11 Books To Read If You Miss Being a Horrible Goose
A reading list for avian agents of chaos
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I am not a gamer. Not even slightly. I like Katamari Damacy but I’m not very good at it. I played about half of a farming game called Harvest Moon, but once I’d convinced the goth girl to be my bride, I lost interest in running my farm.
Which is why I was as startled as anyone to find my pulse quickening and my eyes transforming into hearts at every mention of Untitled Goose Game.
For those who don’t know: Untitled Goose Game is an indie game from the Australian games company House House. They’re a very small team—there are four main developers, and it looks like fewer than 20 people worked on the game in total. The game does not have a title, it’s simply being called “Untitled Goose Game” because they couldn’t come up with anything they liked better. And it seems to be a massive, massive hit.
The game play is simple. You are a horrible goose. You live in a bucolic English village (the creators said Postman Pat, Wallace and Gromit, and Hot Fuzz were big inspirations) and you wander from garden to café to town square, ruining people’s days by stealing their hats, interrupting their picnics, honking menacingly, and, in one case, trapping a poor scared child in a phone booth.
This is, honestly, the first time in my life I’ve ever bought a game on release day. I have already spent hours playing it. I have spent hours talking about it in multiple Slacks and every group text I’m part of. I’ve retweeted fan art. Everything about the game makes me happy. I am ecstatic to take my goose-love into a new media, and honk about books that will fill that goose-shaped void in your heart.
If You Think the Horrible Goose Needs a Tragic Backstory
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
We all agree that the horrible goose is horrible. Personally, I’m fine with imagining him as some sort of inscrutable chaotic force, like the Nolan/Ledger take on The Joker, but maybe some people need an explanation? A reason that Horrible Goose hates everyone? Well…if you read this classic tale of a baby bird searching for his mother and allow yourself to imagine…what if that was the goose and he never found her? What if he grew up alone, his isolation twisting him into the sort of malcontent who would drop people’s sandwiches into a pond?
If You Just Want to Keep Being a Goose, Dammit
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
There is a long section in Lev Grossman’s 2009 hit novel in which several of the main characters, who are, you know, magicians, transform into geese and fly south for the winter. It’s one of the most affecting sections of the book, as Grossman really gets into the heads of the birds, as the students’ human personalities are subsumed by their new goose-natures. And unlike Horrible Goose, Grossman’s geese can actually fly!
If You Love the Village So Much You Want to Stay…FOREVER
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
In Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks takes us back to 1665, as an outbreak of plague hits the lovely village of Eyam. The villagefolk, terrified of succumbing to illness, decide to quarantine themselves and avoid all contact with the dangerous outside world. The book is narrated by a young widow named Anna Frith, who tries to raise her two boys while working for Eyam’s new, unsure rector as he attempts to provide pastoral care to his panicking flock.
Just pretend that the Bubonic Plague is a Horrible Goose.
If You Love Bucolic English Villages—But You Also Love It When Something Destroys Them
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
At its heart, Untitled Goose Game is a great example of rural folk horror. People are living their lives in a lovely village, safe in the arms of civilization, but not trapped in the isolation and modern terrors of a Big City. They have a community together, and together they will keep the dark at bay. But then a chaotic element of Nature Itself invades their village and reminds them that beneath that veneer of gentility chaos seethes, uncaring.
It’s just that in this case Chaos has taken the form of a Horrible Goose.
So if you like that sort of thing, you might want to read The Loney! Andrew Michael Hurley’s 2016 novel is a great modern horror novel, in which a family goes on a religious pilgrimage into the English countryside, stay in a cozy village, and soon learn that danger and weirdness can lurk beneath the most thatched of roofs.
If You Want Even More Animals to Run Amok in English Villages
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
James Herriot’s classic tale of a village veterinarian has everything you can want: unruly beasts, a cozy village, wacky British people, and a warm, Hobbity love of rural English life. It also has a surprisingly detailed and informative look at changes in veterinary practice over the course of the 20th century…which has nothing to do with the Horrible Goose, but is pretty cool.
If You Wish the Entire Game Was Just Horrible Geese Fighting Each Other
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Idyllic English hamlet! Wacky villagers! Utter bastard-ness! Rowling’s first published work for adults is basically Untitled Goose Game if the entire village were nothing but horrible geese, except the geese are humans, and they all want to make each other as miserable as possible, and it’s darkly funny to read about. All the sandwiches are going in the pond, people!
If You Really Want to Enact Vengeance Upon the Horrible Goose
“The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” by Arthur Conan Doyle
If you’re angry at the goose, want to see a comeuppance of sorts, and like mystery, might I recommend “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”? There is a goose, who comes to a sticky end, but who also features in the resolution of one of Sherlock Holmes’ trickier cases. It’s also the closest Doyle came to giving Holmes a Christmas story? So if you’re looking for a Yuletide mystery that also feeds your goose yearning, this might be perfect.
If You Really Need the Goose to MEAN SOMETHING
Ten White Geese by Gerbrand Bakker
Gerbrand Bakker’s novel is titled De omweg in his native Dutch, The Detour in David Colmer’s British translation, and Ten White Geese in the U.S. edition. The story follows a Dickinson scholar who calls herself Emilie, as she takes up residence in a remote part of Wales after an affair. It’s possible she needs time and solitude to think; it’s possible she’s escaping her husband. What’s definite is that when she moves into the Welsh farm there are ten white geese waddling the property, but one by one, they disappear.
If You Seriously Just Want the Goose to Be a Metaphor
The Wild Geese by Mori Ōgai
For symbolic rather than chaotic goose energy, you might want to try Mori Ōgai’s classic novel The Wild Geese. The book tackles the tumultuous times between Japan’s Edo and Meiji periods, exploring tensions between classes and the gulf between the opportunities for men and women in Japanese society. Young Otama becomes a mistress to a rich man named Suezo in order to buy security for her elderly father. She’s desperately unhappy about the situation, however, and becomes increasingly attached to a promising student, hoping that a marriage with him could lift her into a brighter future.
If You Wish the Horrible Goose Had Also Raided a Library
Petunia by Roger Duvoisin
OK, this is my one moment of sentiment in a goose pond of snark: a billion years ago, when I was in first grade, my school had a convoluted book fair in which you earned tokens for good behavior and then got to spend them at the fair. (So like the Scholastic fair but with an utterly unnecessary moral component? Just let me get to the books, c’mon.) I doubt I earned too many tokens, but I had enough to buy Roger Duvoisin’s Petunia, a book about a vain goose excited to show off her “wisdom” after she finds a book. She can’t read it—she just thinks owning a book confers genius. While this isn’t quite accurate, it certainly spoke to my burgeoning book hoarding tendencies.
If You Want to Expand Into Other Waterfowl
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
I’ll admit that ducks are not geese. I’ll further admit that this book is not even about ducks. However, Ducks, Newburyport rockets us through its narrator’s mind, taking us down a stream of consciousness journey not unlike the creek that winds through the village and empties into the pond that Horrible Goose calls home (or, more likely, “HQ”), and I’m going to posit that the book itself is such an agent of chaos, with its whole “I’m one long sentence and I run for 1,000 pages come at me, bro” deal, that in its very existence it takes on the role of Horrible Goose.