The best books about reality becoming unreal

Who am I?

I’m an Anglo-Irish writer of stories that have a fantastical or paranormal worldview—often containing darkness, but also touched with satirical humour. I’ve always liked stories that seem rooted in everyday reality but then introduce inexplicable elements which unhinge the recognisable world in a surprising or unsettling fashion. For me, that description fits a range of books, including Fantastic Mr. Fox (which I remember being the first book I read through obsessively), Dracula, or Gormenghast; and writers such as Shirley Jackson, Philip K. Dick, J. G. Ballard, H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and Thomas Ligotti.


I wrote...

Feline Alchemy

By S. T. Blake,

Book cover of Feline Alchemy

What is my book about?

A world-class cynic stands on a bridge, looking into the icy water below—is he seeking a meeting with Mr. Death or will he save two kittens from drowning instead? After he makes his choice, he enters into a deal that might just give him the power to take ownership of this messed-up world of ours. But first, he needs to make sense of his tangled relationship with the Queens of the Nile. Then he has to escape the attention of the wolves, witches, police, and ex-wives, who all want to ruin him. After all that, maybe he’ll decide to change the world—forever. All it’s liable to cost him is his soul.

Feline Alchemy is a unique dark urban fantasy novel.

The books I picked & why

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Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

By H. P. Lovecraft, Les Edwards (illustrator), Stephen Jones (editor)

Book cover of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

Why this book?

Reading H. P. Lovecraft’s best stories, I always start to feel as if I’m digging away at the accepted reality of modern man, peeling it back to reveal another, older, truer reality hidden underneath. It’s an eerie process. In that final reality, I find the Old Gods are still waiting. Over the course of the past 10,000 years, perhaps they only blinked an eye. But now, each page I turn brings them closer. That abysmal reality of the Old Gods is only hinted at in the stories – Cthulhu is a presence rather than a character – but I don’t doubt for a moment how dangerous it is, because Lovecraft makes us believe, deep down, that their return is inevitable.

Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

By H. P. Lovecraft, Les Edwards (illustrator), Stephen Jones (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WIKIPEDIA says: 'H.P. Lovecraft's reputation has grown tremendously over the decades, and he is now commonly regarded as one of the most important horror writers of the 20th century, exerting an influence that is widespread, though often indirect.'

H.P. Lovecraft's tales of the tentacled Elder God Cthulhu and his pantheon of alien deities were initially written for the pulp magazines of the 1920s and '30s. These astonishing tales blend elements of horror, science fiction and cosmic terror that are as powerful today as they were when they were first published.

This handsome leatherbound tome collects together the very best of…


The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of The Haunting of Hill House

Why this book?

It might sound strange, but one of the things I like most about Shirley Jackson’s writing is just how brutal she is with her characters! When I first met Eleanor Vance, the lead character in The Haunting of Hill House, who’s seeking her ‘cup of stars’, I was absorbed in the slightly strained and unsettling interior monologue that lets us into her view of the world. From the start, I got the feeling of something about to snap… But personally, I’m usually rooting for the characters in the books I read, so I still hoped Eleanor might find those stars of hers. Then she agrees to visit Hill House. And maybe the house’s haunted reality does give her a glimpse of those stars, somehow – but in brutal fashion?

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson,

Why should I read it?

25 authors picked The Haunting of Hill House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part of a new six-volume series of the best in classic horror, selected by Academy Award-winning director of The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro

Filmmaker and longtime horror literature fan Guillermo del Toro serves as the curator for the Penguin Horror series, a new collection of classic tales and poems by masters of the genre. Included here are some of del Toro's favorites, from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Ray Russell's short story "Sardonicus," considered by Stephen King to be "perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written," to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and stories…


Slaughterhouse-Five

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Slaughterhouse-Five

Why this book?

I can’t think of another book that bends and blends competing realities as well as Slaughterhouse-5. Vonnegut shows us the mundanity of a 9 to 5 optometrist, the horrors of war (in this case, the fire-bombing of Dresden), time-traveling sci-fi, and mental breakdown – each of these realities plays off the others until I can’t be sure where one ends and the next begins. It’s a high-wire act, in that respect, one that could easily fall flat. I think Vonnegut makes it work, not only because of his skill but also because, after trying for ages to write a book about his experiences in WW2, he found a story and structure that lets him capture all the madness and horror (and bleak, deadpan, absurdist humour) of everything he saw.

Slaughterhouse-Five

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Slaughterhouse-Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A special fiftieth anniversary edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, “a desperate, painfully honest attempt to confront the monstrous crimes of the twentieth century” (Time), featuring a new introduction by Kevin Powers, author of the National Book Award finalist The Yellow Birds
 
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time
 
Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous World War II firebombing of Dresden, the novel is the result of what Kurt Vonnegut described as a twenty-three-year struggle to write a book about what he had…


Ubik

By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Ubik

Why this book?

Reality always seems to be something of a moving target in Philip K. Dick’s books. No other writer gives me the same kind of thrilling vertigo as I get when I enter into his worlds because no other writer treats the idea of reality so skeptically. Everything in Dick’s fictional world is open to doubt, corruption, or complete overthrow – there’s really no safe place for his characters, or us, to stand. I think Ubik is the book where he takes this to the extreme, pushing those feelings of anxiety and dislocation until it’s very close to being a horror story. In Ubik, I find myself facing technological ghosts and vampires. Of course, this being Dick, I’m never completely sure which characters fall into which category – and neither are they.

Ubik

By Philip K. Dick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A classic science fiction tale of artifical worlds by one of the great American writers of the 20th century

Glen Runciter is dead.

Or is he?

Someone died in the explosion orchestrated by his business rivals, but even as his funeral is scheduled, his mourning employees are receiving bewildering messages from their boss. And the world around them is warping and regressing in ways which suggest that their own time is running out.

If it hasn't already.

Readers minds have been blown by Ubik:

'Sheer craziness, a book defying any straightforward synopsis . . . a unique time travel adventure…


Solaris

By Stanislaw Lem, Steve Cox, Joanna Kilmartin

Book cover of Solaris

Why this book?

I’m often attracted to characters who seem to be haunted – whether by places, people, or their own past. Stanislaw Lem ups the ante a good deal by having his cast of characters apparently haunted by the entire ocean of the planet they’ve landed on. But that isn’t why I find Solaris so moving and intriguing. Just as we’re starting to orientate ourselves to how the planet can bend reality for the astronauts who are based there, Lem throws an entirely unexpected question into the mix – what if the ‘monsters’ don’t realise they’re ‘monsters’, what if they’re as bewildered by the situation as the ‘victims’? That blindsided me (which is another thing I like stories to do) and, for me, it adds a special layer of poignancy to the book.

Solaris

By Stanislaw Lem, Steve Cox, Joanna Kilmartin

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Solaris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface he is forced to confront a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others suffer from the same affliction and speculation rises among scientists that the Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates incarnate memories, but its purpose in doing so remains a mystery . . .

Solaris raises a question that has been at the heart of human experience and literature for centuries: can we truly understand the universe around us without first understanding what…


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