In Depth

Top ten books by Stephen King

Outstanding books from the master of horror

Stephen King has written more than 60 books, many of them thrilling and terrifying. King of horror, his classics include It and The Shining, but he has also ventured into other genres. Here are ten of his top page-turners.

Carrie (1974)

King’s first novel and instant classic, Carrie, follows Carrie White, a high-school student with telekinetic powers who lashes out at her brutal bullies. Later adapted into three separate films, this quickly became a cult-favorite.

Salem’s Lot (1975)

A writer returns to the town he lived in as a boy to find that the residents are turning into vampires. King says this is one of his own favourites, “mostly because of what it says about small towns - they are kind of a dying organism right now”.

The Shining (1977)

The influence behind many modern haunted house tales, The Shining follows Jack Torrance, who is employed as the caretaker of a hotel in Colorado one winter. He hopes to finish his writing project, overcome his alcoholism and spend time with his wife and son. But once the family is left alone, Jack appears to go insane. Though the now-iconic 1980 movie by Stanley Kubrick catapulted this story to fame, King apparently hated the remake, describing it as "a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones", saying that, "a visceral sceptic such as Kubrick just couldn't grasp the sheer inhuman evil of the Overlook Hotel".

The Stand (1978)

A deadly virus, nicknamed Captain Trips, kills 99.4% of the world's population, leaving the remaining humans to grapple with the concept of good vs. evil. James Smythe of The Guardian says “it's because of The Stand that I've read all his work, and that I embarked on this series; it's because of The Stand that I'm a writer at all” saying that the characters “cover every shade of human morality”. King says in the novel's introduction that he "wanted to write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting”.

The Dead Zone (1979)

This book was King’s first hardcover bestseller and propelled him into the literary mainstream. The protagonist finds himself afflicted with a mysterious psychic ability to see into the past and future of anyone he touches. The story was made famous in David Cronenberg’s 1983 film adaptation.

Cujo (1981)

King wrote this novel in the height of his own alcoholic period, and it is said to be a blunt metaphor for addiction. The book follows a neglected dog who gets bitten by a rat and becomes rabid, and starts killing off the inhabitants of a small town one by one. The Guardian explains the addiction metaphor: “He – Cujo, King – is trapped inside whatever's driving his body for him. He hurts those he loves. He is brutal and remorseless, because he is not himself. Those who would stop him are cut down or trapped. They can only look at him through windows and pray he leaves them alone, or that they get a chance to stop him.”

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982)

Fans of the hit movie The Shawshank Redemption might be surprised to learn that it was actually adapted from a King novella. While King is often associated with killer clowns and haunted hotels, in this story he played on the fears of being sentenced to life in jail for a crime you didn't commit.

Pet Semetary (1983)

Again finding fame in its 1986 film adaption, Pet Semetary is “about the intense and often horrific nature of grief, and the lingering effects of direct brushes with death itself”, says Vox.

It (1986)

It is one of the most iconic works of 1980s horror literature, inspiring the famous 1990 mini-series, and recently adapted into a 2017 hit starring Bill Skarsgard and Jaeden Lieberher. At 1,400 pages, the book is intimidating not just for its horrifying content, but sheer length. The story follows seven young outcasts who face their worst nightmare - an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town's children. The Guardian says the story is “incredible: a structural marvel, an author at the height of his powers, and he's showing off. Juggling dual narratives, historical interludes, an astonishing number of characters, King somehow makes it all seem effortless.”

Revival (2014)

This is one of King’s most critically acclaimed works. The 2014 novel begins with the arrival of a new Methodist minister in early 1960s Maine. Vox says “the sheer strangeness of the story, along with King’s ability to pull you along through his sprawling literary canvas, makes Revival one of King’s most enjoyable reads”.

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