Stephen King’s Reading List for Writers

4 March 2014 — 19 Comments

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

― Stephen King

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

Accompanying the list is this explanation:

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years, the period during which I wrote The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Hearts in Atlantis, On Writing, and the as-yet-unpublished From a Buick Eight.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.

  1. Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftPeter Abrahams, A Perfect Crime
  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 (Free eBook – Gutenberg / Kindle)
  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 (Free eBook – Gutenberg / Kindle)
  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. Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
  59. W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence (Free eBook – 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

For more recommended books, see Stephen King’s Reading List Part II and Part III.

Fans of Stephen King should also check out this amazing graphic of the Stephen King Universe designed by Australian illustrator Gillian James, as well as this video in which King discusses the art of the short story.


19 responses to Stephen King’s Reading List for Writers

  1. Schweet. A lot of very good books on that list!

  2. F. Armstrong Green 5 March 2014 at 1:22 am

    And some not so good.

    • Agreed. I only saw 1 book on this list that i’ve read; “In the Lake of the Woods” by Tim O’Brien. I didn’t think it was very good, rather boring in fact but King liked it. I always send him MY book recommendations on twitter but hes the only famous person that never answers me.

  3. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, is just amazing.

    • F. Armstrong Green 7 March 2014 at 2:20 am

      Yes, it’s especially amazing that something that could have been a brilliant work of art fails so badly just because Donna couldn’t handle an unreliable narrator adeptly.

  4. And no lovecraft? I am supremely disappointed

  5. This is not a reading list “for writers”. It is just a list of books read by Mr. King. It’s a bit silly, isn’t it?

  6. Interestingly there are no anthologies

  7. Nicholas Kronos 11 March 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Lovecraft could be an influence on a writer like Stephen King, but he would be a poor choice for a writer in any genre other than horror. He was completely lacking in craftsmanship.

  8. take a deep breath and breathe through your mouth,then re-read the explanation before the list of books

  9. Infographs, tips and quotes from On Writing. Aspirating writer or seeking inspiration a good snappy read for either http://bit.ly/1qLGUNT

    • F. Armstrong Green 20 May 2014 at 8:28 am

      Dilpreeta demonstrates the common confusion between action verbs and verbs of being. Verbs of being have neither active voice nor passive voice; they simply connect the subject with the predicate in terms of a state of being, usually one of identity or equality. She says in her blog “The meeting will be held at 1900 hrs: Passive. The meeting is at 1900 hrs: Active.” This shows the confusion between action verbs and verbs of being. Verbs of being have neither active nor passive voice; they simply connect the subject with the predicate in terms of a state of being, usually one of identity, relation, or equality. “Tom hit the ball” is active voice. The subject does the action. “The ball was hit by Tom” is passive voice wherein the subject has the action done to it.

  10. Green, the example is right out of “On Writing” :)

    • F. Armstrong Green 30 May 2014 at 3:27 am

      I stand corrected and apologize to dilpreetavasudeval. In re-reading my ding I seem to indicate that “The meeting will be held at 1900 hrs.” is not passive voice. As Bryan Garner points out, passive voice is invariably indicated by “a be-verb or get[-verb], plus a past-tense verb.”

      However, does citing a novelist automatically make a matter of grammar or usage right? Many novelists have false ideas about punctuation, spelling, grammar, and usage. Look at original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example. He could write a jam-up story with characters walking around on the page and in the imagination of the reader but it took Max Perkins or one of his minions to clean up the mss.

      The grammar of fiction is that of the psyche, not English grammar. We can forgive novelists most of their foolishishness. Imagination requires that they make many exceptions to standard grammar an usage. It is, therefore, dangerous to cite them on grammar and usage. For that we must turn to the likes of Fowler, Follett, and Garner. (See Follett: voice, part 2, para. 2, especially; Fowler: passive disturbances; and WORDS INTO TYPE: Grammar, Verbs, Voice.)

      Remember that reading is an argument with the writer and that everything about the craft should be challenged.

      I hope my explanation make sense.

      Havine to memorize conjugations in Latin or any romance language will forever imprint in the mind what voice is. We never really know our own language until we have to study a foreign language.

      None of that matters if you can write good fiction but we should never be taken in by a novelist who espouses false concepts.

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