I’ve been a reader of Stephen King books for about 30 years – his first book Carrie was written even longer ago, back in 1973. It was a book that may have never seen the light of day. He threw the first draft of the book into the bin. It was retrieved by his wife…..he persevered with the story and sold it to Doubleday. His advance was a miserly $2,500 and he later earned over $400,000 for the paperback rights alone. Not bad for a book that had been thrown in the garbage.
I have seen numerous top ten lists for King’s books, but mine is purely based on the books that I have personally read. I don’t pretend to have read all 59 of his novels plus other short story collections. These books are all on my bookshelf.
Counting down in reverse order…..
10. The 1992 thriller Gerald’s Game is my choice for number 10 on my top 10 Stephen King books list. I just enjoyed the twisted mind of King in this one. The idea that a married couple go away to a remote cabin by a lake in the back of beyond for a weekend of kinky sex. What could possibly go wrong??? Well, how about as soon as the husband has handcuffed his wife to the bed head ready for a little debauchery….he drops dead from a heart attack. What happens to the wife? Does she get out or does she lay there until she starves to death? Does someone else find her there helpless – if so do they set her free or have their wicked way with her? Is she attacked by wild animals? Read the book and all will be revealed.
9. Cell – written in 2006. This book is a story about an apocalyptic event, caused by a pulse sent through the cell phone network, that turns cell phone users into rabid monsters. Far fetched yes…..but what King book isn’t. Most of his books are written starting with the idea of “what if?” And through the actions of the primary characters he lets the story pretty much write itself. It’s a return to King’s horror roots after years of dabbling in other things. Some of his stories up to this point had seen him wallowing in elaborate character building and long drawn out scenes that have you screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” – but not in this book. He grabs you by the balls in the first few pages and drags you screaming all the way to the end. An homage to the old Zombie movies!
8. The Dark Half – 1990. I just had to include The Dark Half as it was the first King novel that I ever read, so has a special place in my literary heart. Without this book I may never have read or collected as many of King’s works as I have. It’s a story of a writer, who creates an evil, wicked character for a story he’s writing……but the character manifests itself, turns up on the writers door step and begins to take over his life. He creates mayhem in the small town where writer Thad Beaumont resides. Murder after murder follows and Beaumont realises that things have gone way out of control. How does he put the character of George Stark back into Pandora’s box once he’s released him? Is there any way back? Great story – Really enjoyed it.
7. Thinner – written under the name of Richard Bachman in 1984 as a stand alone novel. BUT I recall first reading it as part of a collection of stories… Any story that begins with the main character, a very overweight guy, getting – how can I put this tactfully? – sexual gratification, from his wife, while driving a car should probably make this list. It’s what happens while his wife is “busy” and HE is distracted that sets the scene for the incident that really starts the story. While distracted by his wife he accidentally runs over an old gypsy woman. He goes to court but gets off the charges (pun intended!) because he knows the judge. Case dismissed! BUT as he leaves the courthouse an old gypsy man walks over to him, taps him once on the arm and says the word “thinner”. Just that one word. Initially puzzled by this, the very next day our “hero” realizes that he’s lost weight. At first he’s quite happy about it – he could do with losing a few pounds…But the next day he’s lost more and continues to lose weight at an alarming rate – victim of a gypsy curse. Can he track down the old gypsy and get the curse removed before he disappears completely?
6. Dream Catcher 2001 – a story about 4 friends who head off to a cabin in the woods for some R & R but end up encountering an alien invasion and a crazy – I mean really really crazy – military man. Covering eliments of horror, suspense and alien invasion/abduction….not to mention a fair chunk of lavatorial humour…..and an unlikely hero who has Down’s Syndrome. As I look at what I’ve just written it sounds like a ridiculous story but King has a way of carrying the plot along and to make you believe in what you’re reading. King himself was recovering from a life threatening traffic accident when he wrote this book…so maybe the plot line had something to do with the pain killer medication? Ha-ha! It made the list at number 6.
