The best novels that combine the known with the unknown

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my entire working life tied to the virtuous cycle of reading, writing, and (I hope) thinking. Since my own first novel came out over twenty years ago, I have never lost my passion for reading, as I suspect that if I did, I would also lose my passion to write, and the fascination with other people and the world that fuels it. All these books have informed, gently or severely, my new novel, High John The Conqueror, encapsulating the incongruous mix between the given and the unbelievable that I find in life, and try to employ in my own work. 


I wrote...

High John the Conqueror

By Tariq Goddard,

Book cover of High John the Conqueror

What is my book about?

Wessex, 2016. Teenagers are vanishing off the council estates of a small provincial city. A crop of herbs that are said to possess magical powers which only grow once every fifty years are found in the woods. A supernatural creature believed to be the guardian of the herbs is seen in nightmares. Rumours of orgiastic rituals on the estates of the rich and powerful excite the curious. And the Queen of England decides to celebrate her 90th birthday with a visit to the city’s famous cathedral spire. Into this madness, two ambitious detectives, one with doomed literary ambitions, seek to solve the mystery, their only lead that “posh people are taking our children.”
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Harlot's Ghost

Tariq Goddard Why did I love this book?

This book is too ambitious to be perfect, but it is the perfect example of an author doing whatever he likes, able to rely on a massive talent to bail him out of trouble every time he disappears into another labyrinthine digression. Mailer’s audacious use of the first person to tell the story of espionage in the twentieth century, becoming a conduit for his vast range of characters, real and imagined, showed me that writing a novel where you are a leading character could take you to places that writing in the third person could not. In my seventh novel, I knew it was the right story for me to finally unleash a first-person narrative on.   

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Harlot's Ghost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With unprecedented scope and consummate skill, Norman Mailer unfolds a rich and riveting epic of an American spy. Harry Hubbard is the son and godson of CIA legends. His journey to learn the secrets of his society—and his own past—takes him through the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the “momentous catastrophe” of the Kennedy assassination. All the while, Hubbard is haunted by women who were loved by both his godfather and President Kennedy. Featuring a tapestry of unforgettable characters both real and imagined, Harlot’s Ghost is a panoramic achievement in the tradition of Tolstoy, Melville, and Balzac,…


Book cover of GB84

Tariq Goddard Why did I love this book?

Peace’s gutsy novel is an epic literary treatment of The British Miners Strike of the mid-eighties and reads like one long brutal poem to that ugly time. From it I learned that you could be biased, partisan, and full-blooded in a political novel, providing your treatment of your characters and the world they inhabit is consistently honest. Following him I have tried to do justice to a neglected part of rural England in the build up to the Brexit Referendum, politics less a matter of choice, as the very air the characters breathe, informing their outlook and choices like a vast atmospheric bubble none of them are able to live outside.   

By David Peace,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked GB84 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A major new novel from one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists 2003. Famous for his visceral sequence of novels, The Red Riding Quartet, and acclaimed as the most gifted and original crime writer to have emerged since James Ellroy, in GB84 David Peace turns his talents to the most wrenching, socially devastating and unhappy struggle of the past half century in Britain: the 1984 miner's strike. In his signature clipped prose and through a kaleidoscopic whirl of characters and perspectives, Peace describes the boardroom and coalfield battles; the struggle for influence in government and the dwindling powers of…


Book cover of A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories

Tariq Goddard Why did I love this book?

Flannery O'Connor isolates a part of the world and looks to make it her own literary discovery, by telling very careful, amused, and well-judged short stories about evil, weakness, and stupidity, without losing sight of the value of goodness, however much her characters are punished for flirting with it. Despite her literary creations often falling short of human decency, she deploys them with a patient benevolence and affection that is akin to the way I hope God sees us all. This collection of short stories taught me that providing a reader can see the story through your character's eyes, they will root for them in a book, however far they would run from them in real life.  

