The best books that reflect a grim view of the world, and those beyond

Why am I passionate about this?

My exploration of the cosmic, the horror of the infinite, and the darkness of the world began with my earliest Sunday School memories in the Evangelical Church. Horrific tales of the End Times evoked in me what Coleridge called “the fascination of the abomination,” and once I shed the dogma, all that once terrified became a source of creativity viewed from a different angle. What I previously sought to understand and make rational, I was able to accept as wonderfully inscrutable. Old horrors now bring comfort and inspire a sense of awe at the vastness of the unknowable and the possibilities of it all. There’s beauty to be made and found in the dark.

I wrote...

The Nameless Dark: A Collection

By T.E. Grau,

Book cover of The Nameless Dark: A Collection

What is my book about?

The Nameless Dark is the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated collection of short fiction from author T.E. Grau, which draws its inspiration from the classic pulps and the contemporary Weird blended with Grau’s uniquely macabre storytelling. These fourteen tales explore Grau’s fascination with the terrifying and the wondrous, the cosmic and the uncanny, reflecting both a pessimism and sense of awe at the dark beauty of a vast and uncaring universe. The Nameless Dark is available on Audible and has been translated for publication in Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of North American Lake Monsters: Stories

T.E. Grau Why did I love this book?

Few debut collections have so powerfully announced the presence of a fully formed literary presence. There’s a unique honesty at play, a raw handling of guilt, shame, and the worst aspects of our species, creating brutal narratives of a genuinely unsettling nature. These are human tales, and these are monster tales, and sometimes they are both, set amid backdrops of the Weird. Ballingrud’s horrors can just as easily arise from your garden variety parent, spouse, or child, showing us that anyone, anywhere is capable of doing very bad things, depending on the choices they are willing to make. North American Lake Monsters is a landmark work of speculative fiction that will stand up to the weathering of the ages, and Ballingrud is one of the best writers working today.

By Nathan Ballingrud,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked North American Lake Monsters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nathan Ballingrud's Shirley Jackson Award winning debut collection is a shattering and luminous experience not to be missed by those who love to explore the darker parts of the human psyche. Monsters, real and imagined, external and internal, are the subject. They are us and we are them and Ballingrud's intense focus makes these stories incredibly intense and irresistible. These are love stories. And also monster stories. Sometimes these are monsters in their traditional guises, sometimes they wear the faces of parents, lovers, or ourselves. The often working-class people in these stories are driven to extremes by love. Sometimes, they…

Book cover of Teatro Grottesco

T.E. Grau Why did I love this book?

Puppets, clowns, mannequins, carnivals, art, crumbling buildings, means of production, mundane workplaces, hidden histories, the body, the mind, the unglimpsed universe, life itself—these are the essential salts of Ligotti’s special alchemy of universal nihilism and societal decay. The result is a brand of fatalistic fiction that is legitimately terrifying and profoundly pessimistic, casting the world in an uncanny, yellowish fog where everything is suspect. All of Ligotti’s collections and varied works are special, but Teatro Grottesco distinguishes itself for its thematic through line of the sinister nature of art and its various artistic underworlds. The firmness of the stories’ subject matter makes it the perfect introduction to the Ligottian multiverse for new readers.

By Thomas Ligotti,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Teatro Grottesco as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thomas Ligotti is often cited as the most curious and remarkable figure in horror literature since H. P. Lovecraft. His work is noted by critics for its display of an exceptionally grotesque imagination and accomplished prose style. In his stories, Ligotti has followed a literary tradition that began with Edgar Allan Poe, portraying characters that are outside of anything that might be called normal life, depicting strange locales far off the beaten track, and rendering a grim vision of human existence as a perpetual nightmare. The horror stories collected in Teatro Grottesco feature tormented individuals who play out their doom…

Book cover of The Bluest Eye

T.E. Grau Why did I love this book?

When my wife handed me The Bluest Eye and told me to “just read it,” I had no idea what I was about to experience. Few writers wield the weight of perfectly balanced, powerful prose like Morrison, and fewer still have produced her unique brand of grim, heartbreaking, beautiful story craft with such breathtaking quality and consistency. She shows both the meanness of the world, and its humanity, in all its many guises. Morrison’s masterful combination of unflinching truth, keen observation, dark subject matter, and pitch-perfect execution long ago cemented her legacy as one of the world’s greatest writers, and The Bluest Eye is an example of Morrison at her mightiest.

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Bluest Eye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Read the searing first novel from the celebrated author of Beloved, which immerses us in the tragic, torn lives of a poor black family in post-Depression 1940s Ohio.

Unlovely and unloved, Pecola prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged white schoolfellows. At once intimate and expansive, unsparing in its truth-telling, The Bluest Eye shows how the past savagely defines the present. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison's virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterised her writing.


Book cover of The Ballad of Black Tom

T.E. Grau Why did I love this book?

Readers of H.P. Lovecraft, and writers (like me) who have mined the Lovecraftian Mythos for decades, have struggled in recent years to square the inspiration they have derived from the work and the intensely problematic nature of the man’s white supremacy and xenophobia. Several recent books have addressed this ethical conflict head-on, and none so brilliantly and effectively as LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, which reconstitutes Lovecraft’s “The Horror of Red Hook” from an African American POV. LaValle’s sharpness of prose, keen eye, and feel for environment grounds his tale of a street hustler in 1920s Harlem confronting horrors both cosmic and terrestrial, acting as the perfect answer to the insult of the original tale. This work stands as a landmark of contemporary cosmic horror that needs to be on every bookshelf. 

By Victor LaValle,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Ballad of Black Tom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn't there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father's head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic…

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The Pact

By Lisa Darcy,

Book cover of The Pact

Lisa Darcy Author Of The Pact

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Cat lover Traveler Reader Amateur tennis player Foodie

Lisa's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Pact is a contemporary fiction novel about Australian sisters, Samantha and Annie, who are doubles tennis champions. This story amplifies the usual sibling issues and explores their professional partnership and personal relationships – similarities, differences, motivation, competition, abandonment, and grief – and how they each respond to the stress of constantly being under the media spotlight.

What happens when, at the pinnacle of fame, it all falls apart?

With dreams shattered and egos destroyed, how do they cope?

I have an older sister and although our rapport isn’t as dramatic, or as close, for that matter, I was able…

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