that focuses too strictly on the theme of King writing about writing, when it could have focused simply on King writing nonfiction.  To be fair, this is a semantic issue; it's the arrangement and conception that I find fault with; the contents themselves are mostly great.


#65 -- Faithful  (written with Stewart O'Nan)
  
  
  
  
I may as well admit that I'm not a baseball fan.  It's too slow for my tastes; a game goes by and all I can think is that I could have just watched an Alfred Hitchcock movie...two, if extra innings are a factor, or if the pitcher develops a sudden hard-on for the idea of trying to catch a runner off base.  
  
But that's okay; I don't have to be interested in a subject to be interested in someone writing about that subject.  A good writer will make you interested, at least while you're reading as he waxes philosophical about his own obsessions.  And King's sections of this book are predictably engaging, entertaining, and illuminating.  
  
So why so low on the list?  Well, the answer is that King wrote only about half of the book; the other half is by Stewart O'Nan, whose contributions I did not enjoy.  In fact, I only read about maybe the first half of them; after a while, I began simply skipping ahead to the next King-written section.  So, on the whole, I can't rank it any higher; just can't do it.
  
  
#64 -- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

 
 
I’m just not a fan of this one.  I don’t have much interest in the characters, and the quasi-supernatural elements don’t work at all for me.  It feels weird for me to say about any novel of Stephen King's that this is the one I like the least.  But hey, you can't make a pile without something being on the bottom...and for me, this is it, at least as far as the novels go.

It's got its fans, though, and that's fine by me; I just don't happen to among them.


#63 -- The Talisman (written with Peter Straub)



  
One of my least favorite in King's canon, and I’m hard-pressed to say exactly why.  Part of me thinks it’s because the novel is told in too realistic a fashion to make it believable that a child could do all the things Jack does in this novel.  Or perhaps it's that, despite being an epic, parts of it feel incredibly rushed.  Or maybe it's that I feel the authorial voices of King and Straub simply don't mesh well.
  
Beats me.  All I know is that while parts of the novel work well, I don't think they add up to anything meaningful.
   
The novel's fans are fairly fierce about it, though, so there must be something to it. 


#62 -- Lisey's Story


 

It’s kinda split into three distinct styles, all of them intermingled throughout the novel.  I love one of those (Scott's backstory), am so-so on another (Lisey's relationship with her sister and their attempts to stave off a psycho), and am actively disdainful of the third (the Lisey/Scott love story -- specifically, the overuse of their "private language," which is like a prose hemorrhoid).  
  
The good parts are very good indeed, but it’s not enough for me to say anything other than that I don’t like this novel very much.   The caveat here is that if you aren't put off by the elements which put me off, then you will almost certainly like this novel WAY more than I do.  
  
It has been suggested to me by a few people that I might like the book more in audio format, and I'll grant that that is a possibility.  One of these days, I'll check it out.



#61 -- The Eyes of the Dragon


  
King's only true high-fantasy novel (with the novel-length "The Wind Through the Keyhole" -- the story within the novel, I mean, as opposed to the novel overall -- being a bit of an exception) comes off as an interesting experiment, but not much more.  His style is simply too modern to work in this mode, and the story itself is too flat to sustain the novel's length.  It would have worked better as a novella, but the overly modern tones in the narration would have harmed it at any length.  
  
The crossover elements with other King works are mildly interesting, but if I'm being honest, I can't reconcile this Flagg with the Flagg in The Dark Tower, much less the one in The Stand.


#60 -- Rose Madder


 



I don’t much care for the supernatural elements here; they very nearly ruin what is otherwise a darkly compelling story of surviving domestic abuse.  This would have been better-served as a straight drama.  Or perhaps should have been a great deal shorter; at this length, it falls apart.


#59 -- Blaze





I'll be honest: I don't remember a whole lot about this novel.  I know I enjoyed it to a mild extent, but that's about it.  I'm glad King brought it out of his trunk, but I can also see why he left it in there for so long.  I'd love to someday be able to read the original version to see for a comparison how much King changed to get it ready for its published form.


#58 -- Dreamcatcher


  


The first third or so is terrific, but the rest is a grind to get through: just like with the movie, it falls apart a bit after the infamous shit-weasel scene.  Still, up to that point, it's awfully good, and there are occasional good moments in the latter sections.  Not a bad novel, but not an especially cohesive one.


#57 -- Rage





I get what Bachman King was trying to do here, but the resolution, in which the class rallies around the killer, seems forced and unrealistic.  Still, there is some good writing, and it makes for interesting comparisons with the other “Bachman Books” and with King novels about bullied kids such as Carrie.  For all intents and purposes, this was written by a teenager; and as far as that goes, it's pretty good.  
  
What, you ask, is my stance on whether or not King ought to relent and allow the book to see publication again?  Well...let's leave it at saying that I understand why King would want to keep it off shelves.


#56 -- Cycle of the Werewolf


 
 
 
Some of the vignettes are well-done, but this feels like exactly what it was: a toss-off, and a very minor work.  The artwork by Berni Wrightson, though, is spectacular; so much so that it tempts me to bump this one up the charts a bit.  Still, a minor work.


#55 -- The Plant: Zenith Rising





It would be possible to argue that this should not even be included on my list.  
  
On the one hand, it was unquestionably written and published by Stephen King; on the other hand, it was never completed, and is no longer available for purchase, so for many King fans, it may as well not even exist.  But it exists for me: I printed the fucker out and had a custom-made hardback bound, and there it sits on my shelf to this day, right between On Writing and Dreamcatcher.  So I'm counting it!
  
What's there is unquestionably good (if a bit less than great), but the fact that it's unfinished makes it difficult to esteem very greatly.  One hopes for an eventual conclusion; but part of me would be content for King to continue to focus on new (and better) tales instead.



#54 -- Black House  (written with Peter Straub)







I still don't think that King's voice and Straub's voice mix terribly well, but Black House is -- in my opinion, at least -- an improvement over The Talisman in virtually every way.  The links to the Dark Tower series are compelling, and this is essential reading for fans of that set of stories.  
  
My biggest complaint: this novel set up an expectation that Jack Sawyer would appear in the later Tower novels, an expectation which was completely unrealized.  
  
Oh, well.


#53 -- The Colorado Kid


 
 

A minor work, and a bit of a marketing scam  -- in no way does this actually count as a crime novel -- but nevertheless well-written, and intriguing, if not exactly satisfying.  At any rate, it's better than the television "adaptation," Haven, which is almost entirely unrelated, and is -- except for the fine performances by its three charismatic lead actors (Emily Rose, Lucas Bryant, and Eric Balfour) -- mediocre more often than not.  
  
Oh, well; it, too, is a bit of a marketing scam, so in that sense, if no other, it carries over certain aspects of The Colorado Kid.


#52 -- The Regulators





In some ways, I consider Desperation and The Regulators to be two volumes of the same novel, and I considered treating them as such.  If I had, I might have placed it a bit further up the list than the two component parts will be ranked.  After all, to my knowledge, nobody has ever published two novels on the same day which serve as parallel-universe reflections each of the other; thematically, it's a compelling concept.  
  
For now, though, I'm going to leave them as separate entities, since that was how they were published and how they have remained ever since. And this one, I think, is the weaker of the two, despite being tighter and better-paced; the characters don't pop quite as well, and the themes are stronger in Desperation.  But this is a pretty decent Twilight Zone-ish novel in its own right.


#51 -- Everything's Eventual





There are fourteen stories here, and of them, I can only claim to be truly engaged by maybe six.  That's not to say the others are bad; no, there isn't a bad story in the bunch.  But only "The Man in the Black Suit," "The Little Sisters of Eluria," the title story, "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away," "1408," and "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French" really pop for me.  Still, it's pretty good stuff.



#50 -- Cell





I’m a sucker for end-of-the-world stories, and this one is pretty good.  You may well despise the way the story ends, but I found it to be both logical and exhilarating; I love it when King goes into heavy-duty pulp sci-fi mode, which he assuredly does here.  Not, however, before he gives us his version of a zombie story.


#49 -- The Running Man


 

 
The first King novel I ever read, oddly; I thought it was a novelization of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie!  (I wrote about that at some length here, by the way.)  
  
Of the early Bachman books, this, to me, is the one that feels the least like Stephen King; even Roadwork, which is in no way a horror story or a fantasy of any kind, feels like King.  This one feels more like the work of some budding socio-sci-fi author who died in a car crash before making a real name for himself.  
  
Don't get me wrong, though: it's a decent novel, and one which has somehow managed to remain just on the edges of plausibility.  As far as socio-sci-fi goes, that's a good achievement for a forty-year-old novel. 


#48 -- Insomnia





It's a long, somewhat unfocused novel, but it's got at least two elements which make it interesting: a seriously serious amount of emotional emotion, and a compellingly compelling connection to the Dark Tower series.  Unlike in Black House, it is clear that the main characters' involvement in that story is restricted to this particular novel; that's another advantage, for you Towerphiles.  Truth be told, I'm not sure how anybody can enjoy Book VII without having read Insomnia.  
  
On its own merits, though, it's a satisfying and engaging work of fantasy which drags in a few places, but is nevertheless well worth reading.


#47 -- Just After Sunset





Out of the stories represented here, there are only four which I love, and there are at least five to which I am rather indifferent.  The great ones -- "Willa," "N.,""Graduation Afternoon," and the icky "A Very Tight Place" -- are really fucking great, though.  This is one of King's weakest story collections, but it's still well worth your time.


#46 -- Desperation


 
 

I'd argue that the book is probably a tad too long, but so what?  I prefer overlong to undercooked.  The characters are what make this work; that, and a compelling theme about faith (also strongly in evidence in The Green Mile, published the same year).  
  
If anyone ever asks you which you should read first, this or its sister novel, The Regulators (both of which were published on the same day), answer them thus: Desperation.  Why?  Because it's the one King put his name on, rather than his pseudonym; it's just that simple.


#45 -- Under the Dome


  



A little sloppy in terms of certain aspects of its execution, but overall, a damn fine novel.  Never gets boring in nearly 1100 pages, and certain scenes have stuck with me ever since.  There is some political and religious material that is maybe a bit too one-sidedly left-leaning, but I personally can live with that; those who can’t probably take substantial points off for it, and they’d not be wrong to do so. 
  