5. The Regulators – again written as Richard Bachman.
In the beginning, we learn about the residents of Poplar Street, a normal Ohio block. There is a singular “token” black couple, another guy who is an alcoholic, his wife is the local busy body who no one can abide. Another lady lives with her autistic nephew, who’s family was murdered in a drive by shooting……and then a newspaper delivery boy is murdered by a mysterious shooter in a van. It seems that maybe Poplar Street isn’t quite as normal and idyllic as it first appears. Death and destruction follow at an alarming rate.
And 4. Is the sister book to the Regulators – Desperation. The two novels represent parallel universes relative to one another, and most of the characters present in one novel’s world also exist in the other novel’s reality, albeit in different circumstances. Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolate highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the fictional mining town of Desperation. Entragian uses various pretexts for the abductions, from an arrest for drug possession to “rescuing” a family from a nonexistent gunman. It becomes clear to the captives that Entragian has been possessed by an evil being named Tak, who has control over the surrounding desert wildlife and must change hosts to keep itself alive. They begin to fight for their freedom, sanity and lives before realizing that if they are ever to escape Desperation, they must trap Tak in the place from which he came. But do they????
3. Number 3 in my list is the JFK book – 11/22/63. A high-school teacher is a regular at a run down diner in small town America. One day the owner of the diner reveals a supernatural secret to the teacher…..in the back of the diner is a kind of time portal – a worm hole if you like – back to the late 1950’s. If that’s not weird enough, Al, the diner owner, tells Jake, the teacher, that no matter how long you stay in the 1950’s world at the other side of the portal you are only away from the current world for a maximum of 2 minutes. You can be gone for days or years, but pop back to the side you came from and poof only 2 minutes have passed. There are other rules relating to this “time travel system” – but you’ll have to read the book to find out about them. The whole pretext of the book is the idea of going back in time to change a vital event. If you could go back and alter one thing that could change history, what would it be? King in this book chooses the assassination of John F Kennedy. Can Jake, under Al’s guidance save Kennedy…..starting a change of events that could then also save Kennedy’s brother Robert, save Martin Luther King, prevent the race riots, maybe even prevent the Vietnam war?
2. Number 2 is the extended/uncut version of the dystopian novel “The Stand”. It’s an interesting book to read from a modern day “Prepper” point of view. Would you react the same way as the lead characters in this story if faced with a similar situation? The scenario is that a strain of influenza, which has been modified as a biological weapon, is released, by accident, into the atmosphere causing an apocalyptic pandemic killing off most of the human population and causing a complete breakdown of society. It’s an epic story with a stellar cast of characters, who are for the most part quite believable – in such an horrific situation. Human frailties are highlighted by King – as is the tendency of “man-kind” to repeat the same mistakes over and over without learning from them. It is without doubt one of Kings finest stories. The only reason I have not made it number 1 is that I feel, after the wonderful work done throughout the story – it’s as though he had to hurry the end – which incidentally I think was a very weak and disappointing ending. I read later – years later – that King admitted having writers block while writing The Stand – which could account for the ending. It’s still an amazing book though – a MUST READ!
Fanfare and drum roll please…………..
NUMBER 1. On my list the top spot goes to King’s classic ‘bump in the dark’ novel “IT”, which reminds all of us of our childhood fears of bumps in the night and monsters under the bed. King first had the idea of IT in 1978, started to write down notes in 1981 and published in 1986…..so it was a long time coming. BUT worth the wait. IT is a classic horror story and one that deals with themes that have become in many of his books King’s staples…..I’m talking about the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood, the ugliness lurking behind a facade of small-town quaintness, and overcoming evil through mutual trust and sacrifice. The evil being in this story appears in the guise of Pennywise the Clown who preys on small children…..and hides in the storm drains under the streets of small town America. This is only one of IT’s manifestations however, as it shape-shifts and feeds off the children’s fears. Our heroes in the story are a bunch of 7 misfit kids nicknamed the LOSERS. Of course where there are misfit kids there are also the town bullies – who add another dimension to the story. The timeline of the tale runs over many years and follows the Losers into adulthood – where they re-unite in a bid to rid the town of IT forever. It’s just a classic scary novel and I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t read IT, you’re missing a treat.
Other novels that could have made my list but just missed out are the serialised novel “The Green Mile” and another epic story “Under the Dome” (which like The Stand – I feel had a very weak ending).