There’s an easy trick to offering reading recommendations. When someone asks what they should read next, it’s best to start by getting a sense of their taste in books, and going from there. Often, they’ll point to the same few writers — the superstar authors of the literary world. Authors like Haruki Murakami.
The enduring love for Murakami is perhaps unsurprising, given that he’s regarded as one of the world’s greatest living writers — and one the most popular, as he’s sold millions of books in the U.S. alone. The eccentric author is even more popular in Japan, where his fame earned him a run as the world’s most bizarre advice columnist. (Naturally, he used his column to quote Ray Charles to a brokenhearted young fellow, and to confess that he doesn’t care about what happens after death — as long as it includes eating deep fried oysters.)
That strange sensibility is a big part of Murakami’s popularity. His books are about loneliness and loss, yes, but they are also full of curious characters, lucid dreams, and off-kilter realities. And luckily, he’s not the only author producing work in this vein. There are plenty of novels that’ll satisfy a craving for the unusual, and those listed below do just that. These are the perfect books to read if you love Haruki Murakami: each contains more than enough weird and macabre happenings to keep you entertained between rereads of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Geek Love tells the tragic, twisted tale of the Binewskis: a family of carnival folk bred for freakishness, comprised of an aquaboy, a pair of siamese twins, a hunchback, and a seemingly normal baby. Katherine Dunn has a way with sensory details; her description of how the family matriarch lost her teeth is liable to haunt your dreams. (Luckily, this novel is good enough to justify any resulting nightmares.)
The Isle of Youth by Laura Van Den Berg
These stories about young women in uncomfortable situations don’t quite echo unreality of Murakami's alternate worlds and murderous corporate mascots, but they do share his novels’ detached, foreboding tone. In Isle of Youth, there’s always a nagging sense that things aren't quite right, even if it’s not clear why.
Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
Lethem's oft-forgotten first novel is a hugely enjoyable techno-noir about a private eye navigating a futuristic Oakland. Here, citizens are judged by their karma levels, animals hold jobs, everyone’s on drugs, and the cops are on the take — fabulously weird and weirdly smart, it’s like Murakami with the genre elements turned up to 11.
Out By Natsuo Kirino
There's nothing particularly fantastical about Kirino’s novel, which tells the story of four women forced into a criminal conspiracy, after one of them murders her awful husband. But this relentlessly dark look at women’s place in Japanese culture offers a more grounded take on many of Murakami’s recurrent themes. And of course, Out also stands on its own as a gripping thriller.
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin
The Sacred Book Of The Werewolf centers on a remarkable narrator: a 2,000-year-old werefox, who spends her days feeding on the fantasies of men and musing on Buddhist philosophy. When she meets Alexander, a Russian werewolf with a taste for Wagner, she may have finally found her match.
The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
After decades of critical neglect, Shirley Jackson’s work is finally seeing the kind of praise it deserves. Jackson is a master of the eerie and the disturbing, and in this novel, she gracefully toes the line between the supernatural and the psychological, leaving the reader continually unsure of what's really going on the titular house.
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
No one crafts a disorienting tale quite like Jorge Luis Borges. (And while it might take a few pages to fully immerse yourself in his work, it’s well worth sticking with it.) In Ficciones’ stories of libraries and labyrinths, Borges weaves the real and the imagined together seamlessly, leaving the reader perpetually off-balance.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Mitchell is almost as as acclaimed as Murakami — at least in the English-speaking world — and the pair share certain preoccupations, including interests in Japanese history and mystical human connections. But where Cloud Atlas really shines is in its very un-Murakami-like expansiveness. Mitchell weaves together six different stories in six different genres, from the tale of 19th-century pianist to a the sci-fi exploits of a rebellious clone in a dystopian Korea.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtyengart
If you're more into Murakami’s romances than his metaphysical meanderings, Sheyngart’s near-future novel is the book for you. That the central relationship — between nebbish, middle-aged Lenny Abramov and beautiful young Eunice Kim — will fail is obvious from the title. But Shteyngart manages to turn what could easily be a cliche tale into something far more complex and honest.
Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui
This novel is probably the weirdest on this list. Paprika follows psychiatrist Atsuko Chiba as she attempts to stop her jealous colleagues from using her research to invade people's dreams and infect them with schizophrenia. Author Yasutaka Tsutsui is well-known in Japan — this novel was published there in 1993, and subsequently adapted into a popular film — but he deserves greater international acclaim.
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson’s sensibility is in some ways the opposite of Murakami’s. She’s passionate where he’s detached, warm where he’s cool, and effusive where he’s reserved. Yet the two authors share a fascination with the ways our histories — both personal and political — shape us. The Passion tells the story of a foot soldier to Napoleon and a woman whose husband gambled away her heart. You’re not going to be able to put this one down.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
A list of downright weird books isn’t complete without Han Kang’s modern classic The Vegetarian. The novel follows Yeong-hye, who lives a perfectly ordinary existence with her husband, until a series of gory dreams leads her to go vegetarian. The decision doesn’t go over well with her family, to say the least, culminating in her physical and mental deterioration. It might total fewer than 200 pages, but this novella packs a serious — and downright disturbing — punch.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
After receiving a concerning letter from her newly-married cousin, socialite Noemí Taboada sets out for High Place, a desolate and eerie estate in a rural part of 1950s Mexico. Soon, she’s unearthing the secrets beneath the rotting mansion’s interior, the surrounding village’s tragic history, and the bizarre family at the center of it all. A layer of melancholy envelopes virtually every aspect of Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, but regardless, you won’t be able to put it down.
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Berry
If you’re looking for that “wait, how did we get here?” factor, Quan Berry’s We Ride Upon Sticks has it. Admittedly, Berry’s got a bit more humor in her writing than Murakami, but her premise is compelling: A group of high school field hockey players are going about their lives in 1989 Danvers, Massachusetts, when all of a sudden, they realize they possess witchy powers like their Salem foremothers. This magic helps them win games, but victory comes at a hefty — and increasingly strange — price. And did I mention that Emilio Estevez plays a central role?
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Here’s a guarantee: You’ve never read anything quite like Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House. In this genre-bending memoir, Machado details the beginning, middle, and end of an abusive same-sex relationship, using a different storytelling devices and structures in every single chapter. One minute you’re reading her story as a version of the prisoner’s dilemma, and the next it takes the form of Schrödinger’s Cat. A wild ride, if there ever was one.
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