The best books to read during a fierce, possibly city-destroying storm

Nick Kolakowski Author Of Hell of a Mess
By Nick Kolakowski

Who am I?

I’m a crime and horror author based in New York City. I’ve lived through a couple of direct hits from mega-storms and other natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy, which plowed through my neighborhood in 2012. Those kinds of experiences leave a psychological mark I’ve tried to process through both fiction and non-fiction. This writing has also allowed me to explore how people and cities could potentially survive the calamities that await us, especially in coastal regions vulnerable to climate change.  


I wrote...

Hell of a Mess

By Nick Kolakowski,

Book cover of Hell of a Mess

What is my book about?

The heist should have been a simple one: infiltrate the top floor of a New York City penthouse, steal a server with compromising data from under the noses of the unsuspecting guards, and slip back out. Fiona, master thief, has pulled off similar jobs. But with a massive hurricane bearing down on the East Coast, the timing is tight and the escape routes are limited—and that’s before she discovers something horrific in the penthouse.

Now Fiona’s on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the floodwaters and hired assassins. Her husband Bill, the finest hustler between Florida and Maine, can’t help her: he’s been kidnapped by a group of dirty cops who want the secret millions left by his former employer.

The books I picked & why

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The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea

By Sebastian Junger,

Book cover of The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea

Why this book?

This is one of the nonfiction books I read as a teenager that convinced me to become a professional writer. The author, Sebastian Junger, doesn’t just describe the titular storm (which hit the U.S. East Coast in 1991) in terrifying detail—he also manages to assemble all of the weather-driven chaos into a real, gripping narrative. We don’t know a lot about what actually happened to the Andrea Gail, the fishing boat at the center of the narrative, but Junger recreates its final hours in a way that feels bracingly real—and heartbreaking.

Even if you don’t like nonfiction books, The Perfect Storm has the pacing and heart of a novel. I consider it one of the finest—maybe the finest—disaster narrative ever written, and it’s a perfect choice of book if you’re trapped inside by a raging storm.

The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea

By Sebastian Junger,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Perfect Storm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It was the storm of the century, boasting waves over one hundred feet high-a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it "the perfect storm." In a book that has become a classic, Sebastian Junger explores the history of the fishing industry, the science of storms, and the candid accounts of the people whose lives the storm touched. The Perfect Storm is a real-life thriller that makes us feel like we've been caught, helpless, in the grip of a force of nature beyond our understanding or control.

Winner of the American Library Association's 1998 Alex…


The Drowned World

By J.G. Ballard,

Book cover of The Drowned World

Why this book?

There’s no storm in J.G. Ballard’s masterpiece of post-apocalyptic fiction, just the aftermath. This was another book that I read at a highly impressionable age and return to every so often, especially when I’m writing something disaster-related. It takes place in a London flooded by climate change: a science team is dispatched to the feverish swamp that was once a great city, where they’re confronted by pirates and other dangers.

It always blows my mind that Ballard wrote the book in 1962, well before the current debate over the climate. The thrilling set-pieces aside, it’s also a chilling reminder of how nature can still topple even the mightiest cities.

The Drowned World

By J.G. Ballard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Drowned World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A debut novel, set in London in the near future. The capital city has been flooded and transformed into a tropical location where social aberrations only serve as an indicator of the level of corruption of the modern mentality.


Dead Astronauts

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Book cover of Dead Astronauts

Why this book?

And now for something completely different: this novel takes place in a world already ravaged by disaster. Not all of this book’s protagonists are human—there’s a blue fox lurking around with a mysterious purpose, and even the people have been… enhanced, let’s say. The narration is surreal and mythic and almost abstract at moments.

Dead Astronauts won’t be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea. But if you’re riding out a storm (either internal or external), this one can perhaps serve as an excellent tone poem to see you through, one filled with some truly mind-bending ideas and characters. This is one of the books that helped center me during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were all locked inside.

Dead Astronauts

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Under the watchful eye of The Company, three characters - Grayson, Morse and Chen - shapeshifters, amorphous, part human, part extensions of the landscape, make their way through forces that would consume them. A blue fox, a giant fish and language stretched to the limit.

A messianic blue fox who slips through warrens of time and space on a mysterious mission. A homeless woman haunted by a demon who finds the key to all things in a strange journal. A giant leviathan of a fish, centuries old, who hides a secret, remembering a past that may not be its own.…


Shutter Island

By Dennis Lehane,

Book cover of Shutter Island

Why this book?

Dennis Lehane is another author who inspired me to become a writer (specifically, a crime-fiction author), and this book is one of his best. Two U.S. marshals are sent to investigate the disappearance of a woman from a hospital for the criminally insane on the titular island. A storm is bearing down, complicating the investigation, and in the grand thriller tradition, nothing is as it seems…

Shutter Island is one of those complex, pulpy thrillers where all the twists are genuinely earned. It’s a master class in how to flip the audience’s expectations, even experienced thriller fans who think they know what’s coming.

Shutter Island

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Shutter Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The basis for the blockbuster motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island by New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane is a gripping and atmospheric psychological thriller where nothing is quite what it seems. The New York Times calls Shutter Island, “Startlingly original.” The Washington Post raves, “Brilliantly conceived and executed.” A masterwork of suspense and surprise from the author of Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, Shutter Island carries the reader into a nightmare world of madness, mind control, and CIA Cold War paranoia andis unlike anything you’ve ever read before.


The Two-Bear Mambo

By Joe R. Lansdale,

Book cover of The Two-Bear Mambo

Why this book?

Whenever someone asks me to recommend a funny mystery/thriller series, I always do my best to steer them toward Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series. Hap Collins is a wisecracking good ol’ boy with liberal leanings, while his best friend Leonard is a Black, gay, conservative war veteran. They bumble and punch their way through mysteries that usually involve long-buried, lethal secrets.

The Two-Bear Mambo is arguably the most cinematic of the Hap and Leonard books, and that’s because the two are searching a small Texas town for Hap’s ex-girlfriend—a town at risk of serious flooding. The climactic fight in a graveyard is an over-the-top melee of rushing water, bones, and death. Solving mysteries is even harder when you have to prevent yourself from drowning in the biggest natural disaster to hit Texas in years. 

The Two-Bear Mambo

By Joe R. Lansdale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Two-Bear Mambo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Florida Grange, Leonard's gorgeous lawyer and Hap's former lover, has vanished while in pursuit of the real story behind the jailhouse death of a bluesman's son. Hap and Leonard investigate and end up in a part of East Texas that has Klan wannabes, an exhumation in a voodoo graveyard, and murder.


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