Literary Primer to Intersectionality: 11 Essential Texts for Every Feminist

Intersectionality might be a new concept to some, but for most, it’s an essential feminist tenet. Defined as “what happens when forms of discrimination combine, overlap, and intersect,” the term was coined by civil rights activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Since then, the concept of intersectionality and the discourse behind it has become pivotal in centering the experiences of underrepresented women within the feminist movement. It’s become a corrective lens to the limited  scope of mainstream feminism and a way to dispel the shadow of the second wave.

Often spotted on Twitter feeds, t-shirts, and yes, even tote bags, intersectionality hasn’t just become a widely celebrated concept, but a buzzword. In attempts to keep the term from being misinterpreted or misused, we’ve crafted a primer of feminist texts that best illustrate what intersectionality means, whose lives it impacts most, and the reason why you should think twice before using the term flippantly.

The cover of the book How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River CollectiveHow We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, celebrates the pioneering voices of the women whose coalition in the 60s and 70s paved the way for Black feminism and women’s liberation today. Comprised of compelling interviews with Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Demita Frazier, Alicia Garza, and Barbara Ransby, How We Get Free opens with the Combahee River Collective statement which perfectly sets the historical and ideological context of the collective’s goals and legacy for its audience. Each of the women featured in this book are feminists whose work continues to move the voices of Black women and women of color from the margins. A crucial addition to any feminist’s library, How We Get Free is a testament to why we persist.

 

The cover of the book This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of ColorThis Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color

Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa

One of the most quintessential feminist anthologies to date, This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, showcases the voices and stories of women of color with an unflinching boldness. A seminal contribution to the birth of the third wave, This Bridge Called My Back uplifts the narratives of those previously excluded by mainstream feminism. Through poetry, first person accounts, critical essays, and illustrations, writers like Donna Kate Rushin, Mitsuye Yamada, Cheryl Clarke, and Genny Lim share their truths seamlessly. Each of their voices ring out with unwavering strength. This is the sort of book you’ll return to again and again, and each time it will give you hope to continue fighting for justice.

 

The cover of the book Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New MillenniumSisterhood Is Forever: The Women’s Anthology for a New Millennium

Robin Morgan

Like Our Bodies, Ourselves and Feminism is for Everybody, Robin Morgan’s trailblazing anthology Sisterhood is Powerful was an essential contribution to feminism’s second wave. In Sisterhood Is Forever, Robin expands on the countless conversations her 1970 anthology fostered while celebrating solidarity’s capacity to transform communities and foster change. Sisterhood Is Forever, as Morgan writes in her introduction, “gleams with the vision of a New World,” a more just world, a world where equal rights isn’t merely a dream, but a reality. This anthology affirms that “feminism is the politics of the twenty-first century.”

 

The cover of the book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of FreedomTeaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

bell hooks

In her essay “Holding My Sister’s Hand: Feminist Solidarity,” the legendary bell hooks articulates why solidarity is vital with the following illuminating words: “We need to examine why we suddenly lose the capacity to exercise skill and care when we confront one another across race and class issues.” Within this essay and throughout her collection, hooks gives readers the vocabulary and praxis required to subvert the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and move towards freedom. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom is the perfect companion text to Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and is a necessary touchstone for activists of all stripes. Its pages push us to “collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries” and to above all “transgress.”

 

The cover of the book Women, Culture, & PoliticsWomen, Culture, & Politics

Angela Y. Davis

In the introduction to Women, Culture & Politics, the iconic Angela Y. Davis writes, “My… work over the last two decades will have been wonderfully worthwhile if it has indeed insisted in some small measure to awaken and encourage… new activism.” This 1990 collection of essays and speeches—much like the rest of her bibliography—will awaken the activist within every reader and sustain them for years to come. As always, her words shake us from our complacency and force us to examine the way our national and personal politics impede progress. Her insights ring as true today as they did decades ago. She confronts us to reckon with the movement’s failures as a way to ensure its future. She reminds us that “the women’s movement cannot afford to repeat its mistakes of the last century or even of the last decade.”

