If you are anything like me, trying to pin down one book as a favourite is near impossible. And one author overall? Too hard. I have a bunch. Some reign supreme in certain genres, some share the titles in my mind. One that I always come back to, however, is Stephen King.
Stephen King and I
I have been reading Stephen King books since I was in primary school, because no one really policed my reading. I am grateful for that but also wonder how they didn’t notice me lugging home a copy of “IT” from the public library that was too big for my bag. I can only assume Mum and Dad didn’t know what it was and I was far too aware of not letting on that what I was reading was well above my fear threshold. So I kept my sudden fear of the bathroom sink, clowns and rainy gutters to myself until it passed.
I love the way King writes characters- vivid and deep; you feel like you really know them. There have been a couple, over the years, who I have really identified with and felt close to. That’s something I love in an author- when they can make you feel something for people that don’t even exist- your imagination is so captured by theirs. It’s amazing how “losing” one of these characters can really hit you. King is not quite as prolific with killing off his cast as say, George R. R. Martin, but he sure has his moments. He’s caused more than one sob-fest in my household, especially when I finally convinced my Mum to read his books. She was sure they were just gory horror novels but I managed to get her to read one anyway. She soon agreed that while he could write great horror, that was just the tip of the iceberg of what he wrote. There was one particular book my Mum and I were reading at the same time and we both reached the death of a certain character you’d have thought we’d lost a family member. Poor Dad was so confused.
So, in no particular order, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite Stephen King books. I say Top 5, but that is subject to change!
I first picked up The Gunslinger when I was about 19 or so. I read the first few pages, then got bored and put it down for a few months. I can only assume this is because younger me had the attention span of a gnat. I urge you to read this one, because this is where it all begins. All what? Everything. This is the very first in the Dark Tower series, which spans 8 books. In this we meet Roland of Gilead, the hero of the series, as he pursues the elusive Man in Black across the desert. This is our first taste of Roland’s world, which is similar to, but more desolate than, our own. He’s this lonely guy on a quest who you can’t help seeing as a young Clint Eastwood. Does he have a heart in there? He sure does. But it’s as desolate as the landscape he inhabits. That probably makes him out to be more romantic than he is, because he’s actually kind of a hard-arse. He’s the last of his kind, a Gunslinger of Gilead, and he has to save the whole damn world- all the worlds. In this novel he first meets Jake, a boy from our world who can’t quite explain how he ended up in Roland’s world. In meeting Jake, we learn that hard-arse Roland has a heart, indeed. But it’s never going to be as simple as caring for a kid- Roland has a lot to learn and a massive quest to fulfill. I say this is the book where it all begins because so many of Stephen King’s other books tie in to the Dark Tower series in some way. They refer to Roland or to his quest or to certain numbers or symbols that a Dark Tower junkie like myself will pick up on straight away. You can easily read these other books without reading the Dark Tower series, but it adds another dimension when you pick up on these things. You can see it all as part of a much bigger story.
The Stand is one of the best post-apocalypse stories I have ever read. I have the full, uncut edition which you can grab via the link in the first sentence. It’s also one of King’s longest novels (if not the actual longest?) so I see that as excellent value! The Stand tells the story of ‘Captain Trips’, a strain of flu developed in a military base. It is accidentally released and despite a lockdown, one of the base’s personnel manages to escape, with catastrophic results. That being that more than 99% of the world’s population becomes infected and dies from what is essentially a horrific and fast-working type of flu. The story is narrated by many characters who are dealing not only with the loss of everyone they knew but with the basic collapse of the world as they know it. Some people feel drawn, via dreams, to a town in Nebraska, where they meet an old duckie called Mother Abagail. She is 108 years old and a truly good woman. Under her guidance, people start heading to a place in Boulder, Colarado, to try to establish a new democracy called the Free Zone. However, while some are drawn to Mother Abagail, others are drawn to Las Vegas and a man called Randall Flagg. As you can probably guess, Flagg is no Mother Abagail. His methods are more violent, brutal and crude and he quickly gets things up and running in Vegas with the help of his followers who he enlists to start searching the country for weapons. As you can imagine, the Free Zone and Flagg’s Vegas don’t trust one another and things must come to a head. The characters in The Stand are vivid and engaging. Some you love, others you will hate and there are several who you will watch with a heart full of pity and sadness. Overall, it is an interesting look at human nature and makes you question what you’d do in extreme circumstances.
