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Ten of The Best Stephen King Books

Updated on April 27, 2016

While Stephen King has gained traction in the world of horror for a number of decades, there are also stories penned by King that have a more realistic and dramatic tone. Those who are new to the world of Stephen King may struggle to decide which are the best Stephen King books to begin reading. Fortunately, the following list will give you an overview of some of the more popular Stephen King works if you’re new to the genre, as well as some that more seasoned readers may not be aware of.

10) The Running Man – 1982

While credited to King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, ‘The Running Man’ can often be overlooked due it to being compared to the movie carrying the same name featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987. While the movie was popular among movie goers, it featured little in common with the movie other than it was set within a futuristic game show and the name of the lead character was Ben Richards.

So what makes ‘The Running Man’ one of the best Stephen King books? Well, it offered readers a more sinister world than the one seen in the movie. While the movie saw Richards framed for a crime he didn't commit and entered onto a game show that sees him face off against almost-comedic enemies, the book was more of a thriller, with Richards entering the game show so he can win money for medical necessities for his sick family.

The book also sees Richards on the run within the real world, with a series of hunters tracking his every move. The public are also rewarded for phoning in information that relays to the whereabouts of Richards.

The book shows what desperate people do for money, and how these people are manipulated by the media for their own entertainment, something that’s becoming more and more prevalent within the real world.

9) Four Past Midnight – 1990

Although it was nominated for a Locus Award in 1991, this isn't what ranks ‘Four Past Midnight’ among the best Stephen King books, but rather it’s bite-sized stories that can help newbies become adapted to King’s style and vision.

Fans of TV series such as ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tales from the Cryptkeeper’ will be familiar with the layout of the book, or novella as it’s more commonly known. Don’t think for one minute that these novella pulls any punches mind, some of the stories on offer her really do hit a nerve.

‘The Library Policeman’ is a truly disturbing tale, while ‘The Langloliers’ offers a more sinister setting for the story of a plane that eradicates everyone on board except those who were sleeping when compared to the lacklustre 1995 television series. The story follows a group of people searching for answers while questioning the surreal world they find themselves in, often leading to conflict within the group.

Some stories are stronger than others, but the stories on offer will keep you entertained and allow you to build up to a bigger dose of Stephen King, or even other novellas featuring the same structure.

8) Christine - 1983

When you think of the best Stephen King books, you would be forgiven for assuming that a book about a car that kills people is something of a damp squid when compared to King’s other works, however that assumption would be incorrect.

Christine tells the story of Arnie Cunningham, a stereotypical loner who only has one friend, the popular Dennis Guilder. On the way home from school one afternoon, Arnie notices a rusty 1958 Plymouth Fury, and purchases it with a view to rebuilding it.

Dennis and his family scoff at the idea, but become surprised when Arnie manages to completely restore the car to its original condition, albeit for better or worse. What follows is a trip through the character of Arnie, who develops an unhealthy obsession with the car, and sees relationships erode around him.

The story speaks of loneliness and just what lengths we go to when that loneliness seems too much, without considering the ramifications. An easy read that manages to combine fear and drama effortlessly.

The book was adapted into a movie within the year, headed by famous director John Carpenter. Although some deviations were made from the original novel, the movie is probably one of the more faithful King adaptations.

7) Carrie - 1974

As well as being one of the best Stephen King books, Carrie is also one of the most banned books in US schools. The book tells the story of Carrie White, a 16-year-old girl who not only struggles with puberty, but also the daily ridicule aimed at her from her fellow classmates.

Home life does little to make her feel any better due to her religious and emotionally-challenged mother, and as such, spends a lot of time on her own. Carrie notices that she holds telekinetic powers, suddenly realising that she may have the upper-hand against her rivals yet.

Although the numerous movie adaptations tell the story in a direct manner, the book offers something a little different, which is why it is included on this list of the best Stephen King books.

Told using an epistolary method, the story is relayed to the reader via newspaper clippings, diary entries and magazine cuttings, giving the book a more realistic feel.

6) Needful Things - 1991

Avid readers of King’s work will be familiar with Castle Rock, the fictional town where a great number of King’s works take place. ‘Needful Things’ was the last book by Stephen King to be set in Castle Rock, and tells the story of a shop that has something for everyone, as long as they are able to pay the price.

What makes ‘Needful Things’ one of the best Stephen King books is the clever play on reality. The store opens and offers consumers every kind of product, regardless of rarity, but ask for a high price that many are keen to part with, at least in the beginning.

It shows how materialistic mankind can be, and how they can overlook their own character and moral values in order to get what they want, without considering the consequences.

The book was interpreted as a movie in 1993, complete with tagline ‘Buy Now, Pay Later.’ However, the film was considered something of a let-down among critics, mainly due to the depressing nature of the movie.

5) Different Seasons - 1982

Another novella that brings together four different stories that offer a more realistic tone when compared to other works, the book is famous for influencing not one, but two movie adaptations that would go on to become firm favourites within the movie.

