I have read a number of Stephen King's novels and stories, not all of them, but many of them. He has produced a huge body of work from his first commercial success, Carrie, until his latest, Under the Dome. Stephen King has a lot of fans, but there are also those who don't care for him. I think he is probably one of the most prolific and successful writers in the last 35 years. I don't plan to talk about all of his books, that would take more time than I want to spend on one writer. That being said, I will mention some of his novels I have read, and talk a little about why I think he is underrated by many critics.
Stephen King writes for the masses. He is not a literary snob who writes for his fellow literary snobs. He has the unique ability of grabbing your attention in the first chapter and keeping it for the rest of the story. He just plain writes damn good stories. True, they includes a lot of violence (blood and guts), and supernatural plots, but they are intrinsic to his stories. I think one of his greatest abilities as a writer to to present you with the world as we know it, and then twist it into something macabre and sinister. Many of his novels are set in modern-day Maine, and his characters are real flesh and blood people like the rest of us. What might make some people uncomfortable is that they may see a reflection of themselves in some of the characters.
All right, enough of this. Some of the early novels (1974 to 1988) I have read are Salem's Lot, The Shining, The Stand, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Cujo, Christine, Pet Sematary, It, and The Tommyknockers. The last novel mentioned is not one of his best. Many of these have been made into movies. These novels alone probably made him enough money for his retirement fund. My favorite of this group is The Stand. This is an apocalyptic novel about the survivors of an epidemic and how they cope with their own survival and that of others. The classic struggle between good and evil is woven into the plot as King does with most of his novels. This was made into a pretty good TV series and is worth watching even if you read the book.
King continued his run of best selling novels and collections of stories in the 1990s. Some of these include: Four Past Midnight (stories), Needful Things, Gerald's Game, Dolores Claiborne, Nightmares and Dreamscapes (stories), Insomnia, Rose Madder, The Green Mile, Bag of Bones, Storm of the Century, and Hearts in Atlantis. A lot of these are good reads, but my best two picks would be The Green Mile and Hearts in Atlantis. Both of these have been made into movies. In fact, Tom Hanks stars in The Green Mile and Sir Anthony Hopkins in Hearts in Atlantis..
While he was writing all these novels and stories Stephen King continued to work on a great series, The Dark Tower. I would guess that every Stephen King fan has read this series. The books in the series are as follows: The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands, The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass, The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla, The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. King drove many of his hardcore fans crazy by leaving large gaps between publications of some of the books. For example, the first book was published in 1982, the second in 1987, and the third in 1991. He finished them off in 1997, 2003 and 2004. It made it difficult to keep a sense of continuity that most people need when reading a series as long as this one. Check these out in your local bookstore, or at the major bookstores on the web such as Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Audible. If you have not read this series, I encourage you to put them on your list for 2010.
I don't know how he writes so many books and keeps the 'clunkers' to a minimum. There are still more books between 2000 and now. The ones I have read are: Cell, Duma Key, Just After Sunset, and UR. Interestingly enough, UR is a novella available only on Amazon.com's Kindle. And, I am sure it is no coincidence, the book is about a college professor who is sent the wrong Kindle. Just think Stephen King and what he could do with that premise.
Stephen King's latest book is Under the Dome. I am currently reading it on my Kindle and it is very good. This is a long novel. I saw the hardcover version the other day and it is thick. I'll do a separate post on this book after I finish.
Let me sum up this post on Stephen King by saying he is one of my favorite writers, even though I have not liked ever single thing he has written. When his novels are good, they draw you in and keep you reading long after you should have gone to sleep. When they are not so good, you should probably not finish them. However, I keep reading hoping it will get better. If you have not read any of Stephen King's books, which I find difficult to believe, try one. Start with some of his recent novels and then work your way back to his earlier writing. He writes well, keeps your interest, and scares the hell out of you in his better novels.