The novel has its demerits – a poorly-nicknamed central character not being the least of them – but is mostly very successful nonetheless.  The ultimate revelations are controversial, but if you'd like to know how I feel about them, please refer back to my comments about Cell; they are applicable here as well.


#44 -- Nightmares & Dreamscapes





This whopper of a story collection is generally pretty strong, with a few standouts -- "Crouch End," "Umney's Last Case," "Dolan's Cadillac," and "The End of the Whole Mess," for example -- but perhaps no real classics.  Oddly, my favorite piece here may be "Head Down," the nonfiction essay about Little League baseball which has no business in this collection ... but for which I am nevertheless thankful.


#43 -- Needful Things





Lots of terrific characters here, and while it’s comedic in a dark way, it’s also frequently horrifying.  As with Under the Dome, the chills are mostly human-induced, too, rather than monster-induced.  That might make for an interesting critical essay one of these days.  Are there other King tales that also feature that element?  I bet there are.  
  
Looking back on it, I'm not entirely sure I understand why King felt the need to "destroy" Castle Rock.  It wasn't hurting anybody, Steve!  Except maybe for itself...


#42 -- Doctor Sleep





Don't be misled by its relatively low placement on this list; Doctor Sleep is a very good novel, one that can't measure up to the novel to which it is a sequel (The Shining) but is nevertheless satisfying and moving in its own right.  What weighs it down are a set of not-entirely-persuasive villains, and -- arguably -- a lack of jeopardy for some of its main characters.  
  
Working in its favor: everything else.

A full review can be found here.


#41 -- Thinner


 
 
 
The Mafioso elements are problematic for me; they feel a bit like something out of a Creepshow segment.  Maybe that's appropriate, especially given the heavily moralistic leanings of the novel, but it's also too serious to support a somewhat goofy element like that one.  That aside, though, this is a pretty good novel, with a memorably pitch-black ending.


#40 -- Four Past Midnight





"The Langoliers" is a fine dip into the Twilight Zone (or, possibly, the Outer Limits, which might be King's preference), and while the end doesn't quite come together, it's still a fun ride.  
  
"Secret Window, Secret Garden" is probably the best of the four, and while it ought to feel like a ripoff of The Dark Half, it's anything but.  
  
"The Library Policeman" is a silly concept with a harrowing execution. 
  
"The Sun Dog" is the weakest of the bunch, but even it is fairly good.  I say this having not read the book in at least fifteen years; to be honest, I don't remember "The Sun Dog" very well at all.  So who knows what I'll think when I reread it?


#39 -- Christine





The concept -- a haunted car -- is silly, but King's writing is strong enough that the novel somehow manages to work regardless of the setup.  And, perhaps because the goofier elements are more foregrounded, the novel manages to not feel unbalanced in the way that Thinner (what with its somewhat ridiculous Mafia hitman) does.  
  
The story is unquestionably a tragedy, and I wish it worked a little better in that way; the way Carrie does, for example.  But it's a good novel, no doubt about it in my mind.


#38 -- The Dark Half


 
  
 
The plot is moderately hard to swallow, and is somewhat lacking in clarity (what the hell is George, anyways?), but King’s prose is solid.  Don’t believe the hype about how this is a parable for the way King’s own “Richard Bachman” pseudonym story played out in real life; this is actually a story about a writer wrestling with his own demons, not demons foisted upon him by the outside world.  As such, it makes an interesting companion piece to both Misery and The Tommyknockers.

A three-part exploration of the novel by yours truly can be found here, here, and here



#37 -- The Wind Through the Keyhole





If I'm being honest, I suppose I have to admit that this is the worst of the eight Dark Tower novels.  However, saying that is hardly an insult: this is a terrific novel, one which employs an effective nesting-doll structure to tell three stories (the ka-tet seeking shelter from a vicious storm; young Roland investigating murders committed by a shapeshifting skin-man; and a young boy in Mid-World embarking upon a dangerous quest to save his mother from an abusive stepfather).  
  
In this novel, King has written a strong tale about the power of storytelling, and he's also made his magnus-opus universe feel like even more expansive a place than it felt before.  That's quite an achievement.

Here's my review, and here (plus here) is a conversation I had with Bryan McMillan about the novel. 



#36 -- Storm of the Century





I think the movie is a bit of a masterpiece, so maybe that's coloring my opinion a bit here.  On second thought, no; it isn't.  This screenplay makes for a damn fine read in its own right.  Linoge is a terrifying villain.  Do you suppose he and Randall Flagg are actually the same creature?  I'm not sure about that...but if they aren't, I guarantee you they've carpooled at some point in time.


#35 -- The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah





The big plot development here – which I won't spoil, I guess, for those of you who haven't read the series yet – is surreal and postmodern and divisive.  It makes for interesting fictional autobiography, and though it disconcerted me at first, I came to accept it, and then to love it.  That’s only part of the novel, of course, but it’s a major part; the rest is tense and exciting, and sets up the series finale pretty well.  Susannah's struggles with Mia are compelling, and Mia ends up being an interesting character in her own right.  It's the weakest book in the main series.  I guess.  To whatever extent that distinction matters.


#34 -- Full Dark, No Stars





One of these four tales – “1922” – is an out-and-out masterpiece, and while the others don’t measure up to that level, they’re each also pretty good.  Taken as a whole, this is a collection that is (arguably) about the evil men do to women, and it’s satisfying that the final tale of the four features a woman who is capable of fighting back before becoming a victim.  The paperback version includes a bonus short story, “Under the Weather,” which continues the theme, but alters it: here, a man does something terrible out of love for his wife.  
  
All in all, it’s a fine collection, and one that fits in nicely with King’s mid-‘90s trio of female-centric novels Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and Rose Madder.


#33 -- From a Buick 8


 
 
 

A fine tale of memory, with an intriguing structure, this novel finds King working at just the right length for the story at hand, and with just the right cast of characters.  Good stuff.


#32 -- Gerald's Game





A semi-Hitchcockian cousin to the semi-Hitchcockian Misery, this one maybe isn’t quite that good, but it’s a better novel than 99.9% of other writers would have made from the same concept.  
  
Points off for the crossover with Dolores Claiborne, which -- unless the two meet at some point in a future novel or story -- is forced and rather pointless.  Also, the appearance of a certain character toward the end may also color your opinion.  Me, I found it to be terrifying.


#31 -- The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla





I wasn't terribly impressed by this novel the first time I read it; after the gap between books IV and V, I was -- irrationally -- expecting something a bit more...  A bit more what?  Even I don't quite know.  
  
In any case, time has improved my opinion of this one quite a bit, what with its crazy blend of westerns and sci-fi and fantasy and surrealism and horror and myth.  This is great stuff; it doesn't get you much closer to the Tower...but slow down, pard, you'll get there soon enough.


#30 -- Roadwork


 
 
 
A novel I disliked on first reading (at approximately age fifteen), the more mature version of me found it to be quite compelling when I returned to it twenty years later.  It’s maybe a little forced, but it’s also powerful, and seems like both a good reflection of its time and a still-relevant metaphor for despair.  One of King's very few novels with no fantastic elements whatsoever, this character study is a grim tale of despair that I find to be immensely underrated.  Needs to be rediscovered.  Where you at, Frank Darabont…?


#29 -- Firestarter





A very good novel; there are no major weaknesses, although Charlie's dialogue is a bit problematic: she rarely sounds like what it seems like an eight-year-old ought to sound like.  King had a differently-gendered version of the same problem in The Shining, but there, Danny's telepathy made for a terrific explanation; there's no such saving grace here.  In any case, the narrative works well enough that it isn't a major problem.  
  
The novel gets compared to Carrie, but I find it has much more in common with The Dead Zone.  It's not as good as that one, but it's an entertaining sci-fi thriller with political undertones.  I'd love to read a sequel someday.



#28 -- The Tommyknockers





A bit of a shaggy dog in some respects, this novel loses a bit of focus and introduces a few too many characters during a bloated middle section.  However, some of those characters are interesting and compelling, which is also definitely true of the story’s two main characters.  
  
I’d also point out that the novel comes to a more satisfying conclusion than is sometimes the case with long King books.  All in all, I’d say this one is underrated; it’s really quite good.  If you'd like to read a four-part review of it -- and why wouldn't you, hmm?!? -- you can do so here, here, here, and here.



#27 -- Dolores Claiborne





A first-person narrative written in dialect and devoid of chapter breaks ought to be a chore to read; that this one isn’t says a great deal about King’s essential strength as a storyteller.  The crossover with Gerald’s Game either weakens it or strengthens it, depending on your point of view; it definitely does one or the other, though, and for me it weakens it ever so slightly.  Dolores is unquestionably one of King's best characters, for my money.



#26 -- Hearts in Atlantis





Is it a novel?  A collection?  
  
Does it matter?  Not at all.  
  
The structure is interesting for that reason, and the mix of the supernatural with the completely mundane is perhaps even more interesting, but either way, this is strong stuff.  It's also required reading  for Dark Tower fans, who ought to treat this -- along with Insomnia and Black House -- as unofficial entries in the series.  
  
By the way, the book is supposedly incomplete: according to King, one tale -- "The House on Value Street" -- remains to be written.  Well, that's tantalizing as hell...


#25 -- Danse Macabre


Typically, I use the cover to the original hardback...but the original paperback for this one is so much better.
 


As captivating as most of his fiction, this book-length exploration of the horror genre across various media (prose, cinema, television, radio...you name it) is an enduring work of criticism peppered with intriguing bits of autobiography.  Intensely readable, and as compelling as a great novel...assuming you have ay yen toward reading critical/autobiographical work.  If you don't, you'll probably want to drop this down about twenty or thirty places on the list.  
  
Not me, though; I'm tempted to put it higher.


#24 -- Cujo





Oppressive, depressing, and very memorable.  The best sections may be the ones in which King writes from the dog’s point of view; he does so quite well, and also invents several great characters of the two-legged variety.  Within King's canon, only Pet Sematary (and possibly "1922") is grimmer.  But grim can be compelling, and it's certainly compelling here. 


#23 -- Bag of Bones


 
 
Along with The Green Mile, this is one of the novels which truly got critics to begin reappraising King and his merits as a writer.  It's a corker of a tale, with everything one could possibly want from an old-school Gothic ghost story/romance/tragedy.  Max Devore is possibly THE most evil character in all of King's fiction...which is saying something.


