Why you should care
Because we’ve all got some strangeness in our souls.
If books are, as David Foster Wallace once mused, stuff we read so we feel less alone, then perhaps there are few books more important to read than the ones written by weirdos, for the weirdos among us. Why, after all, should we read literature to get another version of what we live every day? We read to bring life into sharper relief … and sometimes, to get off this planet altogether.
Here are a few picks for who to read if you’d like to walk the line between realism and full-on sci-fi. These are literary writers who flirt with magic realism and the everyday, and do so with mouthwatering sentences and stories.
Ruth Ozeki (if you like: Haruki Murakami, NoViolet Bulawayo, manga and monks)
In Canadian Ozeki’s second novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, you can dwell in a world just barely tinged with fantasy. A Tale for the Time Being is no Rushdie or Márquez; the magic is subtle, and you might miss it when you first pick it up. It follows a Canadian novelist named Ruth (helloooo, Proust) who picks up a Japanese teen’s diary that washes up on her shore, presumably by way of rough post-typhoon waters. What else? Zen Buddhists, quantum physics, queries about the nature of the universe and a cat named Shrodinger.
John Crowley (if you like: both C.S. Lewis and Gustave Flaubert, magical creatures and ancient manuscripts)
Full disclosure: Your correspondent studied under Crowley. And further full disclosure: Your correspondent hates science fiction and hasn’t dabbled much in fantasy since fifth-grade Lord of the Rings binges. Under-the-radar Crowley, though, is a rare specimen — a fantasy writer with a literary touch and an ability to weave positively intricate sentences, who gives you the sense of reading in an old musty library on a sunny English afternoon. His most famous work, Little, Big, is hugely ambitious and plays with everything from giantesses to theosophy. Literary critic Harold Bloom, who doesn’t much like, well, anything at all, has called it “a neglected masterpiece.”
Julio Cortázar (if you like: Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Bolaño, existential nightmares)
You may have encountered Cortázar by way of his radically short one-page story “La Continuidad de los Parques.” We won’t even summarize here because you should just go read the damn thing yourself. Seriously. It’s one page. But if you’ve tried the Latin American magic realists and haven’t dipped into Cortázar, get on that. An Argentine, he died in 1984, and spanned many a country in his lifetime, from Belgium to his home nation to France. A playwright, translator, Castro supporter and Sandinista, he kept his brain plenty lively with different forms and politics. And such a varied mind, in our opinion, makes for colorful work.
Madeleine L’Engle (if you like: Philip Pullman, science, God)
Somehow, L’Engle gets relegated to the children’s literature shelves, but if your fourth-grader can understand what’s going on here, you should have them studied by a genius lab. She’s wonderfully accessible as a storyteller, sure, but L’Engle, the author of the Wrinkle in Time series, is steeped in Christian theology and some lovely mysticism to boot. Surreal thunderstorms give way to new layers of the universe; centaurs teach us about how to be good people.