The best books that are stranger – and funnier – than fiction

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling Author Of A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town
By Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

Who am I?

As a journalist, I’ve often been frustrated at the sense that I am preaching to the choir – those who take the time to read about a serious topic don’t need to, and those who need to, won’t. I’ve learned to spread awareness by packaging serious information inside a “Trojan Horse," one so fun to read that it reaches people who can actually benefit from the educational bits. These brilliant books, and many others, show that a spoonful of sugar can help us easily swallow information about social justice, endangered species, the U.S. military, and American history. I happily make these books Christmas gifts, knowing they are joys, not obligations.

I wrote...

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town

By Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling,

Book cover of A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town

What is my book about?

A tiny American town's plans for radical self-government overlooked one hairy detail: no one told the bears.

Once upon a time, a group of libertarians got together and hatched the Free Town Project, a plan to take over an American town and completely eliminate its government. In 2004, they set their sights on Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved road. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is the sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying tale of what happens when a government disappears into the woods. Complete with gunplay, adventure, and backstabbing politicians, this is the ultimate story of a quintessential American experiment -- to live free or die, perhaps from a bear.

The books I picked & why

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American Hippopotamus

By Jon Mooallem,

Book cover of American Hippopotamus

Why this book?

This book doesn’t just read like a novel – it reads like a great novel: A battle between two compelling characters set against the absurd backdrop of an effort to establish a hippo population in America’s swampland. Mooallem’s understated wit showed me that sometimes the best way to understand history is by tracking the people we’ve never heard of, and the initiatives that never succeeded.

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

By Richard Grant,

Book cover of Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

Why this book?

This is a fantastic dive into a tangle of interrelated subcultures in a part of America so foreign to me that I felt like I was reading about another country. Richard Grant unlocks the secret of how to talk about deep-seated patterns of social injustice in a way that I found to be, not just educational, but a riveting read. This book taught me that sometimes the best way to spread awareness is by getting off of one’s soapbox, and simply allowing the facts – funny, sad, and maddening to speak for themselves.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

By Jon Ronson,

Book cover of The Men Who Stare at Goats

Why this book?

When I picked up this book from a yard sale for a quarter, I had no idea that Ronson was such a master of the absurd. I still marvel at how he went into one of the most staid, tightly-run organizations in the world, the US military, and found a story that was so off-the-wall bananas. I don’t know whether it made me more hysterical with laughter, or hysterical with fear, but I appreciate his ability to employ both subtle and broad humor to keep me turning pages. 

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

By Bill Bryson,

Book cover of A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Why this book?

In this absolute classic, the author describes his efforts to hike the Appalachian Trail as a pudgy, past-his-prime Dad. It functions as a master class in how to present reality with precision-engineered comic timing (and even more perfect grammar/sentence construction). Bryson also demonstrates his rare ability to enliven a dull setting by delving into its history to find those nuggets of weirdness that bring a place to life. Some of his other books are more ambitious, more educational, and at times funnier, but the clean framing makes this the quintessential Bryson read.

Last Chance to See

By Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine,

Book cover of Last Chance to See

Why this book?

Douglas Adams didn’t leave us enough books before he died, and so I find it strange that many Adams fans have somehow overlooked this gem, in which he applies his famously quirky wit to a real-life environmental cause. I’m recommending this one now because it perfectly exemplifies the idea that, in order to be truly sad about the plight of an endangered creature, you first must have a good long laugh at the creature’s expense. Adams makes me feel as if a Komodo Dragon is, not just majestic, but a friend that I’ve gone pub crawling with. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Mississippi, threatened species, and hippos?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mississippi, threatened species, and hippos.

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