The most recommended books about social alienation

Who picked these books? Meet our 33 experts.

33 authors created a book list connected to social alienation, and here are their favorite social alienation books.
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Book cover of Cordelia's Honor

Claire Suzanne Elizabeth Cooney Author Of Saint Death's Daughter: Volume 1

From my list on I want to be when I grow up.

Why am I passionate about this?

With every book we read, we engage in a complex act of telepathy and empathy. We are entering another human’s thoughts, interpreting them with our own, and come out changed from this colossal encounter. These five books I mentioned, with their extraordinary kindness, insight, humor, wisdom, warmth, compassion, and wholeness—many of them fantasies, many of them focusing on communities—have informed the writer I am today: a World Fantasy Award Winner. But I wouldn’t be without all the books that helped make me. These books are some of the best that built me, and keep building in me: the kind of books I try to write myself.

Claire's book list on I want to be when I grow up

Claire Suzanne Elizabeth Cooney Why did Claire love this book?

I used to say there were certain characters I wanted to be when I grew up, but that isn’t exactly true. It’s more like I want to be the book as a whole: its wisdom, humor, intricacy, plot, its ability to transport me utterly, to inhabit my mind with new, lifelong friends (or enemies), and to teach me—not only a single lesson upon the first reading, but many different lessons through the years. Cordelia’s Honor (sometimes sold separately as Shards of Honor and Barrayar) is one of those books. It’s the first book of the mighty Vorkosigan Saga by Bujold, which I have read. But if I’d never read the rest, this book alone would still gleam in my mind as something necessary, generous, and strangely infinite. 

By Lois McMaster Bujold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cordelia's Honor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Enemies Become More than Friends THEY WIN
In her first trial by fire, Cordelia Naismith captained a throwaway ship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy

Book cover of The Outsider

John H. Sibley Author Of Being and Homelessness: notes from an underground artist

From my list on understanding homelessness and existentialism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Chicago-based artist, author, veteran, and teacher. I studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago before enlisting in the United States Air Force in 1968 during the bloody Tet Offensive during the Vietnam era. Upon my discharge I got my BFA in 1994. I got convicted for a crime I did not commit, and I became a homeless-existential artist on Chicago’s mean streets for six months. I got hired by an Acoustic company, and I married and worked for twenty-seven years while raising a family. I now work as an art teacher. All my nonfiction books chronicle different episodes in my life. 

John's book list on understanding homelessness and existentialism

John H. Sibley Why did John love this book?

All my life, I have felt like an "outsider." Wright’s book depicts American racism and its devastating consequences in raw and unflinching terms.

The main character Damon Cross, a Chicago negro, disillusioned with the futility of life and the mess he has made of it, reminds me of when I was homeless. The fossilized, decadent cultural barons of American art have always kept me at bay. My entire career has been as an outsider. Outcast. The invisible man. Interloper. Picasso had a blue period. I had a blues period.

All my life, I have used painting and writing as a means of exorcising demons from my being in the world. Art has saved me from dementia. If I didn’t have art to channel my creative impulses, I’m sure I would have become Wright’s Damon Cross.

In the novel, Damon Cross becomes homeless and loses his identity in a subway crash…

By Richard Wright,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Richard Wright, one of the most powerful, acclaimed, and essential American authors of the twentieth century, comes a compelling story of one man's attempt to escape his past and start anew in Harlem.

Cross Damon is a man at odds with society and with himself—a man of superior intellect who hungers for peace but who brings terror and destruction wherever he goes. The Outsider is an important work of fiction that depicts American racism and its devastating consequences in raw and unflinching terms. Brilliantly imagined and frighteningly prescient, it is an epic exploration of the tragic roots of criminal…

Book cover of Dirt Music

Olivia Levez Author Of The Island

From my list on to survive desert islands, life, and everything.

Why am I passionate about this?

Both my books have a survival theme. Whether it’s foraging for mushrooms, wild camping, or trying to survive lockdown, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between endurance and creativity; what happens when humans are pushed to their limits. After teaching English in a secondary school for 25 years, I decided that I wanted to write a book of my own. I hid away in my caravan in West Wales, living off tomato soup and marshmallows, to write The IslandThe books on this list represent the full gamut of survival: stripping yourself raw, learning nature’s lore, healing, falling, getting back up again. Ultimately, to read is to escape into story. To read is to survive.

