In 2006, author Gillian Flynn burst onto the literary scene with her debut novel Sharp Objects, a small-town murder mystery that received rave reviews and won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award for best thriller. Her followup books, the 2009 NYT bestseller Dark Places and 2012 runaway hit Gone Girl, made Flynn an international sensation, with each novel scoring a film or TV adaptation.
Sharing the books of her life with The Guardian, Flynn spoke on discovering Agatha Christie early, empathizing with The Executioner’s Song, and finding comfort in Hilary Mantel. Exploring themes of violence, vicitimization, and self-destruction that dominate her own work, find Gillian Flynn’s reading list below. Complement with the favorite books of fellow thrill writers Chuck Palahniuk, Dean Koontz, Norman Mailer, Stephen King, and R.L Stine.
Columbine by Dave Cullen
“I’m rereading Columbine by Dave Cullen. In the light of the recent high school shootings here, it felt like a book I should revisit. There are so many shooters who pay homage to those two kids – that’s the incident that started it all. I remember thinking: ‘What an odd and horrible tragedy. I’m glad it’s over; I’m sure that won’t happen again.’ It seemed so completely alien and so strange. The fact that we’re still grappling with it, that there have been so many shootings…making no change at all in Congress, because the [National Rifle Association] owns our country. It makes me want to cry.” -GF
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
“When I was very young – she was the first author that I read from the grown-up section in the library. The realization that every character in that book was evil slowly dawned on my 12-year-old brain. I realized there were different gradations of evil and it blew my mind. I gobbled her up. It made me want to be a mystery writer, the idea that you can be entranced by bad characters.” -GF
The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams
“The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams is one of my all-time favorite books, and she’s one of my favorite writers. Three teenage girls, the desert, the end of the natural world, hilarious ghosts, experimental lab monkeys – it’s a far-out freaky book that’s so beautifully written it’s unbelievable.” -GF
“I read Joyce Carol Oates’s short story ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ at college. I’d never had that experience where my blood changed temperature in my veins. I’ve probably reread it 100 times since then and still can’t figure out how it’s done.” -GF
Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews
“This great potboiler was the book that all junior high and teenage girls read and reread and passed around and hid from their mothers. It’s about a woman – and her four children – who is forced to go to live with her evil, rich mother and hides the kids from her father in the attic because she’s not supposed to have got married. It’s supposed to be for a couple of weeks, but it goes on for a year. [The children] slowly realize their mother is actually having a great time going back into her rich southern society and dating while they are stowed away making paper flowers. I dare you to start reading that book and put it down because the story is constructed so well. I refuse to call it a guilty pleasure because I don’t feel guilty about it. It’s entirely delightful.” -GF
“I remember reading Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song at a pretty young age. It’s about one of the last men who was executed in Utah and Mailer turned it into this beautiful, elegiac story of life and death, love and violence. Gary Gilmore has been in and out of prison all his life and you’re rooting for him to do the right thing. He falls in love and he doesn’t know what to do with that emotion, how to handle a relationship, and he handles it by finally blowing up and killing some people. It changed my mind because I didn’t know you could empathize so much with someone who could make such a cold-blooded and completely wrong decision.” -GF
“It’s hard to make me cry, but the characters in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and A God in Ruins are so real that when bad things happen you ache for them. I cry because it’s so true…Those two books made me laugh out loud, too. She can do both within the space of a page. It would make me insane with jealousy if I had any chance of even being close to being that good, but I don’t so I can just sit back and enjoy it, let it flow over me.” -GF
“A YA novel that stars a young girl named Tabitha-Ruth Wexler who I loved from the beginning. I loved any great little girl who went around kicking everyone in the shins and is underestimated but turns out to be a little bit smarter than everyone else.” -GF
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel