Erica’s Book Roundup: Offbeat Picks

“What have you been reading lately?”

We hear that a lot at the library — from patrons looking for their next great read, from staffers putting together brochures and recommended lists, and from curious coworkers, because we’re a bookish people and like to share.

Often, my reading follows a niche theme: middle grade magical realism for a few weeks, then #ownvoices fantasy, then college-set suspense. It’s not intentional, really – I just find myself in a MOOD and reach for the same sorts of titles until it passes.

My latest literary binge? Weird-but-good.

I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Not exactly a genre, but offbeat stories with unusual structures or premises — books with a twist, to keep things fresh when life is feeling a little stale. Often, they’re stories that require a few pages or chapters to get into — a literary leap of faith that reaps unexpected rewards.

Here are three of my latest reads, all of which fall squarely into the weird but good category:

Weather by Jenny Offill: A reluctant librarian takes a second job answering email for a disaster-themed podcast and grows increasingly paranoid about the state of the world. Meanwhile, her marriage is in trouble, her mother is turning into a recluse, and her recovering-addict brother is struggling to stay sober. The story is told through brief, diary-like snippets, giving the book a stream of consciousness feel. Lizzie’s voice is dryly funny — the kind of humor that takes a beat to register, then makes you snort-laugh. But what I love best is the way that Lizzie pulls herself of her spiraling despair through personal connection — a message that resonates deeply in these uncertain times. (Available in Print, Large Type, CloudLibrary, Overdrive)

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu: Formatted like a script, this satirical novel follows Willis Wu, son of Chinese immigrants who lives in a SRO hotel. The hotel’s first floor houses The Golden Palace restaurant, where the police procedural series Black and White is filmed. Like everyone else who lives in the hotel, Willis plays a variety of extra roles in the show: Generic Asian Man, Silent Henchman, Guy Who Runs In And Gets Kicked In The Face. Willis dreams of being promoted to Kung Fu Guy, but his mother wants him to Be More. It’’s a slightly surreal story that takes a few chapters to feel comfortable with — but Willis himself is an appealing, earnest character who struggles with what it means to be Chinese-American, and what it means to be himself when his work requires him to be a stereotype. Weeks later, I’m still thinking about this story. (Available in Print and Libby/Overdrive)

Finna by Nino CipriFinna is a novella — which I tend to avoid because if I like a book, I want to spend more time with it, not less — but Finna’s delightfully strange premise was irresistible. At Swedish big box store LitenVärld (think IKEA), the mashup of differently-styled showrooms lends itself to an odd phenomenon — wormholes open up with startling regularity, leading to an entire multiverse of LitenVärlds. Some are similar, some very, very different (and dangerous). When an elderly customer wanders off through a wormhole, employee Ava and her ex, Jules, are drafted to go retrieve her before Something Terrible happens. As the two travel through wormhole after wormhole, they are forced to reckon with their relationship, carnivorous chairs, and the frustrations of working a minimum-wage job. It’s a fast, funny read, and once you’re done, you’ll never look at Ikea the same way again. (Available in Print; Libby/Overdrive coming soon!)

If you’re looking for a literary breath of fresh air, give one of these titles a try — and if you’re looking for something to fit your own very specific reading mood, ask the Bookies here!

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