Three fiction books next to lamp

Inventive Fiction to Shake Up Your Routine

November 13 2020

Sometimes a reading rut can spawn from too much of the same thing and it helps to “shock the system” by introducing a fresh voice into your reading line-up. In an effort to help anyone snap out of a book blockage, I’ve rounded up some of the most inventive fiction I’ve stumbled upon lately that brought me newfound enjoyment in a fun turn-of-phrase. And for anyone who finds themselves hitting a National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) roadblock, these perspectives may help to get the creative juices flowing.

The Appointment
by Katharina Volckmer

Just from that gorgeous cover, you know this’ll be good. The entire novel-in-monologue takes place in a gynecologist’s office, where the narrator is going through a routine exam. Her thoughts cascade into quandaries about Dr. Seligman’s love life, dark sexual fantasies, and deeply personal memories. Author Katharina Volckmer perfectly captures the chaos of a mind in wander mode, and this book will surprise you at every turn. It will encourage you to analyze the way you think and will spark your creativity in no time. But just as a warning, do not read this book before going in for a bodily exam; it’ll make you hyperaware of your thoughts, and that’s just not a place you want to be when in a mind-wandering situation—as the narrator can attest.

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The Appointment
Katharina Volckmer

“A darkly funny untangling of national and sexual identity.” —The Guardian * “Transgressive...Incendiary.” —The New Yorker * “A furious comic monologue...with a disregard for propriety worthy of Alexander Portnoy.” —The New York Times Book Review * “Sexy, hilarious, and subversive.” The Paris Review

For readers of Ottessa Moshfegh and Han Kang, a whip-smart debut novel in which a woman on the verge of major change addresses her doctor in a stream of consciousness narrative.

In a well-appointed examination in London, a young woman unburdens herself to a certain Dr. Seligman. Though she can barely see above his head, she holds forth about her life and desires, her struggles with her sexuality and identity. Born and raised in Germany, she has been living in London for several years, determined to break free from her family origins and her haunted homeland. But the recent death of her grandfather, and an unexpected inheritance, make it clear that you cannot easily outrun your own shame, whether it be physical, familial, historical, national, or all of the above.

Or can you? With Dr. Seligman’s help, our narrator will find out.

In a monologue that is both deliciously dark and subversively funny, she takes us on a wide-ranging journey from Hitler-centered sexual fantasies and overbearing mothers to the medicinal properties of squirrel tails and the notion that anatomical changes can serve as historical reparation. The Appointment is an audacious debut novel by an explosive new international literary voice, challenging all of our notions of what is fluid and what is fixed, and the myriad ways we seek to make peace with others and ourselves in the 21st century.

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A Particular Kind of Black Man
by Tope Folarin

Tunde Akinola feels out of place in his small town in Utah. Growing up Black in a deeply bigoted town is a struggle for Tunde and his Nigeria-born parents, but it’s the only home he’s ever known, so when his mother runs away, taking him with her to Nigeria, the sense of displacement keeps growing. This novel covers a lot of ground—from mental illness to HBCUs to evangelical religions, and more. And as Tunde encounters different stages of life, the novel literally changes its POV, switching from first to second to third person at various phases of Tunde’s life. This POV structure brings to the forefront a very real sense of Tunde’s displacement and that of the immigrant experience. If you’ve been reading the same narratives lately and are stuck in a reading rut, try picking up this mind-blowing structure of a story. And for anybody doing NaNoWriMo, this book is a master class in how changing a story’s POV can evoke a different emotional response.

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A Particular Kind of Black Man
Tope Folarin

**One of Time’s 32 Books You Need to Read This Summer**

An NPR Best Book of 2019

An “electrifying” (Publishers Weekly) debut novel from Rhodes Scholar and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing about a Nigerian family living in Utah and their uneasy assimilation to American life.

Living in small-town Utah has always been an uncomfortable fit for Tunde Akinola’s family, especially for his Nigeria-born parents. Though Tunde speaks English with a Midwestern accent, he can’t escape the children who rub his skin and ask why the black won’t come off. As he struggles to fit in, he finds little solace from his parents who are grappling with their own issues.