Olivia's book list on to survive desert islands, life, and everything

Olivia Levez Why did Olivia love this book?

I just love this book. Again, it’s set against such an evocative landscape – this time in Western Australia. It tells the story of a tentative love affair between a reckless poacher and the wife of a wealthy landowner – and the inevitable fall-out. There’s even a soundtrack to go with it – Winton’s a musician too.

The writing’s so pitch-perfect that I had to keep stopping to scribble phrases down. It’s that good. Why is it about survival? As well as Luther Fox, the poacher, struggling to get over the tragedy of his past, the last third of the book focuses on his walkabout up north to Coronation Island, where he deliberately shipwrecks himself. Cue the wilderness: scavenging, hunting, sheltering. True, haunting, survival in its rawest sense as he battles to redemption.

By Tim Winton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Georgie Jutland is a mess. At forty, with her career in ruins, she finds herself stranded in White Point with a fisherman she doesn't love and two kids whose dead mother she can never replace. Her days have fallen into domestic tedium and social isolation. Her nights are a blur of vodka and pointless loitering in cyberspace. Leached of all confidence, Georgie has lost her way; she barely recognises herself.

One morning, in the boozy pre-dawn gloom, she looks up from the computer screen to see a shadow lurking on the beach below, and a dangerous new element enters her…

Book cover of Franny and Zooey

Farah Ali Author Of The River, the Town

From my list on growing up in unusual ways.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always loved reading about individuals and the ways they behave in extraordinary or unusual circumstances. Stories that are about a person growing up and coming to an understanding that the world around them is deeply flawed, and that they themselves are patched-up, imperfect creatures, fascinate me. I find myself observing people and the words they say. Those are the kinds of stories I write, about regular people stumbling along and discovering some truths about themselves.

Farah's book list on growing up in unusual ways

Farah Ali Why did Farah love this book?

Franny and Zooey are the two youngest siblings in the Glass family. Originally, “Franny” was published as a short story and “Zooey” as a novella, both of them being published later in one book.

In “Franny”, the protagonist visits her college boyfriend who speaks about his experiences in great detail. But Franny increasingly becomes disenchanted with the ideals of accomplishment he speaks about.

The way “Zooey” opens is memorable: he is reading a letter from his brother Buddy who has written about their eldest brother Seymour’s suicide many years ago. Meanwhile, Franny has entered a state of distress. The book then focuses on Zooey trying to help her.

I love that the story centers around these siblings, living and dead and away, and that despite past tragedies there is hope. 

By J.D. Salinger,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Franny and Zooey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Perhaps the best book by the foremost stylist of his generation" (New York Times), J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey collects two works of fiction about the Glass family originally published in The New Yorker.

"Everything everybody does is so--I don't know--not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and--sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much only in a different way."

A novel in two halves, Franny and Zooey brilliantly captures the emotional strains and traumas of entering adulthood. It…

Book cover of Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

David David Katzman Author Of A Greater Monster

From my list on shattering the conventions of what a novel can be.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a writer, artist, and actor throughout my life, I’ve explored and enjoyed many artistic forms. While I appreciate books across many genres, I elevate to the highest level those works that manage to break conventional boundaries and create something original. In my own work, I have always challenged myself to create something unique with a medium that has never been done before. At the same time, I have sought to discover a process and resulting work that inspires readers’ own creativity and challenges them to expand their imagination. 

David's book list on shattering the conventions of what a novel can be

David David Katzman Why did David love this book?

First published in 1959, Naked Lunch was shocking then, and it still retains its power today. Both in content and structure, Naked Lunch is powerful and wholly original.  In effect, it becomes more than a work of fiction, it becomes an experience. Burroughs invented a technique called the “cut-up method,” where he cut up his coherent storyline into paragraphs, scenes, and even sentences, then reordered them both randomly and editorially. The disorder thematically represents the chaos of existence and the universe, and it also disrupts the reader. Like the book or not, it shakes you into realizing that there are possibilities beyond the conventional.

