Alright so, welcome everyone to the very first article of our Prolific Authors series! This is where I’m going to be giving my breakdown of a particular author’s best books, a brief description of each, and an outlet to get these great reads. And like the title says, we’re going to be looking at the best Stephen King books today.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re choosing Stephen King as our first author. He is one of the most prolific authors of our time–if not all time. He is known as one of the true masters of the Horror genre and for good reason. But he’s also extremely versatile with other works including dramas, non-fiction, supernatural, fantasy, and more. And so many of those writings have been converted into award-winning TV series or movies.
After selling over 350 million copies worldwide–as of writing this–and more to come, Stephen King has become a household name and worthy to kick off the inaugural article of this series.
Alright folks…here’s where I gotta do my thing and give you this disclaimer. I will be using affiliate links within this article. But trust me, the links do not change my opinion on these books whatsoever–maybe you can in the comments though. They just help keep my teapots full of good brew so I can keep bringing you the content you deserve.
Mind you, this list is entirely subjective. But these are some serious page turners that I love to re-read over and over. Now with that out of the way, curl up into your favorite reading chair and here are the nine best Stephen King books ranked:
Ok. So if there’s ever a top contender for this spot, it has to be The Shining. This book gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. Mind you, this was one of King’s earliest works in his decades long career. And it’s still terrifying people to this day. Let’s break this down for those of you unaware.
Jack Torrence is a writer–just like us– who’s got a serious case of writer’s block. Not to mention an alcoholic trying to get his life back on track. In order to break the dry spell and mend relations with his family, he takes a job as winter caretaker at The Overlook Hotel and moves out with his family. The hotel is this sprawling manor of a building out in the Colorado Rockies isolated from pretty much everything. As far horror stories go…this is being setup to be a doozy.
Unbeknownst to Jack and his wife, his son Danny possesses special telepathic gifts known as “the shining”. This allows him to look in to the hotel’s past. And let’s just say… there’s nothing nice to see. The hotel is like stupid haunted. And trying to take over Danny. Thankfully for Danny, he’s too powerful a psychic to be influenced by the evil there. But as for Jack, the struggles with writer’s block, alcoholism, and isolationism makes him vulnerable to possession. And the Overlook Hotel gets him.
And what happens next is a veritable hell storm of evil. Just thinking about it now sends chills down my spine. And here’s the thing…. In true Stephen King fashion, this book was actually based off of real events in his life. The book is inspired by King’s own personal battle with alcoholism and the feeling of being isolated while doing so. And the hotel… Don’t think that doesn’t have an inspiration too. King based The Overlook off a hotel that his wife–Tabitha–and he had stayed at back in 1974. The Stanley Hotel. Which apparently has taken on some ghostly visitors after the writing of this novel.
What do you get when you mix killer clown demons and a ragtag group of kids? Enough nightmare fuel to affect entire generations. After the release of It, coulrophobia (or fear of clowns) saw a visible increase and then even more so when the movie adaptation was released. So, what’s It all about?
The story takes place in Derry, Maine (a hotspot for King’s writing) on a rainy 1957 day. Little Georgie Denbrough is out sailing his paper boat when it heads down a storm drain. Being the inquisitive little fellow he is, Georgie follows the boat and is greeted by Pennywise the Clown from storm drain opening. (Everything floats down there ensues. We all know the scene.) Either way, eventually Georgie’s body ends up back in the arms of his grieving family. Then… fast forward one year. Georgie’s older brother (builder of the aforementioned paper boat and blessed with a stutter) Bill forms an alliance with other socially rejected kids and aptly name themselves The Losers.
But the story doesn’t end there. Throughout that summer, Pennywise appears to each of the Losers terrifying and tormenting them. It’s later revealed that Pennywise is actually a shape-shifting ancient alien creature that hibernates for 27 years only coming out to feed. The group bands together and eventually defeats the monster. Now, this would be the part where everyone rejoices and goes home right? Not according to Mr. King. You see this is only the first part of the story. The second half begins 27 years later and the Losers returning to face the demon once more.
When the book was first released, it received many mixed reviews. Some likened the real horror to that of adolesence and growing older. Many were revolted by overt sexuality that was portrayed by the children in the book. And some didn’t care too much for it because it was too stinkin’ long. But after it was edited and turned into a motion picture… it was universally accepted that It and Pennywise were truly evil and fun entertainment. Here’s a fun fact. Tim Curry (he’s a freaking genius BTW and the actor who played Pennywise) is petrified of clowns. Let’s just say costume and makeup weren’t super fun for him.
