If you are a horror novel fan, it’s likely you have heard of the legendary author Stephen King. During his lifetime King has written more than 60 books and over 200 short stories, many of which have been turned into plays, blockbuster movies, and television series. Additionally, a large portion of his works have become New York Times bestsellers, with his books collectively selling more than 350 million copies.
Although King is well known for his horror novels, he has dabbled in many other genres such as crime fiction, magical realism, and supernatural thrillers. Yet, it’s hardly debatable that he is one of the most established masters of American contemporary horror fiction. Since he began his writing career, King has managed to create works that have transcended time to remain relevant even in 2021.
This author’s incredibly well thought out and gripping plots, creative themes, and memorable characters have allowed his novels to funnel their way into the hearts of fans throughout the world. Amongst the many masterpieces he has written, it can be hard narrowing down what novel of King’s you should read. That’s why we have put together the 10 best Stephen King books you need to read at least once during your lifetime.
1. Pet Cemetery
One of the most well-known Stephen King novels is Pet Cemetery. This classic horror story is a New York Times bestseller. Ironically, Pet Cemetery might be widely regarded as King’s best novel, but it’s the book King likes the least. Those who have read this classic have stated that it’s an enthralling yet horrifying tale worth reading.
Much of what happens in the buildup of this novel actually happened to King and his family, which is probably why King dislikes the book. Theoretically, this novel is about not wanting your pet to die, but King manages to weave a plot that is both disturbing, convincing, and relatable.
The takeaway from this novel is that although we all know death is inevitable, the reality of our own deaths troubles us far less than the reality that those we love will someday die. The plot focuses on themes of death. It centers around a young child who has lost his beloved pet, a parent’s horrifying loss of a child, and a kindhearted neighbor’s loss of the love of his life.
Perhaps no King book takes death as seriously or as morbidly as Pet Cemetery. This book encompasses grief and sadness and haunts readers with whisperings of each person’s inevitable demise.
2. The Stand
Arguably one of the best apocalyptic novels ever written that’s become strangely relevant in today’s times is King’s The Stand. This 1978 novel can be placed in both the horror and science fiction genres because of its central theme revolving around a virus that has killed 99% of the world’s global population.
Right from the beginning, readers are hooked when they learn that an error by the Defence Department laboratory has caused a virus to break loose and ravage the world’s population. Yet, the novel focuses not only on the virus that is underway but also on themes of how society is handling this catastrophe.
The Stand explores the aftermath of a world struggling to survive with no laws and no societal demands. It examines how people are reacting to a new world by looking into how people are behaving.
In the novel, one main character tries to be a savior while the other wants to take advantage of the instability. Yet although this novel focuses on divided allegiances, it’s also a story of hope as survivors try to establish a new way of life in a chaotic new landscape.
3. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
Interestingly, one of the greatest blockbuster films, Shawshank Redemption, is actually based on the 1984 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. This King novel is not a horror, but it centers around dark themes and is set in prison. However, the primary theme is that of freedom.
This book, at first glance, might not seem like a heartfelt novella, but it is. In Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the tortured main character, Andy, is wrongfully jailed for the murder of his wife and her lover. As the novel progresses, it shows how awfully Andy is treated and all the trials and tribulations he has to survive while in prison.
Alongside the primary theme being freedom, this novel is also a story about friendship. Ultimately, it brilliantly portrays an innocent man’s fight for freedom with the help of a friend who believes he’s not guilty of the crime he’s convicted of.
4. The Dead Zone
Many Stephen King novels are known for having controversial endings. yet King is responsible for writing an ending that many believe to be almost perfect in his book The Dead Zone. This novel is another New York Times bestseller that’s regarded as a science fiction classic by King that has become more popular over the years.
Chances are, if you’re looking at reading a Stephen King novel for the first time, you should consider reading The Dead Zone. It’s the perfect entry-level novel for readers who don’t usually read this type of genre. The Dead Zone isn’t too scary, and it isn’t too complex, nor is it life-altering, but it is an enjoyable quick read.
In this entertaining novel, a man wakes up from a five-year coma with the ability to see people’s pasts, present, and how they die in the future. These psychic abilities terrify the main protagonist to the point where he refuses to believe he actually possesses them. Yet as the novel progresses, readers are taken on a journey of self-discovery as the lead tries to navigate his newfound abilities and the responsibilities that come with them.
5. The Green Mile
Another of King’s novels adapted into a memorable Hollywood blockbuster is The Green Mile. This heartbreaking novel is arguably one of the best ever written by King in a genre that’s not his typical forte. The Green Mile offers readers an intense journey through an assortment of themes such as injustice, misery, empathy, kindness, racial bigotry, and sadism.
