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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