This was another book that really got to me. Not because of any ghosts or ancient aliens. But because something like this could actually happen in real life. The villain of Misery is as human as you, me, or Mark Zuckerberg. Ah, who are we kidding? He’s as reptilian as they come.
Yet again, Stephen King has introduced another troubled writer as the protagonist to his story. Paul Sheldon is a celebrated author of a series of Victorian Era romance novels based on a sultry young woman named Misery Chastain. But… Paul’s ready to move on. And in his last and final installment of the series, Paul kills off Misery. But that doesn’t mean a writer’s life is over. Paul had already completed his first manuscript for his new crime novel. But while driving through remote Colorado, he finds himself in a terrible snowstorm and totals his car.
Thankfully, former nurse Annie Wilkes lived nearby and was able to arrive to the rescue. She takes him back to her home where he can properly care for him. Or so you think… Anywho, upon learning Paul’s identity, she quickly reveals herself to be Paul’s number one fan of the Misery series. And this is where things get weird. Annie now refuses to take Paul to the hospital because she insists on treating Paul’s mangled body herself. However, when Annie learns of Misery’s death in the book, things take a turn for the demented. She abandons Paul at her home without food, water, or medicine for two days. And when she returns she’s able to take advantage of a weakened Paul. Mutilating and cackling the whole way.
This book was received exceptionally well and received the first Bram Stoker Award for Novel in 1987. And was nominated for the 1988 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Not only that…but King got another one of his many, many screen adaptations in which Kathy Bates took home the Oscar for Best Actress.
This book is by and far one of the best Stephen King books. And you can easily find this post-apocalyptic thriller topping other lists of this nature. The Stand is based on the premise that a genetically engineered influenza super-bug has been accidentally released and kills off 99% of the world population. Gnarly.
Now this book is huge. It’s literally the longest book King ever wrote. He designed this to be an epic adventure akin to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings but post-apocalyptic. The actual text is divided into three main parts. In the first part, King develops the backstory as to how this virus was created an subsequently released. Next, two major rival groups have formed. One who follow the spiritual guidance of a “Mother Abigail” and those who follow a one Randall Flagg, a terrible being possessing supernatural powers. And while Mother Abigail’s group wants to peacefully resettle, Flagg has other plans. The book’s epic conclusion is actually called The Stand. And it’s come down to that inevitable final confrontation between the two.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like it would be awesome on the silver screen (or elsewhere), you’re not alone. As a matter of fact, The Stand has been in and out of Hollywood circles for decades. However, not too much has come from it. A single miniseries was made in the early 90s, but… it just didn’t do it justice. Movie talks have been floating around along with finished screenplays, but due to production rights issues, nothing ever took off. But there is good news. CBS has acquired the rights free and clear with a new miniseries arriving in late 2020.
Other than just film and TV issues, the book itself had problems when King first took it to publishers. Not due to content though, but because of length and publishing costs. This forced King to have to cut about 400 pages (150000 words) from the book. He has since then released a limited edition full and unabridged version. Oh! And here’s a neat factoid. Metallica actually named their iconic album “Ride the Lightning” based off a quote inside the book. Rock on, Mr. King. Rock on.
The Dark Tower series is an 8-book collection that is often considered to be the glue to Stephen King’s multiverse. It follows Roland Deschain, the last of a group known simply as the gunslingers and of his family line Arthur Eld–that being Roland’s world’s equivalent to King Arthur. Roland is searching for The Dark Tower, a tower which is the nexus for many different worlds and universes.
As mentioned before, The Dark Tower serves as a focal point for the Stephen King multiverse. The series has direct multiverse ties to the following Stephen King books:
So if you’re looking for a Stephen King reading list, this series provides the basis for many others including some on this list.
The Green Mile is the first on this list that isn’t exactly a horror or dystopian novel. This book was originally put together as a small series of 6 short books to tell the incredible story of John Coffey. This book is a first person narrative which differs from most of King’s previous work.
The story takes place during two different time periods. In 1996, Paul Edgecombe is spending his remaining days in the Georgia Pines nursing home and is writing down the events that happened while he was a death row bring guard back in 1932. At that time, Paul was assigned to the Cold Mountain Penitentary. He was the block supervisor for the death row inmates there. The block was nicknamed “the green mile” due to the sickly colored linoleum that covered the floor. Things on the mile were pretty much standard operations until the arrival of John Coffey.
John Coffey was a giant of a man. Standing 6′ 8″, he was lumbering hulk of a black man convicted of raping and murdering two small white girls. And while the initial shock of this new inmate intimidated the Mile’s guard staff, they found John to be the most mild-mannered and polite of all individuals. Over the course of the book, Paul realizes that there is more to John than meets the eye–that he’s got a gift of extraordinary power. One that does hurt, but heals. The novel covers the full stint of Coffey’s death row stay from sadistic prison guards to other maniacal inmates.
