The best surrealism books

9 authors have picked their favorite books about surrealism and why they recommend each book.

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Mount Analogue

By René Daumal,

Book cover of Mount Analogue: A Tale of Non-Euclidean and Symbolically Authentic Mountaineering Adventures

This book is one of my all time favorite reads. Mount Analogue is a short poetic novel. Daumal’s rich descriptions and symbolism engaged my imagination and made me think deeply about the story’s meaning. The author takes readers on a journey to a mystical place with an unusual set of characters and strange circumstances. The story revolves around an adventurous sailing and climbing expedition to a mystical mountain hidden from the world’s inhabitants which is believed to link the earth to a higher sphere of reality. It’s full of intrigue and packed with pithy philosophical statements worth pondering. Daumal’s words and descriptions are so thought-provoking, that I used a quote from this book as the opening to my memoir, If I Live Until Morning.


Who am I?

Jean Muenchrath wrote down her story to heal herself from the trauma of a life-threatening mountaineering accident, an epic survival incident, and decades of chronic pain. She then published her memoir to inspire readers to follow their dreams and to encourage them to overcome whatever challenges their life presents. Before she became an author, Muenchrath was a park ranger with the National Park Service for over thirty years. She’s led trekking tours in Nepal and Thailand and worked in Bhutan with the World Wildlife Fund. Jean enjoys traveling to foreign lands, exploring wild places and sitting quietly in meditation.


I wrote...

If I Live Until Morning, A True Story of Adventure, Tragedy and Transformation

By Jean Muenchrath,

Book cover of If I Live Until Morning, A True Story of Adventure, Tragedy and Transformation

What is my book about?

After skiing more than 200 miles along California's John Muir Trail, Jean faces death from a mountaineering accident on Mount Whitney. Broken and bleeding on the highest peak in the continental United States, she vows to realize her greatest dreams if she lives until morning. Her escape from the Sierra Nevada Mountains turns into an amazing five-day survival story. Jean's recovery is equally daunting. In this outdoor adventure memoir, her three-decade journey takes her from the depths of despair and chronic pain, to the heights of the Himalayas and on travels around the world. When the specter of Mount Whitney continues to shatter her life, Jean befriends Tibetan lamas. Their ancient wisdom guides her on a path beyond her wildest dreams.

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

By Leonora Carrington,

Book cover of The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

Best known as a surrealist painter, Carrington is one of my favourite artists for her strange, half-dreamy figures and other-worldly paintings. Her written work is similarly disturbing: animals that tear their own faces off, monsters, and the dead populate these short but memorable stories. Surrealism can often be wearing in print, but Carrington is a writer who balances the bizarre with the unsettling perfectly.


Who am I?

Like most people, I read lots of different kinds of books, but I am often drawn to novels with unusual themes, structure, or all those things. As a comedy writer, I have always loved surreal writing – the Goon Shows on the radio, or the plays of NF Simpson – and this applies to my taste in literature as well. The unreal, the slightly detuned, anything that suggests this world is not entirely what it seems, or if it is what it seems, then it is an idiot.


I wrote...

All My Colors

By David Quantick,

Book cover of All My Colors

What is my book about?

This is the novel of mine which is the nearest to surreal. It’s about a man who remembers a book that nobody else has heard of and, when he finds he’s desperate for money, writes the book from memory, with horrific consequences. I love books about books, and this was a great deal of fun to write, with everything from Stephen King to Jim Steinman thrown in.

My Most Secret Desire

By Julie Doucet,

Book cover of My Most Secret Desire

This comic is a 1:1 dream story. It has the weirdness and absurdity of dreams. It is about Juliet herself and is an autobiographical classic. And it made me wonder how very personal feelings in your dreams are actually universal. It also has feministic potential, being very honest with all its dreamy gender chaos and strangeness. And it’s funny.


Who am I?

I have been a surrealist since I discovered Salvador Dali and David Lynch at the age of 14. I have been on a path to combine the art world’s depth in style; symbols and metaphors with storytelling. Becoming a comic artist was a natural path and the media is great for expressing the many complex questions in life; what it is to be human and a woman in this world. I have become an artist who revolves around feminism and surrealism, eros and doubt. 


I wrote...

The Clitoris

By Rikke Villadsen,

Book cover of The Clitoris

What is my book about?

