Saturday, December 1, 2018

Worst To Best: Stephen King Books (2018 Edition)

Disclaimer: This is (I think) the fifth version of this list that I've put together.  If you've read any of those, you've read much of this one; there's some rewriting here, but much of it is simply repurposed from previous editions.  (Which meant copying and pasting, which meant weird formatting glitches; Blogger gets pissed off if you copy and paste, and while I've eleminated as much of the formatting weirdness as I could, some of it lurks nevertheless.  So if you see places where there are too many lines between paragraphs ... well, I tried.)

The previous incarnations can be found by digging around, if you're interested enough to look for them.  I suppose doing so would give you some insight into how wrong I always manage to get these things the evolution of my thinking about some of the titles; that's a thing that sort of matters to me, which is why I've kept the older versions online.  If it matters 0% to you: trust me, I got no issue with that.
  
As always, I urge you not to take the list too seriously.  I generally go with my gut, and my gut fluctuates; it's influenced by recent rereads, or by podcast episodes discussing the works, or by conversations I have with correspondents and friends about these things, or by ... well, by the way the wind is blowing, maybe.  
  
One thing I always struggle with is determining what to actually count as a "Stephen King book."  This is not as clear-cut an issue as it might seem.  Some items are clear.  There's no scenario in which The Shining wouldn't count.  With other titles, there's considerably more room for interpretation as to what the designation "book" actually means.  I've done version of these rankings where I tossed everything I could think of in; this version is more of a leaving-things-out take on the topic.
  
But I thought it might be useful to deal with some of the omitted titles up front, and establish some guidelines for why I decided (this time) to not formally rank them.  There's a whopping thirty of those; let's go through them in alphabetical order.
  
  
It's demonstrably a book, as are the other 29 omitted titles.  But what do we mean when we say "Stephen King book"?  To some extent, I think we mean prose, and this graphic novel is only partially prose.  In the past, I've struggled to figure out how to compare this to, say, Thinner or Rose Madder.  I might not be a fan of the latter, but it delivers more "Stephen King" to me than this comic does.  Which is not a criticism of the comic.  If King had continued to work on the series, or certainly if he was the sole writer, I'd likely have left it in.  (If, for example, I were ranking Joe Hill's books, that ranking would definitely include Locke & Key.)  But this was a part-time summer job for King, not a career; so for now, I feel like it doesn't quite belong on this list as a ranked title.
 
This is the first of a trio of books which are collections of interviews with King.  I love love love Bare Bones and in many ways do consider it to be a nonfiction book by King.  But at the end of the day, he did not edit the individual interviews, nor did he edit the book overall, and may not even have been kosher with it being released.  Great, great stuff; but probably not really best considered to be a King book.


Ooh, now here comes some controversy!  Blockade Billy is absolutely a book, BUT: in terms of its length, I think it's a novella at best, and maybe even just a longish short story.  As such, it was later collected into the contents of he Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which surely must make including it on a list like this redundant.  So whereas I've always included it in the past, it strikes me now as being far more natural to send it back to the bench.

Blood and Smoke was an audiobook semi-original consisting of three short stories, only one of which had previously been published.  All three stories were later collected in Everything's Eventual, but even if they hadn't been and this was the only place those stories were available, would this count?  I'd argue no, that the relative brevity argued against inclusion.  But what if King wrote a lengthy novel and made it available only via audiobook?  What would we do with that happy crappy?!?  Include it, methinks.

This is merely an excerpt from The Waste Lands with some original art.

This is a tough one.  Part of me wants to include it if only because it was the first book by King that I ever encountered (in a grocery store in late 1982).  But ultimately, I think of this as an adaptation (by Bernie Wrightson) of King's screenplay.  Not, then, truly a King book.  But it's debatable, and if you disagree with me strongly on this one, let me know.

I mention this interview collection -- which is half King and half Clive Barker -- only because of the other two interviews collections I opted not to include on the list.  The other one being:

I'm excluding this for the same reason I excluded Bare Bones.

Edited-by books are a tough call in some ways; an easy one in others.  King does have a short story in this one, as well as one substantial introduction and brief introductions to each of the stories.  However, the vast bulk of the book was not written by King, and is in fact a collection of reprints of classic tales.  I just don't quite know how to rank this alongside, say, Skeleton Crew and Everything's Eventual.  My gut says it's not as good as the former but might be better than the latter; but my gut's been known to be wrong.  Anyways, out it went.

There's a version of this soundtrack called a "hardback" version that includes King's libretto for the musical in a large bound set of liner notes.  But the designation "hardback" is a misnomer of sorts; the slipcase is made of hard material, but there's not a hardback book to be found.  So in the case of this one, it's debatable whether it actually does even count as a book.

I can imagine a scenario in which this book by members of The Rock Bottom Remainders (of which King is one) might be counted as a King book.  Not by me.  But it seemed worth mentioning.

I had this on the list right up until the time I began ranking things.  Great book; percentage-wise, a decent amount of it is actually by King.  But the majority of that is a reprint of a novella from Hearts In Atlantis, so in the end, it seems easiest to consider this NOT to be a King book.  King-adjacent, absolutely; King-centric, mostly.

Same deal with this one as with Hard Listening.  King has a single essay in the book; good stuff, but not enough to make this a "Stephen King book."
  
This short story (actually an excerpt from an unfinished novel) was printed as a limited-edition book before its collection in Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  So this has been omitted for the same reason as Blockade Billy.
  
This coffee-table book is mostly photos, with an accompanying essay by King.  Lengthwise, it's about as long as Blockade Billy.  Maybe.  I'm not sure; it might be a good deal shorter.  In any case, I don't think it is substantial enough to belong on a ranked list of King books.

This is the one I'm probably the most conflicted about.  The thing that caused my to take it off this list is that a big chunk of it consists of an excerpt from Danse Macabre.  That's always made including it seem iffy, and this year, the iffiness overwhelmed me.  So out it went, and if you think I made the wrong decision, I encourage you to give me your reasons why.

Here's another one I've often included.  This time, though, it struck me that this is essentially just a retitled new edition of Cycle of the Werewolf.  A very good one; the screenplay is good, and King's introduction is great.

King actually didn't even select the stories.  Not really.  He says so in his introduction, which is brief and not particularly good.  I simply could not justify including this.
  
A limited-edition story collection of six stories which eventually got collected elsewhere.  An argument for including this could definitely be made, but I'd counter-argue that the later re-collection in mass-market format outweighs this.

A collection of already-collected material with a few brief intros by King.  I've included it on my ranked list before, typically at the very bottom because of how useless this book is.  Easier by far to just leave it off, don't you think?

I really wanted to leave this in, even though it's an omnibus of four novels which appear on the list individually.  My argument would be that since this book is how the majority of King fans (at least at one point in time; that might not still be true) encountered those four books, it's as much a novella collection (like Four Past Midnight) as anything.  I personally do feel that it has worth AS a collection of that sort, and if it were still in print, I'd strongly consider ranking this and not ranking the individual components.  But that's not the case, so for now, I'm leaving this one off.

Edited by King.  I've never actually read it, so I wouldn't know where to put it.

This poem by King was expanded to novella length by having Glenn Chadbourne do an illustrated edition.  I've counted this as a King book (and not a good one) in the past; but now, I'm saying no.

This was not written by King, though it was rumored to be before it was revealed to have been written by Riddley Pearson.  It's an interesting spinoff of the King-scripted miniseries Rose Red, and the argument could be made that King was a sort of executive producer of the book; but that'd be a flimsy reason to rank it here, and so I didn't.

This pop-up book is best considered an adaptation of King's novel, so that eliminates it from consideration.  But I didn't you to think I forgot it!

Same deal as The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer.

There are a few of King's novellas that have been published in standalone editions after their initial collection.  I'm including none of them, and am not even bothering to mention any of them except The Mist.

Illustrated versions of King's stories collected in difficult-to-afford limited editions.  Nope, no way i'm counting these.


Similar to The Mist in that it received a standalone publication after having previously been collected.
  
Alright, so how do we feel about all of that?  Did I forget anything?  I wouldn't be surprised.
  
For my part, I feel pretty good about it.  I think it resulted in a cleaner list, and one which is a truer representation of what "Stephen King book" means to most people.
  
And with that lengthy preamble out of the way, we can get to the actual rankings, beginning with a new entry in the cellar-dweller position:
  
  
#74 -- Blaze
(written as Richard Bachman)
  
  

   
  
This one has worked its way downward to last position based solely on one fact: I can't remember the first freaking thing about it.  I read it, yessir, of course I did; as soon as it came out.  But nothing in that novel stuck with me, and that's the only King book I can say that about.  I feel certain it's not actually his worst book; but until I reread it, I'd have a damn hard time justifying placing it above literally anything else on the list.
  
And so I won't.
  
  
#73 -- Rage
(written as Richard Bachman)
  
  

  
  
Published in 1977, but actually written a decade or so earlier (during King's college years), Rage is no longer in print at King's insistence.  There are reasons for that, and they involve fucked-up teenagers having committed brutal acts of violence that were, to one degree or another, inspired by this very novel.  (Or, more likely, by its appearance in The Bachman Books.)

If you want to know King's thoughts on why he pulled the book from print, find his essay "Guns."  He'll tell you all about it, in compelling fashion.

I support his decision.  I don't entirely agree with it, but then again, I didn't write it, and wasn't in a position where I had to decide whether or not to continue making money off the back of a book that allegedly spurred people to commit murder.  If I was King, I'd likely have done exactly the same thing.  I'm not King, though; I'm a blogger with the freedom to not have to worry about things like that.

Anyways, I don't think it's much of a novel.  I've not read it in a few years now, and my memory of it is that it simply doesn't hold up.  I felt differently when I read it in high school, though, and maybe it's fitting that that thought sends a bit of a chill up my spine.


#72 -- End of Watch





If we were excluding Bachman books, I suppose that for me the title of "Worst King Novel" would go to End of Watch.  And pretty handily.

I enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy to one extent or another but found the finale to be anything but grand.  The first novel (Mr. Mercedes) is a straightforward crime novel, and the second (Finders Keepers) follows suit except for a worrying hint in the final pages that a supernatural element is going to be introduced for the third book.

Spoiler alert: it is introduced.  And here's the frustrating thing: some of that stuff is great.  But most of it is not, and some of it is among the worst fiction King has ever published, in my opinion.  Worst of all, the supernatural interjection ends up being more or less irrelevant in the grand scheme of the story.

A few good bits come via the team of ongoing characters -- Bill, Holly, Jerome, etc. -- that King created for this trilogy.  But in this culminating novel, they are few and far between.


#71 -- Gwendy's Button Box 
(written with Richard Chizmar)




In Gwendy's Button Box, what you've got is a medium-length novella that probably didn't merit a standalone release.  It certainly didn't merit the $25 that Cemetery Dance charged for it in hardback.  But since some of us Constant Readers are chumps who will buy anything with King's name on it, and who will fork over whatever we can afford for the privilege, there are likely to be steady streams of overpriced fluff like this as the years roll on.

Is it fair to begin a book's ranking with a review of the price-point?  Probably not.

The novella itself is enjoyable enough.  I read it essentially in a single sitting, and mostly forgot it as soon as it was over.  It's about a teenaged girl (living in 1970s Castle Rock) who is determined to lose weight and who, in the process of running the "Suicide Stairs" encounters  mysterious man in a bowler hat.  Some people think this character might be Randall Flagg; I think that if he is, this is an awfully trifling use of Randall Flagg.

Anyways, this fellow makes the girl an offer of sorts, and she accepts; it's got to do with a weird box armed with an array of buttons which, when pressed, do various things.

King and Chizmar do a good job of blending their writing styles; this never feels like it's one man's work on one page and another's on the next.  According to interviews from the time of the book's release, it was King's concept, but he couldn't figure out how to end it and turned to Chizmar; Chizmar came up with an ending and wrote it, but then he and King reworked the novella together, turning it into a genuine collaboration.

Whatever its genesis and development, I think it's a solid tale, but not an especially notable one.  And it's really not long enough to support being its own book.  But its own book it is, and so I included it here; and this is as high as I can envision placing it.


#70 -- Faithful  
(written with Stewart O'Nan)




Another collaboration, but this one with a line clearly drawn between who wrote what.  In essence, this book about the triumphant Red Sox championship season in 2004 reads like an extended email conversation between King and O'Nan.

In a previous version of my rankings, I said this:
  

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.

My feelings haven't changed much, if at all, but I do want to emphasize that I thoroughly enjoyed the King-written sections.  O'Nan's, as I recall, weren't bad; he just didn't have King's ability to transcend my inherent disinterest in the topic.  Does that make it bad writing?  No, it just makes it specialized writing.  So if you ARE inherently interested in the topic -- as I know at least one of this blog's readers (hi, Bryan!) to be -- then this is likely a pretty great book.

Anyways, how can you not love the fact that King and O'Nan had already decided to do this book way before the championship run?  AND the Sox go on to win their first Series in forever?!?  Man, there's 19 all over that shit; so the King fan in me loves the book if only for that.



#69 -- Mr. Mercedes




Mr. Mercedes both is and isn't typical Stephen King: it is in the sense that it's about a deranged serial killer and/or mass murderer, and it isn't in the sense that it's a straightforward detective novel about the retired cop trying to bring the killer to heel.
  
As is evident from its low placement on my list, this is far from my favorite work by King.  However, it's definitely got its selling points.  The opening scene, for example, is colossally effective; and a few setpieces later on (most of them involving the killer's family) come close to matching it.
  
However, the novel also contains what I'd argue are some of King's least effective good-guy characters ever.  He's drawn them with a very broad brush, and I just don't think much of it works.  There's some unfortunate racial content that was mostly retired for the two sequels, thankfully; this bit of characterization specifically is among the worst things King has ever put on paper.
  
That said, on the whole it is an involving and suspenseful tale.  I'd balk at calling it anything but good; and for a novel I'm ranking #69 on a list, that's a sign of great things to come.
  
  
#68 -- The Colorado Kid
  
  
  
  
I'd be willing to bet that a fair number of King fans would rank this one dead last on their own lists.  After all, if you publish a novel under the Hard Case Crime imprint and then plaster the slogan "Would She Learn the Dead Man's SECRET?" across the front cover, you should probably expect that the vast majority of your readers are going to want the answer to that question to be a simple "yes."
  

In The Colorado Kid, the actual answer is a more complicated one: "No, because life is full of secrets, and very often we -- as a species -- must grapple with the fact that the meanings behind them will elude us and remain secretive.  This is what life is, and doesn't that make sense?  Because lurking at either end of that life are what may well amount to eternal secrets; the REAL mystery is how we cope with that on a daily basis."

  

Or something like that.  Bottom line is, the reader of The Colorado Kid never finds out who the dead man is, or who killed him, or why he was killed; or even if he was killed.  He MIGHT merely have died in the way a lot of people die: silently, alone, and with no help from anyone else.  Or maybe he was one of those walk-ins from Song of Susannah and/or "The Reploids."

  

This novel, essentially, is a shrug in prose form.  That didn't work for everybody, as it turns out.

  

It kind of did work for me, though.  Maybe I was just happy for there to be a new King book at all: this was the first novel he released after finishing the Dark Tower series, and it had been widely reported that he was hanging up his jock and calling it a career after that.  Then, a year later, The Colorado Kid.  "Ah," I must have thought, "I knew he couldn't stay away!  Excellent!"  So I , feeling a bullet of sorts had been dodged, responded to the novel's existential bittersweetness.

  

My memory is that I also like the characters and the prose, and that King made the lack of a satisfactory story a part of the story, thereby turning it into something that satisfied me rather than alienated me.

  

Your mileage may vary, of course.  In deference to popular opinion, I've ranked this one fairly low; but in my heart, I suspect it probably does not deserve it.
  
  
#67 -- The Plant Book One: Zenith Rising
  
  
   
  
A solid case for omitting this from the list could probably be made.  It was never published physically; it's incomplete; and in some ways, it's clear that King might not want to bury it, necessarily, but is also not exactly proud of it.
  
It was a big deal when it was initially released, one segment at a time over the course of six segments, during the year 2000.  The project actually goes back further than that: to the mid-eighties, when the first three installments were self-published by King and given as Christmas cards -- !!! -- to a limited number of people.  Years later King resurrected the story, and also the self-publishing conceit: he published each installment as an e-book and helped pioneer the art of pay-on-your-honor Internet publishing.  The response was initially strong, but apparently weakened over time, as did King's interest in the story.  What you've got in Zenith Rising is an incomplete novel, one that is really just getting going when it "ends."

  

There doesn't seem to be any sign of King ever returning to the project to complete it, and so it remains a curiosity.  Readers of Mr. Mercedes will recognize one of that novel's unfortunate character traits here as well: a black man who satirically speaks in stereotypical speech patterns.  Why this idea fascinates King only King can say; what I'll say is that it works a little better in Zenith Rising than it does later in Mr. Mercedes, but only a little.

  

The entire novel -- "entire" being a relative concept here -- is still available for free download on King's website.  I'd say it's worth reading if you're a big enough fan to be reading my doofy little blog, so go download the PDFs and give it a shot; but remember: it will not have a resolution.
  
  
#66 -- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
  
  
   
  

I never have managed to warm to this one.  It's not awful, by any means, and you have to admire King stretching his perspective enough to write an entire novel from the vantage point of a young girl.  The book has its fans, and if it has served as an entry-point into King's fiction for a few kids, then its existence is justified regardless of what old dudes like me think of it.

My memory of it is that I didn't much care for King's prose in this novel; one of the few times that's ever been true.  He was likely trying to tailor it to the audience he was aiming at, and it's similar to The Eyes of the Dragon in that regard.  I don't blame him for trying it, but for me, it failed.

I also don't get much out of the quasi-supernatural elements that are introduced.  These are more ambiguous than in End of Watch, but no less intrusive, in my opinion.  King has a tendency to just not be able to help himself with the supernatural stuff.  He's written fiction that is wholly free of it, but it's more common for him to seemingly aim for that but then allow tendrils to come creeping into the mix where they (arguably) don't belong.  This happens even in good novels sometimes, as we will see with Cujo and Joyland.

I'll complain about it there, too.
  
  
#65 -- Elevation
  
  
   
  
Y'all know me; know what I'm about.  I'm happy to have a new King _____ to read.  You fill that blank in however you like, provided the word you use describes a type of writing; odds are, the word'll fit.
  
Elevation marks the second time in two consecutive years that King has published in standalone format a novella that is brief enough to be read in a single sitting.  My feeling?  Honestly?  I wish he wouldn't.  This is not to say that I don't want to read such pieces; I absolutely do, and if they're "only" as good as Elevation and Gwendy's Button Box, he can keep 'em right on a-comin', because I'll snap up and enjoy every single one of them.  No, so; I'm not hinting that I wish he'd skip writing pieces of this length, not at all.
  
What I'm saying is that I wish he'd simply give them the Full Dark, No Stars or Four Past Midnight treatment and lump a handful of them together when he's got a few that make thematic sense when put together.  My feeling is that with novella collections like that, the whole ends up somehow feeling grander than the sum of the individual parts.  I think that's also true of Different Seasons and even The Bachman Books.
  
As for Elevation itself, it's kind of thin stuff, if you ask me.  I did enjoy it.  (Do I even need to keep repeating that?  Probably so, and so I shall for at least ten or fifteen more entries.)  It's well-written and emotionally engaging, which is a good thing to be able to say about a book.  It is demonstrably not a novel, I'd argue, no matter what the cover says; but if King says it is, I guess it must be, so ... sure.  Why not?
  
The story is about a man who begins losing weight; but, unlike the protagonist of the #39 novel on this list, he doesn't lose any of his body mass.  He simply becomes lighter.  Around the same time, he's trying to make nice with his neighbors, a married couple who he's managed to piss off royally.  These two stories intertwine in an unexpected way, and the end result is both sweet and (for my tastes) a bit unconvincing.
  
  
#64 -- The Running Man
(written as Richard Bachman)
  
  
    
  

As I've written about elsewhere, this was the first King novel I ever read.  This was due to the Schwarzenegger movie, and I wonder how many other people currently striding the planet can say that they inadvertently became Stephen King fans due to that movie.  CAN'T be many.  That kind of delights me.

Anyways, I think it's a pretty good novel.  It reads like exactly what it is: a novel King wrote between the end of college and the publication of Carrie, while he was still finding his voice and figuring out what kind of writer he wanted to be.  Some of the themes remain relevant to this day, which is the mark of genuinely good science fiction.
  
Here's something to ponder: on some other level of the Tower, either this or The Long Walk (both of which were written well before Carrie) sold and made King a sci-fi writer.  Can you imagine?
  
Yeah, you know...?  I kind of can.
  
  
#63 -- The Eyes of the Dragon
  
  
    
  

From my previous rankings:


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.

Adding to that, I'd like to share a memory with you.  Around New Year's Day 1991, which was only a few months after I became a massive King fan, I traveled out West to attend the Fiesta Bowl football game with my parents.  One night, while they attended some function or another, I was called upon to babysit my brother and my parents' friends' children, which I did at their hotel room.  I had zero babysitting experience, but I was in high school and everyone figured, hey, what could go wrong?  Nothing much did; we all knew each other, so we just watched tv or played games or whatever.  Come bedtime, I either took the initiative or was called upon to tell a bedtime story.  The story I chose, from memory, was the entire plot of The Eyes of the Dragon.  You don't think of it as a horror story, but everyone not me sure did seem rattled by it.

