We’ve all heard the age-old adage that the truth is stranger than fiction. But is it, really? The authors on this list might disagree, having written some of the strangest books of all time — strange enough to totally bend your mind, at least, but not so strange as to keep you from reading them in the first place (you’ll definitely want to add these to your TBR list.) After all, I think we can agree that when it comes to fiction, there are varying degrees of strange: there are the authors who blow your mind but keep you coming back for more — folks like Lidia Yuknavitch and Eimear McBride. Then there are those whose work is strange if only for its place in history — like the countless novels written by Church of Scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard (who is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most translated and published author in the world, by the way.) Finally, there is a category of strange reserved for the very few — writers who inspire a whole lot of WTF, and maybe a little DNF (that’s “did not finish” in bibliophile speak.) Lucky for you, the books on this list fall into that first category — so get ready to have your literary minds blown.
If you’re a book lover who likes your literature a little bit strange, then these books are definitely for you. Here are 13 of the strangest books you’ll want to read anyway.
1‘The Museum of Extraordinary Things’ by Alice Hoffman
Born with webbed hands, Coralie Sardie is forced into ice baths and freezing, super-human Atlantic swims in preparation to perform (unbeknownst to her, and later against her will) as a mermaid in her father’s Coney Island boardwalk freak show, known as The Museum of Extraordinary Things. So yeah, a little weird and totally sinister, but Alice Hoffman’s writing is beyond gorgeous.
2‘Finnegans Wake’ by James Joyce
James Joyce tells the story of one Dublin family — except he invents his own words (some of which are 100 letters long) and merges languages (think everything from English to Polish to Persian) in order to do so. Fictional characters and historical figures make cameo appearances into the lives of this otherwise average family. Oh yeah, and the novel begins mid-sentence, with the second half of the unfinished last sentence. Does this mean once you start reading Finnegans Wake you can’t ever stop?
3‘A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride
This is a totally weird book that I totally love. Written in such a deep stream-of-consciousness you might have trouble figuring out where the narrators end and you begin, A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing deals with difficult topics: mental illness, depression, sexual violence, and domestic abuse in an edgy, beautiful, mind-blowing way.
4‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ by H.G. Wells
Not for the squeamish nor the lover of animals, H.G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau is a bizarrely brutal book that introduces readers to a shipwrecked sailor — one who has the misfortune of landing on a strange and haunting island, where he finds himself surround by experimental human/animal hybrids who have been effectively filleted, surgically manufactured, and tortured by the obsessive Dr. Moreau himself.
5‘The Book of Joan’ by Lidia Yuknavitch
The newest novel on this list, The Book of Joan is a book the novelist herself has admitted is weird — but it’s also totally beautiful, really powerful, and (in some ways) eerily prophetic. In a nutshell: next-evolution humans live on a post-apocalyptic space station run by dictator Jean de Men. Oh, and the revolution starts will full-body tattoos. You’ve got to check it out.
6‘The Incarnations’ by Susan Barker
A letter falls into Wang’s lap as he’s sitting in a Beijing taxi, written by someone who claims to be his soulmate and old friend — one who has been journeying through various lifetimes with him for over 1000 years. As letter after letter appear, detailing past lives of enslavement, war, and haunting marriages, Wang beings to wonder if someone is watching his every move, and what’s going to happen when the letters finally catch up to his present lifetime.
7'I Am an Executioner: Love Stories' by Rajesh Parameswaran
Another strange read that’ll make you a tad squeamish, the short stories in Rajesh Parameswaran’s collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories explore the grotesque and the abnormal, weakness and power, and a fair amount of violence — but they’re fascinating, and compelling, and so weird you’ll have to keep reading. I guess sometimes you just love someone so much you eat them. Literally.
8‘Mr. Fox’ by Helen Oyeyemi
Mr. Fox is a writer who cannot seem to stop subverting the narratives of fairy tales — brutally killing off the heroines of his stories before they can reach their happy endings. But all that starts to change when, in a bizarre reversal of roles, Mr. Fox’s most recent muse, Mary, comes to life and challenges Mr. Fox to live inside some stories of hers instead.
9‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton
At 848 pages, Eleanor Catton’s novel The Luminaries, is a whole lot of strange — if you think gold mining in 1860s New Zealand is a strange premise for a novel, that is. Strange as the plot may seem, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll read through this story of violence and mystery, adventure and success, and the myriad ways astrology informs our destinies.
10‘The Unfinished World and Other Stories’ by Amber Sparks
Another delightfully strange short story collecting, The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks will transport you to mythical, otherworldly, apocalyptic, and mysterious places — including one where two orphans take up a life of taxidermy to ease the grief of losing their parents. This is an imaginative and weird collection.
11‘The Time Traveler's Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger
Folks love this book. I’ll just never understand why Henry can’t time travel and keep his clothing on at the same time.
12'Vampires in the Lemon Grove' by Karen Russell
The short stories in Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove are the kind of heady, visceral tales you feel in your body — in a totally creepy way. This collection will take you to a silk factory where enslaved employees are slowly morphing into silkworms themselves, onto the table of a massage therapist who has the odd ability to move her clients’ tattoos around, into a vampire-haunted lemon grove, and more.
13‘Oryx and Crake’ by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood has the disturbing ability to write futuristic tales that seem mere footsteps away from where we humans are living today — well, except for the fact that in the future of Oryx and Crake, humans have taken on baboon-blue butts. Beyond that, the corporation-fueled apocalypse, humanity-crushing plague, and deadly genetic engineering experiments don’t seem soooo far-fetched these days. Which in and of itself is just terribly weird.