A woman has an encounter with a tattooist that leads to a quick and very different pregnancy. This unexpected event leads her on a journey of self-discovery; deep in the flickering world of her subconscious, she discovers many potent symbols, poetic wonders, spiritual guides, and strange visions.

The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism

By Patrick Lepetit,

Book cover of The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism: Origins, Magic, and Secret Societies

This well-researched and in-depth account has been translated from French and discusses the various occult movements which inspired the art and ideas of the surrealists. It covers a diverse range of topics including divination, astrology, myth, voodoo, Gnosticism, freemasonry, alchemy, secret societies, and Celticism and shows how various artists and writers took inspiration from these systems. The book contains a selection of images, copious notes, a substantial bibliography, and a good index making this an indispensable research tool for aspiring scholars of surrealism and the occult.  


Who am I?

My fascination with magic and the occult emerged from growing up in Scotland, which has a long, rich history of witchcraft, fairies, and the 19th century Celtic Revival, which saw a relation between art and magic. For me, the occult is primarily about liberating the imagination and this is what surrealism does. I became enchanted by surrealist art as a teenager which then led me to study History of Art at university. After graduating in 1989, I wrote my book at a time when there was so little available on the relationship between surrealism and occultism, determined to share my passion with other readers. 


I wrote...

Surrealism and the Occult: Shamanism, Magic, Alchemy, and the Birth of an Artistic Movement

By Nadia Choucha,

Book cover of Surrealism and the Occult: Shamanism, Magic, Alchemy, and the Birth of an Artistic Movement

What is my book about?

Surrealism and the Occult is an accessible survey of the occult, magical, and esoteric ideas that influenced artists and writers of the surrealist movement, which began in Paris between the two world wars. The book takes the reader on a journey revealing how and why the occult, an obscure and heretical undercurrent of European culture, became such a strong source of inspiration in the art and poetry of important figures such as Salvador Dalí, André Breton, Max Ernst, and Leonora Carrington, to reveal how these ideas created some of the most intriguing and revolutionary works of art of the twentieth century. 

The Exploits of Engelbrecht

By Maurice Richardson,

Book cover of The Exploits of Engelbrecht

The stories that appear in this book were first published in Lilliput in the 1940s, a British monthly magazine. They relate the perilous, often diabolical activities of the Surrealist Sportsman’s Club, a society devoted to playing games that no one else would dream of attempting. Engelbrecht is a diminutive boxer who fights clocks, zombies, witches, and other assorted horrors and marvels, and he generally wins because of pluck combined with luck. Richardson’s prose style here is a blend of gothic horror, period science fiction, and the wisecracking of Damon Runyan, and the reader can expect no respite from the tumult of ideas, images, situations, jokes, and subversion of clichés.


Who am I?

The world is a strange place and life can feel very weird at times, and I have long had the suspicion that a truly imaginative and inventive comedy has more to say about reality, albeit in an exaggerated and oblique way, than much serious gloomy work. Comedy has a wider range than people often think. It doesn’t have to be sweet, light, and uplifting all the time. It can be dark, unsettling and suspenseful, or profoundly philosophical. It can be political, mystical, paradoxical. There are humorous fantasy novels and short story collections that have been sadly neglected or unjustly forgotten, and I try to recommend those books to readers whenever I can.


I wrote...

My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand

By Rhys Hughes,

Book cover of My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand

What is my book about?

A novella that makes use of playful experimental techniques to tell the strange story of an entertainer who specialises in creating rabbits from shadows. He creates twelve special shadow rabbits who communicate with him via stories and poems that are fully contained works but also interact with each other to form a bigger story. These twelve narratives are set in a frame by another story and it turns out that this framing story is also potentially framed in a much larger cosmos. My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand is a fantasy tale, a romance, and an example of philosophical speculative fiction with a humorous slant.

The Journal of Albion Moonlight

By Kenneth Patchen,

Book cover of The Journal of Albion Moonlight

The fiercely independent spirit of surrealists and other people trying to survive during World War 2 permeates this opulent novel with ghostly quotes and rebellious beliefs.

Laced with angels, forests, dreams, and women, this diary becomes increasingly fraught with questions of obedience, patriotism, dictatorship, and freedom.

Will your own perceptions be radicalized or soothed by this war story?


Who am I?

