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A collection of short stories by Stephen King, published in 1978. It was King's first short story collection and his fifth published book. I suspect it's his best-known collection and the most widely read, too. More than likely, you're familiar with at least a half-dozen of the stories here, either because you read them at some point, or because you saw one of the movies that were based on these stories. 

The stories here include: 

  • "Jerusalem's Lot" - A Lovecraft pastiche that actually has relatively little to do with King's vampire-stuffed novel "Salem's Lot."
  • "Graveyard Shift" - A drifter gets hired to clean out a few basements full of rats -- oversized, mutant rats. It was turned into a movie in 1990. 
  • "Night Surf" - A post-apocalyptic tale of some college students who survived a global epidemic and face an uncertain future. 
  • "I Am the Doorway" - A science fiction story about an astronaut who becomes a conduit for a hostile extraterrestrial intelligence when alien eyes open on his fingertips. 
  • "The Mangler" - An industrial laundry press gets possessed by a demon through a string of bizarre coincidences. This was adapted into a film in 1995. 
  • "The Boogeyman" - A man and his family are targeted for death by a literal closet monster
  • "Gray Matter" - Sometimes a can of bad beer is going to lead to worse -- and messier -- things than you'd expect. 
  • "Battleground" - A professional hitman finds himself besieged by toy soldiers. 
  • "Trucks" - The world's cars come to life and hold the humans hostage. Stephen King himself directed the film adaptation, "Maximum Overdrive." 
  • "Sometimes They Come Back" - A teacher is stalked by the unaging '50s hoodlums who murdered his brother. What price will he pay to drive them away? The story was made into a TV movie in 1991. 
  • "Strawberry Spring" - A man remembers eight years ago, when a serial killer called Springheel Jack menaced his college campus. 
  • "The Ledge" - A crime boss forces a man to make his way around a skyscraper on a perilous five-inch ledge. This was one of the stories adapted in the 1985 anthology film "Cat's Eye." 
  • "The Lawnmower Man" - A man hires a lawn mower with disturbing habits and murderous lawn tools. There was a movie with this title, but it used a completely original and crappy screenplay, and King sued to have his name removed from the credits.
  • "Quitters, Inc." - A man trying to quit smoking is subjected to extreme aversion therapy. This was another tale adapted for "Cat's Eye." 
  • "I Know What You Need" - A girl's new boyfriend seems too good to be true. And he is. 
  • "Children of the Corn" - A married couple encounter a deadly cult of children in the cornfields of Nebraska. This story was made into a lengthy film series, with the first one debuting in 1984. 
  • "The Last Rung of the Ladder" - A non-horror, non-supernatural tale about a man remembering the tragedy of his sister's life after she commits suicide. 
  • "The Man Who Loved Flowers" - A man in love goes to meet his girlfriend. But she isn't his girlfriend at all! 
  • "One for the Road" - A sequel to "Salem's Lot," in which some old Maine codgers must ride to the rescue of a family stranded in a blizzard just outside of the Lot. 
  • "The Woman in the Room" - Another non-horror tale. A man wrestles with the decision to euthanize his terminally ill mother. 

Some of these stories are wonderful tales -- "One for the Road" is a beautiful, atmospheric vampire story made even greater by the snowbound setting. "The Ledge" is astonishingly tense, "I Am the Doorway" is excellent sci-fi pulp, and "Gray Matter" is squishy and gross but still creepy. "Sometimes They Come Back" is weird and eerie -- and still bloody and intense when it comes time to summon the demon. "Children of the Corn" seems like it'd be easy to dismiss, what with the infinite movie sequels -- but the atmosphere and mood are glorious, and the fantastic creep-factor of the corn fields carries helps lift it up to a true classic. And the non-supernatural stories -- "The Woman in the Room" and "The Last Rung of the Ladder" -- are sustained by King's mastery of tragedy, empathy, and anguish

Other tales aren't that great. "Battleground" and "The Lawnmower Man" feel like King wasn't taking them seriously when he was writing them. "The Man Who Loved Flowers" is predictable, "The Boogeyman" is cheesy, and "Jerusalem's Lot" is fairly unreadable. 

And in a way, the reputation of this book hasn't been helped by all the low-quality movies that came out of this. Most of those aren't King's fault! (Except "Maximum Overdrive" -- he wrote the screenplay and directed it, so he can't avoid the blame there.) But when you know that so many cinematic stinkers came out of this, it can make you feel like maybe the stories themselves are bad. And for the most part, that's definitely not true. 

This isn't my favorite King collection -- the stories are just a bit early in his run, and you can still see plenty of rough edges. But if you want to read some of his most famous short stories, this collection has what you need. 

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