The best books to summon the off-kilter beauty of the grotesque

Mitch Cullin Author Of Tideland
By Mitch Cullin

Who am I?

I'm Mitch Cullin, or so I've been told. Besides being the ethical nemesis of the late Jon Lellenberg and his corrupt licensing/copyright trolls at the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., I'm also a documentary photographer, very occasional author of books, and full-time wrangler of feral cats.

I wrote...


By Mitch Cullin,

Book cover of Tideland

What is my book about?

Tideland was the third book in my West Texas Trilogy. It was designed to be highly metaphorical and fantastical. While I'm not much of a fan about pontificating on my own novels, I can relate that the underlying themes of the book deal with the resilience of children, issues of abandonment, and how a creative imagination can power through trauma.

The books I picked & why

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Collected Stories of William Faulkner

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of Collected Stories of William Faulkner

Why this book?

It's almost impossible to dive into Southern Gothic narratives without exploring the work of William Faulkner at some point, and his collected stories are a great place to start. Specifically, the story "A Rose for Emily" pretty much created the Southern Gothic literary genre. The writing is beautiful, evocative, haunting, and a springboard for the aspirations of many Southern writers, myself included.

Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Dolls and Masks

By Eugenia Parry, Elizabeth Siegel, Ralph Eugene Meatyard (photographer)

Book cover of Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Dolls and Masks

Why this book?

The black-and-white images of Ralph Eugene Meatyard have long fascinated me and informed my visual work and writing. Meatyard was, by profession, an optician in Lexington, Kentucky, yet his personal passion was making photographs. His subjects were his wife, children, and family friends, who he often posed in murky settings as they wore masks and held dolls. These images are both disquieting and euphonious, tapping into something primal that hints at the secretive world of childhood.

The Butcher Boy

By Patrick McCabe,

Book cover of The Butcher Boy

Why this book?

Taking place in rural Northern Ireland during the 1960s, The Butcher Boy tells the story of young Francie Brady, a misanthropic, confused Roman Catholic kid whose alcoholic father works in a slaughterhouse. Francie's first-person narrative is at times very funny, at other times very bleak, yet the novel is infused with a poetic lyricism that frames its protagonist with a curious empathy, even as the story veers into dark territory.

Come, The Restorer

By William Goyen,

Book cover of Come, The Restorer

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favorite novels, though I'm not quite sure how to explain it. Set in a small Texas town, Come, The Restorer is a strange, hallucinatory, and comical novel where nothing is quite normal, in fact far from it. Among the cast of characters are Mr. de Persia who becomes a prophet to the townspeople after he is discovered in a glass bathtub with an erection, the virginal Jewel Adair who following her husband's fiery death begins roaming the countryside naked, and Addis, Jewel's adopted son, who is on a singular quest to make himself a Panhandle saint. There's just no other book like this one.

Geek Love

By Katherine Dunn,

Book cover of Geek Love

Why this book?

I have yet to meet someone who doesn't love this novel, though I'm sure there must be plenty of Amazon reviewers that hate it. Katherine Dunn's masterpiece chronicles the Binewskis, a drug-addled carny family who set out to breed their own circus freaks. Hilarity, violence, sibling rivalry, and all manner of insanity ensues as the reader encounters, among others, Arturo the Aquaboy, Siamese twins, and an albino hunchback. What else can I say? It's wonderful, funny, and unsettling in equal measure, and as epic a family story as anything Steinbeck undertook.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in fine art photography, mental disorders, and Texas?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about fine art photography, mental disorders, and Texas.

Fine Art Photography Explore 11 books about fine art photography
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Annie Leibovitz, On Photography, and How Photography Became Contemporary Art if you like this list.