 

The cover of the book Sister OutsiderSister Outsider

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider is a required text for all readers. Originally published in ’84, Lorde’s collection of essays and speeches examine the ramifications of patriarchal oppression while challenging the violence of systemic issues like homophobia, classism, and racism. Lorde unapologetically asserts her identity and the way who she is—a Black lesbian mother warrior poet—impacts the way she is treated by others. What makes Sister Outsider such a life-altering read is Lorde’s anger, wisdom, and vulnerability throughout the collection. Her words aren’t fenced in, sanitized, or palatable. There’s no hesitation in the way she shares her experiences. Each sentence is truth in the purest sense of the word. If you’ve already read Sister Outsider, make sure to gift a copy of it to a friend.

 

The cover of the book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual RevolutionHeadscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution

Mona Eltahawy

Social justice activist and journalist Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution doesn’t just reveal the dire need for feminism in the Middle East, it reveals the dire need for feminism everywhere. With fiercely impassioned prose, Eltahawy condemns the patriarchy’s detrimental impact on Middle Eastern politics, religion, and culture. She wields her pen like a warrior swinging a double edged sword, cutting through centuries of silence and misogyny to exalt the stories of women like Huda Shaarawi and Doria Shafik alongside the story of her own feminist awakening. As the Gloria E. Anzaldúa epigraph to her book suggests, Eltahawy is a truthsayer. Her words will spark revolution.

 

The cover of the book Women Who Run with the WolvesWomen Who Run with the Wolves

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD

To say that Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype is an essential read is an understatement. This widely celebrated text is a riveting meditation on the folklore, myths, and fairy tales that reveal the intuitive power that women possess. Whether it be the role of healer or divinator, Estés’ examination of the female psyche honors the Wild Woman‘s, and all women’s, need to be free. With the discernment of a seer and the wisdom of a sage,  Estés’ bestseller is a liberating and life affirming feminist tome.

 

The cover of the book Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist StudiesCritically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies

Joanne Barker

Edited by Joanne Barker, Critically Sovereign Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies unearths the impact of colonialism and Western imperialism and feminism’s potential to subvert the patriarchy’s detrimental treatment of Indigenous communities. Each essay uncovers the capacity of feminist ideologies to confront, deconstruct, and heal historic wounds inflicted by the aftermath of colonization. Through a collective of brilliant voices, the essays in this book grapple with the significance of gender, sexuality, and politics with searing wisdom. Critically Sovereign gives readers a reason to hope for a decolonized tomorrow.

 

The cover of the book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much MoreRedefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More

Janet Mock

The debut memoir by New York Times bestseller and award-winning activist Janet Mock recounts her journey towards adulthood and the many lessons she learned while growing up as a trans person of color. With heart wrenching honesty and unflinching courage, Mock recounts the ups and downs that go hand in hand with finding oneself and the moments that taught her how powerful owning the vulnerability of sharing your personal truth can be. She urges readers to ask themselves the same question she reflects upon in the introduction to Redefining Realness: “How do I tell my story authentically without discounting the facets and identities that make me?” Each page offers her audience the answer.

 

The cover of the book Unruly Bodies: Life Writing by Women with DisabilitiesUnruly Bodies: Life Writing by Women with Disabilities

Susannah B. Mintz

In Susannah B. Mintz’s groundbreaking book, the narratives of women with disabilities take center stage. Far too often overlooked within feminist discourse, Unruly Bodies looks at the lives of writers like Eli Clare, Nancy Mairs, Georgina Kleege, and May Sarton in order to reveal why it is important for the truths of all bodies to be not just celebrated, but documented on the written page. Unruly Bodies proves the importance of “texts [that] ‘talk back’ to dominant cultural paradigms” and the power that can be found in their ability to “work to validate unrecognized categories of identity and experience.” If you consider yourself a feminist, this book should be on your shelf.

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Did you know?

5 Fun Facts About Libraries

The Oldest Public Library: The Bibliotheque de Paris (Library of Paris), combined with the National Library of France, is the oldest continually running public library. It dates back to 1368 (which makes this year its 650th anniversary!) when it was housed at the Louvre. It has moved multiple times over the past several hundred year, into ever newer and larger accommodations.

Image result for library of congressThe Largest Library: The Library of Congress in Washington D.C., with more than 158 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves, is the largest library in the world. The library’s collection includes more than 36 million books and other print materials, 3.5 million recordings, 13.7 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 6.7 million pieces of sheet music and 69 million manuscripts.

