Friday, August 13, 2010

Stephen King Career Retrospective: Part I

I've already done one of these career retrospectives for my favorite movie star and my favorite director, so it's only fitting that I finally do one for my favorite writer. Or, at least, the man who used to be my favorite writer at one time or another. He's still one of my favorite writers, and he is certainly the writer of whose work I have read the most of (expect for maybe Robert Heinlein or Edgar Rice Burroughs), but I have fallen out of touch with his books as of late, or maybe he had fallen out of favor with me.

Anyway, Stephen King always has a place in my heart as the author of so many of my all time favorite works of fiction. Here is my (hopefully) complete run down of everything of his that I have read. I will try to keep my comments as brief as possible.

Oh yeah, and this is dedicated to by good friend Anna, who is an even bigger fan of his stuff than I am.

This is the first novel King ever published, and I'm fairly certain it was the first of his I ever read. I didn't read his stuff in order when I began to get into his work, but it just worked out that way when I started. My sister was a big Stephen King fan and had all of this books, and I chose this one to read first because it was the shortest. I remember loving it, but looking back with an adult perspective, I can't remember why. It's a story about a nerdy girl with psychic powers who gets humiliated at her prom and then kills everybody. I guess there is some subtext to be found, but that's the basic story in a nutshell. And boy is it hard to believe. I mean, I don't care how much of a bitch some kids are, nobody is going to dump pig's blood on your head during prom. And if that did happen, they wouldn't laugh at you, because they'd be too busy throwing up. But I liked it. It's a short, good, fun read, but I don't really recommend it in comparison to this rest of his ouvre.
Skip it

'Salem's Lot
This is King's second novel, and it's my all time favorite thing he's ever written. You could call it an homage to Dracula, since it's basically the same plot only set in rural Maine. Some might even call it a rip off. Me, I call it an improvement. Dracula is one of the most influential works of literature -- and certainly the most influential work of horror literature -- but it's also appallingly written in my opinion. Lot, on the other hand, is brilliant, scary, exciting, and probably the best vampire novel I've ever read. Read it

The Shining
Another fantastic book. You've probably already read it. If not, you've probably seen the movie. If you liked the movie, read the book. It's better, it's more epic, and it's scarier. This is King's third book and probably the one that made him a household name.
Read it

Night Shift
Great collection of short stories. When I was younger, I preferred King's short stories to his novels, since they had a sense of structure and pacing that was missing from some of his longer fiction. This is one of his best collections. A bunch of these stories were turned into movies (like Lawnmower Man), but they are all pieces of crap.

Stand outs include: "I am the Doorway," "The Boogeyman," and "Graveyard Shift."
Read it

The Stand
King's first big epic novel. The Stand is the book that made the critics go easy on King as a writer. It impressed everybody and it's still as good today as it was back then. Great book. They later turned it into a terrible made for tv mini series.
Read it

The Dead Zone
Neat story about a guy who can read a person's future. He decides to kill somebody after he "reads" that he'll be president and start a nuclear war. Or something like that. I remember liking it, but not loving it. Like I said, a neat, fun story that is worth a look, but kind of a step backward after something as brilliant as the Stand. This was also turned into a very faithful and not too bad movie staring Christopher Walken and a tv series that I've never seen.
Read it

Never read it. Never saw the Drew Barrymore movie either. 

Even people who haven't read this novel know what it's about. Cujo has entered the lexicon as any mean dog. And it's an ok book. Maybe even a good one. I mean, it's a book about a rabid dog that kills a bunch of people. Scary, but nothing amazing. Also a movie.
Skip it

The Running Man
I've been skipping over most of the books write as Richard Bachman because they are mostly forgettable... except for this one, which is off the hook! This novella is seriously, to this day, one of the coolest, most exciting, most bad ass things I've ever read. And, yeah, they made a seriously kick ass movie adaptation that has almost nothing to do with the original story. The original story actually is more over the top and action packed if you can believe it. After 'Salem's Lot, this is my favorite King story because it's just ridiculously entertaining.
Read it!

