Someone approached me in the elevator the other day and, looking down at my skull and cross bones embroidered shoes, tentatively asked me, “So, you getting in the Halloween spirit?” No, no I’m not. I’m just in the Tuesday spirit; these are just my everyday shoes.
I can’t pinpoint a time in particular that my love of the twisted and unusual took root, I’d have to say I’ve harbored of a love of things that border on outlandish for as long as I can remember. I guess it should have been no wonder that when I was recently perusing my bookcase — my largest of which sits just under the TV and often distracts me from whatever I’m watching — that most of my favorite books spotlight odd creatures.
Things that come out of the darkest parts of the imagination are often, in fact, the thing I remember most vividly about the books I read. Twisting tentacles, mismatched tops and bottoms, gill-breathing carnies and Sasquatch for good measure. Leave it to these oddball beings to paint a layer of whimsy into even the most mundane of stories.
Sure, Halloween is upon us. For those of us with a more fantastical sense of self, there is no better time to read these tales of monsters and men while avoiding grimaces that might come along any other time of the year. Rest assured, if you’re so inclined, these books hold up year round.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Who would be so wild as to harnass the powers of amphetamines, arsenic and radioisotopes to breed a familial exhibit of human oddities — the Binewskis, that’s who. Arturo the Aquaboy (who has flippers for limbs), Iphy and Elly (the Siamese twins), Oly (an albino hunchback) and Chick (who only seems normal) create a fraught and violent family dynamic that will leave you thinking “Maybe my family isn’t so weird after all.”
Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac by Sharma Shields
It all starts when Eli’s mother runs off one day with Mr. Krantz, a full-blown singed-hair-smelling, man-part-waggling, warm-biscuit-eating (don’t make that dirty), mom-stealing Sasquatch. Beyond the Sasquatch, Shields does a masterful job of filling her book with magical realism and well-developed, abnormal creatures in a way that is equal parts shocking and enthralling. Trust me, you will fall in love.
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
The Bone Season is a supernatural dystopian novel set in 2059. Paige Mahoney, a very rare kind of clairvoyant, is captured and all hell breaks loose. Not only does the book have beautiful magic in it but I also found myself totally enthralled by the Raphaite — a tall, otherworldly humanoid race with chartreuse eyes who feed on the aura of clairvoyant.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
When Earth is demolished, Arthur Dent is taken on a wild ride through space alongside a cast of characters including Zaphod Beeblebrox: a two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie, current galactic president. OK, OK — though not technically monsters, how can you not love the aliens in this book?
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin has disappeared in the aftermath of a terrible war with the buggers and in his stead the Speaker for the Dead appeared and revealed the complex story behind the long-fought battle. Years later when a second alien race (humanoid piggies!) has been discovered, found to be frightening and, yet again, humans die, the Speaker for the Dead reappears as the only courageous voice amongst fear-mongering.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Although I’m calling out Goblet of Fire by name, mostly because it has the richest abundance of magical creatures, rest assured any one of the seven HP novels has creatures enough to fill a thousands lifetimes. Do you really need a summary? Ok, Voldemort is after Harry Potter (again) but this time there are blast-ended skrewts, a Sphinx and a maze!
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
King Azaz of Dictionapolist and his brother the Mathemagician of Digitopolis are at war over words and numbers — a war Milo and his tollbooth stumble into unexpectedly. Enter ticking watchdog Tock, Princesses Rhyme and Reason, and a lazy egomanic, life-size bug named, aptly, Humbug who take the wild ride alongside Milo as they all learn what it means to enjoy life.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
This is one of those books that made me fall in love with reading; my mom actually read it aloud to me when it originally came out and I was but a wee-reader. Lyra takes on the mysterious far North with her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, a scholarly and effusive Mrs. Coulter and the polar bear Iorek Byrnison on search for her kidnapped playmate, Roger. What has remained in my imagination vividly over the years are the magical tools rendered by Lyra, how desperately I wanted my own Daemon, the otherworldly characters (including one of my first witch encounters) and the all-encompassing Dust — a perfect world for a girl of any age to lose herself in.