I am a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. My work, including this book, has taken me to Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, New York, and elsewhere. Fragments of people and their distant voices are the behavior and quotes that inspire. Slices, starting at random moments and ending in bleak locations, fascinate and hypnotize. And transcribing handwritten notes, impressions, and exclusive interviews, create my RocknRolla lyrics.


I wrote...

Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York

By Richard S. Ehrlich,

Book cover of Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. --  Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York

What is my book about?

My exclusive interviews, first-hand descriptions, and news reports, including a Tibetan Sky Funeral of human corpses eaten by vultures. The Dalai Lama hunting for Mao's reincarnation. A Potala Palace monk kills Chinese as a horse-riding insurgent. A Calcutta Dom caste undertaker suffers discrimination. India's "Bandit Queen" Phoolan Devi justifies her revenge killings.


The CIA's Tony "Poe" demands human ears and heads during the war in Laos. James "Mule" Parker, the last CIA officer to evacuate from Vietnam, reveals the CIA paid and quoted non-existent spies. "Bikini Killer" Charles Sobhraj and his girlfriends are also interviewed. American "Jack" Idema in Kabul is convicted of torturing Afghans to "confess" they knew Osama bin Laden's location. Warfare in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka also appear. Michelle describes her and her colleagues exposing themselves in Peepland on 42nd Street.


Sideways Stories from Wayside School

By Louis Sachar, Adam McCauley (illustrator),

Book cover of Sideways Stories from Wayside School

This is a humorous collection of thirty related short stories that intertwine and connect to tell a story of a group of kids and teachers from Wayside School, which was built sideways. All the stories are a bit strange and silly. I love the distinct personality traits of each character and the direct, objective writing style which adds comicality as well as wit to the overall voice and tone of the book.


Who am I?

I admire the way children tell stories—how their imagination veers here and there, how fantasy and reality intertwine, and how magic can happen at any moment. I wrote stories like this when I was a kid and, fortunately, saved many of them. When writing The Kids of Cattywampus Street (my twentieth book), I went through these stories and recreated this narrator’s voice as the 8-year-old me with absurdity and confidence. I wanted to show a range of characters in a diverse world where kids believe in themselves, have the power to use their imagination, can get into and out of trouble on their own accord, are resilient, adaptable, strong, and just plain funny.


I wrote...

The Kids of Cattywampus Street

By Lisa Jahn-Clough, Natalie Andrewson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Kids of Cattywampus Street

What is my book about?

In this delightful chapter book, you'll meet Lionel, Lindalee, Hans, Matteo, Evelyn, Ursula, and others – the kids who live on Cattywampus Street, not far from the Waddlebee Toy Store.

Each of the eleven stories in this magical, mysterious, silly, scary, happy, and sometimes sad chapter book tells an utterly unforgettable tale about one of these kids. Whether it's about Lionel and his magic ball, which knows how to find him after it’s been stolen away; or Charlotta, who shrinks so small that she can fit inside her dollhouse; or Rodney, whose pet rock becomes the envy of all the kids on Cattywampus Street, here are stories sure to charm, captivate, and engage all readers of chapter books and anyone interested in the slightly absurd.

Stories 1,2,3,4

By Eugène Ionesco, Etienne Delessert (illustrator),

Book cover of Stories 1,2,3,4

This is a collection of four related stories that follow a little girl named Josette, her Mama and Papa, and the maid, Jacqueline. Papa tells Josette some absurd stories within the story and everyone has a bizarre and seemingly random imagination. For example, Papa calls cheese a music box, a music box a rug, a rug a lamp, and so on. Mama can open walls. Josette eats the moon, and Jacqueline is one of many Jacquelines. The author, Ionesco was a French-Romanian playwright and considered one of the fathers of “Theatre of the Absurd” in the 1950s and 60s and these stories are surreal. Originally published in the early ’70s, this new edition contains Delassert’s equally surreal, colorful, and expressive illustrations.


Who am I?

I admire the way children tell stories—how their imagination veers here and there, how fantasy and reality intertwine, and how magic can happen at any moment. I wrote stories like this when I was a kid and, fortunately, saved many of them. When writing The Kids of Cattywampus Street (my twentieth book), I went through these stories and recreated this narrator’s voice as the 8-year-old me with absurdity and confidence. I wanted to show a range of characters in a diverse world where kids believe in themselves, have the power to use their imagination, can get into and out of trouble on their own accord, are resilient, adaptable, strong, and just plain funny.


