A couple of weeks back, the website “Books Rock My World” published this piece giving five reasons why you should be reading the books of Stephen King. The article is excellent and you should read it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Okay, for those of you who didn’t get caught up or distracted by clicking around to other sites (because that’s totally a thing, especially with a great site like BRMW), welcome back! I’ve got two more reasons why you should be reading Stephen King, and then some recommendations on where to start.
- King is an excellent writer.
Seriously, the man writes thousand page books that do not feel like they’re a thousand pages long. Don’t get me wrong, he has certainly written books that I don’t like either because of how they end or because of how the plot unfolds along the way (specifically, Under the Dome, Hearts in Atlantis, or really any of his short stories/Richard Bachman books). But I have yet to read a Stephen King book that I didn’t generate joy in the act of reading along the way.
- King wrestles with the same ideas Christians have to wrestle with.
Of course, by writing books that wrestle with issues at all, King is engaging ideas that Christians engage. Still, there’s a uniquely theistic slant to King’s writing. The relationship between free will and Divine sovereignty, the question of the goodness of God in a world that seems to be evil, the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the just, etc etc etc. King’s basically got it all in books that are a delight to read (see point 1 above). If you’re interested in further reflection on the topic, you can read more/better stuff about King’s theological world by Ross Douthat here.
(That said, of course King’s books can be violent, crude, erotic, etc etc etc. Consider yourself disclaimed.)
- On Writing. I know, I know, I’ve been talking up King as a great novelist and the first place I send you is to a work of non-fiction. The reason is simple: it’s his best book to date. It is an engaging biography that manages to teach about writing along the way. It is hands down the most popular book I’ve ever assigned in class, and is a book which should be read by every book lover (to say nothing of every aspiring writer).
- The Stand. If we had to destroy all Stephen King books but one, this is the one that we should save. It is King’s one-volume masterpiece that I will cheerfully argue is the equal in substance and quality of any 20th century American work of fiction.
- The Eyes of the Dragon. In this book, King wanders into YA/Fantasy territory and tells a decent story on his way out.
- Salem’s Lot. This book is King’s take on the vampire story, and a good sampling of what his writing was like prior to the car accident which in some ways neatly divides his writing career into two clearly distinguishable parts. (For more on that, read On Writing!)
- The Talisman. The book is about a child, but it was certainly not written for a child. It is nevertheless an excellent work of fantasy that you simply cannot skip. Also, after reading the Talisman you get to read Black House, which is even better, but which is a sequel and so requires reading The Talisman first. (The audio book of Black House is especially excellent.)
- Either Needful Things or Duma Key. The former is King’s take on human selfishness; while the latter discusses the importance of art in life–and the dangers that accompany great art. And yes, that is my way of getting a seventh book into a list that I said would only include six. (Heck, technically this list includes eight books if you were paying attention.)
On the other hand, I’d encourage you to avoid diving into the Dark Tower books until you’ve gotten a few other King texts under your belt. They are interesting and they do tie a lot of his works together, but they can also be kind of cryptic if you’re not already familiar with King’s world and writing style.
So, hopefully I’ve convinced you to go forth and read some Stephen King. He’s the world’s best-selling novelist for a reason, and I hope you enjoy his books as much as I have.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO, where he regularly terrifies his students.