#22 -- 'Salem's Lot


 

Not as highly prized by yours truly as it is by most King fans.  Nevertheless, this is a very fine novel.  Numerous good characters and great scenes, marred somewhat by at least one act of such dunderheaded stupidity – Susan going to confront Barlow in the Marsten house – that it threatens to wreck all believability.  Other than that, its status as a classic is well-deserved.  


#21 -- Joyland






A terrific novel about memory, lost love, the healing process, and having a good time while at work.

Oh, yeah; there's a murder mystery, too.  And not too shabby a one, at that, although King won't be giving old Agatha a run for her money anytime soon.  Overall, though, this is an exceptional novel.

Want to read a fuller review of it?  Gotcha covered.  And covered, covered, and covered.


#20 -- Misery




Claustrophobic and nightmarish, this meditation on the power – good and evil – of artistic inclination features one of King’s best villains, one of his most sympathetic heroes, and one of his tightest scenarios.  So why doesn’t it rate higher?  A bit too over-the-top in some aspects, it veers into grand guignol at a few moments when it ought to have stayed a bit more grounded.  But that is quibbling; it’s a great novel.

I wrote a whole mess of posts about this novel as one of my first acts of bloggerdom:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5


#19 -- The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower




King’s magnum opus comes to an emotionally taxing conclusion, with several tear-inducing passages and a coda that is awe-inspiring.  Or, for some, infuriating.  
  
Balancing that somewhat toward the negative is an anticlimactic confrontation with the Crimson King, who is perhaps not all he has been made out to be.  Did I want some sort of more apocalyptic battle with that villain and his armies?  Well, sure I did.  Doesn't matter; this is a moving epic with a goosebump-inducing resolution, and for this Tower-junkie’s money, it’s a grand finale.


#18 -- Skeleton Crew




The breadwinner in this awesome collection is "The Mist," a short novel which on its own merits is easily good enough to crack the top ten on this list.  Top five...?  Probably not; but maybe.  
  
In addition to that, you get "The Jaunt," which is utterly horrifying; "Survivor Type," which is just as horrifying, albeit in a very different way; and a dozen or so other super-fine stories such as "Nona," "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," and "The Reach."  
  
I'm also a big fan of the poem "For Owen," and while that doesn't have too big of a bearing on this book's placement on the list, it certainly doesn't hurt any.


#17 -- Pet Sematary





This is definitely one of King’s most horrifying tales; it's liable to make anyone feel a little sick in their soul.  However, the book also feels very calculated, in a way that isn't fully comfortable alongside most of King's other works; you can practically hear the chess pieces being shoved about the board at some points.  Despite that slight flaw (without which, this might be top-five material), Pet Sematary is a highly memorable novel, and prime nightmare fuel.


#16 -- The Long Walk





Great writing here from ole Dicky Bachman, and it comes to a satisfyingly unsatisfying ending.  This is a deeply felt, riveting work that is certainly one of King's angriest novels.  It's amazing to me that something this good was written by a college freshman.

Not just any old college freshman, though; we're talking Stephen King here.


#15 -- The Stand


 
 
 
The longer version of the novel adds enough richness of detail that it almost makes up for what is still, to my thinking, a weak finale.  Would many King fans disagree with me on the subject of that finale?  I'm sure they would.  Would most King fans be horrified to see this novel outside the top ten -- if not outside the top two, or one -- on this list?  I expect so ... but hey, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  
  
Another problem I have is that it feels like too little time is spent with the survivors in Vegas; we get a far greater understanding of what makes the good guys tick.  I feel weird even suggesting that this novel could have benefited from another couple hundred pages, but, yes, that's exactly what I'm saying: I wish I knew the Las Vegans better.  By the way, placing this novel at a mere #15 is not so much a poor reflection on its qualities as it is a sign of how greatly I prize the novels I've placed ahead of it.  
  
In any case, this epic mishmash of horror, fantasy, politics, and religion has a large cast of very memorable characters, and is certainly a classic...but an imperfect one, in my opinion.


#14 -- Duma Key


 


Reminiscent of Pet Sematary in terms of its uncompromising bleakness, and, for my money, an even better work than that classic.  
  
Edgar is a great King character, and there were a couple of times when I felt genuinely nervous for what was about to happen.  This haunting, horrifying character piece is long but not overlong, with an entirely successful setting, and a great ghost-story premise; a great novel, and a great refutation of any claims that latter-career King has lost his touch.  Part of me wants to put it in the top ten, but since I've only read it once, I'm going to defer to some others with which I am more familiar.



#13 -- The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three





Almost entirely focused on character, but to such good effect that a reader might not even notice the relative lack of action.  
  
Each reader’s reaction to Detta – a purposefully gross and offensive collection of stereotypes – will perhaps determine their interest in the remainder of the series.  Me, I get a little annoyed with her, but I also think that King mostly wants me to react in precisely that way.  
  
Also deepening – and fundamentally altering – Roland himself, this novel is a well-told tale that is definitely one of the best he's ever written.


#12 -- Night Shift





Of the nineteen (19!) stories in this collection, I'd argue that a minimum of fourteen of them are classics, as is King's Foreword.  
  
'Nuff said.
 

#11 -- Carrie




King's prose in this one is not short on missteps, but there are also moments of sheer inspiration, and the overall effect is tremendous.  Carrie remains one of King’s most sympathetic characters, despite the fact that she burned up and otherwise killed a whole bunch of people.  King's first published novel is also -- still -- one of his best, a dark fairy tale that crackles with tragic pathos but also keeps the reader at just enough of a remove that it can all be exciting.

The more time passes, the more I seem to prize this one.  And that's fine by me.


#10 -- 11/22/63


 
 

When this novel was released, King was in his 37th year as a professional novelist.  In a way, it would be perfectly acceptable for him to have long since succumbed to the lure of laziness and decided to simply toss out variations on the "psychic kid is terrorized by haunted __________" theme.  He wouldn't be the first bestselling author to eventually take the past of least resistance.  
  
King has never done that, though, and in his 37th year as a pro, what did we get from him?  An ambitious, sprawling, epic: a time-traveling thriller that takes one of our culture's seminal events, turns it on its head, and uses it as the unlikely backdrop to what ends up being a thoroughly effective romance.  This is strong, strong stuff, and proof positive -- as if any such proof were needed (hint: it isn't) -- that King's talent as a storyteller is evidently nowhere near its expiration date. 


#9 -- The Green Mile





Works great either as a serial or as a novel.  Grim in the extreme and with a gut-punch of an ending, it tells a crackerjack of a story, and manages to be both chilling and uplifting.  Publishing the novel the way he chose to was the publishing equivalent of a high-wire act with no net, and as far as I was concerned, it was a complete success.

Seems like I ought to have more to say; in due time, I suppose.


#8 -- The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands


 
 

Part of me thinks this is the best novel in the series: the story advances more here than in any of the other books; there are several stupendous action setpieces; the requisite excellent characterizations are plentiful; and King’s command of writing an epic-fantasy-style landscape is dead on the money.  Add to that a cliffhanger that had fans tearing their hair out from ’91-’97, and you’ve got a book that may well be too low on this list.  I'm torn!


#7 -- On Writing





Not only will this exceptional book give you some of the best writing advice you will ever encounter, it's also a tremendous pseudo-autobiography.  I think it illustrates that, ultimately, the writer and his craft are one and the same, and that seems a valuable lesson.  This is a GREAT book.  If you were arguing that it deserved to be ranked #1, I wouldn't put up much of a fight.



#6 -- The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass



 

Largely consisting of a lengthy extended flashback to a point in Roland's tragic youth, this one is a corker of a love story with several good action scenes, excellent new characters, and a wide-eyed youthfulness that is surprising when carried off by a wide-eyed youth; for a middle-aged fellow to have accomplished it is a miracle.  
  
Possibly the most divisive novel in the series (some fans adore it, and others find it to be a whopping ole bore), this is a Western-romance-tragedy-fantasy fusion that probably ought to have been an utter failure.  
  
It isn't.


#5 -- The Shining


 


The novel is perhaps best loved for its scenes of terror (which are among the best in all of King's works), but the novel is also just as engrossing for the story of Jack’s plight to stay off the booze and keep his family together.  
  
Another superb character study,The Shining also finds King working in the tragic mode to great result, which is a common refrain throughout his career: when the happy ending is nowhere in sight, King is often at his finest.



#4 -- The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger




You will perhaps note which title I have gone with.  Alternatively, I could have used The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger.  That's the proper title of the revised version (which King released in 2003 to bring the first novel of the series a bit more in line with its successive volumes), and that's fine by me: I love the revised version, too, especially the added scenes involving the trap-word "nineteen."  
  
But for me, the original holds a special place.  I know that some King fans, and even some Tower fans, dislike the novel for its slowness, its coldness, its distance, its mystery.  Well, to each his own, and my own is that I love the novel for all of those reasons.  Not in spite of; for.  Rarely has a work of fantasy immediately invested me in a fictional universe quite so fully.  In fact, I don't know that it's ever happened; the only other competition is The Lord of the Rings, and I prefer this novel to that one.  
  
For me, this was the high-point of the series.  Don't misunderstand me, either, because I love the rest of the series, each one of the novels; and yet, to me, they all pale just a wee bit in comparison to this stark, lean work of haunted beauty.


#3 -- The Dead Zone


 


One of King’s best characters in one of his best situations, with some of his best writing.  Feels, with its emphasis on politics and society, very much like a Bachman novel, and if it were, it'd be the best of them, hands down.  Even as a King novel, it's one of the best, a bit of a masterpiece; and, again, a tragedy.


#2 -- It





This lengthy, captivating novel effectively summons a remarkable feeling of time’s passage.  The structure is exceptional, as is the sheer amount of imagination on hand: this novel has more finely-sketched characters between its covers than many writers will create in an entire career.  Characters show up for only a couple of paragraphs and feel more fully-realized than some authors' main characters.  
  
The big sex scene near the end is a sticking point for many people, and probably ought to be, but even if you despise it – and I don’t, although I do come close to despising the “humor” of one R. Tozier – it can’t blunt the sharpness of this epic.  A truly fine piece of work.  
  
Oh, and did I mention that it's scary as hell?


#1 -- Different Seasons


 


All four of these novellas, if they had been individually published, would possibly be in my top ten.  Taken as a whole, though...?  They're even better.  This book is a masterwork about the power of storytelling, and if only one King book survives the bombs, or the tidal waves, or the plague, or the aliens, or whatever it is that finally gets us, my vote is that this ought to be the one.

