Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Welcome to Night Vale. Created by Joseph Fink (left in photo) and Jeffrey Cranor in 2012, Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast presented as a radio show set in the fictional town of—you guessed it—Night Vale. It reached the #1 spot on iTunes within a year, thanks to Fink and Cranor’s clever scripts and brilliant world building.
Night Vale is the kind of place where conspiracies are real and all of its resident angels are named Erika. It’s not unusual for someone to discover a house that doesn’t exist or to be invited to join the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God. The town defies explanation, and that’s why millions of listeners love it.
Paste caught up with Fink and Cranor at BookCon last week to discuss their second Night Vale novel, It Devours!, which will be released by Harper Perennial on October 17th. While it’s too early to share details about the book (other than to say that it will keep you laughing from cover to cover), Fink and Cranor did offer a list of titles for fans to read while they wait. Check out their picks below:
1. House Mother Normal by B.S. Johnson
First Line: “Friend (I may call you friend?), these are also our friends.”
Jeffrey Cranor: B.S. Johnson was really obsessed with changing the way the medium of the novel could be communicated to people. So House Mother Normal takes place in an elderly home, and you have the house mother talking to the group of people who are staying in this home. And they’re all of different levels of mental capacity at this point.
It begins with her story as she’s talking to the residents (I forget the number of pages of her story; I think it’s like 27). Then the next chapter is about one of the people in the room, and it’s their thought process while she’s talking. And it’s the same number of pages. Each of the chapters follows another person in the room, and they’re all of different levels of clarity of what’s going on. B.S. Johnson plays with the formatting of words on the page, so there is at least one character who does not have almost any mental function, and the pages are just blank save for a smattering of words throughout. It’s such a cool experiment, and it’s a really brilliant book for people who are interested in how to make the novel do something different.
2. The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
First Line: “My father’s father was a Methodist Minister.”
Jeffrey Cranor: It has nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie; it’s nowhere even close to that. It’s a really wonderful book about a single mother and her extremely intelligent son. I think it’s beautifully written, very funny and really informative. There are whole passages where she’s teaching him Greek, and as you’re reading it, you’re like, “I feel like I know Greek now.” It’s a beautiful and stunning novel.
3. Night Film by Marisha Pessl
First Line: “Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.”
Joseph Fink: This was a huge influence on me when we were writing the first Night Vale novel in terms of writing a book that is less about story and more about exploring a strange world. It’s about a strange cult horror director who lives as a recluse in upstate New York, and his daughter kills herself in New York City. A reporter starts investigating [the suicide], and it turns into this very, very surreal surreal version of New York City. I think it’s such a strange journey, and it really inspired me to use a novel to take people on a journey through a world.
4. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
First Line: “‘Before they allowed your father to be a priest,’ my mother tells me, ‘they made me take a Psychopath Test.’”
Joseph Fink: If this book doesn’t end up on all the top 10 lists and win all of the awards this year, then I just don’t understand the book world. Patricia Lockwood is absolutely the most brilliant writer working today. It’s amazing to me that she’s basically the only poet in America that is famous. There’s a reason for that. I think Priestdaddy is such a funny book, but it’s also such a poetic book. You’re laughing at every sentence, but every sentence is written in a way you couldn’t expect it to have been written.
5. The Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy by Cixin Liu
First Line: “The Red Union had been attacking the headquarters of the April Twenty-eighth Brigade for two days.”
Joseph Fink: It’s a trilogy; there’s The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death’s End. I would recommend it with reservations. For example, his treatment of gender in the book is very flawed. But I also think it is absolutely one of the most brilliant trilogies I have ever read. In a lot of ways, it’s a thriller that’s not about people—it’s about physics. And he manages to make that gripping. By the third novel, he’s given you plot twists that involve quantum physics, and they’re landing the way a plot twist in a thriller lands. Again, they’re not perfect books, but they are unreservedly genius books.
6. Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson
First Line: “Mrs. Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight.”
Jeffrey Cranor: I picked it up a couple of years ago from a small bookstore’s recommendation table, and I read it and thought it was beautiful and quirky. It’s told from points of view of different characters that all have something go missing in their lives suddenly one day. And some of them are pretty direct things, like somebody in a relationship vanishes. But some of them are like a woman wakes up and the entire front of her house is just gone. And another person goes to work and finds out the office building isn’t even there. It’s a convergence of how all of these people deal with those things.