This week’s Top Ten topic, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is books that are unique. What makes a book unique? Some books are told in a unique way, like Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life or David Nicholls’ One Day. Some books have spawned lots of copies, but were original when first published (Harry Potter comes to mind, or Gone Girl). For my list I excluded non-fiction, because it seems to me that many real-life stories that are unique, but with fiction there’s an awful lot of repetition. You even see the same covers over and over again. I chose books that would be hard to explain to a fellow reader, books that are strange or surreal, books that can’t be pinned to one genre, and book concepts that shouldn’t have worked but did. Above all, these are novels that stay fixed in my memory, and that I recommend again and again.
The first half of my list is really about the author, not a particular book. I think these authors regularly write books that are so original, it’s hard to imagine anyone else writing them.
- The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami – I haven’t read a lot of Japanese literature, so I can’t say for sure how unique Murakami is, but I know what I’ve read felt so surreal, it was my first thought for this week’s list.
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – everything about this book felt unique to me, from Vonnegut’s writing style to the way he tells this story, to the way he combines historical fiction, science fiction, tragedy and humor.
- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin – back in the 90s when I was in college, Maupin was a must-read. I’m not sure if that’s true today, but I still love them. With his Barbary Lane novels, Maupin created an address that you wish was home, and a group of friends you wish were family.
- The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle – it was hard pick one T.C. Boyle; I don’t think anyone else writes like he does. I’ve read a lot of his books, and I love the way he fictionalizes real times, events, and people. Some of my favorites are Drop City and Riven Rock. I also liked The Women and The Inner Circle, which are about Frank Lloyd Wright and Alfred Kinsey. Boyle really gets in the heads of the people he writes about, but he doesn’t make them heroes. His characters are all really flawed.
- The Thursday Next Series by Jasper Fforde – if you were going to create my perfect fantasy series, a world where literary characters jump out of their books would be it. It’s hard to say, if you love Thursday Next, read this. Because what else comes close?
The next five books fall into more of the shouldn’t have worked, but did, category.
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – falls into the impossible to explain category. This is simply one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking books I’ve read, and quite different from Ness’ other works.
- The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne – this book was like reading a dream, it was so strange but really compelling. I can’t even explain it, but it’s an under-read book in my opinion.
- Room by Emma Donoghue– a lot of people are put off by the subject matter, and others by the idea of a small boy telling this story. Room is nothing like Donoghue’s other works, or anything I’ve read for that matter. It works because Donoghue shows us, through a young boy’s eyes, how much complexity there is in something (rape, imprisonment, and escape) that we might assume is straightforward.
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt — on the surface this book may not seem unique; there are plenty of coming of age college stories, and stories about murder are way overdone. But this book stands out, for its unforgettable characters, their intense study of ancient Greek, and its brooding atmosphere. I haven’t read another book by Tartt that is anything like this one.
- Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple – one of my favorite books, this one feels unique from top to bottom, from the way it’s told, to the strange characters, to its settings which include a hillside house in Seattle, a snooty private school, and a cruise to Antarctica. Semple manages to pull off snarky and sentimental in one book, which isn’t easy.
I thought about a lot of other books but these are the ones that jumped out at me. I’m sure I’ve missed some good ones! What do you think?