I have a friend who consistently describes books as “weird”. I’ll ask, “So, what did you think of (insert name of book here)?”, and said friend will respond with, “It was weird.” “Well, what do you mean by weird?” “I don’t know, it was just….weird.”
It pretty much goes without saying that weird is a pretty subjective term. For example, you might think it’s weird that I use things that are normally considered “Halloween decorations” as year round décor for my house, hold full on conversations with my dog, and insert quotes from Step Brothers and This is the End into my everyday speech—but I don’t find that very weird at all.
But for me, calling a book “weird” is not going to put me off of it. Sometimes calling a book—or anything, really—“weird” is only going to make me more inclined to pick it up. Partially, it’s the sense of just needing to know what it is that makes other people dub a piece of writing weird or strange—that innate human curiosity which perpetually gets us into trouble—but largely, it’s because I like weird stuff. Maybe even love weird stuff. I’ll watch almost any horror movie, even the crappy ones (sometimes especially the crappy ones), I’m super interested in ghosts and the paranormal, and one of my favorite things is finding abandoned, decrepit, straight up falling apart buildings—and checking out what was left behind inside them. So some weirdness here, some creepiness there—it’s all good.
So in honor of my love of the weird, the strange, the unusual…I’d like to recommend six books, all of which could be considered weird for a variety of reasons, whether it’s spooky, trippy, keeps you up at night, makes you think about things in a different way, or has some just plain gross moments…either way, things are about to get weird.
And this may go without saying, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway: reader discretion is advised for all of these titles.
Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
I could almost put any book by Chuck Palahniuk on this list, just because his work is generally what a lot of people would call “weird”—it’s satirical, it’s gritty, it forces us to look at the world in ways we never thought of and maybe never wanted to, and sometimes it’s downright gross. Most people already know Palahniuk for his perennial classic Fight Club, and even if you’ve never read the book—or seen the movie—then you, at the very least, know the first rule of Fight Club. But while Fight Club may be his most quotable work yet, make no mistake about it, Chuck Palahniuk is an extremely accomplished author with a list of books as long as my arm.
And my arms are pretty long. I’m like 5’8”, so, you know, I need me some long noodle arms to balance myself out.
But for the sake of not letting Palahniuk take over this list, or just sitting here and making a list of my favorite Chuck Palahniuk books (all of them), I’ve gone ahead and narrowed it down to two. I tried to narrow it down to just one (really, I did. I swear), but if you know anything about me and my obsession with this man’s work, I just couldn’t make it happen. Sorry not sorry.
So the first weird book on the list is Damned, the first book in a duology about thirteen-year-old Madison, who dies, goes to Hell, and spends her time thinking that the reason she is in Hell is because she smoked pot.
The entire book is narrated by Madison post-death, but she does also spend some of the time looking back on and talking about her life in the living realm. While her life while she was alive was far from average, it’s things in the Underworld that get remarkably out of hand. Madison makes friends with a ragtag little group of other damned teenagers, affectionately referred to as the Breakfast Club of Hell, she gets a job working as a literal from-the-depths-of-Hell telemarketer whose phone is programmed to only call Earth during dinnertime so she can pester people about market research studies, and then there’s her warrior trek across the disgusting depths of Hell itself where she may or may not confront a certain well-known historical German leader and may or may not cut off his trademark moustache and strap it to her belt (and later pin it to her bulletin board) as a trophy. And that’s just the beginning.
So, yeah. It’s pretty wild.
Perhaps the weirdest part of this book is the actual landscape of Hell, which includes such horrifyingly grotesque geographical landmarks as the Dandruff Desert, the Thicket of Amputated Limbs, The Lake of Tepid Bile, and The Great Ocean of Wasted Sperm.
And popcorn balls that blow around like tumbleweeds.
So, suffice it to say, I do not recommend eating while you read this one.
Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
Okay, let’s move away from the stomach-churning for a second and move onto one that will make you fall in love with your bed all over again.
So people are pretty much always speculating about the zombie apocalypse—how it will start, where it will start, how it will spread, what form it will come in…but what if it came in the form of insomnia?
That’s basically what happens in Black Moon, in which insomnia begins to spread across the world, essentially infecting everyone with sleeplessness and making sleep the most sought-after commodity in the world, as well as making people downright crazy (as lack of sleep tends to do).
As someone who has suffered from insomnia in the past and still has bouts with sleeplessness, just the concept of this is downright terrifying to me. And seeing it manifested on the page is even scarier. Calhoun writes about a diverse cast of characters in this novel, all of whom have lives that have been touched by this outbreak of insomnia. Biggs can still sleep, but his wife can’t, and when she disappears, he sets out looking for her, but has to conceal the fact that he is still able to sleep for fear of the wrath of the insomniacs who simply wish they could. Chase and Jordan loot a pharmacy for all its sleeping pills and plan to make a living as drug dealers to the sleepless, which in and of itself is such a crazy concept to think about, and yet…it’s not really that far-fetched, is it? We’re all trying to get something we don’t have, and even in the real world, plenty of people turn to drugs to do so. In a world where insomnia rules, it’s only logical that people would do the same. Meanwhile, Lila runs away from home because it is no longer safe for her to be around her insomniac parents, and Felicia runs away from a very interesting place to be during an insomnia outbreak: a sleep research center.
Overall, this whole book takes the entire idea of sleeping—something which we can take so for granted sometimes—and makes you look at it in a completely different way, a way that’s terrifying and eye-opening. No pun intended.
