now, look, before i get into the following listicle/rant/whatever it is, i will acknowledge this: when we rank works of art, be they books or movies or whatever, there’s bound to be some disagreement based on taste and personal preference and all that. i accept this. on the other hand, sometimes you read a list –say, a list supposedly tasked with “ranking all 62 Stephen King books“– and you become entirely outraged, and you say to yourself, “this outrage of mine must be reported to the internet IMMEDIATELY.” so i think you see the genesis of this particularly update.
now, while i have largely given up my passion for reading works of fiction –at some point, it occurred to me the basis of fiction was that people have some sort of connection with each other, but they don’t– i will always have a soft spot for Stephen King. he strikes me as a writer who really, truly wanted to be a Great Writer writing Important Books, but whose gift lay in another direction, popular fiction. this i don’t say as a shot at King, but more as a reason to why i generally think he deserves some respect even from people who turn up their nose at the kind of books with vampire babies and incredibly, incredibly awkward group sex scenes. (shudder) i’m still not over that one.
all that being said, i think some of his work IS pretty close to out-and-out shit, and that it’s definitely possibly to rank it all better than this garbage list did, a list that may have resulted in my yelling at my computer in PURE RAGE. what i shall focus on here, though, is my 13 major outrages regarding this list as opposed to my specific “this is how i would have ranked them all” position.
JANKLOW’S 13 MAJOR OUTRAGES INVOLVING THIS VULTURE LIST “RANKING ALL 62 STEPHEN KING BOOKS”
these are not in any particular ranking order; it’s more of a “things that pop out to me as i read the list” kind of listicle.
janklow is determined to make a random ranking of these books CONTENTIOUS
01. the inclusion of Stephen King’s nonfiction works on this list, period
granted, i understand that the premise of the 62 book list is “if you count novels, nonfiction, and short-story collections,” but let’s be honest: his nonfiction works (Danse Macabre and On Writing) should NOT be on the same list as 60 fiction books, especially when you consider the fact that they’re ranked quite highly (#11 and #02, respectively), and that one (Danse Macabre) is basically described as densely-written but essential if you like horror (sort of a weak review for such a high ranking) and the other (On Writing) as “a new Strunk and White of sorts.”
02. the Tommyknockers being ranked #61
do i think the Tommyknockers is great? no, and to be honest, i think the heavy dose of anti-nuclear sentiment weakens the book (King periodically gets obsessed with hammering on some topic in a work, a notion that never works to the benefit of the book). but ranked second from the bottom? under books that are clearly much worse to anyone that’s read them? i admit this is subjective to some extent, but come on, now. someone is CLEARLY holding a grudge against that mediocre 1993 movie featuring Jimmy Smits and Marg Helgenberger. pretty much everything in this book related to the shed is strongly than every single aspect of his weaker books.
03. the slightest positive sentiment about King letting Rage go out of print
Rage, at #57 ranked second-worst of all King’s books published as Richard Bachmann (seems about right, although maybe 57 is too harsh, as it does read like an awkward early novel), is not a great book that needs some impassioned defense. however, this list touches on something King did when they mention that “wisely or not, King allowed the book to go out of print, partly because of a fear of having future school shootings linked to it.” let me be frank: this was a chickenshit, pathetic gesture on King’s part. in fact, i believe in the forward to Blaze describes Rage being out of print as “Now out of print, and a good thing.” is it true that a couple of school shooters seem to have read or owned the book? sure. but note that King talks about Rage and the short story “Cain Rose Up” as something that “would have raised red flags, and I’m certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them” … and yet he did nothing of the sort that these shooters did. so the point is what, exactly?
full disclosure: i have a weird habit of buying old copies of the Bachmann Books that include Rage in them because the current printings don’t include it, and if someone was to mention purchasing a new copy to me, i will give them one of my old ones. it’s like my weird, silent, pointless protest against King being a gigantic pussy about the whole matter. yeah, it’s his work and he’s well within his rights to see it not in print. he can do what he likes. but anything that smacks of censorship of works based on what kind of content is appropriate makes me a little sad, King. that is all.
