Top Ten Stephen King Books by Jodi Jensen
Jodi is the author of thirty-two (and counting) speculative fiction short stories published in a series of anthologies with Black Hare Press and a time travel romance novel, Sophie’s Key, published with Champagne Book Group. She found both of her publishers through Twitter and is an advocate and active participant of the writing community there.
I have two favorite authors, Stephen King and Diana Gabaldon (don’t make me choose), both of whom tell incredible stories! This list is my own personal Top Ten favorite books by Stephen King. I’ll confess that he was my first favorite author, with stories that have long given me spooks, scares, nightmares and yes, a lot of laughs too. He’s a master storyteller for a reason.
This list is fluid, always changing as new books come out and I find new stories I love. This list would’ve looked different a few years ago, and will likely be different a year from now. But, here’s today’s list, starting with #10
10. On Writing
I know, I know, it’s a non-fiction, a “how-to” from the king of scary. But it’s also a narrative of how he got started on writing with entertaining bits about his childhood, his journey as a writer, his many rejections over the years, all leading to his first “yes”. And what a journey he had! I love that part of this book the most, the part that makes him human and not the legend he is today.
This was the first Stephen King book I ever read, and for that reason, will always have a place on my top ten favorites. Published in 1983, it’s about a car possessed by evil and her newest owner, Arnie, a naïve high school kid, who names Christine and restores her to her former glory. This story was my introduction to Stephen King’s brand of horror; scares galore mixed with flawed but perfect characters, good people who sometimes do bad things, bent by the will of the supernatural. Good stuff, classic stuff, and memorable to an impressionable young writer. Oh, and I had an old Jeep Cherokee I nicknamed Christine once. She was harmless but did odd and random things, seemingly at will. I still miss that car.
8. The Mist
I discovered this book not long after the movie came out (2007 but we won’t discuss the movie as the ending was so terrible and didn’t follow that of the book) and as a lifelong fan of disaster stories, I knew I had to read it! The Mist follows the plight of a group of people trapped in a grocery store when an unnatural mist spreads through town unleashing bizarre creatures who hunt and kill those unfortunate enough to get caught out in the open. My love of disaster stories stems from the compelling ways in which humans adapt and fight to survive, and this story has that in spades. Once again, the characters are flawed yet still somehow perfect as they battle both the monsters and each other in their desire to live. A memorable read, with an especially memorable main character, a father who not only contemplates awful things, but does them, in order to save his son.
7. Bag of Bones
This book has it all; an author with severe writer’s block, a tragedy in the man’s past, a haunted house, disturbing dreams, psychic connections and more. All the things we expect from King. The kicker though, turns out to be a curse from one dead woman, and a rescue by another dead woman. Compelling, interesting, and filled with (fictional) history that shows a level of world-building not often seen in stories this length or genre. Let’s just say I’ve read this one more than once.
Where to begin with this book? First of all, for my fellow authors, who hasn’t dreamed of readers “fangirling” over your work? I mean, let’s be honest here, deep down we all want people to not only read our work, but love it, as we do. This story takes that sentiment to a whole new disturbing level with one Annie Wilkes. When she finds her favorite author, Paul Sheldon, injured in a car crash, she takes him home, treats his injuries, locks him up and forces him to revive her favorite character, Misery, in a new novel written just for her, his “number one fan”. What ensues is a struggle for freedom that ends in Annie dying and Paul permanently maimed. But hey, in the end he beats his writer’s bock, so at least there’s that.
5. The Long Walk
This dystopian horror was first published under King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman. A lot of people don’t know this, but The Long Walk was actually the first novel King wrote, nearly 8 years before Carrie. Set in a future dystopian America, ruled by a totalitarian and militaristic dictator, one hundred teenage boys are forced to participate in the annual walking contest. The boys must maintain a speed of 4 mph or receive a warning, then a “ticket”, which means death. There are no stops, rest periods, or even an actual finish line. The walk only ends with the last boy standing alive, the prize being anything the winner wants for the rest of his life. Think about that. I mean, really think about that. The entire story is a study in human nature, and a compelling one at that.
4. Under the Dome
I love big books, I really LOVE big books, and this one is a monster of a big book, clocking in at just over 1000 pages. The premise is, once again, disaster and survival, as a dome is suddenly brought down over an entire small town. As the story unfolds, we’re privy to all those small-town secrets, all the darkness people hide, and the most basic of human instincts; fight or flight. Full of intrigue, murder, mayhem and mystery, we follow a large cast of characters as they fight each other and try to uncover the origin of the dome and how to remove it. As always with King, the characters are what make the story. Sometimes you root for their victories and sometimes you root for their demise. Above all though, you root for the triumph at the end, and this story delivers.
3. Gerald’s Game
This story is a classic suspense about a woman in crisis. Our heroine, Jessie, is on a quest to save her marriage and instead finds herself handcuffed to a bed with little hope of rescue when her husband suddenly dies of a heart attack. As the voices in her head begin to take over, we’re never sure what’s real and what’s an illusion (neither is our heroine). There are several OMG moments in this story, most notably a series of encounters with a serial killer and necrophile that may or may not be real. What I loved most about this story is in the end, there is no white knight sweeping in to save the day. There’s only Jessie, and she saves herself (in a gruesome and cringeworthy way, but still…) An incredible story told and seen mostly with a single character.
Let me begin by saying, I LOVE the hell out of this book! I’ve read it more times than I can count, and will continue to do so. The story follows a time traveler attempting to prevent the assassination of JFK and is masterful on so many levels. First of all, the research involved is mind-boggling. King accurately portrays life in the late 50’s and early 60’s, gets the details of LHO (the shooter) and the assassination of JFK right, but in a way that feels like you’re living it with the character and not like a lesson in history. Aside from that, we see events and nods to other, overlapping world’s of King’s in Derry, Maine, including a special easter egg to IT. And, if all of that’s not enough for you, there’s a love story here too. A beautiful, strong, and enduring love story that keeps our hero, Jake, grounded and keeps him going back until the very end. If you haven’t read this book, what’re you waiting for? It’s pretty far from King’s normal fare, but at the same time, so very King in its portrayals of human nature. Seriously, go read it…for the first time, or again.
1. The Stand
This book will always be my first choice, my favorite and IMO, King’s best and most powerful work. It’s another monster of a book, with the uncut edition clocking in at a hefty 1149 pages (every one of which is worth reading). The Stand is a post-apocalyptic dark fantasy with a pandemic that feels relevant even 30 years after its publication. The cast of characters is huge, but it’s a huge story. The world-building is exceptional and realistic, even the supernatural elements. And the theme, as classic as it gets; Good vs. Evil. What I love most about this book, not surprisingly, are the characters. I love the way we see a natural progression of people going about their every day lives, to what they’ll evolve into in order to survive. I love that some who I thought for sure would end up on the side of evil, turned to good instead, and vice-versa. I love that at times, the evil in people was used for good. I love that, like in all the best disaster stories, people not only survive, but come together and thrive. And in this story, those characters work for it, they earn it and because of that, despite the heavy costs, the triumph at the end is that much more powerful.
So, there you have it. My top ten favorite Stephen King books. As I said in the beginning, he’s a master storyteller for a reason. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read.