September 17, 2017 by carlywont
I’m a rule follower. I excel in school. I Carry Out when I’m told to do so. I measure the half cup exactly when I’m making an apple pie. I pay my taxes on time. I rarely miss a deadline. I drive five miles above the speed limit at the very most. Every time I’ve dabbled in a new illicit substance, I’ve scoured the internet beforehand for the unofficial rules of getting high correctly.
I’m a rule follower. Yet, I like a little funk. I’m drawn to books that break some conventional rules of genre, plot structure, sentence syntax or geo-temporal mechanics. I mostly write that way, too.
Now, I’m not saying I want to read (or write) a book so totally off the charts experimental that I have no idea what’s going on. Nor am I interested in any books filled with obscure references I need to Google. Just because you’ve sprinkled a little fairy dust into your novel or have written in a necrotic eyeball as a character doesn’t necessarily qualify you to be the author of a strange book, at least for my purposes. (OK, the necrotic eyeball would kind of be cool.)
Instead, I’m looking for books that surprise me with their unobtrusive weirdness. I love it when an author sneaks a strange theme, a strange thought, or a strange feeling into an otherwise mundanely set piece without disrupting the flow or emotional impact. I like atmospheric books a lot. Or maybe you know a book that’s amazing and beautiful and relatable and true, even though it’s set underneath the permafrost of the South Pole (a la Mat Johnson’s Pym). I want to read more of those books that, when you’re done, you say, “Well, that was fuckin’ weird. But that was fuckin’ good.”
Here are examples of some strange books I’ve already read and loved: the aforementioned Pym by Mat Johnson; Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson; The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson; To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey; Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt; Geek Love by Katherine Dunn; The Vegetarian by Han Kang; The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken; The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock; and Pastoralia by George Saunders..
I want to go a little deeper into the weirdness. Please recommend me some books!
This is what I’ve got so far—my current Strange Books in a Tub reading list:
- Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
- 10:04 by Ben Lerner
- Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett
- Knots by Gunhild Oyehaug
- My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard
- In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell
- No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
- Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
- As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem
- Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
- House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
I’m not sure I’m saying goodbye to the premise of Three Books in a Tub permanently. I really enjoyed writing the trios of reviews and found the comparative look at the pieces both informative and interesting. Reality is I’m reading fewer books these days and typically when I’m finished with one, I’m ready to move on to a new theme. Strange Books in a Tub allows for this kind of expansiveness.
Maybe when my kids are teenagers I’ll have enough time to consistently read three dang books in one thematic go of it. That would be amazing. But for now, that’s just a fantasy I don’t even have a spare minute to indulge.
So, for now at least, here we are. Strange readers in a strange land. Let’s get weird, y’all.
(Redesign coming soon. See above lack-of-time excuses.)