Good times!  Sorry, kids.
  
  
#62 -- The Talisman
(written with Peter Straub)
  
  
    
  

I wish I loved this novel now the way I did after the first time I read it.  I don't, though.  The last time I reread it -- 2009 or 2010, this would have been -- I felt like it was a failed experiment of a novel; there are good scenes, but the authorial voice is badly off.  King and Straub are not particularly similar authors, and I feel that their styles simply did not mesh here.  They are on record as saying that they imitated each others' styles while collaborating on this novel, and if so, then that might be a big part of what soured me on it during that last reread.  I don't know that two dissimilar authors doing pastiches of each others' work makes for good prose.

  

The story doesn't particularly work for me, either.  In order to sell me on the notion of children having action/adventure-type experiences, you have to create an environment within which that can happen.  I don't think King and Straub pull it off here; the story is too gritty, too based in realism, for me to believe that a child could hitchhike his way across America.  And yes, I know that he does eventually get captured.  What I'm saying is that for me, it doesn't work despite that.

  

It worked for teenage me, though.  So who knows?  Maybe the next reread will return me to that vantage point.  I'd be okay with that.
  
  
#61 -- Finders Keepers
  
  
    
  

Generally speaking, this is a strong novel, one which works as an interesting thematic companion to both Misery and Lisey's Story.  It also works for me as a follow-up to Mr. Mercedes in that it brings that novel's core characters into the story in what struck me as an entirely organic manner.  It rights some of that novel's wrongs, too, so in general is a superior sequel.

I'm deducting some major points, though, for one single plot development involving a character who ought to be dead but isn't.  And I don't mean Brady Hartsfield (although the fact that this novel's closing pages set up the wildly inferior End of Watch is indeed a flaw I'm holding against it).  No, I mean a character who is literally shot in the head at point-blank range but kind of just gets up, rubs some dirt on it, and continues to play ball.

Now, I'm not a particularly bloodthirsty reader; I don't need King to murder innocents left and right in order for me to feel as if my reading time has been well-spent.  But I do need King to play an honest game with me, and in this moment, we get what may be one of the most fundamentally dishonest happenings in all of King's fiction.  It is, in my opinion, a glaring stain on an otherwise solid novel, and I'm holding the book accountable for it.
  
  
#60 -- Rose Madder
  
  
  
  
Rose Madder jumped up an impressive thirteen places in the rankings this time, and it'd be natural for you to assume that there's a reason for that.  A reread must have happened, right?
  
Nope.  It just seemed like the thing to do this time, for whatever reason.  That might have something to do with a couple of novels I did reread this year (the thematically-similar Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne), which made me remember bits of this later book that I'd not remembered in a long time.  Nothing terribly specific; just memories of feelings, really.
  
Anyways, I feel more kindly disposed toward this one than I have in a long while, and if that seems weird to you, welcome to The Truth Inside The Lie.
  
  
#59/58 -- Desperation and The Regulators
(The Regulators written as Richard Bachman)
  
  

    
  
In one incarnation of writing these rankings, I threatened to rank these twinner novels (they were released on the same day and feature alternate-universe versions of the same characters) as a single book.  I still can't quite bring myself to do that, but I've decided that until such time as I reread them both, I'm going to rank them back to back.

Historically, I've thought of Desperation as being the superior of the two, but my feelings on that have been influenced by a few commenters who've told me that they feel The Regulators to be a tighter, more impactful piece of fiction than its bloated, pretentious sibling.

I'll get back to them one of these days, but for now, this is where my gut tells me to put them.
  
  
#57 -- Cell
  
  
    
  
Here's a case where my feelings about the novel have almost certainly been tainted by the movie.  In case you haven't seen the movie: oh, man; I can't recommend it highly enough if you are in the mood to see a shitty movie.  Not an entertainingly shitty movie; just a shitty movie.  If you get in moods like that, God help you, but know that if that's you, Cell will always have you covered.

I remember liking the novel  itself just fine, but it has receded in my memory somewhat.  I remember very little about it, to the extent that when a commenter detailed for me the numerous Dark Tower connections that are present in Cell, I remembered none of them.  That sort of thing tends to stick with me, so either I wasn't paying much attention -- always possible -- or my memory has simply decided there's no need to hold onto this book.

In the absence of positive proof to the contrary, I'm going to assume my memory knows what it's doing. 

  
#56 -- Dreamcatcher
  
  
  
  
I'll never forget the excitement with which I sat down to begin reading Dreamcatcher.  Lest we forget, the world nearly lost Stephen King in 1999, and though he survived the car accident that nearly took his life, there was some public doubt for a while as to how his career might be impacted.  Word was that he was finding it difficult to perform the physical function of writing.  What did this mean?  Would the parade of books slow down, or -- horror of horrors -- cease altogether?
  

We know the answer now, of course, but for a while the outcome was in doubt.  Dreamcatcher was the first book King wrote entirely post-accident, and it was written longhand with a fountain pen.  If you were a King fan settling down to read Dreamcatcher on the day it was released in March of 2001, odds were decent that you knew those circumstances of its composition, and it made you feel good to know that even if Uncle Steve had to write by literally writing, he would do it, and could do it, and had done it.

  

The first couple of hundred pages of Dreamcatcher are riveting stuff, and I'd say that up until the appearance of Mr. Gray, the novel is on par with just about anything he's ever written.  "He's still got it," I am sure I thought; "you can slow this guy down a little, but there ain't no stoppin' him."

  

Unfortunately, the novel falls apart at some point after that.  Not to the point of being unreadable; it succumbs to tedium and a lack of cohesion, but even at its worst, it was -- and is -- demonstrably of a piece with the rest of King's career.  Not a successful example, perhaps; but an example.  That seemed important at the time, and if you take this as a transitional novel, it still is important.

  

And like I say, there is some awfully good stuff in there.  As misfires go, this is the kind most novelists would envy.
  
#55 -- Lisey's Story
  
  
    
  
King frequently cites Lisey's Story as his favorite of his own works these days, to which I can only frown.  SMDH, as the kids might say; this novel is weird AF.

With the possible exception of End of Watch, I don't think I've ever disliked a King book more intensely than I disliked this one.  It all comes down to the "private language" the titular character shared with her husband, of which we receive copious examples, most of them even more ludicrous than that abbreviation bullshit I used above.  I was of a decidedly FML bent while reading those sections of the novel, and as I've thought about it over the decade since, my antipathy for it has grown, expanding ever outward exponentially.

This stuff is similar to Jerome's jive-talk in Mr. Mercedes in that what King is doing is admittedly realistic.  People DO have private ways of talking to one another, precisely like this.  Poke your head into an inside-joke-laden private conversation sometime and see if you don't hear something similar to the oddities Lisey and Scott use to communicate certain ideas.

I'll give you an example from my own life.  I can't entirely remember how this weird practice began, but at a job I held in college, a few of my co-workers and I would communicate with each other at times by barking like dogs.  The joke was that we would do so in an inflection that just barely allowed us to get the general gist of the "words" we were mangling into dog-barks.  This all had something to do with a hypothetical dog named Booj, who was not actually a dog at all, but a person.  I think the genesis of this had to do with blaming silent farts on a dog sleeping next to you.

If all that sounds stupid AF, well, it was.  Of course it was!  But to this day -- and I just tried it out loud to myself -- I can still "speak" in that language, and as a practice it still makes sense to me, even though its origins have at least partially vanished for me.  And, obviously, despite the fact that it is entirely senseless and weird.

Now, imagine having to listen to a bunch of idiot college guys "speaking" that way.  It'd drive you nuts, especially if you had no clue what it meant.  (We were doing this on a bus one day, and a guy walked up to us and very politely said, "You fellows are going to have to stop that now."  And so we did, chastened.)  
  
King gives us enough information about the language of the Landons that we are invited into the private communication of their life together, but I never felt like I was part of it.  I felt like an outsider the entire time, and I don't think that was what King was going for.  It grated on me every time, a kidney stone in prose.

Much of the rest of the novel is very good, though, and I'd say about a third of it is flat-out great.  (I've taken that more into account for this year's rankings, hence the big jump up the list the novel took.  Whatever its flaws, I'd argue that its virtues deliver a great deal of what I think of as "Stephen King," and that probably ought to be taken into strong consideration.)  It's a novel that certainly does have virtues, and if you respond positively to the private-language elements, you may well find it to be a bit of a masterpiece.

I'm hoping that whenever I revisit it, that'll be my experience.  After all, the notion of private language has indeed taken on new meanings in the post-Cell era of compressed digital language.  I hate all that shit, but even I use it once in a while.  So it may be that the gibberish Lisey and Scott speak would seem a lot less awful now, what with the language of the world around me constantly being pressed downward in awful ways.  In that manner, it might be that Lisey's Story seems eminently more acceptable next time around.
  
  
#54 -- From a Buick 8
  
  
   
  
This one dropped eleven spots this year, and while I remember loving the novel the first time I read it, this is another of those cases where I kind of don't remember anything about it specifically.
  
By the way, I should mention something about how these rankings are achieved: I list all the books in chronological order, then sort them into categories of approximate quality (sometimes I use a number system for that and other times a letter system and other times a star system; this time was a number system).  From there, I rank the titles within each category and then put it all together, sometimes making adjustments as I go if adjustments seem necessary.  Which they usually do.
  
What I don't do -- ever -- is consult previous versions of the rankings.  I tend to have a good sense of what the top few books were the last time, and the bottom few as well; but the vast middle is mostly something I don't remember.
  
Do you care about any of that?  Probably not.
  
  
#53 -- The Outsider
  
  
  
  
Debuting at a respectable #53: 2018's The Outsider, King's fourth novel in five years to delve into the detective/crime genre.  Like End of Watch, this one has heavy supernatural elements; unlike End of Watch, The Outsider turns that (mostly) into a virtue rather than a distraction.
  
I was utterly riveted by about the first half of this one.  Similar to Dreamcatcher, there is stuff in the opening half that is about as good as King is capable of being.  And that's saying something.  but also like Dreamcatcher, I felt like the football deflated at some point before anyone got to kick it; things just sort of puttered to an end, in my opinion.
  
I wonder if I'll feel that way when I reread it, though.  Certain aspects of the book seem to be living well within my memory, so it's entirely possible that I'll reread this one and find it to be great across the board.  It wouldn't be the first time that happened to me with a King novel, and there are at least two books considerably higher up this list of which that is true.
  
I'd love for it to happen again!
  
  
#52 -- The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah
  
  
   
  

I think most Towerphiles hold this one in relatively low esteem, down there at or near the bottom of the pile for the series.  I can't say I disagree with that assessment (and have indeed ranked it last among the Tower series), but I think this is a good novel.  I've got no major complaints about it; it just doesn't thrill me as consistently or at as high a level as the other books in the series do.

  

Thing is, this is another book that I don't actually remember all that much about.  Beyond the main thrust of the Roland/Eddie plotline, I'm kind of at a loss to tell you much.  A few things involving Susannah and Mia spring to mind, although I have that subplot mentally marked as "TEDIOUS."  Not majorly tedious; but tedious in comparison to much of the rest of the series.

  
As with virtually every book on this list, including the ones I remember relatively fully, I look forward to revisiting it and finding out how my opinions change.
  
  
  
#51 -- Doctor Sleep
  
  
    
  

I gather that Doctor Sleep is not particularly beloved among King fans, many of whom find it to be VERY guilty of not being The Shining.

  

I'd argue that it actually IS The Shining ... at least for its first chapter, which picks up not long after that novel's end and peeks in on young Danny to find out how he's doing.  This stuff feels as if it was a heretofore-unreleased chapter that King lopped off the novel's end; it feels that of-a-piece to me.

  

From there, however, it becomes almost entirely its own thing.  The big complaint most people seem to have is probably a valid one: that the villains of this novel -- the soul-sucking vampires of the True Knot -- are ineffective and weak.  I felt like making that complaint myself at stray times during the novel, but by the end I wondered if King hadn't made them weak -- and, at times, oddly sympathetic -- on purpose.  This might not work for you, but I'm pretty sure it did work for me.

  

I also found Danny's plight to be a moving one, and enjoyed the major new character (Abra Stone) King introduces.  I hope we haven't seen the last of her.
   
  
 #50 -- Cycle of the Werewolf
  
  
    
  

I've got a tremendous nostalgia for this novella, but if I'm being honest I have to admit that it has less to do with the novella itself than with the Berni Wrightson illustrations that accompany it.  Glorious stuff.  Horrifying stuff, too, especially if you were a horror-averse wussy like I was when I was in my early days of King fandom, when I saw them the first time.  You might fairly wonder how such an individual became a King fan at all.  It's a long story, and I know it back to front but even I still wonder.

  

We don't have time for it right now, and it doesn't matter for our current purposes anyways.  The point is that I was precisely -- with laser precision -- the right kind of person to be impacted by the work Wrightson does in Cycle of the Werewolf: the werewolf clawing through the cabin door; the policeman's face being ripped off; the decapitated pigs.  Gnarly stuff!  All-time classics, man; Wrightson is gone now, but the effect of his work lives on.

  

As for King's novella, it's not bad.  It's a shaggy beast, and not an entirely successful one, but it's got its moments.  And I do have a lot of fondness for it, which is perhaps why it jumped a massive seventeen spots this time.
 
   
#49 -- Four Past Midnight
  
  
  
  

Four Past Midnight will always hold a special place in my heart if only for two reasons: (1) that glorious cover art on the mass-market hardback and (2) the fact that this was my first King hardback.  That would have been via my joining the Stephen King Library, which I did specifically so I could get this book as soon as possible.  (Was it at a discounted rate or something like that?  There must have been a reason why going to a bookstore wasn't good enough.)  I have never gotten over the thrill of receiving a new King hardback in the mail once per month, and probably never will.  Why would I?!?  It was fucking great!

  

Anyways, Four Past Midnight.  A solid collection of short novels, but uneven.  I think "The Langoliers" is a lot of fun, albeit a bit wonky in places (and with one of the all-time most hemorrhoidal characters in Craig Toomey).  "Secret Window, Secret Garden" is the best of the four, for my money; an excellent riff on ideas King had already explored in The Dark Half.

  

Both "The Library Policeman" and "The Sun Dog" are steps down, and fairly severe ones.  The former has some cool ideas, but also has a genuinely unfortunate and thoroughly icky rape scene; the latter is a concept in search of a story, with a strong subordinate character (Pop Merrill) and little else to recommend.  Neither of these are bad, exactly; they make the collection unbalanced, is what I mean to say, with the first two tales being far and away the superior ones.
 
  
#48 -- Needful Things
  
  
    
  

Another of King's small-town-under-supernatural-siege epics, and if that's a subgenre you dislike then I genuinely wonder what you're doing reading a blog like this one.  But it takes all types to make a fandom go 'round, so I don't necessarily discount the possibility.  If that's you, then welcome!  You're among friends, sort of.  We're the sort of friends who will almost certainly talk about you behind your back, though, so fair warning.

  

Anyways, when it comes to that subgenre, Needful Things is middle of the pack, I'd say.  And middle-of-the-pack King is  pretty dang good, so is this a good novel?  You better believe it.

  

Alan Pangborn is one of my favorite King protagonists, in fact, and to this day it irks me that King didn't find an excuse to drag him into the Dark Tower books somehow.  Ace Merrill and Danforth Keeton make for strong subordinate villains, and Leland Gaunt is a very strong main villain.  There are some wonderful setpieces, a goodish amount of excellent writing, and an autumnal tone that I am always happy to find in a King book when he brings it out.

  

My chief complaint: I get that this is satire, but I don't know that King is entirely persuasive in selling the idea that all these people turn into such shits.  In most cases, the explanation isn't particularly supernatural; the supernatural was a mere facilitator.  It goes too far for my tastes; the realism drains out of it at a certain point, and the believability goes with it.  The novel holds its integrity via the sheer force of King's talent, but it's a near thing.

  
All that said, yeah, definitely a good novel.
  
  
 #47 -- Roadwork
(written as Richard Bachman)
  
  
       
  
I didn't give too much of a damn about this novel when I read it in high school, and that's appropriate: there's very little in it that a teenager ought to give a damn about.  It's the story of a sad, broken man who decides he's had enough and isn't going to give in (to anyone or anything) any farther than he's given in already, even if he knows it's a stupid path to take.  
  
If a teenager understands any of that, that teenager is fucking doomed.  Adults, though, are a bit more apt to get what King is going for here.  And so when I reread the novel (circa 2009 in the midst of the recession) as an adult, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It made a lot more sense to me then.
  
Truth is, it's a very good novel, one which proves -- if only to me -- that King probably could have had a career writing more or less whatever kind of fiction he wanted to write.  I wouldn't change the trajectory of his career in any way, but part of me wonders what the eighth, ninth, tenth novels written by THIS guy would have been like.
  
Pretty damn good, is my guess.
  
And yet, my ranking for Roadwork dropped significantly this year.  This is probably due to me having been influenced by the Losers' Club podcast, whose members haaaaated it.  Can't please everyone!
 

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




How did you feel about this one, 2013 Bryant?
  

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. 

I'll be curious to see how I feel about this one whenever I reread it.  I'll also be curious to see if the hypothetical third novel by King and Straub (A) ever shows up and (B) addresses any of my Dark Tower frustrations.

You never know.
  
For now, though, it remains a novel that I do have some fond feelings for.  Henry the deejay is a great character, and I like the motorcycle dudes, and the nursing-home serial killer guy is terrifying even though he probably ought to be ridiculous.  


#45 -- Everything's Eventual




I would argue that this is King's weakest short-story collection, and I would also argue that "weakest" is a very relative designation in this context.  It's a solid collection, and I don't know that I'd say there's a dud in the bunch.  MAYBE "Autopsy Room Four" or "Riding the Bullet," but they're both alright; not my favorites, but alright, for sure.

  

The best-in-show awards for this one (as I see it) probably go to "The Little Sisters of Eluria" (a Dark Tower midquel that tells a groovy vampire story) and "Everything's Eventual."  But if you told me your favorite was "The Road Virus Heads North" or "L.T.'s Theory of Pets" or "1408," I'd nod sagely and know that I was among my people.



#44 -- Sleeping Beauties
(written with Owen King)




I wanted to rank this one higher, because the fact is that I had a blast with it.  But we've gotten nearly to the middle of the list, and here's another fact: the books from this point on are just so fucking good that sorting them out one from another begins to be a real task.  Not quite a Hercules-in-the-stables type of thing, but no snap of the fingers, either.

In lieu of spending any time coming up with new thoughts (I'm typing this at the end of a looooooong and annoying night at work), I'm going to simply quote myself from my review of the novel:

I found this to be a thoroughly entertaining novel that gained strength as it progressed.  And that continued right on through to the end.  As I was just saying in the spoiler-lamp-is-lit section, a good ending does not always happen with a King novel.  For my money, it happened here; I even found myself loving a few characters who had not meant much to me for the first several hundred pages.  But that's part of what a big, thick novel like this one can do; if one ends well, that process can bring the entire thing into focus.

I'd argue that that is what happened here, and I am already relishing the thought of diving into the novel a second time, so that I can reread some of it with the full story in mind.  I think some of the early sections will work better for me this time, which suggests that I am likely to enjoy the novel more the second time than I did the first.  Speculation on my part, but of the semi-informed variety.

For those of you who are wondering: Stephen and Owen meshed together quite well.  Impeccably, even.  I sensed both Stephen and Owen at times, and while there is no way to use this novel to peek into the secrets of their collaboration, I sense that working together was both easy AND challenging for the two men.  The prose flows too well for it not to have been somewhat easy; there are occasional signs that perhaps the story got pushed in directions by one author that the other might not have expected at times, but there is no sign of conflict in the prose whatsoever.  Or if there is, I failed to pick up on it.

I also think the two challenged each other, and that each individually rose to the other's challenge, because this doesn't fully seem like the work of either one.  It's less cornily jokey -- though not entirely free of this trait -- than is sometimes true of Stephen work; the plotting seems tighter than Owen's work has suggested thus far.  There had also been relatively little sense in Owen's work previously that he took works of fantasy seriously as a writer; he'd dabbled in genre work on occasion, but with what always struck me as a bit of reluctance and lack of commitment.  As much as I enjoyed his previous book -- the graphic novel Intro to Alien Invasion (written with Mark Jude Poirier and artist Nancy Ahn) -- I felt a bit as if he were arching an eyebrow at the genre, as if to say, "Oh, look how silly this type of thing is!"  The result was fun, but also a bit arch.  There is scarcely a hint of that in Sleeping Beauties.
  
Here, it seems like his father is almost teaching him how to work with genre.  They have revealed in interviews that the idea for the novel came from Owen, which is interesting.  The end result almost feels as if the idea was akin to a model airplane that a son took to his father, asking, "How do I put this together?"  The father looks at it, says, "Hey, this looks like fun!  I'll teach you how.  We'll do it together."

