The best books in which surrealism and magical realism become our new reality

Biff Mitchell Author Of Blowing Up
By Biff Mitchell

Who am I?

Surrealism and magical realism are the blood of my art. All my novels, and especially my short stories, jump in and out of the world of schedules, deadlines, and certainty. It’s what I read and how I think, and it flows through my writing, drawing, and photography. I can’t imagine a world without magic, a world in which everything has a logical explanation and nothing moves beyond a set of rules that can be measured and accounted for. It’s the unaccountable rules, the ones that hint of something going on just under the surface of what we see, that rule my art.


I wrote...

Blowing Up

By Biff Mitchell,

Book cover of Blowing Up

What is my book about?

Welcome to the World You Live In. It’s a mess. It’s diseased, polluted, over-populated, and too close to the sun. But it’s all we have and we’re losing it fast, so we may as well have a good laugh before the sun reaches out and reclaims us.

Nothing is sacred, nothing is spared. Nothing is safe in a world accumulating too much ammunition for too few targets. Welcome to Mitchell’s world of ghosts who have to get the last word, ball-busting muses who torture for the hell of it, a woman who sheds rabbits from her eyes instead of tears, an office of petty-minded workers fused together in a nuclear holocaust and a world where you write grammatically correct essays or starve to death. But there will be laughter.

The books I picked & why

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Killing Commendatore

By Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (translator), Ted Goossen (translator)

Book cover of Killing Commendatore

Why this book?

This book plays hide and seek with reality. You’re never a hundred percent sure if you’re in the normal mundane world or the world of magic and danger. The story moves swiftly and compellingly between worlds and raises questions about what we can and cannot believe in.

Some parts seem like drug trips gone wrong and others like the comfort and assurance of close relationships no matter how long they’ve lasted.

Murakami is a master at juggling worlds in such a way that sometimes the fantasy worlds are more real than the actual worlds.


In Watermelon Sugar

By Richard Brautigan,

Book cover of In Watermelon Sugar

Why this book?

I’ve read this once or twice a year since I first read it as a college student in the early 70s. This is a simple yet powerful story told in a tongue-in-cheek manner that makes the story seem subdued and quietly magical until the folks in the Forgotten Works stage a demonstration in self-realization that borders on the insane but has little or no impact on the citizens of iDeath, a commune-like community where time and purpose appear to be relative to each character.

It’s a short read that imprints itself around your mind like a walnut shell, leaving you wondering what just happened? What was that all about?


Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children's Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children's Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death

Why this book?

Read this one a few times. The lead character, Billy Pilgrim, leads a somewhat unhinged life bouncing around in time, abducted by aliens, and seeing all that he holds dear crumbling before his eyes. The bombing of Dresden was more an act of terrorism than an act of war and this novel puts the reader in the minds and lives of those who were bombed in a way that drives home the cruelty with which we treat our own kind.

What I’ve taken away from this book and all of Vonnegut’s work is the acceptance that humor and satire are OK as tools to tell a story of horror…that the sheer casualness of the tone says so much about where we’ve arrived as a species.


Island of the Sequined Love Nun

By Christopher Moore,

Book cover of Island of the Sequined Love Nun

Why this book?

I make a point of reading this novel before I start on each of my own novels. There’s something about the tone, the rhythm, the story, and the humor that attracts me to this book. As usual, the lead character (Tucker Case) is like a leaf blown at crazy angles by the winds of the rest of the world, a world that seems to have turned on him just because he’s him.

I like the way Moore creates the most unbelievable events but makes them seem so normal with the backdrop of a world sliding into madness…and he does it all with the most exquisite humor.


Still Life with Woodpecker

By Tom Robbins,

Book cover of Still Life with Woodpecker

Why this book?

I like the sheer disregard that Tom Robbins shows for traditional ways to tell a story. This one is about a romance that takes place in a package of cigarettes and it runs through a smorgasbord of strange characters and unlikely situations that pretty much sum up the hopelessness of a world too complex and out of control to understand.

I particularly like the casual tone of the storyteller and this is something I strive for in my own writing.


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