Burrough’s language is honed to a razor’s edge, and I find that many of the sentences in Naked Lunch burn like fire. The meaning of the title as Burroughs explains it is to bare the naked truth of reality on the end of a fork. From…

By William S. Burroughs Jr., James Grauerholz, Barry Miles

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Naked Lunch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its original publication in Paris in 1959, Naked Lunch has become one of the most important novels of the twentieth century.

Exerting its influence on the relationship of art and obscenity, it is one of the books that redefined not just literature but American culture. For the Burroughs enthusiast and the neophyte, this volume—that contains final-draft typescripts, numerous unpublished contemporaneous writings by Burroughs, his own later introductions to the book, and his essay on psychoactive drugs—is a valuable and fresh experience of a novel that has lost none of its relevance or satirical bite.

Book cover of No Longer Human

Cathi Unsworth Author Of Season of the Witch: The Book of Goth

From Cathi's 12-year-old's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Apprentice magician Flaneûr Charity shop connoisseur Gerryatric Old goth

Cathi's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Plus, Cathi's 12, and 16-year-old's favorite books.

Cathi Unsworth Why did Cathi's 12-year-old love this book?

Through Dazi's description and characterisation of his troubled main character, he perfectly describes the mindset of his alienated protagonist. He makes a believable link between thoughts and actions, and because of this, the book flows nicely and leaves you thinking about it long after you have turned the final page. 

By Osamu Dazai, Donald Keene (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked No Longer Human as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Portraying himself as a failure, the protagonist of Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human narrates a seemingly normal life even while he feels himself incapable of understanding human beings. Oba Yozo's attempts to reconcile himself to the world around him begin in early childhood, continue through high school, where he becomes a "clown" to mask his alienation, and eventually lead to a failed suicide attempt as an adult. Without sentimentality, he records the casual cruelties of life and its fleeting moments of human connection and tenderness.

Book cover of Perdido Street Station

Noah Lemelson Author Of The Sightless City

From my list on fantasy about weird and wonderful cities.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in Los Angeles, I am well familiar with strange, grotesque, illogical, and wonderful cities. My love of fantasy has always been for the odd ones out, less the bucolic farmlands and forest, more for those that present a twisted mirror of modern urban life. As an amateur lover of history, I love to study the evolution, mutation, and decay of cities. I find most interesting cities, in both real life and fantasy, to be those shaped by not one single culture, but by many over history and space.

Noah's book list on fantasy about weird and wonderful cities

Noah Lemelson Why did Noah love this book?

New Crobuzon is a city as weird as its name sounds, inhabited by avian Garuda, cactus-skinned Cactacae, and the scarab beetle-headed Kephri, among many other fantastical creatures.

It’s a grimy city that if you squinted might just look a bit like Victorian-era London, albeit with more frog-people, airships, and statues crafted from harden spit. And at its center, the titular Perdido Street Station, a towering immense skyrail station, too large and labyrinthine to ever map out.

Miéville crafts a fantasy city unlike any other, plagued by government corruption, organized crime, and labor disputes, that makes New Crobuzon feel real and grounded, despite being one of the strangest cities ever put to ink.

By China Miéville,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Perdido Street Station as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the August Derleth award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Perdido Street Station is an imaginative urban fantasy thriller, and the first of China Mieville's novels set in the world of Bas-Lag.

The metropolis of New Crobuzon sprawls at the centre of its own bewildering world. Humans and mutants and arcane races throng the gloom beneath its chimneys, where the rivers are sluggish with unnatural effluent, and factories and foundries pound into the night. For more than a thousand years, the parliament and its brutal militia have ruled over a vast array of workers and artists, spies, magicians,…

Book cover of Outsiders: 22 All-New Stories From the Edge

Paul Carro Author Of The House: A Horror Novel

From my list on horror anthology story standouts.

Why am I passionate about this?

Horror spoke to me early. In fifth grade a teacher submitted my story which landed in an anthology of Maine authors alongside Stephen King. King being a local made writing real. Whether movies or books I could not consume enough of the horror genre. My local bookstore had me (a customer) curate their horror section given my knowledge and depth of reading in the field. Anthologies excited me most with so many authors packed into one volume. I detoured into producing/writing in Hollywood for years in the non-horror field. But now I author books in the genre that means the most to me. I also edit the Little Coffee Shop of Horrors Anthology series.

