The Hysterical Realism Reading List (2019)

providence gathering at robert coovers (bradford morrow)

First Wave:

John Barth—Fiction: the Sot-Weed Factor (1960), Giles Goat-Boy (1966), Lost in the Funhouse (1968), LETTERS (1979); Non-fiction: the Friday Book (1984), Further Fridays (1995), Final Fridays (2012)

Robert Coover – The Origin of the Brunists ( 1966), The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968), and The Public Burning (1976)

William Gaddis—The Recognitions (1955), JR (1975), a Frolic of His Own (1994)

William Gass—Fiction: Omensetter’s Luck (1966), Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife (1968), the Tunnel (1995); Non-fiction: Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970), the World Within the Word (1978), Finding a Form: Essays (1997), Test of Time  (2002), a Temple of Texts (2006), Life Sentences (2012)


(William H. Gass)

Joseph McElroy – Fiction: Women and Men (1986),  Night Soul and Other Stories (2011)

Vladimir Nabokov—Lolita (1955), Pale Fire (1962), Speak, Memory (1936-66), Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969)

Thomas Pynchon—V. (1963) , Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), Mason & Dixon (1997), Against The Day (2006)


(A portrait of William Vollmann by Max Whittaker) 

Second Wave:

Roberto Bolaño—the Savage Detectives (1998), 2666 (2004)

Don DeLillo—White Noise (1985), Libra (1988), Underworld (1997)

Junot Diaz—Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008)

David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas (2004), The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2011), and The Bone Clocks (2014)

Richard Powers—Prisoner’s Dilemma (1988), the Gold Bug Variations (1991), Galatea 2.2 (1995), Plowing the Dark (2000), the Echo Maker (2006)

Salman Rushdie—Midnight’s Children (1981), Shame (1983), the Satanic Verses (1988)

George Saunders—Pastoralia (2000), the Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (2005), In Persuasion Nation (2006)

Zadie Smith—White Teeth (2000), On Beauty (2005)

William T. Vollmann—Fiction: the Rainbow Stories (1989), 13 Stories and 13 Epitaphs (1991), Europe Central (2005), Fathers and Crows (1992), the Royal Family (2000); Non-fiction: Rising Up and Rising Down (2003), Poor People (2007), Imperial (2009)

David Foster Wallace—Fiction: Girl with Curious Hair (1989), Infinite Jest (1996), Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999); Non-fiction: a Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), Consider the Lobster (2005)


Third Wave:

Michael Helm – After James (2016)

Adam Levin – The Instructions (2010)

Martin Seay – The Mirror Thief (2016)

Aleksandr Tuvim – The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (2015)

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                         Classic Baggy Monsters/ Encyclopedic Narratives:

Miguel Cervantes—Don Quixote (1605 & 1615)

Charles Dickens (Complete Works)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky—Crime and Punishment (1866), the Brothers Karamazov (1880)

Homer—the Odyssey (8th BCE)

Leo Tolstoy—War and Peace (1869)

Herman Melville—Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (1851)

Francois Rabelais—the Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel (1532-1564)

Marquis de Sade—Justine, of the Misfortune of Virtue (1791), Juliette (1797)

Laurence Stern—the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67)

William Makepeace Thackeray—Vanity Fair: a Novel without a Hero (1848)


Jean Baudrillard—Simulacra and Simulation (1981)

Jeremy Campbell—Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life (1982)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari—Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972), a Thousand Plateaus (1980)

Jacques Derrida—Of Grammatology (1967)

Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett—the Mind’s I:Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul (1981)

Ludwig Wittgenstein—Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), Philosophical Investigations (1953)


(N. Katherine Hayles)

                                           Writing and Literary Aesthetics:

M.H. Abrams—the Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953)

Erich Auerbach—Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1953)

Mikhail Bakhtin—Rabelais and His World: Carnival and Grotesque (1965), the Dialogic Imagination: Chronotope, Heteroglossia (1975), Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics: Polyphony and Unfinalizability (1984)

Wayne C. Booth—the Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), the Company We Keep: an Ethics of Fiction (1988)

Francis Christensen—a New Rhetoric (1967)

Stefano Ercolino – The Maximalist Novel: From Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (2014)

N. Katherine Hayles – Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science (1991), Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science (1990), How We Become Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (1999), and My Mother Was a Computer (2005)

Richard A. Lanham—Style: an Anti-Textbook (1974), Analyzing Prose (1983)

Tom LeClair – The Art of Excess: Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction (1989)

Nick Levey – Maximalism in Contemporary American Literature (2017)

Steven Moore – The Novel: An Alternative History (Beginnings to 1600/ 1600 – 1800)

Franco Moretti – Modern Epic: The World System from Goethe to García Márquez (1996)

Robert Nadeau – Readings from the New Book on Nature: Physics and Metaphysics in the Modern Novel (1981)

Viktor Shklovsky—Theory of Prose (1925),  Energy of Delusion: a Book of Plot (1981)

Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg—the Nature of Narrative (1966)

Henry P. Stapp – Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics (1993)

Peter Stockwell – Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction (2002)

Susan Strehle – Fiction in the Quantum Universe (1992)

Wylie Sypher – Rococo to Cubism in Art and Literature (1960)

Joseph Tabbi – Cognitive Fictions (2002) and Paper Empire: William Gaddis and the World System (2007)

Tzvetan Todorov—the Poetics of Prose (1977)

