Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

14 Books That Are Weird In A Good Way

I found myself trying to recommend one of the books on this list the other day, and all I could come up with was: “it’s weird… but in a good way”. It got me to thinking about how many books on my shelves could be slotted into that category. Of course, when you’re crafting a list of books that fit not one, but two subjective adjectives (in this case, “good” and “weird”), you risk confusing or infuriating a lot of people – but I like to live on the edge. So here’s a list of books that are weird in a good way, according to me.

14 Books That Are Weird In A Good Way - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender

Willful Creatures - Aimee Bender - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Willful Creatures is a collection of fifteen short stories, divided into three parts. The stories are kind-of magical realism, kind-of fantasy, kind-of absurdist – in other words, weird in a good way. Bender uses the bizarre and surreal – a boy with keys where his fingers should be, a family with pumpkins for heads dealing with the arrival of a son with an iron for a head instead, miniature humans kept as pets – to talk about the human condition. It’s the kind of book that you can read all in one sitting, but that will linger with you for a long time. Read my full review of Willful Creatures here.

Sadvertising by Ennis Ćehić

Sadvertising - Ennis Cehic - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In Sadvertising, Ennis Ćehić draws upon real-life pop culture moments (e.g., Kendall Jenner’s infamously disastrous Pepsi ad campaign), pervasive technologies (e.g., digital assistants and iPhones), and his own career in the advertising industry to craft stories that are short, sharp, and full to the brim with existential dread. It’s a great collection, a commendable collection, right up until the very last story (“Meta Ennis Part III”), when it levels up to audacious and brilliant. This is the kind of weird-in-a-good-way book you’ll be gushing about for days. Read my full review of Sadvertising here.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi - Susanna Clarke - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Susanna Clarke is kind of the queen of books that are weird in a good way – if only she wrote more of them! Piranesi was her long, long awaited follow-up to her debut fantasy epic, and no one really knew what to expect. All the blurb tells the reader is that the principal character lives in a house, and perhaps he always has. In a series of notebooks, he describes a world of wonders, endless labyrinths and thousands of statues and a weather system of rising tides. The obvious question is: how did he get there? But before long, other questions emerge: is there someone else in the house? Is Piranesi’s simple life of solitude in danger? Read my full review of Piranesi here.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl Woman Other - Bernadine Evaristo - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Girl, Woman, Other contains the stories of twelve people – “mostly women, mostly black” – who live in Britain and vary greatly in circumstances. It’s not a linear narrative, more like a series of connected biographical vignettes that span decades and multiple geographies. Each episode is connected to another in some way. Some of the characters are mother/daughter pairs, some are friends, some don’t even realise that they’re connected. If that’s not weird-but-good enough, Bernardine Evaristo’s style straddles the line between prose and poetry, with strange line breaks giving sentences unusual emphasis and shifting their meaning. Read my full review of Girl, Woman, Other here.

Under The Skin by Michel Faber

Under The Skin - Michel Faber - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Something strange is unfolding on the roads of northern Scotland. In Under The Skin, Michel Faber feeds the reader the facts of the story gradually. At first, the protagonist – Isserley – seems like a regular woman… albeit, one who gets her kicks having sex with male hitchhikers. Then, she starts to seem like she might enjoy it a bit too much. Is she a sex addict? Or maybe she’s murdering them. Or maybe she’s luring them to a farm so that someone else can murder them. Wait, what the hell is going on here? (You get the idea.) This book is weird in a good way, as long as you’ve got a strong stomach. Read my full review of Under The Skin here.

Mammoth by Chris Flynn

Mammoth - Chris Flynn - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The premise of Mammoth is bold – ludicrous even. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does, and it’s weird in the best possible way. On the night before the New York Natural History Auction, a thirteen-thousand year old mammoth tells the (startlingly accurate) story of his life, death, and resurrection as a fossil. Through this unique perspective, Flynn is able to draw our attention to the entrenched racism and sexism that has underwritten our understanding of natural history, not to mention the inherent problems of turning nature into a spectacle in the name of capitalism. Read my full review of Mammoth here.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor - Grady Hendrix - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Grady Hendrix has made a whole career out of both reading and writing books that are weird in a good way. Horrorstor is his first independent foray into the world of horror-comedy (well, the earliest one still in print anyway), and it has a genius conceit: haunted IKEA. Freaky, right? It’s surprisingly scary and gruesome. You’ll never be able to shop at IKEA again without a chill running down your spine (if you ever could before, that is). Hendrix totally nails the tone, the disconcerting sense of disorientation that overtakes us whenever we cross the threshold of one of those places. Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian - Han Kang - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The weird-in-a-good-way vibe of The Vegetarian starts with the very first line: “Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.” Isn’t that just… chef’s kiss? It’s the story of Yeong-hye, an ordinary woman with an ordinary husband, who up-ends her life and the lives of those around her by deciding to commit to vegetarianism. Ironically, the story itself actually says very little about the philosophy of vegetarianism or why one might wish to eschew meat from their diet; instead, it’s about a woman’s self-actualisation in a society that refuses to let her live her truth. Read my full review of The Vegetarian here.