And so they did.  But don't feel as if it was entirely father leading son; the character work here reminded me of Owen more than of Steve, and much of the levity seems more the son's than the father's.  There's not a huge amount of it there; but it is definitely present, and that, too, struck me as being more Owen than Steve.

The great thing, though, is that I almost never found myself getting caught up in wondering who wrote what.  It's too good a story for that; they have said in interviews that they felt their collaboration resulted in a third voice, and I agree with them on that score.

In fact, the voice that Sleeping Beauties ended up with struck me as being not at all dissimilar to that of Joe Hill.  Joe and Owen share a similar wit and general outlook, or so it seems to me; and Joe and Stephen share a similar taste for fantastical horror, as well as a similar love of character.  Owen, too, has a love of character; but I find his to be more reminiscent of his mother (Tabitha King) than of his father.  And while I can't quantify any of that easily, I do feel it all to be true and accurate, and I swear that if you'd marched this novel back in time to the me who was in 2015, I'd have read it and thought it was a Joe Hill novel.

Regardless of any of those feelings, I think that this collaboration between father and son was a successful one, and one that may prove to have a strong impact on both of their solo writings going forward.  As always, I look forward to those.

But if they did another one together, and soon, that would be just fine by me.

I've still only read the novel once, so will these thoughts hold up?  I sure hope so.


#43 -- Storm of the Century




My memory of this book is that King's screenplay is damn near as readable as much of his prose.  This is saying something, because screenplays tend -- in my experience -- to be tedious reads more often than not.  Knowing the movie that eventually resulted sometimes helps; but there's no guarantee of it.

  

I know and love the miniseries that resulted from this screenplay, of course, so it is likely that my perception of the screenplay is colored by the finished product.  I'd love to be able to read an unproduced original screenplay by King to see how it worked on me as its own thing.  Based on this one, I think that I think I would enjoy it just fine.  King's personal touch -- the chumminess he often shows in his introductions and other nonfiction -- is on full display, which gives the screenplay a fun informality that most examples of the medium do not possess.

  

That's how I remember it, at least.  It's been a while since I read it, so I might be exaggerating my responses.

  

Sidebar: why didn't King published his Rose Red screenplay like he did this one?  It's always bugged me not to have that one, even though the miniseries is a distinct devolution from Storm of the Century.  We need it, Steve.  And Sleepwalkers, Maximum Overdrive, Creepshow, Golden Years, Cat's Eye, etc.
  
By the way, I was tempted to leave this out of the rankings for much the same reason as some of the other omissions.  The argument could theoretically be made that it doesn't belong.  In this case, though, I think it does.  It's its own book, and it's a substantial chunk of writing; the fact that it's in screenplay format rather than traditional prose shouldn't disqualify it.  It does make it trickier to compare with something like, say, Sleeping Beauties, though.


#42 -- 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.
  
Someday has apparently not yet arrived, alas. 
 

#41 -- Just After Sunset




Some great stuff in this one; I think the highs ("N.," "A Very Tight Place," "Graduation Afternoon," "The Cat from Hell," to name a few) are higher than the highs in Everything's Eventual, and the lows aren't as low.

By the way, did you know there are people who consider themselves to be King fans -- Constant Readers, even -- but who do not buy his story collections?

Savages.  Savages, every single one.


#40 -- Christine


 

If I'm being honest, then I have to admit that John Carpenter's movie version -- which I love -- has almost totally overwritten the novel in my memory.  I can conjure up little impressions of the novel -- enough to remember that I really liked it the first time I read it, and have continued to do so every time I have revisited it since (which is apparently not often enough) -- but beyond that, what I mainly see in my mind's eye is Buddy Repperton's wonderful hair.
  
I think about several things in relation to the first time I read the book.  I checked it out from the school library during the fall of my junior year (1990-91), and did a great deal of the reading during Driver's Ed class.  Or maybe not during it, because, you know, class was going on; but it was definitely on my mind when the football coach who taught the class showed us a perils-of-the-road film called Blood on the Highway (or something like that -- it might actually have been wither Blood on the Windshield or Red Highway).  I was a scared little lamb in all sorts of ways back in those days, and had a very difficult time watching even fake movies that had blood in them.  I'd typically avoid those movies altogether, or just stop watching the screen if I sensed some blood about to appear.
  
So you can imagine how unenthused I was by the idea of seeing a film full of footage from real-life car crashes.   
  
FUCK THAT.
  
I refused to watch it.  I went to the teacher before class and said, "Coach, I can't watch that movie."  He looked at me, squinting and scowling and possibly (this might be an invention of my memory) chomping an unlit cigar.  "God damn it, Burnette, go to the library or something," he said, inclined to make allowances for a football player, but not necessarily inclined to be cheerful about it.  
  
And so I did, where I used the time to work on Christine
  
I damn near had a couple of wrecks later on in the semester when we went out driving; I wonder if my failure to see the warning film flashed across his mind as he was applying the passenger-side brake those cars were equipped with?
  
Anyways, that's what I think of when I think of Christine, if I'm not thinking of the movie or of the line about the one thing that maybe smells finer than new-car smell.
  
That stuck with me, too, of course.
   


#39 -- Thinner
(written as Richard Bachman)




Stop me if you've heard this before...

In high school, this is one of the King novels that left me cold.  In the years after that, my opinion of it only weakened, largely thanks to the influence of the dreadful movie adaptation.
  
However, when I revisited the novel a few years ago, I found that it was much stronger than I'd ever given it credit for being.  It's soaked in dread; as soon as the pounds begin coming off Billy -- and maybe even before that -- you know he's a goner.  The suspense comes from wondering how long it will take and how awful the process will be.
  
Some of the Mafia-related elements are iffy, but that is more than made up for by the note-perfect ending, which is awful in the best possible way.
   

#38 -- Insomnia


 

Here's one that I enjoyed quite a bit upon its initial release, only to then sour on at some point thereafter.  This was likely due to not enjoying the audiobook, which, as I recall, is not particularly great.  It's probably unfair to hold the novel accountable for the audiobook's failings; this is part of the reason why I sometimes look askance at audiobooks as compared to actual books.  
  
Reading the novel itself in late 1994, I was moved to tears; if an audiobook failed to recapture that magic -- or, worse, somehow managed to diminish it -- then that's a real shame.  And not one that ought to be assessed against the novel itself.
  
I'm going to be rereading this one at some point in the not-too-distant future, and I'm looking forward to it.  I skimmed through a bit of it a while back (I was looking for some information about the Random and the Purpose as part of a reappraisal of Revival), and was blown away by the bits that I read.  So I've begun to think that I spent a few years downgrading Insomnia needlessly.
  
Most of you will likely know that this novel is a key component in the Dark Tower mythos.  It's not an actual part of the series, but among the close-companion pieces, it's one of the most important.



#37 -- Full Dark, No Stars


    
  
This collection of three novellas and one short story has a sort of thematic unity: it's about the bad things men sometimes do to women.  It begins with the impressively oppressive "1922," which is one of my favorite King novellas.  And that's saying something.
  
I'm less enthused by "Big Driver," which features some lapses in good taste and -- at the time I initially read the book, at least -- seemed a bit off in the prose in some way I couldn't put a finger on.  Still, it's good, and comes to a satisfying conclusion.
  
The short story -- "Fair Extension" -- is solid; the grand finale, "A Good Marriage," is very strong indeed.  Don't ever watch the movie, which is as appealing as spider butts.
  
  
  
#36 -- Under the Dome
  
  
    
  
Be aware that there are spoilers for this novel in this section.  So if you don't want to know, skip on ahead.
  
It's a controversial novel among King fans, many of whom feel that the sci-fi elements -- spoiler alert: it's aliens -- are a betrayal or something.
  
As McMolo put it in his Dog Star Omnibus writeup, "What else could it have been?"  I guess it could have been the work of the Sombra Corporation or something, but that would have been its own kind of cliche, and anyways, I think the existential dread/horror that King summons here is pretty damn mighty.
  
The novel has several setpieces that rank right up there with King's best, in my opinion: the dropping of the dome into place and the resultant chaos; the grocery-store riot; the horrific sexual assault scene by out-of-control deputies; a very large explosion; and, indeed, some of the alien stuff.
  
I have never forgiven King for naming his hero "Barbie," though.  To say this does not work is an understatement; what's worse is that one of the baddies, Junior, frequently taunts Barbie by saying his name in exaggerated manner ("Baaaaarbie"), a tic that is annoying merely to look at.  I shuuder to think how annoying it must be in audiobook format.
  
And then there's Big Jim Rennie.  The Stephen King Cast once named him the #1 King villain of all (in episode 121, that was), and I thought that was pretty damn cool.  Whether you find it to be cool might depend on whether your politics match up with the host's, but if they don't, then they don't line up with King's, either; and rest assured that his politics are on full display in this novel.  Rennie is a satirical character who smacks of Dick Cheney, and I'd argue that the novel is too one-sidededly leftish.  That doesn't bother me too too much, because I'm part of the choir to whom King is preaching.  But as a general principle, I wondered if King wasn't alienating (pardon the pun) right-leaning readers in too willy-nilly a fashion.
  
But even so, I think this is a heck of a novel.   

#35 -- Nightmares & Dreamscapes


 

Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a whopper of a book, and while it contains a few stories I don't much care for -- "Chattery Teeth," anyone? -- the majority of them range from good to great.  The best, in my opinion (and in no particular order of importance), are:

  

  • The Night Flier
  • You Know They Got a Hell of a Band
  • The Ten O'Clock People
  • Crouch End
  • Umney's Last Case
  • Head Down

  
That last is not a story at all (not a fictional one, at least), but a New Yorker essay about his son Owen's Little League team.  To this day, I don't quite know why King thought Nightmares & Dreamscapes was the proper venue for that charming-and-not-even-vaguely-nightmarish-or-dreamlike piece of work, but I'm happy to have read it.  Even more so when I consider that the boy who plays a crucial role in it has written fiction that I love, too, and years later co-wrote a novel (Sleeping Beauties) with his dad.
  
Pretty cool.
  
 
#34 -- Joyland


 

King's second novel for Hard Case Crime was demonstrably more of a murder-mystery than the first one (The Colorado Kid) had been, but it still isn't exactly what I'd personally call on-brand for a line of novels called "Hard Case Crime."
  
One suspects that Hard Case Crime doesn't mind much; one suspects that they'd be fine for King to go slightly -- or even wholly -- off-brand for them about once or twice a year for the next thirty years.  What's that you've got there, Steve?  A cookbook?  We'll publish it; it's going to kill people's appetites, so...
  
I can't blame them.  And in the case of Joyland, the end result is more enjoyable in almost every way than The Colorado Kid had been.  (I only qualify it with an "almost" because I am not entirely persuaded by a psychic-child subplot that comes up toward the end.)  The mystery is okay, but what this novel is really about is a young man trying to get over a broken heart.  The novel is drenched in melancholy, and the effect is doubled by virtue of the fact that the story is told from the perspective of an older man remembering being young.  He's telling us all about the heartache of youth from the vantage point of the heartache of the old.
  
Good stuff, guys; King is in fine, fine form here, unnecessary psychic children notwithstanding.
 
 
#33 -- The Wind Through the Keyhole


    
  
This one is holding up really well in my memory, and I no longer actually think of it as the worst novel in the series, which I did for a while.  ("Worst" being a highly relative thing here.)  The only negative thing I can think of to say about it is to complain about some anachronistic errors in the series continuity.  Not major ones; minor ones.  I don't even remember what they are, because I didn't catch them; I read this online circa 2012 and sort of shrugged.
  
In other words, I kinda don't give a shit.
  
What I care about is the extra time the novel afforded me with the primary ka-tet of the series.  All that starkblast stuff is great; the nesting-doll structure is great (and makes the novel a great piece about the power of storytelling); the Roland-visits-the-nuns stuff is wonderful, and the Merlin-as-a-tiger stuff is wonderful, and...
  
...and it's just a damn fine novel all the way around, really.  It makes the Dark Tower universe seem even larger than it already seemed.  And THAT is an achievement, friends.
  
  
#32 -- The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
 
 
  

A terrific collection, one which comes close to being as good as any King has released.  The only thing that holds it back is that I'd argue it doesn't have as many masterpieces as a couple of the other collections have.
  
But boy, there sure are some great stories in this book.  "Batman and Robin Have an Altercation" might be my favorite, although "Summer Thunder" and "Ur" and "Drunken Fireworks" and "That Bus Is Another World" and "Bad Little Kid" are awfully fine, too.  And several others, for that matter.
  
The bottom line is that with maybe only two or three exceptions, this collection lands every punch it throws.  And if you buy the paperback, you get an extra story ("Cookie Jar"), which means you get socked in the jaw an additional time.
  
You won't mind.
 
 
#31 -- Bag of Bones
  
  
    
  
A big, haunted, haunting novel of lost love, unexpectedly-found love, writer's block, vengeance from beyond the grave, vengeance from people not yet in the grave, rock-chucking, road-safety awareness, unexpected adoption, and small-town gossip.  Deeply good, although your overall response is likely to be colored by how you feel about one or two of those just-mentioned points of interest.
  
  
#30 -- The Dark Half
  
  
    
  
A bizarre but powerful novel about the mental tricks one must do in order to get oneself into the headspace to write novels about brutal killers.  Oh, and it's about a guy's pseudonym coming to life and wrecking his entire existence; sure, it's about that, too.
  
It's a crazy idea, and I didn't much care for the novel the first time I read it many years ago.  But it grew on my over time, and these days I've got a genuine affection for it.  It's well-written, full of great Kingian observations, and scary as fuck.
  
What's not to love?
  
  
#29 -- The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla
  
  
    
  
Have I ever been more excited for a book in my life than I was for this one?
  
I don't know.  Maybe at some point when I was a child.  As an adult?  Almost certainly not.
  
Let me set the stage for you: I became a King fan in 1990, and by 1991 had caught up with pretty much every book King has published.  (I had trouble tracking down copies of both Cycle of the Werewolf and Creepshow, but am pretty sure I had found the former by 1991.  In fact, I'm almost positive that I found it in a book store in a mall in Glendale, Arizona, on that same Fiesta Bowl trip that involved me telling a bunch of sleepy children the story of The Eyes of the Dragon for a beddy-bye nightcap.  Creepshow took another few years, I think.)  So I'd read both The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three, and was consequently able to get onboard with The Waste Lands as soon as the mass-market edition of it came out in late '91.  
  
Then, the wait for the fourth novel began.  It wouldn't end until 1997.  Six interminable years!
  
Two years later, King nearly died in a car accident.  My first thought was, oh, shit, no more Dark Tower!  That probably makes me sound like a prick fanboy, but what can I say?  It was my knee-jerk reaction.  I mean, it's not like it was the ONLY reason I would care about King dying, but was it the first thought I had?  Yeah, it was.  I think of it being to the novels' credit more than to my discredit, but however you want to explain it, it's the truth.
  
King announced in 2001 that he was writing the final three novels back-to-back-to-back; he'd realized it was time to finish up his magnum opus.  And in early November of 2003, the first of those three concluding hit shelves.
  
A friend and I went to Walmart at midnight to see if we could find copies.  This was in the days when Walmart routinely put big new releases of movies, music, and even occasional books on sale at midnight.  Maybe that still happens on occasion, but if so, I am not aware of it.  It was fun to go snap something up like that on occasion, but on this particular night, we had no luck.
  
Not at first, at least.  We eventually found a store employee to ask about it, and she helpfully located the appropriate box, hauled out a couple of copies, and sent us on our way, likely shaking her head at the two goofuses she'd just had to put up with.
  
Apologies to her (not that there's any need -- we were pleasant and she was very helpful), but we had to have them books, RIGHT THAT MOMENT.  
  
This was serious business even to my friend, who was relatively new to the world of the Tower; for me, who'd been waiting six years for another installment (and who had the brief window of time when it looked as if King's writing days might be over for good), it was basically life and death.  This was the feeling you get when a pet who's been missing for a few days finally shows up on your doorstep again, missing the tip of one ear and hungry, but otherwise basically the same.
  
And that's not an entirely inappropriate assessment of this particular novel.  I was mildly disappointed in it upon initial read; something seemed a little bit off.  It didn't quite scratch the itch as fully as I hoped it would.  It was missing the tip of an ear; you checked it out and said, "Hmm ... something happened to you while you were gone, didn't it?"
  
But, of course, it was very much still lovable.  And among Towerphiles, Wolves of the Calla seems to be very popular, with some even ranking it as best in the series.  It doesn't even get close to that for me, but does that make it bad?  Not even vaguely.  It's got a lot to recommend, including a major "new" character, a return to the Western vibe of The Gunslinger, some truly bizarre and wonderful metafictional touches, a terrific robot, a great extended action setpiece toward the end, strong character development, and a killer cliffhanger.
  
Don't worry about that missing ear-tip; just let it hop up into your lap and enjoy the time with it you unexpectedly got back.
  
  
#28 -- The Tommyknockers
  
  
    
  

This one is underrated, in my opinion; not by me (I've rated it with laser precision, if I do say so myself [I have to, because nobody else will]), but in general.  There are, admittedly, a few aspects of the novel that don't work very well, and if all you think of when you remember this book is that there's a malevolent flying soda machine ... well, I can't blame you.  
  
However, there is WAY more to the novel than that, and while I can't deny that King seems to lose his way for a bit and start cramming in stuff that really doesn't need to be there, I'll take that any day of the week.  Why?  Because the novel ends well.  This is something that can't be said of all of his books; even a few of the great ones end poorly.
  
With this one, though, he got to where he needed to go, and he got there in style.
  
Apart from that, I like almost all of the major characters, including the two doomed main characters.  There is a lot of reflective, affecting material here; and the novel's central conceit is undeniably cool.
  
  
#27 -- Revival
  
  
    
  
A Lovecraftian blast of melancholy, Revival is similar to Joyland in that it involves an old man looking back upon his youth.  Not particularly fondly, in this case; this novel's protagonist shares more in common with the Danny Torrance of Doctor Sleep than with the theme-park-mascot who is the hero of Joyland.
  
You occasionally hear people carp about how King's best days are behind him, but I don't know how you could read Revival and come away thinking that.  To be honest, I didn't love it upon my first read; I felt the ending let the novel down.  But even so, I thought the first four-fifths were about as good as anything he'd ever written, and if a guy who's written as much as King has written can still do that this deep into his career, then there's no reason to think there aren't two or three or nine more masterpieces on the way.
  
And on top of that, my second read of the novel convinced me that the ending was much better than I'd initially given it credit for being.
  
  
#26 -- The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower
  
  
    
  
The grand finale to The Dark Tower remains a controversial novel among Towerphiles to this day, with some arguing that it's a deflating and anticlimactic dud and others arguing that it's a mind-blowing, universe-expanding triumph.
  
I lean closer to the latter.  I do have problems with the novel, but they are eclipsed for me by the sheer excellence -- and sheer number of -- of the major setpieces.
  
But in the end, it's all about the characters for me, and they are uniformly well-served here (with the possible exception of one major villain and the definite exception of a different major villain).  If you get to this point in the series and don't experience great sweeping gusts of emotion, then you are made of sterner stuff than I.  You may, in fact, be a gunslinger of sorts yourself.
  
One of these days, I'll write at length -- lengthy, lengthy length -- about this entire series.  When that happens, rest assured that I will have plenty to say about this novel.  It won't all be positive; and some of it will of the "I wish __________ had happened instead" variety.
  
But the vast majority of it will be the equivalent of me bowing in King's general direction, shouting "huzzah" and/or "bravo," and doing that thing where you put both sets of fingertips to your lips and then fling smooches outward with a vocalized "mmmmm-AHHH."  A chef's kiss, I think that gesture is called; King goan get a lot of 'em on that day.  
  
Or, perhaps, a tip of the cap followed by eighteen more.
  
The point is, I love this novel, warts and all.  To return to my previous lost-pet analogy, this one might be said to be missing the full ear rather than just the tip; but, mysteriously, it's also had a bath and has a shiny new collar around its neck.  It was happy to see you before, it's happy to see you now, and it's going to be happy to see you again later.
  
Good times, guys; very, very good times.
  
  
#25 -- Night Shift
  
  
    
  
We've officially entered the stretch of the list where I feel very bad about the fact that my top ten can't somehow contain about 25 books.  (I never considered doing it, but the idea to this year rank about five things as #1, three or four as #2, et cetera, briefly crossed my mind.  A cheat, but one I betcha most anyone reading this blog could relate to.) 
  
Chock full of excellent stories, Night Shift arguably suffers from the fact that King's writing style had not yet fully developed.  But whatever it lacks in polish, it makes up for in tone and imagination.  I'm not a big fan of "Graveyard Shift," but even it is okay; t's probably the worst story in the bunch, but this particular bunch is awfully good.
  
Highlights include "Jerusalem's Lot," "Quitters, Inc.," "The Boogeyman," "The Woman in the Room," and "The Ledge," just to name a few.
  
  
#24 -- Skeleton Crew
  
  
    
  
I'm perpetually torn between whether I think Skeleton Crew or Night Shift is King's strongest collection of short stories.  So as to reflect that, I've ranked them back to back, and (unlike last year) I've given Skeleton Crew the slight advantage.
  
