Stephen King

Stephen King is a lot like another Top Ten contributor, Joyce Carol Oates. Both are widely admired masters of the craft. Both are superhumanly productive. Unlike other authors who crank out work, their readers have high expectations – they demand quality in their quantity.

King delivers once more with his most recent novel of horrors, Later, which offers a captivating mixture of humor and pure terror as his character's arc toward their last breaths. 

This coming-of-age tale centers around the tender-hearted Jamie “Champ” Conklin. Jamie and his single mother, Tia Conklin, are thick as thieves. Together they navigate life as Tia endures the financial and emotional ups and downs of being a literary agent in New York City. Another adult figure in Jamie’s life is his mother’s girlfriend, Liz Dutton. Their relationship ends nastily after Dutton is exposed as a dirty cop – she may be gone from Tia’s heart, but not the Conklin’s lives entirely.

Oh yeah, Jamie also has an “unnatural ability” – he sees dead people. It’s always the same: they are wearing the clothes they died in, stick around for only a few days and when asked a question, they must tell the truth.

When tragedy strikes his mom’s already declining literary agency, Jamie must deploy his special talents to salvage the little they have left. But this is complicated as later on Dutton manages to take advantage of Jamie’s innocence and peculiar power for her own personal gain, traumatizing, blackmailing and endangering him in the process. 

Here’s how Stephen Graham Jones described this fast-paced page-turner in his Washington Post review:

It’ll take you maybe one afternoon to read this book — it’s hard to put down — but it’ll resonate longer. The next time you see a dog look twice at a bench, or watch a baby cry for no obvious reason, this novel will be right there behind you, its hand on your shoulder, its whisper so close to your ear you might cringe a little, and then smile, because you’re in the hands of a master storyteller.

 

Stephen King’s Top Ten List

1. The Golden Argosy by Van H. Cartmell & Charles Grayson, editors.
2.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
3.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (1988).
4.
McTeague by Frank Norris (1899).
5.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1955).
6.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853).
7.
1984 by George Orwell (1948).
8.
The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott (1966–75).
9.
Light in August by William Faulkner (1932).
10.
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (1985).

 

Appreciation of The Golden Argosy by Stephen King

I first found The Golden Argosy in a Lisbon Falls (Maine) bargain barn called The Jolly White Elephant, where it was on offer for $2.25. At that time I only had four dollars, and spending over half of it on one book, even a hardcover, was a tough decision. I’ve never regretted it.

Originally published in 1947 and reissued in 1955—but not updated or reprinted since—­The Golden Argosy is an anthology of roughly fifty-five short stories. The editors made no pretensions to “quality fiction,” but simply tried to publish the best-loved stories published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to the post–World War II period.

Though it is in terrible need of updating (there is no Raymond Carver, for instance, no Joyce Carol Oates, because such writers came along too late for inclusion), it remains an amazing resource for readers and writers, a treasury in the true sense of the word, covering everything from sentimental masterpieces such as Bret Harte’s “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” to realistic character studies such as “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather.

Every reader will find glaring omissions (Dorothy Parker’s “Big Blonde,” for instance), but you’ve got your Faulkner classic (“A Rose for Emily”), your Hemingway (“The Killers”), and your Poe (“The Gold-Bug”). It includes “The Rich Boy,” in which F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observes “the rich are different from you and me,” and overlooked gems from writers such as Sherwood Anderson (“I’m a Fool”) and John Collier (“Back for Christmas”).

The Golden Argosy taught me more about good writing than all the classes I’ve ever taken. It’s the best $2.25 I ever spent.