Weird and Wondrous: Books that Defy Genre

Weird, wondrous, and walking the border between genres: here are a few books that defy categorization and push the status quo on how we think about literature. Whether it’s a beautifully-written book that blends poetry and prose or a title that blurs the line between fact and fiction, each of the below is sure to offer a unique reading experience unlike anything you’ve encountered before. Is it a novel? Is it poetry? By the time you get to the back cover you still won’t know what to call it, but you won’t care because it’s just that good.


The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679767862
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - March 19th, 1996

First published in 1970, THE COLLECTED WORKS OF BILLY THE KID marks the beginning of Ondaatje’s forays into fiction. This novel-in-verse collects period photos, poems, and short journal-like prose entries to create a version of the legendary gunslinger that goes beyond rote historical account or a romanticized nostalgia. Every page is dreamlike and rooted in memory, blurring the line between fact and fiction and opening the consciousness of the story from one man to that of an entire landscape. (Psst, have you heard we’re hosting Michael Ondaatje on May 23rd to celebrate his new novel, WARLIGHT? Find the details here.)

Unbearable Splendor Cover Image
ISBN: 9781566894517
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Coffee House Press - October 11th, 2016

UNBEARABLE SPLENDOR is a wonderful, weird, uncategorized collection of sparse poems that sprawl across the page, charts and graphs, and story-essays that interrogate our most intimate dichotomies like host/guest, child/orphan, and light/dark. The book is full of black holes, singularities, and cyborgs, but at its heart of the subject matter is Shin’s identity as a Korean American immigrant that fled a military dictatorship. The book moves through concepts and ideas as easily as it moves through genres, coalescing into a reading experience with its own gravitational pull. As stated in one of the opening epigraphs, “a black hole is anything but empty space,” and this is one singularity you’ll enjoy getting sucked into.

The Way of Florida Cover Image
ISBN: 9780995705203
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Little Island Press - September 21st, 2017

Persson’s debut novel blends historical account, personal narrative, and poetic prose into a story that reads almost like an incantation to the past. Based on a real, historical event, the Narváez Expedition, a failed attempt to establish Spanish colonies along the Gulf Coast, the narrator of THE WAY OF FLORIDA describes the minutiae of the journey in language that is intensely lyric and visceral. The novel is broken into chapters that are broken into half-page chunks, and each entry swirls with an almost-mystic sense of place and the creatures that occupy it. Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s earlier novels will find themselves right at home in these pages.

Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375701290
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - July 27th, 1999

There is perhaps no one writing today that is more intellectual, intense, and committed to her own conceits as Anne Carson, and AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED is one of her greatest achievements. At once a poem and a novel, a myth and a contemporary coming-of-age story, the book follows Geryon, at once a young boy and a monstrous mythical creature, chronicling the events of his life. As he escapes a household of abuse and falls for a drifter named Herakles, Geryon begins to find himself as an artist and photography. Geryon faces devastation when Herakles leaves him, and when the drifter resurfaces years later Geryon is forced to confront his own griefs, pains, and desires. A moving love story that is steeped in literary craft and deconstruction.

SKU: 9781933959337

One of two books published by Roberto Harrison in 2017, BRIDGE OF THE WORLD is a collection of poems and prose poetry interrupted by an essay on poetics in the middle of the text. However, describing Harrison’s work as two genres put together in the same book is an oversimplification. The essay, titled “snake vision,” is as much an exploration of psychology, mental illness, and human interaction as it is a statement of poetic philosophy. The poems are lyric and experiment with form, with a focus on light, color, and sound. Throughout the book language is being interrogated, and the way that we make meaning, or if meaning is possible at all, the bridge of the world both a geographic phenomenon and a linguistic conceit.

Citizen: An American Lyric Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555976903
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - October 7th, 2014

Continuing in the style of DON’T LET ME BE LONELY, Claudia Rankine turns her attention toward race in America. Prose poems and micro-essays share pages with visual art and photographs, and subject matter ranges from daily micro-aggressions to Serena Williams to police brutality to Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt. In turns critical, analytical, heartbreaking, and hopeful, CITIZEN is a collection reflective of a country in a moment of crisis, a book that is as necessary as it is timely, unfortunately. As Rankine writes, “because white men can’t / police their imagination / black people are dying.” Read this book. If you already have, read it again, and then gift it to a friend.

Article Type Terms: