The best books that tackle surrealism, memory, and desire

Who am I?

Mortality, desire, memory, and time are my favourite themes, not just in my writing but in my life. I also love anything—music, art, literature—that is evocative, bizarre, and surreal. As a meditator, lover, and writer of poetry and poetic prose, I love books that expand our minds and hearts in ways that conventional acts of writing and creative expressions fail to do.


I wrote...

This Side of Heaven

By Cyril Wong,

Book cover of This Side of Heaven

What is my book about?

A comedian, a nun, a reality TV star, and countless others meet in a Garden. This is not the start of a joke, but the beginnings of a parable. These denizens may be running out of time, even as it seems there is all the time in their Kafkaesque world.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Garden of Secrets

Cyril Wong Why did I love this book?

Goytisolo’s narrative is about a fictitious poet. It is also about the truth about storytelling and the fundamental nature of truth. Different perspectives also conjure up a culture of “hysteria and persecution” surrounding the poet. Can we truly ever know anyone? The book is a perfect metaphor and parable for what happens when we mistake lies for undeniable facts.

By Juan Goytisolo, Peter Bush (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Over three weeks twenty-eight story-tellers - one for each letter in the Arabic alphabet - meet in a Marrakesh garden to tell the story of a poet, Eusebio, arrested in Melilla in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. Eusebio, a friend of Garcia Lorca and his Circle, escapes assassination and his life then escapes the control of a single destiny. Some tales embroider his shadowy life with stories from Djemaa-el-Fna - the pasha's cook, the slave-market, Aysha and the stork... Does Eusebio betray his Fascist friends by confessing in a show-trial that they indulged in orgies with the…


Book cover of The Hellbound Heart

Cyril Wong Why did I love this book?

A novella about a magical box that you may open only at your own peril. But many hope to find and open it for its promises of supernatural pleasure. A man finds it and discovers a netherworld of pain inflicted by ungodly angels known as the Cenobites. With pleasurable sadism, Barker drives a literal needle into the heart of what it means to desire, and how pleasure and pain are more interconnected than most of us would like to believe. A violent, other-worldly descent into madness.

By Clive Barker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The classic tale of supernatural obsession from the critically acclaimed master of darkness—and the inspiration for the cult classic film Hellraiser

From his scores of short stories, bestselling novels, and major motion pictures, no one comes close to the vivid imagination and unique terrors provided by Clive Barker. The Hellbound Heart is one of Barker’s best—a nerve-shattering novella about the human heart and all the great terrors and ecstasies within its endless domain. It is about greed and love, desire and death, life and captivity, bells and blood. It is one of the most frightening stories you are likely to…


Book cover of Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse

Cyril Wong Why did I love this book?

This narrative-in-verse is based loosely on the story of the Greek monster Geryon, taken from a poem by Stesichorus. Geryon was sexually abused by his older brother. His mother was too weak to protect him. The boy finds comfort in photography and falls into a complicated romance with Herakles. The writing is poetic, experimental, searing, and heartbreaking.

By Anne Carson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this extraordinary epic poem, Anne Carson bridges the gap between classicism and the modern, poetry and prose, with a volcanic journey into the soul of a winged red monster named Geryon.

There is a strong mixture of whimsy and sadness in Geryon's story. He is tormented as a boy by his brother, escapes to a parallel world of photography, and falls in love with Herakles - a golden young man who leaves Geryon at the peak of infatuation. Geryon retreats ever further into the world created by his camera, until that glass house is suddenly and irrevocably shattered by…


Book cover of Annihilation

Cyril Wong Why did I love this book?

Part one of the Southern Reach Trilogy, this hypnotic book explores a mysterious island with nightmarish qualities. Area X is cut off from everywhere, and nature (or a renewed but ultimately unknowable notion of what nature can be) has supplanted humans there. An expedition exposes a new kind of extra-terrestrial Eden, but mass suicides occur. Later, explorers turn on each other in violence and gunfire; others return not as their former selves and die of cancer. The mystery of the place becomes more powerful and metaphorical for remaining a mystery.

The narrative goes beyond mere storytelling to leave profound imprints on the hippocampus as regards the alien forces that may or may not already be here and inseparable from our ordinary reality.

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A contemporary masterpiece' Guardian

THE FIRST VOLUME OF THE EXTRAORDINARY SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY - NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ALEX GARLAND (EX MACHINA) AND STARRING NATALIE PORTMAN AND OSCAR ISAAC

For thirty years, Area X has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border - an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness.

The Southern Reach, a secretive government agency, has sent eleven expeditions to investigate Area X. One has ended in mass suicide, another in a hail of gunfire, the eleventh in a fatal cancer epidemic.

Now four women embark on the…


Book cover of Tomb of Sand

Cyril Wong Why did I love this book?

Set in India, the central story traces the transformation of 80-year-old Ma, who is depressed after the death of her husband. Suddenly she decides to travel to Pakistan, confronting past traumas connected to the Partition riots. She is accompanied by Rosie, a hijra who is her best and wisest friend. The book is not just about its protagonists, but full of divertissements that tackle the meaning of relationships, memory, and time. There are also talking crows and a sequence of “performance art” when writers of the Partition take the page-as-stage.

By Geetanjali Shree, Daisy Rockwell (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2022 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE

A playful, feminist, and utterly original epic set in contemporary northern India, about a family and the inimitable octogenarian matriarch at its heart.

“A tale tells itself. It can be complete, but also incomplete, the way all tales are. This particular tale has a border and women who come and go as they please. Once you’ve got women and a border, a story can write itself . . .”

Eighty-year-old Ma slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband. Despite her family’s cajoling, she refuses to leave her bed. Her…


You might also like...

The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

Book cover of The Finest Lies

David J. Naiman Author Of The Finest Lies

New book alert!

Who am I?

Anyone with siblings knows the deal. Your sibling becomes your first best friend and closest confidant but also your first competitor and fiercest critic. Navigating that relationship as a teen is fraught with peril. If done poorly, it can leave deep scars. If successful, it can teach you the foundations of how to build healthy relationships for the rest of your life. This theme has everything a writer needs to craft an emotional narrative, and these books do it best.

David's book list on sibling rivalry that will inspire you to reconnect

What is my book about?

A mysterious stranger traps teen siblings in a precarious game where each must overcome their embittered past for the other to survive.

This suspenseful, yet winsome novel explores the power of family and forgiveness. But take heed. The truth can cut like shards of glass, especially for those who’d rather avoid it. Sometimes, only the finest lies will do.

The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

What is this book about?

High schooler Nicole Hallett has just about had it with her brother Jay, so when a mysterious man appears with an offer to replace him with a better one, she doesn’t hesitate. Nicole has always been impulsive, but this time, she finds herself in predicament far worse than anything she’s experienced. Just like that, an average snow day—usually filled with hot cocoa and snowball fights—is commandeered by the stranger, who forces the siblings into a dangerous game.

Confronted by past reflections, tested by present complications, and threatened by future possibilities, Nicole has until the end of the day to disentangle…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in surrealism, monsters, and Pakistan?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about surrealism, monsters, and Pakistan.

Surrealism Explore 98 books about surrealism
Monsters Explore 150 books about monsters
Pakistan Explore 42 books about Pakistan