The best weird and wonderful books to read in one weekend

The Books I Picked & Why

How to Escape from a Leper Colony: A Novella and Stories

By Tiphanie Yanique

How to Escape from a Leper Colony: A Novella and Stories

Why this book?

I love the unexpected beauty and horror of this book which is a collection of stories and a novella. The title also made me wonder, how do you escape a leper colony? Author Tiphanie Yanique is a Caribbean writer whose stunningly poetic voice haunted me long after I finished reading her book. As I read it, I imagined the narrator's Caribbean accent soaking into every syllable. In the key short story, Yanique sets us down in a leper colony on a deserted island for the dying and yet manages to leave room for the miraculous as well. Describing one leper she says, "And when a man with no hands claims that he can fly, you listen."


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The Strange Library

By Haruki Murakami, Ted Goossen

The Strange Library

Why this book?

Murakami's world is magic realist by default. It's often infused with American pop culture, jazz, secret passageways, and curious cats. The Strange Library is a perfect introduction to the author's world and it makes a nice gift. The book is adorned with pop illustrations and highly saturated colors. In this short novel a lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep/man plot their escape from a nightmarish library. I have read the author's 1Q84 opus of 1,000 pages but it is his short works -- his short stories and novellas -- that have stayed with me the most.


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Reincarnation Blues

By Michael Poore

Reincarnation Blues

Why this book?

Just when I thought I'd heard every take on spiritual and physical rebirth -- I stumbled upon Reincarnation Blues. On its surface, it's the story of a man who is reincarnated over 10,000 lifetimes to be with his one true love, but that doesn't do it justice. The narrator describes a world too weird to be true but speaks with such off-handed authority I found it hard not to believe him:  "Died, in a future life, in a starship crash at the speed of light, in a moment that resonated forever inside the envelope of time." Poetical, adventurous, full of wonder.


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Incendiary

By Chris Cleave

Incendiary

Why this book?

If ever there was a book that cast a spell over me, it was Incendiary. The novel is written as a letter to Osama Bin Laden; the letter writer is a woman whose husband and son were killed in a terrorist attack. How male author Chris Cleave manages to speak in the voice of a heartbreakingly traumatized, possibly drunk woman is a true act of ventriloquism. I could imagine the whole thing performed on a black box stage as a monologue and it would be riveting. The heroine's rage is understandable throughout the course of the story. What is surprising is her grace, her sense of humor, even her tenderness toward the man who destroyed her family. At one point she urges him to "stop making boy-shaped holes in the world."


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In the Dream House: A Memoir

By Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House: A Memoir

Why this book?

The other books are fiction but this one is a memoir. If there is such a thing as a magic realist memoir, In the Dream House is it. It's a poetic account of an abusive queer relationship with one woman in love and one woman in control. Each tiny chapter has a quirky title: "Dream House as Memory Palace." "Dream House as Telenovela." But over time I paid more attention to the story and less to the titles and I found myself being drawn deeper into the narrative. I kept my eyes peeled for the abuse but it was really a tale of micro-aggressions. The subtleness of the abuse was a horror story of its own. Ultimately it was the beauty, humor, and adventurousness of Machado's writing that provided redemption for me as a reader.


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