Among other treasures, Skeleton Crew has: "The Mist," which is arguably my favorite King novella; "The Jaunt," which is one of my favorite of his short stories; "For Owen," which IS my favorite of his poems; and a number of other classics, including "Nona," "The Reach," "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," "The Raft," "Gramma," and "Survivor Type."
  
Nope; nothing wrong here.
  
  
#23 -- Danse Macabre
  
  
    
  
I'm not gonna lie: this book is badly out of date by now, and probably ought to be lower on the list.
  
But I can't do it.  And in fact it took a big leap this time, up from its previous placement of #36!  
  
I fucking love this book, which is equal parts autobiography, critical essay, and philosophy.  I defy you to read it and not come away with a list of about a hundred books you want to read, or movies you want to watch, or tv/radio shows you want to dive into.
  
Man, I wish King would write a follow-up to this someday.
 
 
#22 -- Gerald's Game


  

Another title making a big leap this year: Gerald's Game, which blasts its way from #42 all the way up to #22, thanks to my having reread it this year.  It's a hell of a book, one that (thanks to the Mike Flanagan movie version) is finally beginning to get its due. 
  
I've got a great memory of reading it while on a family trip to Gulf Shores that happened during the summer after I graduated from high school.  It was 1992; the novel had only just come out.  I began reading it on the trip down, sitting in the back seat, hoping nobody would spontaneously grab it out of my hand and discover the unrepentant filth that King was pouring into my eyeballs.  I can't swear to this, but I think I made it all the way to the degloving scene, and may have let out a literal hurk of disgust.
  
I didn't really know what to make of the novel as a young man of seventeen, which seems entirely appropriate.  Why would I get some of what is going on in that novel, psychologically-speaking?  So 1992 Bryant read it and put it to the side, and if he thought of it at all it was to think of it as one of his new least-favorite King novels.
  
When I came back to it a few years later, though, I got a lot more out of it.  I read it a third time at some point after that and felt like it was kind of genius; my rereading this year convinced me of it.  
  
It's a great concept, and King gets some good mileage out of it as a Hitchcockian setpiece but also as a venue for having Jessie "talk" to "herself" as a means of working some of her shit out.
  
And then there's the Space Cowboy.
  
Man oh man.


#21 -- Duma Key


    
  
I know at least one reputable King fan who thinks this might be King's very best novel, and my memory of it indicates that that is an opinion well worth taking seriously.
  
I've only read it the once, though, so I'm opting to be somewhat conservative in my assessment.  This conservative approach goes against my gut: that single read found me unable to turn the pages quickly enough; I devoured that novel, although there were times when I scarcely wanted to know what was going to happen next, for fear that it was going to be awful.
  
As, indeed, it frequently was; and in the best possible way.  But what else would you expect from a story that begins with the main character's arm getting mashed off?  It's a novel that plays for keeps, and it's a winning approach.
  
  
#20 -- Hearts In Atlantis
  
  
    
  
Is it a novel?  A collection?  Both?  Neither?
  
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...
  
  
#19 -- 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.  
  
By the way, this is yet another King novel I didn't spark to the first time I read it (in high school).  There are actually quite a lot of his books which I've changed my opinion about -- upwards or down -- over the course of years as rereads cause reassessments.  This might mean I'm wishy-washy (I am), but it might just as possibly mean that King's novels tend to be too rich to take in on a single read.  A perspective -- often a perspective of years -- seems sometimes to be a prerequisite for true appreciation.
  
I don't know about you, but that cheers me up sometimes.
 
 
#18 -- The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
  
  
    
  
I mentioned earlier that Wolves of the Calla might be the novel that I had the most pre-release excitement for out of any in my life.  And I think it probably takes that prize, but Wizard and Glass is nipping at its heels; photo finish, baby, no doubt about it.
  
I won't spoil anything for potential readers who are still unfamiliar with the Dark Tower series, but I feel okay about saying that Book III ends on a massive cliffhanger.  Ginormous, y'all; colossal, even.  I don't mean to sing the Song Of The Old Fart (aka "In my day, it was like __________") yet again, but boy howdy, I've got to say: the six-year gap between Book III and Book IV was excruciating.  But it was, in retrospect, a truly magical sort of excruciation, one that I wouldn't trade away lightly.  If you'd given 1991 Bryant the opportunity to charge right into the next novel, he'd have done so.  Obviously!  But 2018 Bryant thinks it's pretty rad that 1991 Bryant had to wait all the way until 1997, because the countdown to the eventual release day was just wonderful.
  
Anticipation is a great thing, guys.  At least, it can be; you do admittedly sometimes end up with a movie starring Jar Jar Binks in that process.  But at other times, the movie/book/etc. is every bit as good as you hoped it could be.
  
That was my experience with Wizard and Glass.  I mean, seriously, why do I not have this in my top ten?  I did at one point in time.  I guess maybe I've been moderately swayed by some of those folks who think this novel is a big fat waste of time.
  
Not very swayed, though.  The fact is, I love this novel top to bottom.  The resolution of the cliffhanger left over from Book III?  Perfect.  The progressively weirder (and more metafictive) steps toward the Tower?  Perfect.  The flashbacks to the adventures of young Roland and his ka-tet?  Perfect.  
  
If this sucker had been 14,000 pages long, I'd have been just as onboard as I remain today: 100%.
  
  
#17 -- 'Salem's Lot
  
  
    
  
Legend has it that there came a point in time when King had to choose what his followup novel to Carrie (his first) would be.  His two choices were Blaze (a Steinbeck-y crime novel that would eventually be published as a Bachman book) and Second Coming, a novel about a small town beset by a vampiric invasion.
  
King was apparently warned that it might make sense to go with Blaze, because after all, if he put out two horror novels in a row, he might get a reputation he would then be unable to shake.
  
Well, we all know how that one turned out. 
  
I think it was the right decision, and I doubt many people would disagree with me.  'Salem's Lot -- as Second Coming eventually became known -- is regarded as a classic today, and while it does indeed seem to have helped to permanently typecast King as a horror writer, he has never seemed to resent the designation and has proven to be more than capable of working in other genres as he sees fit.
  
I think part of that is obviously due to his command of character and tone, attributes which are effective no matter what sort of fiction one is writing.  With 'Salem's Lot, both are on display in copious quantities.  Sure, a few of the novel's leads are a bit dull and underdeveloped; but that is more than made up for by the colorful cast of subordinate characters.  King's facility with them allows his main characters permission to be a bit dull and underdeveloped, and so I'd argue that the overall novel doesn't suffer a bit.
  
By the way: 'Salem's Lot or 'salem's Lot?  I feel like it's the latter, but I hate the way that looks, so I think I'm going to use the former until I see a missive from King saying to not to.
  
  
#16 -- The Stand
  
  

    
  
I toyed with the idea of ranking these two editions separately (as would be completely fair game in my opinion), and while I opted not to, I reserve the right to do so in some future version of this list.
  
What hangs me up from doing so is being unable to figure out which I would rank as the superior version.  Conventional wisdom says the expanded version is the way to go; in fact, I believe it's the only version in print.  And I love the longer version, so if I had to pick one to read, that'd be the one.
  
But is it actually the better of the two?  There's something to be said for the relative concision of the original edition, so maybe not.  A case could be made for that original, and in all honesty, I could probably make it persuasively myself; after all, that version is not only the version that made me fall in love with the novel, but the version that turned me into a Stephen King fan.
  
Also, while King revised the text to bring the expanded edition forward in time, he failed to remove quite a few anachronisms that make that version mildly problematic.  I doubt that will bother most people, and it only bothers me a little; but it does bother me at least a little, and that would have to be taken into consideration.
  
So ultimately, I just didn't feel like wrestling with the issue.
  
And anyways, this is a pretty great piece of work no matter which version you read.  As I alluded to earlier, it was the one that made me a King fan for what I assume will be the rest of my life.  It sunk its hooks into me as deep as any book ever has before or since; and while in the intervening years I've come to find certain aspects of it less than fulfilling, that doesn't alter the fact that the section of my brain marked THE STAND is perpetually shooting off fireworks.  Do I have problems with the novel?  Sure.  Do they matter?  
  
Nope.
  
  
#15 -- The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three
  
  
    
  
The second volume in King's magnum-opus series of novels is a firecracker, opening with a monster-movie sort of setpiece that changes a great deal of what you might think you know about what will happen going forward.  This in turn sets up the entry of two of the series' main characters, Eddie and Susannah, both of whom are riveting.
  
Several of my favorite scenes in the entire series -- and in all of King's body of work (and, therefore, in all of fiction [the fiction I've read, at least]) -- take place here.  That opening scene with the lobstrosities; Eddie's delayed debarkation from the plane; the shootout at Balazar's; the first appearance of Detta Walker in Mid-World; and, perhaps above all, Roland's inhabitation of the mind of Jack Mort, especially the scenes in which he goes shopping at the gun store and the pharmacy.
  
Man, what a novel!  I could sit down and begin reading it again right now and be perfectly happy.
  
And yet, this year finds me casting it outside the top ten for what I think may be the first time.  This makes me physically unhappy; my leg is itching madly, and I'm pretty sure it's because it knows I've slighted The Drawing of the Three?  "You would do such a thing?!?" it is asking me indignantly.
  
Sorry about that, leg.  I feel just awful.
  
  
#14 -- The Long Walk
(writing as Richard Bachman)
  
  
    
  
Here's another one where I'm simply aghast at my own decision to not have this in the top ten.  Shit, man, how?!?  Why?!?
  
Carrie is routinely referred to as King's first novel, but in fact it was his fifth.  It was the first to be published, but he'd written four prior to that.  They are as follows:
  
  • The Long Walk (1967, published 1979)
  • Sword in the Darkness (1970, never published)
  • Getting It On (1971, eventually published as Rage)
  • The Running Man (1972, published 1982)

  
Let's allow that to sink in for a bit: in his freshman year of college, Stephen King wrote The Long Walk.  Most college freshmen can't be trusted to get out of bed and make it to class on time, and here this guy is writing a novel people are still talking about fifty-plus years later.
  
No matter when it was written, this is one of King's great works, in my opinion.  It's got an unlikely scenario at its core, but King invests in it fully, which allows the reader to invest in it just as fully.  And in doing so, the reader encounters a nightmare scenario that seems plausible while it's happening.  Maybe when you put it down you think, "This is something that nobody would ever actually sign up for," but while you are in King's clutches, you know better.
  
College freshman, y'all.
  
Wow.
  
  
#13 -- Dolores Claiborne
  
  
  
  
Released only a few months after Gerald's Game, Dolores Claiborne is a second tale of an abused woman who learns to stand up for herself.  I guess some Constant Readers were put off by this back in the day, but I was not one of them, even though I didn't much care for Gerald's Game back then.
  
The same was not true of Dolores Claiborne, which I loved immediately and have continued to love ever since.  Like Gerald's Game, I reread it earlier this year and found it to be pure dynamite.
  
It is, obviously, a melancholy and occasionally distressing piece of work.  Why shouldn't it be?  Life is frequently a melancholy and depressing endeavor; we're lucky we have people like Stephen King to spin those tears into gold from time to time.
  
And so he does here, I'd argue.  Dolores is handily one of his all-time greatest protagonists, and the sheer fun King is having writing in her voice practically leaps off the page, even when he's writing about something awful.
  
  
#12 -- The Green Mile
  
  
I realized a thing while assembling these photos:

I cannot recite from memory the titles of all six individual novellas comprising The Green Mile!

Does that seem acceptable for a King fan of my enthusiasm level?

It surely doesn't, so, by golly, I'm going to have to fix that.


   
  
Once again I sing the Song Of The Old Fart:
  
God dang, it was great to be there for the original publication of The Green Mile.  One installment per month for six straight months, meaning that for half of the year 1996, you got to go to the bookstore of your choice, walk in with a smile and a few bucks, and walk out with a bigger smile and a new Stephen King book.  (Oh, and by the way, King had us addicts covered once the sixth and final installment came out: a month later -- JUST A FUCKING MONTH LATER!!! -- he released two novels [Desperation and The Regulators] on the same day, with a page count totaling 1163.  King was not about to make his readers go cold turkey.)
  
Things were definitely not always better in the old days; in many ways, the old days sucked ass.  But a lot of great things happened back then; and before that, and before THAT, and even further back, if you can believe it.  Woe unto he who can't look back on those things and take enormous pleasure at having been present and accounted for at the time.
  
Golly gee, y'all; I almost can't believe how lucky King fans were for those seven months of '96.  Glorious; absolutely glorious!
  
And that would probably be true even if the books weren't super great.  I mean, I like Desperation and The Regulators, but neither is a favorite; and if the six-part serial novel had been only as good as that, I think it would still have been cause to do a fist-pump of glee.
  
The fact that the six-part serial novel is The freaking Green Mile is astonishing.  This was the novelist equivalent of Evel Knievel trying to jump the Grand Canyon and then sailing over it with a few hundred feet to spare and then landing on the other side and causing a rainbow to come out. 
  
I'm eternally grateful to have been there to see it.
  
  
#11 -- Pet Sematary
  
  
   
  

Wen I was a kid, I spent a lot of time hanging out at my mother's workplace while school wasn't in; this went on even through much of high school.  I had a sort of volunteer position in the office; among my "duties" were ferrying mail from one place to another, or helping unload freight trucks, helping with mass mailouts, etc.  But it wasn't an actual job (though it would turn into one in college), and so I'd also spend a lot of time goofing off, roaming the building, shooting the shit with various people who actually were employed there, or sitting around reading.
  
Sometimes, I'd go for walks around the area, including frequent -- damn-near daily -- trips to The Book Rack, a nearby used-book store.  It was here that I found the battered old paperback copy of The Stand that set me on my lifelong exploration of the works of Stephen King.  I devoured it whole, and returned to The Book Rack over and over again that summer (the summer of 1990), getting a new King book every time I could.
  
My mother's boss was a big reader, too, and was always interested in what I was reading.  He'd heard of King, but had never read anything by him, so his interest was piqued by my newfound fascination with the author.  He asked if he could borrow one of my books, and ended up with Pet Sematary.
  
The next day, when I saw him, he told me he'd stayed up all night reading it ... and, when he got to the end, had to fight down the urge to fling it out the nearest window.  The only thing preventing him from doing it, he said, was the fact that it was my book.  So he handed it back to me, and went to his office, and he never borrowed a book from me again.  None of this was contentious, though; he knew he had stepped outside his area of reading comfort, and did not for one second criticize me for liking a novel he'd disliked.  He -- and all the people who worked in that office -- were instrumental in the development of my personality and worldview, in part because they implicitly encouraged me to develop it for myself.  They didn't push me; they offered potential paths and let me choose for myself.
  
I think of that more and more frequently these days, and that aspect of my life is forever intertwined with the development of my King fandom.  I think of those novels, and I think of who I was when I first read them.  Is this part of the reason why Stephen King means so much to me?  Almost certainly, and that's just fine by me.
  
I marvel a bit at the complete lack of judgment my mother's boss had for me, despite his severe reaction to it.  Given some of the book's content, there are other outcomes that could have resulted: maybe he goes to my mother and tells her about the sort of stuff her fifteen-year-old son is reading, and she doesn't like the sound of it, and it becomes A Big Thing.  Who knows what happens from there?  Or -- maybe worse -- some other version of him tells some other version of me that reading books like that will rot my brain, and that version of me turns defensive and offended.
  
As it happened, though, what I took away from it was this: he didn't like it, but he stayed up all night so he could finish it.  He had to know what happened despite the fact that he didn't like it once he got there!  What that told me was this: I could handle it, and he couldn't.
  
The more I think about, the more of an impact I think that had on me.  I was a very timid, extremely fearful child; I related to the adults in this office more than I related to kids my own age.  I'm on the fence as to whether this was a good thing or a bad thing in terms of my overall development -- on the whole, I lean toward thinking it was a bad thing -- but either way, it is an integral part of who I am.  For better or for worse, the me that I am today is the logical outcome of the me that made all those walks to The Book Rack in the summer of 1990, the me who took back his copy of Pet Sematary and felt like he'd somehow managed to do something that even his mother's boss -- perhaps the most respectable person he knew -- couldn't do.
  
I didn't have much confidence in anything, but now, I had confidence in books and my ability to read them.
  
Without that, who would I be today?  Impossible to say, but whether I'd be homeless in a ditch or living in a penthouse someplace, I would not be me.
  
That's not why I've got Pet Sematary ranked where it is -- it's in this spot because it is a creepy masterpiece full of great scenes and great characters, plus one of the very best central concepts in all of King's fiction -- but it is a thing I think of sometimes when this novel floats into my mind.
  
  
#10 -- Carrie
  
  
   
  
I can't precisely remember where I first encountered the notion that Carrie was only a middle-tier King novel, but encounter I did, and early in my King fandom.  For whatever reason, that assessment has always stuck with me, and I'm not sure I realized until compiling this year's version of these rankings that I've been semi-consciously fighting against that perception ever since.
  
And this year, I think the perception finally went down in defeat.
  
If we were judging these novels by how often we find ourselves thinking about them, there is simply no question that Carrie would belong in my top ten.  And so it finally has been placed this year; it's been rising toward that position for a while now, I think, and I wouldn't rule out the idea of it rising even farther in future versions of these rankings.
  
It's a slender piece of work, but is no less powerful for that.  Its prose is a little rough around the edges in some places, but it's just as frequently inspired.  The main character remains one of King's most memorable; the antagonist remains one of his most despicable villains.  It's horrifying at times, and it's a tragedy in which we feel sorry for a literal mass-murderer.  How does a writer even begin to go about accomplishing such a thing?
  
  
#9 -- 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 laziness, deciding to simply toss out variations on the theme of "psychic kid is terrorized by haunted __________."  He wouldn't have been the first bestselling author to eventually take the path of least resistance. 
  
Hard to blame writers for selling out, to be honest.  Why would you leave all that money on the table?  If you don't grab it up, somebody else is going to grab it.  Nah, I don't fault sellouts at all; they're doing what I'd probably be doing if I had the opportunity.
  
This is what makes King's continued refusal to rest on his laurels so laudable.  If you're him, you've got to wonder whether your audience has any interest in reading a romantic time-travel epic.  "What the fuck is this shit?!?" your hypothetical readers might grunt.  "No man-eating dogs or psychic clowns AGAIN?!?" 
  
You might even field questions from your publishers along those lines.  "Are you sure you want to write a trilogy of crime thrillers?" they might cautiously wonder.  If I'm King, I probably say, nah, not really, and write Firestarter IV: The Embers at World's End or some stupid shit like that.  Stephen King?  He does what he feels like doing, and just assumes it'll work out.  And it pretty much always does.
  
It really worked out with 11/22/63.  This is invigorating, dynamic stuff, with great characters and a fresh-seeming approach to the hoary old trope of a time traveler trying to prevent a well-known tragedy.  The sonofabitchin' thing is even a midquel to It for a chapter!
  
It's a big, involving, heartbreaking piece of work.  Thrilling as can be, but it's an unusual thriller in that its slower moments are often its most involving; they are a siren song of sorts, and don't you for one second think that isn't purposeful.
  
  
#8 -- Misery
  
  
  
  
Stephen King published four novels in 1987, and one of them was as good as Misery.  The others range from okay to awesome, but most authors could go their entire lives without writing anything as great as Misery, and the odds of anyone writing such a novel in a year where they put out THREE additional books must be long odds indeed.
  
It is, obviously, an incredible piece of work.  Annie Wilkes might well be King's scariest villain, but she's so impeccably drawn that she occasionally manages to feel not entirely villainous; she's just a really fucked-up woman whose mental-health issues have taken her down what might charitably be called a dark path.
  
That's the thing about King villains: so, so many of them are recognizably human.  Even when they're doing monstrous things -- and Annie does a few things so monstrous in this that you kind of can't even believe them when they happen (though you certainly DO believe, oh yes indeed) -- they're people, with motivations and fears of their own.  This is less true of, say, Pennywise the Dancing Clown than of Annie Wilkes; but for that very reason, Annie might well be THE King villain, leaving ol' Bob Gray to dance out in the cold all on his lonesome.
  
But we'll get to him(/her) in a minute.
  
  
#7 -- The Shining
  
  
  
  

Who can doubt that this is still one of the most potent of all of King's novels?  Is there anyone who does doubt it?  I'm not sure there is, at least among King fans.
  
What a concept!  Three-person family goes to spend the winter by themselves in a huge hotel.  Turns out, the hotel is haunted.
  
I mean, come on.  I could live to be nine hundred years old and I doubt I'd come up with an idea for a novel that good.  And even if I did, I doubt I'd be able to capitalize on it the way King did.  He only has a few characters to work with, but those central three are each among his very best.
  
It's one of the King novels that seems certain to survive for hundreds of years to come; there'll be folks living on Mars reading about the woes of ol' Jack Torrance and Danny's efforts to survive them.  They'll hear some strange Martian wind wailing outside, and they'll think, just how alone am I here?
  
In your heart, you know this to be true; and if you're anything like me, it puts a smile on your face. 
  
  
#6 -- The Dead Zone
  
  
   
  
King's take on the legend of Rip Van Winkle is one of his most tragic pieces of work, with a protagonist who is highly memorable despite being a somewhat bland Everyman.
  