The Highest Library: According to Guinness World Records, the highest library in the world is on the 60th floor (757′ 6″ above street level) of the JW Marriott Hotel at Tomorrow Square in Shanghai, China. Membership is available to the public and the 103 shelves in the library contain an ever-expanding collection of Chinese and English books. To walk to the library from the hotel lobby would mean climbing around 1,435 steps.

Image result for library of alexandriaThe First Librarian:  The first librarian, or at least the first one we know about for sure (please forgive the uncertainty, he lived 2,300 years ago), was Zenodotus of Ephesus. He was a Greek grammarian, pupil of Philitas of Cos, literary critic, and Homeric scholar. All of that must have impressed someone because he was made the first official librarian of the Library of Alexandria towards the end of King Ptolemy I’s reign, somewhere around 280 BC.

We’re Everywhere: Think of something ubiquitous, a store or restaurant that you can pretty much count on encountering everywhere you go but the most remote and out of the way places. What’d you come up with? Walgreens? Starbucks? McDonalds? No matter what you thought of, there are probably more public libraries in the U.S. There are a total of 17,566 public library locations, including branches, across the country. And you are welcome at all of them.

 

 

Guides for Better Living From Around the World

Nishant Choksi

Right now, I’m a bit embarrassed to be an American. Not usually. But now. If I see a tourist on the street looking lost, it’s all I can do not to blurt, “I’m sorry about what our president said today and will say tomorrow,” along with directions to the No. 6 train.

I must have a lot of company. How else to explain the staggering pile of self-help books where Americans are offered the path to a better life via the rituals and outlook of other countries? Last year there were lessons in happiness and well-being, via hygge from Denmark. And this year? Japan is teaching us to seize the day (humbly). Sweden is showing us how to find balance and simplify our lives. And France is showing us, well, everything else. Naturellement. Just because they invented Camembert and guilt-free sex, they think they’re soooo perfect.

A FRENCHWOMAN’S GUIDE TO SEX AFTER SIXTY, by the psychotherapist Marie de Hennezel, immediately catches your attention because the cover shows a woman of a certain age glancing coquettishly over the bedsheets. But that age isn’t 40. It’s perhaps 75. So this isn’t the American version of old; it’s the French version, which is to say: old. And that’s what makes this volume uniquely French: It’s deeply un-American in its realism. Aches and pains, medications that reduce libido, a diminution of hormones that mean friction is tougher on our naughty bits and of course the occasional urge to cover all the mirrors in the house: Aging ain’t pretty, Hennezel admits. Yet for many of us, Eros lives, and Eros wants its due. What’s called for, then, is a revolution in the way we look at sexuality: a de-emphasis on orgasms in favor of kissing and caressing, more solo play to connect with our erotic selves and “making affection” as an alternative to making love. Feeling good through exercise and a healthy diet is paramount; looking younger through plastic surgery is mentioned not at all. Reading the stories of septuagenarians and octogenarians who are finding love or intimacy or sometimes just sex, one is reminded that the very French concept of joie de vivre — a sense of joy that comes from curiosity and playfulness, from looking outward instead of inward — is its own form of Botox.

This joie is very much at the heart of Jamie Cat Callan’s lively PARISIAN CHARM SCHOOL: French Secrets for Cultivating Love, Joy and That Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi. Maybe “Parisian Charm School” seems so thorough because Callan, who has written several previous books on various aspects of French life, is an American; she approaches her subject with anthropological rigor. Here that subject is French charm, which is some combination of intellectual curiosity, spontaneity, style and a soupçon of reserve. Charm, she points out, can’t be Googled; it must be cultivated. Yet, at its heart, it’s a tangle of contradictions. As a fashion consultant Callan interviewed put it, “Never be too feminine, too girlie. Never be too complicated. Too obvious. Never look like you’re trying. But you must try!” Being French seems kind of exhausting. Still, we clumsy Americans can worship at this shrine and maybe pick up a few tricks. Who, after all, doesn’t want to be like the woman in this line Callan quotes from Colette: “When she raises her eyelids, it’s as if she were taking off all her clothes.”

