FP Staff Picks: Books That Had Us Shooketh


When the FP staff read Asja Bakić’s MARS, we were all freaked out in the best way possible. These stories showcase a series of unique and twisted universes, where every character is tasked with making sense of their strange reality. In celebration of these "sly, uncommon" stories, the FP team has created a list of the books that, like MARS, left us shaking. Proceed with caution!


by Jeff VanderMeer (FSG)

What’s the book: An expedition team is sent into a place called "Area X" to explore, document, and understand why no one has come back, or why they've come back so . . . changed.

Why you shook: This book is 100% pure dread. I'll never forget being on the subway alone at night and having to fearfully slam the book shut because of VanderMeer's eerie descriptions of an unknown beast wailing in the swampy dark.


And Then There Were None

by Agatha Christie (William Morrow)

What’s the book: In one of the best-selling books of all-time, eight strangers arrive at an island off the coast of Devon. As the eight are killed off one by one, it becomes clear that the murderer must be one of them.

Why you shook: I was thirteen years old and supposed to be sleeping in my aunt's guest bedroom when I began reading And Then There Were None. What was supposed to be an old-timey, fun read before bed turned into a terrified, increasingly paranoid all-nighter as I found myself unable to get out of bed to turn off the light—much less put the book down. Even after multiple readings over the years, I still find this classic to be delightful and Christie's observations about the banality of human evil to be chilling.


A Manual For Cleaning Women

by Lucia Berlin (Picador)

What’s the book: A Manual for Cleaning Women compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. Cleaning ladies, clerical workers, hospital staff, and switchboard operators populate Berlin's stories of the misfortune of everyday life.

Why you shook: I had a very intense reaction to Berlin's stories, especially those depicting alcohol dependence. I was really agitated by her writing and wanted to learn more about her life. When I got to her bio in the back of the book, I learned that we actually have the same name—Lucia Brown—which made me feel even closer to her. The book stayed with me long after many do. Like many Feminist Press authors, Berlin's work went underappreciated during her lifetime not because of the quality of her writing, but because of her gender. It haunts me to think what could have been possible if she'd had the resources and support to create freely.


A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead Books)

What’s the book: A Thousand Splendid Suns relays the story of two women affected by the civil war in Afghanistan and the tyranny of the Taliban as circumstances join them together to become wives of a cruel, misogynistic man who oppresses them alongside the patriarchy and marginalization of women in the society. Justice for women is hard to find during the Taliban tyranny and the radical oppression under false pretenses of Islamic practice.

Why you shook: I had an intense reaction to A Thousand Splendid Suns because the book was my first experience in representation of the oppressions of the patriarchy so deeply rooted in some ancient traditional aspects of Middle Eastern culture and how they affect not only the person directly oppressed, but the people around them. It is also a story that illustrates the effects of war on people. The wild roller-coaster ride—the lies, the abuse, the oppression, and the intimacy—hit close to home when describing the difficulties of a male-dominated society using false pretenses of religion to empower themselves. Themes of marital rape, domestic abuse, and deception make the experience more intense in sadness and anger.


The City & The City

by China Miéville (Macmillan)

What’s the book: The City & The City takes as its setting two fictional European cities—Besźel and Ul Qoma—that occupy the same geographic plane, simultaneously. But citizens of Besźel and citizens of Ul Qoma are not allowed to look at or acknowledge the other city or its inhabitants (that's called "breaching"), so they live their lives by "unseeing" each other. At the novel's outset, a young woman, a resident of Ul Qoma, is found dead in Besźel, igniting an international investigation.

Why you shook: This eerie book kept me up at night. Described as a work of "weird fiction," a subset of speculative fiction, The City & The City uses its recognizable formula (police procedural), and haunting setting, to ask deep and disquieting questions about our contemporary world. What do we choose to see and unsee? What are everyday violences that we don't attend to, or pass by, or are told to ignore? How can very different lives occupy the same space, and never cross? These are questions frequently on my mind as I live in a city like New York, and why Miéville's book has had such an enduring impact on me.



The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin

by Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga)

What’s the book: Le Guin is a master of craft, and cited by many contemporary sci-fi/speculative fiction writers as a major influence. This is a collection of her best short stories, all of which include the best of what makes her work so beloved: explorations of morality, of justice and injustice, of hierarchy and oppression—salient themes that make feminist sci-fi such an enduring genre.

Why you shook: All of these stories are worth a read, but it's Le Guin's story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," that first introduced me to critical thinking back in high school and has stuck close to my side ever since. The two questions at the heart of this short story are simply stated, but the answers are complex: Would you choose to live in paradise if you knew it was predicated on the suffering of another? And, what happens if you refuse?


Her Body and Other Parties, particularly "The Husband Stitch"

by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)

What’s the book: Her Body and Other Parties is the debut collection of fiction writer and essayist Carmen Maria Machado. The stories bend genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. "The Husband Stitch" is about a wife who refuses her husband’s entreaties during their marriage to remove the green ribbon from around her neck.

Why you shook: First of all, "The Husband Stitch" is a retelling of a very messed up children's story called "The Green Ribbon"; that fact alone already had me hooked. But more than that, Machado weaves in nuanced conversation about consent and sexuality that honestly left me speechless. Even though I knew what would happen at the end, I was still holding my breath because of the tension that was slowly built throughout the story, and was relentless by the final scene. Her Body and Other Parties is an incredible collection, but "The Husband Stitch" is one of my all-time favorites.


Parable of the Sower

by Octavia Butler (Seven Stories Press)

What’s the book: Parable of the Sower is Octavia E. Butler's first book in an unfinished science fiction series, which follows Lauren Oya Olamina, a teenager with hyperempathy, or "sharing"—the debilitating ability to feel others' pain and emotions—as she journeys to find safety in a dystopian California plagued by economic and environmental disaster. As Lauren navigates a violent and broken present, she begins to envision and ultimately create the path to a better future.

Why you shook: I read this for the first time when I was young, maybe eleven or twelve. I was a pretty solitary, and frankly inattentive reader, so while the story stuck with me for a long time, I couldn't find the book again. (Yes, I probably could have googled it.) It wasn't until a few years ago, when Butler's eerily prescient descriptions of a fear-mongering presidential candidate brought the book to a new generation of readers that I rediscovered Parable of the Sower, and began to more deeply understand its incredible impact on Afrofuturism and science fiction, as well as on countless authors, artists, and activists. This book has followed me as a reader, and I look forward to coming back to it again in the future to see where it will find me next.


The Naked Woman

by Armonía Somers, translated by Kit Maude (Feminist Press)

What’s the book: On her thirtieth birthday, oddball Rebeca Linke decides to shake up her life with an autodecapitation and a wild, naked romp through a sleepy village that upends norms of gender, sexuality, and civilization.

Why you shook: It's not a metaphor—she really cuts her own head off on page seven, in grisly detail. Ever thought about how your head is "such an important part of the body on top of something as fragile as a neck"? This sensitive reader has . . . and had to take a pause while reading this one so she wouldn't pass out on the C train (again).


Still Alive

by Ruth Kluger (Feminist Press)

What’s the book: Still Alive is a memoir of the pursuit of selfhood against all odds, a fiercely bittersweet coming-of-age story in which the protagonist must learn never to rely on comforting assumptions, but always to seek her own truth.

Why you shook: When I was a teenager, my late mother always told me that her job was not to be my friend but instead to teach me how to survive in a world that often undermines the humanity of Black women and girls. Kluger's memoir about fighting to survive and navigating the complexity of relationships in the midst of the Holocaust helped me to develop a deeper understanding of my mother's trauma under the clutches of Jim Crow.


The Metamorphosis

by Franz Kafka (W. W. Norton)

What’s the book: One day Gregor awakens to find he's been turned into a giant beetle. After this alarming discovery, he must try to adjust to his newfound life as a beetle.

Why you shook: What really shook me up with this book was the question of morality and ultimately one's purpose in life. Gregor is put in a place where he's forced to face who he actually is and what his life means to himself and those around him. I'm personally not a fan of existential crisis, so the book definitely wigs me out. It's hard to stand still and face yourself in a mirror and ask, "Who am I?"


Fates and Furies

by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books)

What’s the book: Fates and Furies is a two-part story of the seemingly normal (but beautiful) marriage between the charismatic and enigmatic dreamer Lotto and his oddly beautiful wife Mathilde, who is the backbone of their relationship. The story spans decades, and bounces around in time from when Mathilde and Lotto are young children, to when they are in college, and then adults.

Why you shook: The way that Groff constructs this story alone is incredible. The first half (Fates) recounts events from the husband's perspective, and the second (Furies) is from the wife's. When writing, Groff purposely, and at the same time subtly, leaves gaping holes in her own plot just so that she can fill them in later with these shocking details about her character's lives. As there are several scenes in the book told through both Lotto and Mathilde's perspective, it is shocking how two people who are so close physically and emotionally could be living such radically different lives. During the second part especially, there were moments when Groff would answer questions that I didn't even know I should have and all I could do was stare at the page with an open mouth and think, “How did I not see this coming?!”


What book would you add to the list? Let us know on twitter!

Lucia Brown