The whole book is a pretty wild ride, but by the end of it, if you can close your eyes and get any amount of sleep at all, you will be endlessly thankful for that fact. The world Calhoun portrays in Black Moon is not a world I’d ever want to live in.
Zombie by J.R. Angelella
You know how they say don’t judge a book by its cover, right? Well, in this case, don’t judge a book by its title. This book isn’t about zombies…and yet it is.
And at this point you’re like wait, do you even know what you’re babbling about?
Let me explain further.
While the actual, real life events that happen to the main character, Jeremy, don’t literally involve zombies, Jeremy lives his life according to a “Zombie Survival Code”, which he has compiled from his ten favorite zombie movies, ranging from Night of the Living Dead to Zombieland to Zombie Strippers. Suffice it to say, this kid is obsessed with zombie movies, and he can find a way to apply the lessons he’s learned from movies about the walking dead to pretty much any situation in life.
When I first picked up this book, as soon as I read that Jeremy lives by his own personal Zombie Survival Code, I already knew I wanted to read it. I thought to myself, that is….fascinating. Please tell me more about that.
But just because the Zombie Survival Code was what initially got my attention, let’s not write off the rest of the book, because some seriously crazy shit goes down. Jeremy’s dad starts acting weird and Jeremy starts investigating why, eventually leading him to a strange DVD in his dad’s possessions which seems to be a recording of a man prepping to perform surgery. And of course, all this is going on while Jeremy navigates the day to day of being a teenager who’s a bit of an outcast and, you know, lives his life like it’s a George Romero movie. I won’t spoil it here, but when he actually finds out what his dad is involved in that has him acting so weird, he gets what is pretty much the definition of dangerously close to the situation, and you will not believe what goes down. The whole “big reveal” scene toward the end of the book simultaneously spiked my adrenaline through the roof and actually nauseated me a little.
Oh, and there’s this little guy:
Who peeks in from various places on the page each time we start a new section.
Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
Okay, back to my boy Palahniuk for a second now. I just have to include this one, too, although, to be honest, I recommend anything by him. Survivor is about a man called Tender Branson, who is supposedly the last remaining survivor of a cult called the Creedish Death Cult, all of whom offed themselves in a Heaven’s Gate-style mass suicide, leaving Tender, who was living outside the colony at the time, out of the loop…so to speak. When the rest of the members who were living outside the colony all commit suicide as well, Tender’s “last survivor” status makes him something of a celebrity, which may sound weird at first, until you take a step back and think about the people who we idolize and elevate in today’s pop culture society. Like teenagers who mouth off to audience members on Dr. Phil. I mean, I’m just saying.
Tender Branson is narrating this story himself, and what’s unique about it is that he is narrating into a plane’s “black box” or flight recorder as the plane is on its way to crashing, leaving behind his story of his own life before he kills himself via plane crash. And throughout his narrating, we learn that even before he became a celebrity who was pumped full of drugs and aggrandized as some idealistic spiritual leader, Tender’s life was weird. Weird in the sense that he spent his time working for a super rich couple, teaching them how to eat complicated foods like lobster or artichokes and planting fake flowers in their garden. Weird in the sense that he put up stickers around town with his phone number on them urging people hanging on by barely a thread to call him as if his number is a helpline, and then basically decided whether they lived or died (and they usually died…this is *not* a book for the easily triggered). Weird in the sense that after telling one of his callers to kill himself, he ends up meeting the caller’s sister in a cemetery where he’s collecting fake flowers and falling for her, even though she’s basically repulsed by him.
So, yeah. A lot of weird stuff going on in this one. But it’s a captivating read.
And get this…I may be super easily amused but I was so excited when I realized this: the page numbers and chapters count backwards in this book.
As we are counting down to the end of the of Tender Branson’s life, we are also counting down to the end of the book. Which is trippy and unique AND THERE’S NO OPTION ON GOODREADS FOR TRACKING THAT.
But it’s still awesome.
The Merciless by Danielle Vega
And, as a big lover of YA, I couldn’t round out my list without one “weird” YA book, so I’m recommending The Merciless by Danielle Vega. As a Barbie pink book with an inverted pentagram on the cover, this one was sure to attract attention before you even open it, but once you get into the nitty-gritty of it, the weirdness intensifies.
The Merciless is a sort of Heathers meets The Exorcist novel about a group of popular girls who adopt the new girl at school, Sofia, into their clique, and then immediately set about kidnapping and performing an exorcism on Brooklyn, their school’s “Resident Weird Girl”.
I’m not kidding, these chicks kidnap her and go full on the-power-of-Christ-compels-you.
It starts out seeming like they’re just doing it as a prank or to bully the girl, and have managed to rope Sofia into it, too, but the weirdest part of this book is how far these girls actually go with this, and how quickly and totally out of hand things get. They actually set about torturing and maiming Brooklyn, and I don’t want to get too spoiler-y with it, but things only escalate from there. (I know, it doesn’t seem like they could escalate further, but trust me, they do.)
Vega does an amazing job with her descriptions of the horrifying acts performed upon Brooklyn, and the juxtaposition of popular teenage girls with heinous, gruesome acts is either the most jarring or the most easily believable thing about it. I’ll let you be the judge.
P.S.: If you read this one and love it, it has a sequel which is also pretty good (simply titled The Merciless II), and there’s a third one coming in July of this year (The Merciless: Origin of Evil).
So what do y’all think? Have you read any of these five “weird” books? What’s the weirdest book you’ve ever read? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk.
Runners-Up for This List:
The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares – various authors // edited by Jason Blumhouse
Diary by Chuck Palahniuk
Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Horns by Joe Hill