The Gunslinger
The first novel in King's epic Dark Tower series, that spanned 7 novels and about 3 decades. This is a pretty mediocre novel all things considered, but it's worth checking out for the Western setting and because it's a must read if you want to get into the must read Dark Tower series. They get a lot better than this slow start.
Read it

Forgettable book about a killer car. Yeah, that's right. Fun read because King's a great writer, but whatever. Yes, also a movie.
Skip it

Pet Semetary
This is probably King's most twisted and disturbing book. It's just dark dark dark. It's very good and it's very well written, but man is it ever bleak. Not for the faint of heart. The story, if you must know, is about an enchanted burial ground that resurrects the dead... but they come back with no souls, remorse, or sense of right and wrong. Just thinking about this book is enough to make my skin crawl. If you like horror novels, I guess that's a pretty great recommendation, right? This also spanned a couple of films and an awesome song by The Ramones.
Read it

Cycle of the Werewolf 
Cool novel about a werewolf that has -- I think -- twelve chapters that each take place during that month's full moon. Good story made all the better by some artwork supplied by master horror comic artist Bernie Wrightson. Also a pretty good movie called Silver Bullet.
Read it

The Talisman
A collaboration with fellow horror writer Peter Straub. I loved this one as a kid, though I haven't reread it sense, even though I've meant to. It was more fantasy-based than King's other stories. It's almost a picaresque novel set against one kid's hero quest to save his mother. And, as an aside, check out Ghost Story by Peter Straub if you want to read another good horror novel.
Read it

A gypsy puts a curse on a fat guy and makes him get progressively skinner until he almost wastes away to nothing. Clever idea, forgettable book. All I remember from the movie is that you get to see Kari Wuhrer's panties, so that's worth checking out.
Skip it

Skeleton Crew
Another short story collection that is worth checking out. Lots of real gems in this one.

Standouts include: "The Mist," "The Monkey," "Survivor Type," and "The Jaunt." Though, really, they are all good. For my money, this is King's best collection of stories. The Mist was turned into a movie, but I never saw it.
Read it

King's magnum opus, at least until he finished off his epic Dark Tower series. But, all in all, this might be his best work, if not all together my favorite. It's well over a thousand pages, but I've read it a bunch of times and it never feels long. It's just good. Also made into a mini series with a pretty great cast that almost makes it worth watching. Almost.
Read it

The Eyes of the Dragon
King's first real attempt at a straight-up fantasy novel, and it's a good one! And I say that as a true fan of the fantasy genre. This is kind of a kid's story at heart, but it's so clever and so well done, I still reread it and love it as an adult. It's not quite Tolkein in scope, but it's a really good, really exciting fantasy novel in that same vein.
Read it

The Drawing of the Three
The second Dark Tower novel kicks this up to eleven. This novel is a straight up action-packed, shoot em up thrill ride. It's worth slogging through the Gunslinger to read this novel, since it's bad ass. I couldn't even begin to describe the plot, but it involves giant, man-eating lobsters, mobsters, drug dealers, interdimentional transportation, and the civil rights movement.
Read it

Great novel. This is just a straight up horror novel and it delivers. The suspense of this story about a writer captured by his biggest fan never lets up. Great book that was later turned into a great movie for which Kathy Bates won the best actress Oscar. I'm going to take a guess here and say that was the only Academy Award ever given to an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, although Shawshank came close.
Read it

The Tommyknockers
I guess this was King's attempt at a science fiction novel... although it isn't even remotely science fiction. It does, however, have a UFO and some aliens. If this novel is science fiction, then any given story from the Weekly World News about alien abduction is science fiction. It is, however, a lot of fun and pretty scary. I liked it. They turned it into a movie, which I never saw despite the fact that it starred Jimmy Smitts.
Read it

The Dark Half
I remember very little about this novel. This is one of those novels King wrote that probably had a lot of personal meaning to him and death with whatever demons he was working through in his real life, but it just left me cold as a reader. It was about a novelist being attacked be his pseudonym. Or something. Anyway, it was pretty dumb, as was the Timothy Hutton film adaptation, as most Timothy Hutton films are.
Skip it

And since that brings us to the year 1990 on the King publishing timeline, this feels like a good spot for me to take a break and go to bed. I just hope this trip through the oeuvre of Stephen King won't give me nightmares.

To be continued...


stupescommaruth said...

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHH!!! (loud cat calls, jeers, and applause!)

very, VERY excellent. Some days are just cool, you know? I sat here and read this and giggled and smiled and laughed and AS WITH EVERYTHING ELSE YOU WRITE WISHED I WAS AS CLEVER AS YOU.

i remember liking salem's lot, can't remember dick about anything other than Carrie and the short stories.
that is to say, I support this list.

Christine is a kick-ass movie, btw.

Justin Garrett Blum said...

I'm reading Pet Semetary (sp?) right now, actually, though I've had to put it aside to read something for work. Pet Semetary is one of these books where you find yourself wanting to yell at the characters in the story.

stupescommaruth said...

so pet semetary is really dark? i think i skipped that one and just went for the film straight off. i may have to put this on my challenge list for october. . . still assembling.