You know what scene from this novel has most stuck with me over the years?  The one toward the beginning in which Johnny surprises and frightens Sarah by jumping out at her while wearing a Halloween fright mask.  I don't quite know why that is.
  
One of these days, I'm going to write in=depth about this novel and figure it out, though.
  
Count on it.
  
  
#5 -- On Writing
  
  
  
  

"It is the tale, not he who tells it," reads a keystone above a fireplace in the Club at 249B.  (We'll speak more about that Club in a bit).
  
It's a marvelous saying, but I've never entirely agreed with it.  I think it is the tale AND he who tells it; I think a story and its teller are in many ways one and the same, and I'd argue that Stephen King's career proves it.  That career is a long, ever-evolving autobiography; one not of incident but of thought and feeling, philosophy and dream.
  
Nowhere is that more evident than in On Writing, which is likely the closest we will ever get to an actual autobiography from King.  It's every bit as readable as one of his novels, which is how I also feel about Danse Macabre, and I don't think this is in any way a mistake.  I think when we read a King book -- fiction or nonfiction alike -- we have a direct link to King's brain.  He's invited us in so he can spill its contents out to us for a while, and ask us to use the opportunity to reflect upon our own brain's contents.  "See how similar they are?" he asks us, not merely in On Writing, but in Wizard and Glass, or Lisey's Story, or Christine, etc.  Maybe some of these sessions are more successful than others, but it's fundamentally the same process.
  
On Writing contains not merely a lot of good advice (and philosophy) on the subject of how to effectively write, but it also contains a harrowing account of King's 1999 near-miss with the Grim Reaper.  Want to know what happened on that day he got hit by a van?  You will find out here.  Boy, will you.  
  
But you will also journey back in time to find out what young Stephen King was like, and you'll even get to read a couple of short stories he wrote as a young child.  
  
In some writers' hands, a book like this might be the literary equivalent of Toto pulling back the curtain to show us that the Wizard is actually just a weird old liar.  On Writing instead pulls back the curtain to show us exactly the same Stephen King we expected to be there.  "Oh!" we might exclaim, "I just knew it'd be you!  You know, I've been reading your books since forever!  I've been wondering what you might be like ever since, and I'll be damned if you don't fit it to a T!"
  
Or maybe that's just me.  I don't think it is just me, though; I think it would be damn near impossible for someone who's written as many books and stories as King has done to not have his personality end up embedded forever in the resulting bibliography.  If you read all the books of James Michener, odds are good that you have met James Michener.  He might not recognize you if you met on the street, but would you recognize him?  Yeah, I bet you would; you might not realize who it is was if you didn't know what that person looked like, but some bell in the back of your brain would chime and you'd find yourself thinking, "I know you, don't I?"
  
The tale and the teller are forever intertwined, and for the additional peeks On Writing gives us at this particular teller of tales, it is invaluable.
  
  
#4 -- The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands
  
  


  
  
The third novel in the Dark Tower series is its most exciting; this is the closest King has ever gotten to writing a straight-up action/adventure tale, and he's really goddamn good at it.  This book crackles with what Spock (and/or Information Society) might call pure energy.  So much awesomeness dwells within these pages: Shardik the bear; the mansion at Dutch Hill; Susannah "fighting" a demon; the people of River Crossing; motherucking OY, y'all!; did I mention Oy?; Gasher; the Tick-Tock Man; and so forth.
  
Not to mention Blaine the Mono.
 
The argument could be made that this is King's purest, most successful storytelling.  I am more impressed by the novel every time I read it, which is not nearly often enough; as I've said elsewhere on this list, I could sit down and begin rereading this one right now, and be perfectly content to do so.
  
The sheer number of titles on this list of which that is true makes the mind reel.
  
I love that.
  
  
#3 -- Different Seasons
  
  
    
  
Different Seasons is comprised of four novellas that, ranked individually, would almost certainly each be in contention for my top twenty.  I thank my lucky stars that I don't have to do that, because I don't know what I'd push out of the way to make room for them, and I don't even have a clue what sort of disarray might result in the top ten.
  
"Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" opens the book, and what a humdinger it is.  I think most people have overwritten it in their minds in favor of the movie, and maybe that's okay, but the movie could only be what it is because the novella is what it is.
  
"Apt Pupil" remains one of the most horrifying pieces in all of King's canon.  If you ever needed to prove to somebody that King can creep you out without the supernatural being involves, look no further.
  
"The Body" is a charming, melancholy piece that is every bit as iconic as most of the iconic novels King has written.  The main characters are among his best, and it's also probably his funniest piece of fiction.
  
And then there's "The Breathing Method," which, believe it or not, is my favorite of the four.  The idea of the Club at 249B absolutely haunts me.  I can't shake it; I don't want to shake it.  The rest of the novella is great, too; the (titular) story about the woman giving birth under what might be called strenuous circumstances is a corker.  But for me, this novella is all about the Club, which in my opinion ranks as one of King's most intriguing creations.
  
Now, all of those novellas are terrific individually.  Taken as a whole, they somehow gain in stature by feeding off and taking strength from one another.  All four novellas are very much about the telling of tales; what it can mean, what it must mean, what it should never mean, what it meant.  A great deal of King's books are metafictional in one way or another, and this is perhaps his most graceful work on the subject.
  
  
#2 -- It
  
  
   
  
It would likely be impossible for me to describe the impact this mammoth novel had on me as a teenager.  In order merely to make an honest effort, I think I'd have to write a hundred pages or so about it.
  
And let's be clear: that time will likely come.  Last year, when ranking these novels I foolishly pledged to reread (and possibly blog about) It during 2018, on account of it being 28 years since I read the novel for the first time.
  
This ended up not happening, at least partially because I forgot about making the pledge in the first place.  Sadly, no Mike Hanlon called me to remind me.
  
But never fear: it'll happen one of these days.  I only hope I'm halfway equal to the task.
  
  
#1 -- The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
  
  

    
  
What follows comes from my 2017 rankings, wherein I had a bit of an epiphany (which is why I'm leaving all of it in).  Apologies for the reheated leftovers; but I think what I said about this novel last year remains effective enough as a representation of my feelings.  Here goes:  
  
"Let's begin with a quotation of something I wrote about this book way back in 2012:
  
Technically, this is a short-story collection, as it gathers together the various stories King published in the magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction.  Even more technically, it's actually a novel, since those stories form a consistent and unified whole.  Do you care about semantic distinctions like that one?  Probably not, and good on ya for it, mate, 'cause that sort of thing has been known to keep yours truly up at night.  (For the record, here is the answer to the question of which it is, a novel or a story collection: it's both, dummy.  Same would be true years later of Hearts In Atlantis.)

Set in an odd quasi-Western environment, The Gunslinger was nothing like what the author was, at the time of its publication, known for writing; due to this, the book was originally published only as a limited edition, which quickly sold out and became an object of much speculation, envy, and consternation amongst devoted '80s-era King fans.  (If you want to read a great history of that book's publication, check out Bev Vincent's The Road to the Dark Tower.  You'll be glad you did.)
I am somewhat unusual among Towerphiles in that this is my favorite of the books.  And yes, in fact, I do prefer the original to the revised version.  I have no problems with the revised version, and I love the changes, but there is a sort of rawness about the book -- present in both versions, but even more palpable in the original -- that just utterly captivates me.  In some ways, this feels very much like a Richard Bachman novel, which means only that it feels like exactly what it is: early Stephen King, unpolished and ragged but frequently finding the jugular in memorable ways; a powerful talent in search of the proper avenue in which to express itself.
I love the direction Roland's tale eventually took, but I am enough of a masochist that part of me wishes King had never written any further than this first novel.  I can distinctly recall reading the book for the first time, and feeling positively epic feelings about who Roland was and what his quest meant and how it would all turn out ... and knowing that really, in all the vital ways, I could never know those things.  This was a novel of questions, not of answers; I wanted to know the answers, but in a way, I wanted to never know them.  I love that sort of dark, majestic, unresolvable mystery, and as much as I also love King's later resolutions, I still yearn to be that young man devastated by the thought of Roland sitting on that beach, the Tower distant beyond all hope of approach.

Actually, that's really not masochism at all, is it?  That's just a yearning for the complex pleasure that is mystery.
  
As with The Stand, I considered ranking both version of the novel -- the 1982 collection of the original stories and the revised 2003 edition -- separately.  They are fundamentally the same novel, but they are also different in key ways.  But, again, I opted not to.
  
In this case, though, it's not because I don't have a favorite between the two: as the above quotation shows, I certainly do.
  
No matter which version we're talking about, though, this novel has several of my favorite scenes in all of fiction: the shootout in Tull; the journey through the land of the slow mutants; Jack's remembrance of his own death; Roland's challenge of Cort; the demon in the Speaking Ring; the Man In Black's palaver with Roland; and, of course, the final moments of Roland sitting on a beach, pondering the future.
  
I love it, beginning to end.  Breaks my heart for it not to be #1.
  
Which brings a question to mind: why don't I have it at #1?  Until that last sentence right there, I was writing all of that from the standpoint of having the novel ranked at #5.  But as I was reflecting upon it just now, I realized the truth I expressed moments ago: that it causes me actual mental distress to say this is not my favorite King novel.  I've felt that way about several others on the list, but in terms of feeling bad for them not to be in the top ten.  With this one, there's a voice inside crying out that it needs to be all the way at the top.
  
And so, I have listened to that voice.  I think it's the right thing to do.  The fact is that The Gunslinger fired my imagination in a way only one or two other novels -- by ANY author -- have ever done.  Frank Herbert's Dune did it for sure; maybe Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings did it.  Lonesome Dove fired my emotions in a similar manner, too.  It is on roughly the same level, and with that, I believe I have just established -- in no particular order -- my top five novels.
  
The Stephen King of The Gunslinger is a slightly different one than the King of most of his other works; it's almost as if he's taken a step back, a step beyond himself, to try to get at something more elemental.  The Dark Tower saga would go on to encompass more or less his entire body of work (if not his entire worldview in general), and the seeds of it are all right here.  But, for me, the implication that the true answers may never be found are also here; and that was an aspect that I responded to in 1990 as well as in 2017, and in every year in between.
  
The fact is that this novel has never left my mind.
  
And I hope it never will.
  
So for me, yeah, this is my #1.  I'm surprised it took me so many versions of this list -- this is the fourth -- to come to that conclusion, but I finally have, and it feels like a lock has been keyed into its proper position.
  
Roland would say, "Ka."  To which Eddie might very well answer, "Kaka," and if you are in Eddie's camp in that regard, feel free to let me know about it.
  
Me, though...?  
  
I think we've ended up where we were always meant to be."
  
*****
  
Your mileage may vary, of course, and I know there are King fans -- thousands (if not millions) of them -- who would see what I ranked as #1 and walk rapidly away from my list, making tsking noises as they went.
  
I can't blame them.  (Even though I absolutely do blame them, oh ho, of course I do!)
  
That's the thing about this list, though: it's not to be taken too seriously except as a representation of MY thoughts.  And, also: there are something like fifty books on this list that, if they ended up in the #1 spot on some other fan's rankings, I'd smile about it.  Maybe more than fifty.  Maybe as many as seventy.
  
I look forward to adding a bunch more to the list as the years roll on.
  
No telling how high some of those might go.  Every time King steps up to the plate, I expect him to knock the ball clear over the fence, probably smashing out some dude's windshield in the process.
  
And sometimes, he does just that.
  
So, tell me: what's your #1?

128 comments:

  1. The shining is probably still my number 1. First book of his I've read, and after reading all but black house and sleeping beauties, it's the one I still relish the most. That said I could probably name just about any of my top 20 as my favorite and sleep soundly. Most of his best books are so different from one another that they all have a shot to be "the best" on any given day. For a writer who is constantly said to re use and rehash his old cliches and tropes, that pretty damn impressive.

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    1. It sure is. I've got a small handful that, for me, really do stand out above the rest and could easily be my #1. For that "#2" position, though, the competition is about as fierce as it gets, and there's two dozen or so books in the mix for it.

      I think that's part of why I update this list every year or two. I just enjoy seeing where things shake out. Adding the new books is just an excuse to be able to do that, really.

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  2. The Stand (original version) is probably still my #1, but I fully acknolwedge its flaws and wouldn't even make the argument that it's King's best work, it's just my personal favorite. I've never been that invested in a story or set of characters.

    I like your list very much, and can't argue with your rankings. The Gunslinger certainly cracks my top 5, as does Different Seasons and IT. I was happy to see that you're more positive on The Tommyknockers than some King fans, I was just about to read it for the first time after picking up a hardcover copy at a local used bookstore. The Grady Hendrix review challenged some of my assumptions about the book and piqued my interest.

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    1. "The Stand" is definitely one of the ones that I have the most affection for. I feel weird every time I don't put it in my top five. One of these years, it'll probably go way up the charts and never go back.

      I'd love to hear what you think about "The Tommyknockers" after you've finished it. And if you're curious for my thoughts on it at all, here are links to some reviews I wrote years ago:

      https://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2011/04/those-days-were-also-old-days_7382.html

      https://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2011/04/time-to-defuse-tommyknockers-revisited_7666.html

      https://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2011/04/she-used-to-make-all-kinds-of-stuff-up_8835.html

      https://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2011/04/the-tommyknockers-revisited-part-4.html

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    2. I shall report back once I’ve finished it! Have to finish a few others before I can start it though.

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    3. Sweet! I hope your reading progress goes better than mine has of late; I keep trying to ensure I read for a while before bed every day, and it keeps not happening. This is because I suck.

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  3. My top five would probably be:
    1. The Stand
    2. It
    3. Salem's Lot
    4. The Dark Tower Series
    5. 11/22/63

    Much of my esteem for Stephen King's novels are based on first reading as, until fairly recently, I was "against" the idea of re-reading books think that every book re-read was a missed opportunity to read a new book. I have changed my mind about this in the past five years and have embraced the re-reading philosophy. I started by re-reading all of G. G. Kay's books (another favorite author of mine) and then, more recently, starting to re-read King.
    This is all just a long way of saying that I expect (as you point out a number of times in your post) that re-reading these books will cause me to reconsider their ranking. Here are the Stephen King books I've re-read so far:
    - Firestarter. I remember LOVING the idea of people being experimented on ending up with strange powers and then being hunted down by the organization that did it to them. To me, the premise stands tall in my memory of one of the best ideas for a book that King has ever had. Upon re-read I realized that the execution of the premise, while strong, isn't as great as I remembered it being. Still classic King though
    - It. I wanted to re-read this before the movie came out and was literally reading the last 20 pages while my family was trying to get me into the car so we could drive to the theatre to see the movie. This book is still great, and though it didn't quite recapture how magical it was to me when I first read it when it came out (I'm not sure if anything could) it definitely is a great story!
    - The Stand: I guess I should confess that this is the one novel that I broke my rule on over the years and I have re-read it a couple of times. So this was my fourth reading and it had probably been 15+ years since I had last picked it up. Still an awesome book and firmly #1 in my mind. This time through I was amazed at how quickly the story was moving along considering the sheer number of pages. I had the impression that it took it's time but really it moves along at a great pace.
    - Needful Things: was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book on re-read. I have memories of it being ok but forgettable. This time through I was totally hooked and believed everything that was happening. I think Leeland Gaunt is one of King's most interesting and subtle villains.
    - The Green Mile: as great as I remembered it. Nothing much more to say. The pages practically turn themselves!
    - Insomnia. Here is one I remembered absolutely nothing about. Upon re-read I think I can say I was disappointed. The story itself is just "ok", the relationship between the two main characters seemed a bit forced to me and I'm not entirely sure what purpose it served. The premise was silly and usually King does a great job of pulling of a silly premise (like Needful Things) but didn't work for me this time.
    I might do a Dark Tower re-read next. I only read each of those books once and as they came out, so it is a very disjointed experience in my memory.

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    1. That's a great top five. Man, what a bibliography King has!

      "I have changed my mind about this in the past five years and have embraced the re-reading philosophy." -- I can understand the not-rereading books policy. I've always enjoyed a good reread, but over the past decade or so, my memory has gotten poor enough that I'm finding rereads to be kind of essential. It's also part of why I began blogging; sort of an external storage system for my thoughts on these matters.

      "Firestarter" -- From what I can gather, your experience with that one is fairly common.

      "it didn't quite recapture how magical it was to me when I first read it when it came out (I'm not sure if anything could)" -- Very little compares to that initial reading of this novel, for me. and I've never shaken it. Wouldn't want to.

      "The Stand" -- In some ways, not much actually happens. But King's pacing is so incredible that it does indeed feel like the complete opposite. I think it's because he's so incredibly good at writing those characters, and the characters themselves are in such a high-stakes frame of mind that it spills over to the reader. It's also part of why they keep having trouble turning it into a movie, I bet.

      "Needful Things" -- I feel the same way about this one as you do.

      "The Green Mile" -- I haven't reread this one in a looong time, and am looking forward to it.

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  4. IMO I would have ranked Blaze and Rage a little higher. Personally I wouldn't have taken Rage out of publication although I get why King did. Sleeping Beauties is IMO one of his worst books (it was a struggle to finish) so that would probably be at the bottom for me.

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    1. I do seem do be in a bit of a minority in liking "Sleeping Beauties" as much as I do.

      As for "Blaze," I'm sure I would have it ranked higher if I could remember anything about it! That one just rolled right off of me.

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  5. Nice update. I'm embarking on a Dark Tower re-read/ re-think in 2019; wish me luck. I'm anxious to reread the Gunslinger, especially, so I'm happy that'll be the first up at bat. I won't be doing the full extended Dark Tower-environs re-read, but I'll probably try to fit Insomnia and a couple of the stories/ shorter works in there. I'm sure it'll take me all of 2019, if not longer; I'd have wiped it out in 2 months tops if I had my old commute. (Looks out the window at wintry hellmageddon raging outside; nope, I'm good.)

    Duma Key at 21! Patience, Wireman, keep climbing the ladder (muchacho)...

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    1. I know! I wanted to put it a lot higher, but something keeps holding me back.

      Enjoy that resumed path to the Tower. I'm jealous! If it's a project for the blog ("blogject"?) I looked forward to reading it; if not, feel free to drop comments about it here.

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    2. I've wanted to say that Duma key does have one big problem, and that is that the villain isn't particularly scary. The book may in fact be King's best writing, but a China doll-ish thing can only go so far. Top 10 for me, nevertheless.

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    3. Myself, I find Circe and her whole Ship of Doom / Art Parasite aesthetic to be wonderfully creepy and atmospheric. But, I'll give you the actual tangible payoff of it being dolls and menacing frogs and skeletons is not perhaps the best payoff. It works for me, but I can see it.

      Top 10, though, is good! I'll take it.

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    4. I was really curious to see where King's 2018 selections fit into the scheme of things this time around. THE OUTSIDER scored a bit higher than I thought it might, but I've yet to read it. I need to. ELEVATION, too.

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    5. Hell, GWENDY'S and SLEEPING BEAUTIES too. Sheesh.

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    6. Regarding "Duma Key," I do remember being vaguely disappointed by the wrapup (which is kind of a King tradition), but absolutely mortified by Circe in the leadup. At the rate I'm currently progressing, I may not get to my reread of that novel until 2040 or so, and damn it, that's simply not fast enough. I need to make this happen.

      Regarding "The Outsider," it ended up a little higher than I myself expected, too. It's sticking with me better than I predicted it might. Part of this is on the strength of the first half (or so), which is exceptional. But the resolution is proving to have more staying power than I gave it credit for on first read. I won't be surprised if this one ends up to be a creeper (in the up-the-list sense, not in the hashtag sense).

      I'll be really curious to find out what you make of any of those you haven't read yet. The Dog Star Omnibus opinion on King is an essential one for me.

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    7. The King's Highway closes for considerable stretches, but every now and again, the AC/DC cranks up and the plows start plowing. I aim to get there! Glad to hear when I do there'll be somebody listening.

      Duma Key is such a strange one. That whole scene at the art gallery is the key to the whole experience for me. Everything flows up to and out of that moment when Elizabeth gets there; it's so dramatic and such a great pay-off. It's a really fine moment in King's catalog.

      And when he gets back to the house, and the ship's off in the distance, Jesus. So good. Everything about this book makes me giddy. The movie plays in my head just writing this out.

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    8. On another note, it's remarkable that King can be known for perhaps kinda-sorta-botching-the-ending to his books, or at least a good few of them, and still Be Stephen Freaking King. I mean, IT and THE STAND are generally competing for 1 and 2 of his list, and there are such crazy components to those endings. It always fascinates me when something can be consistent enough to be generally acknowledged (and this is not to say King always screws up the finish; he doesn't) yet has no bearing on the brand viability. The Bears, here in Chicago, for example, always have the same problems, year to year, decade to decade. How does this happen? Franchises in general.

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    9. Writing an essay examining King's botched -- "botched" being a highly relative assessment, of course -- endings seems like majorly fertile ground.

      By the way, let me be clear: I don't think "Duma Key" is one of those. What I meant above is simply the revelation of what Circe was. Even that was only a vague letdown to me. Everything else regarding the way that one ended worked for me totally.

