11 Quirky Books For Unconventional Readers

by Lindsay Harrison

Do you prefer your life to look like an indie movie? Do you like to spend your Saturdays at cafés and thrift shops, winding down with a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and your record collection? Do you harbor an inner hipster? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, I bring you 11 slightly strange and surprisingly good books to add to your shelves.

What's below aren't your average book club picks, and I was inspired to put together a fun list after all of the buzz surrounding Miranda July’s first novel, which was released earlier this month. Reader reactions to The First Bad Man have varied from brilliant to bizarre, but no matter your take, we all can agree on one qualifier of July’s writing: it’s memorable. Like it or not, it’s different, and as any voracious reader will tell you, bringing variety to one's repertoire is a good thing.

Lucky for you, Miranda July isn’t the only author breaking the conventional narrative mold in favor of more daring storytelling. From an epic quest to move a couch to a riveting novel about boredom, these books all have one thing in common: they’re slightly off-kilter in the best possible way. Whether this describes you, too, or you just like to give your sanity a night off once in a while, curl up with one of these quirky reads for a guaranteed good time.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

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The First Bad Man starts out with one lonely woman. A protagonist of peculiar habits, Cheryl lives alone and believes her coworker is her soul mate (he just doesn’t know it yet) and that other people’s babies are trying to commune with her (they aren’t). Throw in an unwelcome houseguest and things get real strange real fast. Managing to be funny, sad, surreal, and surprising, this novel will have you feeling all of the feelings. Which is what you love about Miranda July, right?

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

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In the nine short stories that make up Magic for Beginners , Link creates a world whose logic is more akin to dreams than reality. She borrows a bunch of zombies, witches, and other magical creatures from the fantasy genre and plunks them down in he land of literary fiction. These modern fairy tales for grown ups — think villages that exist inside handbags and houses haunted by bunny rabbits — read like a road trip through your most twisted dreamscapes (if only you could remember them).

How Should a Person Be? By Sheila Heti

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Sheila Heti’s autobiographical novel could also be called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman. Told in stream of consciousness prose peppered with witty realizations, Heti’s quest to discover both how a person should behave and how an artist should create is, understandably, a meandering read. Set in bohemian Toronto, at the heart of this story is an intense friendship between a writer and a painter. Unapologetically navel gazing, the duo worries less about how to make a living than how to make a life. Like so many Saturday nights of your 20s, this one’s more about the journey than the destination.

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

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You may have missed this vintage classic by British author Penelope Fitzgerald, which won the 1979 Booker Prize. Revolving around a group of misfits who live on houseboats on the Thames, Offshore is the kind of book you can read in one sitting. Sure, Fitzgerald’s characters are all off-kilter in one way or another, but I would be too if I were living not quite on land and not quite at sea. Nevertheless, they take care of each other in small but touching ways. Not much “happens” in this novel, but the backdrop of 1960s London will keep you entertained as the characters’ personal transformations come about like a rising tide.

The Canal by Lee Rourke

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Rourke's novel also revolves around a waterway in London, with a nameless faceless protagonist so utterly bored with life that he lets all obligation slide and decides to sit on a bench instead. If a thriller built on a solid foundation of boredom makes you want to roll your eyes, hold that thought. The Canal gains momentum when a jittery woman starts sharing the bench — and a dirty little secret — with the nameless guy. I admire Rourke’s less is more approach here, proving that even boredom can be rendered interesting if we find the right details. He describes rain as “a cacophony of mini-aquatic explosions.” I bet you never thought of it quite that way.

Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin

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Tao Lin has described his autobiographical novel as “2 parts shoplifting arrest, 5 parts vague relationship issues.” He’s also called it “an ultimately life-affirming book about how the unidirectional nature of time renders everything beautiful and sad.” It’s hard to think of a more hipster endorsement than that, so I’ll give you a sense of the dialogue instead, much of which occurs on Google Chat rather than IRL: “I like Chopin. I feel like Chopin is ‘emo.’ Do you like Chopin?” Whether your tastes align more with American Apparel hoodies or Chopin nocturnes, Tao Lin will get under your skin and make you question whether plot is an essential ingredient in modern fiction.

Couch by Benjamin Parzybok

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When three roommates — a computer geek, a con man, and a clairvoyant, to be precise — are forced to move out of their flooded Portland apartment, they attempt to take their big orange couch with them. The only problem? The couch won’t let them put it down just anywhere. And so begins a quest of Tolkien proportions (albeit one with a ridiculous premise) as the three friends and the pesky couch set off to discover their destinies. Next time you feel yourself in a funk, rearranging the furniture just might be the ticket to self-transformation.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

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Ah, the antics of the office, workplace of millions and farcical playground of Joshua Ferris. Written in first person plural, Then We Came to the End brings a laugh track to the whole “leading lives of quiet desperation” trope. Ferris’ quirky debut novel tells an all too relatable story about what happens when an entire office has “these sudden revelations that employment, the daily nine-to-five, was driving us far from our better selves.” There’s satire here, for sure, but the sincerity in these pages will keep you from going freelance just yet (because despite your crazy coworkers, isn't it nice to have health insurance and paid vacations?).

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

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Get lost in the Florida Everglades in Karen Russell’s enchanted debut collection of stories, where lizards, alligators, ghosts and werewolves hang out like guests at the best costume party you’ve ever attended. Russell doesn’t just dream up absurd scenarios for their own sake, though; at the heart of her fiction is an earnest exploration of human follies. Or as one of her characters puts it: “I swim with all my strength. No superhuman surge, or pony heroics; it's just me at my most desperate.”

Adverbs by Daniel Handler

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This witty little novel approaches one of literature’s favorite topics — the love story — in a grammatically fresh new way. It’s not about who loves who in this story (because that gets really confusing really quickly) but about the act of loving itself. Or as Handler put it, "It is not the nouns. The miracle is the adverbs, the way things are done." Each chapter is headed by an adverb that becomes an umbrella theme for the characters therein: they want things immediately, they do things obviously, they fall in love wrongly, and so on. I could happily exist on a literary diet of love stories, but Adverbs stands out as a delightfully strange meal.

You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers

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Sure, you know Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius , but do you know his Velocity!? His first novel follows two friends on a trip around the world, trying to recover from a great loss while giving away $32,000. They aim to have only enlightening experiences, fearing mundane interactions like the plague. Sound a bit like your early 20s? Angst is a hallmark of hip-lit, but Eggers writes with such velocity that you can’t help but get swept up in his soul-searching.

Image: Basheer Tome/flickr