The best liminal books guaranteed to drive you out of your skull

Who am I?

I’ve always had a special fondness for novels that either touch upon or are entirely written from a point located somewhere within liminal space, that hazy borderland between wakefulness and dream where conventional reality undergoes powerful alteration and the imaginative force comes alive and speaks most vividly and truthfully. Works written in this manner are those I most like to read, those I most like to write. 

I wrote...

Going Native

By Stephen Wright,

Book cover of Going Native

What is my book about?

It was while watching the 80’s TV show America’s Most Wanted that I became fascinated with questions of identity and violence and the mysterious connection between the two. That, combined with Hume’s notion of the self as an unknowable bundle of sensory impressions led to the writing of this novel which is yet another depiction of several crucial months in the life of a serial killer. In this case, though, the conventional storyline has been turned inside out with the central character being relegated to the background and the traditionally minor figures whose lives our psychopath moves disastrously in and out of are presented center stage in separate disconnected chapters that trace a criminal journey westward through a contemporaneous addled America.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Gravity's Rainbow

Stephen Wright Why did I love this book?

The best reading experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve read a lot of great books. It will expand your consciousness and thrill your soul. Contains nearly everything you need to know about the confusions of the last hundred years: the paranoia, the conspiracy-mongering, the inexhaustible flirtation with sadomasochism, the ever-pressing themes of Pavlovian and Freudian psychology, the dystopian misfirings of the dominating male ego, the Frankensteinian accumulations of capitalism and subsequent corporatization of the world accompanied by its perennial buddy, the rape of the environment, the love of drugs of every composition and of movies of every genre and quality. In fact, the entire novel can be read as a musical comedy in which the stars sing and dance their way toward a dazzling apocalypse because this entire kaleidoscopic onrush of imagery takes place beneath the looming shadow of the Rocket, the white whale of the 20th century.  

The narrative, such as it is, begins in London 1944, the city under nightly bombardment from Nazi warplanes and the newly-developed V-2. Turns out our hero, the American lieutenant, Tyrone Slothrop, is prone to erections that display intriguing connections with the latest terror weapon from the skies. This is the mystery that propels the plot and mushrooming subplots through the coyly labyrinthine prose to its final explosive conclusion, the book itself a verbal facsimile of a rocket aimed directly at the reader’s own unprotected head. For those with brains properly attuned, a real page-turner. Read this book. Now.

By Thomas Pynchon,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Gravity's Rainbow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed by many as the major experimental nov el of the post-war period, Gravity''s Rainbow is a bizarre co mic masterpiece in which linguistic virtuosity creates a who le other world. '

Book cover of Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Stephen Wright Why did I love this book?

The ultimate GOAT western. A blistering account of a hardscrabble gang of scalp-hunters roaming the American southwest and northern Mexico in the late 19th century, willing to kill anyone for any price and provide the fresh scalp of the victim as proof of a completed job. Original in scope and construction, the book’s hypnotic prose is an unholy amalgam of the King James Version of the Bible, Herman Melville, and Sam Peckinpah. As is standard operating procedure with McCarthy his characters are denied any conventional interior monologue and can tend to appear as flat as figures of fable and legend, check out the knights and ladies of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. McCarthy is working ancient forms here as well as resuscitating ancient visions. What is brought to life through this narrative is a perception of evil so consuming, so unremitting it might be considered almost un-American or, on the other hand, as American as cherry pie. There are numerous pages not for the faint-hearted.

The major character is the land itself, the inhuman, the southwest depicted as a Dantesque hallucination, sheer landscape painting as gorgeous as any in American literature which abounds in beautiful descriptions of nature.

This was one of Harold Bloom’s favorite contemporary novels. An intensely demanding critic, he considered the book to be, among other things, a convincing Gnostic allegory. That’s how much juicy material can be found in this richly flavorful historical novel. Maybe it’ll become one of your favorites, too.

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Blood Meridian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is an epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America's westward expansion, brilliantly subverting the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the Wild West. Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who stumbles into a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.

Book cover of An American Dream

Stephen Wright Why did I love this book?

Three harrowing days in the broken-down life of Stephen Rojack, self-appointed existential psychologist, TV personality of dubious distinction, novice mystic, and all-around deeply-frightened soul who one night strangles his wife in a fit of rage over a particular sexual practice of his, goes downstairs, buggers the German maid, visions of the four Nazi soldiers he killed during the war dancing through his head, tosses the wife’s corpse over the balcony which causes a traffic jam down below whose complications will reverberate throughout the rest of the novel and all that’s just in the first two chapters.