Tunde’s father, ever the optimist, works tirelessly chasing his American dream while his wife, lonely in Utah without family and friends, sinks deeper into schizophrenia. Then one otherwise-ordinary morning, Tunde’s mother wakes him with a hug, bundles him and his baby brother into the car, and takes them away from the only home they’ve ever known.

But running away doesn’t bring her, or her children, any relief; once Tunde’s father tracks them down, she flees to Nigeria, and Tunde never feels at home again. He spends the rest of his childhood and young adulthood searching for connection—to the wary stepmother and stepbrothers he gains when his father remarries; to the Utah residents who mock his father’s accent; to evangelical religion; to his Texas middle school’s crowd of African-Americans; to the fraternity brothers of his historically black college. In so doing, he discovers something that sends him on a journey away from everything he has known.

Sweeping, stirring, and perspective-shifting, A Particular Kind of Black Man is “wild, vulnerable, lived…A study of the particulate self, the self as a constellation of moving parts” (The New York Times Book Review).

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Dept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill

This book is like reading an artist’s deeply honest journal. Author Jenny Offill puts so much trust in the reader, jumping from inspiring quotes to quickly jotted down observations. And the more you feel each paragraph and make connections, the more this book will reward you. After reading it, you won’t be able to stop making poetic connections between everything you encounter: dialogue in a TV show, a candy wrapper, your own hopes and dreams, etc. Anyone who finds themselves bored—in books or in life—may discover their minuscule observations hold more weight than they previously thought.

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Dept. of Speculation
Jenny Offill

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Cuyahoga
by Pete Beatty

This tall tale is narrated from the perspective of Medium Son—Meed—who describes the adventures of his Paul Bunyan–like brother Big Son. Back when Ohio was still the frontier, Cleveland and Ohio city were rivals competing to become the next great hotspot of the Midwest. Big Son is running around in the middle of it all—building bridges, falling in love, finding work, and making a name for himself as a living legend, which Meed documents with fondness and humor. Meed’s voice is unique and his fun twisting of words and delightfully fresh descriptions will definitely lift your mood and give your reading routine a revamp.

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Cuyahoga
Pete Beatty

One of The Millions and BuzzFeed’s Most Anticipated Books

A spectacularly inventive debut novel that reinvents the tall tale for our times—“Cuyahoga defies all modest description…[it] is ten feet tall if it’s an inch, and it’s a ramshackle joy from start to finish” (Brian Phillips, author of Impossible Owls).

Big Son is a spirit of the times—the times being 1837. Behind his broad shoulders, shiny hair, and church-organ laugh, Big Son practically made Ohio City all by himself. The feats of this proto-superhero have earned him wonder and whiskey toasts but very little in the way of fortune. And without money, Big cannot become an honest husband to his beloved Cloe (who may or may not want to be his wife, honestly).

In pursuit of a steady wage, our hero hits the (dirt) streets of Ohio City and Cleveland, the twin towns racing to become the first great metropolis of the West. Their rivalry reaches a boil over the building of a bridge across the Cuyahoga River—and Big stumbles right into the kettle. The resulting misadventures involve elderly terrorists, infrastructure collapse, steamboat races, wild pigs, and multiple ruined weddings.

Narrating this “deliriously fun” (Brian Phillips) tale is Medium Son—known as Meed—apprentice coffin maker, almanac author, orphan, and the younger brother of Big. Meed finds himself swept up in the action, and he is forced to choose between brotherly love and his own ambitions. His uncanny voice—plain but profound, colloquial but surprisingly poetic—elevates a slapstick frontier tale into a screwball origin myth for the Rust Belt.

In Cuyahoga, tragedy and farce jumble together in a riotously original voice. Evoking the Greek classics and the Bible alongside nods to Looney Tunes, Charles Portis, and Flannery O’Connor, Pete Beatty has written a rollicking revisionist (mid)Western with universal themes of family and fate—an old, weird America that feels brand new.