      I like the way "It" climaxes (so to speak) more than I do "The Stand," but they are both similar novels in that the resolution of the adventure aspect of the story is arguably less important than the resolutions for the characters. And in both of those cases, I'd defend the character-arc wrapups. The recession of the Losers' memories into nothingness (once again) absolutely haunts me; and so, actually, does the trek back to Boulder that Stu and Tom and Kojak make in "The Stand." You give me stuff like that, you can disappoint me with all the giant spiders and nuke-detonating hands of God you want to.

      Holy smokes! I think I just ensured that "The Stand" is going back in the top ten next time! No idea what to remove, though. Sheesh.

      As it regards Da Bears, Stephen King, or pretty much anything else, I think fandom often boils down to loving a thing simply because after a certain point it's impossible not to. Even if there's some problematic x-factor (such as ongoing problems with a football team from year to year or occasional inability to write an ending that lives up to a beginning/middle). If anything, I think burns like that which aren't ALWAYS present add an element of surprise. That's kind of how I read "The Outsider," actually -- with massive enjoyment, but with the spectre of disappointment looming over my shoulder. So when it actually manifested, I was neither surprised nor terribly disappointed.

      This sort of thing creates an, "Ah, well, we'll get 'em next year!" mentality.

      And hey! Sometimes we DO get 'em next year.

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    10. To chime in again, I don't think Duma Key's ending is bad. I think it is one of his more tense and probably best endings but I thought the revelation of what the villain actually was maybe had something to do with the novel being under appreciated. I love it and more should as well.

      In regards to king's endings, I think he goes with his gut on them even if he may lose the audience. Like of course God is going to play a part in the end of the stand, the novel is all about doing God's work, but a deus ex machina is going to piss some people off. In other words, his endings make sense for the stories themselves but can go in directions that some would say an author should avoid. King's willingness to follow a story no matter where it takes him and how many readers he could lose is a big reason I'm a fan.

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    11. Oops: that comment I just left was supposed to be left as a reply to this one, not as a standalone one.

      I don't quite mind the ending to The Stand. For me, the problem with that one is that it's two different books. Both are insanely readable, but they do not (for me) occupy the same space as gracefully as they could. One is an ultra-realistic character study of a society in breakdown and recovery, with micro/macro managed adeptly. The other is a pulp religious parable where characters receive their instructions from dreams and a retarded man is put under deep hypnosis to become a spy and God speaks through burning bushes and stuff like that. I have no problem with either, like I say, just you can see the two train lines not quite meeting up in the middle of the country (so to speak) in the last 100-200 pages.

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    12. Your absolutely right about the stand being two books. Going back to what I said, it makes total sense why he wrote two books in one, if not being something you would recommend for anyone to attempt. He wanted to write an apocalypse book, and the two ways you can go with that is the "what would really happen if" hypothetical scenario, and the bibilical apocalypse. As a writer you should probably pick just one, but the ambition to do both at once still blows me away. I think that ambition that shows through in that novel is why it's beloved today, even if it is flawed in big ways

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    13. That makes sense. It's the tension between the two that probably accounts for our collective THE STAND experience.

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    14. I think just eliminating a literal deus ex machina would do wonders for The Stand's ending. Granted, it's only Ralph that describes what he's seeing as the "Hand of God', and I think King (in the book at least, certainly not the miniseries) allows for multiple interpretations of that event. But I think simply sticking with the idea that Flagg's ball of flame spiraled out of control , which is symbolic of his relationship with the Trashcan Man himself, would lead to fewer disgruntled audience members if they ever move forward with a film adaptation of The Stand.

      And you would still have God playing a central role in the third act, as he was ultimately the one who set them on their quest from Boulder with the knowledge that this opportunity with Trashcan Man would present itself. Having an actual Hand of God do the heavy lifting for our heroes in Vegas was not needed and redundant.

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    15. Touching on some of the excellent comments above:

      "King's willingness to follow a story no matter where it takes him and how many readers he could lose is a big reason I'm a fan." -- 100% agreed. I'd never want King to do anything but follow his gut, because his gut is where all the inspiration comes from. And that inspiration has paid off in wildly successful ways for going on half a century. If it results in what I myself perceive as a dud every so often, that's an easy price for me to pay.

      "For me, the problem with that one is that it's two different books. Both are insanely readable, but they do not (for me) occupy the same space as gracefully as they could." -- As usual, McMolo is onto something here.

      "As a writer you should probably pick just one, but the ambition to do both at once still blows me away. I think that ambition that shows through in that novel is why it's beloved today, even if it is flawed in big ways" -- I'm tempted to try and make a claim that this is King in both-sides-of-the-aisle mode, but the thought wears me out and I'm not even sure I think I believe it.

      "Granted, it's only Ralph that describes what he's seeing as the "Hand of God', and I think King (in the book at least, certainly not the miniseries) allows for multiple interpretations of that event." -- This is a great point.

      "And you would still have God playing a central role in the third act, as he was ultimately the one who set them on their quest from Boulder with the knowledge that this opportunity with Trashcan Man would present itself." -- I fixed this problem to my own satisfaction at one point in time. Rather than have Mother Abagail show back up in Boulder, I'd have her communicate the mission to the people trekking to make the "stand" via dream. And then I'd have her show back up, gaunt and emaciated beyond belief but clearly still being kept alive by the sheer will of God, is Las Vegas. It could then be her who spooks Flagg sufficiently to have him lose control of his powers for a bit and create the bolt of energy that will eventually detonate the bomb.

      Something like that, at least. I haven't sanded the rough edges off the idea yet.

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  6. Any discussion of King will lead to debate, and what sticks in my craw is Under the Dome. That "Baarrrbie" nonsense is typical of the whole novel - annoying and obvious. I've read just about everything King has published minus his co-written stuff and The Dark Tower and I've never had such a visceral dislike of one of his books. I skim read it hoping he'd rein in his worst tendencies but in the end I'm glad I didn't read it properly, it would've been a colossal waste of time. He doesn't even send off Rennie in a way a reader plowing through 1000 plus pages would deserve.

    Pretty good list overall though!

    Personal top 5 - Pet Semetary, It, Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, Salem's Lot

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    1. I can see that being the way one felt about "Under the Dome." For me, the strengths outweighed the weaknesses; but if they didn't, it'd probably feel like the novel was ALL weaknesses.

      I deeply approve of that top five.

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    2. I suppose it wasn't all bad - I did like the meth cook and Junior's harem - but if anyone wanted to read something by King where he works a similar plot and does it all much, much better, I'd simply point to The Mist. I can handle a Mrs Carmody over a few hundred pages, but Rennie and his gang of cartoonish, vile scum was just too much at Dome's length.

      I guess I've just become one of those King fans who thinks his best novel length efforts came a long time ago (I enjoyed Joyland but it's a novella, right?)

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    3. I'd personally call it a novel, but it's short enough to be considered a novella in the way "The Langoliers" and "Apt Pupil" are.

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  7. A few points (edited):

    1. I agree the racial stereotype, especially from black characters, is disquieting. I wonder what made King include them in otherwise good characters? This unfortunate tendency is also present in The Dark Tower series. It’s always bothered me.

    2. Pet Sematary is my number one. I think it’s the most chilling distillation of horror King has ever written. Not melancholic, but despairing. The light you see really is the train rushing toward you. Can’t wait for the new film version next year. Finally, hopefully, this chilling tale of idyllic suburbia gone wrong will be giving a proper, serious treatment.

    3. Roadwork is my favourite Bachman book. It’s all drama, but with a timeless distraught cant. I reread it last year while facing similar circumstances to the doomed protagonist. Thankfully, I’ve so far landed on my feet, not without some muscle strain though.

    4. Since I was first read The Eyes of the Dragon by a teacher in grade school, and in the decades since, I’ve read over 70 King books. I’ve come to the conclusion that his shorter novels, like The Dead Zone and Pet Sematary, along with his actual novellas and short stories are my favourites of his work.

    5. I love Graveyard Shift. It’s horror at its grimiest.

    6. Unfortunately over the past decade and a half, I’ve only liked a few of his novels in their entirety, and even those had a couple issues. The winners are Duma Key, Revival, Under the Dome and Joyland. Maybe it’s me? I haven’t been able to relate to some of the themes King is writing about in some of his other novels published between 2002 and 2018. Reader’s fatigue? King isn’t the only author I read, of course. Or maybe I’ve simply realized he is best when he is short(er) with his stories?

    7. My least favourite King novel is probably The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It commits the worst sin an author can: being boring.

    8. I remember liking Blaze. I should reread it. I read most of the other Bachman books recently again. Rage doesn’t seem all that incendiary now. But I’m not an emotionally unhinged teenager anymore, so… The Long Walk was fun, but not nearly as suspenseful as I remembered. Why hasn’t a movie been made of this? Great characters though. Thinner is perhaps King’s most gleefully nasty story. (Fair Extension takes up the challenge, too, though with more humour.) The Running Man has a hard mean edge to it that I love.

    9. 1922 is a great story, and the film adaptation is equal to the task of its retelling.

    10. If you haven’t heard it, listen to Frank Muller reading The Breathing Method. In this case, it is he who reads the tale…

    11. You’re right about reassessments. It took me a long time to actually finish a few of his novels, namely From a Buick 8, The Tommyknockers, Gerald's Game, Bag of Bones and Rose Madder. But when I did I was able to respect even more what he was going for despite my not quite enjoying the pace or themes or characters, whatever. Like Lisey's Story or the romance of 11/22/63, I cannot understand being in a romantic relationship, let alone a marriage as I am in neither of those currently. But I wasn't stopped from appreciating the tales. Probably because King wasn’t boring. Or as he related once about another author's reasoning for pride in his own work: he never truckled.

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    1. 1. It's a big topic, and not one that I'll ever be able to do much with. I rarely (if ever) feel any malice from King toward any of his black characters; I think the worst he can be accused of is being misguided. But can he be accused of being VERY misguided at times? Likely so.

      2. I hope so. I predict so! Great pick for #1.

      3. Glad to hear it!

      4. I've heard that from other people, too. There's an argument to be made that the ones of "Pet Sematary"/"Dead Zone" length are his sweet spot. I'm happy to read his work at any length, but there's something to that, for sure.

      5. Not a personal favorite, but I like it well enough. In some ways, it's the first pure King story; you could argue it's where his career truly began, as well.

      6. I've heard this from other people. It's not at all uncommon.

      7. That's one of the ones I strongly considered for cellar-dweller position.

      8. That's probably the Bachman hallmark: hard mean edges. King's got it in some of his "own" work, too, of course; but Bachman has it exclusively.

      9. Thumbs up on both counts.

      10. I've heard it! Phenomenal. That dude was a magician.

      11. I think you just found a way to express my moderate dissatisfaction with "Elevation," during which I kind of felt like he DID truckle a bit. But on the whole, nope, no truckling in sight, which for a guy who's put forth as many words as he has is quite a statement.

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  8. I love it when you update this list. Always an enjoyable read, and fun to track how your rankings have evolved over the years.

    1) I really need to re-read The Gunslinger. I've always defaulted to ranking it towards the bottom of the series, above only the somewhat wheel-spinning Song of Susannah. Too out there, too pretentious, too abstract, too inaccessible. Simply put, I enjoy the other books much more at the level of pure page-turning entertainment. And yet those very qualities give it something so otherworldly and mythic that it feels wrong to slight it thus, and it contains so many of the series' most memorable scenes and images - "the man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed", Sylvia Pittston and the Tull shootout, the journey through the mountain and sacrifice of Jake. I doubt I would ever place it at #1, but boy, there's something about it, isn't there?

    2) My sister recently asked me which Stephen King book she should read first, as she had never read one. I found it a surprisingly difficult question to answer. I didn't want to give her anything too insanely long, so that ruled out It or The Stand, but I wanted her to get a taste of King's fully matured voice that I personally prefer to his earlier, more visceral pure horror outings, so that ruled out Carrie/Pet Sematary/The Shining/Cujo. Two of my five favorite King novels are in the Dark Tower series - Wizard and Glass, and my #1, The Waste Lands - but as discussed above, The Gunslinger isn't necessarily the most accessible path into the Kingverse, and I didn't want her reading the series out of order either. A lesser-known personal favorite like Bag of Bones or 11/22/63 didn't really feel sufficiently representative of Stephen King, Master of Horror (yeah, Bag of Bones has its moments, but it's not the spooky stuff that makes me love that novel). I ultimately settled on Misery - not too long, nice and scary, one of King's best novels IMO and the psychological rather than supernatural nature of the horror felt more up her alley. (She's since read It and the Beverley gang-bang scene seems to have turned her off King for now, which is unfortunate if somewhat understandable - that scene sucks, frankly, and it sucks way harder in 2018 than it did in 1986). Anyways, long story short, I was curious what you find to be the best King gateways/portals/Doorway Caves.

    3) As alluded to above - you've underrated Bag of Bones. I find that novel to be almost devastatingly moving. The first hundred or so pages in particular, with Mike processing the loss of Jo, just wreck me in a way that very few books do. It's one of the best portraits of grief and loss I've ever come across, and the process of slowly letting go and falling in love with Mattie (and Kyra) is handled so masterfully. Wish there wasn't that vaguely squicky age difference that stops me from fully rooting for that romance, though...

    4) There's a part of me that's sad you no longer have Different Seasons at #1. An earlier version of your list was directly responsible for me picking up that collection and it did not disappoint in the slightest.

    5) My current top 5, if pressed: The Waste Lands, Bag of Bones, Different Seasons, Wizard and Glass, The Green Mile. Huh, just realized that 3 of those 5 came out in 1996-1998. Guess sai King was really working on my wavelength during that time.

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    1. 1) A lot of Tower fans feel the same way as you. But I agree; there's definitely something there that gives it a lasting quality. I hope one day to be able to write a series of posts where I fully explore that aspect of the novel. As fully as I'm capable, at least.

      2) Great question! It's an individual thing, really, isn't it? Not everyone is going to be down for a whopper like "It" (even if that scene with Beverly isn't an automatic disqualifier, which it may well be for some).

      My picks would be "Misery," "The Shining," "Carrie," "Pet Sematary," or "The Dead Zone." All great, all relatively short.

      3) The age gap between those two is problematic, to say the least. I mean, sure, such things do happen; but I'm not sure there was any valid story point to necessitate it. But yes, great novel even so, no doubt.

      4) Yeah, that kind of bums me out, too. Having that as my #1 -- which I did for a long time (even before the creation of this blog) -- seemed like a strong mission statement for what I'm all about as a King fan. But so does having "The Gunslinger" in my #1 spot, so I think things are as they should be for me.

      5) That was a fertile time for him, no doubt. I tip my cap merrily at any top five which contains either "The aste Lands" or "Wizard and Glass," much less both! Same for your other three, too. A fine, fine list!

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  9. It's well-trod ground, but the very ending of IT (losing the memories) is all fantastic.

    It's the whole sewer gangbang that doesn't work. And is a considerable demerit. An A+ work that seriously gets dinged down to a B.

    Like I always say, that a work can feature the sewer gangbang and still be considered a classic - and rightly so, for the rest of it - is no small achievement.

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    1. It really is. I'm still amazed that scene hasn't somehow landed King in hot water with the hashtaggers.

      It doesn't oog me out quite as much as it seems to oog out most people, though. This is perhaps not to my credit. To be clear: I do not now take any salacious pleasure from the scene, nor did I ever do so even as a (shall we say) eminently impressionable teenager reading it for the first time. I always took it as a very serious scene in both intent and (as it pertained to me) impact.

      But nowadays I mostly look at it and wonder why King ever thought it was the right way to go. I don't get any feeling that he himself went that direction out of prurient interests; but in a way, that makes it all the strange and less explicable.

      That's one thing. The fact that an editor or publisher didn't put his or her foot down and flat-out refuse to publish it is another.

      I wonder what Tabitha's reaction was?

      Anyways, that's probably about as much conversation on that topic as is safe to engage in.

      To your actual point, I agree: what surrounds that scene is so incredibly good that it makes a preteen sewer gangbang something that millions of readers have just blinked at and then shrugged off.

      That's got to be one of the most stupendous achievements in all literature, and I'm kind of not even joking about that.

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  10. Glad to see another set of rankings! Your list from 2017 is how I was introduced to your excellent blog!

    Funny story - I got to your 'Road Work' entry, and thought "Huh, that's higher than I would have put it. I wonder if he's listened to The Losers Club podcast analysis?" And then read 10 lines down and learned the answer to my question. :) It's a great podcast! And their recent take on the PTSGB in It is particularly interesting and nuanced.

    For the record, my top five based primarily on re-readability (have never more than a few years between reads) and personal enjoyment are:

    1. It
    2. The Tommyknockers
    3. The Stand
    4. 11/22/63
    5. Skeleton Crew

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    1. That sound you almost hear is my applause for having "The Tommyknockers" in your top five.

      I agree about how the Losers handled THAT scene in "It." Seemed like an honest and very fair assessment.

      That's funny about "Roadwork." I wonder if I do have that ranked too high? It's entirely possible. I'll reread it again one of these days and find out, I hope. The Losers' Club seemed a little harsh toward it for my tastes; I couldn't dispute some of what they said, but I felt like the good outweighed the bad with that book, whereas they seemed only to see bad.

      I love the podcast, though; I don't need to agree with 'em to enjoy the episodes.

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    2. Agree. I wasn't overly offended by Roadwork, and I was a bit surprised at the pod's take on it, although they made a number of good points that I hadn't considered. Overall, I think it, like a number of his less masterful works, is a pretty good story with some really great parts and other not so great parts.

      And I will defend The Tommyknockers against all naysayers! It may be coke-induced crazy, but that just makes it a perfect metaphor because becoming basically starts out as a stimulant-fueled euphoria. Even the "bloated" sections of the book are interesting because of how well he writes all the townspeople and how fascinating all their different ideas and inventions are. It may not be a literary masterpiece, but I'm not sure I can think of a more "fun" King book out there (all the horror and death notwithstanding...).

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    3. "The Tommyknockers" was one of the first novels I wrote about at length for this blog. WAY better than I'd remembered.

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  11. Blaze. I mean, it isn't great. It's an obvious homage/rip off of Of Mice and Men. (A much better book!) But I remember so much about it. The dent! The break-in. The snowyness. Worth a re-read, if only to see young King at work. And marvel at how good he was even then.
    Dreamcatcher. I loved this book. One of the first I read of his as an adult. Stephen King Vs the X Files. Gripping stuff indeed. And some funny and disgusting bits, too!
    Night Shift. There's a little thing I spotted. I read Alan Moore's V For Vendetta, the anniversary edition or something. There was a chapter in there that was almost a panel for panel homage/rip off of "The Ledge."

    Perhaps Steinbeck was getting his own back from the grave. If he was dead at that point. Who knows!?

    Lovely blog. I referred to your 2017 list many times. Great to get an update.

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    1. Thanks! I appreciate that.

      I'd totally forgotten about that chapter of "V For Vendetta." I wonder what the deal is with that. Moore and King might well have ripped off the same source! Wouldn't surprise me if there was an EC story with a similar plot, or something like that.

      Glad to hear you're a fan of "Dreamcatcher." At worst, it's entertaining; at its best, it's terrific. I hope when I reread it, I'll get more out of it as a whole. (I say that way too much.)

      Same goes for "Blaze." (Sorry!)

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  12. My #1 is The Long Walk. I read it in the 7th grade and it was my first King book. It's still my favorite book to this day. I recommend it to all of my friends. It's something I'll still go back to at least once a year.

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    1. A fantastic choice. Hard to believe how young he was when he wrote that.

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  13. Excellent list, as always. It inspired me to do my own, and three of my top five ended up being Bachman. Maybe it's that living in 2018 makes the bad stuff that humans do to each other seem more potent than the supernatural.

    (1. Misery, 2. It, 3. The Long Walk, 4. The Running Man, 5. Thinner)

    Surprised that The Stand didn't even crack the top 15.

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    1. You may know this, but King considered publishing "Misery" as a Bachman book. So in a way, you've got four of them in there.

      I dig it!

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  14. (1) As it currently stand, "Wind through the Keyhole" is probably my favorite of the Tower books at the moment. I'm not sure why, though perhaps it just seems to be the one where King is having the most fun. Something like that, anyway.

    (2) Good to see the favorable view for "Revival". That was one of the few King books that actually had me dreading the big reveal at the end. That has to take some kind of talent for that kind of result.

    (3) Definitely looking forward to those "It" posts. Whenever, though.

    ChrisC

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    1. (1) I think it's a heck of a book. Way better even than I expected, which is saying something. And I agree: I think King IS having fun in that novel. I think the midquel setting freed him of any need to even consider ending the overall story, which allowed him to simply live in that world he created. I think his delight to be doing so is evident on nearly every page.

      (2) Good point!

      (3) You and me both!

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  15. Hey Bryant,

    I've followed your blog for about a year. In fact, I used your previous ranking (2017), in conjunction with that of Dog Star Omnibus, to work my way through about half of Stephen King's novels. When The Outsider came out, I rushed to your blog to see what you thought. The same with Elevation. I followed along with when you delved back into Dolores Claiborne (book, play, movie). And I read about your visit to a unique and very cool bookstore in Alabama. This is my first time posting, though.