Interestingly, The Green Mile was first released as a six-part series before becoming a collective novel. Every installment managed to make it to the New York Times bestsellers list. Today, readers can purchase the book as a single unit.
Like Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile also features a prison setting. In this novel, the main character John Coffey is placed in prison on death row after being wrongfully charged with murdering two girls.
Throughout the novel, readers are captivated by the cruelty and sad reality of an innocent man trying to prove his innocence. Yet the book is not all doom and gloom as there are some genuinely inspiring, heartbreaking, and soul-inflating moments dispersed throughout The Green Mile. It’s likely you’ll truly despise the villains in this novel, but you’ll undoubtedly connect with the characters that restore a person’s faith in humanity.
Amongst the many twisted romance horror novels written, Stephen King’s Misery is quite possibly the most memorable. This is partly due to the gripping plot, but it’s also because Misery was adapted into a film that won many accolades.
In Misery, the primary theme centers around unpacking toxic fandoms. Yet King has also stated in the past that this novel is also about the expectations of his own fans, and it’s about how cocaine had a hold of him throughout the 80s.
If you think this novel is not a true horror, you would be mistaken. King has brilliantly managed to weave a plot so suspenseful and terrifying with his female lead without needing to resort to supernatural characters or science fiction elements.
In its purest form, Misery is about a crazed fan who will do everything in her power to get an author to change the ending of one of her favorite romance book series. After rescuing the author’s main character, Annie discovers that he will be killing off her favorite character in his romance novels. She is incredibly displeased with his decision, and the events that follow are truly heinous as she keeps him captured while trying to torture him into making her his new muse.
Recently the novel by Stephen King titled It has seen a modern film rendition that has set numerous new fans on the journey of discovering his many works. If you want a light read, then “It” is probably not for you as this novel spans more than 1,000 pages. Yet if you have the time to invest, you’ll likely enjoy this clown horror novel with its absolutely terrifying clown nightmare scenes.
Although it might seem to be a novel solely based on an irrational fear of clowns, it’s also incredibly relatable. Nearly everyone is afraid of something that someone else deems unreasonable. As the novel progresses, numerous scares and tense moments grip readers and don’t let go until they reach the very last page.
Basically, It is a novel that centers on a group of unpopular children, a shapeshifting killer clown, and a town of close-minded individuals. Yet, this novel is also about growing up and crossing over into adulthood.
8. The Shining
Most people who claim to have read The Shining have only ever seen the film. Although the film is brilliant, it’s not nearly as exceptional as the novel in its entirety. This novel can be described as wildly imaginative yet oddly believable. Most readers find it difficult to contest the plausibility of many of the events that transpire throughout the story.
If you have delicate sensibilities, this horror novel might not be suited to your interests. The plot centers around the main character purposely sabotaging his family’s means of transportation so that they’re all forced to stay in a haunted hotel. He actively decides to allow those he loves the most to die by going through with the sabotage.
The book is filled with creepy and chilling moments that have readers on the edge of their seats throughout the novel. Interestingly, a related sequel novel titled Doctor Sleep centers on one of the characters from The Shining.
There are many different time travel stories, but none are quite as unique or as inventive as 11/23/66. Most popular novels will use generic means of time travel, but King’s novel 11/23/63 deviates from this tried and trusted path.
In the novel, time travel only works in an exact manner. The main character cannot simply choose the precise moment where he wants to time travel to. Instead, he has to use a portal that deposits him exactly five years in the past.
Each time he is deposited in the year 1958 and has to go through five years of events and experiences before he can try to alter the assassination outcome of former US president J. F. Kennedy. Additionally, when the main character enters the portal to go back to the future, he can see the changes he has made occur.
Yet, no matter how hard the protagonist tries, he always ends up exactly five years away from the date of the assassination, and his continuous plans to tweak history lead to even worse outcomes.
10. Salem’s Lot
Although Stephen King is known for his horror novels, he doesn’t often write about vampires. Should you require a superbly entertaining book that’s set in a small town and features a haunted mansion, supernatural creatures, and murder, then Salem’s Lot might be right up your alley.
Salem’s Lot is a horror novel that has a languid start. However, if you can persevere through the first few slow-paced chapters, you likely won’t regret it as the plot gets more involved and enthralling. The layout of this novel is outlandish, and at times the plot can seem to resemble a soap opera but the twists and turns highlighting the evil of humanity make it worth reading.
This novel focuses on ordinary people in a typical town. Yet, what makes this novel genuinely creepy is that most of the town’s people are consumed by an all-encompassing unspeakable evil. King expertly writes about how easy it is for evil to spread when people don’t have the courage to confront evil when it first appears.