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I'm Probably Preaching to the Choir Here

 When picking up my copy of Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King yesterday, I thought about something I had seen posted lately on some horror forum or another.  If you're visiting this blog then there's a fair chance you know me from something horror related, which means you're probably familiar with Mr. King.  After all, he is the father of modern horror as we know it (yes, I know H.P. Lovecraft could also be given that title, but King was the one who brought it out in the open for everyone to see, and then showed everybody that horrors could exist quite easily in their quiet little mundane worlds).  But the comment I saw mentioned how much of King's work was out there, and how it was impossible for any one person to read it all.

Considering that I have read it all, I found that odd.

Well, okay, not all of it. I still haven't gotten a copy of Faithful, the book he co-wrote about the Boston Red Sox (mostly because I'm not a sports fan) or Blockade Billy, since I haven't been able to find any copies in my area (I'll probably have to break down soon and order it).  I've also missed any number of limited editions of his work over the years because of their expense, but most of that is readily available in cheaper versions. I also haven't gotten to some of his newer stories.  But every single other thing the man has published, I have read.  I didn't think that was much of a feat until I looked up how many books he's released and found the number to be well over sixty.  That's insane, and also overwhelming.  I see now why someone wouldn't want to try reading it all.  When I started reading him, that number was a much easier twenty-five to thirty.  I first picked him up at a very impressionable time in my life, and I wouldn't be a writer today if it wasn't for his influence.  But yes, it's hard to keep up.  So I decided to go over some my personal favorite highlights (and a few lowlights) here.  All of this is purely my opinion, and your mileage may vary.

The Essentials - Books Everyone Should Give a Shot
- Salem's Lot (1975)- Mr. King's reinvention of the vampire novel. Although his earlier Carrie also dealt with a small town, the small town here became a sort of template for everything King would write in the future as well as countless imitators.
The Shining (1977)- A winter caretaker at a haunted hotel slowly goes crazy and torments his family. I've reread this one several times and I still feel it holds up.  It's also one of the best ones when it comes to delivering the chills.
The Stand (1978, uncut version 1990)- Stephen destroys the whole world and has a blast doing it.  If given a choice, read the uncut version instead of the original edit.  This one is epic and sometimes unpredictable.
Different Seasons (1982)- A collection of four novellas which is almost perfect.  One novella, "The Breathing Method," is nothing special, but everything else in the collection is pure gold and, in a rare fashion, does not involve much horror or the supernatural.  "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is an unforgettable piece about the human spirit, and "The Body" (which was turned into the movie Stand by Me) is a poignant story about that moment in our childhood where we finally realize that, yes, we really will die some day.  The fourth novella, "Apt Pupil," is also well worth the read.
Misery (1987)- A writer is taken hostage by his "number one fan."  In my opinion Annie Wilkes is one of the best villains in literature.

Also Worth Reading - For the Real Horror Fans
- Carrie (1974)- King's first novel about a telekinetic teenage girl.  In rereading it I have been able to see that it was definitely written by a man still figuring out his craft, but many images of the books still resonate today.
- "Children of the Corn," available in Night Shift (1978)- Please forget the god-awful movie franchise based on this story.  The story itself has some great atmosphere and is overall still pretty creepy.
- The Dead Zone (1979)- As with King's best books, this one works mostly because we feel like the main character could be any one of us.  He's an everyguy with more power than he wants, and he has to make tough decisions that would make any of us freeze up.
- Pet Semetary (1983)- The book that Mr. King himself thinks is his scariest.  I don't know if I'd say that, but whereas most of his books have a redemptive quality in the end, this one shows just how low an average guy can go when he can't let go.
- It (1986)- Another one of King's patented doorstop horror epics.  This one, about the unspeakable creature that hides beneath a town and comes up every thirty years to wreak havoc, is one of my all time personal favorites but tends to bog down other readers.
- Danse Macabre (1981) and On Writing (2000)- Both these books are non-fiction, but all horror fans should read the first one and all aspiring writers should read the second one.  King mixes a lot of fascinating autobiographical moments into them, but it's his thoughts on horror and writing that are the most entertaining.

Lesser-Known Gems - For After You've Developed a Taste
- The Eyes of the Dragon (1987)- A rare departure for King into sword-and-sorcery type fantasy.  This is a rather quick read, and quite enjoyable.
- Gerald's Game (1992)- This one might not be for the squeamish. A bondage game between a husband and wife goes horribly wrong, leaving the woman chained up and alone where no one can find her.  Despite the fact that very little actually happens, this one goes along at a brisk pace and manages to be genuinely unsettling.
- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)- Another very quick read, one that could very well be done in one sitting.  A young girl gets lost in the forest and has to rely only on her wits and an imaginary version of her baseball hero Tom Gordon.  If this one had been released in today's publishing climate, it probably would have been marketed as a young adult novel, and like many YA novels it appeals to adults just as much.
- "1408," available in Everything's Eventual (2002)- Kind does a haunted hotel again, and makes it just as scary as The Shining.  For best effect, I suggest experiencing this story for the first time by listening to the audio version from audiobook Blood and Smoke, but I don't know how readily available that is anymore.
- From a Buick 8 (2002)- A strange car gets left for Pennsylvania state troopers to impound, but bizarre things tend to happen around it.  I've always liked the slight departure this one shows from King's other books, where he tries to over-explain what's going on.  The theme of this one is "sometimes, you just aren't going to get the answers."

Not So Much - Only For the Truly Dedicated King Fans
- Firestarter (1980)- The story of a young girl with the power to start fires with her mind, this one is kind of a mess.  Even taking into account that King has never been big into hard science in his books, the science used in here can sometimes get pretty ridiculous.
- The Tommyknockers (1988)- King takes his "strange things happening in a small town" formula and runs with it in fifty billion different directions, leaving the book almost incoherent.  He admitted in On Writing that this book was written during the worst days of his drug abuse, and that the end result could have seriously used an editor's touch.
- Cell (2006)- Cell phones make everyone talking on them turn into 28 Days Later-style rage zombies.  I love Stephen King to death, but I have no clue how the fuck this book ever seemed like a good idea.  Often times it reads like The Stand, but with all the good parts taken out.