Saturday, March 29, 2014


“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools)to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King

Before I read westerns, I read a LOT of Stephen King. I started with Carrie, and was enthralled from start to finish by the girl who could call down wrath on the people who mistreated her.

The more I read, the more I admired the way King was able to pull me right into the story he was telling. (This was before I knew anything about POV or any of "the rules" of writing that King is so good at bending and breaking to write his bestsellers.)

In the afterword to his acclaimed guide On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King shares his own reading list of 96 books of fiction and non-fiction titles.

Here's what he has to say about his choices:

These are the best books I’ve read over the last three or four years, the period during which I wrote The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Hearts in Atlantis, On Writing, and the as-yet-unpublished From a Buick Eight. In some way or other, I suspect each book in the list had an influence on the books I wrote.

As you scan this list, please remember that I’m not Oprah and this isn’t my book club. These are the ones that worked for me, that’s all. But you could do worse, and a good many of these might show you some new ways of doing your work. Even if they don’t, they’re apt to entertain you. They certainly entertained me.

This list was put together several years ago, when his book "On Writing" was published. How many of these have you read? If you were asked to create a list of the top five books you've read, what would be on your list?

1.Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
2.Peter Abrahams, Lights Out
3.Peter Abrahams, Pressure Drop
4.Peter Abrahams,Revolution #9
5.James Agee, A Death in the Family
6.Kirsten Bakis, Lives of the Monster Dogs
7.Pat Barker, Regeneration
8.Pat Barker, The Eye in the Door
9.Pat Barker, The Ghost Road
10.Richard Bausch, In the Night Season
11.Peter Blauner, The Intruder
12.Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
13.T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain
14.Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
15.Christopher Buckley, Thank You for Smoking
16.Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From
17.Michael Chabon, Werewolves in Their Youth
18.Windsor Chorlton, Latitude Zero
19.Michael Connelly, The Poet
20.Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (Project Gutenberg)
21.K.C. Constantine, Family Values
22.Don DeLillo, Underworld
23.Nelson DeMille, Cathedral
24.Nelson DeMille, The Gold Coast
25.Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (Project Gutenberg)
26.Stephen Dobyns, Common Carnage
27.Stephen Dobyns, The Church of Dead Girls
28.Roddy Doyle, The Woman Who Walked into Doors
29.Stanely Elkin, The Dick Gibson Show
30.William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
31.Alex Garland, The Beach
32.Elizabeth George, Deception on His Mind
33.Tess Gerritsen, Gravity
34.William Golding, Lord of the Flies
35.Muriel Gray, Furnace
36.Graham Greene, A Gun for Sale (aka This Gun for Hire)
37.Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana
38.David Halberstam, The Fifties
39.Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters
40.Thomas Harris, Hannibal
41.Kent Haruf, Plainsong
42.Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
43.Stephen Hunter, Dirty White Boys
44.David Ignatius, A Firing Offense
45.John Irving, A Widow for One Year
46.Graham Joyce, The Tooth Fairy
47.Alan Judd, The Devil’s Own Work
48.Roger Kahn, Good Enough to Dream
49.Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club
50.Jack Ketchum, Right to Life
51.Tabitha King, Survivor
52.Tabitha King, The Sky in the Water
53.Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
54.Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
55.Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
56.Bernard Lefkowitz, Our Guys
57.Bentley Little, The Ignored
58.Maclean, Norman: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
59.Maugham, W. Somerset: The Moon and Sixpence (Project Gutenberg)
60.Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain
61.Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing
62.Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
63.Alice McDermott, Charming Billy
64.Jack McDevitt, Ancient Shores
65.Ian McEwan, Enduring Love
66.Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden
67.Larry McMurtry, Dead Man’s Walk
68.Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Zeke and Ned
69.Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz
70.Joyce Carol Oates, Zombie
71.Tim O’Brien, In the Lake of the Woods
72.Stewart O’Nan, The Speed Queen
73.Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
74.Richard North Patterson, No Safe Place
75.Richard Price, Freedomland
76.Annie Proulx, Close Range: Wyoming Stories
77.Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
78.Anna Quindlen, One True Thing
79.Ruth Rendell, A Sight for Sore Eyes
80.Frank M. Robinson, Waiting
81.J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
82.J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban
83.J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
84.Richard Russo, Mohawk
85.John Burnham Schwartz, Reservation Road
86.Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
87.Irwin Shaw, The Young Lions
88.Richard Slotkin, The Crater
89.Dinitia Smith, The Illusionist
90.Scott Spencer, Men in Black
91.Wallace Stegner, Joe Hill
92.Donna Tartt, The Secret History
93.Anne Tyler, A Patchwork Planet
94.Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus
95.Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
96.Donald Westlake, The Ax


  1. Thanks for sharing your list. I'm fascinated by what other writers--and other regular folks for that matter--read.
    I'm taking a short read-everything-I-can-get-my-hands-on break before I ramp up full speed on my next novel. Reading Empire of the Summer Moon right now. I grew up in Parker County and the story of Quana Parker and the Comanche is mesmerizing.

