The best books that shatter the conventions of what a novel can be

David David Katzman Author Of A Greater Monster
By David David Katzman

Who am I?

As a writer, artist, and actor throughout my life, I’ve explored and enjoyed many artistic forms. While I appreciate books across many genres, I elevate to the highest level those works that manage to break conventional boundaries and create something original. In my own work, I have always challenged myself to create something unique with a medium that has never been done before. At the same time, I have sought to discover a process and resulting work that inspires readers’ own creativity and challenges them to expand their imagination. 

I wrote...

A Greater Monster

By David David Katzman,

Book cover of A Greater Monster

What is my book about?

A psychedelic fairytale for the modern age, A Greater Monster is a mind-bending poetic trip into a radically twisted alternate reality that reflects civilization like a funhouse mirror. A Greater Monster crosses boundaries with illustrations, graphic design, and hidden links to animation and original music. Throughout the experience, you'll encounter sphinxes, gods, living skeletons, witches, and quite possibly the strangest circus ever imagined. Innovative and astonishing, A Greater Monster breathes new life into the possibilities of fiction. Received a Gold Medal as Outstanding Book of the Year in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

“I can't express how brilliant my favorite scenes in A Greater Monster are. In this extraordinary work, Katzman pushes language to do things, which are truly astounding.” Carra Stratton, Editor, Starcherone Press

The books I picked & why

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Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

By William S. Burroughs Jr., James Grauerholz, Barry Miles

Book cover of Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

Why this book?

First published in 1959, Naked Lunch was shocking then, and it still retains its power today. Both in content and structure, Naked Lunch is powerful and wholly original.  In effect, it becomes more than a work of fiction, it becomes an experience. Burroughs invented a technique called the “cut-up method,” where he cut up his coherent storyline into paragraphs, scenes, and even sentences, then reordered them both randomly and editorially. The disorder thematically represents the chaos of existence and the universe, and it also disrupts the reader. Like the book or not, it shakes you into realizing that there are possibilities beyond the conventional.

Burrough’s language is honed to a razor’s edge, and I find that many of the sentences in Naked Lunch burn like fire. The meaning of the title as Burroughs explains it is to bare the naked truth of reality on the end of a fork. From the content to the form and style, he lives up to that intention. Historically, it’s also worth admiring his complete disregard for mainstream sensibility. Burroughs doesn’t bend to censorship to make the book more palatable for sales or for critical reviews. Naked Lunch is a groundbreaking achievement.

The Alphabet Man

By Richard Grossman,

Book cover of The Alphabet Man

Why this book?

Grossman achieves something remarkable in The Alphabet Man. The work manages to weave together visual, avant-garde graphic design, literary poetry, and a suspenseful thrilling plot. The book itself is gorgeous to look at it, and the text layout is designed as a work of art. Grossman seamlessly blends these disparate elements into a unified, unique creation that breaks the boundaries of what a novel can be. 

At Swim-Two-Birds

By Flann O'Brien,

Book cover of At Swim-Two-Birds

Why this book?

O’Brien was a brilliant, groundbreaking writer who blended humor with literary experimentation to create stories that were both original and highly pleasurable to read. At Swim-Two-Birds is his most epic creation, published in 1939. I would credit O’Brien with being the inventor of what became post-modernism. At Swim-Two-Birds blends metafiction and literary fantasy with an onion layer of stories within stories in a way that no book ever had before. And yet O’Brien manages to exceed the common self-serious tone and disconnection from lived human emotion that can plague post-modernism. His writing balances experimentation with a sense of our shared humanity and thus avoids the cold abstraction so commonly found in post-modern literature.

I Hate the Internet

By Jarett Kobek,

Book cover of I Hate the Internet

Why this book?

I Hate the Internet is an uncompromising punch in the face that blends comedy with a didactic, experimental style. It names names and kicks ass. It’s vibrant and energizing. The majority of traditional literary fiction at its core finds its value in teaching empathy through believable characters. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, we still stand today with a world collapsing around us environmentally and politically. We need more books that just say fuck it, conservative forms have not saved us from global warming, political fascism, or dehumanizing capitalism so let’s try something different. At least here’s a unique attempt to rage against the machine. I call it a must-read.

Locos: A Comedy of Gestures

By Felipe Alfau,

Book cover of Locos: A Comedy of Gestures

Why this book?

Locos is charming and cruel, tragic and hilarious, ambiguous yet direct, and written with clear, poetic prose. The experimental style on display never overwhelms the narrative. Despite the fact that Alfau directly declares the fictive nature of his characters, he made me care about them. The book contains a series of interconnected short stories with characters reappearing throughout and even when they are not featured, a brief mention may act as a dramatic revelation that changes significantly what you read before. And further, some of the characters seem to metamorphosize and serve different roles in subsequent stories.

The entirety manages to hold together as more of a novel than a collection partly thanks to the overlapping characters, partly through the consistent tone and style, and partly because Alfau is always in the background or making appearances as "the author." Some of the stories are quite hilarious, while some are devastating. I take the overarching theme to be the absurdity of life. Locos is flat-out brilliant, and it's a book that can be read multiple times.

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