By Ashly Moore Sheldon • September 11, 2019
The past week has been a big one for Stephen King with It Chapter 2 hitting the screens and his new novel, The Institute, landing on bookshelves. But then again, he's been publishing bestsellers for over four decades since his first novel, Carrie. Plus, his work has been adapted into dozens of hit films, so maybe it’s just a normal workweek for the seminal author.
While he’s known as one of the greats in horror fiction, King is quite a versatile writer who excels in a variety of genres. If you're intrigued by the author but looking to minimize the fear factor, you've got plenty of options in the impressive King canon. Here, we showcase a few of our faves from each of his main categories.
As a side note, almost all of these have been adapted to films and while you may have already seen the movie, we have to remind you that the book is always better.
King has written many books that fall into the categories of crime fiction or suspense. Like all of his work, these taut tales will have you compulsively turning the pages.
The Green Mile
First published in six separate volumes in the mid-nineties, this crime-drama infused with a hefty dose of magical realism highlights King's ability to draw rich and engaging characters. It tells the story of a death row supervisor who encounters an unusual inmate who displays inexplicable empathic abilities.
First published in 1982, this is a delightful collection of four novellas (one for each season) and three of them have been made into films. The Body became Stand By Me (1986). The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was based on the similarly titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Apt Pupil was also adapted into a lesser-known 1998 movie.
This psychological thriller was the number one bestselling book in 1992. Dolores Claiborne, a 65-year-old widow living in rural Maine, is suspected of killing her wealthy employer. The novel reads like a transcript of her statement to the authorities. As with many of his books and protagonists, the female perspective is authentic and deeply felt.
King clearly has many sci-fi and fantasy influences threaded throughout his work, but he has written several books that dip more directly into the genre. Here are three standouts.
First published in 1978, the uncut version of this post-apocalyptic novel came out in 1992 and, at nearly 1,500 pages, it's a commitment! The perennial fan favorite presents the archetypal conflict of good vs. evil, drawing liberally on biblical references. What does the end of the world look like? In this iteration, it comes on like a really bad case of the flu.
The Dark Tower Series
King published the seven excellent books in this series between 1982 and 2004. Named by many a fan as their favorites of King's work, these adventure stories mix elements of fantasy, western, sci-fi, and horror to create an alternate world that may leave you addicted. Luckily, you've got a lot of material to satisfy your cravings.
This book, published in 2011, charts the course of a time traveler attempting to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the titular date. King has commented that the idea of this story occurred to him as early as 1971, long before he felt ready to tackle it. With its elements of historic fiction the novel reflects a significant departure from most of his work.
You can't offer up the best of King without including a sampling of his main dish. So here are just a few of his choice horror classics.
Published in 1977, this novel is consistently cited as King at his best. Packed with masterful suspense and drawing on elements of psychological and supernatural horror, the book firmly established King as a preeminent author in the genre. King was vocal in his criticisms of the 1980 film, feeling that it eliminated some the essential elements of the original story. This is a must-read for King fans. The sequel Doctor Sleep, which is coming to screens in November of this year, is also terrific.
Another tight psychological horror classic, this book offers a beautifully drawn villain in psychotic former nurse Annie Wilkes who "rescues" her favorite author after he's suffered a serious car crash. She essentially takes the injured man hostage in her isolated Maine cabin where she vacillates between adoration as his "number one fan" and violent rage when she learns that he has killed off one of her favorite characters.
Full Dark, No Stars
This 2010 book is a collection of four powerful novellas focusing on themes of complicity and revenge. Like so many of King's stories, these tales will burrow into your psyche and linger with you for a while—satisfyingly so.
Stephen King turns 72 later this month and yet he shows no signs of slowing down. To say that he is prolific is an obvious understatement. In fact, he's written so many excellent books that it was torture to choose just a few. There's one more we'd like throw in for good measure: On Writing offers a revealing look into King's meticulous craft. Whether you're an aspiring writer or simply a fan, you'll enjoy gaining some insight into the author's process.