Most books follow a fairly predictable pattern. They're made up of squiggly blobs of ink on paper, or pixels on a screen. They start and the beginning and end at the end, and they usually tell some kind of a story, unless you are reading the dictionary (and even then, I feel like you could piece together some sort of narrative about the human experience). But there are some books that work a little... differently. They don't play by the same rules, they aren't read in the same way, and sometimes they don't even use the same materials. Here are a few of the most unconventional books of all time.
If you're looking for a straightforward story using all the normal letters and words you'd find in an ordinary book, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you don't mind thinking a bit outside of the box, check out some of these less than conventional books. Here you'll find novels that can be read out of order, stories disguised as auction catalogs, and books written entirely in a secret (and un-solvable) code.
These books might be strange, but they're also one of a kind, so pick up an unconventional book and expand your mind:
1'Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry 1st Edition' by Leanne Shapton
Auction catalogs can be surprisingly revealing. At least, in the case of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris. Important Artifacts turns a failed relationship into a catalog of items, with clever, funny, heartbreaking clues to the story hidden in the details. From jewelry and fine art to pajamas and post-it notes, this catalog reveals an entire plot arc through the valuable, worthliess, and generally odd items that are up for auction.
Gadsby is a full length novel that doesn't use the letter "e." Sure, it's a bit of a gimmick, but Ernest Vincent Wright still had to sit down and write 50,000 words about John Gadsby revitalizing a small city without using "e" once. So it might not be the most poetic novel you've ever read, but it is most certainly unconventional.
3'Nox' by Anne Carson
Anne Carson's Nox is a book cleverly disguised as a box of old family photos. As the accordion book unfurls, you'll find poetry, scraps of handwritten notes, torn photos, and Latin poetry, with word-by-word Latin translations sprinkled throughout. To understand the full narrative of Carson's brother's untimely death, you have to do some puzzle solving, translating, and deep thinking.
4'Alphabetical Africa' by Walter Abish
The first chapter of Alphabetical Africa begins with "a." Sorry, let me clarify: every word of the first chapter of Alphabetical Africa begins with "a." The second chapter adds words beginning with "b," and so on and so forth, until all twenty six letters are in play—and then it begins removing letters, one by one, until we're back to "a" again. And yes, there are characters and a plot.
5'JR' by William Gaddis
JR is over 700 pages of unattributed dialogue. That means that essentially the entire novel is written in dialogue, without ever telling you who is speaking or where they are. And yet JR still manages to tell the story of an ambitious sixth-grader embarking on risky business ventures (such as a string of combination nursing homes and funeral parlors) in a world obsessed with making deals.
6'Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words' by Randall Munroe
Cartoonist and comedic genius Randall Munroe uses the 1,000 most common words in the English language to explain concepts like astrophysics and mitochondria (the drawings help too). You might be surprised to find that you think differently about "complex" subjects when you only have a handful of words to explain them.
7'Codex Seraphinianus' by Luigi Serafini
People have been trying to figure out the Codex Seraphinianus for a while now, and... they can't. It's just... not written in any language that exists on Earth. It seems to be some kind of guide book (or perhaps a spell book?) to a world quite unlike our own, with gorgeous illustrations of weird nonsense like lovers turning into a single crocodile. Go ahead and "read" it, but don't expect to decode it, because it's stumped everyone so far.
8'Time's Arrow' by Martin Amis
Dr. Tod T. Friendly dies. Then he feels better. He breaks up with lovers, and then seduces them. He makes his patients sick before sending them home. His entire life is racing by in reverse—until the reader finally understands why time is working this way. Time's Arrow is an entirely backwards novel that keeps you guessing as you turn back the clock.
9'Hopscotch' by Julio Cortázar
Julio Cortázar lets you decide how to read his novel: you can charge straight through from chapter 1 to 56... or you can "hopscotch" around all 155 chapters following the table of contents. You decide how you want the story of Horacio Oliveira and his bohemian friends to take shape, and you can change the order of events simply by flipping to another page.
10'Exercises in Style' by Raymond Queneau
The story here is fairly simple: a man gets into an argument on the bus. That's it, that's the whole plot. But Queneau takes that exceedingly simple story and tells in 99 times in 99 wildly different styles (opera, slang, a sonnet, etc). The result is one small book that'll change the way you look at storytelling, because style really does matter.