The best experimental books that have a unique form

Why am I passionate about this?

Hello. My name is Mike Russell. I write books (novels, short story collections, and novellas) and make visual art (mostly paintings, occasionally sculptures). I love art and books that are surreal and magical because that is the way life seems to me, and I love art and books that are mind-expanding because we need to expand our minds to perceive just how surreal and magical life is. My books have been described as strange fiction, weird fiction, surrealism, magic realism, fantasy fiction… but I just like to call them Strange Books.


I wrote...

The Exploding Book

By Mike Russell,

Book cover of The Exploding Book

What is my book about?

You, the reader, leave your body and enter the book you are reading, emerging in the village of Gladeville, where a library promptly explodes… so begins your out-of-body journey of observing and even interacting with an increasingly surreal and cosmic story about a book that may soon be the only book in existence. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of If On A Winter's Night A Traveler

Mike Russell Why did I love this book?

After experiencing hypnotherapy, I had the idea of employing a similar technique in my novel; in other words of addressing the reader directly and including them in the narrative (e.g. ‘You fly up into the air…’). It reminded me of choose-your-own-adventure books I enjoyed as a kid. I then wondered whether other authors had used a similar technique, which is how I discovered Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller. It’s twisty, it’s turny, it’s mischievous, and unique.

By Italo Calvino, William Weaver (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked If On A Winter's Night A Traveler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel...Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade." —from If On A Winter's Night a Traveler

Italo Calvino's stunning classic imagines a novel capable of endless possibilities in an intricately crafted, spellbinding story about writing and reading.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is a feat of striking ingenuity and intelligence, exploring how our reading choices can shape and transform our lives. Originally published in 1979, Italo Calvino's singular novel crafted a postmodern narrative like never seen before—offering not one novel but ten, each with a…


Book cover of A Clockwork Orange

Mike Russell Why did I love this book?

This is a book that had an air of danger about it when I was at school. Perhaps mostly because the excellent Kubrick adaptation had been banned (although, as I later discovered, it was ‘banned’ by the director himself because of copycat morons and threats towards his family.) The book contains an invented language. Invented words have been used by authors before, of course, from James Joyce to Lewis Carroll, and many sci-fi authors. Here, it is not only fun and poetic, but also builds a prison of alienation around the protagonists. 

By Anthony Burgess,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked A Clockwork Orange as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Anthony Burgess's influential nightmare vision of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, a teen who talks in a fantastically inventive slang that evocatively renders his and his friends' intense reaction against their society. Dazzling and transgressive, A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil and the meaning of human freedom. This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition, and Burgess's introduction, "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."


Book cover of The Waves

Mike Russell Why did I love this book?

The Waves is a beautifully written and constructed book. Subjective voices rise and fall interspersed by moments of dispassionate clarity. It had a big effect on me and I continue to dip into it to remind me of what words can do. It was the first book I read where the novel’s form was as essential a part of the book’s meaning as its story and where the form had been considered and created rather than simply copied from convention. Surely every book should be written in that way, no? To make every aspect of what you are creating a conscious choice rather than a compulsive reaction is the artistic goal, and one that can make art a true force for change. 

By Virginia Woolf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Waves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.”

Innovative and deeply poetic, The Waves is often regarded as Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece. It begins with six children—three boys and three girls—playing in a garden by the sea, and follows their lives as they grow up, experience friendship and love, and grapple with the death of their beloved friend Percival. Instead of describing their outward expressions of grief, Woolf draws her characters from the inside, revealing their inner lives: their aspirations, their triumphs and regrets, their awareness of unity and isolation.


Book cover of House of Leaves

Mike Russell Why did I love this book?

I was heartened when this book was published and became reasonably popular, showing that unconventional fiction was still alive. Like BS Johnson before him, Danielewski plays not only with the novel’s story structure but with formal elements such as fonts, paragraphs, footnotes, etc., creating a labyrinth of text with clues and blind alleyways for the reader to get lost in.

By Mark Z. Danielewski,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked House of Leaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A novelistic mosaic that simultaneously reads like a thriller and like a strange, dreamlike excursion into the subconscious.” —The New York Times

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations,…


Book cover of Valis

Mike Russell Why did I love this book?

Blimey. Even by PKD’s standards, this is an unconventional read. VALIS is a story which seeps into the author’s real life, or vice versa. It includes autobiographical elements as well as science fiction and philosophy. Its bravery impresses me. This is art written with the utmost passion, honesty and perhaps even desperation, as it details the author’s mental illness and unexplained experiences and tries to make sense of them. And yet it also manages to be great fun. Really. 

By Philip K. Dick,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Valis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It began with a blinding light, a divine revelation from a mysterious intelligence that called itself VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System). And with that, the fabric of reality was torn apart and laid bare so that anything seemed possible, but nothing seemed quite right.

It was madness, pure and simple. But what if it were true?


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Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

Book cover of Shahrazad's Gift

Gretchen McCullough Author Of Shahrazad's Gift

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a fiction writer and currently live in Cairo, where I have lived for over twenty years. I noticed that the way I started telling stories was influenced by learning Arabic and by listening to the stories of the people in the city. My interest in Arabic also led me to read Arabic literature, like A Thousand and One Nights.   

Gretchen's book list on books influenced by Thousand and One Nights

What is my book about?

Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo — magical, absurd, and humorous.

The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.

These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.

Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

What is this book about?

Shahrazad's Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo-magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight…


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