‘The Body’ is the short story that would go onto inspire the 1986 movie ‘Stand by Me’ starring Kiefer Sutherland and River Phoenix. Although the original story has some slight differences, it tells the same story of four friends who travel across a local rail line to go and see a dead body.

‘Rita Heyworth and The Shawshank Adaptation’ tells the story of Andy Dufrense, who is imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite being innocent. Although perplexed when entering prison, he soon makes friends with Red, a prisoner able to smuggle a number of goods into prison. Dufrense begins to navigate his way through prison life while trying to hold his own and prove his innocence.

The two other stories, ‘Apt Pupil’ and ‘The Breathing Club’ offer a similar setting in that the reader is introduced into a world that appears normal, but carries very dark undertones.

4) The Green Mile - 1996

Another King novel that deters away from horror, and actually infuses magic into an otherwise gritty portrayal of prison life during the 30s.

The book is told from the perspective of Paul Edgecombe, a block supervisor of the Cold Mountain Penitentiary death row, also known as ‘the green mile.’

The block sees the admittance of John Coffey, a 6’8 black prisoner accused of murdering and raping two white girls. However, as the story develops, it transpires there is more to John Coffey than first expected, and not everything surrounding his imprisonment is as it seems.

What really establishes ‘The Green Mile’ as one of the best Stephen King books is the detail within the story-telling. Not only are you given in-depth details about the characters within the story, but readers can almost taste the era in the air.

‘The Green Mile’ was adapted into a 1999 movies starring Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecombe and Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey, going on to be a hit with both critics and movie-goers.

3) The Shining - 1977

Often cited as one of the best Stephen King books ever, ‘The Shining’ focuses on Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer who takes a role as an off-season caretaker in the Overlook Hotel. His young son and wife accompany him, with his son Danny developing ‘the shining,’ which are collective physic abilities that allow Danny to view the haunting history of the hotel.

Add to this Jack’s failing grip on reality as supernatural forces take over and you left with a story that is both surreal and exciting.

‘The Shining’ was developed into a 1980 movie starring Jack Nicholson. The movie, directed by Stanley Kubrick, offered a few changes when compared to the novel, much to the dismay of King. However, the movie is considered to be one of the best horror movies ever, and has earned a loyal fan base.

2) Cell - 2006

King takes on the modern day with his zombie-influenced ‘Cell.’ Clayton Riddell lands a deal to publish his graphic novel, before a mysterious signal is sent over a global cell phone network, turning all those who are introduced to it into a mindless killer.

Riddell must find his way home to his son while joining forces with other members of the public unaffected by the frequency who are also searching for answers.

The premise may not be new, but it does offer a technophobe slant to the genre, which in itself is scarier as it has the potential to happen within the real world. King plays on this throughout the novel, unearthing fears that are based on our reliance on technology.

‘Cell’ is among the best Stephen king books for readers looking for a more modern interpretation of King’s world, while still offering classic traits that more seasoned readers will be accustomed to.

1) IT - 1986

Considered by many to the best Stephen King book ever, ‘IT’ is a coming of age story that focuses on a supernatural being hunting members of ‘The Losers Club,’ seven children who have all witness the being, albeit in a number of different forms.

As an eponymous being that often hunts children, many see the being in the form of a clown known as Pennywise, which it uses to lure in children. Once the children have been lured, the normally see the force in the guise of something that scares the child, be it a werewolf or a zombie, with the being feeding of the fear.

The children must also battle against local bullies, and the worry of children disappearing locally. As the being appears once every 30 years, the children meet up again as adults to try and deal with the evil that caused so much pain all those years ago.

As well as the obvious supernatural connections, what makes this one of the best Stephen King books are the themes dealt with, which include small-town mentality. All these factors helped it become one of the best-selling books in the US in 1986.

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Overall

These titles are just the top of the iceberg when it comes to the bibliography of Stephen King, but hopefully it has given new readers some insight as to what the best Stephen King books are, and the themes incorporated into that particular title.

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    • peejay1980 profile image
      Author

      Paul Jellicoe 15 months ago from Neston, UK

      Cell isn't a favourite among many, which dissuade others from reading. Granted, it's not his best work ever, but it does show King is working with the current world and all it has to throw at us.

    • profile image

      Jeff Cann 15 months ago

      Cell? I enjoyed it, but I don't think it would make my *deep* list. Hearts in Atlantis is quite high on my list right now. I read it about 5 months ago and it is spending a lot of time in my head. Thanks for posting. We diverge in many places. I think you've inspired me to reread a few.

      Jeff jefftcann.com

    • peejay1980 profile image
      Author

      Paul Jellicoe 16 months ago from Neston, UK

      Really? I'll have to have a look into it, thanks for the heads up!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 16 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      All great choices. My favorite Stephen King book: "On Writing". Best book I've ever read on the writing process and how to form good habits in pursuit of creativity. It's not well known, but it is brilliant.