*****

And that, my friends, is that.  I'm sure you disagree with some of the rankings -- vehemently, in some cases, I suspect -- but that's okay.  Feel free to drop me a comment and let me know all about it.

Just don't try to convince me that The Dark Man deserves to be #1.  Because if you think that, I'd quote Jar Jar Binks: you'sa crazy.

157 comments:

  1. Different Seasons is a perfectly logical choice for the top spot; surprised I don't see it occupying the apex on other worst-to-best lists out there. Such a great work.

    And I agree on Joyland - that's a definite late-innings RBI from Sai King.

    Are people divided on Wizard and Glass? Really? Probably the same people who think Kubrick's The Shining is inferior to the mini-series.

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    1. I believe you may be onto something there.

      The objection most people seem to have, I think, is that the story represents zero forward momentum toward the Tower. And from that point of view, I guess I can understand that being the reaction. But since the overall Tower story is about almost anything BUT forward momentum, it is a complaint that holds zero water with me.

      By the away, apologies for (again) having "Faithful" ranked so low on the list! Every time I see you write something about it, I feel as if I probably haven't managed to give it a fair shake.

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    2. I imagine it's impenetrable to any but diehard Sox fans. I know plenty of casual Sox fans who got it for Christmas or a birthday or what not and have never been able to get through it.

      But for THIS diehard Sox fan, it is manna from heaven! (I actually just finished my re-read of it on the train home today. That ending always gets me. But... on that topic, and at this time of year, I am an easy mark. Go Sox!)

      I agree with your take on the Tower/ Wizard and Glass. Personally, it's my favorite of them all.

      Delete
  2. I would love to know which of the fourteen Noght Shift stories you consider classics. I love that book and would love to compare my notes on it with someone else. If you posted a separate article about it, I would love to read it.

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    1. I'm very, very slowly working on reviews of every King short story, so some day, I'll have such a post.

      For now, though, here is a list of the stories I was talking about:

      Jerusalem's Lot
      Graveyard Shift
      I Am the Doorway
      The Mangler
      The Boogeyman
      Battleground
      Sometimes They Come Back
      Strawberry Spring
      The Lawnmower Man
      Quitters, Inc.
      I Know What You Need
      Children of the Corn
      The Last Rung on the Ladder
      The Woman in the Room

      How's that match up with your list?

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  3. I find all of the short stories at least tolerable, none of them being a pain to get through. That being said, I would say that about seven of them are outright great. From order of best to worst:

    The great ones:
    The Last Rung on the Ladder
    Children of the Corn
    The Boogeyman
    I Know What You Need
    The Ledge
    Sometimes They Come Back
    The Woman in the Room

    The decent ones:
    Battleground
    Trucks
    The Man Who Loved Flowers
    Strawberry Spring
    Graveyard Shift
    The Mangler
    I am the Doorway
    One for the Road
    Gray Matter
    The Lawnmower Man

    And the par ones:
    Jerusalem's Lot (which I do respect more over time)
    Night Surf
    Quitters, Inc. (which I do not get the appeal of despite liking aspects of)

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    1. I guess that, for me, the appeal of "Quitters Inc." is that it is heavily reminiscent of the type of story that might have made for an excellent episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." It's been a while since I read it, though; maybe I'm overvaluing it.

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    2. "...reminiscent of the type of story that might have made for an excellent episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

      Well, you're on the right track, or at least King and Hollywood thought so: Quitters, Inc. was adapted by King in the movie Cat's Eye (1985). It starred James Woods, Drew Barrymore, and Alan King. If you don't recall, Cat's Eye was a movie of three shorts (similar to a Hitchcock/Twilight Zone/ Tales from the Darkside shorts - only much better done). Also in that movie was a short adapted from The Ledge - which is the best of the bunch. I just watched it this week; great 80's cinema. Check it if you haven't.

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    3. The older it gets, the more I like "Cat's Eye." I watched it again around Halloween this year, and had a grand old time with it.

      I honestly don't know which if the three stories I like best. With a gun to my head, I'd probably say "Quitters Inc."

      Delete
  4. I was surprised to see "The Talisman" ranked so low, since it's one of my favorite books (definitely in the top three). Then again, "Dead Zone" and "Different Seasons" would fall in the middle of the pack to me, so I guess our tastes aren't similar. Regardless, very impressive list!

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    1. With a bibliography this extensive, it'd be a surprise if any two fans agreed on every single title. Shocking, even, maybe.

      I know a lot of people hold "The Talisman" in very high regard; I'm probably in the minority among King fans in not being a big fan of it. And who knows, the next time I reread it, I might change my mind completely (again); it happens!

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  5. Your comments on "Rose Madder": "I don’t much care for the supernatural elements here; they very nearly ruin what is otherwise a darkly compelling story of surviving domestic abuse. This would have been better-served as a straight drama."

    Okay, I could not agree with you more. I liked the book a lot, but this definitely felt to me like King was using the supernatural crap as a crutch instead of as a necessary story element. I really would have enjoyed this stripped of the painting.

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    1. Right?

      To me, it feels like two ideas mashed together i a not-entirely-compelling manner. Of course, I say that with it having been a LONG time since I read the book. So again, who knows, I might change my mind whenever I read it again.

      But, like you imply, it isn't a bad book. Just not (for my money) one of King's best.

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  6. I don't know what is is about The Long Walk that brings me back to it so many times over the years. I think there's a little spell embedded in there somewhere that grabbed me the first time I read it and doesn't allow me to let it go. I feel like i'm walking every step of the way with the characters, even though I probably wouldn't finish even in the top 50.

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    1. It's a great novel, one that seems to only get better the older it gets. When you consider the fact that King wrote it while still in college, you have to marvel at it all the more.

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  7. While I'm happy to see a #1 that isn't predictably The Stand, I'm rather disturbed to see it ranked below The Duma Key. My #1 seems to change from time to time. Right now, it's IT.

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  8. I love your ranking! As I am going through King's bibliography this ranking has been greatly useful in deciding what to read first. Have you thought about ranking all King's short stories?

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    1. I surely have. I am working on just such a thing, in fact. But I am rereading all of the stories (and writing reviews of them) first, and it's going to take me quite a while to finish.

      Thanks for reading!

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    2. That is great! looking forward to reading your reviews

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    3. Cool! I'm looking forward to writing them. ;)

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  9. I think you're spot on about Lisey's Story. I read another list like this one that actually had it ranked top 10, so I decided to pick it up. The lingo is frustrating and I found Boo'ya Moon to be just as stupid. The premise had a lot of potential, but I think the Zach McCool/Jim Dooley aspect did not play a big enough part. For me, that was the most interesting aspect of the book and I don't think King explored it nearly enough. It would have been better off as a mere crime novel. King has also gone on record saying Lisey's Story is his favorite novel he's written, for whatever reason.

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    1. "Lisey's Story" certainly has its fair share of fans. I can imagine loving it; if I didn't have the problems with the lingo, I might love it, too. But I do have that problem, big-time, so there you have it.

      I dunno; maybe a reread will bring me a little closer to it.

      That's not happening any time soon, though!

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  10. So far IT has been not just my favorite Stephen King novel but probably one of the best fiction novels I've read. The character development was incredible as was the supernatural elements. The ending kind of blew my mind. Lisey's Story was my first King novel and I loved it. I thought The Stand was good but a bit over played by the reviews I read before tackling the novel myself. I found myself a bit underwhelmed by it. I absolutely love his writing though! Currently taking on The Dark Tower Books.

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    1. Enjoy them!

      I, too, find "The Stand" to be maybe a wee bit overrated. Not to a huge extent; I just don't think it's quite up to the praise it receives.

      Delete
  11. Hey..i was wondering if you could tell me if it was worth it buying the Hardbook (2xcd/DVD) version of Ghost Brothers compared to the deluxe (CD/DVD) version... its a lot more pricey, but was wondering what the extra content on the CD was....great site btw! cheers!

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    1. Ignore my question...sorry...just noticed you had a review with all thee details on it...doh!

      Think i'll go with the CD/DVD version...

      thanks anyway!

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    2. Unless having the libretto in a physical format is important to you, I'd say that's the right call. The "hardback" version was a disappointment, in my opinion, especially for the price.

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  12. Really enjoyed reading your reviews of Kings books..this will help me decide which ones to read or even purchase..thanks...

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  13. Good article here dude. I've read a lot of King's work but never really tackled the short stories. Would you say the collections need to be read in entirety or not? Could I, for example, read 1922 from full dark no stars and none of the rest. Man in the black suit and none of the others in that collection. Of do you feel there is an overarching plot when read in the collection books entirety?
    Sorry about the wall of text. I would appreciate your input.

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    1. I would say that with the collections, "Different Seasons" has some thematic unity that makes it feel like more of a single piece than the others. But really, I think you can take all of them and just pick and choose stories to read as you see fit. I tend to not like to do that, personally, but that's just my OCD side rearing its head.

      In short: it's all good no matter which way you go.

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  14. Great article I'm just starting to get into King so far I've read Full dark No Stars, Mr. Mercedes and Night shift. I'm now either thinking about reading Salem's Lot or The Gunslinger. Which one do you think I should read next? Also where do you think Mr. Mercedes would go in here? Personally I thought it was meh but not bad. Also if you already got this message twice I'm sorry I wasn't sure if it sent it or not.

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    1. Hmm . . . good question. I think I would say to go for "Salem's Lot." Me personally, I prefer "The Gunslinger." However, that one tends to give people -- even King fans -- trouble, whereas almost everyone agrees that "Salem's Lot" is great.

      As for "Mr. Mercedes," I felt about it more or less like you did. Liked it, didn't love it. I'd put it toward the lower-middle portion of the list, I imagine.

      Thanks for stopping by! Come back any time.

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    2. Hey man...really loving this blog, been trying to read a bit every day, esp the under the dome reviews!

      How about giving us your rankings of the original hardback covers....or better still, the author's photo for each one! Haha

      Anyway, keep up the great work

      Aaron

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    3. A ranking of the cover art is an intriguing idea. I might have to do that at some point. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Delete
  15. Awesome article. I am agreeing with you on almost all. Although I loved Desperation, but I was younger and havent read it in years. Re-reading it again, and realizing how scary it really is.

