Strange on Our Shelves

Chris:  Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff, is unquestionably a weird book.  It is shaped weird, tall and narrow, with oddly rounded pages.  The cover is bright yellow and has an image of a monkey on the front that is reminiscent of an ink blot.  But if we were only concerned with the physical properties of it we wouldn’t call it weird.  We would refer to it as “striking” or “different”.  No, the cover merely reflects what is within.

Bad MonkeyAnd this novel is weird.  It tells the story of a young woman named Jane Charlotte who is receiving a psychiatric examination after having been arrested for murder.  She tells a tale of having been recruited to work for a secret organization, the titular Bad Monkeys, who eliminate persons who commit terrible crimes and avoid normal prosecution.  As her story goes on you can never quite get a handle on the truth.  The book does a wonderful job of putting forth implausible scenarios and having you, the reader, come to think of them as plausible.  Some stories have a twist ending.  This book has a twist on about every page.  Okay, that might be stretching it a bit, but good luck trying to keep up with it all.  This book will entertain you but don’t expect to understand it.

Christina:  Severance by Robert Butler is a book of short stories, but the weird factor here is that it is told from the perspective of recently severed heads. After Butler found out that a human head is believed to continue in a state of consciousness for one and a half minutes after decapitation, and that “in a heightened state of emotion, we speak at the rate of 160 words per minute,” he wrote these short pieces of fiction using 240 words. Some of these narratives from the recently decapitated are actual historical figures (John the Baptist, Anne Boylen), some are fictional or mythological (Medusa, the Lady of the Lake), and some not even human (a chicken). Also, since the subjects vary, so does the tone – a few of these stories are humorous, most heartbreaking, but all are intriguing.

Chris:  Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto, is a Japanese novel, first published in 1988 and translated to English in 1993.  What puts this book into this blog is a little hard to define.  Yes, naming a novel “Kitchen” and not putting recipes in it might seem odd, and Banana is hardly a typical Japanese name.  The book itself is short, really only a novella, and deals with a young woman coming to terms with the death of her grandmother.  That is pretty much the entirety of the plot.  So we end up with a short, plot-light book, dealing with a character that is most likely very different from ourselves.  And the weird thing is that in the end you do relate with the protagonist.  You understand her pain, her longing, her melancholy and her hope.  We used a quote from this book in the literary fortune cookies we had at our wedding reception:  “Truly happy memories always live on, shining. Over time, one by one, they come back to life.”  Somebody here at the library has taped that quote up onto the computer I happen to be typing this at.  And I think it epitomizes the big impact such a small story can have.  Which is kind of weird.

Christina:  Light Boxes by Shane Jones is a sort of surreal fairytale that is definitely weird. It’s about a town that’s terrorized by February, who steals their children, banishes flight of any kind,  and creates a nightmarish constant winter season.LB 1 It’s told from multiple points of view, and there’s a definite poetic aspect to it, even though the story gets confusing.light-boxes-2 You could almost say it’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for something different, it’s worth a look.

Chris:  Griffin and Sabine, by Nick Bantock.  Vocabulary test time: do you know what an epistolary novel is?  If not don’t feel bad.  I had to look it up as well.  (And for those of you who didn’t have to look it up, stop looking so smug.  We all have failings.  Come over to my house some time for a game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and you will experience failure.  Man, this is a weird blog.)  An epistolary novel is told through a series of documents.  In this case postcards and letters that Griffin and Sabine send each other.  They are truly star-crossed lovers, soul mates who never meet in person and only communicate through correspondence.  That in itself is odd enough, but the true weirdness comes from the way that you read these postcards and letters:  there are envelopes affixed to the pages of the books, and within them are the documents which you pull out to read.  It lends a nice visual and artistic angle to the book, more so than the standard illustrated novel.  A technique that seems more suited for children’s books takes on a new aspect when used for this adult story.  I do not believe you will find any other book quite like Griffin and Sabine in our fiction department.  Except for the many sequels.

Christina:  As for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, the story itself isn’t weird at all; it’s actually a memoir of Eggers having to raise his younger brother after both their parents died of cancer. The way Eggers tells it, though, is very odd. It’s full of odd asides with the book becoming self-aware, noting the “bells and whistles” of the storytelling tactics. The intro even has a drawing of a stapler for no reason whatsoever:HBWSG

Chris:  The Princess Bride, by William Goldman.  Or, as the book cover says:  The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, The ‘good parts’ version, Abridged by William Goldman.  Phew.  For weirdness suffice it to say that there was no earlier book and no S. Morgenstern.  But you have to have more than a funky title to make it into this blog.  Goldman, who also wrote the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, spends the first part of the book talking about, well, writing the book and dealing with Hollywood types.  When he does move into the story itself, which is a top notch fantasy filled with rousing adventure, true love, and R.O.U.S.’s, he adds commentary that largely deals with the differences between this version and the original.  Although of course there was no original.  Which is weird.  What is original is the book, which is highly recommended.  The movie is pretty good as well.

Christina:  House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski takes the cake, though. It is the King of Weird Books, and odd storytelling. HoL is primarily about a strange house that seems to be changing and preying upon the people inside it, but it’s also about the relationship between Will Navidson and his long time partner, Karen Green. The book also focuses on Johnny Truant, an editor of a book about Navidson’s journey into the house, who seems to be losing his sanity while researching the House of Leaves.

house-of-leaves-sideways-typeHouse of Leaves uses every trick in the book (no pun intended) and then some. Every instance of the word “house” is written in blue text, the footnotes are so overwhelming that they take up more than one page, and in some instances, the text seems to literally drip and fall. Danielewski does this to create a sense of foreboding and claustrophobia, and it works beautifully. It’s a book that you won’t soon forget, if ever.

Chris:  Lexicon, by Max Berry.  As is evident from the title, this recent release deals with the power of words.  Specifically, the power of secret words that can be used to make people do things.  The story starts off right in the middle of the action, and hardly pauses to let you catch up.  At least not until the focus switches time and place.  This book does that a lot, going back and forth between characters and times.  Now what makes this book a bit weird, to me, is that it doesn’t fall into a standard genre.  I guess technically it is a thriller, but it reads very much like science fiction.  But it is not science fiction.  The power of the words is certainly not a stranger concept than many other books have, and the switching perspective is an effective technique in this book, but it is not like there is any actual time travelling going on.  In the end you have a book that is just not quite like the other books.  Which makes it kind of weird.

Christina:  420 Characters by Lou Beach is another short story collection with a twist. Each story is limited to 420 characters, like Facebook updates, but unlike most Facebook updates these stories have heart, depth, and imagination (I’m not really a fan of Facebook, can you tell?). Beach also has some pages of his bizarre art in this book like this piece:World-of-Men-C1-600x488

Christina:  Speaking of art, The Fate of the Artist by legendary graphic comic artist Eddie Campbell uses illustrations and photographs in this pseudo-autobiography, written as a memoir about an artist who has gone missing. Campbell uses everything from an “interview” with the artist’s daughter to a fake Sunday comic strip, making the story that much more intriguing and fun.Fate Artist

A list of all the titles mentioned in this blog post can be found here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

(Edited 11/20/14 to fix/replace broken links and to correct typos.)

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