04. the claim that Gerald’s Game omits the supernatural
to be specific, the list claims “though the supernatural is absent from this novel (as it is in many of his books, despite King’s reputation),” and while i must admit that it has been YEARS since i have even glanced at this work (i would give strong consideration to ranking it at the bottom of my list), i am reminded that one of my major complaints with Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game was the inclusion of the supernatural. huh, you say? well, both books are not about supernatural matters: Gerald’s Game is about a woman escaping from the results of accidentally killing her husband during a bondage game, and Dolores Claiborne is about a woman accused of killing her employer admitting to murdering her abusive, molesting husband. that’s it. however, i’ll let Wikipedia handle this:
“In King’s subsequent novel, Dolores Claiborne, it is revealed that the title main character shared a telepathic connection with Jessie Burlingame on two occasions, first during the solar eclipse when Jessie was assaulted by her father, and later when she is handcuffed to the bed. The two novels were initially conceived to be part of a single volume titled In the Path of the Eclipse. Later editions of Dolores Claiborne have a foreword that explains the connection between the two.”
now, i am going to be honest: i forget if this connection is explicit in Gerald’s Game –whereas it is absolutely used to describing seeing events from Gerald’s Game in Dolores Claiborne– but given that this ranking list seems to defend books connected to the whole Dark Tower series mess based on the strength of other books, i’m going to insist we don’t pretend the pair of eclipse-themed books aren’t unrelated to the supernatural. frankly, the fact that they mashed it in there is something that i found unnecessary and annoying. and now i will apologize, because this is a weak complaint and an entirely complicated one. I JUST CAN’T HELP IT.
05. motherfucking BLACK HOUSE existing at all
now, this list doesn’t rank Black House very highly (only #49), but it’s more the way they excuse some of its faults: “as with Insomnia, there are chunks of Black House undecipherable to the Dark Tower uninitiated.” this is not the problem with Black House. the actual problem is that King and Straub wrote a sequel to a book i enjoyed very, very much (the Talisman), as evidenced by my internet alias here, and which had its own universe and its own back history… and then attempted to cram tons of Dark Tower mythology into the sequel. i admit the “interconnected worlds” plot/setting is very similar to the Dark Tower series (and by extension, King’s shoddy attempts to tie all his books together), but the execution is so sloppy that we shouldn’t just say it’s awkward to those uniniatied, we should say it’s repugnant to those who read the previous book.
general statement: King should just not bother writing years-later sequels to his books that were probably never intended to have sequels. there’s going to be a sequel to the Shining THIRTY-SIX YEARS after the Shining was published? i can’t imagine any way in which this sequel will entirely suck and ruin the original for me just a little!
i do kind of miss the 1970s-era “awkward schoolboy” look of Stephen King
06. the Long Walk ranked far too low; Roadwork ranked far too high
i will sum up my position with “there is no better Bachmann novel than the Long Walk”: the Regulators is a messy pile that deserves the low ranking it gets; Rage and Blaze are both middling early works; Thinner and the Running Man are fun, but just inferior. i won’t even try to justify it beyond that, because hey, if you REALLY love Thinner, i cannot satisfy you with any real argument. but there’s two other things that i know for a fact: the Long Walk is better than Roadwork, and ranking the former #47 and the latter #20 is fucking DISGUSTING. i think Roadwork was ranked highly because a) it feels the most “different” of all those Bachmann novels and b) it feels much more like a “serious work of fiction” than the average Stephen King book: nothing supernatural, no fictional or outlandish setting, just a period piece from the 1970s. Roadwork is not a shit book at all, but the Long Walk crushes it. CRUSHES IT.
also, a bonus snide shot at King: so Roadwork has a guy getting guns and shooting at authority figures and blowing up their stuff because he’s angry and fed up. given that people have also done this at various times in life, why hasn’t King asked THIS book to be removed from print? because none of those guys owned copies of Roadwork? hmmm.
07. the review of Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla being entirely negative without punishing the book (Dark Tower VII’s review as well)
i’m not about to defend this book at all; i hate all that Dark Tower stuff. ALL THAT DARK TOWER STUFF IS AWFUL. but here’s what annoys me: the list gives us what appears to be an unmitigated trashing of Dark Tower V: it calls it a “loose rewriting of The Magnificent Seven” (something that cannot be good for the fifth book in what’s supposed to be your life-defining series); it calls it out on being a massive and all-encompassing genre mash-up (including “significant references to Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Marvel Comics,” which sounds awful); and it adds that “the climactic confrontation is a prime example of what King does not do well — battle scenes.” my objection? #38 is high enough on the list that i want to know why this book is better than all the books you’re telling me it’s better than (say, the Long Walk).
a similar thing happens when we get to Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower at #26. the book is called “bloated to a certain degree” (which is really saying something when you consider how King can run on and on if he chooses to) and goes on to say “the book also falls flat when it finally unveils the villain who has loomed so large over the series.” what’s the single positive thing said? the conclusion “also contains one of the most honestly tear-jerking scenes in all of King’s work.” wow. granted, i totally get that while many HATE the ending of this book, some love it, so there’s surely a case to be made for it … but then where’s that case? this book is ranked #26!
08. again, the inclusion of Stephen King’s nonfiction works on this list, period
oh, did i mention that this list ALSO includes King and Stewart O’Nan’s work Faithful, a book that, to again quote Wikipedia, “chronicles exchanges between King and O’Nan about the Red Sox’s 2004 season, beginning with an e-mail in summer 2003, and throughout the 2004 season, from Spring Training to the World Series.” again, this nonfiction stuff (especially this Red Sox fandom nonsense that i could care less about) should not be getting ranked against fiction.
09. giving the Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands “demerits” because of Blaine
now, i don’t really want to be sitting here defending a Dark Tower book, as i don’t care for them very much. however, our author here pushes Dark Tower III down to #31 (still in the top half, and probably too high of a ranking) with the remark “demerits for the puzzle-happy talking train that arrives at book’s end.” so here’s the thing: the puzzle-happy talking train is no more ridiculous than a) anything else that happens in this book or b) the concept of mashing up Harry Potter and Star Wars and all kinds of other popular fiction you didn’t create together in your book. Blaine’s at least a unique character (unless someone could tell me where King stole him from) and i like him, damn it, although i wish he’d killed off every character in that series that he could.
give them all the attractive art you want; i will still think the Dark Tower series is AWFUL
10. King’s more recent work being ranked too highly
i have a suspicion that books people have read more recently (as in, works that King has published more recently) are better recalled and are being rewarded for that fact by the author. 11/22/63 was published last year, and it’s ranked #24: i’ve heard decent things about the book, so okay, maybe that’s legit. Full Dark, No Stars was published in 2010, and it’s ranked #32: not THAT outrageous, i guess. From A Buick 8, a 2002 book, and thus probably the outer limit of “more recent work,” is ranked #16: granted, our author is arguing that it’s an underrated book, but i remain unconvinced. but Under The Dome is a 2009 book ranked #12, and while a lot of people i know called it okay, i can’t fathom any of them nearly putting it in King’s all-time top ten. worse still: Lisey’s Story was 2006, and was ranked #10, and i have never, EVER heard anyone say a single good thing about this book. not one person, not one thing. so how the fuck is this book #10?
granted, some modern books got tossed further down the list, and i definitely sound like an old crank hollering about how the older works are the better works. no debate there. but here’s the thing: i truly believe the older works ARE the better works. sure, books like Rage and even Carrie may read as comparatively immature, but this was also the era where King had editors, had to cut his books down, and most of all, didn’t have the incredibly permissive atmosphere that comes from being STEPHEN FUCKING KING. if i rank these books, i theorize right now that i don’t put a book that’s less than 20 years old in my top ten.
