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    A "True Detective" Reading List

    A list of dark, weird, and Southern gothic books that every fan of HBO's True Detective should read.

    Unless you've been watching TV under a rock, you probably know that HBO's dark and gritty True Detective is the best show airing. The series, which may be the most gorgeously shot TV show of all time, follows detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) as they try to solve a case of brutal murders with occult overtones in Louisiana. The show is fairly unique in having only one director (Cary Joji Fukunaga) and one writer (Nic Pizzolatto). This has allowed the show to be more stylistically daring than even other great HBO shows, and has allowed Pizzolatto to infuse his Southern gothic noir narrative with two literary traditions that rarely make it to the mainstream: weird fiction and pessimistic existentialist philosophy.

    Viewers and critics have been puzzling about the strange references to "Carcosa," "the yellow king," and "black stars," as well as Cohle's rambling depressing comments about the horror of existence and the aberration that is humanity. The former are direct references to a book called The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers that was a huge influence on writers like H. P. Lovecraft. The latter are not, as some critics have said, incoherent freshman dorm-room nonsense. Instead, Cohle's comments are infused with a strain of existentialist philosophy that runs from Friedrich Nietzsche to E.M. Cioran to Thomas Ligotti.

    Below, I recommend readings to understand the mythology and philosophy of True Detective, as well as some other works in the Southern gothic, noir, and/or weird fiction vein that fans might enjoy.


    The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

    The Complete Short Stories by Ambrose Bierce

    H. P. Lovecraft: Tales by H. P. Lovecraft

    The Imago Sequence & Other Stories by Laird Barron


    The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti

    The Temptation to Exist by E. M. Cioran

    Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche


    Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

    The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

    Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

    I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down by William Gay

    The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

    Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

    Big Machine by Victor LaValle

    Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

    2666 by Roberto Bolaño

    The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

    Last Days by Brian Evenson

    Child of God by Cormac McCarthy


    Lincoln Michel's fiction appears in Tin House, Electric Literature, Unstuck, NOON, and elsewhere. He is a co-editor of Gigantic magazine and Gigantic Worlds, a forthcoming anthology of science flash fiction. Sometimes he draws authors as monsters. He tweets at @thelincoln.