10 Meta Novels That Heavily Lean on the Fourth Wall
One of the coolest things about books is how you can play around with their formats. Whether you're writing a book in letter form or simply experimenting with an out-of-the-box novel format, it all just reminds you that books are a celebration of writing in general. Do you remember a beautifully constructed phrase that you can't get out of your head? Do you recall the feel of a page? Or the awesome feeling of being completely immersed in a book? That's the wonder and delight that reading can bring, and every book (well, the well-written ones anyway) have the ability to transport us there.
Then there are the special books — the ones that lean on that fourth wall so hard that it cracks. These books celebrate structure, authorship, and words in general. How cool is that? It's like a song about singing a song, a movie about making a movie, art about making art. It's incredible. To celebrate the meta books of the world, I've compiled a list of 10 novels that are so meta your head will be tied in knots. Whether it's commenting on genre, structure, dialogue, or reading in general, your mind is seriously going to blow!
1. That Is All by John Hodgman
Back in 2005, John Hodgman published his first book of complete world knowledge known as The Areas of My Expertise. One day, while interviewing about that very book on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, he was thrown into the glamorous world of the minor celebrity, where he still resides today. This did not stop him from continuing on his quest to demolish ignorance, and he has since published More Information Than You Require and That Is All, the final book in a trilogy of completely made-up trivia. This final volume (which can be read alone, but I highly suggest you read the entire trilogy) focuses mainly on the End of the World, which was supposed to happen in 2012. Luckily, it didn't, but in the wake of that disappointment, we were gifted this incredible jaunt.
2. Albert Angelo by B.S. Johnson
In his heart, Albert Angelo is an architect, but, by economic necessity, he's currently a substitute teacher. Teaching in a school in the rougher side of London, Albert feels worthless, but also finds that he's tortured by a failed love affair. While all of this feels pretty straightforward for a novel, this book is a typographical wonderland featuring narrative tense switches, holes cut into pages, and an intervention by the author. It's more than just a story of a man struggling with his life, it's also a study of how a story can be told.
3. If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
If on a winter's night a traveler tells the story of a protagonist named the Reader and how he falls in love with the Other Reader (and the other protagonist) while they are both reading the Italo Cavino novel If on a winter's night a traveler. Fun fact: you are the Reader, and you end up marrying the Other Reader. Congrats! However, will you ever finish If on a winters night a traveler? Read on to find out.
4. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
It's 1985, and criminal gangs have since moved into the literary market in this novel's alternate version of London. Luckily, Thursday Next is on the case to keep the crimes in check. The nefarious Acheron Hades has been kidnapping literary characters and holding them ransom, and it's up to Thursday to enter books and fix it all. The first in a series that just keeps getting more and more meta, this book probably has the best use of footnotes I have ever seen. Let's just say that the world of Thursday Next is the world that all bibliophiles wish they lived in.
5. S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
When young student named Jennifer picks up a library copy of Ship of Theseus, the final novel by famous author V.M. Straka, she discovers the margin notes of Eric, a disgraced T.A. The two of them embark on a journey to unearth the secret behind that prolific novelist. Readers are given a fabulous work of metafiction in the form of the actual library book with the writing in margins and various notes, postcards, and photographs tucked between the pages. Because of all the media involved, it's a complicated read, but it's a true gem.
6. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Imagine living in a world where magic is real, the Chosen One exists, and the world would be ending on a near regular basis were it not for a group of rag-tag teenagers who save the earth from destruction basically every week. Now, imagine being one of the people living in the background of such a world. That's Mikey. He's just trying to make it through school in one piece and possibly ask out the girl he likes before the world ends... again. This book is more meta about the YA genre than about writing in general, but the fabulously constructed tale is worth the read.
7. City of Glass by Paul Auster
This insane, post-modern detective story has more layers than an onion. The story centers on fiction writer Daniel Quinn as he is mistaken for another man who happens to be a private detective. After embracing the idea of being a detective, Quinn disappears into the streets of New York City and becomes obsessed with his case. Multiple versions of multiple characters pop up, including various fictionalized versions of the author. It's definitely complicated, and it almost defies description. For fans of graphic novels, there is also an adaptation.
8. 6 Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello
This play begins as an acting company rehearses a play by Luigi Pirandello. When six strangers walk in, the director demands to know what is going on, and the strangers explain that they are unfinished characters looking for a new author to finish their story. The director agrees to stage the story for them, and the reader (or viewer) is taken on a journey that studies the meaning of truth, the role of the author, and the many faces of reality.
9. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Also known as the book that terrified Stephen King, A Head Full of Ghosts, centers on the Barrett family, a seemingly normal New England family who starts to slowly fall apart after 14-year-old Marjorie Barrett starts to exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia. Doctors aren't able to stop her madness, and as the house devolves into a place of nightmares, they turn to a local Catholic priest, who suggests an exorcism. This catches the attention of a local production company, who turn the family into unwitting stars of the reality show The Possession, which becomes a hit. Soon, the family implodes into tragedy. Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie's younger sister, thus creating the book A Head Full of Ghosts. This is a narrative that has to be read to be believed.
10. The Twenty Year Death by Ariel S. Winter
This giant book is told in the style of three different standalone crime novels. When read together, these stories tells the tale of the wildly famous author Shem Rosenkrantz and his beautiful French wife, Clothilde. Each novel — written in 1931, 1941, and 1951 — is penned in the style of a crime author that was popular at the time. Unorthodox and bold, this book is great for when you want to read an entire trilogy in just one book. It's a bit mind-bending that way!