Stephen King Short Story Collections – From Worst to Best

Stephen King is a master of horror and one of the most popular and most successful horror writers of all time. Over the course of his long career, he’s written over sixty novels and two hundred short stories.

I’ve been a fan of Stephen King ever since I was a teenager and read the first four entries of his Dark Tower series. Yet, over the years, I never fully explored his work and only read some of his more popular novels, like the Dark Half or The Stand.

Photograph of Stephen King
Stephen King

 

Since I’m a horror writer myself, I recently decided to read more horror literature myself. After I devoured the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King seemed like a logical next step.

Over the past months, I read every single Stephen short story collection. While I enjoyed most of his short stories and each one of his collections, I found some of them more impressive and worthwhile than others.

That’s the reason I created this short list. It’s not only to rank but to also share my thoughts on each Stephen King short story collection out there.

If you are, however, more interested in a more detailed list of short stories, I urge you to check out the list of my favorite Stephen King short stories. It’s a list of the stories I consider best as well as my individual thoughts on them.

But now, let us continue on with my ranking of the six Stephen King short story collections.

 

6. Just After Sunset

Cover of Stephen King's Just After Sunset
Stephen King – Just After Sunset

 

Just After Sunset is not a bad collection, but it’s the weakest one of the six Stephen King short story collections out there.

It differed from what I was looking for. I was looking for horror and Just After Sunset, felt different and more literary. I recognize that it’s a more ambitious collection and I appreciate Stephen King’s efforts. It’s just that I didn’t care too much for most of the stores in Just After Sunset.

It starts off great with Willa, a beautiful, melancholic little tale about love and life’s fragility, followed by the suspense-filled novella Gingerbread Girl.

There are other stories that I enjoyed, especially Stationary Bike and N., one of Stephen King’s greatest novella of all time. I absolutely loved this one and the eerie, uneasy and Lovecraftian atmosphere so prevalent in the work.

It also brings us one of the weirdest stories Stephen King ever wrote with The Cat from Hell. Even now, I’m still divided on what to think about it. I’m not sure if I love it or hate it, but I guess that says something about the story.

Overall, Just After Sunset is not a bad collection of short stories. Apart from N. and Willa, however, nothing truly stood out to me.

After reading all six Stephen King short story collections, I encountered many memorable short stories. The ones in Just After Sunset, however, aren’t part of it and are, for the most part, forgettable.

To Reads: Willa, N.

 

5. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Cover of Stephen King's Bazar of Bad Dreams
Stephen King – Bazar of Bad Dreams

 

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, published in 2015, is the most recent Stephen King short story collection on this list.

While I enjoyed this collection, many of the short stories suffer from similar problems the ones in Just After Sunset do.

Stephen King’s writing is stronger and much more mature in this collection. Yet, I have to admit that I miss the pulpy horror and the weirdness of his earlier collections.

While some stories, such as The Dune, Obits and Drunken Firework stand out, many others didn’t.

I felt the strongest entries in this collection were the two novellas, Ur and Morality. Especially Morality was an incredibly powerful piece with its nuanced discussion of morality, guilt and sin.

As for short stories, The Dune was a delightfully short tale, while Obits was a lengthier tale about deadly obituaries. I was most surprised by the humorous Drunken Fireworks, which featured a firework arms race on the Fourth of July.

The Bazaar of Broken Dreams isn’t as horror centric as his earlier collections, but features a wider variet of stories. It’s a collection about life, death, morality, guilt and regret.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is not a bad collection, and it might be his most polished one, but it’s also not the best collection for those readers who are looking for a true bone-chilling experience.

To Reads: The Dune, Morality, Ur, Obits, Drunken Fireworks

 

4. Everything’s Eventual

Cover of Stephen King's Everything's Eventual
Stephen King – Everything’s Eventual

 

I enjoyed Everything’s Eventual a great deal, but it’s still a middle-of-the-road Stephen King short story collection.

Some entries in this collection are fantastic, yet there’s also a fair share of stories I didn’t care too greatly about or that didn’t stand out to me.

There are some truly terrifying and suspenseful stories in Everything’s Eventual. The fantastic Autopsy Room Four and the terrifying 1408 come to mind. Yet, it felt lacking when compared to other Stephen King short story collections.

Once more I most appreciated the two novellas in this collection, the titular Everything’s Eventual and Riding the Bullet. They are both fantastical, but once more, they differ from what I expected from Stephen King.

Overall, I really enjoyed Everything’s Eventual, but it felt lighter and less scary than the other Stephen King short story collections.

Don’t get me wrong, Everything’s Eventual is a good collection, just not as good as the following three.

