As you may know, Mr. King is my favorite author. This list is exclusive to stand alone novels.
I’m not going to write a synopsis, rather just some general thoughts. I highly recommend all of these.
This book scared the poo out of me when I first read it in sixth grade. I return to it every 5 years or so. It’s really more of a character study of the seven protagonists, as well as the town of Derry. But, believe you me, the horror is there too. Come to think of it, since I read it at such a young age, I think this one is what kicked off my love of all things horror. For that, it deserves the top spot.
2. The Stand
I remember seeing this book in my step-mom’s roll top desk. I was turned off by the cover, thinking it was some sort of fantasy novel, I mean these guys look almost medieval with their pointy shoes and hoods and swords. It was much later when I found out what this book is about, and decided to tackle it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more misleading cover than this 1978 version. I guess it’s metaphorical for good vs evil, which is the main theme of the book, but it in no way does justice to the unbelievable scope of this novel. I love apocalyptic fiction, and this is as good as it gets.
3. Duma Key
I think King is at his best when writing in the first person. He does it so well that you forget he is the author. So, in essence, this one is written by Edgar Freemantle, a guy who suffers a horrible accident and then suddenly discovers an artistic ability he didn’t even know he had. Reading it made me want to paint, though I’m terrible at it. The richness of the characters and the setting really allowed for total immersion into the story. Maybe being from Florida and frequenting the Gulf coast islands helped, but after I was done reading, I felt like I lived in Duma for a while.
A time travel novel. And a great one at that. I may have this one so high up on the list because I’m a sucker for time travel. This novel is a little puffy in some areas, which is why some people didn’t like it. The pacing isn’t quite as fast as most of King’s work. But that was okay with me because I enjoyed the reminiscence, the ethical dilemmas, and, yes, the love story aspect. And when we do arrive at 11/22/63, the tension is outstanding. Also, the time travel mechanism, while very simple, was really cool in that there really was no mechanism. It’s just a fluke. If time travel exists, I could see it happening this way.
5. The Shining
Even if you haven’t read this one, odds are you’ve seen the movie. Don’t let that stop you from reading it, the differences are enough to justify it. You may have heard that King didn’t really like the Kubrick adaptation, because Jack Torrence is portrayed as being mentally unstable from the get-go. In the book, he is a much more sympathetic and accessible character, and it really does work better. Plus, this book is scary as hell. The room 237 scene, which I didn’t think could be any more terrifying as it was in the film, nearly made me want to close the book.
6. Bag of Bones
At the risk of sounding repetitive, the first person characterization of Mike Noonan is incredible. It’s as if King can just go into a trance and become someone else for a while. Awesome story, characters, and setting. No one can make me suspend disbelief in the supernatural like King. I don’t know why this one isn’t higher on the list. Maybe it should be.
7. Salem’s Lot
I’ve never been a huge fan of vampires, but I still hate that you can’t say that word today without thinking of Twilight or any of its clones. Vampires shouldn’t be sexy and worried about falling in love. They should be nasty and evil. And that’s what they are here. This novel examines the vampire, the small town, and the haunted house. All of that, in one book. During the scene when the Marsten House is being explored for the first time, I was legitimately frightened. I love that.
8. Lisey’s Story
Among King fans, you love it or you hate it. I loved it. It’s a departure from his normal work, yes, but I think it displays his versatility and talent. It explores the secret languages that arise from intimate relationships, as well as psychological issues and the afterlife. Don’t worry, it has some scares, too.
9. Pet Sematary
I saw the movie as a youngster, and was scared out of my mind by the dream sequence with Rachel’s bedridden sister. Gah! Just thinking about it gives me chills again. It’s probably the scariest scene of any movie made from a Stephen King book. Anyway, this book is solid all the way through. Great scene when Louis is digging up his son’s grave. I could smell the dirt. This book, pound for pound, may have the most scares of any of them. And that ending . . .
10. The Dead Zone
A coma unlocks unwanted psychic powers. Excellent plot idea, and the story delivers perfectly. The main character, Johnny, is so heartbreakingly sympathetic that it hurts. This novel has a wretched bad guy in the politician Greg Stillson, and the climax is wonderfully fulfilling.
So there they be. Go out and buy all of them. Suck them on down. You’ll be very glad you did. I plan on making a top ten list of my favorite King short stories very soon.