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Girl, Woman, Other
by Bernardine Evaristo

This innovative novel by Bernardine Evaristo is divided into twelve chapters, each one portraying a Black British woman or nonbinary person from a different background, whether it be in age, career, social class, etc. In this way it raises thought-provoking questions about how identity translates across the spectrum. And thanks to its poetic and creative use of grammar, you may never read a book the same way again—forever realizing the importance of well-placed line breaks or punctuation. Also, Barack Obama selected this book for his 2019 best books of the year list, so basically pick it up now if it’s not already on your bookshelves!

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Girl, Woman, Other
Bernardine Evaristo

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MENTIONED IN:

Inventive Fiction to Shake Up Your Routine

By Emily Lewis | November 13, 2020

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One Writer's Beginnings
by Eudora Welty

Plus, for anyone participating in NaNoWriMo this month, here are three nonfiction resources that are helpful for any writer!

Part memoir, part exploration of the seeds of creativity, ONE WRITER'S BEGINNINGS is a unique distillation of Eudora Welty's Mississippi childhood that made her the acclaimed and important writer she would become.

 
 
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One Writer's Beginnings
Eudora Welty

Featuring a new introduction, this updated edition of the New York Times bestselling classic by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author and one of the most revered figures in American letters is “profound and priceless as guidance for anyone who aspires to write” (Los Angeles Times).

Born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi, Eudora Welty shares details of her upbringing that show us how her family and her surroundings contributed to the shaping not only of her personality but of her writing as well. Everyday sights, sounds, and objects resonate with the emotions of recollection: the striking clocks, the Victrola, her orphaned father’s coverless little book saved since boyhood, the tall mountains of the West Virginia back country that became a metaphor for her mother’s sturdy independence, Eudora’s earliest box camera that suspended a moment forever and taught her that every feeling awaits a gesture.

In her vivid descriptions of growing up in the South—of the interplay between black and white, between town and countryside, between dedicated schoolteachers and the children they taught—she recreates the vanished world of her youth with the same subtlety and insight that mark her fiction, capturing “the mysterious transfiguring gift by which dream, memory, and experience become art” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).

Part memoir, part exploration of the seeds of creativity, this unique distillation of a writer’s beginnings offers a rare glimpse into the Mississippi childhood that made Eudora Welty the acclaimed and important writer she would become.

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Inventive Fiction to Shake Up Your Routine

By Emily Lewis | November 13, 2020

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So to Speak
by Shirley Kobliner

Engage with everyday expressions in a completely different (and fun!) way, with this entertaining and interactive book of common phrases that can turn a humdrum gathering into a raucous game night.

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So to Speak
Shirley Kobliner

Engage with everyday expressions in a completely different (and fun!) way, with this entertaining and interactive book of common phrases that can turn a humdrum gathering into a raucous game night.

We use expressions all the time. When you feel sick, you’re “under the weather.” When you feel great, you’re “on top of the world.” You may be fine with “half a loaf,” or you may insist on “the whole enchilada.” But whether you’re a “smart cookie” or a tough one, you—and almost everyone you know—have a veritable smorgasbord of expressions stored deep in your brain.

So to Speak: 11,000 Expressions That’ll Knock Your Socks Off is the largest expressions book of its kind. Thoughtfully divided into sixty-four categories—from Animals to Food & Cooking, from Love to Politics—these clever expressions (plus the dozens of game recommendations in the book) will keep you entertained for days. Authors Shirley and Harold Kobliner spent more than half a century nurturing and teaching children. So to Speak is a reflection of their deeply held belief that regardless of a person’s age, the most impactful learning happens when you’re having fun. Whether it’s grandparents teaching their favorite expressions to their grandkids, teens helping adults with the latest lingo, or millennials indulging in their love of wordplay and games, this is the perfect book to celebrate the joy of words and expressions.

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On Writing
by Stephen King

Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

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On Writing
Stephen King

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King

Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

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photo credit: Off the Shelf

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