The best novels to unsettle your reality

Why am I passionate about this?

My sense of reality has always been tenuous and my work represents that. Almost everything I’ve written has been a blending of genres set in landscapes where things aren’t always what they seem. I’ve written a dark fantasy novel, a horror-Western, a horror-thriller, a literary novel with actual space aliens, and a modern horror novel with roots in historical western expansion in the U.S. And that’s just the books I’ve somehow managed to get published!


I wrote...

Claw Heart Mountain

By David Oppegaard,

Book cover of Claw Heart Mountain

What is my book about?

Claw Heart Mountain is a horror-thriller set on an isolated mountain in Wyoming.

On their way to a remote mountain cabin, a group of college friends discover fifteen million dollars in an abandoned armored van. They take the money, unaware that a killer is after the cash and a legendary creature called the Wraith haunts the mountain. Soon they must fight for their lives.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of House of Leaves

David Oppegaard Why did I love 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.

By Mark Z. Danielewski,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked House of Leaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A novelistic mosaic that simultaneously reads like a thriller and like a strange, dreamlike excursion into the subconscious.” —The New York Times

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations,…


Book cover of Invisible Cities

David Oppegaard Why did I love 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.    

By Italo Calvino,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Invisible Cities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A subtle and beautiful meditation' Sunday Times

In Invisible Cities Marco Polo conjures up cities of magical times for his host, the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, but gradually it becomes clear that he is actually describing one city: Venice. As Gore Vidal wrote 'Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvellous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant.'


Book cover of Beloved

David Oppegaard Why did I love 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.

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Toni Morrison was a giant of her times and ours... Beloved is a heart-breaking testimony to the ongoing ravages of slavery, and should be read by all' Margaret Atwood, New York Times

Discover this beautiful gift edition of Toni Morrison's prize-winning contemporary classic Beloved

It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her…


Book cover of Annihilation

David Oppegaard Why did I love 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.

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 The Castle

David Oppegaard Why did I love 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.

By Franz Kafka, Anthea Bell (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A study of relationships, particularly between the individual and society and between thought and action, The Castle is one of Kafka's most profoundly imaginative works. As fear and worry develop in a series of strangely illogical events and man's quest for freedom heightens, this classic novel confirms Kafka's reputation as one of the greatest creators of visionary fiction this century.


"Kafka discovered the hitherto unknown possibilities of the novel, and it is thanks to him that the very notion of the novel is not the same as it was before." --Milan Kundera

"He is the greatest German writer of our…


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The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

Book cover of The Woman at the Wheel

Penny Haw Author Of The Invincible Miss Cust

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Dog walker Dreamer Runner Reader

Penny's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cäcilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love—with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his plans, a dicey move since they alone believe in the machine. When Carl's partners threaten to withdraw their support, he's ready to cut ties. Bertha knows the decision would ruin everything. Ignoring the cynics, she takes matters into her own hands, secretly planning a scheme that will either hasten the family's passage to absolute derision or prove their genius. What Bertha doesn't know is that Carl is on the cusp of making a deal with their nemesis. She's not only risking her marriage and their life's work, but is also up against the patriarchy, Carl's own self-doubt, and the clock.

Like so many other women, Bertha lived largely in her husband's shadow, but her contributions are now celebrated in this inspiring story of perseverance, resilience, and love.

The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

What is this book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cacilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love-with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his…


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