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    1. It's been quite a while since I read that one, too; I look forward to revisiting it.

      I'm currently rereading "Needful Things" for the first time in years, and I'm enjoying it.

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  16. Respectable list. Obviously no 2 fans are gonna have identical rankings but yours are pretty close to how I'd rate them. I especially liked the high ranking of "Duma Key", one of my personal favorites that never seems to get the credit it deserves.

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    1. True, and I don't know why that is; it's a phenomenal novel.

      Best of luck in Hobb's End...!

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  17. It's funny - i found this page after Googling - while i'm now reading "Lisey's Story" and cant stand it!! I'm a King fan thru and thru and have read nearly all his books. This one sucks lol. Love your list - i have not read the Dark Tower series because i read SO many other type of books. But one book i SO disagree with is "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." It's one of my favs! Do you think if it was not written by King you would have liked it more? I just loved the whole story and the way it was written. Thanks for your Blog.

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    1. I suspect that if King had not written it, I wouldn't have even finished it. It just really bored me.

      BUT...

      I know it is a book a lot of people really love, so I look forward to giving it a reread one of these days and seeing if I feel differently about it. If so, it certainly wouldn't be the first time that had ever happened to me.

      "Lisey's Story" is another one that a lot of King fans really love, and a lot -- like me and you -- do not love at all.Parts of it are really good; I just couldn't deal with the "smucking"s and so forth.

      Thanks for stopping by! You're welcome back any time.

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    2. A thought about the smuckings:

      Thinking in the language that her husband used with her internalizes a relationship that death has removed all external elements from. In her grief, she's shifted the conversations she used to have with him as a living person into her own inner dialogue. For me, it reinforces how they truly did become one person in marriage, and now half of who she is has gone away.

      There's a saying that when you lose someone close to you, they're in some ways more alive than ever after death. When living, they are in a specific time and place, and unless they're with you, you're not thinking about them much. Once they've died, they're everywhere, with you every moment of the day in your mind.

      For me, the book would be less powerful without the private language. It's a way to communicate their unique bond in words, which is the primary tool at King's disposal, of course!

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    3. That all makes sense, and is totally valid. I see how it would work for somebody else; it just didn't work for me. It's like how some people like Christian Slater, but I don't. I don't think he's a bad actor; I just don't like his presence onscreen.

      Then again, I used to feel the same way about Robert Downey Jr. and now I love him. So my mind isn't set in stone, and maybe when I reread "Lisey's Story" it'll change re.: the smuckings.

      Delete
  18. This is the best Stephen King list on the web, and I spent some time looking…

    This past June I noticed a copy of “Mr. Mercedes” at the local Walmart and picked it up on a whim. Immediately, I rediscovered my love of his work after a 27 year hiatus. Interestingly, the book that got me to stop reading was “It.” “It” was still sitting on my bookshelf with a marker in page 324, left there in 1987. I think it just had too many characters for my adolescent brain to deal with. It remains the only Stephen King book I ever put down. I’m re-reading it now based on your assessment.

    I have found I actually prefer his newer stuff. “11/22/63” absolutely blew my mind in many ways. I couldn’t put it down and never noticed its length. I plan to re-read it when time permits. I also loved “Duma Key” and “Dr. Sleep” (although I tend to agree with you about the villains). “Full Dark, No Stars” was great. “1922” was the most delightfully horrifying thing I’ve ever read. It stretched my understanding of what is possible with the written word.

    Anyway, thank you for this wonderful list and your thoughtful remarks about each title. It has served me well as a guide.

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    1. Thanks!

      I would love to know if your opinion on "It" changes this time. Keep us updated!

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    2. Well, I finally finished reading It. Let me prequalify this by stating that I just started a new job and thus was forced to read in small chunks of available time. I do feel I would have handled It better in larger gulps.

      I thoroughly enjoyed It, but understand why I put it down 27 years ago. The first half of the book is almost entirely backstory (some of it great) and character introductions. There are so many characters, finely sketched as they are, that I found myself asking “now who and when is this” more than once. Occasionally, I had to flip back a few pages to get my bearings. Thus, I felt the length of It like I haven’t with any other Stephen King book.

      That said, there are many moments of astonishing inspiration here. Stephen King has a gift for conveying realism that exceeds any author I have read. I feel like I know Derry and its inhabitants better than those of my own home town.

      Something that doesn’t often get mentioned is King’s sense of humor. King’s that is, not Richie Tozier’s. It’s in good form here.

      In the end, It was a lot of fun. I do feel King could have killed a few more of his darlings, especially in the first half. While I don’t quite share your enthusiasm for it, It certainly earns my recommendation.

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    3. Your reaction to the first half of the book sounds a bit like my reaction to George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" books. So many people I can't even consider keeping most of them straight if they didn't appear in the tv show!

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it (even if not as much as I did)!

      Delete
  19. Hi there! I'm working on my MFA in Creative Writing - my focus is on poetry, but I've always admired a well-executed work of fiction. I only own two Stephen King books in my extensive library, but I love them both: Different Seasons and The Stand (Complete & Uncut Edition). Here are my comments on both of them.

    Different Seasons: Wow. I certainly see why you put this one at #1. I can't tell you how many professors and colleagues I've heard dismiss King as "non-literary", but I am pleased to say that I converted a few of them with this book. The best part is that these novellas show King at his most personal: as he says in the afterword, he didn't think anyone would ever be interested in publishing them, so he wrote them to please himself rather than the crowd. Although I bought the collection mostly for "Shawshank Redemption", "Apt Pupil" is by far my favorite - one of the best meditations I've ever read on the allure of cruelty.

    The Stand: This was actually the first Stephen King novel I read and I love it very much, although I see why it could be considered a flawed masterpiece. Is the ending anticlimactic and unsatisfying? Perhaps, but then again, that may be the point. There are no answers as to how to overcome the flaws of being human, other than Stu Redman's concluding line "I don't know". Should it be top ten? I'm not familiar enough with King's canon to say, but there are several great characters in it: Nick Andros, Glen Bateman, Nadine Cross, and the Trashcan Man, just to name my favorites. And who will deny the supreme shapeshifting scariness of the Walking Dude himself, Randall Flagg? (Although, like most villains, he seemed a little impotent at the end - probably because he realized he couldn't create order out of chaos.)

    Sounds like I need to read "It" someday; only thing is, as I know from The Stand, a 1000+ page novel is quite a commitment. (Also, I prefer fantasy to horror.)

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    1. You might want to give "The Eyes of the Dragon" a look, not only because it has a villain who will be familiar(ish) to you, but because it's a fantasy novel. I'm not a huge fan of the book, but a lot of people are, so you might be charmed by it. It's a short read, too.

      Glad to hear you're a fan of "Different Seasons." Any fan of that novel automatically gets a few points with me!

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  20. Great list. I still have about 6 books to read but generally agree with the rankings (not that it's important that we agree). With one exception. I really rate Rose Madder. It's probably in my top 5. I don't mind the supernatural elements, in fact they worked for me - they indicated to me the (necessary) searching for the inner strength to defeat her sado hubby; she is certainly a different proposition to the down-trodden woman at the start of the book and the book describes this 'inner growth' just right for me.

    Anyway, horses for courses. And as I said, a great list.

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    1. Thanks!

      I love the fact that all of King's books have their fans. That's just how it should be.

      I'll bear your comments in mind next time I read that novel; maybe I'll revise my opinion about it upward. As always, I'd love for that to happen!

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  21. I really liked your list, I love you've put several books on the Dark Tower Top, I love almost everything about "November 22, 63", "IT" "The Shining", the Diff unique is that I also have between my Top 10 A "bag of bones" and "Salem Lot", but I have no problem with your list is different, it was expected since there are no two people are alike lol.

    Even I do not read different seasons, but am about to buy it, once you find a copy.

    Greetings from Mexico, I have six months visiting your blog.

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    1. Not only are no two people alike, I find that my own ideas about the books change regularly. So each time I update this list, I end up moving certain titles around. The way I see it, it's all just good fun designed to stimulate a bit of conversation. It's certainly not a science!

      Glad to hear you're a big "Bag of Bones" fan. That's a wonderful novel. "Salem's Lot," too, for that matter.

      Thanks so much for reading my blog! I hope you enjoy "Different Seasons" when you read it.

      Delete
  22. Really enjoyed this list. It and your Dark Tower Extended Series guide have helped me tremendously since I rediscovered King earlier this year. I'd read a lot of his books in junior high/high school, then kinda lost track of him. I'd never read the Dark Tower books, and I followed your guide to the letter, skipping only the handful of related books I'd read when I was younger.

    Tremendously looking forward to the 2014 edition. We tend to agree quite a bit, though I have far more affection for "Lisey's Story" and found "Revival" brilliant and terrifying. Then again. I thought "Duma Key" was great and you're one of the few to hold it in as high esteem as I do!

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    1. "Duma Key" fans, unite!

      Thanks for the kind words; they are much appreciated. The 2014 is likely to turn into a 2015 edition, unfortunately. I feel like I owe it to "Revival" to give it a second read before I try to rank it, and there are other forces pulling my attention away from the blog for a while. But I'm looking forward to writing that post, myself, so it's going to happen sooner or later!

      Delete
  23. I thought I was a pretty big fan (I plan to venture to Maine with my husband and take the S.K. tour for our next wedding anniversary) until I happened upon this blog post. The fact that your blog exists is über cool, but your eloquence and thoroughness certainly put you in a league of your own.

    I began reading Stephen King's novels as a 13 year old, starting with "Carrie." I quickly followed up with "It," "The Tommyknockers," "Cujo" and "Salem's Lot."
    I was born a night owl and by that point, all my extracurricular reading was done at bedtime, so you can imagine how much more of a terrifying experience that made reading "It." Every night, I would place the book facedown on the floor under the foot of my bed, then grab the Bible and place it under my pillow! It took me months to finish it.
    A couple of months shy of age 32, I've decided to do some re-reading and intend to tackle "It" first.

    Any hoot, to now address this post.
    I haven't read any of the e-books (save for the few that eventually got physically published) or the Peter Straub collaborations.

    "Dreamcatcher" is the one novel I couldn't finish. I'd caught glimpses of the film prior, so my mind started warping the two. I attempted to re-read it a few times in the last three years, but I still haven't made it past the first ten pages.