Perhaps Sweden was a little jealous of all the lifestyle-giving attention its Danish neighbor received, so this year brings us Linnea Dunne’s LAGOM: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living. Loosely translated, lagom means “not too little, not too much, but just enough,” making Sweden the Goldilocks of nations, one that earned an article on the website of the World Economic Forum called “Why Sweden Beats Other Countries at Just About Everything.” The reason, it seems, is that Sweden makes the concept of “the greater good” practically into a religion. You start with free education and universal health care and end with great pastry (and the regular coffee breaks — fika — to enjoy it). Fairness and moderation are basic cultural values: “Lagom is accepting an invitation to spend the weekend at a friend’s house, but bringing your own bedsheets because it’s fair to share the burden of laundry. … It’s wearing bright-red lipstick, but leaving the rest of your makeup perfectly understated.” There’s a reason Gianni Versace founded his luxury fashion empire in Italy and H & M was born in Sweden: “There’s this inherent celebrating of frugality in Sweden. We like affordable clothes because it’s a bit vulgar to splash out.”

If anything sums up the gestalt of this book — and Sweden — it’s this: Swedes are rated among the world’s top 10 happiest people, but not the happiest. That would be excessive. The aim isn’t ecstasy but “sustainable happiness,” the sort of equilibrium that’s achieved through small moments of calm and bliss in your everyday routine. So, to live the lagom way, invite your friends round for fika, spend time in nature, give away items that don’t add to your pleasure in life — and, most important, help a neighbor.

The primacy of the common good extends to everything in Sweden, including shuffling off this mortal coil. Reading THE GENTLE ART OF SWEDISH DEATH CLEANING: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter, I couldn’t help thinking of my own parents, who were mild hoarders. When they were in their 80s and I meekly suggested that maybe they should get their home in order, my father’s response was: “Why? Soon it’ll be your problem.”

Margareta Magnusson is writing for people with families like mine — and maybe yours. Americans are just too much, she gently suggests. Swedes embrace consideration and minimalism, and the practice of “death cleaning” (which can start in your 30s — why wait?) embodies those values. “Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice — instead of awful,” she says, and proceeds to do just that in this short, practical guide to getting rid of stuff. You categorize, normally going from large objects to small; you give things away or sell them, particularly if you have a family you know is going to bicker. And you never, ever start with photos or other items of great sentiment because you’re likely to get stuck. And oh, how right Magnusson is. After my parents passed away, my own death cleaning consisted of looking at old photos, then immediately giving up — taking everything they owned and putting it into a massive storage unit that has sucked up money for seven years. I may have to reread her book.

In Japanese, iki means “to live” and gai means “reason” — in other words, the reason to live and how you define it. Ken Mogi begins AWAKENING YOUR IKIGAI: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day with a story meant to illustrate the importance of this concept to the Japanese. He describes a famed sushi chef whose Tokyo restaurant is visited by President Barack Obama during a state visit and who is told by the president that his sushi was the best he had ever eaten. No big deal. “Ikigai resides in the realm of small things,” Mogi explains. “The morning air, the cup of coffee, the ray of sunshine, the massaging of octopus meat and the American president’s praise are on equal footing.”

Not really! Can I skip No. 4?

Mogi, a celebrity neuroscientist and broadcaster who has written more than 100 books, describes the five pillars of the ikigai way of life: “starting small,” “releasing yourself,” “harmony and sustainability,” “the joy of small things” and “being in the here and now” (what we might call “mindfulness”). And he demonstrates how some of the rituals most important to Japanese culture, from the tea ceremony to sumo wrestling, are based on these tenets. I admit that certain principles he espouses utterly baffled this Westerner, particularly the notion that in Japan finding purpose and joy in work, even work that requires great individuality and creativity, comes from a sublimation of the ego. He cites the example of the great anime artist Hayao Miyazaki, whose work is so repetitive and painstaking. Wait, if we all know who he is, how is he subsuming his ego? In work, Mochi explains, you have to be like a child, because “a child has no definite idea of the past or the future.” Seriously? Tell that to a 5-year-old screaming, “When will we get there?” in the back seat of a car because “there” involves ice cream.

I’m not sure if I could live in Japan for more than a week, what with all the appreciating of teeny porcelain objects and self-abnegation, but “Awakening Your Ikigai” is really quite a delightful look at sometimes mystifying Japanese traditions. (Spoiler alert: There’s a lot more to sumo wrestling than chubby dudes with man buns and diapers.) I can’t resist noting that in 2009, Mogi was charged with violation of Japanese tax laws for failing to report several million dollars in income. See? I guess America does have something to teach the citizens of other nations.

