Five books that think out of the box

Words are always enough, but sometimes it pays to go the extra mile in world building, have a penchant for the offbeat, and use pages creatively. These are books that, in their own ways, challenge our preconceptions of what literature can do.

You could be rounding out this year’s reading list, or you could be getting a headstart on some books you want to finally check out next year. Either way, if you’re looking for something interesting and something you’ve never read before, save some shelf space for the following books.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Piano prodigy Glory hasn’t been the same since the death of her mom. When dreamy artist Frank moves in next door, she begins to lose herself in him — but her dad worries she may be losing herself completely. Told entirely in photographs, with mix CDs, sketches, letters, IMs, YouTube videos, and superimposed dialogue in the mix, Chopsticks invites readers to examine every detail and not to take what they see at face value. In doing so, it completely turns the Unreliable Narrator trope on its head. The book is also available as an interactive iOS app with bonus features for an even more in-depth experience.  

S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams

Ship of Theseus is the final novel by enigmatic writer V.M. Straka, centered on a man without a past who finds himself on a dangerous journey aboard a strange ship. S. is about this novel, but it’s also about the story that enfolds along its margins: when a copy of Ship of Theseus is left behind by a stranger, a young woman picks it up, reads his notes, and responds with notes of her own. Thus begins a correspondence that takes them through questions of trust, passion, choices, and identity — Straka’s, and their own. Like any J.J. Abrams project, the book is a wonder of production, with handwritten notes that feel real and paraphernalia between the pages.

Oral histories

Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom recounts the rises, some of the falls, and all of the Almost Famous-esque stories of the bands that brought about the post-9/11 garage rock revival that redefined rock music in 2000s NYC, featuring words straight from members of The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Vampire Weekend, and more. Oral histories are compelling to read because they present many different POVs that sometimes clash but all come together to create a truly complex narrative in the end. And because everyone loves gossip.

Other oral histories that are impossible to put down are Jen Chaney’s As If!, on the life-changing teen film Clueless, as well as Tom Shales and James A. Miller’s Live from New York, on the 40-year-long run of Saturday Night Live.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Funny, dark, and a highly original take on your run-of-the-mill haunted house story, Horrorstör is designed to look like a catalog from Orsk, a Swedish furniture superstore that is not like Ikea at all. Every morning, Orsk employees come to work to find that things are not quite right in the store, with broken shelves and furniture hinting that something had gone awry the night before, but they don’t know exactly what. Three employees volunteer to take on an overnight shift to investigate — but they have no idea just what they’ve signed up for, or of the terror that awaits.

Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin

Having undergone an abortion, 17-year-old Genesis awakes to find that she’s been abandoned by her boyfriend Peter at the Planned Parenthood clinic, which leads her to question everything about him and herself. She searches for solace in New York City’s underground theater scene and begins to reexamine her relationship with Peter, which unfolds between chapters in the form of a heart-wrenching four-act play. In time, she realizes that her difficult experience is not the end — that it’s possible to start anew and find different forms of love while living with the past.

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