Ever since I finished my King Quest last week, people have been asking me what my favorites were. That question is very difficult for me to answer, considering all the time I put into it, and I haven't been able to really give an honest reply to any of those who asked. I owe it as much to myself as I do to the people who ask to come up with a few of my favorites, and that's what this post is all about. My top five favorite Stephen King books, and why.
1) The Stand - This book is thought by many King fans to be his best work, short of the Dark Tower series. I read this fairly early on in my Quest (the expanded edition, that is), and this book is what sealed the deal for me. I had enjoyed what I had read of his up until that point, but this book changed everything. I was blown away by how he wove dozens of characters and plots and back-stories together to make something as elemental as the fight between good and evil so utterly believable. He had me so emotionally invested in the characters in a way I had never experienced before. The way he describes how the Super-Flu spreads across America still gives me the chills.
2) Bag Of Bones - This book stands as one of the very few that actually scared me. I could relate to so much of the location and scenery not just because I had memories of them, but because at the time I was living in a town very much like TR90, in a house on a lake that I felt might have been (at least a little) haunted. This scene in the basement cost me a few sleepless nights, and it was through reading this book that I learned it is often best to read King by daylight.
3) Misery - I just could not put this book down. His portrayal of Annie Wilkes as Paul Sheldon's "biggest fan" and her descent from slightly disturbed to bat-shit crazy was awesome to watch. I regret having seen the movie before reading the book, but there was so much in the book that the movie leaves out. The thumb-candle, for one, and how she really hobbles Paul, for another. It was a very fast read, and it was just the right length. Sure, there is more you want to know when the book is over, but I couldn't ever remember feeling like he was drawing things out.
4) The Green Mile - I'll be frank with you: This book made me cry. I had my doubts about it when I first started reading, as it started off pretty slow. I was used to this, as this is par for the course for a lot of King novels. Right from the start we know that John Coffey is innocent, and what got the ol' waterworks churning was his decision to take the electric chair in the end. I didn't want that for him, but King shows us that it's for the best by the last few pages.
5) On Writing - As the only non-fiction book in my top five, this book holds a special place. It is a wonderful book, one that just about everyone (at some point) has asked me if I've read it when I mention I like Stephen King. It provides wonderful insight to the person behind all of these wonderful stories, and some priceless information for someone who aspires to one day write something of worth.
Out of all that I read, picking just five is tough. There are so many others that I enjoyed reading and could recommend at a moment's notice, but I had to pick the ones that I have an emotional connection with. Conversely, there are a few that, while I appreciate them for what they are, weren't that great at all (The Dark Half, Rose Madder, Gerald's Game, to name a few). For someone as prolific as King, I would expect there to be a few sour lemons.
Some of you may be wondering why none of the Dark Tower series made the top five. I certainly enjoyed the series, there is no doubting that, but I couldn't just recommend one out of the seven. To fully appreciate the breadth and sheer immensity of all that it is and encompasses and means, you have to read them all. Picking just one or two out of the series just wouldn't do it justice.
Feel free to ask me for other recommendations, if you've been thinking on reading some King. Regardless of tastes and preferences and tolerability of the scarier things one can imagine, I'd be glad to talk with you and make some personalized suggestions. Just leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.
P.S. The mosaic above is made up of all of King's fiction book covers. Click the full image to see a high-resolution version of it.