Gilbert Cruz does yeoman’s work by ranking each of Stephen King’s 62 books and anthologies. I read through this list carefully and I generally find little to disagree with. But when you are talking 62 volumes, a little can be a lot.
The effect a particular volume has on the reader depends greatly on the reader’s particular circumstances. For instance, I read The Shining on a cold winter’s afternoon during a heavy snow. It really fit the setting of the novel and added to the enjoyment. How the reader views a particular volume also depends greatly on the order the books are read. While Cruz attempts to sterilize the process, he does acknowledge some important points and leaves room for disagreement. By way of example, he states the for parents with young children, Pet Semetary may be especially haunting.
One facet of these stories that should never be a part of any discussion of which is better or which is worse based on what has happened since the book was published. Specifically here I am speaking of movies. There have been some really lousy movies made from some terrific stories. There have been some really terrific movies made from some of these stories as well. I may rank the movie versions in a later post, but for now, the movies have no bearing on the ranking of any particular book.
I haven’t read a Stephen King novel since The Cell, which was quite some time ago. I have a stack of books in my Kindle, but I have been a bit hesitant to read them thinking that perhaps King had slipped a bit. After reviewing this ranking, I think I am sufficiently motivated to at least begin one or two in the short term. That said, I don’t think I can offer much of an opinion on any of the recent volumes published in terms of how they rank against each other or against books that I have read.
The only way I know how to do this is from the beginning of the list. If you have not yet viewed the slideshow and read the descriptions linked above, please take some time to do so. It is best if you take in the whole list before I can poison you.
Now I don’t have the time or inclination to give you my own ranking. I am only going to let you know where I come down on important works. I don’t think the non-fiction volumes Danse Macabre, Faithful and On Writing belong on this list, because, while King may offer brilliant insight into the writing process and the horror genre, it is creativity and story-telling in which I am most interested.
So here we go. Can’t argue with The Stand at number one. Probably among the greatest works of fiction in the 20th century. I know Stephen King is easily dismissed as a pulp fiction writer, but many of these volumes are brilliantly written and will stand the test of time; none more than The Stand.
It. The story is fantastic for about 80% of the way. Then it breaks down for me horribly.
Misery. Fantastic story, not all that creative. There are plenty better that this should be #6. Part of a series of what I would call self-indulgent, writer-based stories.
Gunslinger. Not a great story but overall effective as part of a larger series. Really gets picked up by the next three volumes. If I were ranking The Dark Tower series individually it would come in fourth.
Hearts In Atlantis. An anthology that has some brilliant moments, but doesn’t stack up with some of the stuff ranked below it.
Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I put this in the “persecuted female lead character” run of stories King put out in the 90′s. I was going to include Delores Claiborne as over-rated as well. The thing is these are finely crafted tales with wonderful characterizations, but King is so much more effective when he gets back to monsters and the unknown.
Bag of Bones and The Dark Half. The Dark Half was a bit better than Bag of Bones which is another “meh” story about a writer. King had a run of these kinds of stories, including Misery, which I mentioned above. Got a bit old.
Simply put, I can only argue for the next four.
The Shining (2) & Salem’s Lot (3). The Shining rightfully lies at the feet of The Stand at number two, with Salem’s Lot right beside.
Wizards and Glass (4). I bet you didn’t think this one could or should be ranked higher. It should. It is a fantastic tale. Probably more personal than any other King tale. I loved this story.
Pet Semetary(5). For me, the most frightening novel I have read.
How about you?