11. Night Shift (#21) being ranked below Skeleton Crew (#13)
this isn’t REALLY a major outrage when you consider that both are ranked fairly highly and fairly close together. however, the argument for the superior ranking of Skeleton Crew is basically “King’s second short-story collection shows a range that most authors of any genre would be incapable of achieving.” i happen to think that Night Shift shows the same range, with the slight absence of not including “an ambitious novella.” here’s the thing: i don’t think including a novella shows any variation in range, so i don’t see how that’s an argument for Skeleton Crew.
ultimately, they’re both solid collections and his best two short-story collections, so i’m being a little bitchy about this one. but there it is.
12. ANYTHING BEING RANKED HIGHER THAN ‘SALEM’S LOT, DAMN IT
‘Salem’s Lot is ranked #8, and that’s a good ranking, and they even give it the shout-out of “it remains one of the best vampire books ever written,” which is a motherfucking FACT. the books that outrank it include some iconic works that you’d expect (the Shining at #4, IT at #3, the Stand at #1), as well as a book i think a lot of his fans underrate, but which is a really good work: Different Seasons (at #5). the only other ones above it are Misery (#6), a book that i’ve already stated shouldn’t be on this list at all (On Writing at #2) and one other work we’ll come back to in a minute. so this is, again, personal preference.
…however, let me just say what i have said many times before: if people read Stephen King 50 years from now, or 100 years from now, or whatever, ‘Salem’s Lot is going to be the best example of the merits of his work. it captures all the good King and skips the non-editing later years or the bloat of works like IT and the Stand, and the fact that it’s about a clear-cut scenario with solid characters –vampires move to a small town in Maine– will help it stand the test of time. it’s probably his only work that i would call a Good Book and not feel compelled to immediately defend, beyond to say “well, as far as a vampire book can be a Good Book, anyway.”
13. Dark Tower books ranked way too goddamn high, as expected
again, ALL THAT DARK TOWER STUFF IS AWFUL. but look at where they’re all ranked: Dark Tower VI, #56. Dark Tower V, #38. Dark Tower 4.5, #35. Dark Tower III, #31. Dark Tower VII, #26. Dark Tower II, #19. Dark Tower I, #14. and worst of all, WORST OF ALL, Dark Tower IV at #7. AT NUMBER SEVEN! incidentally, this is the Dark Tower book that made me realize the Dark Tower series was absolutely turning to shit. I and II are decent enough, and III has its merits… but IV sucks. completely.
however, here’s the larger point: 5 of the 8 books (or 7.5, if you like) are ranked in the top half of the list, and that feels undeserved. we’ve heard several times how not reading the entire series weakens each individual book. that’s totally fine and you’d probably expect as much, but i personally would expect that to weaken each of these works in the face of standalone novels that don’t require you to read a handful of other books just to get caught up. IV is being called “an incredibly well-told tale,” and it might be true to some, but #7 is far too goddamn high for a book that’s fourth in the series. also, it completely sucks, so that’s another objection i have to the rankings.
so there we go. I AM STILL OUTRAGED. also, fuck it, i’ll rank these damn books myself:
it’s really the best of these books, no matter how fond of the Talisman i am
JANKLOW’S RANKING OF ALL 59 RELEVANT STEPHEN KING BOOKS
58. the Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole
57. the Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower
56. the Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah
55. the Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla
54. the Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
53. the Regulators
51. Lisey’s Story
49. Gerald’s Game
48. Black House
47. Duma Key
46. Rose Madder
45. Blockade Billy
44. the Colorado Kid
43. the Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
40. Bag Of Bones
39. Hearts In Atlantis
37. From a Buick 8
36. Under the Dome
35. the Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands
34. the Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three
33. the Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger
32. Cycle Of The Werewolf
30. Full Dark, No Stars
29. Four Past Midnight
28. Just Past Sunset
27. Nightmares & Dreamscapes
26. Everything’s Eventual
25. the Green Mile
24. Needful Things
22. the Dark Half
21. Eyes of the Dragon
20. the Tommyknockers
19. Dolores Claiborne
13. the Running Man
12. Pet Sematary
11. Skeleton Crew
10. the Long Walk
09. Night Shift
06. the Dead Zone
05. Different Seasons
04. the Stand
03. the Shining
02. the Talisman
01. ‘Salem’s Lot