The best novels to unsettle your reality

David Oppegaard Author Of The Suicide Collectors
By David Oppegaard

The Books I Picked & Why

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski

Book cover of House of Leaves

Why this book?

House of Leaves is haunted. It’s long, it’s strange, it’s creepy. It’s about a house that measures larger on the inside than it does on the outside. A house that goes on forever. House of Leaves claws into your brain and sometimes you’ll want to hurl it across the room and other times you’ll feel like you need a nap, but then you’ll have messed-up dreams. I know someone who started reading it and stopped because they didn’t want the book in their house anymore.

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Invisible Cities

By Italo Calvino

Book cover of Invisible Cities

Why this book?

Invisible Cities is a surreal fantasy classic that blurs reality by describing it with poetic specificity. Marco Polo and Genghis Khan hold a number of conversations in the Khan’s beautiful garden and Polo regales the great conqueror with descriptions of the various cities Polo has visited. Are any of these cities real? Does it matter? Each one is weird and cool and seems to allude to dreamy truths about existence. Every time I teach a fiction workshop, this is on the syllabus. Each city is a mini-exercise in world building.    

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By Toni Morrison

Book cover of Beloved

Why this book?

Beloved by Toni Morrison is so universally celebrated that I hesitate to even recommend it. So why put it on this particular list, which skews toward the weird and horrific? Because Beloved might be the greatest horror novel ever written that somehow never got pigeonholed as horror. Centered on a family of former slaves whose home is haunted by a malevolent spirit, Beloved is a harrowing look at the effects of trauma across multiple generations. Inspired by the true story of Margret Garner, an escaped slave who killed her two-year-old daughter to prevent her from being returned to slavery, your sense of reality will be changed when you finish reading it.

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By Jeff VanderMeer

Book cover of Annihilation

Why this book?

I can’t think of a book that describes the blurring of reality in a better way than Annihilation. The first book in VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, it follows a team of four women exploring a mysterious geographic occurrence called Area X. How to describe the mind-meltdown that is Area X? All four team members had to be hypnotized so they wouldn’t go insane when crossing the border of Area X.

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The Castle

By Franz Kafka, Anthea Bell

Book cover of The Castle

Why this book?

I’m a huge Franz Kafka fan. He was weird and troubled and wrote about feeling alienated from the world as well as any writer who ever lived. He was also funny and undeniably unique. He was so bizarre his last name became a phrase (“Kafkaesque”) that indicates something is oppressive or nightmarish. How cool is that? I chose The Castle because it’s his last, lesser-known novel, but also one of his most amusing and poignant, a novel he failed to finish before he died. Which is, of course, very fitting.

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