    Westerns aren't my gig, so I wasn't interested in the Dark Tower series. However, I've since read the graphic novel and skimmed "Song of Susannah". (I actually bought "Wolves of the Calla" at a thrift store shortly after that because I liked the artwork and it was my first hardcover.)

    "Desperation" was definitely almost as scary as "It" (having read the former just a year after the latter), but too gorey. Gorey isn't my bag either, so I doubt I'll re-read it. I prefer "The Regulators."

    "Bag of Bones" is my absolute favorite S.K. novel. I've never read a romance novel, but this love story totally won me over. "Needful Things" is a close second.
    I also really like "The Long Walk," "Lisey's Story," (really liked the love story of this one as well; My mom's passing five years ago made me connect with this and "Bag of Bones" even more) "Insomnia," "Christine," "Duma Key," "Different Seasons," "Gerald's Game," and "Dolores Claiborne."

    I'm currently reading "Joyland." It's a pretty easy read. My holds for "Mr. Mercedes" and "Revival" are now available, so I'm hoping to finish it by Saturday.

    My apologies for such a lengthy comment. I don't get to geek out about this much between how I grew up and being a minority woman.

    I'm intrigued by another viewer's suggestion of ranking the cover art. Can't wait to see you tackle that. Keep up the excellent work!
    C.B.-P.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      I really do like the idea of ranking the cover art -- I'll try to work on that soon.

      I've heard from several folks lately who are big fans of "Bag of Bones." Very cool.

      Glad to hear from you!

      Delete
  24. Halfway through the Dark Tower series (about to start Wizard) and I am intrigued to say the least.

    In terms of my favorites (from what I've read) they are The Shining, The Stand, and The Dead Zone. Thinking about picking up Duma Key and It after I finish DT. I'm into his more horror works.

    Also, I think The Dark Half is criminally underrated! Great list!

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  25. We want more Blaine the Mono!! Into Wizard now.

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  26. Yo, Graymeat... when you gonna update this list?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I'd planned to do it before the end of 2014, but it never happened. I'll give it a shot again, but probably not until the next couple of books come out.

      I appreciate the inquiry, though!

      Delete
  27. this has surprised me, because i have never seen a list so personal and so different than others. as you said i am amazed The stand not being number 1 or even in top ten but your reasons sound so true. and your number is a very interesting choice for me because it is the only book that has haunted me since i read it back in the 80s. it is a very dark book with a very real very solid sense of horror and terror. but actually my favorite stephen king book is The Stand.

    I am very happy to see a different approach with a convincing reasoning. I am reading IT now, i had read it in the 80S but that was the cut version- apprx. 500 pages. Now rereading it brings back so many memories and i can't help feeling that i have always liked s. king though for many years i had stopped reading his books. this list will help me read King again, restart from where i had left off. Thank you so much.

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    1. You are very welcome!

      I had no idea there was an abridged version of "It." Fascinating! I hope you are enjoying revisiting the complete version.

      Regarding "The Stand" -- I do love that novel. It was the book which turned me into a massive King fan, and I have remained one ever since. Not many books have a power of that sort.

      Delete
  28. Hmmm, I have mixed views on IT. The novel is very well written and the characters are top notch as expected, but nothing has really scared me and I'm halfway through. Maybe I expected too much or maybe I'm desensitized. Very good book nevertheless.

    Oh, and The Dark Half is still WAY underrated! That's my sleeper pick!

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  29. What would your sleeper pick be, Bryant? If you HAD to choose one. And by that I mean a favorite that often gets overlooked.

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    1. The first title that comes to mind is "Duma Key." I don't feel that one has generated the amount of reverence it deserves; it blew me away.

      Delete
    2. I think Duma Key was his best novel since The Green Mile. The main character and his neighour's (Wyrman, I think) relationship reminded me of Louis and Jud from Pet Semetery for some reason. Loved it.

      Delete
    3. I'm glad! It's good stuff for sure. You should check out this post about it by a friend of the blog:

      http://mcmolo.blogspot.com/2016/07/kings-highway-pt-55-duma-key-revisited.html

      Delete
  30. I just want to thank you for giving such consideration to your list, it reminds me what I missed or need to read again!

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  31. I think the thing I found most interesting about this was that both of us read Running Man as our first King novel, and for the same reason. Now, both of us are obsessed (though I'd say you're a few leagues in front of me at this point). I wonder, do you have meticulously written in books where you note possible connections between King's works like I do?

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    1. No kidding?!? How cool is that?

      I don't have meticulous notes about connections (although that IS a project I'd love to tackle one of these days), but as I've blogged about the novels, I've done a fair bit of note-taking inside my spare copies so as to better organize my thoughts for the write-ups.

      Since we've got some crossover in terms of our King-fandom origins, I'm going to point you toward another post of mine which is (among other things) a more detailed version of that story. It might theoretically be of interest to you. Here's a link:

      http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2011/08/media-violence-stephen-king-and-you-or_5198.html

      Nice to hear from you! Stop by anytime, I'd love to hear more about your own fandom.

      Delete
  32. Now retired from the daily grind, I have time to read (better late than never), and have opted for Stephen King. Started with Mr. Mercedes, and found it enjoyable. Followed up with the incredible 11/22/63, and am now hooked. With the guidance of rankings such as yours, next up is The Dead Zone and Salem's Lot. Thankfully, my spare time has been enhanced by King's literary genius,

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    1. I bet!

      I'm glad to hear you started off with a couple of the more recent books and got hooked by them. A lot of King fans -- myself not entirely excepted -- tend to focus too much on the "classics" rather than the new stuff, and the new stuff is awfully good in its own right.

      Enjoy!

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  33. Any thoughts on the stories picked for Bazaar?

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    1. Oh, yeah, you bet! Let's just run down the list:

      1. Mile 81 – no surprise there; a good pick for kickoff story, too
      2. Premium Harmony – no surprise
      3. Batman and Robin Have an Altercation – no surprise (GREAT story)
      4. The Dune – no surprise
      5. Bad Little Kid – glad I'll be able to finally read it!
      6. A Death -- good stuff
      7. The Bone Church – a bit surprised by that, but glad
      8. Morality – I wasn't sure this one would make it, since it had already been included with the mass-market edition of Blockade Billy; glad it's here, though
      9. Afterlife – no surprise
      10. Ur – part of me thinks it would have been cool for this one to only ever be released digitally, but I'm glad that didn't actually happen
      11. Herman Wouk is Still Alive – no surprise
      12. Under the Weather – this was included with paperback copies of "Full Dark, No Stars" as an extra story, so I wasn't sure it would ever appear anywhere else; but I'm glad it'll be included here
      13. Blockade Billy – a definite shock; I'm wondering if the standalone editions will be allowed to go out of print now
      14. Mister Yummy – bring it on
      15. Tommy – too bad "Mostly Old Men" didn't make the cut, too
      16. The Little Green God of Agony – no surprise
      17. That Bus is Another World - no surprise
      18. Obits – bring it on
      19. Drunken Fireworks -- I'm going to buy the audio version just so I'll have the story's true first edition, but I'm going to try to force myself to not actually listen to it, and not read it until November; I will probably not be able to follow through!
      20. Summer Thunder – no surprise

      It seems on paper like a damn good collection. I continue to be bummed out that some of the older stories have been omitted. "The Crate," "Weeds," "The Night of the Tiger," "The Reploids" are all very good and deserve a wider audience. I've got copies of all of them, but not every King fan goes that deep into running down the short stories; and for them to continually miss out on those tales seems like a shame to me.

      Delete
  34. I want to thank you again for this fantastic blog. It has been my guide for the past year as I’ve been rediscovering Stephen King.

    I’ve been following your suggested reading order for The Dark Tower series. My most recent completion on that line was Rose Madder, which I was honestly dreading based on its placement here. It turned out that I really liked it.

    I always find your observations spot on. What seems to vary is the degree to which they affect my enjoyment. While I did find the supernatural elements in Rose Madder a little troubling, for me they were more of a minor distraction in an otherwise fast-paced exciting novel. There’s never a dull moment in this one. As you’ve stated many times, every book has its fans. I guess I’m a Rose Madder fan.

    On a completely unrelated note… I read The Sun Dog from Four Past Midnight a few months back. You don’t say much about it here, so I’ll throw in my two cents. It is an interesting concept. The characters are fascinating. I found it an entertaining novella.

    One of The Sun Dog’s main characters is Pop Merril (Ace’s uncle). Pop is referenced repeatedly in Needful Things, and likely, I imagine, in some of the novels I’ve yet to read. I was certainly glad I read The Sun Dog before Needful Things.

    Enough of my blathering… Please keep blogging! The Honk Mahfah (yes I know you’ve dropped that name) definitely knows what I need.

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    1. Thanks, Adam! The blog is definitely not dead -- just in a mild coma. It probably won't be able to see the future when it wakes up, but hey, you never know. What I mean to say is, I'll be back to posting regularly one of these days.

      I'm glad you're a "Rose Madder" fan. I hope to become one whenever I finally get around to revisiting that book; that one and "Lisey's Story," too.

      Currently, I'm a bit more than halfway through with "Finders Keepers" and enjoying it quite a bit.

      Delete
    2. I just finished "Finders Keepers." I dug it a lot, especially at the end when... No I wouldn't do that.

      Are you going to post a review?

      Delete
    3. I REALLY want to. Whether I can find the time to do one which will satisfy me is another matter. But yeah, I'll almost certainly put something up, even if it's brief.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it! Something just happened which made my eyebrow go into skeptical-Spock mode, but I'm still digging it.

      Delete
  35. OK so I'll just come out and ask it, where do Mr. Mercedes, Revival, and Finders Keepers rank among his works?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. For me? Not particularly highly. Toward the lower end of the middle, I'd say.

      I hope to find time to do an updated version of this list at some point this year.

      Delete
  36. Can you rank Robert McCammon's books?

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    1. I cannot. I haven't read most of the recent ones, and my memory of the older ones is too untrustworthy. However, I'm (MUCH too slowly) working on re-reading / reading my way through his entire bibliography, and when I've completed that, I will most definitely be ranking them all.

      When that will be? Ain't no telling.

      Delete
    2. I appreciate the request, though. McCammon is a subject well worth exploring.

      Delete
  37. Have you gotten The Border?

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    1. I pre-ordered the limited edition from Cemetery Dance, so I'm sure I'll get my copy before 2017 or so.

