Stephen King is one of those authors whose name comes before the books, and I bet it bugs him more than anyone else. In my opinion, he deserves his success and I’m the proud owner of every last book that creepy little fucker ever wrote.
If you’re already a fan and have read the books I single out, I urge you to comment below, (and validate the shit out of me). If you’ve never popped your scary cherry with Mr. King, I urge you to choose one of the books I describe, get it, read it, and then validate the shit out of me.
Known for his horror writing, King made his bones with the likes of “Salem’s Lot” and “Pet Cemetery”. But it’s his consistently believable love stories that make us care who the vampire bites. In “Cujo” for instance, the story is a straight forward mother-protecting-her-cub plot and her maternal fusebox is what powers the tension. (That and a rabid St. Bernard that has them trapped in a car, and a HOOPTY-ASS car at that).
Most of my favorite King books (Except for “It”, “The Green Mile”, and “The Stand”) are not as well-known and haven’t been adapted to the screen yet. However, the books of his that I like the most happen to expose a side of the author that can be as tender as a whisker.
I would like to discuss 5 books in particular that I believe to be a great place for any new King readers to start, or for old King readers to kick-start.
The first is the largest. “Insomnia” is a thick brute of a book but reads quickly. It’s about a fellow named Ralph who is certainly Stephen King’s oldest leading man, (not including magical longevity). Ralph suffers from, you guessed it, insomnia. It’s actually quite common with senior citizens. As a result of his sleep deprivation, Ralph begins to see the auras that surround all humans and animals. He can even tell the difference between healthy auras and diseased auras. He also notices that they all spike at the top of our heads like Alfalfa’s hair, or, as he describes it, “…a balloon string with no balloon.”
As you can imagine, this is a powerful gift to have, and after Ralph begins to see fourth dimension beings running around and cutting those strings, he decides to investigate. Along the way, he meets a woman, Lois, and together they fight off all but the devil to save their town.
After the tragic events of September, 11, 2001, I remember the press mentioning “Insomnia” because one character actually attempts to crash an airplane into a small building. There’d already been dozens of stories where that kind of deed had been written about but , at the time, “Insomnia” was one of the newest. It was funny because the newscasters spent more time talking about how sweet the love story was between Ralph and Lois.
These books are mentioned in no particular order because if they were, I would have started with “The Eyes of the Dragon”. This book is a super quick read that has the most exquisite pacing. It’s about a King who is murdered and one of his two sons is framed for the dastardly deed, which thrusts his younger brother onto the throne.
EoD also serves as the first introduction of a powerful magician (and recurring character in many King books), Flagg. You may remember that the silver headed bad guy in “The Stand” called himself Randal Flagg. Well, that’s the same guy. He’s mean.
I recently discovered that EoD is in development for the Syfy network and I will be very interested to see a cinematic version of a story I’ve enjoyed since high school. I can give very little of the plot away, but it’s a great Young Adult novel and was, in fact, written as an original fairy tale for Steven King’s own son, Owen. (Owen King’s books under the pseudonym Joe Hill are now best sellers. “Heart Shaped Box” is one of the creepiest ghost stories I’ve read).
I simply adore “The Eyes of the Dragon”, and I promise, you will gobble it up in a few nights. If the kids are old enough to get a letter from Hogwarts, read it to them.
Another shorter (and earlier) novel is called “The Long Walk.” Now, I have mentioned this book before in a Wordslinger post about 1st person vs. 3rd person writing styles. I pointed out at that time that despite being written from the point of view of a person in a race to the death, I wasn’t certain that he would actually survive.
I admire anyone who can write a story in first person and have the reader actually fear for that person’s life despite the obvious fact that they would have had to survive to tell the story. “The Long Walk” is about a future sporting event wherein two boys from every state begin walking up the Eastern seaboard and they don’t stop until there is only one boy left.
If their walking pace drops below a certain speed, they’re dropped, as in shot. (And did I mention that this is the biggest sporting event in America in the future?) This book remains one of my favorite one day reads of all time. It was originally published under King’s well-known pseudonym, Richard Bachman. The truth is, he wrote it when he was 19, during his first year of college.
Now, “The Talisman” is more of a fantasy story and another YA novel. It’s about a boy named Jack who has to travel cross-country to find a talisman to save his dying mother’s life. The twist is, his journey takes him to a parallel medieval universe called The Territories. (I think it might just be the same universe where “The Dark Tower” sits, in his book series that shares the same name).
“The Talisman” is one of King’s bigger books and has an additional interesting twist. It’s a book he co-wrote with author Peter Straub. Later, the two would write a sequel called “Black House” which picks up when Jack is an adult. I also loved that book and the two men collaborate seamlessly.
The last book I wish to draw attention to is not a work of fiction. It’s a book on writing fiction. “On Writing” is filled with great advise including: “Murder your darlings”. King warns that writers often have to cut their favorite and most precious sections to better serve the story. He is straightforward and honest, and reading the book makes one feel that anyone with good discipline and a good story can succeed in fiction.
In baseball terms, (which I know King would appreciate), he may have had his occasional strike outs, but when he hits it, he usually hits it out of the park. In fact, his very latest, “11.22.63” is one of his absolute best books and would have made the list if not for my desire to highlight “On Writing”. (But I’ll figure out a way to bring it up).
I’m also a big fan of the second book in the Dark Tower series and just heard that Ron Howard is developing a miniseries for CBS. 2013 will see quite a few King adaptations including “Under the Dome” and “Cell” starring John Cusack. I say, read ’em while you can and tell ’em Morgan sent you.
I will gladly continue the conversation in the comment section below.