The best books about mavericks and oddballs

Christopher Wilson Author Of Cotton
By Christopher Wilson

Who am I?

Some authors plan a book then write it. I can’t. I need to find a fresh surprise every day as I discover the book by writing it. And it’s been mavericks, oddballs, and outsiders that have drawn me in. I’m a maximalist. I enjoy the extreme and exotic. I empathise with outsiders. Having trained as a psychologist I developed an interest in oddities of experience and behaviour. And this focus on the maverick matches the potentials of fiction. Novels are great at depicting the inner lives of their characters, their motivations and worldviews, and the diverse ways to be human.


I wrote...

Cotton

By Christopher Wilson,

Book cover of Cotton

What is my book about?

A child conceived of maverick genes, and with clairvoyant powers, Lee Cotton grows up in Eureka, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights Movement, as the blond, white-skinned son of a black mother. As he hurtles through sixties America he undergoes a series of startling personal transformations, from straight, white boy to black, lesbian lady, before ending up as something else.

With a steady voice, in a constant soul, Lee tells how he survives as a perpetual oddball—both Black and white, male and female, straight and gay, clever and stupid, alive and dead. You may have guessed already—it’s heavily autobiographical.

The books I picked & why

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The Outsider

By Albert Camus,

Book cover of The Outsider

Why this book?

I read voraciously as a kid and this is one of those early books that influenced me most.

Once I’d started writing fiction—late, in my thirtiesI focused on mavericks and oddballs. They don’t match our familiar categories. They’re exotic - richly different. They may have intriguing and startling inner lives. They have a deal to say about identity, sense of self, and motive. They also highlight convention, albeit in negative image. And they share a stance with writers themselves, who are often detached, peering in on life from the outside. 

It might have been many other writers, but it was Camus (through The Outsider and The Fall) who first impressed me with confessional voice and narration. It’s all established in the opening lines, slapping you with Meursault’s chilling, oddball indifference. “My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.”

The Outsider

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A peerless work of philosophical fiction that is as shocking today as when it was first published, the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Albert Camus' The Outsider is translated by Joseph Laredo.

Meursault will not pretend. After the death of his mother, everyone is shocked when he shows no sadness. And when he commits a random act of violence in Algiers, society is baffled. Why would this seemingly law-abiding bachelor do such a thing? And why does he show no remorse even when it could save his life? His refusal to satisfy the feelings of others only increases his guilt…


Little Big Man

By Thomas Berger,

Book cover of Little Big Man

Why this book?

My reading follows the pleasure principle. This book is a joy—exuberant, funny, touching, outrageous. It’ll stay a friend for life (along with The Third Policeman).

Jack Crabb—“either the most neglected hero in the history of this country or a liar of insane proportions”—now aged 111, and sole white survivor of Little Big Horn, recounts his first thirty-odd years as a Forest Gump of the Wild West, whose acquaintances include Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, General Custer. 

At ten, Jack is adopted by the Cheyenne (they call themselves ‘Human Beings’, to distinguish themselves from the savage, white settlers). From then on our scoundrel anti-hero bounces between the two cultures—white and First Nation—finding himself an oddball in both. 

Treat yourself.

Little Big Man

By Thomas Berger,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Little Big Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I am a white man and never forget it, but I was brought up by the Cheyenne Indians from the age of ten.' So starts the story of Jack Crabb, the 111-year old narrator of Thomas Berger's masterpiece of American fiction. As a "human being", as the Cheyenne called their own, he won the name Little Big Man. He dressed in skins, feasted on dog, loved four wives and saw his people butchered by the horse soldiers of General Custer, the man he had sworn to kill.

As a white man, Crabb hunted buffalo, tangled with Wyatt Earp, cheated Wild…


Perfume

By Patrick Suskind,

Book cover of Perfume

Why this book?

It comes out of a Germanic tradition, including Hoffmann’s dark, supernatural tales, but Perfume seemed wonderfully original, freshly foul, and captivatingly disgusting. It’s a book that makes its own universe and sets its own rules. It’ll ask you to lend your sympathy to a demented serial killer. And you may well consent.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born amongst the discarded fish guts, in the gutter in an Eighteenth century, Parisian market. In a world that stinks, he lacks a body odour himself, but grows up obsessed with the aroma of things becoming a genius perfumier. But his obsession carries terrible costs for those he meets, and finally for himself.

An oddball book about an oddball character.

Perfume

By Patrick Suskind,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An erotic masterpiece of twentieth century fiction - a tale of sensual obsession and bloodlust in eighteenth century Paris

'An astonishing tour de force both in concept and execution' Guardian

In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name has been forgotten today.

It is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, wickedness, but because his gifts…


Imaginary Friends

By Alison Lurie,

Book cover of Imaginary Friends

Why this book?

Training as a psychologist, I read Leon Festinger’s study “When Prophecy Fails” describing his research study infiltrating a doomsday cult whose believers expected to be rescued by flying saucers from the planet Clarion. Alison Lurie then novelised this scenario in Imaginary Friends. Here we meet a parade of oddballs: psychologists whose everyday normality is deceit, pretending to be delusional themselves, spying on other’s lives: a group of pious, well-meaning souls awaiting extra-terrestrial salvation: a cult leader who receives and relays the group’s alien guidance: the lead researcher who claims to be possessed by the spirit of “Ro of Varna”.

It’s a deft and clever satire that shows the conventions of oddness, and the oddness of conventions.

Imaginary Friends

By Alison Lurie,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Roger and his all-time hero, Tom McMann, are about to infiltrate the Truth Seekers - a unique small-town cult whose credo involves sex, spiritualism and science fiction. Their flying saucer messiah is Ro, resident of the distant planet Varna, who sends his daily cosmic messages through Venea, a nubile teen-age psychic who lives with her Aunt Elsie in upstate New York. For Roger and McMann the experience is all a bit much, held spellbound by Verena's considerable charms and Ro's imminent trip to Earth, all sense of logic falls apart; and before they know it, the sanity of rational thought…


Nights at the Circus

By Angela Carter,

Book cover of Nights at the Circus

Why this book?

Meet Fevvers, twice as large as life, the Victorian circus high-wire artiste, Cockney Venus, winged, part bird, part human, found abandoned newly hatched from a great egg, on the steps of a brothel, as she recounts her sprawling stories within stories, of pigs that read and write, of being painted by Toulouse Lautrec, being courted by the Prince of Wales, dining with Colette. “Everywhere she went rivers parted for her, wars were threatened, suns eclipsed, showers of frogs and footwear were reported…”

It’s drunk on language, a lavish, surreal, exuberant, funny, earthy, erotic, brilliantly imaginative work. Enjoy.

Nights at the Circus

By Angela Carter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Nights at the Circus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction

From the master of the literary supernatural and author of The Bloody Chamber, her acclaimed novel about the exploits of a circus performer who is part-woman, part-swan

Sophi Fevvers-the toast of Europe's capitals, courted by the Prince of Wales, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec-is an aerialiste extraordinaire, star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover Fevvers's true identity: Is she part swan or all fake? Dazzled by his love for Fevvers, and desperate for the scoop of…


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