All Twenty-One of Stephen King's Books I've Read* so far (or Attempted to Read) Ranked from Worst to Best

Vulture released a worst-to-best ranking a couple years ago of Stephen King's sixty-four books and I thought they got it mostly right.  But I like this hardcore King fan's list better.

*I've read -- completed -- eighteen books by Stephen King so far in my life and have attempted to read three more.  The three I couldn't finish are the first three listed.  So, here's my personal worst-to-best ranking of the twenty-one books I've read or attempted to read by Stephen King.

Signet pb of original version
21. The Tommyknockers (1987).  A heartbreakingly bad reading experience that ended my then loyal relationship with Stephen King.  I made it 200-250 pages and gave up in disgust.  It's good to see I wasn't the only reader who thought this novel was tired, bloated, and just generally all-around atrocious.

20. The Complete & Uncut 1990 version of The Stand.  Three years had passed since I abandoned Stephen King.  Having such fond memories of the much shorter (by about 400 pages) original version of The Stand, I thought I'd give King another chance. But quickly realized there were valid reasons King's editors excised that extra baggage & overblown bloat more than a decade earlier.  It just sucked, and I was so disappointed, having been suckered in by the hype & hoopla regarding its re-release.

19. Insomnia (1994).  Another four years had passed.  I missed Stephen King!  He was my good buddy when I was a lonely alienated adolescent, like so many of us here.  I wanted him back.  But damn it, Stephen, your Insomnia put me to sleep!  Twenty years now have come and gone, and while I've reread a couple of King's books in the interim listed below (The Dead Zone and The Shining), I've yet risked reading anything new of his.  Am I wrong for no longer remaining current with the prolific output of King?  If I am wrong, which book of his, post-1994, should I begin with?


18. Cycle of the Werewolf (1983).  Even though I read it in one sitting (it's a novella plentifully illustrated), it was just okay.  Of course, "okay" by Stephen King standards is pretty damn good for most anybody else.  It didn't transport me someplace special; I never got lost in the story; it didn't take me away outside of myself like so much of the finest work of King's once did.  Or maybe I was just too damn young and naive to know any better, could that have been it?

17. The Running Man (1982).  Forgettable. A race that never ends.  Last man running in the race doesn't win, he just gets to live . . . until the next race. I thought the Schwarzenegger adaptation bit the dust too.

16. The Long Walk (1979). I enjoy taking long walks. Walking, or even hiking uphill with a forty pound backpack is not Hell. Leave it Stephen King to take something really nice like a nice long walk and metastasize it into something monstrous. Bastard.

15. Rage (1977).  First of the novels written under the Richard Bachman nom de guerre, and a novel now most notable because King regrets publishing it, and has refused his publishers the right to reissue it. King is blessed (or in this case cursed?) with sometimes too prescient of an imagination. Rage is about a high school boy who walks into a classroom with gun and holds the class hostage all day.  I think he even killed a fellow student (or teacher) or two, though I don't remember for sure. When school shootings began occurring here in the States w/alarming regularity in the mid-1980s, one of the school shooters proudly proclaimed King's Rage as being his inspiration.  Copycats followed.  King took a ton of heat and soon disowned the book.  But it's still a good book.

14. Roadwork (1981).  Like his short story "The Woman in the Room, "this is one of King's rare ventures into literary fiction.  Real horror can be bureaucracy, red tape and not just a bloody vampire's fangs.  Real terror is the government acting like oppressive vindictive ghouls out of Stalinist-era Soviet Union come to clobber you and bury you alive with earth movers.  Eminent domain can be a major pain for some homeowners.

loved these Signet paperback covers
13. Thinner (1984).  The last of the five novels King wrote under the pseudonym "Richard Bachman" (at least up to that point, that is, when Richard Bachman was still a secret even to his most fanatical aficionados) and easily his best, for my money, under the Bachman nom de guerre.  If you're ever at a carnival and a real (not pretend) gypsy offers you a delicious cherry pie, don't you dare give into the temptation and take a bite of it, because otherwise you've just begun the cherry pie diet to end all diets. Funny how the first three letters in "diet" are d, i, e.

12. Misery (1987).  The last novel of King's I completed before leaving him as a dedicated, bought-his-new-hardcovers-the-day-they-came-out-fan for good.  How he could write such a compelling and demented novel like Misery and then follow it up with a colossal dud like The Tommyknockers just half a year later is beyond me.  Actually, it's not.  King later admitted it was  the drugs he was abusing that made him suck so bad as a novelist for a while.

11. Danse Macabre.  King's first work of non-fiction from 1981 remains a book I regularly reference for reading and movie ideas to this day, as it contains long lists of King's personal horror novel and terrifying film recommendations that often include obscure titles worthy of a larger audience.

10. Different Seasons (1982).  A collection of four wonderful novellas.  Everybody's seen Stand By Me, right, & The Shawshank Redemption?  Well, those two novellas' contemporary classic films made from them are as good if not better than their brilliant adaptations.  And I've yet failed to mention Apt Pupil too, and, and, what was the fourth one? ....

09. It (1986).  Despite It's lackluster and disappointing denouement, there's still well over 1,000-plus pages of sheer mesmerizing storytelling.  For a novel this huge, it didn't read like it needed an editor.

08. The Dead Zone.  King's fifth novel and the third one to examine, realistically, and in this case, politically, the far reaching implications of the paranormal in a person's -- and in their country's -- often very taken-for-granted liberties and ultimately, survival as a free society and as uncaged individuals.  I think it is overlooked and way underrated in King's canon.  The adaptation, and particularly Christopher Walken's haunting performance, is a rare exception of a movie based on a Stephen King novel that actually compliments the novel, and to the point where I can say the movie was as good as the book.

I remember lugging this first printing hard cover
 around from class to class my senior year in high school
07. Skeleton Crew (1985).  Buying it for the novella "The Mist" alone would be worth it, but this collection has some truly twisted & disgusting (yet oddly endearing) stories just as good as the novella its most famous for.  The story "Survivor Type" prefigured, I believe, the Survivor reality show.

06. Night Shift (1978). His first and probably scariest short story collection. "Jerusalem's Lot" scared the bejeezus out of me.  Demonstrated too that King could go strictly literary (the few times he's ever wanted to, I guess) as in the horrifically real "The Woman in the Room," a story inspired by the slow agonizing death of his own mother.

05. Salems' Lot (1976).  Much better paced and overall written if, granted, a hair less gothic and sexy, through certainly more ridden with terror and existential gloom, than its more famous forebear, Bram Stoker's Dracula.

04. Carrie (1974).  Told through diary entries, letters, news reports, its documentary-type style narration lent it a realism so real that reading it barely requires the reader's willing suspension of disbelief.  Next to The Shining, I think it was King's most literary achievement.

03. The Shining (1977).  Two of King's first three novels plunged deep into parallel realities where extrasensory cognition can be deemed as much normal in a person's life as touch or taste is, and not condemned as de facto psychological disorders or conjuring empowered by the devil, despite the whacko mothers or sicko fathers in the novels who might argue otherwise.  The potential for evil, King seemed to be ironically asserting (like so many literary luminaries preceding him -- even, say, Dostoyevsky), resides in the so-called "normal" and much less gifted, "everyday" human beings on earth, who, in King's bizarre harrowing takes on this planet, lean towards the soulless Jack Torrance's rather than the supernatural Carrie's.

02. The Talisman (1984).  Underrated dark epic fantasy co-written with Peter Straub.

01. The Stand.  The original, edited and cut (thank God!) 1978 post apocalyptic masterpiece.