Stephen King Creates a List of 96 Books for Aspiring Writers to Read


Image by The USO, via Flickr Com­mons

I first dis­cov­ered Stephen King at age 11, indi­rect­ly through a babysit­ter who would plop me down in front of day­time soaps and dis­ap­pear. Bored with One Life to Live, I read the stacks of mass-mar­ket paper­backs my absen­tee guardian left around—romances, mys­ter­ies, thrillers, and yes, hor­ror. It all seemed of a piece. King’s nov­els sure looked like those oth­er lurid, pulpy books, and at least his ear­ly works most­ly fit a cer­tain for­mu­la, mak­ing them per­fect­ly adapt­able to Hol­ly­wood films. Yet for many years now, as he’s ranged from hor­ror to broad­er sub­jects, King’s cul­tur­al stock has risen far above his genre peers. He’s become a “seri­ous” writer and even, with his 2000 book On Writ­ing—part mem­oir, part “textbook”—something of a writer’s writer, mov­ing from the super­mar­ket rack to the pages of The Paris Review

Few con­tem­po­rary writ­ers have chal­lenged the some­what arbi­trary divi­sion between lit­er­ary and so-called genre fic­tion so much as Stephen King, whose sta­tus pro­vokes word wars like this recent debate at the Los Ange­les Review of Books. What­ev­er adjec­tives crit­ics throw at him, King plows ahead, turn­ing out book after book, refin­ing his craft, hap­pi­ly shar­ing his insights, and read­ing what­ev­er he likes. As evi­dence of his dis­re­gard for aca­d­e­m­ic canons, we have his read­ing list for writ­ers, which he attached as an appen­dix to On Writ­ing. Best-sell­ing genre writ­ers like Nel­son DeMille, Thomas Har­ris, and needs-no-intro­duc­tion J.K. Rowl­ing sit com­fort­ably next to lit-class sta­ples like Dick­ens, Faulkn­er, and Con­rad. King rec­om­mends con­tem­po­rary real­ist writ­ers like Richard Bausch, John Irv­ing, and Annie Proulx along­side the occa­sion­al post­mod­ernist or “dif­fi­cult” writer like Don DeLil­lo or Cor­mac McCarthy. He includes sev­er­al non-fic­tion books as well.

King pref­aces the list with a dis­claimer: “I’m not Oprah and this isn’t my book club. These are the ones that worked for me, that’s all.” Below, we’ve excerpt­ed twen­ty good reads he rec­om­mends for bud­ding writ­ers. These are books, King writes, that direct­ly inspired him: “In some way or oth­er, I sus­pect each book in the list had an influ­ence on the books I wrote.” To the writer, he says, “a good many of these might show you some new ways of  doing your work.” And for the read­er? “They’re apt to enter­tain you. They cer­tain­ly enter­tained me.”

10. Richard Bausch, In the Night Sea­son
12. Paul Bowles, The Shel­ter­ing Sky
13. T. Cor­aghes­san Boyle, The Tor­tilla Cur­tain
17. Michael Chabon, Were­wolves in Their Youth
28. Rod­dy Doyle, The Woman Who Walked into Doors
31. Alex Gar­land, The Beach
42. Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
49. Mary Karr, The Liar’s Club
53. Bar­bara King­solver, The Poi­son­wood Bible
54. Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
58. Nor­man Maclean, A Riv­er Runs Through It and Oth­er Sto­ries
62. Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ash­es
66. Ian McE­wan, The Cement Gar­den
67. Lar­ry McMurtry, Dead Man’s Walk
70. Joyce Car­ol Oates, Zom­bie
71. Tim O’Brien, In the Lake of the Woods
73. Michael Ondaat­je, The Eng­lish Patient
84. Richard Rus­so, Mohawk
86. Vikram Seth, A Suit­able Boy
93. Anne Tyler, A Patch­work Plan­et

Like much of King’s own work, many of these books sug­gest a spec­trum, not a chasm, between the lit­er­ary and the com­mer­cial, and many of their writ­ers have found suc­cess with screen adap­ta­tions and Barnes & Noble dis­plays as well as wide­spread crit­i­cal acclaim. For the full range of King’s selec­tions, see the entire list of 96 books at Aero­gramme Writ­ers’ Stu­dio.

via Gal­l­ey­cat

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen King Turns Short Sto­ry into a Free Web­com­ic

Stephen King Writes A Let­ter to His 16-Year-Old Self: “Stay Away from Recre­ation­al Drugs”

Stephen King Reads from His Upcom­ing Sequel to The Shin­ing

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Anno­tat­ed Copy of Stephen King’s The Shin­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • Velma Ostman says:

    Thank you. I have some more read­ing to do!!

  • Mike says:

    I’ve seen this in his book — but it is at least 15 years old. Does he have a new­er list I won­der?

  • Aiman says:

    I Liked this, he’s a real big writer ! A proud for Amer­i­ca !

  • Jan Ostrom says:

    King’s book, “On Writ­ing,” is the best book around for begin­ning (and advanced who can open their minds) writ­ers. No-non­sense advice, good insights, exam­ples, and clear­ly writ­ten (he would argue withme/remove the ly on clear­ly), it’s a bar­gain & avail­able in paper­back.

  • Rásó Kati says:

    Nor­man Maclean
    A Riv­er Runs Through It

    Thank you

  • Jeremy says:

    The point prob­a­bly isn’t so much this is the defin­i­tive list as it is: read often, read the good books, read every­thing you can get your hands on. also has a great writer’s guide that’s down­load­able for free. It’s more spe­cif­ic than most writ­ing how-tos.

  • Angela says:

    Looks like I’ll be hit­ting up the library soon!

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