By Judith Newman, Jan. 23, 2018, first appearing in NYT > Books

Editor’s Note:

Judith Newman’s “To Siri With Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son and the Kindness of Machines” was published in August. Her column appears every eight weeks.

Happy Father’s Day!

What can we say about dads?

It is hard to sum it all up, so we’ll take the easy way out and let other people try. 

Here are 15 quotes from books and authors about fathers.

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

—Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

“He promised us that everything would be okay. I was a child, but I knew that everything would not be okay. That did not make my father a liar. It made him my father.”

—Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

 

“There’s no shame in fear, my father told me, what matters is how we face it.”

―George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

 

“[…] never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.”

—Jane Austen, Emma

 

“… out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, [he] adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.”

—Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities

 

Tie“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

—Mark Twain

 

“Perhaps that is what it means to be a father – to teach your child to live without you.”

—Nicole Krauss

 

“He was a father. That’s what a father does. Eases the burdens of those he loves. Saves the ones he loves from painful last images that might endure for a lifetime.”

—George Saunders, Tenth of December

 

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

—Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

 

“A father is the one friend upon whom we can always rely. In the hour of need, when all else fails, we remember him upon whose knees we sat when children, and who soothed our sorrows; and even though he may be unable to assist us, his mere presence serves to comfort and strengthen us.”

—Émile Gaboriau, File No. 113

 

Dad Mug“Listen, there is no way any true man is going to let children live around him in his home and not discipline and teach, fight and mold them until they know all he knows. His goal is to make them better than he is.”

― Victor Devlin

 

“Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father.”

― Lydia Maria Francis Child

 

“At sixteen, you still think you can escape from your father. You aren’t listening to his voice speaking through your mouth, you don’t see how your gestures already mirror his; you don’t see him in the way you hold your body, in the way you sign your name. You don’t hear his whisper in your blood.”

― Salman Rushdie, East, West

 

“Being a dad is quite rewarding and even magical at times. It is our greatest chance to do something right in our lives that will keep making the world a brighter place even generations after we are gone.”

― Timothy Pina, Bullying Ben: How Benjamin Franklin Overcame Bullying

 

“[My father] taught me that there is no shame in breaking something, only in not being able to fix it.”

― Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

10 Horror Books That Prove War is Hell

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Writing horror fiction that revolves around war can be a difficult task. It doesn’t matter if you’re telling a story centered around warfare itself, situated on its edges, or examining its aftermath: when you’re dealing with real events that have taken countless lives and affected even more, finding the right way to show awareness of the human cost of these events is crucial.

When done well, the addition of horrific elements into stories of warfare can accentuate certain themes, and can magnify the most chilling aspects of war. Here’s a look at ten works of fiction that add a dose of the supernatural into real-life horrors, creating something that blends the visceral power of history with the terror of the uncanny.

The cover of the book Frankenstein in BaghdadFrankenstein in Baghdad

Ahmed Saadawi

As its title suggests, Ahmed Saadawi’s novel is set in the city of Baghdad. The year is 2005: American troops occupy the city, suicide bombings punctuate the landscape, and the abuses of the Baathist regime still haunt the memories of many. Into this landscape steps an ominous figure: a man created from the bodies of the dead, who seeks revenge on those who murdered the people whose limbs and organs now comprise him. As he replaces bits of himself, though, his quest for revenge grows murkier, leading the narrative into a complex and haunting place.

 

The cover of the book Blood CrimeBlood Crime

Sebastia Alzamora

The Spanish Civil War has been the backdrop for many tales of the supernatural: Guillermo del Toro’s acclaimed films “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” both come to mind. Sebastià Alzamora’s novel Blood Crime sets up a morally tense situation from the outset, with different factions circling one another in a besieged town. The presence of a vampire lurking in the shadows ups the tension further, as the narrative moves from the surrealism of war to something akin to a nightmare.

 

The cover of the book She Said DestroyShe Said Destroy

Nadia Bulkin

The aftereffects of war and political unrest abound in the stories contained in Nadia Bulkin’s collection She Said Destroy. Key among them is “Intertropical Convergence Zone,” which draws its inspiration from the thirty-plus years when Hajji Suharto was President of Indonesia. The political crackdowns and repression that characterized his regime are, in this story, turned into something more surreal and ominous — and yet the weight of history gives it an increased power as well.

