The 9 Best Books That Don’t Exist

Gabe Habash -- January 8th, 2014

It’s time to make you really sad: here are 9 great books…that don’t actually exist. But while the world would certainly be a better place if they did exist (except #4 and probably #1), if you haven’t read the books they’re from, change that right away.

9. Old Custer by Eli Cash (from The Royal Tenenbaums)

One of the best character introductions is the 52 second clip above, in which you meet Cormac McCarthy’s slightly more fun-loving alter ego, Eli Cash. I don’t know if “‘Vámonos, amigos,’ he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight” is the ending of Old Custer, but I do know that I want to find out what happens if you don’t presuppose Custer died at Little Bighorn.

Possession Byatt FatScribe

8. The Garden of Proserpina by Randolph Henry Ash (from Possession by A. S. Byatt)

You could make the argument for any of 30+ fake literary works Byatt weaves into Possession, but it’s 12 lines from Randolph Henry Ash’s The Garden of Proserpina that open the novel, launching one of the great romance-detective stories of the past 30 years.


7. The Father by Benno von Archimboldi (from 2666 by Roberto Bolano)

Archimboldi, one of literature’s best fictional writers, is both prolific and reclusive. With so many of his books to chose from, it’s hard to pick one (full list here), but The Father sounds like the nearest parallel to a creepy Bolano book: it’s about a son remembering the deviant behavior of his psychopathic killer father, complete with (of course) an enigmatic end.


6. The Dynamics of an Asteroid by Professor James Moriarty (from The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Is he not the celebrated author of ‘The Dynamics of an Asteroid,’ a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it?

And so we are introduced to Moriarty’s book, far, far more inaccessible than his “treatise on the binomial theorem.” That book is understood, and is directly responsible for Moriarty getting “the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities.” The contents of Asteroid, on the other hand, are never explained by Doyle, and are so abstruse they can’t even be reviewed by anyone. But because Moriarty wrote it, Doyle readers have spent the past 100 years working themselves up over what’s actually in the book, despite the fact that even if they did happen to find out what was inside, they wouldn’t be able to understand it.

In the real world, we have The Dynamics of an Asteroid. It’s called Finnegans Wake.


5. All the fake books reviewed in A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem

Divided up into 16 reviews of fictitious books, including, mind-bendingly, a review of A Perfect Vacuum itself, A Perfect Vacuum is Lem at his best and most playful. The 16 fake books include: a book written entirely in negations, “a literary erector set,” Sexplosion (“If one is to believe the author–and more and more they tell us to believe the authors of science fiction!–the current surge of sex will become a deluge in the 1980′s.”), and, my personal favorite, Gigamesh, which is to the Gilgamesh legend what Ulysses is to the Odyssey. Lem describes Gigamesh‘s plot as:

The notorious gangster, hired killer, and American soldier (of the time of the last world war) “GI Joe” Maesch, unmasked in his criminal activity by an informer, one N. Kiddy, is to be hanged–by sentence of the military tribunal–in a small town in Norfolk County, where his unit is stationed. The whole action takes thirty-six minutes, the time required to transport the condemned man from his cell to the place of execution. The story ends with the image of the noose, whose black loop, seen against the sky, falls upon the neck of the calmly standing Maesch.


4. The Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazred (from Lovecraft)/The King in Yellow (from The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers)

Ah yes, the book that raises the Old Ones to the world of the living and the play that makes you go crazy if you read it. Really, it’s a toss up which one is more evil. In the Necronomicon, you get creepy passages like this:

Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.

In The King in Yellow, you read a pretty innocuous first act and then, in Act II, there’s an Infinite Jest-like effect of being unable to stop until madness descends.

Together, the two fake books have influenced everything from Evil Dead to Blue Öyster Cult to Friday the 13th to Robert Heinlein.


3. Anything by Kilgore Trout (from various Vonnegut books)

Underappreciated sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout has written over 117 novels and 2,000 short stories. His work is so good that Dwayne Hoover is convinced it’s the word of the Creator of the Universe. In the real actual world, Kilgore Trout has published one book, back in 1975: Venus on the Half-Shell (it was actually written by Philip Jose Farmer, who adapted one of Vonnegut’s passages into a full novel, and then used Trout as a pseudonym), so Trout fans can (sort of) read his stuff.

But just think if books like How You Doin’? and The Era of Hopeful Monsters were real.

the blind assassin

2. The Blind Assassin by Laura Chase (from The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood)

The bridge between Iris Chase’s looking-back and Alex Thomas’s pulpy sci-fi stories, Laura Chase’s The Blind Assassin is both the key to unlocking the mystery of the Chase sisters, as well as the center of Atwood’s multi-level juggling act. Would be fun to see Mary McCarthy dissect this like she did Pale Fire.


1. The Book of Sand (from “The Book of Sand” by Jorge Luis Borges)

“I acquired the book in a town out on the plain in exchange for a handful of rupees and a Bible.” So begins the strange relationship with the mysterious book that has no end.

Though Borges’s narrator begins obsessing over the infinite book, calling it “nightmarish,” you have to admit that if given the chance to own the Book of Sand, you’d say yes 100 times out of 100.

In the real world, The Book of Sand might look something like this.


34 thoughts on “The 9 Best Books That Don’t Exist

  1. FredH

    Some more that were missed:

    The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein (from
    1984, George Orwell).

    The Key to All Mythologies, by Edward Casaubon (from Middlemarch, George Eliot).

    The second book, on comedy, of Aristotle’s Poetics (from The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco).

  2. Nigel G. Mitchell

    It’s a shame Dean Koontz actually wrote “The Book of Counted Sorrows” mentioned in so many of his books. I would have loved to see it on this list. I mean, before it existed, libraries kept getting requests for it.

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