Honestly, I have no clue how to put into words how emotional I got after reading this novel. It’s such a roller coaster that has you rooting for murderous criminals and ugly sobbing after their executions. This book was made into a film adaptation starring Tom Hanks and the late Michael Clarke Duncan. And it still remains one of my absolute favorites to this day.
You knew this would be on here. There’s no way I’m going to let this escape my list of best Stephen King books. There’s not a single writer I know that hasn’t read (or owned) this book. It’s an autobiographical nonfiction take from King where he uniquely addresses several stages of his life and how that affected him and his writing.
He also goes through writing mechanics, word choice, and other essential skills that any writer would need. But he does it in such a way that’s fun and entertaining. It’s just as gripping as any of his other works on this list. On Writing is an absolute must-read. And you can take that to the bank.
Back before the Twilight series, vampires were actually scary. And King’s Barlow (the baddie) is no exception. The inspiration for this novel came when King was teaching a high school fantasy and sci-fi class at Hampden Academy. The curriculum had Dracula on it causing him to wonder… What would happen if Dracula came back in 20th Century America?
‘Salem’s Lot was King’s second published novel. And if he had built this list himself back in the 80s, this would be reigning supreme. In an interview, he claimed that this book was his absolute favorite he had written. The plot focuses on yet another writer, one who returns to his boyhood home to find that its residents are slowly turning into vampires.
Ben Mears had been away from Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine for 25 years before he decided to return. He came back to write a new book about the old Marsten house. It was a place that had traumatized him as a child. Previously owned by a Depression-era hitman, the house now belonged to an Austrian immigrant named Kurt Barlow–an antiques dealer. But soon after Ben’s arrival, sinister things start to happen strting with the disappearance of a young boy and death of the boy’s brother. However, instead of true death…that brother actually became the town’s first vampire. The rampant spread of vampirism ravished the small town with the root cause stemming from the Marsten house.
This book is an absolute classic when it comes to vampires. Nominated in 1987 for the Locus Award for All-time Best Fantasy Novel, ‘Salem’s Lot fully embodies what it means to be a fantasy horror. It was also here in this book where King started to create his overreaching extended Multiverse seen throughout his novels. This book is very closely tied in with his Dark Tower series.
And this is the one. The OG of the best Stephen King books. His first published novel. For you Stephen King enthusiasts, Carrie wasn’t actually his first novel written. It was his fourth, yet his first published. And it never would have happened without his wonderful wife Tabitha. You see, Carrie was originally supposed to be just a short story for Cavalier Magazine. But after three pages, King couldn’t see himself being able to write the story from the female perspective and tossed it in the trash. Thankfully, Tabitha fished the pages out, told him she would help with the female perspective, turned the book into a novel, and kickstarted the Stephen King brand we know today. Mrs. King… Thank you.
This is the quintessential coming of age story… if you’re into murderous rampage, supernatural powers, and humiliation.
Carrie White wasn’t just your typical teenage girl. Raised by her mother Margaret–a deeply disturbed and evil woman in her own right–Carrie exhibited very peculiar behavior leading to incessant bullying. One day after gym class, Carrie blossoms into womanhood and receives her first menstruation. Due to her strange upbringing, Carrie has no clue what’s happening and starts to panic. Noticed by her fellow students, she promptly ridiculed with sanitary napkins and tampons thrown at her. And while the gym coach tries her best to explain what’s happening, it doesn’t do much good.
While menstruation is a perfectly normal process, what came along with it was not. Carrie started to develop psychokinetic powers–aka she could control thing with her mind. Meanwhile, the supportive gym coach then punishes Carrie’s tormentors with a week of detention and the consequence of missing prom if skipped. And of course… one of the girls defiantly marches right out the door sealing her fate for prom. Unable to attend prom, she devises a revenge plot against Carrie. And let’s just say… it doesn’t end well for anybody.
This story has been told so many times since its release in so many different medium. It’s been a film adaptation, slated for a miniseries release, and was even a musical hit on Broadway!
Here’s the thing… I love these books. I’ve read them all and will probably re-read all again. However, I can’t say beyond a shadow of a doubt that these books will remain my favorites. And that’s because King is still writing books! Good ones at that.
So yes…this list can be subject to change. But this is just one girl’s opinion. What are you favorite Stephen King books? Do you agree with my choices? If not, share your take down below. I’d love to hear from you.