Top Ten Books for Readers Who Like Experimental Formats

Top Ten Books for Readers Who Like Experimental Formats

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Broke and the Bookish runs this business.

I love experimental fiction. So much. Sure it can be gimmicky sometimes if not enough thought is put into the story, but I think that experimental formats can add a whole new layer to a book. Playing with style can enhance the atmosphere and the story being told. I'm all for books that take that leap, that do things books aren't expected to do. Here are my top ten picks for books with experimental formats.


Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle - This book is crazy AND beautiful. And written by the lead singer of the Mountain Goats WHAT. This story is told backwards chronologically. You don't think it would work, but it does. So well.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski - I sound like a broken record, but this is one of the most amazing, labyrinthian books. The book is a manuscript that the narrator found. He interjects in footnotes. The manuscript is about a documentary that isn't real in our world or the narrator's. And the documentary is about a house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Some excellent subtle horror happens as the format begins to get strange, the text skews, and you don't know if the writer, the narrator, or you are going crazy.

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball - I'm still not entirely sure what to think of this book, but I know that I haven't stopped thinking about it. This is a story about a string of murders, a false confession, and an imprisoned man who won't speak. And it's entirely made up of interviews, photographs, and other police-y documents. It's a weird one.


The Call by Yannick Murphy - This book is entirely written like this: "He said: [insert dialogue]. She did: [insert action]," etc. I have never ever seen anything formatted this before in my life.

Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee by Megan Boyle - Hilarious, moving stream of consciousness that's often written in tweet or list form. The most fun to read. I'm lending this one out perpetually.

If On a Winter's Night, a Traveler by Italo Calvino - A book in a book! Sometimes it's second person (to you, the reader), sometimes it's not (when it's portions of the book in the book)! This one's a classic.


The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski - From the author who did House of Leaves, this small story is another departure from typical narratives. We're being told the story from 5 different people. They each have different colored quotation marks for us to determine who is speaking. And every other page is a piece of embroidered art. And the story is fantastical to boot.

Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme - Barthelme is one of the pioneers of experimental fiction. This collection of stories is absolutely fantastic. Each one plays with a new style and format, so you never know what's coming next. And the plots themselves are downright weird. Some funny, some dark, a lot both. Here's his story, The School, which you can check out. This one isn't that experimental as far as the format goes, but it's short and the story's hilarious.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride - I didn't like this one as I thought I would, but it would be a shame not to mention it at all. If you want a book that plays with every notion you had of how grammar should work, check it out. McBride's stream of consciousness tale is dark and written in a form you really have to work through.


Suicide by Edouard Leve - This one's a downer, not to be read if you're not in the mood for that. It's a beautiful stream of consciousness novella where Leve examines what it means for someone to commit suicide. Dark sidenote: he turned the manuscript into his publisher ten days before killing himself. SORRY. It's actually really touching and profound. If you're looking for elegant stream of consciousness, this is it.

What's your favorite experimental book? Have you read these?


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