The celebrated novelist recommends books with disturbing photos and eerie film stills, stories of Icelandic outlaws, drug-dealing surfers, and murdered teen campers
The Saga of Grettir the Strong (Wildside, $15). The last of the Icelandic sagas, featuring European literature’s first great anti-hero, an outlaw living in Iceland’s wilderness. This ancient story has it all — wicked humor, battles with a shadowy supernatural entity, and a ferociously uncompromising, startlingly modern protagonist.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg (Delta, $16). W.H. Auden believed that north is “the direction for adventures,” an observation brought to life in a terrifyingly literal sense by Hoeg’s Smilla, a woman whose obsessive hunt to understand and avenge the mysterious death of a boy in Copenhagen leads her through a nightmarish, bleakly beautiful Nordic landscape.
Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn (out of print). A seminal punk-noir cult novel built around Huntington Beach, Calif.’s 1980s surf scene. Young Ike Tucker arrives from a desert town seeking to learn why his older sister disappeared after becoming involved with a group of drug-dealing surfers. The book includes an amazing cast of supporting characters.
Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman (Picador, $18). A teenage couple on a camping trip are found stabbed to death in their tent in the Swedish countryside. Years later, the truth behind both their deaths and the denizens of Starhill, a commune, gradually unfolds in a series of spare, beautifully written scenes. Ekman’s exceptionally complex novel is the rare thriller that rewards rereading.
The Complete Untitled Film Stills by Cindy Sherman (Museum of Modern Art, $45). This is Sherman’s groundbreaking sequence of black-and-white self-portraits, in which the photographer summons a pantheon of iconic, original female characters from some alternate cinematic universe. The images are at once dreamy, eerie, and enigmatic.
Pictures by Robert Mapplethorpe (out of print). Still shocking, still gorgeous: These are the black-and-white images that cemented Mapplethorpe’s underground reputation and now occupy a place among the greatest art of the 20th century. Each one is disturbing, revelatory, and timeless.