    King has many great books (e.g., The Shining, It, The Stand, 11/22/63, Duma Key), and we can legitimately disagree about how to rank them. But ranking Carrie ahead of The Stand? Seriously? (I know you had it that way in 2013, too, but not in 2017).

    It seems that ever since King made the comment about his readers liking The Stand the most, and some even thinking he should have quit after it, the constant reader culture has gradually fallen out of love with the book, as if trying to please King himself. But Carrie is not better than The Stand. And I have to make my stand on this issue. :)

    -Justin

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Justin! I hope you liked "The Outsider" and "Elevation" at least slightly more than I did. I liked 'em both alright, but I gather I'm a little more mixed than most readers.

      As for your "Carrie" vs. "The Stand" comments, I'd say that both of them fall into that category of novels which I consider to be A-pluses, but which don't make a run for my top two or three. And it is VERY hard to rank those. I could do just as well choosing them at random. But I do have some rationale, so let me try to explain it a bit better.

      With "The Stand," I'd argue that the actual stand itself is a little on the weak side; and I get that that's the point (Flagg folding like a paper towel), but it just doesn't satisfy me. It doesn't entirely need to; enough of the rest does to make up for it and prevent it from hurting the book much. But in my opinion, it is a flaw, even if only a minor one.

      I've also been unsatisfied the more I thought about it by the way Frannie disappears from the story for such a huge chunk. And while Stu's worry for her is a perfectly legitimate plot point to build that trek-home section around, and one which is well-executed by King, it kind of puts Frannie in the position of not having a satisfactory conclusion to her story arc. If I wanted to throw a hashtag in front of it, I'd argue that she's put in the position of being there only to have a baby. I won't do that. But still...

      Put those things together, and the novel has lost a bit of the edge it once had for me. Not much; it's still a great piece of work, just not one that I hold in quite as high esteem as I once did.

      "Carrie," on the other hand, seems better to me with each passing year. It's got such a purity of concept and execution (a few clunky lines excepted) that it's one of his most effective pieces of work. If someone hired me to argue that it should be #1 on a list like this one, I could do it; I would knowing I was telling a bit of a white lie (pun intended) in doing so. But I think it COULD be done.

      Now, to one of your other points: "the constant reader culture has gradually fallen out of love with the book, as if trying to please King himself."

      I love King (by which I primarily mean his work, though I do obviously have a great deal of feeling for the man himself, meaning my perception of him via his career). However, I'd never say anything on this blog merely to try to put himself in alignment with King's own feelings. For one thing, he'll never even know my blog exists. But even if he did, I'd never tailor my opinions in that way. That's just not me. I don't play King-fandom politics of that sort, and never will. It's my hope that that means anyone who reads my blog will kind of know that even when they disagree with me, they can rest assured they're getting an honest response from me. If I didn't think I could accomplish at least that, I'd retire this sucker and never look back!

      To your actual point, though: I agree that it really DOES seem like "The Stand" has fallen ever so slightly out of favor with the wider King-fan community. Not much; a very light fall from grace, if any fall at all. I think once "The Dark Tower" was finished, that supplanted it to some degree; and the tremendous millennial love for the 1990 "It" miniseries helped elevate that novel above several of his other classics, including "The Stand." (For example, I think both "The Shining" and "Salem's Lot" are maybe a wee bit less revered than they were twenty years ago.)

      I'll end with a question: is "The Stand" your #1? If so, you'll get no criticism from me. It's as involving a novel as any I know of.

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    2. Bryant,

      I liked The Outsider a little more than you did.

      Thanks for sharing your rationale. I can understand feeling unsatisfied both by the briefness of the actual stand (and Flagg’s quick ending) and by Frannie’s story arc.

      It is interesting, at one time I went back and forth between your 2017 rankings and DSO’s rankings trying to figure out which factors (e.g., set pieces, characters) you two weighted differently in deciding your placements . And in so doing, it occurred to me that I might weight relationships between characters slightly more heavily than most.

      So, to answer your question, I think so. Of the 24 King books/story collections I’ve read so far, I’d either rank The Stand or 11/22/63 as the best. The next group, for me, includes The Shining, IT, The Long Walk, Duma Key, and Joyland.

      My rankings probably reflect the centrality to the story of the relationships between characters. Other than IT, The Stand is probably King’s most relationship driven story. Not just the relationships between Stuart, Nick, Tom, Glen, Larry, Frannie, and Ralph, but also those between Flagg, Nadine, Harold, and the Trashcan man. Indeed, the actual stand ended the way it did because of Flagg’s neglect of Trash. And Frannie’s arc, for me, was how she exercised her agency (“The choices as I see them” p. 17) over the course of the story; her choice against marrying Jess, her choice against having a romantic relationship with Harold, and her eventual choice to raise her baby with Stuart. At the time when The Stand was written, a woman’s ability to choose, especially in the context of marriage and childbirth, was a hotly contested issue. Thus, Frannie’s choices were fairly heroic.

      Justin

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    3. I'm happy to hear anyone even considered my (DSO) rankings in any way!

      Can't argue with your top 10 up there.

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    4. @ Justin --

      "At the time when The Stand was written, a woman’s ability to choose, especially in the context of marriage and childbirth, was a hotly contested issue. Thus, Frannie’s choices were fairly heroic." -- True. I just wish the narrative itself included more of her after the explosion. I get why it doesn't, and it's probably for the best that King seemingly never even considered having a Boulder-set narrative in which Fran is ... I dunno, doing whatever kind of thing might satisfy her character arc for me a bit better. I'm sure such a thing exists, but I have no idea what it might be.

      The argument COULD be made, by the way, that that happens via her decision to return to Maine. She does continue to drive the course of the narrative right up until the end.

      Anyways, like I said, I'm dinging the book in a very mild way. I still think it's basically a masterpiece!

      As for the rationale I used in making my rankings -- it's largely taking place on a gut level. Generally speaking, I go with what my gut says and then work out the whys behind the decisions later. That's actually a big part of the fun for me in doing one of these lists.

      Glad to hear you're a fan of "Duma Key." Vastly underrated novel. Maybe even by me!

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    5. @ McMolo --

      "I'm happy to hear anyone even considered my (DSO) rankings in any way!" -- I literally never think of "Duma Key" anymore without thinking of it as my favorite blog's pick for #1 King novel. This is always accompanied by a flashing mental neon sign reading MUST REREAD SOON.

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    6. Don't tempt me! I'll go on reread # umpteenth with the slightest encouragement.

      I "film" that one all the time, in my head. I still love your idea of Robert Beltran as Wireman.

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    7. Make it so! (Wrong captain, right sentiment.)

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    8. Bryant and DSO (B McMolo),

      I think you two should do a ranking list together. You both have separate lists dating back to 2013, and they are among the most authoritative in my view. I'd pay money to see you both coauthor a list! Post it on both blogs, discuss your disagreements, etc.

      What I mean, Bryant, is that I went through your descriptions and tried to decipher the factors that seemed to matter differently to you two. For example, you often comment on set pieces or favorite scenes (e.g., see your comments on Under the Dome, and The Gunslinger).

      By the way, I took your 2017 rankings and those of DSO for the 53 books you both ranked. Then, I adjusted your numbers to range from 1 to 53 instead of the original 1 to 80. Finally, I made an average ranking (e.g., you ranked the Shining #4, DSO ranked it #2, so it came out with an average score of 3, putting it at #1 on the list [i.e., it had the lowest average score]). Here is the list (with average score in parentheses):

      1. The Shining (3)
      2. DT: Wizard and Glass (7.5)
      3. 11/22/1963 (8.5)
      4. Salem's Lot (8.5)
      5. Duma Key (9)
      6. It (9.5)
      7. Misery (10)
      8. The Green Mile (10.5)
      9. The Long Walk (11)
      10. Hearts in Atlantis (11.5)
      11. DT: The Gunslinger (12.5)
      12. The Stand(13.5)
      13. Pet Sematary (17)
      14. The Dead Zone (17.5)
      15. Revival (18)
      16. DT: The Waste Lands (18)
      17. Tommyknockers (19)
      18. DT: The Drawing of Three (19.5)
      19. Joyland (20.5)
      20. Dolores Claiborne (21)
      21. Needful Things (22.5)
      22. Under the Dome (23)
      23. DT: Wind Through the Keyhole (23)
      24. Insomnia (23.5)
      25. Roadwork (23.5)
      26. Cell (24.5)
      27. Firestarter (26.5)
      28. Carrie (28)
      29. DT: Wolves of Calla (28.5)
      30. Bag of Bones (29)
      31. The Regulators (29.5)
      32. From a Buick 8 (31)
      33. DT: The Dark Tower (31.5)
      34. The Dark Half (32)
      35. Cujo (32)
      36. The Running Man (33)
      37. Thinner (33.5)
      38. Gerald's Game (36)
      39. Christine (36)
      40. The Girl Who Loved TG (36.5)
      41. Rose Madder (39)
      42. Finders Keepers (39)
      43. DT: Song of Susannah (41)
      44. Eyes of the Dragon (42)
      45. Doctor Sleep (42)
      46. Dreamcatcher (42.5)
      47. Desperation (46)
      48. The Colorado Kid (47)
      49. Cycle of the Werewolf (47)
      50. Blaze (48)
      51. Rage (48.5)
      52. Mr. Mercedes (49.5)
      53. End of Watch (51)

      Justin



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    9. I should have clarified that I put together the "averaged" list just for fun, to use as a guide when I first started on my Stephen King reading binge about a year ago. I just thought it was cool.


      Justin


      Justin

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    10. That's pretty cool! Thanks, Justin, I love seeing that.

      Bryant and I did a start-to-finish series on Springsteen not too long ago. I had a weighted-average list of our least-to-most favorites - still do around here someplace. I need to get that coda-post together.

      The next time I re-do my rankings I'll send a proposal to this here blog and see what develops.

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    11. Yes, those are very cool and intriguing results. Thanks for sending them our way!

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  16. What do you think of King writing from the first person? I feel like some of his best novels (Duma key, revival, green mile) are written in first person and find it odd it took until relatively recently for him to use it with any frequency.

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    1. I think he's terrific in first-person. Three of the four novellas in "Different Seasons" are first-person-perspective, which is likely a big part of the reason why that one ranks so highly for me. I think his best novel-length use of it is probably "11/22/63."

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    2. I agree about 11/22/63. I would like to clarify that while he's used first person throughout his career, I find the books written in first person to be so strong that I want more. True of most of his writing, but still. I've read different seasons this year and loved it, and your point about first person in that novel floors me. Not because I didn't know they were in first person, but I wouldn't have really thought about them that if pressed. I mean the breathing method is a first person narrative in a first person narrative as an example. Point is king is highly creative with even the form of his books, which is something as a fan I myself don't credit enough

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    3. His body of work is so vast that it'd be close to impossible to give him credit for everything for which he deserves credit. One could make studying his career a full-time job and never lack for work.

      By the way, if anyone is hiring for that, hit me up. I'm satisfied in my career, but I could always be MORE satisfied, you know.

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  17. Have you ever thought about reviewing and ranking every officially released short story? Would be interesting to see your Top 20.

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    1. I've thought about it and would love to do it, but the fact is that my memory is so vague when it comes to some of the stories that I just don't feel like I could do the list justice. Not without rereading all the stories, at least. And currently, that project just doesn't fit into my plans.

      Someday, though!

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    2. I second gweeps! Would love to see a ranking of all the short stories from the 6(?) collections. I just finished re-reading skeleton crew. I hadn't read it since it first came out. Interestingly I had put stars next to the stories I liked when I first read it in 1985. I was interested how 48 year old me would think of the stories compared to 15 year old me.
      The 8 stories I liked most in 1985 (not ranked, all I have is a star beside them):
      - The Monkey
      - Mrs. Todd's Shortcut
      - The Jaunt
      - The Raft
      - Word Processor of the Gods
      - The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands
      - Survivor Type
      - The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet

      This time around I ranked by top 8 as:
      - The Raft
      - Word Processor of the Gods
      - The Mist
      - Survivor Type
      - Beachworld
      - The Jaunt
      - Morning Deliveries
      - Gramma

      A couple that surprised me were the fact that I didn't think The Mist or Beachworld were great stories the first time around. Also, The Monkey fell surprisingly flat on re-read for me. Same with Mrs. Todd's Shortcut (though the Lovecraftian descriptions are still pretty cool).
      Anyway, not sure if you care or not but I figured it might be interesting to you.

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    3. Definitely interesting!

      I feel the same way about "The Monkey." That's one I used to love, but the last time I reread "Skeleton Crew," I could barely stand it. It's just not a scary concept. At all. Cut the monkey's hands off and then wrap each of the cymbals in tape and fling them into separate lakes. Boom; done.

      "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," however, I'm a huge fan of. That one actually works better for me now than it did earlier in life.

      I'm still not even vaguely prepared to put together a ranking of King's stories, but I'm sure that one would make my top ten. Other candidates would include "The Jaunt," "N.," "Summer Thunder," "The Crate," "Jerusalem's Lot," "Gramma," and "The Night Flier." "The Mist" would also make it except that I count that as a novella, and I do have a ranking of those. It did quite well!

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    4. Maybe I wasn't in the best mood or something when I read Mrs. Todd... I know I was vaguely distracted/annoyed in the section where King literally describes each hwy, road number, turn, etc. for some of her shortcuts.
      Even though you *say* you aren't prepared to rank the short stories looks like you've got a pretty excellent start there already. And just think! it only requires a re-reading of 6 novel-length (King Novel length - I'll give you that) books :)
      I was going to start a re-read of the dark tower but might just go through the short story collections first

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    5. Technically, I've already got the list underway -- I've been maintaining it and updating it as I've written posts about the older stories. But I'm only up to 1972, so I've got a long ways to go!

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  18. Your list is currently inspiring me to give my King books another re-read after a few years of collecting dust. This time, I'm pushing my OCD to the side and finally doing a random pick and choose instead of a chronological journey.

    One thing about King that bugs me in a weird way: His characters, no matter what, always seem to have a perfect knowledge and adoration of books, authors, and poetry.

    Examples: One of the narrators in From A Buick 8 randomly quotes a line about a "wonderful one-hoss shay" from some 19th century poem. When its met with confusion, he says something snotty like "It's a degenerate world." Then while re-reading Duma Key, one of Edgar's daughters, while talking about Florida, says something like "Guess I've been reading too many Carl Hiassen novels!".
    Sorry but I just can't imagine hardly any of my past and present "working stiff" co-workers, quoting old poems and name-dropping Carl Hiassen, some of whom have even bragged about never once having read a book. When seeing my copy of "Under The Dome", one of these guys said "Ah, Stephen King. All he writes about is how to kill people!" Interesting, I thought he said he didn't read!

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    1. "His characters, no matter what, always seem to have a perfect knowledge and adoration of books, authors, and poetry." -- He has so many characters mention Lovecraft that when I was first reading King's work in high school, I assumed Lovecraft must be basically as well read as Dickens or Shakespeare or Hemingway. That turns out not entirely to be the case. But I kind of love that within the pages of Stephen King, it IS true, more or less.

      That said, I think you're probably right: this is an overused device which began as an implausibility and has only become moreso.

      I can't begrudge him the device, though. I'd rather that than all of his characters be talking about what they're bingeing on Netflix or some happy crappy like that! Although that would certainly be more realistic.

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  19. Here's a question you have probably been asked before. But it seems like this is the best blog post to put it.
    Why Stephen King? What is it about the man and his work that separates him from any other author?
    I ask with genuine interest as well as fully supporting your obsession. I have all but a handful of his books. I just thought the answer might make a good blog post or something.

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    1. I agree -- it's a very good question.

      I've got several different responses jostling for room in my head, so I'm going to just give you all of them.

      (1) I'd argue that this entire blog -- every post, even the ones which don't have anything to do with King's work -- is an answer to that question. It's too big a question for a single post to contain; his body of work is too large for that. But that's not the only reason. There's also this:

      (2) It's an answer which will likely vary from one individual to the next. My answer may be very similar to yours, but it might be completely different. And then, too, there are gajillions of people who'd answer the question "why Stephen King?" with "it isn't."

      (3) In a way, I already answered some aspects of this earlier in the year. It's not exactly the most cheerful thing I ever wrote, but if you're inclined to check it out, here it is: https://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2018/07/the-clearing-at-end-of-path-or-why.html

      (4) A simple version of my theory as to why he's achieved the success and notoriety he has achieved would be something like this. A lot of it has to do with the movies. Not all of it, by any means; he's also obviously an insanely talented storyteller with a consistently fertile imagination and an ability to write in a relatable manner. And he's prolific, as well. But I'm sure there are other writers who have at least several of these criteria met, so what does he have that they don't?

      (5) The movies. At the beginning of his career, he had a string of movies that got talked about quite a lot, and helped to make him a very recognizable name. From there, it was like a snowball.

      (6) And speaking of names, let's not discount the simple power of his actual name: "Stephen King." Not at all complicated; very evocative, aurally. Take his body of work and give it to some guy named "Herb Flergerhuff," and I bet anything ol' Herb won't have the career King has had.

      Anyways, those are some of my thoughts on the subject!

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  20. Although I haven't read the book, Blaze is the novel that I always forget when I think of Stephen Kings books, and I have a pretty sharp memory. I wonder how the world would be if King published Blaze first instead of Carrie...

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    1. A tantalizing question. My personal theory is that King was always -- provided he had the leisure to pursue his writing -- going to be successful in some way as a novelist. But the kind of success he ended up having strikes me as being lightning in a bottle as much as anything else; so if you change much about the way the lightning struck...? Probably doesn't have the same result.

      But I think he was always going to be talented and dedicated and prolific, so even if they weren't household names, I bet there'd still be a large body of work with his name on it even if they failed to become bestsellers.

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    2. It was a while since I last read it so, inspired by its bottom-of-the-list status, gave it another shot.

      Its really not bad at all. Its kind of like Thinner, in that you know the (anti)hero is pretty much doomed from the beginning and unlike the douchebag Billy Halleck, you can't help but feel sorry for the big galoot Blaze. (The passages describing his unhappy youth are some sad stuff for sure.) Unfortunately, while Thinner has a neat twist ending, Blaze just kinda slow-putters to a finish. Lots of cat-and-mouse pursuit, the cops kill him, the baby is saved and...thats really it.

      No masterpiece but worse than Lisey's Story, Dreamcatcher, Cell, and Rose Madder??? Ehhh, gotta disagree with ya there. :-)

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    3. Fair enough! Next time I read it, I bet I'll disagree with me, too.

      But that's a problem for Future Bryant to wrestle with!

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    4. I read Blaze and Dreamcatcher pretty much back-to-back. I thought Dreamcatcher was great! I don't understand why it's disliked. (Thoughts?) But Blaze is just Of Mice and Men with some extra stuff and some stuff taken out. Consequently I compare it directly to that. And it was written by a very young writer. No contest, really.

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    5. I've only read "Dreamcatcher" once, so my memory is vague, but what I do remember is that I thought the first few hundred pages were absolutely riveting. And that on a sheer prose level, it was some of the best writing King had ever done. At some point after Mr. Gray hopped into Jonesy's brain, though, I felt like the novel lost focus and became something more mediocre by far. Not bad, though; just weak compared to the beginning.

      That said, I would not be the least bit surprised to find on rereading it that it works much better as a whole. That has happened to me with other King novels, so why not this one?

      I think the negative associations probably come mostly from the movie. Not much of a movie, that.

      As for "Blaze," I basically have a hole in my mind where that novel ought to be. And sadly, I've never read "Of Mice and Men." I should make that a self-prerequisite prior to rereading "Blaze," whenever I get to that.

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    6. What I can't stand about Dreamcatcher is a.) all the "evil military" stuff and b.) all the "magical retard" stuff. Could've made a great novella otherwise.

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    7. I can't get behind the phrase "magical retard," but otherwise I agree. I can kind of live with Duddits in the novel, but even there he comes off as a less-well-developed (and executed) version of Tom Cullen from "The Stand." I love Tom Cullen, but Duddits, not so much.

      In the movie version, though, he's painful to watch. Donnie Wahlberg -- who is a good actor -- is horrifically bad in that role. Take that character and plotline out of the mix and you've got a movie that doesn't work but is generally painless. Add him in, it vaults into camp.

      The evil-military stuff works for me better. My memory of the book (and the movie, too, to some degree) is a little too indistinct for me to feel positive of this, but the way I remember it is that most of the military comes off relatively well. Kurtz (is it "curtis" in the movie?) is nuts, and does some bad things, but even some of that is kind of understandable. Christ, what are we, gonna NOT fight malicious invading aliens?!? To some extent, an organization like his would be a necessity.

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  21. I tried so hard to re-read Lisey's Story recently. It always seemed like a gender-reversal version of Bag Of Bones. The whole part where Scott is shot at the library would've made a good short story on its own. A good story is buried in the book somewhere but geez, all the hoo-hah about "bad gunky", "blood bools", "incunks", and "smucking" this, that, and everything else just never ends. But at least no one is named "Barbie", right? :-)

    Also recently re-read the Bill Hodges trilogy. I think Brady is up there with Greg Stillson and Anne Wilkes as one of the scariest "real" villains in the King-verse. But unlike Dead Zone and Misery, where Johnny and Paul are equally fascinating, he almost completely steals the book away from Hodges and all the rest of the good guys. Resurrecting him as a supernatural whatever-the-hell in End Of Watch was an awful decision.