The whole feverish melodrama is recounted in a compelling, first-person, metaphorically-enriched voice of which the electric charge of simply one of its crackling paragraphs would power several pages of many lesser novels.

You’ve seen the almost daily news stories: "Ex Kills Wife and Family" and "Man Stabs Girlfriend of 5 Years". This provocative work offers troubling suggestions as to why.

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked An American Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this wild battering ram of a novel, which was originally published to vast controversy in 1965, Norman Mailer creates a character who might be a fictional precursor of the philosopher-killer he would later profile in The Executioner’s Song. As Stephen Rojack, a decorated war hero and former congressman who murders his wife in a fashionable New York City high-rise, runs amok through the city in which he was once a privileged citizen, Mailer peels away the layers of our social norms to reveal a world of pure appetite and relentless cruelty. One part Nietzsche, one part de Sade, and…

Book cover of Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

Stephen Wright Why did I love this book?

The granddaddy of the borderland novel. An alien-scape of the good ol’ U. S. of A. No plot, no continuity, no narrative arc, no bourgeois psychology, no discernible structure, no comforting signposts whatsoever, just line after line of acidic corrosive prose whose sureshot relentless honesty will leave the perfect reader with lingering discomfort and a heady state of pure exhilaration. And it’s damn funny. This obsessively thorough psychic exploration of one drug-addled consciousness ensures that its elaborate mapping touches somewhere upon your own. And it’s damn funny. Pay special attention to the insects.

By William S. Burroughs Jr., James Grauerholz, Barry Miles

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Naked Lunch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its original publication in Paris in 1959, Naked Lunch has become one of the most important novels of the twentieth century.

Exerting its influence on the relationship of art and obscenity, it is one of the books that redefined not just literature but American culture. For the Burroughs enthusiast and the neophyte, this volume—that contains final-draft typescripts, numerous unpublished contemporaneous writings by Burroughs, his own later introductions to the book, and his essay on psychoactive drugs—is a valuable and fresh experience of a novel that has lost none of its relevance or satirical bite.

Book cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Stephen Wright Why did I love this book?

More America. More drugs. Go together naturally, dontcha think, like love and marriage. Hunter Thompson, inventor of gonzo journalism, takes a chemically-enhanced trip through America’s own heart of darkness: Las Vegas. Bats swoop down from the sky, slot machines say howdy, parti-colored reptiles slither in and out of the rooms, people turn into monsters, monsters into people. Nothing is what it seems, it’s worse. The entire unbridled carnival unfurled in Thompson’s idiosyncratic but highly engaging prose style. And having said that, know this is also the lightest read on the list.

By Hunter S. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive ..."'

Hunter S. Thompson is roaring down the desert highway to Las Vegas with his attorney, the Samoan, to find the dark side of the American Dream. Armed with a drug arsenal of stupendous proportions, the duo engage in a surreal succession of chemically enhanced confrontations with casino operators, police officers and assorted Middle Americans.

This stylish reissue of Hunter S. Thompson's iconic masterpiece, a controversial bestseller when…

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The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

Book cover of The River of Eternity

Bruce Balfour

New book alert!

What is my book about?

1184 BCE. Ramesses III, who will become the last of the great pharaohs, is returning home from battle. He will one day assume the throne of the Egyptian empire, and the plots against him and his children have already started. Even a god can die.

Ray was raised with the teenage children of Ramesses as their friend, but his own mysterious past exposes him to threats inside and outside of the Egyptian court. When a prince is killed, Ray is framed for the murder and must run to protect Bull, the oldest son of Ramesses. So begins Ray’s dangerous journey from the snake pit of royal palace intrigue into a violent world of treachery and enemies that will take years to conquer if he can survive.

The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

What is this book about?

From the national bestselling author of The Forge of Mars and The Digital Dead, an Ancient Egyptian epic adventure thriller series, based on real events, for fans of Wilbur Smith, Steven Saylor, and Paul Doherty.

This is the first book of a series leading up to the event known as The Harem Conspiracy, the assassination of Pharaoh Ramesses III in New Kingdom Egypt (1184 BCE), which was led by members of his own family. Details were drawn from the first recorded judicial trial transcript ever recovered (Judicial Papyrus of Turin plus other fragments of the original papyrus).

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