I wrote...

The Kids of Cattywampus Street

By Lisa Jahn-Clough, Natalie Andrewson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Kids of Cattywampus Street

What is my book about?

In this delightful chapter book, you'll meet Lionel, Lindalee, Hans, Matteo, Evelyn, Ursula, and others – the kids who live on Cattywampus Street, not far from the Waddlebee Toy Store.

Each of the eleven stories in this magical, mysterious, silly, scary, happy, and sometimes sad chapter book tells an utterly unforgettable tale about one of these kids. Whether it's about Lionel and his magic ball, which knows how to find him after it’s been stolen away; or Charlotta, who shrinks so small that she can fit inside her dollhouse; or Rodney, whose pet rock becomes the envy of all the kids on Cattywampus Street, here are stories sure to charm, captivate, and engage all readers of chapter books and anyone interested in the slightly absurd.

Goose of Hermogenes

By Ithell Colquhoun,

Book cover of Goose of Hermogenes

Ithell Colquhoun was a surrealist artist, writer, and an initiate of several magical orders. Her unique novel (first published in 1961) has a haunting and visionary quality in the way it blends surrealist imagery and occult symbolism. The hermetic plot symbolizes alchemical processes and transformations and reading it feels like being guided through an oneiric landscape, evoking myths tangled with bodily sensations and fragments of memories.

Not a novel in the usual sense of the word, but a philosophical and poetic meditation on dreams, desires, and the journey through life. This is a lovely edition, illustrated with a selection of Colquhoun’s watercolours which beautifully complement the text.


Who am I?

My fascination with magic and the occult emerged from growing up in Scotland, which has a long, rich history of witchcraft, fairies, and the 19th century Celtic Revival, which saw a relation between art and magic. For me, the occult is primarily about liberating the imagination and this is what surrealism does. I became enchanted by surrealist art as a teenager which then led me to study History of Art at university. After graduating in 1989, I wrote my book at a time when there was so little available on the relationship between surrealism and occultism, determined to share my passion with other readers. 


I wrote...

Surrealism and the Occult: Shamanism, Magic, Alchemy, and the Birth of an Artistic Movement

By Nadia Choucha,

Book cover of Surrealism and the Occult: Shamanism, Magic, Alchemy, and the Birth of an Artistic Movement

What is my book about?

Surrealism and the Occult is an accessible survey of the occult, magical, and esoteric ideas that influenced artists and writers of the surrealist movement, which began in Paris between the two world wars. The book takes the reader on a journey revealing how and why the occult, an obscure and heretical undercurrent of European culture, became such a strong source of inspiration in the art and poetry of important figures such as Salvador Dalí, André Breton, Max Ernst, and Leonora Carrington, to reveal how these ideas created some of the most intriguing and revolutionary works of art of the twentieth century. 

Fever Dream

By Samanta Schweblin, Megan McDowell (translator),

Book cover of Fever Dream

Originally titled Distancia de Rescate (“The Rescue Distance”), this novel which blends contemporary concerns of environmental catastrophe with the magic of psychics and haunted children is truly a feverish reading experience, one which you will devour in a single sitting and need to restart to understand what was real and what was not.


Who am I?

Daniel Loedel is a book editor based in Brooklyn. His first novel, Hades, Argentina, was inspired by his half-sister, who was disappeared in Argentina in 1978 by the military dictatorship. It won the Prix du Premier Roman, was a finalist for the Prix Femina, and was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and VCU Cabell First Novel Award. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, LitHub, Poets & Writers, and other publications.


I wrote...

Hades, Argentina

By Daniel Loedel,

Book cover of Hades, Argentina

What is my book about?

In 1976, Tomás Orilla is a medical student in Buenos Aires, where he has moved in hopes of reuniting with Isabel, a childhood crush. The reckless passion that has long drawn him is leading Isabel ever deeper into the ranks of the insurgency fighting an increasingly oppressive regime. Tomás has always been willing to do anything to prove himself. Yet what exactly is he proving, and at what cost to them both?

It will be years before Tomás is summoned back, now living as Thomas Shore in New York. It isn’t a homecoming that awaits him so much as an odyssey into the past, an encounter with the ghosts that lurk there, and a reckoning with the fatal gap between who he has become and who he once aspired to be.

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