Stephen King’s Top 10 All-Time Favorite Books


Image by The USO, via Flickr Commons

So you might think that if Stephen King – the guy who wrote such horror classics like Carrie and The Stand – were to rattle off his top ten favorite books, it would feature works by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft or maybe J. R. R. Tolkien — authors who have, like King, created enduring dark, Gothic worlds filled with supernatural events and malevolent forces. But you’d be wrong. Author J. Peder Zane asked scores of writers about their favorite novels for his 2007 book The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books. The list King submitted in reply appears below. When possible, we’ve added links to the texts that you can read for free online, taken from our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

1. The Golden Argosy, The Most Celebrated Short Stories in the English Language – edited by Van Cartmell and Charles Grayson

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

3. The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie

4. McTeague – Frank Norris

5. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

6. Bleak House – Charles Dickens

7. 1984 – George Orwell

8. The Raj Quartet – Paul Scott

9. Light in August – William Faulkner

10. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

King, it seems, prefers books that explore basic defects in the human character to spooky tales of fantasy. In other words, he’s interested in stories that are actually terrifying. Orwell’s portrait of a man breaking under the pressure of totalitarianism or William Golding’s parable about a group of boys devolving into beasts are downright troubling. Frank Norris’s saga about the mendacious McTeague isn’t exactly comforting either. And McCarthy’s grim and spectacularly violent masterpiece Blood Meridian might make you crawl into a fetal position and weep for humanity. (That was my reaction, anyway.)

The most striking thing about the list, however, is how uniformly highbrow it is. All books would fit right in on the syllabus of an upper level English college course. On the other hand, David Foster Wallace, when asked for his top ten, filled his list with such mass market crowd pleasers as The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy and, at number two, King’s The Stand.

via CS Monitor

Related Content:

Stephen King Reveals in His First TV Interview Whether He Sleeps With the Lights On (1982)

David Foster Wallace’s Surprising List of His 10 Favorite Books, from C.S. Lewis to Tom Clancy

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

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

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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Comments (17)
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  • JT Wilson says:

    awesome little piece on stephen king!
    thank you for this!
    i agree…lord of the flies and 1984 would make my top ten as well…classics.
    and, of course, i would definitely include pet sematary as well.
    anyway…not sure if this comment means much…but i thought i would pass along the kudos to anyone who might read this.
    peace + love!

  • kerouac22 says:

    You mention DFW and his “mass market” list of faves. But he, like King, also explicitly mentioned loving McTeague and Blood Meridian (which, yeah, are both highly recommended from me, too!). The citation for Blood Meridian would be the essay “Overlooked” in Both Flesh and Not. McTeague was mentioned somewhere in Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story.

  • kerouac22 says:

    And, although I wouldn’t know if it was DFW-approved, Light in August is maybe the best Faulkner out there!

  • Kevin Dobo says:

    Whoever wrote this apparently hasn’t paid the slightest bit of attention to Stephen King’s writing in the past oooooh… quarter century. What a stupid assumption to make, and using as examples two books that were in the early part of his career and ignoring the dozens of works that have come since. Look at the entire body of King’s work, and it’s not the slightest bit “striking”, that an author (who reads more than he writes, BTW) who has not only taken, but taught upper level college courses, would list in his top 10 something as “highbrow” as Huck Finn.

  • Rebecca White says:

    The thing is, Stephen King does write about those themes – he just includes the supernatural. The thing I’ve always found compelling about his best stories is that the terror is rooted in real life terrors, failures, and psychological limitations.

  • Jonathan Davies says:

    What a bizarre way to end an article.

    I’m curious as to whether the author has ever read “The Stand” because it seems to me that the only quality separating it and most of the so called highbrow “classics” in King’s list is age.

    It’s fairly self evident to anyone who’s familiar with King’s bibliography that his brand of fiction is far more about exploring the kind of tropes and ideas you would find in the literature he apparently prefers and as has been commented above simply uses supernatural settings as a narrative tool to tell human stories.

    Sometimes an unfamiliar setting isolates with surprising clarity moral or humanistic questions and musings.

    I find elitism vis-a-vis what constitutes “highbrow” kind of annoying. “Spooky tales of fantasy” my arse, please read King’s entire bibliography immediately. Consider it homework. Because shockingly not only does he teach upper level college courses, his works are often the subject.

  • Janette says:

    Stephen King grew up at a time when students were expected to read books, not Wikipedia summaries, several of them in a year and write essays over them and it was not considered damaging to our psyche to do so. Great readers make great thinkers.

  • Maurice Byers says:

    Rebecca Whites comment is right on. The thing that first attracted me to King’s books was they play upon the fears many of us share whether we admit them or not… that little child inside us is still afraid of what is under the cellar stairs and things that go bump in the night…he also writes about things that prey on our minds as a society.

  • Ana says:


    The person who runs the Mark Twain page on facebook linked this post.

  • Barry Westfall says:

    One of my favorites is “The Raj Quartet” too. And “Bleak House” is my favorite work of Dickens’.

  • Izi Ningishzidda says:

    One of the most brilliant writers of the last century likes good books that are college level reading? What an unremarkable observation, or outright insulting.

  • BJ Cross says:

    Mr King did major on English at university and taught English prior to being a successful writer so it doesn’t surprise me that he likes some of those novels. But if you read his list of the 100 books everyone should read his suggestions are more eclectic and include such popular authors as JK Rowling and Lee Child.

  • Carmella Rosenbach says:

    Satanic verses was amazing.

  • sludgehound says:

    Nice list. Flies has always haunted me. Like his #1 since short stories can be candy for brain, sweet and always wanting just one more piece please. Writer doesn’t wear out welcome.

    For heck of it I’d throw in King Rat to get some human insight under god awful conditions.
    Stuck on Ken Follett stories now. Pillars of the Earth knocked me out some years ago, now catch up time for some other of his.
    Thrillers aren’t that easy to, especially historical ones.
    Enjoyed first couple of Koontz works then, bit like King, just too much sameness, name brands, etc.
    Kinda sad haven’t found much contemporary work once past Crichton
    works but most of his were great fun.That sort of makes up for not being grabbed by today. Painting more interesting.

  • Maudia says:

    What happened to the animal kingdom or the hospital where is the book?????

  • Mark Allan says:

    King wrote that when he was in college, he loved to carry around paperbacks by John D. MacDonald to piss off the English majors. He also wrote that he learned more from mystery novels than the “classics.” It appears that he’s feeling the need for approval from the snobbishness he once scorned.

  • Gary Allen says:

    I agree with you (and King) that Bleak House is the best of Dickens’s 15 novels, in part because it mostly avoids his mawkish humor. I’ve only read 5 of the 10 on King’s list, and have no plans to read the rest. Cormac McCarthy is too much a nihilist to encourage me to read more. The Road is the last book of his I will read. While I have no strictures on the necessity of representation by race or gender, I feel a “best of” list of novels that omits anything by Jane Austen or Murasaki Shikibu has somehow failed.

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