Paul's book list on horror anthology story standouts

Paul Carro Why did Paul love this book?

Like the title suggests, this anthology is for those on the outside. It is a weird blend of strange works from well-known authors in the industry. I tend to like anthologies such as this because it creates work somewhat out of the norm for the writers. The standout story here is from Tanith Lee. I do not recommend it purely for the story as I do not consider it the best of this bunch. What did strike me was the prose. From her first words the reader knows they are in the hands of a master. It is simply impossible to stop reading once one starts because of the incredible descriptions and tone of the story. It is technically an excerpt from one of her novels but it does wow with the beauty of the words on the page. If someone believes horror cannot be literary they have not read…

By Nancy Holder (editor), Nancy Kilpatrick (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Some of today's leading masters of speculative fiction, dark fantasy, and horror contribute a collection of original tales of the macabre in an anthology that features works by Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z. Brite, Yvonne Navarro, Tanith Lee, John Shirley, Brian Hodge, and Kathe Koja, among others. Original.

Book cover of Love and Other Words

Gia De Cadenet Author Of Not the Plan

From Gia's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Expat Professor Reader Salsa dancer

Gia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Gia De Cadenet Why did Gia love this book?

I loved this book because it was difficult to read. For me, the sign of a good book is one that makes the reader feel, truly feel the characters’ emotions in their own body.

Christina Lauren does a masterful job in this book. There were several moments when I wanted to turn away, to hide my eyes as the characters came to terms with things that had not been said years previous, but that had set them on paths that took them away from each other in the most brutal ways.

I also laughed and cringed with the familiar pains and experiences of adolescence and enjoyed how Lauren and let us live them through others, making the characters our friends on this crazy life path.

By Christina Lauren,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Love and Other Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An uplifting and unforgettable read that will make you fall in love with life again . . .

'You can never go wrong with Christina Lauren!' Paige Toon

'A true joy from start to finish' Kristin Harmel

Macy is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new paediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away.

But when she runs into Elliot - the first and only love of her life - the careful bubble she's constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot…

Book cover of The Lost Child: A Novel

Claire O'Callaghan Author Of Emily Brontë Reappraised

From my list on Brontë sequels, prequels, spin-offs and biographies.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer and academic based at Loughborough University specialising in the lives, works, and afterlives of the Brontës. As a Lecturer in English, I teach and research different aspects of the Brontës writings. Alongside my own biography of Emily, I have published widely on the Brontës, including material on Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Emily Brontë’s poetry, and Charlotte's letters. I have also written about how the Brontës inspire contemporary authors, poets, and screenwriters. As well as rereading the siblings’ novels (I love Charlotte’s Shirley!), I’m fascinated by the many biographies and bio-fictions generated about this great Yorkshire family. I hope you enjoy these recommendations!

Claire's book list on Brontë sequels, prequels, spin-offs and biographies

Claire O'Callaghan Why did Claire love this book?

Caryl Phillips’s The Lost Child is a poignant novel that brings together a rewriting of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights with a reimagining of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, as well as a quick visit to the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth. In a bookended narrative, Philips gives us the backstory of how Heathcliff came to be in Liverpool before being taken to Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw. In the centre, however, is the story of Monica Johnson, a young woman living in Windrush Britain whose marriage to Julius, an African-Caribbean graduate with whom she has two children, causes a fracture with her family. An outcast like Heathcliff, The Lost Child examines Monica’s struggle to raise her sons in the north of England, showing her family’s experience with racism, trauma, and mental ill-health. Philips’s storytelling gets to the heart of what it means to be an outcast in society.

By Caryl Phillips,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

Caryl Phillips's The Lost Child is a sweeping story of orphans and outcasts, haunted by the past and fighting to liberate themselves from it. At its center is Monica Johnson—cut off from her parents after falling in love with a foreigner—and her bitter struggle to raise her sons in the shadow of the wild moors of the north of England. Phillips intertwines her modern narrative with the childhood of one of literature's most enigmatic lost boys, as he deftly conjures young Heathcliff, the anti-hero of Wuthering Heights, and his ragged existence before Mr. Earnshaw…