The best books that make you question everything

David Hollander Author Of Anthropica
By David Hollander

The Books I Picked & Why

The Three-Body Problem

By Liu Cixin, Ken Liu

The Three-Body Problem

Why this book?

The Three-Body Problem is on the one hand a science fiction novel, one that imagines a distant race that would (literally) kill to have a home world as stable as our little earth. But it's also a historical novel (it begins during China's Cultural Revolution), and an anthropological exploration. It seems to study the human race from a vast distance, and to severely judge our myopia and hubris. This is something I’ve always been interested in as a writer… getting above it all and trying to recontextualize our species within the vastness of the cosmos. 


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Infinite Jest

By David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest

Why this book?

Infinite Jest changed everything for me. Its fragmentation, and the way it sets a dozen plots and subplots in orbit around a single “quest object” (a mysterious video that is purportedly so entertaining that to watch it is to be rendered catatonic and die), makes the reader an active participant in assembling the book’s meaning. This is the way I love to read, and I’m trying to create a similar effect in my own writing. I also think that Wallace was one of the greatest sentence writers to ever hold a pen, and the blistering syntax of Infinite Jest gives readers something to smile about on every page.


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House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves

Why this book?

House of Leaves is a book about a man who has discovered that the inside of his house is bigger than the outside of his house. It turns out that there’s a labyrinthine darkness expanding—perhaps infinitely—within his home. This premise is certainly creepy, but it’s the book’s structure that makes it the most existentially terrifying thing I’ve ever read. Some pages have one word on them; others are printed backward; others seem to orbit a blacked-out center. Usually, we control a book when we are reading, but this book controls us; as a result, we are just as lost in the labyrinth as Navidson, the book’s arguable protagonist. An amazing effect!


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Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas

Why this book?

Cloud Atlas invites so many different kinds of readers into its tent. It’s a historical fiction (or, really, several historical fictions); it’s a social novel; it’s a science-fiction novel; and, most importantly to many readers, it’s a trick-box novel with a structure that Mitchell seems to be inventing from scratch. The book’s six nested stories—each of which is interrupted at a pivotal moment—travel across centuries, but there’s a sense that something singular moves through each text. The way the book can satisfy at the level of plot while maintaining a sense that the world you see is not all that there is, inspires me to aim bigger in my work.


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Found Audio

By N. J. Campbell

Found Audio

Why this book?

Most of Found Audio takes the form of a transcribed interview with an “adventure journalist,” whose story—even without the book’s surrounding architecture—is riveting. He seems to have discovered something mind-bending about the nature of dreams. But this interview is being delivered to the reader by a writer named N.J. Campbell, who received it (on cassette tape) from an audio engineer, who in turn received the tapes from a shady stranger, who refused to say much about them. The book’s overlapping narratives and absence of any “central authority” create a mobius strip. I love fictions that follow the advice of the sculptor Robert Smithson: “Establish enigmas, not explanations.” And Found Audio may be Exhibit A. 


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