The best books for expanding the mind through pleasure and strangeness

David Quantick Author Of All My Colors
By David Quantick

Who am I?

Like most people, I read lots of different kinds of books, but I am often drawn to novels with unusual themes, structure, or all those things. As a comedy writer, I have always loved surreal writing – the Goon Shows on the radio, or the plays of NF Simpson – and this applies to my taste in literature as well. The unreal, the slightly detuned, anything that suggests this world is not entirely what it seems, or if it is what it seems, then it is an idiot.

I wrote...

All My Colors

By David Quantick,

Book cover of All My Colors

What is my book about?

This is the novel of mine which is the nearest to surreal. It’s about a man who remembers a book that nobody else has heard of and, when he finds he’s desperate for money, writes the book from memory, with horrific consequences. I love books about books, and this was a great deal of fun to write, with everything from Stephen King to Jim Steinman thrown in.

The books I picked & why

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Don't, Mr. Disraeli!

By Caryl Brahms, S.J. Simon,

Book cover of Don't, Mr. Disraeli!

Why this book?

A comic novel from 1940, ostensibly a reworking of Romeo and Juliet set in the 19th century. Don’t Mister Disraeli is in fact a wild rampage through Victorian fiction and history. The only book I know of that’s influenced by both the Marx Brothers and JW Dunne’s An Experiment In Time, this is Alice In Wonderland as a history lesson and it’s brilliant.

Walking on Glass

By Iain M. Banks,

Book cover of Walking on Glass

Why this book?

I love Iain Banks’ work and this book seems to encapsulate the best of his early work: epic sci-fi, mental breakdown, and fantastic comedy. Switching between three storylines, one of which contains the best imagery in all SF and fantasy, Walking On Glass mixes reality with insanity and imagination with the every day to superb effect.

Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry

By B.S. Johnson,

Book cover of Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry

Why this book?

Probably my favourite book, this is BS Johnson’s most fun novel. It’s about a man who decides the world is in debt to him, and sets out to redress the balance, often murderously. Johnson doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as grind it up for pudding. Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry is very dark, very funny, and a small masterpiece.

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

By Leonora Carrington,

Book cover of The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

Why this book?

Best known as a surrealist painter, Carrington is one of my favourite artists for her strange, half-dreamy figures and other-worldly paintings. Her written work is similarly disturbing: animals that tear their own faces off, monsters, and the dead populate these short but memorable stories. Surrealism can often be wearing in print, but Carrington is a writer who balances the bizarre with the unsettling perfectly.

Third Policeman

By Flann O'Brien,

Book cover of Third Policeman

Why this book?

An incredible book, disturbing, harsh, and – of course – really, really funny, The Third Policeman is the great dark surreal novel. A simple story of a man who visits a police station, it soon roots itself in a Tristram Shandy-esque mire of absurdity and confusion with its own sense of seeping dread. All Flann O’Brien is superb, but this is the fiercest of all pancakes.

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