Your guide to the best Stephen King books…
Stephen King, an American author and one of the world’s bestsellers, is a celebrated icon in the literary world.
He is the master (or should I say the King) of the literary horror genre and has published over 63 novels, 200 short stories, and 20 novellas.
When it comes to bone-chilling horror, every other writer pales compared to King. Apart from horror, King has also published stories inspired by real-life tragedies that will leave you feeling myriad emotions.
If you want to read something that leaves you flinching every time you hear a strange noise or make you cry a pool of tears, Stephen King is the way to go.
He has this ability to get into people’s psyches. King’s ability to teleport the readers into his fictional worlds makes his works even more chilling.
Here is a list of the best Stephen King novels-excluding his short story collections- for all the bibliophiles and King fans out there.
(If you have not read King’s stories, you are missing out on a lot. So go ahead and grab these titles).
1. The Stand (1978)
The Stand is widely regarded as King’s masterpiece. It’s one of those books that will keep you turning the pages all day and night.
The Stand, set in a post-apocalyptic world infested with a deadly virus, transports the reader right into the dystopian future.
The characters are well-written and distinct in their own right; you either love them or grow to despise them; there is no middle ground.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Stephen King or not; if you enjoy literature, this is a must-read.
2. The Shining (1977)
I’m sorry, but you are living under a rock if you haven’t heard of The Shining.
Published in 1977, The Shining is Stephen King’s third novel which catapulted him to fame as a master horror writer.
This is the tale of Jack Torrance, an unemployed alcoholic with anger issues, his wife Wendy, and their five-year-old son with a special gift. Jack is hired to look after the Overlook Hotel, a remote mountain resort that closes for the winter. You will hate and love Jack Torrance at the same time.
Gradually, the plot begins to unravel as secrets from the hotel’s past are revealed. The dead occupants of the hotel start getting into Jack’s head, and the hotel itself attempts to claim the souls of the Torrance family, especially of the young boy with the gift.
The Shining is mortifying while also intense and disturbing, with raw emotions. It is a story like no other. King outdid himself with this story and established himself at the game’s top. There is also a terrifying film adapted from the novel. (Watch it if you haven’t.)
3. IT (1986)
It is impossible to talk about Stephen King and his books without mentioning IT.
It is the story of seven troubled teens from different backgrounds who come together and form an unlikely friend group, Losers Club, to fight an unknown, evil entity without a name haunting their small town- IT.
However, the story doesn’t end there. Almost three decades after defeating the supernatural entity, the kids are all grown up, yet the sinister presence comes back to haunt them once again.
When it was published in 1986, IT became the best-selling novel in the US. It is considered the benchmark of horror, one of the best horror novels written. Also, King created the iconic monster Pennywise who became one of the most famous monsters.
The novel has been adapted in a two-part major motion picture. Like the novel, the movie is also considered the spookiest, spine-chilling horror film ever made.
4. Carrie (1974)
Carrie is the first novel King wrote.
The story follows Carrie White and a troubled adolescent bullied at school. Apart from being bullied, she had to endure both mental and physical torture at the hands of her overprotective mother, Margaret White, an extreme religious fanatic who imposes her conservative and delusory beliefs on her.
However, Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers and goes on a killing spree against all wrongdoers.
Overall, this is a well-executed story that will keep you engaged and unable to put it down.
5. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982)
People are frequently taken aback when they learn that one of the greatest films ever produced, The Shawshank Redemption, was based on a Stephen King novel.
It contradicts the widespread belief that King’s literary abilities are limited to novels about vengeful ghosts, vampires, and dystopian futures.
The plot begins with a young banker, Andy Dufresne, being convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover due to circumstantial evidence.
Andy is sentenced to life in prison at Shawshank, where a sadistic warden tortures him and sexually assaulted by a group of inmates who call themselves “the Sisters.” The main theme of the book is that of eternal hope.
It is one of the best Stephen King books. Ever so captivating, it’s one of the few stories that capture your attention from the very first sentence.