    Finders Keepers really almost feels like a stand-alone book with the Hodges/Holly/Jerome trio almost shoe-horned in. They don't even show up until almost 200 pages in! I feel that somehow, someway smart-as-a-whip Pete could've beaten Morris on his own. I also kept thinking that instead of Bill, Frick, and Frack...why not bring back sheriff Alan Pangborn as the second hero instead?? He'd probably be about Hodges's age by that point but still...would've been a nice treat for the Constant Reader, perhaps.

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    1. Two things I forgot to mention in my last post:

      1. The one character from Mr. Mercedes and EOW that I like and find very interesting is Freddi Linklatter. She just kinda vanishes toward the end of both books, and her last appearance has her asking something like "What's gonna happen to me? How much trouble am I in?" which Bill just kinda waves aside, not giving a shit.

      I haven't read The Outsider yet (waiting for it to come out in paperback) but you said Holly shows up in it as a major character (ugh!). I highly doubt this happens but since apparently takes place in the Hodges-verse, I hope King at least lets us know what became of Freddi: safe and starting life anew or still hiding in a hotel room, paranoid and stoned out of her mind.

      2. Regarding Lisey's Story, your story about you and your friends' secret dog-barking language is hilarious, especially the part about the guy on the bus telling you guys to knock it off. I'd really like to hear more about how the heck that even got started! :-)

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    2. Regarding "Lisey's Story":

      Funny you mention the part about Scott's shooting being good short-story material. An excerpt from the novel was published as a short story (or as an excerpt, depending on how you classify it) a couple of years before the novel came out. It's called "Lisey and the Madman," and if I remember correctly, it's basically exactly what you suggest.

      Agreed on the intimated hatred of the nickname "Barbie." I actually consider that to be something that comes from the same part of King's brain as the "incunks" and "smucking" and whatnot. I think he just gets ideas in there that he likes sometimes, and though no sensible person would tell him they are good ideas, or even palatable ideas in terms of their on-the-page execution, he just goes on ahead. There's quite a bit of that in the Hodges trilogy as well, I think; all of Jerome's racial satire stuff, for example.

      Agreed on Brady's supernatural turn being a bad idea. That, too, is King being simply unable to help himself.

      "The Outsider" kind of represents an attempt to do a better job of integrating the supernatural into a realistic story. And I think it's more successful; at times, it's kind of thrilling. Your idea about Alan Pangborn makes me think how much cooler it would have been for him to be the one who pops up in "The Outsider" instead of Holly! Ah, what a missed opportunity! Oh, well, Pangborn at least got squandered on the first season of "Castle Rock," I guess...

      Regarding Freddi Linklatter -- I like her, too. The good news for you is that that character is MUCH more important in the television-series adaptation. She's renamed "Lou," but is otherwise more or less the same. She's played very well by the actress they cast in the role, Breeda Wool. Not sure you'd be a huge fan, given that the series picks up on the supernatural-Brady plot thread and runs with it; but it's certainly got more Freddie/Lou.

      Finally -- I kind of can't remember how the bizarre barking-dog language got started. It has something to do with blaming farts on a dog; not real farts, though, hypothetical ones. We were pretty weird.

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  22. (Sorry if my grammar is bad, i am from foreign country). Author, I have a question. Do you know that the new publication of "Full dark, no stars" features new short story:"Under the Weather"? (I'm asking because I want you to post about it in "Worst to best Stephen King books 2019")

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    1. Yes, I was indeed aware of that -- but I thank you for the knowledge nonetheless!

      The story was first published in the trade-paperback edition of "Full Dark, No Stars." I don't know whether it has appeared in subsequent editions of that book or not, but it WAS later included in the collection "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams." I personally consider it to belong to that book rather than to "Full Dark, No Stars" but there is an argument to be made either way.

      No matter which (or both), it's a great story.

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  23. I gave Thinner a recent re-reading. I love the hell out of this one! The location descriptions of Billy's road trip of costal New England almost makes me want to hop in the car and go on one myself!

    Parts that always stuck in my memory and give me a good laugh:

    1. Billy's meeting with "Biff", the bronze dog turds on the desk, and the chair making a mechanical pig squonk sound. And Billy getting pissed off at his "quoddy mocs and blow dried JayCees haircut", wanting to smash his head in with the turds.

    2. Any of his conversations/arguments with the coke-sniffing Dr. Houston and Billy's sarcastic thoughts of him. "Toots-sweet??"

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    1. "Thinner" is a strong novel, definitely. That one needs a new movie adaptation in the CGI era.

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  24. There is a strange thing I noticed about short story Jerusalem's Lot. This short story says Jerusalem's Lot was founded in 1710, although in 'Salem's Lot been said that it was founded in 1725. Isn't it strange?

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    1. The world has moved on some since 1710...

      (That's all I got.)

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    2. Also, in the short story the town is on the ocean, whereas that seems not to be the case in the novel. Different levels of the Tower or a writer's error(s)?

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    3. I doubt that King originally intended any continuity between the short story and the novel. I suspect that when he went to write the novel, he just recycled the town name from what was then an unpublished (and unlikely to be published) short story. Then later on, his success allowed him to pull the short story out of the trunk for Night Shift, leading to endless continuity questions.

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    4. That feels entirely accurate to me.

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  25. I am actually reading/rereading Stephen Kings books with your 2017 best to worst-list in mind, combined with your suggest DT-reading order. If I do a list of the SK-books I have red in this way up until now it will look like this.

    1. It (10/10) A masterpiece, maybe 20-30 pages are not that great of 1200, and that’s something. This book contains some of the best writings about being a kid in the world litterateur. I have red Proust so I know what I am talking about.

    2. The Drawing Of The Three (9/10) What a brilliant book this is. So fun to read, so excellent structured. You learn more about writing when you reading this book then you do in “On Writing”.

    3. Different Seasons (9/10) Apt Pupil was such a dynamite that The Body ended up a little bit in the shadows of it for me, but it’s of course a book of really great stories. Stories that you always will remember.

    4. The Stand (8/10) It has flaws as you say Bryant, but your friend McMolo really teached me how the read this book. That this is actually two different books smashed into one. I have always preferred the first one, and I still do, it’s one of Kings best books. The second book is quite boring sometimes but I like it Much better when I understand that it is Kings tribute to The Lord of the rings. And I like Harold much better know than I did as a teenager, maybe he was to close to me then. The second book is really the story of Harold Lauder, and I can’t forgive Stephen King that he doesn’t get a better end than to just commit suicide after the motorcycle accident. He should had a key role trying to stop Flagg in the end or something like that. It seems like King getting a little bored of his own writing in the end unfortunately.

    5. On Writing (8/10) Well it’s good, but is it better then most of Kings other books? I don’t think so. Better to do it then to talk about it, if you know what I mean. But some of the aspects of writing is so unique described that I think it will stay as a classic in its own genre for many years.

    6. The Gunslinger (8/10) It’s good and the book has a unique voice in Kings universe. I actually like the ending best, with the palaver. But I was hoping for something more when I red it. I was hoping for something like The Drawing of the Three actually, but now after I red The Drawing of the Three, I really can enjoy the Gunslinger for what it is.

    7. The Talisman (7/10) I really liked the first part of book, especially the parts with Wolf, I was feeling like I wanted to stay on Jacks trip forever. But after Richard shows up it gets quite boring, and the last chapters have some really bad writings, when the book just seems rushed. And Morgan is such a cartoon. Sad, it could have been so good.

    8. The Eyes Of The Dragon (7/10) As with The Talisman I really liked the first part. I loved that you really can feel how King is telling this fairytale to his daughter. But it is to long, or maybe to short. The ending is boring and you wonder what was happening with the beautiful fairytale, or with Flagg for that matter. It always boring when you feel that King had lost interest for his own story and just want to finish it.

    Next up I will read The Dead Zone for the third time. Hoping it is as good as I remember.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lots of great thoughts here.

      I agree on the subject of Harold Lauder, at least to an extent. In the end, though, I think Harold got what he had coming to him. He deserved to die miserable and alone, because he chose to live that way. But from a storytelling standpoint, yeah, it would have been awesome for him to take a more active role in the final book.

      I also agree on the subject of "The Talisman." Morgan really IS a cartoon, isn't he?

      Enjoy "The Dead Zone"! Again!

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I will come back and tell you have I feel about it today. To bad that you can’t edit your comments here afterwards. It’s hard when you’re writing fast in another language than your own to get everything correct. But I guess you are glad to see that it is people in Sweden who’s reading your blog every week.

      Delete
    3. I'm glad anyone anywhere reads my blog. The fact that someone in Sweden reads it blows my mind!

      I agree -- I wish it was possible to edit comments. Every now and then I make a typo so big it makes me want to shake my head. But it's all part of the fun, I guess!

      Delete
    4. I read your blog and I am from Russia. Gosh, our translators translate SO bad(In "Bag of Bones" one of them accidentally misrood moose as mouse and imagine me reading: "Head of mouse with big horns was hanging on a wall." �� ), and I can read on English only short novels like Carrie or Misery. :(

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    5. Greetings from America!

      I'm sure our Russian-to-English translators are mostly awful, too. I'm amazed anyone EVER figured out how to bridge the gap between one language and another. That sort of thing just seems like magic to me.

      "Head of mouse with big horns was hanging on a wall." -- That's very, very different indeed! But I can easily imagine it happening.

      Not long ago, I read a transcription of an interview with ... well, I can't remember who. Some politician, maybe? Anyways, doesn't matter. The point is, there was a quote where the person mentioned there being "a nice edge" between one thing and another thing. I sat there and tried to make sense out of what he meant, and eventually realized what had happened: the person transcribing the interview had simply misunderstood what the other person said. What they actually must have referred to was there being "a knife's edge" between the two.

      That's simple transcription of English to English, spoken by an English-speaking person and transcribed by an English-speaking person. And yet, there was still a misunderstanding.

      So I'm back to the notion of people who speak different languages being able to figure each other out. And, once again, it seems like magic to me.

      Thank you for leaving this comment!

      Delete
  26. I always love seeing rankings such as this to give me a good comparison as to how I want to navigate King's bibliography. Having worked my way through The Dark Tower series I've been able to get to some of King's more standalone works. I'm about halfway through The Shining right now and the only thing keeping me away from it is work and a baby girl who wants to play with Dad. Right now my top 5 would probably be:
    1. 11/22/63 - The first King novel I read so nostalgia may be playing a part but I absolutely adored that book. Thrilling and heartbreaking all in one. The "It" crossover I appreciated even more when I read the novel later on but I couldn't put the book down.
    2. DT 4 Wizard and Glass - Probably the biggest gut punch I've had reading a book in all the best ways. Incredible, the ways King can get you so emotionally invested in his characters.
    3. The Long Walk - Would love to see a movie on this novel.
    4. The Stand - Love me some of The Walking Dude
    5. DT3 The Waste Lands - More or less could've combined this and Wizard and Glass since I'm pretty sure I ran over to my bookshelf and read right through the Blaine pages in DT4.

    Regarding "It", I wanted to love the novel but I just couldn't. Granted I enjoyed it but I didn't feel the same about it as I did these books certainly; just something missing and I can't put my finger on it. Enjoyed the movie though.

    After I'm done with The Shining (which will no doubt be in my top 5), I'm thinking of reading Duma Key to be able to get a sense of how King's style has changed over the years plus judging from reviews it is a hell of a novel.

    One last thing, sorry for the rambling at this point, but what are your thoughts on his new novel "The Institute" coming out this year? Initially, it sounds like a great concept.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a great top five. "11/22/63" is a masterpiece; I'm sure your nostalgia for it DOES play a part, but I don't think any nostalgia is necessary to give that one a prominent position. As soon as I was done with it, I reckoned it to be the best thing he'd written since *at least* "Wizard and Glass."

      I highly recommend "Duma Key." I know at least one serious King reader who reckons THAT to be King's best novel.

      As for "The Institute," it sounds pretty great to me. Bring it on!

      Delete
  27. Sorry, Bl. Burnette, but I have a question. Why you have put "Carrie" - short and not really interesting novella-length novel - higher than "THE STAND" - long novel with interesting characters and story? (Bl. means bloger)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Because I think "Carrie" is a better novel than "The Stand." I think it is a very interesting novel, and its length does not matter to me in the slightest.

      This is not to say that "The Stand" isn't great. "The Stand" is great. But I think "Carrie" is greater still.

      Delete
  28. Mr. Burnette, I have couple of questions. First, The Song of Susannah - why so low? I know it's worst The Dark Tower novel, but I think it deserves place 25-30. Second, how do you feel about cover art on Stephen King books? I can comment link on covert art of some Stephen King novels, to show our good Russian cover art. Have no time to post it right now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd love to see that, sure.

      You're probably right; I think I might have ranked "Song of Susannah" a little too low this time. It's an imperfect science, this ranking-books business!

      Delete
    2. Finally, I have time to give links on covers of Stephen King's books in Russia. Why I am posting this? Because, I think that Stephen King books got not very good cover art in USA, and I want to show some good ones (This is completely my opinion, please do not mind). Firstly, I want to show The Dark Tower cover art:
      The Gunslinger, The Drawing of The Three and The Waste Lands in one book:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000833267/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Wizard and The Glass:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000833270/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Wind Through The Keyhole:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000833276/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Wolves of Calla:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000833273/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Song of Susannah:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000833274/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Dark Tower:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000833275/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Secondly, some other Stephen King books with good cover art:
      Pet Sematary:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000826028/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Firestarter:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000827658/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Dead Zone:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000134811/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Gunslinger(I saw it on #1 in your list, so I added it separately):
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000827077/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Shining:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000132445/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      On Writing:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000828450/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      That's all for now. Hope you'll like it!

      Delete
    3. Those are great! I especially like the "Wizard and Glass" one; that's a scary Blaine. And "Pet Sematary" is awesome, too.

      Interesting that the first three Tower novels are all in one edition. I don't know of any American editions that combine them all.

      Thanks a lot for sharing these! If you don't mind, I may put them all in their post as a gallery. I think people would enjoy seeing them all in one place. I'd love to give you credit for sharing them -- what's your name?

      Delete
    4. You really want to do a "Foreign cover art" post? It would be awesome!
      Okay, I'll try to post ALL Stephen King books published in Russia(read "ALL except 'Rage'"). Firstly, collections:
      Night Shift:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000716510/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Different Seasons:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000164406/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Sceleton Crew:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000707054/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Four Past Midnight:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000111174/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Nightmares & Dreamscapes(title on table says: Run away, if you can):
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000831155/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Hearts in Atlantis:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000172921/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Everything's Eventual:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000084235/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Just After Sunset:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000033110/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Full Dark, No Stars:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000168426/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Bazaar of Bad Dreams(if you see another cover like this, with big title "Stephen King", that means I couldn't find this book with small title):
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000719998/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Secondly, Bachman books:
      Rage:
      Error 404: Wasn't published in Russia
      The Long Walk:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000719877/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Roadwork:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000717655/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Running Man:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000713196/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Thinner:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000711526/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Regulators:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000715489/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Blaze:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000837584/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Finally, Novels:
      Carrie:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000082423/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      'Salem's Lot:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000705198/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Stand:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000141819/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Cujo:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000720405/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Christine:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000722875/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Cycle of the Werewolf was published only with one book with Cujo and cover of Cujo. :/
      The Talisman:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000711510/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Eyes of the Dragon:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000837315/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      It:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000029614/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Drawing of the Three:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000017822/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Misery:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000025496/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Tommyknockers:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000828710/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Dark Half:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000842227/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Waste Lands:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000052046/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Needful Things:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000718039/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Gerald's Game:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000702176/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Dolores Claiborne:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000121042/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Insomnia:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000128981/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Rose Madder:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000719509/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Green Mile:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000016973/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Desperation:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000705766/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Wizard and Glass:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/AST000000000082681/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      Bag of Bones:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000834780/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon:
      https://cdn.ast.ru/v2/ASE000000000835642/COVER/cover1__w600.jpg
      That's all for now.
      P.S. My name is Arseniy.

      Delete
    5. Thanks so much for sending all of those! There are a few of them I don't like much, but I do like most of them, and I LOVE quite a few. I'll definitely be compiling all of these into a single post at some point in the not-too-distant future.

      Thanks again!

      Delete
    6. I finally got that post/gallery finished, by the way!

      https://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2019/05/a-gallery-of-cover-art-from-russian.html

      Delete
  29. Have you by any chance read a book called Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach? It reminded me a lot of early Stephen King, weird ending and all... Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, its a very unnerving page turner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not only have I not read it, I've never even heard of the author. Sounds promising, though!

      Delete
  30. Strange, on gigantic Russian book review site livelib.ru has medium ratings on books, and Carrie with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon both have rating 4.11. And you have them ranked on #66 and #10.
    P.S. Which were the ones you LOVED. Just curious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not entirely sure I understand your question, so apologies if I fail to properly answer it. I'd say that of the 74 books I've ranked here, I like all 74 of them to some degree or another. Maybe not "Blaze," but only because I can remember virtually nothing about it; but I like ALL of the others at least a little bit. There are some that I have problems with, but even those have things I also like or love.

      Once you get to around the #54/53/52 spot on the list, those and everything above are books I'd say I love.

      As to your point about "Carrie" and "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" having an equal ranking on livelib.ru, that's very interesting to me. I would say that for me, "Carrie" is by far the better of the two. But that's just me! I know "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" has lots of fans, and they seem to be very passionate. I'm not one of them, but it's a fine little book; just not a personal favorite.

      I hope I addressed your points adequately!

      Delete
  31. I just have to say I've read your list and thoughts on King so many times now because it's so well written and thought out that it inspires me to want to read every word King has written. I've only read a handful of his books cover to cover (I've started almost all of them but I have attention span issues) but it's my goal to complete them all and make a list like this. Whenever I go through a King phase I always come back to this page and I wanted to thank you for taking the time to share your appreciation and passion that you have for this wonderful author. My book shelf is filled with almost all of his books now so I'm ready for the challenge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Travis, you just made my day! What a wonderful compliment!

      I want to read that list of yours when you finish it, so put a link here whenever you've got one. I look forward to it!

      Delete
    2. Hey you're very welcome! It's awesome of you to reply. I'll definitely put a link up when I finish in 20 years Haha. Right now my favorite is Pet Sematary, because I have a 2 year old son and that book hits me on such a deeper level than I ever could've imagined. I like it so much better than both versions of the movie (I cant for the life of me figure out why they left the wendigo out of both versions. It's such an important part of the story) and I like that Jud and Louis are both being influenced by the creature. It's not entirely their fault. In both movies it's like they are just making stupid decisions. So the novel fixes all the problems I had with the story. I also have this fear that if I read his books after I've seen the movies, which I've seen most of, then the books wont have the same power. I was happy to see that Pet Sematary could still scare the crap out of me.

      Delete
    3. The wendigo issue is a good question. I don't mind it having been left out of the original movie; budget concerns probably prevented it. But I really expected it to be included in the remake. It's mentioned; they even hint at it in the one scene. But like a lot of things with that movie, it's so rushed and undercooked that I just don't know why they bothered.

      "I also have this fear that if I read his books after I've seen the movies, which I've seen most of, then the books wont have the same power." -- Very, very few movies have done full justice to King's source material. Maybe only "Shawshank." Beyond that, even in the case of the great movies, the books are still well worth diving into.

      Delete
    4. It's good to know that the movies wont ruin any enjoyment from the books. The Shining is one of my favorite movies of all time so I read the book recently and while I still liked it I felt a little disappointed in it which is why I've been a little hesitant. I just think the wendigo is so damn creepy, laughing at you and manipulating you. Its responsible for all the evil in the book and I thought the remake would include alot of it at least to stand out from the original. That remake was a huge missed opportunity for me. I dont get scared very easily anymore but the book really unnerved me. I'm hoping it will get justice on the screen one day.

      Delete
    5. It will if I ever get put in charge of producing a new version. Which, admittedly, seems extremely unlikely.

      Delete
    6. You have my vote to be put in charge sir. Random question, I know it's hard to list what order you should read his books in, but would you recommend reading his early books before the Dark Towers or should I read Dark Tower first? Or does it even matter? I just dont want to miss any references or get left behind with certain world building.

      Delete
    7. There are arguments for doing it either way. You might find this of use:

      http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-suggested-reading-order-for-extended.html

      Equally, you might not!

      Delete
  32. I just read Rage in my copy of The Bachman Books and found it to be the weakest of the books I've read by King. While kind of well written, I don't like its morals and how the other students idolize Charlie. Its at the bottom of my personal worst to best list as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably for a lot of people.

      Do you think King made the right decision in taking it off shelves?

      Delete
    2. That's a tough one. I feel like if King wished to not reprint it, it's ultimately his choice. He wrote the book and has complete control over it. But at the same time, I think he could have written an introduction explaining the context of the story. Maybe he could have even revised the story for a modern audience, like he did with The Stand.

      Delete
    3. It's not an introduction per se, but the essay "Guns" -- which should be easily findable on Amazon -- has a lot by him about his thought processing on taking the book out of print.

      Delete