By Flannery O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An essential collection of classic stories that established Flannery O’Connor’s reputation as an American master of fiction—now with a new introduction by New York Times bestselling author Lauren Groff In 1955, with the title story and others in this critical edition, Flannery O’Connor firmly laid claim to her place as one of the most original and provocative writers of her generation. Steeped in a Southern Gothic tradition that would become synonymous with her name, these stories show O’Connor’s unique view of life—infused with religious symbolism, haunted by apocalyptic possibility, sustained by the tragic comedy of human behavior, confronted by the…


Book cover of Blue Light of the Screen: On Horror, Ghosts, and God

Tariq Goddard Why did I love this book?

This is a volume that defies genre, in part a supernatural memoir, encyclopedia of horror films, and a treatise on the existence of other dimensions. I love a book that doesn’t conform to the rules and tropes of a single genre, where you basically know that what you are getting will adhere to what is or is not allowed, on the basis of the categories assigned to it by the publisher. Cronin testifies to her personal experience of ghosts, and what the nature of reality must be to support such entities. I follow her in looking to mix horror and the uncanny into supposedly banal and quotidian reality, the supernatural just another facet of life, and not a sensationalist realm that requires a world of its own. 

By Claire Cronin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blue Light of the Screen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blue Light of the Screen is about what it means to be afraid - about immersion, superstition, delusion, and the things that keep us up at night. A creative-critical memoir of the author's obsession with the horror genre, Blue Light of the Screen embeds its criticism of horror within a larger personal story of growing up in a devoutly Catholic family, overcoming suicidal depression, uncovering intergenerational trauma, and encountering real and imagined ghosts.As Cronin writes, she positions herself as a protagonist who is haunted by what she watches and reads, like an antiquarian in an M.R. James ghost story whose…


Book cover of The Return of the Native

Tariq Goddard Why did I love this book?

I hesitate to choose Hardy, not just because he is well known enough not to need my endorsement, but because he comes close to misanthropy, practices a fatalistic belief in destiny, and punishes his characters often needlessly, to satiate his enormous anger at the unfairness of the world. All this turned me off him. But on coming to live in the country I finally clicked with aspects of his vision, and was inspired by his sensuous and near-religious immersion in nature to endow my own book with a natural vividity and realism, that I hope grounds the more fanciful and inventive elements in the story.    

By Thomas Hardy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of Thomas Hardy's most powerful works, The Return of the Native centers famously on Egdon Heath, the wild, haunted Wessex moor that D. H. Lawrence called "the real stuff of tragedy." The heath's changing face mirrors the fortunes of the farmers, inn-keepers, sons, mothers, and lovers who populate the novel. The "native" is Clym Yeobright, who comes home from a cosmopolitan life in Paris. He; his cousin Thomasin; her fiancé, Damon Wildeve; and the willful Eustacia Vye are the protagonists in a tale of doomed love, passion, alienation, and melancholy as Hardy brilliantly explores that theme so familiar throughout…


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A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,

Book cover of A Theory of Expanded Love

Caitlin Hicks Author Of A Theory of Expanded Love

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Why am I passionate about this?

My life and work have been profoundly affected by the central circumstance of my existence: I was born into a very large military Catholic family in the United States of America. As a child surrounded by many others in the 60s, I wrote, performed, and directed family plays with my numerous brothers and sisters. Although I fell in love with a Canadian and moved to Canada, my family of origin still exerts considerable personal influence. My central struggle, coming from that place of chaos, order, and conformity, is to have the courage to live an authentic life based on my own experience of connectedness and individuality, to speak and be heard. 

Caitlin's book list on coming-of-age books that explore belonging, identity, family, and beat with an emotional and/or humorous pulse

What is my book about?

Trapped in her enormous, devout Catholic family in 1963, Annie creates a hilarious campaign of lies when the pope dies and their family friend, Cardinal Stefanucci, is unexpectedly on the shortlist to be elected the first American pope.

Driven to elevate her family to the holiest of holy rollers in the parish, Annie is tortured by her own dishonesty. But when “The Hands” visits her in her bed and when her sister finds herself facing a scandal, Annie discovers her parents will do almost anything to uphold their reputation and keep their secrets safe. 

Questioning all she has believed and torn between her own gut instinct and years of Catholic guilt, Annie takes courageous risks to wrest salvation from the tragic sequence of events set in motion by her parents’ betrayal.

A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,


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