6. The Long Walk (1979)
Stephen King wrote The Long Walk under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
The premise of this dystopian horror is straightforward: a hundred adolescent boys must walk without stopping to keep the populace entertained.
If the boys do not maintain a speed of 4 miles per hour, they will be shot by a group of soldiers after three warnings. The last man standing (in this case, a boy) is awarded a large sum of money as well as a prize of his choice.
The Long Walk is terrifying, engrossing, and psychologically dense.
7. Pet Sematary
Louis Creed and his family move into their new home in Maine. They find a path leading to a Pet Sematary in the woods where children bury their pets. And then the haunting begins. Doesn’t it seem simple? But it isn’t the case.
Pet Sematary is dark and terrifying and will leave you disturbed for days. This Stephen King story is not for the faint of heart. It is hardly an understatement to say that this is Stephen King’s darkest tale yet.
8. Lisey’s Story (2006)
Lisey’s story blends psychological horror with romance, a combination that could be disastrous if it’s not fleshed out well. Still, King does it with such poignancy that it is almost hard to believe something like this is written by a single man.
The story is about the title character Lisey, the widow of Scott Landon, a well-known and immensely famous author, as she fights to defend her late husband’s legacy while also recalling her marriage’s history when her life is threatened.
King himself chose Lisey’s Story as his best Stephen King book. Although it is considered one of the best King’s novels, it is atrociously misunderstood because of the novel’s intricate plotline. Some even consider it to be one of King’s worst novels yet.
9. Gerald’s Game (1992)
The story begins when Jessie Burlingame and her husband Gerald Burlingame travel to their lakeside vacation home in Maine for a romantic getaway, wanting to spice up their relationship.
However, when Jessie refuses to help Gerald play out on his dark fantasy of non-consensual intercourse, things quickly take a turn for the worse.
When Jessie kicks Gerald away from her, refusing to give in, Gerald dies of a heart attack, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed and the living nightmare begins.
The more you delve into the story, the creepier and disturbing it gets. A strange juxtaposition! At one point, you want to stop reading because it is so unsettling, but at the same time, you want to know how it ends.
Gerald’s game has also been adapted in an eerie Netflix movie.
10. Insomnia (1994)
King’s Insomnia will keep you up all night. Just like its protagonist, Ralph Roberts. Roberts loses his wife to cancer, and after her death, he has difficulty sleeping. Each night, he finds himself waking up earlier and earlier every night.
Soon after, he notices unusual happenings in his hometown, a small town in Maine. He knows that the bizarre sights he is seeing are consequences of something considerably more dangerous than sleep deprivation.
For fans of the Dark Tower series, several allusions in Insomnia link the two.
This Stephen King novel is engrossing, intriguing, and captivating. It’s well worth a read!
11. Salem’s Lot
Ben Mears, a writer, decides to visit the town where he used to live when he was a young boy, Jerusalem’s lot (also known as Salem’s lot in short), to find inspiration for his next book.
When he arrives, he learns that the eerie, empty property he had planned to rent has been rented to two unknown men.
A narrative of suspiciously vanished inhabitants and those who appear to have risen from the dead follows. To his surprise, he learns that his hometown is plagued with bloodsucking monsters known as vampires.
Stephen King needs no introduction, and Salem’s lot exemplifies why he is one of the world’s best-selling authors. His works are written in the style of a movie, and you can envisage and picture every aspect and visualize the story in your brain as it progresses.
12. The Dark Tower Series
The Dark Tower is a literary series by Stephen King that consists of eight novels. It is the story of Roland Deschain, the last remaining gunslinger (as introduced in the first book of the Dark Tower series), and his quest for the tower, whose nature is both physical and symbolic and incorporates themes from several genres, including dark fantasy, science fantasy, horror, and western.
The series, and its use of the Dark Tower, expand on Stephen King’s multiverse, connecting many of his other novels.
The Dark Tower series is one of the most thrilling Stephen King stories out there.
13. Dead Zone
What would you do if you woke up one day and realized that you could see the past and future of everyone you touch? Pretty fascinating scenario, right. If you don’t know how you’d react in a situation like this, you are not the only one.
