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Doctor Sleep

Where to Start with Stephen King

Trying to figure out which Stephen King book to read is daunting even for a lifelong fan. In honor of his new book, Doctor Sleep, which comes out today, here’s a very abbreviated guide into the unknown.

Where to start

The Dead Zone (novel, 1979): The everyman-turned-psychic protagonist AND the closet sociopath he has to stop from running for office both go through traumas that are thoroughly explored to suggest how the path of good intentions and evil power are pretty much the same thing until that final judgment.

The Shining (novel, 1977): This ain’t your Jack Nicholson movie. There’s a lot more backstory, all of it creepy and all of it thumping at a relentless pace through the skeletal halls of a giant, empty hotel and the haunted mind of a tormented writer. And no, I couldn’t sleep after I read about the lady in the bathtub, or the hedge animals.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (novel, 1999): By dialing back the supernatural, King shows that the indifference of nature provides plenty of growing horror to a girl who gets lost in the woods with only her favorite baseball team on her radio with its dying batteries. This is shorter, more realistic, and more humane than a lot of King’s novels, so it’s a good place to ease in if you’re not ready for full-on psychosis.

Skeleton Crew (short stories, 1985), Everything's Eventual (short stories, 2002): These two collections are the best examples of King’s versatility, ranging from the gore and science fiction he sold to men’s magazines, to the melding of humanity with creature features, to the not-so-subtle twists that reveal the horrors of real life.

Different Seasons (novellas, 1982): The novella is King’s strongest genre, giving him just enough length for a good meaty story while forcing him to reign in some of his worst repetitive ticks. This collection has three of my favorites – "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" (a meditation on justice and freedom with just the right amount of slapstick humor to keep it from depression), "The Body" (“I never had friends like the friends I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?”), and "Apt Pupil"(suburban kids are way more capable of evil and way better at finding undercover Nazis than you realize).

On Writing (nonfiction, 2000): If you don’t read anything else by Stephen King, read his stuff on writing. He’s got such a perfect blend of workmanship and artistic sensibility that it seems like common sense, and only when you try it yourself do you see how hard it is to find advice that describes the practical magic of words as well as he does.

Where to go next:

The Green Mile (serial novel, 1996): Mercy, wonder, and life shake up a joint where death hangs out like it’s just another wisecracking prison guard getting through the night shift. This is a serial story, told in chunks that were published separately, so if you get the collected edition, you will have to get through some repetition of story and theme, but it’s worth it to see what happens to Mr. Jingles.

Carrie (novel, 1974), Christine (novel, 1983): Both of these early classics show the confusion of adolescence through the sudden acquisition of powers that their protagonists didn’t ask for and can’t control. But oh do they get their revenge.

Dolores Claiborne (novel, 1992): Told in one long monologue by an old New England housekeeper to the police as she explains murder over the weekend of a solar eclipse, this is King’s deepest and best dive into a character.

Doctor Sleep (novel, 2013): Either the worst or the best sequel idea ever, but we’ll have to read it to find out!

The Dark Tower series (novels, 1982 - 2012): If you’re ready for a commitment across a series of uneven quality that ultimately rewards your effort, then climb on board with the Gunslinger and see where he takes you.

What to Avoid:

Duma Key, Dreamcatcher, Cell, Insomnia, Lisey’s Story (novels): Stephen King hit a rough spot in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it shows in his writings from then. These date themselves through dependence on badly used slang, quips, and faddish technology – which aren’t new things in his novels, frankly, but the stories are so muddled here that the flaws are glaring instead of quirky.

Check out the Richland Library online catalog and NoveList for more Stephen King novels, short fiction, nonfiction, movies, and biographies – he’s got something for everyone!