Insomnia is a book with a hero. Only this is not your typical hero; this hero is 70 years old. Ralph Roberts is a nice man, a widower who minds his business and bothers no one. He has friends and a love interest called Lois. For some reason, though, Ralph starts to have trouble sleeping. He starts to sleep less and less and tries every remedy he can think of. Still, his window of sleep gets smaller and smaller. Then the hallucinations start. He sees weird colours around people, like auras. Then there are the little, bald doctor guys with silver scissors that he sees one night, when the lady across the road passes away. Ralph also becomes deeply concerned about a local family, the Deepneaus. He’d always been friendly with them, but Ed, the patriarch of the family, starts exhibiting some really disturbing behaviour. Despite his sleeplessness, Ralph tries to help but he soon realises there are things going on that are well beyond his understanding. Ralph is pretty sure he’s losing the plot, but he isn’t. There is just something Ralph must do. It will take every ounce of bravery and strength he can muster. You come away from this one just a tiny bit in love with Ralph, because he’s such a great guy. If you like a book that hits you in all the feels, try this one out.
The Talisman (written with Peter Straub)
The Talisman is a terrific fantasy novel about a 12 year old boy named Jack, written back in the early 1980’s. One of the cool side benefits of reading this book was that it introduced me to Peter Straub, who, it turns out, is another great author. He and King collaborated on this story and the sequel, Black House, almost 20 years later. The story revolves around young Jack, who is meandering around a coastal town alone, because his father is gone and his mother is slowly dying. Seemingly by chance, Jack meets Speedy Parker, a handyman, who teaches Jack about a parallel world where many people have a counterpart, a “twinner”. Jack himself had one, but his twinner died while Jack did not, making him quite special. Speedy teaches Jack how to “flip” between our world and that one, because while Jack’s mother lays dying, so does her twinner. Her twinner is the Queen in that world, while Jack’s mother is a queen of sorts; she is the Queens of the B’s, a well loved actress with a string of B grade films behind her. Jack must learn to flip, because the cure he needs to save his mother is a talisman from that other world. Jack has to overcome quite a bit of adversity to gain the cure. His best friend’s father, Morgan Sloat, and his twinner, Morgan of Orris, do not want Jack to succeed and there are factions forming behind them. Along the way, Jack teams up with Wolf, a 16 year old werewolf, though not in the traditionally evil sense. Quite the opposite, in fact. Wolf is honourable and loyal and becomes Jack’s “pack”, his companion and helper, despite the personal cost. If this one doesn’t draw you in, well… I don’t want to alarm you, but there may be something wrong with you! This is one of the first King books I gave my stepdaughter to read, actually, because she is a bookworm like me. And she loved it.
Bag of Bones
Bag of Bones is the story of Mike Noonan, who we meet 4 years after the death of his beloved wife, Jo. Mike is a novelist suffering writer’s block who decides to pack up and head to his holiday home, a place called Sara Laughs, in Maine. If you read much of King’s stuff, you’d be forgiven for thinking Maine is some kind of supernatural epicentre or something. Anyway, Mike arrives and as usual, nothing is simple. The town is being controlled by a local millionaire, Max Devore, who is hell-bent on gaining custody of his grandchild from her widowed young mother. Mike is drawn in to this situation while also dealing with the strange happenings at Sara Laughs. The ghost of his wife, Jo, seems to be directing Mike to uncover the story of Sara Tidwell. Sara was a blues singer and it becomes apparent that she met a terrible end and that her ghost is haunting the house. Mike must uncover what happened to her and figure out how to end a curse to release the town from it’s grip. He must also save little Kyra, the granddaughter of Max Devore. Along the way, Mike finds out things he hadn’t known about his dead wife and also learns that he is capable of loving again. This is a ghost story but it also deals with the issues of love and grief. It scared the pants off me in some places, but I also couldn’t put it down.
This one was made into a telemovie and it was actually pretty good, unlike many film/tv adaptations of King novels that seem to often lose quite a bit in the translation.
The links in this post are Booktopia affiliate links, which means that I can earn a small commission (at no cost to you) if you choose to purchase one of these books. I absolutely hope you do, not so much for the commission but because I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. If you choose to read one of these books, regardless of where you buy it or borrow it or whatever, please drop me a line and let me know if you loved it or not!
#FYBF @ With Some Grace
#WWU @ Melting Moments
#Weekend Rewind @ Maxabella Loves