Mockumentary books, although not an “official” genre, are so fun to read! They take their name from mockumentary films, which present “a fictional story, satire or parody as if it were an actual documentary that discusses real-life events”. You can see mockumentaries mixed with other genres. Most notably horror, with found footage such as The Blair Witch Project, or comedy like The Office. Maybe even a mix of both, like What We Do in the Shadows.
But how does that apply to books? Instead of documentaries, we have nonfiction. So I would say that mockumentary books are those that, while fictitious, mimic nonfiction. Hey, maybe they’ll even have you googling the facts only to discover that the thing never happened at all. I think this has to do mostly with how the story is told. Be it with words, interviews, diary entries, letters, fake documents, and whatnot. Mockumentary books can encompass epistolary novels, historical fiction, ergodic fiction, or even oral histories for example. They just have to mimic nonfiction.
A well-known example could be Max Brook’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Unless a zombie apocalypse just passed through my door, I’m pretty sure it’s not real. But it pretends it is. Which makes it a staple mockumentary book. So with that out of the way, let’s get to some of the best mockumentary books that seem so real you just might believe them.
I found that mockumentary books are most popular in certain genres. So here it goes! One quick note: I’ve found that books in this sub-genre are mostly written by white, male-presenting authors. Let me know if there are any I missed!
Horror Mockumentary Books
Last Days by Adam Nevill
To me, horror mockumentaries are *chef’s kiss*. There’s something so unsettling about them, they make you question, even for the smallest second, if they could be real. Last Days is the story about a documentary maker who’s hired to make a film about a notorious cult and the paranormal rumors that surrounded it. He travels the world visiting famous locations from the cult, and he interviews those who were involved in the case before the cult was massacred in the ’70s. The book has production notes and interviews, and it reads similarly to watching a found footage film!
FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven
This book is presented as an investigation into the horrifying events that happened in the theme park FantasticLand after it was hit by a hurricane. The story follows a group of people who are left isolated inside FantasticLand for weeks after the hurricane hit. When the authorities manage to reach the park and rescue the survivors, they encounter a grisly scene with decapitated heads and bones strewn around the park. The book is told through a series of interviews, and it even has an author’s note at the beginning introducing the tragedy and the main character’s investigative process. With these little details, FantasticLand does a great job of mimicking a nonfiction story.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This is one of the weirdest books I have ever read. It’s a story within a story, about a tattoo artist who finds a dossier of papers that investigate a supposed documentary. The documentary is about a family who moves into a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside (is that a TARDIS I hear?). Strange things happen to the Navidson family, and Will Navidson decides to film it. Zampanò then writes about it, and then Johnny Truant discovers those documents and reads them. Only to have weird things happen to him too. Told through documents, transcripts, and journal entries, it all adds to the sense of otherness and realness of House of Leaves. So much so that you won’t quite be able to tell if it’s fiction or not.
Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar
Chasing the Boogeyman is so well done, it’s almost a shame to spoil it. It reads like a true crime memoir, with the author directly involved in the search of a serial killer on the loose. Kind of like Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Except that it’s all fiction. I’ve seen reviewers on Goodreads say they were shocked that when they researched the case mid-book, they found out it wasn’t real. As far as mockumentary books go, this might be one of the best at mimicking nonfiction.
Zombies of the World by Ross Payton
Last but not least in this category, Zombies of the World is a fake field guide that talks about things like the history, migration, and biology of zombies. It’s written from the standpoint that they have been around for centuries — and that they are more of an endangered species than imaginary creatures. Once you pass the introduction to zombies, it even has a sort of compendium. It details the type of zombie and its characteristics — like the Dancing Zombie on the cover! This is one of those books that mixes horror and humor perfectly in an apparently nonfictional format. Which makes it a great and fun mockumentary read!
Contemporary Mockumentary Books
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
This is one of my favorite books, and if I didn’t know it was fiction I would believe it to be 100% real. It’s written like a medical examination of the main character who, after impersonating the voices of other women, is sent to a psychiatrist by her husband. It even has footnotes with real South Korean studies that lend another layer of credibility to the story. Kim Jiyoung is the portrait of Jiyoung’s painfully common life surrounded by misogynist attitudes. From her childhood, to her time in the workforce and her motherhood, Jiyoung’s behaviour is policed by the male figures around her. Cho’s book is so well done, and so realistic, it’s kind of hard to conceive it as a piece of fiction at all.
S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
This book has two stories inside. While the first one is absolutely fiction, the second one puts the book in this list! The book itself is a story written by an author named V.M. Straka, and it follows a man without a past that ends up in a strange ship. But the second story, the more important one I’d argue, follows two readers who annotate the book — trying to solve its mysteries. They talk back and forth about Straka, leaving notes behind for each other. My favorite example will always be their campus’s map drawn on a napkin! It’s also printed mimicking a library book, with the label on the spine, and the due date on the back endpaper. Those are the little details that make this story a true mockumentary, and add to the perception that you are reading something real instead of fiction.
Historical Mockumentary Books
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
You’re probably already familiar with Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book. It’s quite popular, but did you know it’s a mockumentary book? Told in the style of oral history, it’s the story of how the iconic ’70s rock group “The Six” rose to fame, and eventually split up. Except the band isn’t real. It’s all fiction, but it mimics nonfiction so well you can certainly buy it! Plus, Jenkins Reid’s writing is so atmospheric, she captures the essence of the ’70s perfectly.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Another musical oral history, Opal and Nev follows the famous rock duo’s rise to fame, their tragic breakup and their reunion tour years later. It is similar to Daisy Jones in format and in the fact that it follows musicians. But the similarities end there. The characters are different, and because they are an interracial duo much of their music focuses on racial inequalities too. This book also does a great job tackling difficult topics that are relevant today. The different scenarios it depicts feel so real, they might as well be nonfiction.