- Carrie (1974) - good with even better movie made from it
- 'Salem's Lot (1975) - my favorite vampire book
- The Shining (1977) - his best, with nary a wasted word
- The Stand (1978) - two times I tried but couldn't finish. bloated and surprisingly dull in parts. The beginning, though, man, oh, man.
- The Dead Zone (1979) - very good - how do you make Lee Harvey Oswald the hero? also, challenge me if you like, but Cronenberg's movie is the best King adaptation
- Firestarter (1980) - disposable
- Pet Sematary (1983) - way overrated
- The Talisman (1984) w/Peter Straub - good enough
- IT (1986) - good parts mixed with very bad parts and waaaay too long
- The Tommyknockers (1987) - he can't remember writing this which I think is for the best
- The Dark Half (1989) - very good
- Insomnia (1994) - goodish but long and a little pat with its human villain
- The Regulators (1996) - not good
- Bag of Bones (1998) - solid if, again, pat in its villains
- Dreamcatcher (2001) - nuts and not really good, but big, stoopid fun
- From a Buick 8 (2002) - very good
- The Colorado Kid (2005) - infuriating fun about an unanswerable mystery
- Cell (2006) - goodish, but feels like a over-long short story
- Lisey's Story (2006) - I found it more interesting than good, but decent enough. some very good non-fantastic parts of loss
- Duma Key (2008) - eh, but only because I still expect more
- The Outsider (2018) - very good
- Revival (2014) - very good and the bleakest of his books. It makes Pet Semetary, which I admittedly feel meh about, look like a Sunday School picnic
- Later (2021) - sure, talking to the dead's been done, but King handles its very well. Mixed together with his hardboiled tendencies from the last twenty years equals good results
- The Institute (2019) - What if Firestarter wasn't crappy and it the plot had world-wide implications? This is what you'd get. His prose smooth and effortless without being dumb or simple.
- Mr. Mercedes (2014) - A thriller, pitting a psycopathic young killer against a fat, retired police detective with suicidal thoughts. It's not anything new, but, like with The Institute, King's writing - the prose, the characters, the plot - are very good and there's real tension and surprises. I'm looking forward to getting the two sequels, Finders Keepers (2015), and End of Watch (2016) in the mail next week.
- Night Shift (1978) - perfect
- Skeleton Crew (1985) - close to perfect
- Four Past Midnight (1990) - okay
- Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993) - some good stuff
- Hearts in Atlantis (1998) - as a longtime hearts player, I love this
- Everything's Eventual (2001) - okay
- Full Dark, No Stars (2010) - not bad at all
- If It Bleeds (2020) - I only read the title story, which features Holly Gibney, and it's terrific
- Danse Macabre (1981) - important look at horror as a genre
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000) - helpful
King is the writer who almost single-handedly turned horror into a marketable genre. It wasn't by accident: his early works mix pulp roots with literary aspirations and eyes wide-open on the bestseller lists. He wasn't the first person to do this, but he was the most industrious and simply better than most of his rivals.
His first five novels (as much as I don't like The Stand, its importance to his career and the genre are undeniable. Most people I know who've read it totally dug it.) and first two story collections are forces that any examination of modern horror has to address. If you read horror and have somehow missed them it's best to rectify that.
There's a definite drop off in quality in the eighties due to addiction troubles (supposedly he has no memory of writing The Tommyknockers, though that just might be wishful thinking). As good as I think some of his later books are, they lack the immediacy and novelty of those first six books. Those early ones, though, man, oh, man are they fun.
PS: I just recently read his last novel, The Outsider, and it cooks. More than any of his other books that I can think of, it feels very much a part of the horror paperback original scene of the seventies and eighties - done really, really well. In these days of glittery vampires and torture porn gore, it's a real standout.
Still, it's not as much of a punch to the gut as his early books. I attribute that to the effect of decades, and decades of horror written by divers hands. When King kicked things off over forty years ago, if not the first explorer, he was definitely the most important conquistador in the lands of horror. The trails he opened and styles he conquered have long since been traveled and done to death. It's incredibly hard for new horror book to strike with the same potency of King's earliest books, even his own.
Since writing this, we've had a plague and I've read three more King books, all new, and all very good. The first, best, and most brutal is Revival. It's dedicated to Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei, Fritz Leiber, August Derleth, Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch, and Peter Straub, as well as Arthur Machen. To the latter-most, King writes that his "short novel The Great God Pan has haunted me all my life." It draws much of its inspiration from the sort of cosmic horror those authors all worked with and mixes it with King's own more human-scaled concerns.
Much of the novel is concerned simply with the life and times of its narrator, Jamie Morton, as he moves from the sixties to the present. The hororor elements only emerge gradually, and their slow emergence through Jamie's story lets the atmosphere build gradually before coming together in a furious burst of dark electricity that leaves him and the reader feeling gutted. Of all the newer King I've read, this might be the one to stand alongside his best early books.
Later is the third of his Hard Case Crime releases. The others are The Colorado Kid and Joyland. I like the first a lot and own but still need to read the second. It's a good, decent supernatural thriller mixed with a crime story involving police corruption and drug dealers. It isn't groundbreaking, but King's tight storytelling, and the ease with which the narrator's voice captures the reader makes for a good, quick read.
The Institute is a book I can't totally explain. Not the plot, that's straightforward enough. What eludes me is exactly why I plowed thru a 650-page book in only three or four days for the first time in a very long time. I guess he just knows how to grab me. It's really all I can say. He builds up the suspense, knows how to throw me off kilter every time I think I know where things are going, and creates characters that are captivating, be they heroes, villains, or someone in betwee. When I find myself staying up to all hourse because I've "only" got 150 pages left, I can only conider the book a massive success. That said, it's less a horror story than a paranormal thriller that recalls his own Firestarter and John Farris' The Fury. It's much (much!) better than both and much more disturbing, drawing on the torture scandals and black sites of the War on Terror.
Most times when I read a Stephen King book, I find myself compelled to pick up another one. That's what I've done right now. I've finally put Mr. Mercedes (2014) on my nightstand and will probably jump right into Joyland (2013) afterwards. If Mr. Mercedes is any good, and from all I've read, it is, I'll follow up with its sequels, Finders Keepers (2015) and End of Watch (2016), and then his latest, Holly.