Katie Wales – A Dictionary of Stylistics (1990)


(Leslie Marmon Silko)   

                                                     Influential Voices:

Jorge Borges (Complete Works)

Mikhail Bulgakov—the Master or the Margarita (published in 1966)

John Dos Passos—the 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), the Big Money (1936)

Thomas King—Green Grass, Running Water (1993)

Milan Kundera—the Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979), the Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), the Art of the Novel (1986)

Matthew Lewis—the Monk (1796)

David Markson—Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988)

Toni Morrison—the Bluest Eyes (1970), Sula (1974), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987)

Alice Munro—Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), the Moons of Jupiter (1982), the Progress of Love (1986), the Love of a Good Woman (1998), Runaway (2004)

Haruki Murakami—the Elephant Vanishes (1993), the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995), Kafka on the Shore (2002), 1Q84 (2011)

Flann O’Brien—At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)

Leslie Marmon Silko—Almanac of the Dead (1991)

Jean Toomer—Cane (1923)

Lance Olsen – (Complete Works) 



William Faulkner – (Complete Works)

James Joyce—Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922)

Franz Kafka (Complete Works)

Marcel Proust—In Search of Lost Time (1913-27)

Gertrude Stein (Complete Works)

Virginia Woolf (Complete Works)

                                          Beat Generation and Friends:

William Burroughs—Naked Lunch (1959), the Soft Machine (1961), Nova Express (1964)

Allen Ginsberg—Howl (1956)

Jack Kerouac—On The Road (1957), Visions of Cody (1960), Doctor Sax (1959)

Ken Kesey—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), Sometimes a Great Notion (1964)

                             OULIPO (Workshop of Potential Literature):

Italo Calvino—Cosmicomics (1965), Invisible Cities (1972), If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979)

George Perec—W or The Memory of Childhood (1975), Life: a User’s Manual (1978)

Raymond Queneau—Exercise of Style (1947)


David Lynch—Films: Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks (1992), Inland Empire (2006)

Zak Smith—Paintings: “Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow

In 2013, I published “The Hysterical Realism Reading List” in an attempt to share what I began to see as body of works that seemed related based on features that included innovative narrative techniques, flamboyant use of style, encyclopedic nature, and massive scale. These books fascinated me because they challenged me as a reader. I often turned to supplemental texts to shapen my understanding of the primary sources as well fiction in general. My academic background is in creative writing and I didn’t have the opportunity to dive into a deep study of the domain of innovative literature. In many ways the secondary sources added to this list have been an academic program of sort, one that allowed me to gain a greater understanding of innovative fiction and stylistics. The inclusion of secondary sources is where you will note the greatest growth of the reading list.

I have used bold to indicate additions to this list. Many of the books were lightning bolts that brilliantly illuminated my mind. My motivation here is to share what excites me and has proven valuable in my reading. I easily could have included every academic book about included authors, but I have decided against doing that. Between academic data bases, search engines, and Amazon—it’s pretty easy to find Steven Moore’s book on William Gaddis. The texts included tend to be those hidden gems that aren’t directly apparent because some algorithm hasn’t made the connection yet.

I have also included a “third wave” of writers that include Adam Levin and Michael Helm. These writers started publishing after 2010 and seem to be influenced by second wave authors—and I’m sure first wave authors as well. This group is also very much tied to hypereducated cis white males from (upper) middle class backgrounds.

Identity politics is the elephant in the room with this list. So much of this genre is by heterosexual white men. I’m going to openly acknowledge it. What originally inspired me to study hysterical realism is how the writers used language to bend the representation of reality, to bend the sentence to a point of almost breaking. These were writers I knew and found in bookstores. I went to what I knew at that time, to those who were celebrated as being innovative—so many of them are white men. While I started there, my goal is to move beyond–not because white is bad or wrong but because there is much, much more.


(Kiini Ibura Salaam) 

I have put a concerted effort into reading widely and reviewing books by innovative authors with diverse backgrounds. Since the original reading list’s publication in 2013, I have written about Erika Wurth, Angela Woodward, Ramón Saizarbitoria, Eloy Urroz, Marie NDiaye, and Lindsey Drager. All are wildly different writers that have taught me about the potential of storytelling. Presses like Dalkey Archive, FC2, Dzanc Press, and Two Lines Press consistently release books that challenge and captivate me. There are also plenty of writers that I have joyously read but haven’t written about, such as Amber Sparks, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Susan Steinberg, Julio Cortázar, Fiona Maazel, and Melanie Rae Thon. While I don’t consider them hysterical realists—they are all innovative writers that I have enjoyed. And there are writers who I have barely had a chance to read, giants of writing like Lidia Yuknavitch, Julián Ríos, Octavia Butler, and Abdourahman A. Waberi. I subscribe to Conjunctions literary magazine in search of new voices and follow writers like John Madera–check out The Big Other— who overwhelm me with reading lists. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Besides my updated reading list, please consider reading texts from the following sources:

Quarterly Conversation,
Daniel Green,
Latin American Literary Canon,
Larry McCaffery’s The 20th Century’s Greatist Hits: 100 English-Language Books of Fiction,
Zinzi Clemmons’ Where is Our Black Avant Garde,
Experimental Women Authors (Wikipedia List).

Below is Lance Olsen’s reading list from The Architecture of Possibility from Guide Dog Books