  2. This list only proves that I am not very well read. Shucky-darn. Or maybe that my tastes are quite different from Stephen King's? Us there hope for me?

  3. Hi Marc,

    This huge long list is Stephen King's--I have not read many of these books that he listed. To be honest, I'm not sure what I would come up with for a "TOP 100" (or close to it) list. LOL

    I really miss having time to read like I used to do. And I'm not a fast reader--I like to think about what I'm reading and mull it as I go along. Right now I'm reading a book by Penelope Williamson called Heart of the West. She also wrote The Outsider, and a movie was made from that one. But her characters are just so...REAL. When you finish her books, it's as if you've said goodbye to people who actually lived.

    Empire of the Summer Moon sounds like a good one. Quanah and his mother and sister are buried at Ft. Sill near Lawton, OK. So is Geronimo, only he's in the POW cemetery. LOL Very interesting stuff.


  4. LOL Frank! I thought the same thing when I saw this list. I kept looking and looking, every once in a while a book I'd read showed up...I think maybe it's that our reading tastes are very different than Stephen King's.

    Makes you wonder how many Louis L'Amour books HE'S read, huh? LOL


  5. Cheryl,

    I for one have trouble with the repetitive and obvious build up of Stephen Kings writing style. I had trouble reading his books, the ones I picked up.

    I did read a short story by him about a fog caused by a chemical company, changing the world and creating monsters. I liked that story very much. No build up and no repetition.

    As for the list---well---I have read a few of them.


  6. Charlie, I would be willing to bet you've read more than "a few" on this list! LOL You're a much faster reader than I am.

    They made a movie out of that short story you're speaking of. And that was a good story, for sure! I don't read a lot of his later stuff--it's too graphic for me. But my favorite book of his was The Stand. I don't believe any of his other books come close that that one.


  7. I've always said that I love Stephen King's writing but dislike his books. That's mainly because I'm not into horror lit.

    I do think he gave tons of sound and generous advice with his book "On Writing." I refer to it often.

    An interesting challenge, to compile a list of the books that have moved you most. Going to fetch my pen and notebook right now...

  8. Not a fan of King's stories, but a fan of the person and his 'On Writing'. I've read a few on his list, but not many.

    Would I have a list that long...probably not, but I might come close. Just need to take in the information and style by osmosis. (Or something like that). But in the meantime like every other writer, I just keep writing. And as an avid reader...I just keep reading. Doris

  9. Vonn, I started reading Stephen King when Carrie first came out--and I was younger then. LOL But as I say, anymore, I don't read his newer stuff because I don't like the images the graphic scenes conjure in my brain (he really does description well...)LOL I'm like you--I refer to On Writing often, too.

    I haven't made my list yet, either, but I've started it!

  10. Doris, I have read very few on his list. I don't agree with him on one point--I don't believe ANYONE can become a writer. Some people just aren't "turned" that way, as my mom would say.

    It's odd how many people like his book On Writing, but aren't crazy about what he writes.


  11. I envy the man tremendously but have never been a fan. I'm more into westerns. My step-daughter is a big fan so I decided to try one and it was something about a guy who walked out into the desert and found a business area and went into a bar where there was a dead man laying on a table. Doing flips back and forth above the body brought it back to life.....that was it. End of story, but I certainly would trade places with him. Rod Thompson

  12. Rod, he sure has some odd ideas, but in some cases, that's what makes his books stand out so much. But what you're describing is really strange. LOL This must be one of his later ones I didn't read. I enjoyed everything he wrote early on. The stuff that came later...not so much.

  13. Cheryl: Stephen King and I have drastically different reading tastes, ;-) but I have read a few of the books on his list. Horror is not my genre of choice, so I will confess that the only one of his books I've read is 'Secret Window' and that was after watching the Johnny Depp movie (just because Johnny was the star - lol.

    Marc Cameron: I have read 'Empire of the Summer Moon' twice. It is a great study into the Comanche and the life of Quanah Parker.

  14. Kaye, I agree--Stephen King and I don't move in the same circles--or read the same books. LOL I didn't get to see Secret Window, but that IS one I would like to read.

    And I HAVE to get Empire of the Summer Moon now, since you and Marc both recommend it!