      I haven't yet decided if I'm going to read it or wait until my read-through catches up to it. I think I'll probably read it; it sounds great, and if I wait I might literally be waiting for years. That seems dumb.

      But, then again, I have been known to be a dummy.

      Have you read it yet?

      Delete
    2. I finished it 3 or 4 days ago. It was a really good book, not my favorite by him but still pretty good.

      Delete
  38. With the remake of It getting underway again, who would you like to see play Pennywise? I'm liking the idea of someone unknown or Robert Englund. Also, what part of the book that was left out of the first movie would you most want to see?

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    Replies
    1. If I were casting the movie, I'd give Andy Serkis a call about playing Pennywise. I'd say he could give Tim Curry a run for his money.

      Robert Englund could do it, but I think there'd be real danger of people looking at Pennywise and seeing/hearing Freddy; and that would be a bad situation. But that aside, yeah, he could do it in a heartbeat.

      If I had to pick one thing from the book to see in the movie(s), I'd say some of the flashbacks to older Pennywise attacks on Derry, like the Black Spot scene.

      Delete
    2. Doug Jones is your man. He can do anything.

      Maybe now that Fukunaga is gone (he would have been great but I still have hope), Jones can step into the role.

      Delete
    3. Doug Jones is an interesting idea. I'm not sure I've seen him in anything where I heard him speak, so I can't say anything in that regard; but from a purely physical standpoint, yeah, absolutely he could get the job done.

      I'm dubious as to whether the project is going to move forward, though.

      Delete
    4. He was the voice and body of Abe Sapien in Hellboy 2, where he managed to sound just like David Hyde Pierce, who voiced the character in Hellboy. He also was Pan and the Grey Man in Pan's Labyrinth, where he spoke flawless Spanish. he had a speaking, makeup-less role in John Dies at the End. He's my man for Mr. Bob Grey.

      I think I'm gonna start a Stephen King casting blog. After all, the old one's gone.

      Delete
    5. I've seen "Hellboy 2" and "Pan's Labyrinth," but I didn't know he did the voices. For some reason, I thought he'd been dubbed. Damn, you're right; he did a flawless David Hyde Pierce impersonation!

      I think I'd still give the job to Serkis, personally. But I do like Jones. I always think of him as the guy in "Hush" (one of THE great episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), and lord knows that based purely on that, he'd be able to pull Pennywise off.

      A Stephen King casting blog sounds like a cool idea. If you start it, make sure to send me a link!

      Delete
  39. I just had to say that I am very pleased to see IT rank so high, For me, it is not a book, it is a thing that lives and should be experienced. From its cheap trills to its major schlocks it is something extraordinary, an outworldly thing (no pun intended). up until It, I was a fairly decent King fan but It made me a ferocious advocator of the man.

    Besides, I totally agree Duma Key is an overlooked gem, Wizard and Glass is simply the best of Dark Tower franchise. But I would certainly rank Salem's Lot, Shining, Christine, Pet Semetary higher. The man's output between 1975-1988 is incredible. Even in his worst form ('Tommyknockers and Thinner), there is some fierce, demonic, addictive writing that sets him apart from any other author; that makes one helpless to do anything but to read further although you know that it is not good. It is a style unique to him; I have come across no one for such kind of addictive writing, and I have read tons of books.

    By the way there is a reference above to It's abridged version. It was only published in Turkey because if it was published in its original version (1100 plus pages) it would cost too dearly and no one would be able to buy it as book prices were at rocket highs in mid-80s in Turkey compared to the wage and income. But the translator did a very good (in fact an outstanding) job because in spite of minus 500 pages the book did not lose its charm in the least. Last year the full version is finally published along with the full version of the Stand.

    Thank you for this blog. And Finders Keepers is much much better than its predecessor so it should rank a little bit high:).

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    1. Thanks for that info about the abridged Turkish edition. Boy, I'd hate to have been the person in charge of whittling that book down; can't have been easy!

      Delete
  40. Outstanding list. I salute you my friend. I agree with everything you said. You have an excellent eye and ear for King. Your list is now my road map...Crawford Glissadevil

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  41. It has been some time since I have read some of King's books, so I'm not sure I could even do a complete ranking like you have. That being said, I have never found anything he has written less than intriguing if not outright outstanding. He is definitely my favorite author though I also enjoy Dean Koontz and John Grisham among others. I absolutely loved 11/22/63 up until the ending which I found a little strange even for King. I would probably rank it top 5 regardless though. I also agree with you on Duma Key being underrated by most King readers. Strangely I'm not a big fan of the Dark Tower series of books like most King fans are....they're probably my least favorite works by him, but to each his own. Enjoyed the blog and will check back for updates. Oh before I forget I was also pleasantly surprised by Joyland and would rank it fairly high.

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  42. I'll never understand why people love THE STAND. It says nothing about religion or politics, it only pretends to. It's a classic act of "Let's make an epic, I'm bored. Good VS evil? whhatever".

    ReplyDelete
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    1. This comment says nothing about "The Stand," it only pretends to.

      Delete
  43. #63 -- The Talisman (written with Peter Straub)
    you lost me here.
    back to google search ....

    ReplyDelete
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    1. While you're Googling things, see if you can find something to help you capitalize.

      Delete
  44. Great article! Personally, I would have placed Cujo higher on the list due to the level of suspense the novel offers, and its slow build toward its eventual execution. On a separate note, I too hold Duma Key to a high regard, and I can't figure out why it is so underrated.

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    1. Always happy to hear from a fellow "Duma Key" fan!

      Yeah, "Cujo" does seem a bit too far down the list. I might have to bump it up a few places whenever I get around to revising and updating this list.

      Delete
    2. I look forward to it!

      Delete
    3. I'd intended to do that toward the end of last year, but ended up not for the reason that I want to reread "Revival" first. I feel like I didn't give it a fair shake the first time, so I'm going to read it again and see if I change my mind about it. (Liked it, didn't love it.)

      Delete
    4. King has always had the kind of books that cause a divide between fans. For instance, I like Lisey's story and The girl who loved Tom Gordon, but I know a lot of his other fans don't.

      Delete
    5. "IT" and "The shining" even have their bad reviews. But I wouldn't call those guys fans.

      Delete
    6. I'm with you on that; but, hey, different strokes for different folks, and all that.

      I like "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon," but I've never been able to connect with it, so it typically ends up near the bottom of my list. As for "Lisey's Story," I hate -- and I mean HATE -- parts of it; but then, I love other parts. So for me, it's a frustrating novel. I can't honestly say I like it as a whole, but I can't honestly say I dislike it, either. Also, to be fair, I only read it once; and some of King's books have improved for me greatly upon rereading them. I'm hoping that will be one of them!

      Ultimately, I'd have to say that with any body of work as vast as King's, the odds of any two fans agreeing fully on every title cannot be good.

      Are there any you dislike? There just about have to be!

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    7. "The Eyes of the Dragon" is a novel I didn't enjoy all that much. To some degree; it was enjoyable, but I am often biased of King having been a fan for so long now. "Insomnia", too, was a particularly disappointing read for me. It just didn't provoke as much intrigue in me as, say, "Misery" or "The Shining" would. All in all; I have a tough time faulting King. I'm a huge fan, so I can't say I dislike his books; some just aren't as good as others.

      Delete
  45. Hey, if you haven't already done so; I would love to see a ranking of Stephen King's characters, best to worst.

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    1. That's a cool idea -- I'm not sure I'd know how to quantify the rankings, though. Plus it seems like a lot of work. But I'll put it in the for-consideration queue.

      Spoiler: #1, Roland Deschain.

      Delete
    2. Much thanks. I think I'd place Carrie 1st. "You don't know her, but you're about to.

      What do you have coming up?

      Delete
    3. I'm working on a couple of things right now that are essentially catching-up-on-what-they've-done-recently posts on Joe Hill and Owen King. After that, I'm hoping to write about "Revival" and "Finders Keepers," both of which didn't much attention from me when they came out.

      I'm also hoping to be able to write weekly posts about the "11/22/63" miniseries. I'm not sure that's going to end up actually happening, but I plan to try.

      Carrie White would almost certainly end up in my top five. Maybe even as high as #2.

      Delete
    4. I'm looking forward to that.
      When can we expect another version of this list? Sorry for the questions; I just enjoy your blogs.

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    5. Let's tentatively aim for mid-summer, after "End of Watch" comes out.

      Don't apologize for the questions! I'm happy anybody cares about this stuff. I just wish I could get it out faster; I'm a slow reader and an even slower writer. Fairly slow as a thinker, too, to be honest (which gums up the works even further).

      Delete
    6. Are you excited for "End of Watch"? I know you're not a huge fan of the first two books. I'm awaiting the announcement of a third Talisman and another Dark Tower novel. But he doesn't write as fast as he used to, so it may be a while.

      Delete
    7. I'm semi-excited about "End of Watch." I liked most of "Mr. Mercedes," and loved most of "Finders Keepers." However, I wasn't thrilled by the direction the second book took at the very end; I'm going to need to be convinced that that is the right way for that story to go. But will I give King the latitude to convince me? Of course! Even if I don't end up liking it, I'll enjoy reading it, I suspect.

      Delete
  46. Hi Bryant! Hows it going…had an idea for another one of your Patented lists! Top 10 Stephen King Villains and Top 10 Stephen King Heroes!

    Hey - i know you love your Anthology shows…have you ever seen any Black Mirror? Its a British Sci-Fi/Horror anthology show, currently all episodes are on Netflix…one of muy favorite shows at the moment…first episode is amongst the best hours of TV in the last few years..would love to know what you thought if you'd seen any of it!

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    1. Top 10 Heroes/Villains would be fun.

      I've seen the first season of "Black Mirror." Great. Scratch that; it's GREAT. I think I actually liked the third episode even better than the first, but all of them were terrific.

      I saw those in the past few weeks, actually. I've recently been making a push to catch up with a lot of the sci-fi television -- another of my favorite hobbies -- that I'd missed over the past couple of years. There's some good stuff happening right now.

      Delete
  47. Great list. One of the best I've across and trust me I've searched. I have gone back to my childhood and rediscovered this universe as a getaway from everyday life. About 2 years ago I decided to start from the beginning with Carrie and have made it to The Bachmans so far. I'm looking for some way to fit in The Dark Tower series. What would you suggest? I'd like to stay in chronological order with his other works and avoid any spoilers. What do you think, when should I start with book 1? So far Dead Zone, Cujo and Salem's Lot are at the top but understand I gotta LONG way to go. Looking forward to Different Seasons next. Thanks for the help and knowledge!

