By this time in the semester, it’s probably safe to assume that many new year’s resolutions have sorta…fizzled out. That doesn’t mean that efforts to make 2019 an exceptional year should be disregarded. To make 2019 a unique, unconventional year, we can start by consuming unique, unconventional written works. The publishing industry routinely churns out monotonous material, but there are definitely a few unique books on the market. If you’re tired of reading the same old stuff and want to survey the kind of material that reinvents literature, then the following books should definitely be added to your list.
Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous
A sardonic take on what would be taken as a heartbreaking novel at first sight, the anonymous author of Diary of an Oxygen Thief seems to actively avoid pleasing their audience. The unnamed narrator is unkind and flawed, irredeemably exhausting. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to find a character in this book that even tries to be likeable. The reader isn’t supposed to like the people in this book and that fact makes it even more compelling. Taking place in contemporary Manhattan, Diary of an Oxygen Thief offers a glance into the stripped down lives of city dwellers, each of whom carries a gratuitous chip on their shoulder. The story itself centers around the protagonist’s – if you could even call him that – obsession with creating relationships before breaking hearts purely for his own amusement, and what occurs after he vows to end this particular “hobby”.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Post-apocalyptic fiction is not anyone’s ideal source of entertainment anymore. It’s an overcrowded genre at this point, the plots themselves warranting too much disbelief to fully suspend. However, Emily St John Mandel subverts almost every genre expectation with Station Eleven. It isn’t a bleak, society-less pity-fest like The Road, but it also doesn’t include any reinventions of how civilization organizes itself, like in The Hunger Games or 1984. Instead, Station Eleven dwells only briefly on the actual science part of the whole science fiction thing, opting instead to focus on what it is about humanity that demands perseverance in the face of catastrophe. Mandel aims attention on art and literature, on why we are so dedicated to surviving as a species, not on how that surviving actually occurs. Station Eleven is set in two realms of temporality: present-day – just as a mysterious illness begins to spread – and twenty years after society has fallen entirely. Not surveying the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse, Station Eleven looks upon the post-aftermath.
Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud
Illuminations is a collection of Arthur Rimbaud’s most engaging poetry. Rimbaud’s works are generally touted as material that inspired later modernist poets, and this collection is a testament to how influential Rimbaud truly was. The particular pieces included in Illuminations follow a tradition of prose-poetry, a tradition popularized in part by Rimbaud himself. The poems themselves address a slew of topics from war to childhood, to flowers and cities. A mish-mash of half-formed images and tidbits of almost indecipherable wisdom, Illuminations is a testament to poetry as a genre of aesthetic.
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Told from the viewpoint of an auctioneer, the narrator’s motivations in The Story of My Teeth are not in simply the sharing of his story. Rather, the auctioneer himself, Gustavo “Highway” Sanchez, spends his narrative attempting to sell his story to his readership. Highway has become a successful auctioneer by fabricating the histories behind the objects he sells, and his own life-story is just as absurd as these fabrications. Due to the nature of The Story of My Teeth, the reader is eventually forced to ask what it is they’re meant to be bidding on.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
After the decade-long Harry Potter craze, seeing every other piece of young-adult speculative-fiction as anything but a simple contrivance is near impossible. Therefore, the only option for writers of this genre is to play with that expectation. However, in Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, a novel reminiscent of Harry Potter only in the plot points, Rowell refuses to adhere. The differences in details are slight, but occur often. The protagonist, Simon Snow, is regarded as “the chosen one”, but his power causes more problems than solutions. If Carry On seems like fanfiction, that’s because it kind of is. Written as the spinoff of one of Rowell’s other novels, Fangirl, Carry On is actually a piece of fanfiction that Cath, Fangirl’s protagonist, writes in her spare time based on a made-up series of fantasy novels. Because of its nature as “fanfiction”, Carry On is designed to be read as an alternative to other stories of this genre currently being marketed.
Invisible Monsters (Remix) by Chuck Palahniuk
From the start with its awkward title, Invisible Monsters (Remix) is methodically told to completely manipulate those who read it. Anyone familiar with Chuck Palahniuk’s debut novel, Fight Club, is well aware of just how messed up his material can get. Invisible Monsters was actually the first novel that Palahniuk wrote, but it was turned down by publishers because of its disturbing content. The newest edition of Invisible Monsters, hence “Remix”, is organized to mimic the way magazines are printed; appropriately, the protagonist is a former model. Not only do the numbered chapters tell a non-linear story, but the reader is directed to skip back-and-forth between them, encouraged to read the chapters in no particular order. Chronology is completely disrupted, deemed irrelevant. Because the reader can’t visualize where in the plot they are at any given moment, each twist occurs at the height of spontaneity.
The White Book by Han Kang
Another book of poetry, The White Book consists of prose poems which at first are unrelated, each one a reflection on white, the color fundamentally embodying life, human life. Not only do these poems share a common theme in the representationality of white, but a smattering of corresponding details between the poems creates a sense of unity between them. Perhaps only one speaker’s voice is utilized, only one person’s experiences are being extracted from. The poems can be uncanny and unsettling otherwise, but their dispositions somewhat disorienting only succeed at propelling the reader forward.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Perhaps one of the most prolific writers of the 21st-century, Jonathan Safran Foer has mastered the use of multiple narrators to tell a story. In Everything is Illuminated, he utilizes three specific narrative voices at regular intervals, but they each recount a different story. The plot is incongruent, part of it set during the Holocaust, the remaining two-thirds of it set today. For the first fifty pages or so, the reader struggles to grasp which stories are being told and how they could possibly fit together. Sometimes they don’t fit together at all, but the narrators are quite familiar with one-another. Effectively, Everything is Illuminated is an exercise in storytelling for the sake of itself.
House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski
To say the least, House of Leaves is…intricate. It consists of a subjective account of a transcription of a nonexistent, horrifying documentary. Ostensibly simple, this documentary is made up of home-footage regarding a house which reinvents itself in odd, disconcerting ways. This plot is quite removed from itself, the narrator’s spiralling life becoming a component of the story. Furthermore, the pages themselves are strategically designed, the text printed in confounding designs. Oftentimes, squares including random textual extractions are dropped into unrelated paragraphs. What’s most striking about the composition of House of Leaves is its usage of footnotes, sometimes nonsensical in nature, contributing to a sense of distance from the story being told.