Books, Film, and TV to Inspire Surrealist Writing

A companion reading and watching list to Marie-Helene Bertino's master class

Illustration by Leanne Renee

In my essay, “On Magic,” published today on Electric Literature, I mentioned not being able to find much in the way of resources for work that fell outside of realism during my MFA. Below are some of the works that help me figure out how to write in the surrealist vein. It is meant to be a guide for anyone interested in beginning or enhancing their understanding of the uncanny. Like all lists, it is woefully incomplete, but is meant to be a loose guide to continue reading on the subject.

[Ed. Note: We also invite you to watch Marie-Helene Bertino’s master class on “Disrupting Realism,” with special guests Mira Jacob,  Mitchell S. Jackson,  Kristiana Kahakauwila, Tracy O’Neill, and Helen Phillips. The event is free, and we encourage donations to support Electric Literature’s mission to make literature more relevant, exciting, and inclusive, and to support future programming and articles like this one.]


Screenshot from “Russian Doll” on Netflix

Film/Television:

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (For a few years I taught a class based on this film, one of the most successful reinventions of conventional love stories)
  • Cleo from 5 to 7
  • Reservation Dogs
  • What We Do in the Shadows
  • Russian Doll (Netflix)
  • La Dolce Vita 
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  • Let the Right One In (both versions)
  • Paris is Burning
  • The Love Witch
  • Parasite
  • The Host
  • Beginners (collapsed time)
  • Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone, Season One, Episode One, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”

Books:

Prerequisites: Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel and
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince


Stories:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro, “A Village After Dark”
  • João Guimarães Rosa, “The Third Bank of the River
  • L. Annette Binder, “Nephilim”
  • Toni Morrison, “Recitatif
  • Jim Shepard, “Proto-Scorpions of the Silurian
  • Raymond Carver, “Viewfinder,” “Why Don’t You Dance
  • Kelly Link, “Stone Animals
  • Kristiana Kahakauwila, “Thirty-Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral into a Drinking Game” 
  • William Gass, “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country”
  • Lorrie Moore, “How to Talk to Your Mother”
  • Aimee Bender, “Loser”
  • James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

Non-Fiction:

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