Pink Mountain On Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau

Pink Mountain On Locust Island - Jamie Marina Lau - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If the title of Pink Mountain On Locust Island doesn’t convince you it’s a book that’s weird in a good way, I don’t know what will! It’s a story of “hazily surreal vignettes [that] conjure a multifaceted world of philosophical angst and lackadaisical violence”. The reader follows fifteen-year-old Monk as she falls in love with an artist online, then finds herself shunted to the sidelines of their relationship as her “grumpy brown couch” dad becomes obsessed with his artwork. Don’t let the youth of the protagonist (or the author, come to that) mislead you: this isn’t a sweet coming-of-age young adult novel, but a spiky contemporary take on classic noir.

Paul Takes The Form Of A Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor

Paul Takes The Form Of A Mortal Girl - Andrea Lawlor - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Paul Takes The Form Of A Mortal Girl will challenge everything you think you know about sex and gender fluidity. The titular character, Paul, is (among other things) a shapeshifter, capable of presenting themselves to the world any way they choose. This magical realism merges seamlessly with the politics, queer theory, and throbbing ’90s soundtrack. As Paul slides between relationships, communities, and gender presentations, they’re forced to confront the vulnerability that comes with connection and intimacy. Even if it’s weird in a way that’s not good for you personally, you’ll probably (re)discover some great music, at least.

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In The Dream House - Carmen Maria Machado - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A blurb that promises a book “revolutionises” a genre, especially one as saturated as memoir, seems quite literally unbelievable, but Carmen Maria Machado has indeed done it with In The Dream House. It turns out books don’t have to be fictional to be weird in a good way. This is a Rubik’s cube of a book, examining the subject – a formative but abusive relationship with a woman Machado only refers to as ‘the woman in the Dream House’ – from every possible angle, twisting and turning upon itself until all the edges line up. Some of the chapters are fragments, some are longer recollections, some mine the depths of pop culture and literature and art and critical theory in search of representation. Read my full review of In The Dream House here.

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

Lapvona - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Ottessa Moshfegh is another contemporary writer with a catalogue full of books that are weird in a good way – none more so than Lapvona. A disabled shepherd boy living in a medieval fiefdom ravaged by natural disasters finds himself an unlikely replacement for the murdered son of a tyrannical lord, but it’s not enough to replace the love he imagines for his mutilated mother (whom he was told died in childbirth). It’s a guttural story about the most grim and grotesque aspects of human nature. It’s every bit as horrifying as it sounds (and then some), with moments of insight so searing and quotable it’s like looking into the sun. Read my full review of Lapvona here.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata - Keeping Up With The Penguins

What’s it like to be a misfit in a society that values conformity above all else? You’ll find out in Convenience Store Woman. Keiko has known since childhood that she was “different”, but she learned early on that expressing herself in ways that feel natural to her does not go down well. Her peers recoil from her and her family worries that she’ll never “fit in”. Everyone’s relieved when, aged 18, she takes a “normal” job in a convenience store – including Keiko. The store provides an employee manual of strict protocols for interaction that she finds deeply comforting. Eighteen years later, though, the illusion of normality is starting to wear thin, and that’s when things get weird (in a good way). Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

The Vitals by Tracy Sorensen

The Vitals - Tracy Sorensen - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Tracy Sorensen is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation (yes, the same one that Angelina Jolie has), and it manifested as peritoneal cancer in 2010. She underwent treatment, and thankfully went into remission for eight years. Her memoir, though, isn’t really about that, largely because of the unique perspective from which she writes. The Vitals is narrated by (get this) her internal organs. Yes, it’s high-concept, but go with it! Through this wildly inventive if weird (in a good way) perspective, Sorensen reveals the ways in which the body can be ravaged by invaders, and the physicality of the fight to defeat them. Read my full review of The Vitals here.

2 Comments

  1. I like books that are weird (in a good way). The only ones I’ve read are a couple by Susanna Clarke and Convenience Store Woman.

    A while back, I made a list of quirky books I like: https://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2014/04/most-unique-books-ive-read.html

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