One of the coolest things about books is the fact that the format of the book is only limited by your imagination. Do you want to stretch your mind with a a book written in an unusual format? It’s possible. Do you want to immerse yourself into the world by reading a character’s letters or journal? Read an epistolary novel. The possibilities are literally endless. I love basically any kind of book, but sometimes when I’m holding a translation in my hands (such as The Master and Margarita, which I am currently reading) I feel a little bad because I’m unable to read the words as they were originally intended.
Of course, there are some magical books out there as well, the ones are that written in a language constructed by the author themselves. Many authors do it, especially fantasy authors. Think about J.K. Rowling, and how she created all of the awesome Harry Potter slang we know today (although I still don’t forgive the term “no-Majes”). How about those authors that take it even further? What about the ones that basically construct an entire language from whole cloth and write a book that way? Those authors are pretty awesome. Sure, it might be a little difficult to understand at first, but at the same time, reading a book in a completely constructed language is like looking directly into the author’s head.
I’ve compiled a list of ten books that uses the English language and manipulates it into something entirely new. These books might be difficult to read at first (and in some cases actually impossible) but it’s an experience you definitely need to try at least once.
1. Trainspotting by Irvine Walsh
Better known as that movie that Ewan McGregor starred in pre-Obi Wan, this book is narrated by Mark "Rent Boy" Renton. This book is unique in that it's written in a very thick Scottish dialogue. If you aren't from the country (and probably even if you are), you might have to read the book a few times in order to truly get it, but this book is definitely worth it.
2. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Written in a nightmarish future dystopia and centering on a 15-year-old "droog" that has a penchant for the "ultraviolence," A Clockwork Orange is written entirely in an invented future slang constructed by Burgess himself called Nadsat. It's mostly a mix of corrupted English and Russian words, and you can find the glossary here, just in case you want to mix a little Nadsat into your every day life.
3. The Wake by Paul Kingsworth
Described as a post-apocalyptic novel written a thousand years in the past, The Wake centers on Buccmaster, a landowner who has witnessed the destruction of his own world in the wake of the Norman invasion of England. He's determined to seek revenge. The author describes the language the book is written in as a "shadow tongue," a version of Old English that has been modified so that the reader can still understand it.
4. Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce
In this multi-layered literary tour de force about a publican, his wife, and their three children, Finnegan's Wake uses a language that seems to be made up of dozens of different languages, weaving puns, idioms, and portmanteaus into a dialect that seems to transcend language. Don't forget the ten "thunderwords," words that are made up of 100 letters and are often used to describe thunder.
5. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
A Girl is a Half Formed Thing studies the relationship between a girl and her brother, who has a brain tumor. Written from the point of view of the young Irish woman in question, this book uses the unique language of the angsty teenage mind. Brutal and disturbing, this novel will immerse you in a mind that will make you feel far from comfortable.
6. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
On an sunless planet named Eden, 532 members of the Family have set up a life underneath the Forest's lantern trees while they wait for the traveling members of the Family return. Now John Redlantern has decided to venture out into the dark outside the Forest to discover the truth about the world. Written in a language constructed by these isolated humans, this book will truly transport you into their world.
7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Usually split into a trilogy, but originally written as one epic novel (although if you're a true fan you already know this), this series centers upon a pack of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and men as they embark on a quest to destroy a powerful ring that will give an evil overlord power over the realm. Lord of the Rings is written in English, but the book contains several languages developed by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. J.R.R. Tolkien's dedication to world building is unparalleled.
8. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
In a wasteland devastated by a nuclear holocaust, we follow 12-year-old Riddley Walker as he steps out of his comfort zone and gets caught up in a world of intrigue. This is written in a combination of post-apocalyptic slang and Riddley's own awkward pre-teen UK slang. It's a bit rough to get through at first, but as it unfolds, you begin to realize just how important it is that it was written that way.
9. The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed by Racter
The language in The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed utilizes the English language to make itself known. This book of poetry and short prose wasn't written by a human being, and instead was written by a computer program called "Racter." While the words are generated seemingly at random, each work of poetry/prose has a certain surrealist charm to it that implies that maybe there's more to that AI than meets the eye. Of course the levels of sophistication in the circa 1984 computer were greatly exaggerated at the time, but it's still a fascinating look at language.
10. Codex Seraphianus by Luigi Serafini
It's one of the rarest books in the world. Codex Seraphianus is an art book that takes the form of an encyclopedia from another world. It shows readers gorgeous images of strange flora and fauna with captions and articles written in an unknown language. If you love the surreal and don't mind not knowing what the heck you are reading, this book is perfect for you.
Image: Aaron Burden/Unsplash