Stephen King: A Top-Ten List

A few weeks ago, the Honey Badger put up a list of his top-ten works by Stephen King.  Since reading it, I’ve been thinking about compiling my own list of favorite King works.  The problem is, King is part of my writing DNA in a way distinct from almost any other writer.  It was because of reading his Christine during the fall semester of my freshman year of high school that I was set on the path to becoming a horror writer.  After I discovered his work, I read and re-read it over and over again, learning something new from it each time.  There are things he’s written that are engraved on my bones.  So no surprise:  once I sat down to puzzle the matter out, trying to limit my favorites to ten proved much more difficult than I had expected.  Not to mention, there are several of King’s more recent works that I still haven’t gotten to.  Here’s a list, then, that is both reasonably accurate and completely unsatisfying:

1.  Night Shift


2.  Skeleton Crew


3.  Different Seasons


4.  Full Dark, No Stars


5.  Just After Sunset


6.  Hearts in Atlantis


7.  The Stand


8.  The Shining


9.  Pet Sematary


10.  The Dark Tower II:  The Drawing of the Three


The list is accurate because these are works to which I’ve returned time and again, and which have stuck with me in the years (in some cases) since last I read them.  It’s unsatisfying because it might consist of another ten works with equal accuracy.  It’s interesting to me to note how many of my choices are books of King’s stories.  I think it was Harlan Ellison who said, some years ago, that it was in King’s stories that you found his greatest accomplishments.  I’m not sure I’d completely buy that, but there’s an awful lot of good stuff in a book like Night Shift or Skeleton Crew.

People’s mileage with King tends to vary, the way it seems to with Tolkien.  I love his stuff, and can’t wait to get back to it.


2 thoughts on “Stephen King: A Top-Ten List

  1. RPS says:

    I really love how King, despite the massive sales, is also like the literary equivalent of Velvet Underground’s first LP: so many people decided to become writers when they first read him.

    I remember Martin Amis speaking about that special throb the first time you read certain people: the instant knowledge you will have to read every word they ever put on paper. I felt it with maybe ten or twelve authors all my life, nearly half of them in the horror genre: King was one (“The Mist”, in Dark Forces, a long, long time ago… and I still think it’s probably his greatest single piece of fiction); Peter Straub was another (that amazing prologue to Ghost Story).

    Funnily enough, I had the same experience twice while reading the New Cthulhu anthology, with two short stories called “Old Virginia” and “Mr. Gaunt”, by two guys who are apparently friends. Who knows, maybe they’ll even pull a King/Straub one day and do a Talisman-type-thing.
    Now, wouldn’t that be something?

  2. John says:

    Hey RPS,

    Yeah, Straub’s another favorite–in ways that are distinct from King but that may ultimately run deeper. He needs a post of his own–hell, both he and King need major essays, if not books, of their own.

    And thanks for the kind words about my own work. Laird and I have plans to collaborate at some point in the future–we just need to figure out on what…



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