Johnny Smith, the protagonist of The Dead Zone, has no idea either. In the fictitious town of Castle Rock, John awakens from a four-year coma with the power to see the past and future of whomever he touches. Some consider this talent to be a divine gift from God. For John, though, it is a curse.
The dead zone is what true horror feels like. The book doesn’t need monsters or killer clowns to scare you; John’s predicament is enough to leave you with your jaw dropped.
The Dead Zone is one of the fascinating Stephen King books.
14. Bag of Bones
Mike Noonan, a best-selling novelist, suffers from writer’s block four years after losing his pregnant wife. He decides to relocate to his vacation home in Maine to move on.
He soon starts having hallucinations. However, he realizes that his summer house is haunted and that his dead wife is still there after moving in.
The story is not your usual horror novel. It doesn’t have many supernatural elements.
But, it will leave you feeling a plethora of different emotions. It is a harrowing tale of a man grieving his dead partner, and it is more heartbreakingly beautiful than scary.
15. Doctor Sleep
A sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep follows the story of a grown-up, Dany Torrance, who is still plagued by what happened at the Overlook hotel years ago, even after starting anew.
On the other hand, a group of evil entities starts wreaking havoc by killing people who have the gift of shining.
Though it is the sequel of The Shining, it is nothing like the previous installment. The prequel is an epic horror classic, this iteration of the narrative is more of a dystopian thriller, yet you’ll find yourself hanging on every word because you can’t get enough of it.
16. The Green Mile
The novel takes place in a prison. The story is narrated in the first-person narrative of Paul Edgecombe. He was the senior officer on death row in the 1930s and his interactions with an eccentric convict named John Coffey.
The Green Mile is not a horror novel; instead, it is based on magical realism, but as expected, it is as descriptive as other Stephen King books. The Green Mile is a rough ride emotionally and has some fantastic comic elements.
17. Bill Hodges Trilogy
The trilogy centers around Bill Hodges, a former police officer troubled by his past errors, which resulted in the deaths of several innocent people.
In the novels, Bill Hodges chooses to track out the perpetrator of the tragedy that occurred years ago, and thus the adventure starts.
The series, like Carrie, contains numerous fantasy elements. It’s thrilling, vengeful, and mind-blowing. This is a must-read for all adrenaline seekers out there.
18. The Girl Who loved Tom Gordon
The story is now what you think it is after reading the title. The protagonist is a nine-year-old young girl, Trisha, who gets separated from her family in the middle of a forest. She has only her Walkman and uses it to connect to the outside world.
She can temporarily forget her ordeal by becoming absorbed in her favorite baseball team’s matches on the radio, and her fantasies of overseeing her favorite player, Tom Gordon, in the forest help her deal with her loneliness.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon has just the right mix of tension and creepiness. The narrative is intriguing and terrifying, giving the simple components of nature something to dread and respect.
19. From a Buick 8 (2002)
After Curtis Wilcox, a cop, dies in an accident, Ned Wilcox finds that his father’s colleagues have a secret hidden behind the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Western Pennsylvania.
In hidden, a Buick car was abandoned at a petrol station twenty years ago by a strange man. It turns out the car is not a car at all!
From a Buick 8 is the second story written by King to feature a supernatural vehicle. It is weird in the most beautiful way.
With this, the list of best Stephen King books comes to an end.
Stephen King’s books are not everyone’s cup of tea; neither can everyone appreciate the sheer brilliance of his masterpieces.
It’s almost sad to see how people have this constructed image about King. His works are just restricted to horror with formulaic plotlines, and predictable jump scares, but as you dig further into the intricacy of his novels, you’ll see that King is much more than that.
What distinguishes him is his use of real-life horrors such as personal tragedies and traumas, racism, homophobia, and psychiatric disorders in his works.
After all, the true monster isn’t always the one from a novel or a movie; it’s the society we live in and the people around us.
If you haven’t read either of these titles, go ahead and pick up a copy. These will have you turning the pages late at night, and don’t be alarmed if you hear a weird noise coming from an open window; it’s not a monster. Or is it?