I made it to my mid-thirties without ever reading a Stephen King book.
It wasn't some kind of hipster thing; I wasn't consciously avoiding him because he's popular. And it wasn't that I don't generally read horror novels, either, because of course he's got plenty of output in other genres. No, I just never got around to it, even though I've enjoyed movie adaptations of his work for years.
I read On Writing a year or two back, and a few months back I picked up the first three Dark Tower books at Bookmans and I've been working through those. And you know what? I think this guy's pretty good.
He's certainly got a gift for storytelling. And for words. And symbolism, and character, and he's got a real sense for how to juxtapose images in interesting ways. I've never read Ready Player One, or seen the movie, but from what I've read about it I have the impression that Ernest Cline was trying to mix together familiar iconography in the kind of evocative way that King does in Dark Tower, but simply doesn't have King's chops.
But more than anything, I think the reason King's so damn appealing and resonates with so many people is that it's so obvious he's having fun.
Mark Evanier told a story about Harlan Ellison shouting, "I have just written the greatest fuckin' sentence I have ever written!" before running out his front door and dancing naked on his front porch. Evanier mused that this was why Ellison's writing was so good: because he was the sort of person who was so enthusiastic about what he was writing that he'd dance naked on his front porch, and because that enthusiasm was clear in the final product.
I'm not aware of Stephen King ever dancing naked on his front porch. But he's got the same kind of enthusiasm for his work that Ellison did, and it's infectious.
The first three Dark Tower books are all I've got. I finished those and I'm going to take a break from the series before I pick up the rest. I've got plenty else to read -- I just started Good Omens, and I'm also chest-deep into a Valiant Comics bundle, which I'll probably have a lot to say about when I get to the end of it. But I'm glad I finally took the time to read some King. The guy's good, and his popularity is well-earned.