Every reader runs into books that feel fully insane. Maybe it’s too far outside your own experience, maybe you don’t really understand what it’s trying to say, or maybe the author was just on an acid trip and nothing really matters anyway. Here are the weirdest books I’ve read.
Vurt, by Jeff Noon
This cyberpunk sci-fi novel from 1993 imagines a world where people tickle the back of their throat with feathers to enter a hallucinogenic state/alternate reality. Scribble, the main character, is looking for his lost sister, Desdemona, who disappeared into Curious Yellow–an ultra-rare and mysterious feather that supposedly leads to the ultimate metavurt. This is a really trippy book. Maybe it’s that I’m not into drug culture or alternate realities or maybe it’s that I’m hopelessly not punk in any way, shape, or form, but I just could not with this book. Maybe I didn’t get it?
The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker
Here’s one my old boss when I worked at Borders recommended to me, which seems extremely weird, and you’ll understand why in a moment. I fully admit that I DNF-ed this book because it’s a series of elaborate porn fantasies. You see, this dude Arno Strine, has the ability to stop time. Does he do anything useful with this skill? No. Does he do anything diabolical with this skill? Well, yes, but not in a supervillain kind of way. Instead, Arno uses his ability to see women naked and arrange scenarios where people can provide him fodder to pleasure himself. And, of course, all of this is without consent from the people he involves in his fantasies. The middle of the book takes a weird jaunt into a book within this book that leaves all pretense behind and just becomes porn. So, yeah. I stopped reading this, and I had to go into work and see my boss knowing that somehow, he thought this was an important book for me to read.
Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
I wanted to say Galápagos for this list because I think that book is probably Kurt Vonnegut at his most fully bonkers, but Breakfast of Champions was the first Vonnegut book that I ever read so it felt a lot weirder to me when I read it. By the time I got around to Galápagos, I was used to Vonnegut–so even though it’s insane, I was kinda prepared for it. Breakfast is a wild satire in which a car dealer in the midwest starts to come unhinged. He believes that the writing of a mostly unknown science fiction author named Kilgore Trout is true–or coming true. The story is not told chronologically and the focus shifts. Basically, it’s like Vonnegut did a lot of blow and then sat at a typewriter for a while, but somehow managed to make it all come together in the end. I actually really enjoyed this book. I should reread it sometime to make sure it held up over time for me.
Valis, by Philip K. Dick
This book exists because Philip K. Dick essentially lost his mind and this book is his mad rambling about the hidden mysteries of the world as revealed to him by a giant pink laser. There’s also something about a goldfish if I remember correctly. The main character is a stand-in for Philip K. Dick. His name is Horselover Fats–Philip means “friend of horses” in Greek, and Dick can be translated to “thick” or “fat” in German. Or something like that. This book is fully insane, I read it in a college course and I don’t think I gleaned anything that made sense from it.
Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin
I love Fever Dream, but I am damned if could tell you what’s happening in it. It’s just so compelling that it haunts you even if you can’t figure it out. It’s about a woman named Amanda, who is dying in a hospital. There’s a boy in her room. It is not her son, but he wants her to tell him her story. It’s about family and the powerful love a parent has for their child. It’s also creepy as all hell. This book isn’t really weird, at least not in the way the others on this list are, but I’m including it because I just can’t quite figure it out.
The Flounder, by Gunter Grass
I read this book in the same college course that foisted Valis on me and I just can’t with this book. Now, you can tell me that this book is a profound examination of gender politics deftly woven into a farcical story about German history that uses food politics as a metaphor. I say it’s an unnecessarily abstruse novel about one man’s obsession with potatoes. If you’re interested, it’s about a man in the Stone Age who discovers an immortal fish that can talk on the banks of what would much later become the city of Danzig. The fisherman is also immortal, and he and the fish witness the passage of time and the formation of Germany around them. I used to really want to read The Tin Drum, and I still do, but after reading this book it moved to an extremely low position on my priority list.