The best books with characters who encounter the extraordinary in everyday life

John Howard Matthews Author Of This Is Where It Gets Interesting
By John Howard Matthews

Who am I?

I’m a fiction and humor writer whose imagination was initially sparked by superheroes and comic books. The idea of an otherwise average person who could turn themselves into a superbeing was transformative and powerful. As a teenager, these early heroes faded, and I became fascinated by The Twilight Zone’s compact and poignant storytelling that contained moral messages. This eventually led me to the fiction of Stephen King where the idea of average people encountering the supernatural and overcoming obstacles was a recurring theme. In my own work, I have tried to carry forward the idea that our everyday lives are more absurd, complex, and magical than they appear.


I wrote...

This Is Where It Gets Interesting

By John Howard Matthews,

Book cover of This Is Where It Gets Interesting

What is my book about?

Psychics working at the DMV. A retirement community run like a dictatorship. A summer fest featuring chili that summons the dead. You'll find these extraordinary stories in This Is Where It Gets Interesting, a collection of darkly comic, speculative fiction.

Ranging from funny to menacing, these often fantastical tales exist in a Twilight Zone-like landscape where the extraordinary intrudes upon the lives of average people.

The books I picked & why

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

By Raymond Carver,

Book cover of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Why this book?

A master class on “less is more,” the stories in this collection are set in everyday, locations: a suburban front yard, an airport lounge, a kitchen, and are populated by working-class people in the midst of one or more traumas such as alcoholism, divorce, or financial trouble.

Though Carver doesn’t employ fantasy, the tight, accessible writing lures you in and immerses you in a comic-tragic world that is uniquely his own. This collection taught me the power of economical prose and that writing about the kinds of people you encounter at the supermarket can be just as transportive and resonant as stories that involve characters who live in exotic places, or universes.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

By Raymond Carver,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What We Talk About When We Talk About Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This powerful collection of stories, set in the mid-West among the lonely men and women who drink, fish and play cards to ease the passing of time, was the first by Raymond Carver to be published in the UK. With its spare, colloquial narration and razor-sharp sense of how people really communicate, the collection was to become one of the most influential literary works of the 1980s.


If the River Was Whiskey

By T. Coraghessan Boyle,

Book cover of If the River Was Whiskey

Why this book?

What I love about this collection is the elastic nature of the stories. Though most of the entries in this collection are dark, most contain a lighthearted energy and playfulness. They are quirky, loose, and not afraid to turn the stereo up and dance. This book taught me that fiction can be fun and still pack a powerful punch. It also encouraged me to try out experimental story ideas that may seem absurd at first. The story may not work out, but when it does, you can end up in surprising places. “The Ape Lady in Retirement” is a perfect example of this.

If the River Was Whiskey

By T. Coraghessan Boyle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked If the River Was Whiskey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In sixteen stories, T.C. Boyle tears through the walls of contemporary society to reveal a world at once comic and tragic, droll and horrific. Boyle introduces us to a death-defying stuntman who rides across the country strapped to the axle of a Peterbilt, and to a retired primatologist who can’t adjust to the “civilized” world. He chronicles the state of romance that requires full-body protection in a disease-conscious age and depicts with aching tenderness the relationship between a young boy and his alcoholic father. These magical and provocative stories mark yet another virtuoso performance from one of America’s most supple…


Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

Why this book?

Stephen King has arguably perfected creating stories in which supernatural things happen to ordinary people. This set-up—what I loved so much about Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone TV series—is irresistible. Across fourteen tales, King delivers mind-bending tales that draw you in. “1408” a story about a ghost skeptic/writer who stays in a haunted New York hotel room is especially gripping. King was a big, early influence on me and though I didn’t keep up with his work much past Misery, whenever I do dive into his later work, I invariably find him as good as ever.

Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everything's Eventual as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A spine-tingling collection of stories from the No. 1 bestselling master of horror - now with a stunning new cover look.

Nothing is quite as it seems.

Expect the unexpected in this veritable treasure trove of enthralling, witty, dark tales that could only come from the imagination of the greatest storyteller of our time.

In this eerie, enchanting compilation, Stephen King takes readers down a road less travelled (for good reason) in the blockbuster e-book 'Riding the Bullet'. Terror becomes deja vu all over again when you get 'That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French'. 'LT's…


Speedboat

By Renata Adler,

Book cover of Speedboat

Why this book?

Adler’s book depicts a woman’s life through a series of moments, incidents, bits of speech that come at the journalist narrator. The short passages perfectly capture the neurotic energy, humor, and horror of New York City. When I first read it, I was blown away. It showed there is great latitude in ways to approach writing. The short, choppy format is the closest a book has come to mirror my experience as a writer who seeks to find meaning and/or humor in everyday life. It’s a jagged mosaic of a book when put together is a delightful treasure.

Speedboat

By Renata Adler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Speedboat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Speedboat burst on the scene in the late ’70s it was like nothing readers had encountered before. It seemed to disregard the rules of the novel, but it wore its unconventionality with ease. Reading it was a pleasure of a new, unexpected kind. Above all, there was its voice, ambivalent, curious, wry, the voice of Jen Fain, a journalist negotiating the fraught landscape of contemporary urban America. Party guests, taxi drivers, brownstone dwellers, professors, journalists, presidents, and debutantes fill these dispatches from the world as Jen finds it.
       
A touchstone over the years for writers as different as David…


Tropic of Capricorn

By Henry Miller,

Book cover of Tropic of Capricorn

Why this book?

My favorite of Miller’s books, Tropic of Capricorn is based on Miller’s life in Brooklyn in the 1920s. It’s a dizzying stream-of-consciousness array that sweeps you along. Miller’s occasional poignant reminiscences about the magic of his boyhood and friendships contrast with the soul-sucking realities of adulthood and workplace bureaucracy that try to stamp out the embers of wonder and passion like a boot heel. Like most of his books, Capricorn celebrates the absurd miracle of consciousness. Miller’s influence on my education as a writer was indispensable. His books didn’t serve so much as a template as how to write, as how to be a writer, specifically how to observe and appreciate the vast madness of the world, reject conformity, and the embrace the anarchist spirit of artistic creation.

Tropic of Capricorn

By Henry Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tropic of Capricorn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A cult modern classic, Tropic of Capricorn is as daring, frank and influential as Henry Miller first novel, Tropic of Cancer -- new to Penguin Modern Classics with a cover by Tracey Emin

A story of sexual and spiritual awakening, Tropic of Capricorn shocked readers when it was published in 1939. A mixture of fiction and autobiography, it is the story of Henry V. Miller who works for the Cosmodemonic telegraph company in New York in the 1920s and tries to write the most important work of literature that was ever published. Tropic of Capricorn paints a dazzling picture of…


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