Stephen King’s Reading List for Writers

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years, the period during which I wrote The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Hearts in Atlantis, On Writing, and the as-yet-unpublished From a Buick Eight.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



  1. Michael
    31 January 2015 / 2:11 pm

    I respect Mr. King immensely, but having his wife’s work on the list smacks of a conflict of interest. While I would not question or debate the merits of Tabitha King’s writing, his personal relationship shadows his professional judgement. I suppose in his defense it can be noted that there are no ‘Joe Hill’ books on the list. As others noted I find it disappointing to see no Lovecraft on the list. Similarly I find a lack of Matheson, Asimov, Heinlein, Poe, or Bradbury. The list seems weighted towards what would receive a popular reception with the ‘intelligentsia’ or critics.

    • 7 February 2015 / 6:13 am

      Or maybe he just likes these books better than Lovecraft, etc.? Besides in On Writing, from where this list came from, he talks about those authors in depth, particularly Lovecraft. Also, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connolly, and JK Rowling hardly carry weight with the intellgentsia.

    • Graham Brown
      9 April 2015 / 5:41 am

      Different people get different views, different ideas and philosophies from variations of literature. Old masters, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Poe, the list goes on; are masters in their own right. Ideas can be picked-up, methodology can be noted and utilised, many different uses can be found from any author of decent calibre;whether it’s the authors wife , son, dog or friend doing the writing.

  2. 27 February 2015 / 11:32 am

    I think the list is to share what he read, not to have critics to show up and blather about his poor choices. I always appreciate reading lists though I can see I would not read all of these I certainly am appreciative of the privilege of having them shared in this way.

  3. Don
    2 March 2015 / 6:27 pm

    Clearly, te fact that he hasnt read Lovecraft during this 2 years hardly means anything. He’s clearly saying he is sharing ehat he has read over a very short period of time, not his favorite books or anything. And if among those books there are his wives, so be it.
    What I find remarkable, and rather telling, about the list is that there is not one book that is not English literature…

  4. Anonymous
    9 June 2015 / 7:46 am

    I could do with some more female writers on this list.

  5. Michael
    5 December 2015 / 7:30 am

    Thank you very much for all your advice Stephen King, your words have been endless inspiration for me -in particular in On Writing -I own a copy for years and often, when or if I’m struggling, I re-read that book for motivation. I will certainly use your list and see what works for me.
    Just have to make a comment about the ” input” off some earlier replies from people criticising the list of authors. ” haven’t you read the last paragraph above properly?”

  6. 22 September 2016 / 3:07 pm

    No Joyce, Flaubert (Éducation Sentimentale), Dostoevsky (Crime & Punishment), Proust, Kafka (Trial), Céline (Voyage au bout de la nuit)… etc. etc. ? — Oh ! — The other ones “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.” — It’s all about new ways of entertainment, thus…

  7. q crishp
    17 October 2016 / 4:17 pm

    THREE Harry Potter books? Jayzis

  8. 19 February 2017 / 3:10 pm

    I have enjoyed every book he has suggested. I will run out of Stephen King books to read pretty soon, and appreciate the filler books while he whips up a few more of his own. 😉

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