Stephen King Recommends 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 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.

You can also find anoth­er list of 82 books rec­om­mend­ed by King here.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen King Cre­ates a List of 82 Books for Aspir­ing Writ­ers (to Sup­ple­ment an Ear­li­er List of 96 Rec­om­mend Books)

Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writ­ers

Stephen King’s 22 Favorite Movies: Full of Hor­ror & Sus­pense

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

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Comments (5)
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  • Deborah S Harmonr says:

    You left out war of the worlds and grapes of wrath and your under the doom plus the girl who loved Tom Gor­don these show strength­en when you have none and to keep try­ing no mat­ter what and best be a fam­i­ly to count on I am an avid read­er hate love sto­ry’s love a good prob­lem to work­out
    T a few bumps in the road helps make you stronger­let your faith be big­ger than
    Your any fear

  • LF Guigon says:

    I don’t think you read the arti­cle. Noth­ing is “left out”. As the arti­cle states, these are books Stephen King said that inspired HIM. And in fact, this is only an excerpt of his list. The arti­cle also redi­rects where you can find all 96 of the books on his list.

  • Reinaldo Perez says:

    Avid read­er & writer fron San Juan PR . ( Span­ish /English ) I read every­thing I bump into on the writ­ing craft . Have fol­lowed the some­what arbi­trary debate on Mr. King’s
    “ lit­er­ary mer­its ” among crit­ics and aca­d­e­mics.
    I respect an admire his crafts­man­ship .

  • Denise Kalmes says:

    I just bought and read Anne Tyler’s “A Patch­work Plan­et” based on King’s # 93 rec­om­men­da­tion. Her sto­ry telling is real­is­tic, so much so that I saw myself as one of the old­er peo­ple call­ing for Rent-A-Back assis­tance. I would hope Barn­a­by would show up for sure. Great rec­om­men­da­tion ! Next one … not sure yet, I will decide and find it today ! By the way, I found this one at Wal­mart for $5.00. No Ama­zon for me.

  • James says:

    There are some inter­est­ing books men­tioned in this arti­cle and the authors sound good as well. Steven King is a good writer and he has writ­ten many great books and sev­er­al of them have become films and maybe some adapt­ed for tele­vi­sion. I like the fan­ta­sy, sci­ence fic­tion, hor­ror and super­nat­ur­al fic­tion gen­res. I also gen­er­al­ly like any good fic­tion such as I also like read­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. There are some books men­tioned in the arti­cle that are pos­si­bly books that I might like to read. I read a lot of books and I have had seen many good ones out there. I like hear­ing about what inspires authors and how they came to write the books they have writ­ten. I am inter­est­ed in insight and the writer’s craft.

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