Happy Birthday Stephen King: Here’s a beginner’s guide to his books
If you’ve never read King or know not where to start, fret not. Help is here.
American novelist Stephen King turns 70 today. In a career extending over four decades, King has written more than 60 books, with a new one almost every year. His sprawling oeuvre includes novels, novellas, and short stories set not just in the genre of horror (though he’s best known for that) but sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, detective fiction, drama and nonfiction. So if horror doesn’t excite you, there are many other works by King you could enjoy. Here’s a guide to five of his popular books, across genres, to get you started:
The Shining (1977)
Aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance, signs up as caretaker at a Colorado hotel in the off season. He hopes the isolation will help him finish his play and reconnect with his wife and five-year-old son (who, unknown to the parents, is psychic). But after a snow storm cuts them off from the outside world, the hotel comes to life, throbbing with evil that is hell bent on possessing Torrance and making him murder his family. This is the most terrifying of all King’s horror novels, and was adapted as an iconic film in 1980 by Stanley Kubrick (starring Jack Nicholson as Torrance), which King hated. If you like The Shining, try its 2013 sequel, Doctor Sleep.
More on horror: Carrie (1974), Salem’s Lot (1975), Pet Sematary (1983), It (1986)
In this masterpiece of psychological horror, a bestselling novelist of Victorian romances meets his number one fan – who turns out to be his greatest nightmare. Paul Sheldon has just bumped off Misery Chastain, the sappy heroine of his popular series, and is set to foray into the more respected genre of crime fiction. Drunk, he drives his car off a cliff and is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse obsessed with the Misery series. As she nurses him back to health, the mentally disturbed Wilkes reads the last Misery novel and discovers what Sheldon has done. Hacking off one body part at a time, she forces Sheldon to write another book reviving Misery.
More thrillers: Dolores Claiborne (1992), The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), The Colorado Kid (2005)
The Stand (1978)
In this horror/fantasy set in post-apocalyptic America, a deadly virus has wiped out most of humanity. The survivors search for a leader and eventually two factions arise. One is led by Mother Abigail, the spiritual leader of the Free Zone, who represents all that is good. The other is the group led by the sinister Randall Flagg. The narrative branches into multiple storylines as the two opposing groups head for a grand showdown in the desert of Nevada.
More sci-fi/fantasy: 11/22/63 (2011), The Eyes of the Dragon (1984), The Long Walk (1979), The Dark Tower series (1982-2012)
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (1982)
This popular tale of an epic prison break is one of King’s best from the non-horror canon. Credit is also due to the terrific film adaptation, The Shawshank Redemption (1994) by Frank Darabont, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as Red.
Andy Dufresne, a banker, is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for a double murder he did not commit. Inside the prison, he meets all sorts of nasty people and also befriends the resourceful Red.
More drama: Apt Pupil, The Body, The Breathing Method (1982)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
King’s memoir is one of his best works. The first half of the book is an account of how he became a writer, his marriage, his alcohol abuse, and so on. The second half is a very well-written and practical writing manual. King doles out tips on all the tools essential to good writing, illustrating his points with examples from literature. It is full of delightful gems and useful advice such as: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Plus, there’s a fantastic reading list for wanna-be writers at the end.
More nonfiction: Danse Macabre (1981), Guns (2013)