 

The cover of the book KokoKoko

Peter Straub

Some of Peter Straub’s most unnerving fiction takes readers far into the uncanny; others focus on a more human variety of monster. In Koko, the aftermath of the Vietnam War provides the backdrop for a harrowing story of memory and murder. Its central characters are a group of American veterans, reunited by the horrific actions taken by someone with whom they served. What emerges is a winding tale of shifting identities and secret histories, an unsettling novel with a sprawling scope.

 

The cover of the book The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous GeographiesThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies

John Langan

The title story of this collection from John Langan blends a host of elements: a story of several friends being stalked by a sinister supernatural figure, with a science-fictional spin on a familiar figure from horror literature thrown in. The fact that this story centers around a group of veterans with PTSD, and that it thematically lines up with its larger themes of perception and violence, gives it an even greater weight.

 

The cover of the book DeathlessDeathless

Catherynne M. Valenti

There’s no shortage of conflict when looking at the history of Russia in the 20th century. In her novel Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente gives this history a supernatural spin, incorporating elements of Russian folklore that accentuate the sinister aspects of totalitarianism under Stalin. Think omnipresent ever-watching beings, immortal entities making sinister bargains, and the moral bargains ordinary people make in order to survive. Here, the presence of the otherworldly is far from escapist.

 

The cover of the book Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red BaronAnno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron

Kim Newman

The Bloody Red Baron is one of several novels by Kim Newman set in an alternate timeline blending history from the 19th century onward with characters from the literature of the period. (The title of the first of these, Anno Dracula, might give you a sense of who’s at the center of this.) The Bloody Red Baron reimagines the First World War, leaving the very human horrors in place but adding in a layer of disquieting supernatural menace.

 

The cover of the book Black Mad WheelBlack Mad Wheel

Josh Malerman

The middle of the 20th century found the United States military involved in a number of actions overseas, from combat to covert operations. The novel Black Mad Wheel involves a small group of musicians summoned by the military to investigate a strange sound in the desert. What ensues is an unsettling story about the nature of time and the unanticipated perils of conflict.

 

The cover of the book When the World WoundsWhen the World Wounds

Kiini Ibura Salaam

Conflicts abound in the stories found within Kiini Ibura Salaam’s collection When the World Wounds, from tales of aliens clashing with the rules of their society to a surreal account of post-Katrina New Orleans. Among the most gripping works in the collection is “Hemmie’s Calenture,” about a woman who escapes from slavery only to find herself caught up in a long-running supernatural conflict set against the backdrop of the War of 1812. Here, questions of power and the human cost of warfare remain in the forefront of the narrative.

 

The cover of the book The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us AllThe Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

Laird Barron

Laird Barron’s forays into horror rarely shy away from the phantasmagorical or the ominous, but he simultaneously never loses sight of the human scale at which these works play out. That blend of psychological veracity and imaginative terrors makes for deeply compelling reading. The protagonist of the story “The Men From Porlock” has seen unspeakable things in Europe during the First World War; after returning back to the United States, he finds himself witnessing uncanny echoes of that time and glimpses of the impossible.

So You Want to Read Literary Horror: Here’s Where to Start

Horror, as a genre, has a tendency to get a bit of a bad rap outside of its rather ardent fan base, despite the fact that more than a few literary icons made their bones on the backs of some truly spine-tingling tales (Ray Bradbury, anyone?). There has long been a strong relationship between literary fiction and the horror genre – the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde can attest to that. While violence and gore and things that more traditionally go bump in the night certainly have their place, so too do well-crafted sentences and deeper philosophical underpinnings. Over the last decade or so, there has somewhat quietly been a resurgence in literary horror as immensely talented writers pick up the genre trappings of horror, tear them apart and fuse them back together into wholly original and truly unsettling creations. Writers like China Mieville, Brian Evenson, and Jeff VanderMeer are following the footsteps of Bradbury, Peter Straub, and Shirley Jackson and creating some stunningly imaginative and extraordinarily unsettling prose. Here are a few of our (relatively) recent favorites.

The cover of the book House of LeavesHouse of Leaves

MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI

If you haven’t read House of Leaves, go grab a copy now. We’re happy to wait, it’s just that good. I’m pretty confident saying this literary head-spinner is unlike any other novel you’ve read. Part epistolary novel, part haunted house thriller, with a bit of weird fiction thrown in for good measure – House of Leaves is a difficult book to pin down or describe. It’s a narrative as twisting (literally) and expansive as the house it chronicles.

