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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