Remedial Reader: The Essential Stephen King Back List

The prolific icon’s 51st novel is out this week. Though many readers are familiar with his classic horror novels, here are some genre-busting King titles that may have slipped past all but the most ardent fans. By Jessica Ferri. Plus, more of our Remedial Reader series.

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This week, Stephen King published his 51st novel, The Wind Through the Keyhole, the latest in his Dark Tower series. The number 51 doesn't even include his nine short-story collections, five nonfiction books, and other ephemera like comics, adaptations, and collaborations.

Though his books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide, when Stephen King was honored in 2003 with the National Book Foundation's "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters” award, many in the literary community balked, snobbishly labeling him a genre writer.

Regardless of whether or not you consider King's oeuvre "literary" is beside the point. From his first novel, Carrie, published in 1974, to the countless adaptations of his work, including movies like The Shining, Pet Semetary, and The Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King has become a cultural icon. He is also one of America's most imaginative writers. Here are some genre-busting King titles that may have slipped past all but the most ardent fans.

The Nonfiction Danse Macabre and On Writing

Published in 1981 after the success of King's early novels, Danse Macabre tells of his boyhood romance with horror, from the moment he discovered the stories of H.P. Lovecraft to his crowning as the master of the genre. In addition to King's personal anecdotes about his influences as a writer, including an appreciation of the overlooked Shirley Jackson, Danse Macabre is a sharp cultural history.

After King was struck by a car in 1999, he spent much of the year recuperating and working on On Writing, a manual for aspiring writers. The sage advice, including warnings against the overuse of adverbs, is combined with a good deal of autobiography, making On Writing a personal, friendly book. Though published 20 years apart, both books are a delightful combination of critical writing and memoir.

The Ghost Story Bag of Bones

King's 1998 novel signals his transition from horror into more personal subjects, a crossover move that has defined his writing throughout the last decade. Mike Noonan, a cipher for King, is struggling from writer's block that began after the sudden death of his wife from a brain aneurysm. Hoping a change of scene might lift the block, he moves to a cabin for the summer, but it's far from peaceful. Not only is the house haunted by a ghost named Sara, but Noonan's dearly departed wife frequently drops in to check on him. In addition to his deceased company, he gets entangled with a vulnerable local woman and her young daughter. Part ghost story, part noir, part elegy, Bag of Bones is a compelling read about loss and family. (The two-part TV-movie, starring Pierce Brosnan, premiered on A&E last year.)

The Romance Lisey's Story

While he briefly considering retirement in 2000, King’s wife, Tabitha, packed up his office in order to redecorate. Seeing all of his things in boxes helped King to imagine what Tabitha's life would be like without him, inspiring Lisey’s Story, a novel about a 50-year-old who recently lost her writer husband. As Lisey goes through his study, she enters the dark world of his creative pursuits. Published in 2006, the novel is violent and spooky, a rumination on madness and creativity. But it's also King's ambitious attempt at a portrait of a happy marriage. In the process, King creates Lisey, a compelling and realistic heroine. No small feat for any writer.