 

The cover of the book White is for WitchingWhite is for Witching

HELEN OYEYEMI

The fairy tale form is built on a dark undercurrent that, in many ways, is the perfect foundation for horror. That’s something that Helen Oyeyemi illustrates with terrifying brilliance in White is for Witching. The story centers on the Silver family, specifically the four generations of Silver women who have lived in the family home. When her mother passes, Lily, the latest in the family line, begins experiencing strange ailments and soon the Silver house itself begins to manifest malevolent intent. It is at once a dread-inducing mystery and powerful examination of race and family legacy.

 

The cover of the book The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char

SCOTT HAWKINS

Literary horror is at its best when writers play with readers’ expectations to create something that is at once familiar enough but also wildly original. Scott Hawkins draws from a wide range of influences for The Library at Mount Char – there are hints of Gaiman, a bit of Lovecraft, a little King. Hawkins takes inspiration before proceeding to tear it all to shreds and glue the pieces back together into something truly original, grotesque, and oddly beautiful.

 

The cover of the book A Head Full of GhostsA Head Full of Ghosts

PAUL TREMBLAY

A Head Full of Ghosts owes a nod to The Haunting of Hill House and The Exorcist for its slow-burn, constantly-shifting narrative. The novel centers on a suburban New England family coming to grips with a fourteen year old daughter who’s suddenly showing signs of schizophrenia – or so they hope. What follows is a novel that riffs on unreliable narration, reality TV, and familial tragedies in ways that are both unexpected and truly unsettling.

 

The cover of the book The Little StrangerThe Little Stranger

SARAH WATERS

With The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters reinvigorated Gothic fiction in a way that would’ve made Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe proud. Part haunted house horror, part unreliable narration, and part social critique, The Little Stranger is a deeply unsettling descent into madness and dread within the walls of a crumbling Georgian Mansion where a malevolent presence may or may not be lurking.

 

The cover of the book Mr. ShiversMr. Shivers

ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT

Mr. Shivers reads like the literary love child of China Mieville and John Steinbeck. It’s The Grapes of Wrath by way of Lovecraft. Bennett’s tale of a father on the trail of the possibly otherworldly killer who murdered his daughter is a slow-burn piece of dread-fueled Americana. Robert Jackson Bennett has quietly positioned himself as one of the more talented voices in the New Weird genre, and Mr. Shivers remains among his best work.

 

The cover of the book The HikeThe Hike

DREW MAGARY

Weird fiction and literary horror have long been comfortable bedfellows, and novels don’t get much weirder than Drew Magary’s The Hike. In this tale of a hike in rural Pennsylvania gone terribly wrong, Magary manages to infuse his pop culture references and classic folklore tropes with a nearly suffocating sense of existential dread.

 

The cover of the book DarkansasDarkansas

JARRET MIDDLETON

Jarret Middleton’s Darkansas is a novel that begins as an examination of familial strife and quickly progresses to one of preternatural dangers lurking just beyond the page and a century-old curse at its center. The story centers on itinerant musician who is his family’s black sheep. Unfortunately, any hope of reconciliation may have been doomed decades before he was born. It’s a dark, twisting page-turner with hints of Southern gothic lurking around the corners of its horror tinged sense of dread and juxtaposes its gritty reality against a mounting sense of surrealistic terror.

 

The cover of the book ThreatsThreats

AMELIA GRAY

“CURL UP ON MY LAP. LET ME BRUSH YOUR HAIR WITH MY FINGERS. I AM SINGING YOU A LULLABY. I AM TESTING FOR STRUCTURAL WEAKNESS IN YOUR SKULL.” Imagine you’ve just lost your spouse and you suddenly begin finding messages like those above hidden throughout your home: that’s the disturbing premise for Amelia Gray’s wholly unnerving examination of death, grief, and memory. The novel follows David, a man attempting to unravel the mystery of his wife’s death against his increasingly unreliable recollections and a world that no longer makes sense.

 

The cover of the book A Collapse of HorsesA Collapse of Horses

BRIAN EVENSON

Brian Evenson is the sort of writer who simply knows how to get under a reader’s skin. A Collapse of Horses is a short story collection that grapples with some big existential questions on reality and perception while simultaneously veering into the sort of grotesquerie that will leave you haunted long after you finish the last tale.