The Dead Zone by Stephen King
Amazon Says: A supernatural thriller that plunges the reader into the fate awaiting all mankind -- The Dead Zone. more...
Amazon Says: A supernatural thriller that plunges the reader into the fate awaiting all mankind -- The Dead Zone. less...
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The Shining by Stephen King
Amazon Says: Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time more...
Amazon Says: Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old. less...
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Amazon Says: From international bestseller Stephen King, a classic story that engages our emotions on the most primal level, a fairy tale grimmer than Grimm but aglow with a girl’s indom more...
Amazon Says: From international bestseller Stephen King, a classic story that engages our emotions on the most primal level, a fairy tale grimmer than Grimm but aglow with a girl’s indomitable spirit. What if the woods were full of them? And of course they were, the woods were full of everything you didn’t like, everything you were afraid of and instinctively loathed, everything that tried to overwhelm you with nasty, no-brain panic. The brochure promised a “moderate-to-difficult” six-mile hike on the Maine-New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Trail, where nine-year-old Trisha McFarland was to spend Saturday with her older brother Pete and her recently divorced mother. When she wanders off to escape their constant bickering, then tries to catch up by attempting a shortcut through the woods, Trisha strays deeper into a wilderness full of peril and terror. Especially when night falls. Trisha has only her wits for navigation, only her ingenuity as a defense against the elements, only her courage and faith to withstand her mounting fear. For solace she tunes her Walkman to broadcasts of Boston Red Sox games and the gritty performances of her hero, number thirty-six, relief pitcher Tom Gordon. And when her radio’s reception begins to fade, Trisha imagines that Tom Gordon is with her—her key to surviving an enemy known only by the slaughtered animals and mangled trees in its wake. less...
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Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
Amazon Says: Who could imagine…? In this brilliant collection of twenty-two stories, Stephen King takes readers down paths that only he could imagine…. A supermar more...
Amazon Says: Who could imagine…? In this brilliant collection of twenty-two stories, Stephen King takes readers down paths that only he could imagine…. A supermarket becomes the place where humanity makes its last stand against unholy destruction…a trip to the attic turns into a journey to hell…a woman driver finds a very scary shortcut to paradise…an idyllic lake harbors a bottomless evil…and a desert island is the scene of the most terrifying struggle for survival ever waged. Features the novella “The Mist”—Now a major motion picture   less...
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Amazon Says: The first collection of stories Stephen King has published since Nightmares & Dreamscapes nine years ago, Everything's Eventual includes one O. Henry Prize winner, two other a more...
Amazon Says: The first collection of stories Stephen King has published since Nightmares & Dreamscapes nine years ago, Everything's Eventual includes one O. Henry Prize winner, two other award winners, four stories published by The New Yorker, and "Riding the Bullet," King's original e-book, which attracted over half a million online readers and became the most famous short story of the decade. "Riding the Bullet," published here on paper for the first time, is the story of Alan Parker, who's hitchhiking to see his dying mother but takes the wrong ride, farther than he ever intended. In "Lunch at the Gotham Café," a sparring couple's contentious lunch turns very, very bloody when the maître d' gets out of sorts. "1408," the audio story in print for the first time, is about a successful writer whose specialty is "Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Graveyards" or "Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses," and though Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel doesn't kill him, he won't be writing about ghosts anymore. And in "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French," terror is déjà vu at 16,000 feet. Whether writing about encounters with the dead, the near dead, or about the mundane dreads of life, from quitting smoking to yard sales, Stephen King is at the top of his form in the fourteen dark tales assembled in Everything's Eventual. Intense, eerie, and instantly com-pelling, they announce the stunningly fertile imagination of perhaps the greatest storyteller of our time. less...
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Different Seasons by Stephen King
Amazon Says: Four novellas by the master of horror fiction. more...
Amazon Says: Four novellas by the master of horror fiction. less...
Amazon

Amazon Says: Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful and so revealing. King takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer's art and life, offering practical and insp more...
Amazon Says: Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful and so revealing. King takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer's art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection. less...
Amazon

Carrie by Stephen King
Amazon Says: Stephen King's legendary debut, about a teenage outcast and the revenge she enacts on her classmates.   Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a more...
Amazon Says: Stephen King's legendary debut, about a teenage outcast and the revenge she enacts on her classmates.   Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a gift. Carrie could make things move by concentrating on them. A candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her power and her sin. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offered Carrie a chance to be a normal and go to her senior prom. But another act--of ferocious cruelty--turned her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that her classmates would never forget. less...
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The Dark Tower by Stephen King
Amazon Says: All good things must come to an end, Constant Reader, and not even Stephen King can make a story that goes on forever. The tale of Roland Deschain's relentless quest for the D more...
Amazon Says: All good things must come to an end, Constant Reader, and not even Stephen King can make a story that goes on forever. The tale of Roland Deschain's relentless quest for the Dark Tower has, the author fears, sorely tried the patience of those who have followed it from its earliest chapters. But attend to it a while longer, if it pleases you, for this volume is the last, and often the last things are best.Roland's ka-tet remains intact, though scattered over wheres and whens. Susannah-Mia has been carried from the Dixie Pig (in the summer of 1999) to a birthing room -- really a chamber of horrors -- in Thunderclap's Fedic; Jake and Father Callahan, with Oy between them, have entered the restaurant on Lex and Sixty-first with weapons drawn, little knowing how numerous and noxious are their foes. Roland and Eddie are with John Cullum in Maine, in 1977, looking for the site on Turtleback Lane where "walk-ins" have been often seen. They want desperately to get back to the others, to Susannah especially, and yet they have come to realize that the world they need to escape is the only one that matters.Thus the book opens, like a door to the uttermost reaches of Stephen King's imagination. You've come this far. Come a little farther. Come all the way. The sound you hear may be the slamming of the door behind you. Welcome to "The Dark Tower." less...
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