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    1. I'd say if you're determined to read all of his books, there's no better way to do it than to go chronologically. You really get a picture of his evolution that way.

      I wrote another post that might help you in terms of Dark Tower stuff:

      http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2012/04/the-dark-tower-suggested-reading-order_2128.html

      Happy reading!

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  48. What are your thoughts on a third Talisman novel?

    -Joe

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    1. I'm not a huge fan of the first two and wouldn't place them anywhere near my list of favorite King books (or favorite Straub books, for that matter). But I like them both well enough that I'd be happy to read a third. And frankly, the story seems very much unfinished, so I'd certainly like to see them bring it to a close.

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    2. Thanks for the response! Also, what tempted you into placing 'Salem's lot so low?

      -Joe.

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    3. Probably a bit of personal bias toward other titles on the list, to be honest. I suspect it'll bump up a bit when I revise the list. It's a brutal list to compile, though, especially once you get to the top thirty or so.

      Delete
  49. Great list, good to see Stephen get the in-depth coverage he deserves. I am an avid reader of (mostly) what would be considered 'literature' and am always finding myself defending King to people as being one of the great writers of our time. I would argue he's on par with John Irving re: pure storytelling with books like Bag of Bones or Hearts in Atlantis, and he's certainly the best writer of horror currently living.

    I read a wide range of stuff now from Pynchon to Dostoeyevsky to Henry Miller and Cormac Mccarthy, but Stephen King opened the door to all of that when I discovered him around the age of 12 with The Shining (which kept me from sleep for a week and got my mom yelling at my dad for allowing such an impressionable mind to read such a book - very funny in retrospect).

    I thus became an avid King reader, reading most of his work up to the early 2000's. I drifted away from his books for whatever reasons, but recently read On Writing (aka Death To Adverbs) and I'm back in the game. After reading your wonderful list I'm going to pick up Duma Key and Full Dark No Stars as a starting place for the later work I haven't read yet.

    When I was about 16 I read Hearts in Atlantis and Catcher in the Rye in succession and it affected me in such a way that it changed the course of my life, and I'm grateful for that.

    Thanks for your article.

    Rick

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    1. You're welcome! Thank you for reading it.

      Rick, based on the fact that the host tells a similar story to yours vis a vis having to defend King to literary folk, I'm going to recommend a podcast to you:

      http://stephenkingcast.podbean.com/feed/

      I suspect you would enjoy it.

      I wish I was a more widely-read person than I am. The older I get, the more difficult it seems to be for me to squeeze in new authors. Give me world enough and time, and I'd read everything I could get my hands on. Watch all the movies and tv shows, too, and listen to all the music. Man, what a world that'd be. I'll be the first to sign up for my brain to be put into a robot body, just to enable me to get more reading done.

      Sad (?) but true!

      I hope you enjoy reading some of those King novels you've never read. Feel free to stop back by here and update us on your likes and dislikes. I'm always up for a King conversation!

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  50. Certainly a most intriguing list, one that doesn't seem to be influenced by the general consensus, which is very refreshing. I to must say I LOVED Duma Key and am surprised by the generally negative reputation of the novel.

    For my money I've always loved King's short stories the most, and I noticed two of my favorites from Night Shift listed by a previous poster as being on the bottom tier of that collection. Night Surf and Jerusalem's Lot. I dont know what it is about Night Surf that resonates so powerfully with me, but it does. And as far as Jerusalem's Lot, I LOVE when King channels Lovecraft with Crouch End, N, and The Mist being some of my favorites, and this goes right there with them.

    Happy to have found the blog and anticipate having fun combing through all the reviews and musings here. Lastly, I have to admit that I have not been a big fan of much of King's more recent works. I have found the majority to be, frankly, kinda boring. Reading like biographies of unremarkable people, punctuated all to infrequently by characters or events of far greater interest, Joyland and Revival in particular.

    Lastly, what do you think of Joe Hill? I have absolutely LOVED everything he has authored, and suspect he may one day surpass his pops. I've always found the biggest weakness of King to be his endings, a weakness that is nowhere evident in his son in my opinion.

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    1. I'm a big fan of both "Night Surf" and "Jerusalem's Lot." I think it's his best Lovecraft pastiche (if the word "pastiche" applies), with the possible exception of "The Mist."

      I enjoyed "Joyland" more than you did, but I can see how you'd have that reaction. I mostly loved "Revival," but felt that the last fifth or so of the novel brought it down several pegs. I'm hoping to have a different reaction when I reread it.

      I'm a huge Joe Hill fan. It'll be hard for me to ever say that he's surpassed his dad, but it's not hard at all for me to say that he's about as good an example of the apple falling from the tree and standing still as I can think of. I agree about his endings: he's got that skill down pat. I'm looking forward to "The Fireman" big-time.

      Thanks for stopping by! I am always happy to hear from a fellow King fan.

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  51. Just finished reading "Sometimes they come back" - wow. It's an awesome story, and - strictly speaking - one of King's best.
    Big fan of your blog.
    I was wondering if you had heard about King's upcoming novel, "Hearts in Suspension"?
    Thanks, Bryant.
    - Matthew

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    1. I have, and I have some bad news for you: it's not a novel. It's a book of essays (by King and others) about the University of Maine while King was there.

      "Sometimes They Come Back" really is great.

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  52. I liked the girl who loved Tom Goran, until the ending. It left me with a feeling that I can only described as post-literary discontent.

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    1. Endings have not always been King's strong suit.

      My experience with that whole novel was feeling that something was just . . . off. I can't describe it any better than that without rereading it (which I look forward to doing someday if only to pin down my reaction a bit better).

      I've heard from people who adore it, though, so maybe whatever it's doing only works on some people. I guess any book is that way, really.

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  53. I am currently re-reading alot of King books that I haven't read in 20 years. The process has been very rewarding because, as I believe you have mentioned, I get to experience the books from a much older person's perspective. It also has been surprising to see some King asides in the books that I have forgotten were King's and had just assumed were my own original thoughts all these years later.

    My Top 3 would be: Hearts in Atlantis, Wizard & Glass and Joyland.

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    1. Those are three very good books. I think that's a thoroughly honorable top three.

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  54. Thank you for the excellent list. I've read all the SK books except for a couple, and many twice.

    I believe Revival came out after you completed this list but I'd be interested to see where it falls on a future list.

    I found it quite riveting and was pleasantly surprised when it didn't go in the direction I had anticipated ('reviving' his dead wife and child).

    Thanks again, nice to read all the comments from other SK fans.

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    1. I had a mixed opinion of "Revival." I thought the first four-fifths or so was riveting, but the climax and resolution left me cold. Most readers seem to have not felt that way about the end of the book, so I've been wondering ever since what they'd seen in it that I didn't.

      One of the major reasons a revised version of this list has not yet appeared is that I wanted to reread "Revival" and see if I felt differently about it. But I have yet to make time to actually do that, so until then, it's on hold.

      What's your favorite King book?

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    2. I'm quite happy to see that 'The Stand' is outside the top ten. And also happy to see 'Carrie' charting pretty high. I know many people who don't like it for different reasons, but I've always enjoyed it.

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    3. It seems better to me the older it gets. He really got his started on the right foot with that one.

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  55. Good to see Different Seasons at the top of someone elses list, it's my favourite King book too and the first one I read after seeing the film Apt Pupil on TV many years ago. I've been an avid Stephen King reader ever since. I'm currently reading Mr. Mercedes which is quite good, good enough for me to pick up the next two novels in the trilogy at least. Going through your list makes me want to read The Dark Tower series again - I loved The Wind Through the Keyhole - but I don't I could invest that amount of time into another read through, hope King writes some more Tower novels though! As for The Gunslinger, I think it puts a a lot of people off the series, it nearly did for me.

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    1. You are by no means alone in that regard. I've heard from plenty of folks who don't like that novel at all.

      Glad to hear you're enjoying "Mr. Mercedes." The sequel is at least as good, so I suspect you'd enjoy it, too. I still -- believe it or not -- haven't read the third part of the trilogy. I have been putting it off on purpose for very obscure reasons of my own, but I'm thinking that I will probably check it out before much longer.

      Happy Thanksgiving from one "Different Seasons" fan to another!

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  56. Thanks for your list! I've only read 10 King novels at this juncture and 7 of those are the Dark Tower books. Fav so far is "Wizard and Glass." I didn't care for "The Stand" and I never finished "Insomnia." Not sure which book to pick up next, but your list will be a nice guide into the King universe.

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    1. Any fan of "Wizard and Glass" is a good dude in my book! I'd suggest maybe giving "11/22/63" a shot; I think that one might be to your liking.

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  57. Amazing list, always use it as a guideline as to what I should read. Right now I'm in the midst of going through the Dark Tower series, on book 4 and have read most related works so it's mainly Tower business from here. After, I was thinking about re-reading It to get ready for the movie but wanted to know your thoughts on the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. Is it worth giving it a go?

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    1. I'd give "Mr. Mercedes" a B and "Finders Keepers" a B+. Haven't read "End of Watch" yet.

      So I'd say they are worth reading, but maybe not a top priority.

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  58. I hate Wizard and glass. I gave it a fair shake: I have read it two and a half times (halfway through the 3rd, I just decided, I hate this book, why am I wasting my life on reading a book I hate?). I don't understand how anyone likes this book. People do like it, but I don't understand why. If they'd made Susan Delgado a more likeable character, or made the stuff in the flashback less boring and less confusing... etc. Basically I feel like the backstory was unnecessary. Susan was Roland's long lost love, and died because of him. Period. The end. That's all I needed to know, not 600 pages of "bear and hare and fish " blah blah blah blah blah. Bor-ing.

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    1. I've read versions of this sentiment from other people, too, so it's not just you. Personally, I don't see how a person would get that far into the series without wanting to understand a bit about what makes Roland tick, but not everyone reads books for the same reason.

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  59. Was surprised to see Needful Things so low but a good list overall. I'm looking forward to reading the Green Mile soon. Thanks for posting the list��

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    1. Yeah, "Needful Things" seems too low even to me! Compiling a list like this is brutally difficult.

      Regardless of its place on the list, it's a terrific novel.

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