This month is Outlandish Lit’s Weirdathon where we really dig into books that are…well…strange. Maybe you’re new to weird literature, more comfortable in the world of realism and the Bröntes. I don’t mean that in a bad way, because Jane Eyre is one of the best novels ever written. Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. Let me start again. God, this is going like my typical date…
So Julianne has a list of achievements for the Weirdathon, and for everyone that is completed, you get a bonus entry into a drawing for a free book (up to $15) from The Book Depository. I’m here today with part one of an achievement guide to help you get the maximum number of entries. Join me after the jump.
- A Book with a Created Dialect / Language – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – Quite simply, in my mind, A Clockwork Orange is the novel for a weird, created language. Written in English, Clockwork employs a dialect called nadsat, which is essentially a mixture of English and Russian. Set in a somewhat futuristic England in which teenagers partake in rather extreme forms of violence and degeneration, Alex and his droogs prowl the streets. Eventually, the authorities get a hold of him, and that’s where the fun begins. Stanley Kubrick later adapted the novel into a film, which has become an absolute cult classic (though I’ve never seen it myself). Anyway, If you’re looking for this achievement, this classic is where you’ll find it.
- A Book Written in the Second Person – Suicide by Edouard Leve – I don’t recall how I ended up finding this novel. It could have been during my translation studies, as this is a work translated (very skillfully) from French. It also might have been a recommendation on GoodReads due to my reading Roland Barthes. Anyway, Suicide… Heartbreaking. It just is. Turned into his publisher just days before his own suicide, the novel is a lot more loaded for that history, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable. Taken on its own, Suicide is a reflection on a life. The narrator writes to his deceased friend describing many of the details of his friend’s life. Like the cover, Suicide becomes a pointilist portrait, and, at the end, we feel like we know the friend as well as we know anyone in our own lives. This is a short novel, but the emotional punch is real. Leve himself was a skilled photographer and artist, and the fact that he was able to take his visual skills and translate them to text is remarkable.
- A Collection of Weird Short Stories – May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks – A friend had sent me this short story collection from Curbside Splendor, a really great, smaller publisher. This collection is rather difficult to describe. Amazon describes it as “humanity transforming: feral children, cannibalistic seniors, animal wives—a whole sideshow’s worth of oddballs and freaks,” but I think that really undermines the strengths of this collection. What makes the collection a great read is the fact that, even in the strange stories, there is still humanity. Weird, no question, but to summarize it as a collection of “oddballs and freaks” is incredibly dismissive of a text that is ultimately rather profound. Thirty stories are packed into this svelte collection, and some are whimsical and some are very moving. One of my favorite lines is when Sparks writes “Her father says nothing. He chews an thinks Hamlet-shaped thoughts.”
- A Creepy Book – A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay – How can I describe this? Think of The Exorcist. Think of Keeping Up with the Kardashians (Did I really just write Keeping Up with the Kardshians on this site? Twice?). Think of everything that is modern life in media, sensationalism, uncertainty, the state of the family, and questions of identity. Take all of those things, combine them in a blender, and you might get something half as good as A Head Full of Ghosts. The novel’s prose is very easy to read, and it holds you captive until the last page. While reading, I really couldn’t avoid the thought of comparison in terms of the prose of Shirley Jackson, in some ways, reminiscent of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as the structure and nuances of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves in its sort of faux-intertextuality in terms of the blogs and documentaries mentioned as well as the true intertextuality in terms of the numerous references to other classic horror stories. Is it demonic? Is it mental? Well, you can decide, but you’ll sure as hell feel creeped out when all is said and done.
- A Book with Aliens – Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – So maybe they’re not “Hey, we’re here to kill you and take over your planet” aliens, but they’re still damn good aliens. Billy Pilgrim is your absolutely unremarkable soldier and even more unremarkable man. That is, until his life starts to leap backwards and forwards. Until he is abducted by aliens. Until he is in the human exhibit in an alien zoo with one of the world’s most iconic sex symbols. Slaughterhouse Five’s Tralfamadorians (Can’t believe I spelled that right on the first try) teach Billy Pilgrim about what it means to be a human being perceiving a 3D world in a world of many dimensions in a way that I still recall. As humans, we are strapped to a chair in a moving train car. We see through a telescope pointed out at the horizon. We cannot move. Time only moves forward, and we only see our own narrow perception. Well, that is, in a sense, how we perceive the fourth dimension of time. Part-sci-fi, part-alien novel, part-historical novel, part reflection on the fragmentation of reality due to World War II, Slaughterhouse Five was one of the profound literary experiences of my life, providing me with an entrance into experimental novels and literary techniques, an example of how powerful the novel can be. So it goes.
Part 2 to this achievement guide will follow this post in the next few days. Keep an eye out.