When you read a lot of books, you start to notice a few familiar patterns. Like... those two characters who hate each other on page one? They're definitely going to hook up. That plucky orphan with magic powers? He just might save the day. The real treasure? It was inside us all along. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love reading books that are just brimming with genre tropes and stock characters. There's a reason those familiar plot twists crop up so often. But every once in awhile, we want to stray off the well-read path and find something a little more singular. Here are a few unique books that need to be on your radar, because you've never read anything like them before.
Some of these books play with format and language to create an entirely new type of novel. Others go for inventive plots and unusual characters. A couple of them are just... doing their own thing, and it's working. The authors behind these books might have bent or utterly demolished a few of the normal "rules" for "writing," but the result is something beautifully, bizarrely unique.
So, if you're looking to venture slightly outside the box, pick up one of these distinctive books for a one-of-a-kind read:
'Why We Broke Up' by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman
Min Green and Ed Slaterton have broken up. All that is left of their relationship is a box, and inside it is the reason why they broke up, comprised of bottles caps, matches, a protractor, and various other objects of great significance. It's an odd, funny, heartfelt story of love and loss told through the most unlikely assortment of items.
'Hopscotch' by Julio Cortázar
If you liked those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, you will probably love Hopscotch, a novel that can be read in any order you like. However you choose to go about reading the chapters, you'll find one dazzling story of Horacio Oliveira and his many adventures as a salesman, keeper of a circus cat, and an employee in an insane asylum.
'If on a Winter's Night a Traveler' by Italo Calvino,
You (yes, you!) are reading a book. You're reading the book If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, in fact. You make it through the first chapter and you want to know what happens next, but something strange has happened: the rest of the book is missing. What follows is a bizarre, thrilling chase through a number of different first chapters, in endless search of the book that you're trying to read, in one of the most splendidly unique novels ever written.
'From These Ashes' by Fredric Brown
If you like your fiction to be strange, horrifying, and less than one page long, pick up From These Ashes. The oft-overlooked sci-fi author Fredric Brown is the master of the flash fiction scare. Crack open his collection of short books, and find yourself shrieking in both laughter and genuine terror at stories that are only a few pages, paragraphs, or sentences long.
'Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric' by Claudia Rankine
Through essays, prose, and images of TV sets, Claudia Rankine has created a piercingly beautiful lyric. Shot through with longing and loneliness, she ruminates on ridiculous television shows, medication, depression, and George W. Bush. It's a terrifying, witty, lonesome portrait of America at the turn of the millennium.
'The Gone-Away World' by Nick Harkaway
Much of the world has been destroyed in the Go-Away War, but there has been an unintentional side effect: the leftover Stuff, which manifests as whatever you happen to be thinking of at the moment. The result is a world created out of imagination, rife with dangers you can fathom. The Gone-Away World is a wild ride of action, humor, mystery, and pure invention.
'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas is a Russian nesting doll of a novel. Stories begin, and then stop mid-sentence, only to resume several hundred pages later. We hop across centuries and continents, from the Chatham Isles of the 1850s to a neo-capitalist Korean superstate, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii. And yet, each location, both historic and futuristic, and every character, no matter what their role, is far, far more connected than we ever could have imagined.
'Mr. Fox' by Helen Oyeyemi
St John Fox is a celebrated novelist living in 1938, but his muse, Mary Foxe, is not so thrilled by his success. Despite being fictional, Mary visits St John with a challenge: to stop killing his heroines, and try on a happy ending for size. What ensues is a captivating journey that blurs the line between reality and fiction in this modern twist on an old, gruesome fairy tale.
'Passionella and Other Stories' by Jules Feiffer
It's the book of weird cartoons that you never knew you wanted! If you don't know Jules Feiffer, he's a cartoonist, playwright, satirist, and the illustrator behind The Phantom Tollbooth. Passionella is a collection of his graphic narratives, all about village comedians on crusades, robot loves, and a Hollywood twist on the classic Cinderella story.
'Flaming Iguanas' by Erika Lopez
Tomato Rodriguez is off on her motorcycle for a cross-country, all-girl quest to find the perfect post office. Flaming Iguanas is a hilarious, entirely unique "road novel thing," combining text, drawings, and rubber stamp art. It's an exuberant trip that most certainly stands out from the crowd.