To Reads: Autopsy Room Four, Everything’s Eventual, That Feeling You Can Only Say What It Is In French, 1408, Riding the Bullet

 

3. Nightmares and Dreamscapes

Cover of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Stephen King – Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

Nightmares and Dreamscapes is an odd collection and probably the oddest amongst all Stephen King short story collections.

I don’t think all the stories in Nightmares and Dreamscapes are great. Yet, it features some of my favorite stories of his.

It starts of fantastic with another one of Stephen King’s novellas, Dolan’s Cadillac. It’s the story about a man taking revenge on a crime boss, but also serves as an homage to Edgar Allan Poe.

Stories such as Sneakers and Dedication don’t seem to get a lot of love. Yet I came to enjoy those two a lot, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend them.

Other great stories include Suffer the Little Children, My Pretty Pony and The Ten O’clock People. My favorites, however, were the Lovecraft inspired Crouch End and The Moving Finger.

One thing I was surprised about was Stephen King’s decision to include Head Down. It’s a nonfictional essay about the Bangor West Little League baseball team. I’m not one for baseball and neither know a lot about the game or the rules, yet Stephen King’s writing made it a very enjoyable experience.

Overall, Nightmares and Dreamscapes was odd. It had its share of silly stories such as Chattery Teeth, but all in all it was a great read and none of the stories were terrible or forgettable.

Another thing I came to enjoy a lot was the switch of format and tone. Nightmares and Dreamscapes is truly the broadest of all the Stephen King short story collections, including a variety of genres, formats and narrative choices.

To Reads: Dolan’s Cadillac, Suffer the Little Children, The Moving Finger, My Pretty Pony, The Ten O’clock People, Crouch End

 

2. Night Shift

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Night Shift is Stephen King’s very first collection of short stories. It was exactly what I was looking for when I think of a Stephen King short story collection.

It’s a fantastic collection of all out and pulpy horror.

Sure, Night Shift might not be as refined and lack the finesse of his later work, but I still loved many of the stories in this collection.

However, it features not only horror stories. There are the deeply emotional stories The Last Rung on the Ladder and The Woman in the Room.

Yet, it’s also full of goofy and weird stories that I really didn’t care for. Trucks, Battleground or The Mangler are examples of those.

Night shift has also one of the strongest starts with the great Jerusalem’s Lot and Graveyard Shift, two of the best stories in the entire collection.

What follows, however, are the weaker entries of the collection, the stories who are sillier and almost nonsensical.

Overall, The Ledge, Quitters Inc. or Children of the Corn more than make up for the weaker entries. They elevate Night Shift to one of the best Stephen King short story collections out there.

The main reason I didn’t rank Night Shift as number one is first the sillier stories in this collection, and second, that Skeleton Crew is a stronger collection overall.

To Reads: Jerusalem’s Lot, Graveyard Shift, I Am the Doorway, Gray Matter, Strawberry Spring, The Ledge, Quitters Inc., Children of the Corn, The Last Rung on the Ladder, The Woman in the Room

 

1. Skeleton Crew

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

Skeleton Crew was the very first Stephen King short story collection I read, but one that should prove my favorite.

This one really has it all. It includes a plethora of true horror stories, but also several more interesting and fantastical entries.

We are already off for a fantastic start, with Stephen King’s the Mist. It’s one of his most popular and famous novellas, about a town engulfed by an otherworldly mist and the creatures that come with it.

The stories that stood out to me the most were Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut and The Jaunt, incidentally two of the more fantastical entries in this collection.

However, many of the true horror stories were also fantastic. The Monkey, The Raft, The Reaper’s Image and the suspenseful Gramma are all great reads.

Yet Skeleton Crew also has its share of weirder stories. Survivor Type is one of Stephen King’s most disturbing stories, and his story Nona is nothing short of a trip down into insanity.

The one story that surprised me the most, however, was The Reach. It’s the most heartfelt and beautiful of all of Stephen King’s short stories.

There might be one or two stories I didn’t care too much about, but those are easily brushed aside by the many strong entries. Skeleton Crew, like Night Shift, is not as refined or well-written as some later Stephen King short story collections. The stories felt stronger, more rough and creepy, and made me far more uneasy than some of his more recent ones.

Skeleton Crew is as full of horror as Night Shift. Yet, it doesn’t shy away from experimenting and including different stories like Everything’s Eventual and Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It never feels too broad though, and is mostly a pure horror collection. One with no silly, over-the-top stories like the ones we found in Night Shift.

Skeleton Crew was the very first and, in my opinion, also the best of the six Stephen King short story collections out there. I think it’s one of the greatest entry points into the world of Stephen King.

To Reads: The Mist, Cain Rose Up, Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut, The Jaunt, The Raft, The Reaper’s Image, Nona, Survivor Type, Gramma, The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet, The Reach