Oleg Kagan
Feb 13 · 9 min read
Some books…You don’t know what to make of them!

If you’re like me and read around a variety of genres, there have surely been books you’ve encountered that affected you in weird and unexpected ways. And then there are those books where you put them down and have no words. Sometimes the book was so profound that you could think of no immediate response, other times you just read the equivalent of being given the gift of a seven-legged tiger. “What the heck was the author trying to do here?” You might ask, or, “What did that even mean?” or more simply: “Whaaaat!?”

Below are a few books that made me and some of my friends say “Whaaaat!?”:

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow (Oleg K.) — “Okay, the main character’s father is a mountain, his mother is a washing machine, his three youngest brothers are a set of Russian nesting dolls, and he is trying to build a wifi mesh network in his Toronto neighborhood from computer parts found in dumpsters. Also, there’s family drama, violence, and more. Need I say more?”

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (Oleg K.) — “This is the only book that’s ever made me feel high while I was reading it. I would literally be in the middle of it, stop, look around and feel like I was in an altered state.”

VALIS by Philip K. Dick (Oleg K.) — “I’ve read a lot of PKD, and this one is definitely off the deep-end. Philip Dick alter-ego Horselover Fat gets a special vision from an extraordinary entity and spends the novel circling around its inscrutable meaning. I’m still not sure whether this book made any sense whatsoever.”

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (Oleg K.) — “This was recommended to me by an older acquaintance just after high school. Up to that point, I don’t think I’d experienced a book of such unflinching and imaginative violence. Some of the scenes are still with me a decade later.”

Here by Richard McGuire (Oleg K.) — “The idea of this graphic novel is what makes it special: A depiction of the exact same geographical location at different times. McGuire takes this idea and turns it into what I predict will be an enduring work of visual storytelling.”

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (Oleg K.) — “I’ve listened to the audiobooks of almost all of David Sedaris and thought I understood his vibe. Then I listened to Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, and it was like a solid wallop to the side of my head! The stories were raw and the characters unexpectedly cruel. Not what I was expecting at all!”

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby (Oleg K.) — “I’d seen the movie made from Selby’s Requiem for a Dream so I was aware of the tone of his work, and Last Exist to Brooklyn was no different. Both works are best described with in one word: Intense!”

Here are suggestions from others:
The Double by Jose Saramago (anonymous) — “It made me question at what point our identity isn’t unique.”

The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson (Thomas V.) — “It’s quite a thing. A lot of utter nonsense mixed in with gratuitous sex and drugs, which jumps from genre to genre without any apparent rhyme or reason. It’s effectively paranoid anarchy in literary form.”

Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce (Thomas V.) — “…Completely unfathomable and skates on the border of unreadable.”

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott (Thomas V.) — “A brilliant take on philosophy and society through a mathematical prism.”

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk (Gin F.) — “I wish I could define ‘Whaaaat’ but Chuck knocks that concept right out of your jaw, makes you swallow your promises not to read such interesting ‘filth’ and reshapes your concept of ‘comfortable’. Pick up Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread and let Chuck take you beyond where the rabbit hole should ever go!

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis (Mark J.) — “When you read a novel, you feel the author’s voice, American Psycho felt like it was written by a machine… there is almost no plot, and you simultaneously can’t put it down and wonder why you’re reading it. I also had a completely different interpretation of what that book was about than everyone else.”

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs (Mark J.) — “…the only book I’ve ever read that made MORE sense while reading it high.”

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby (Marc H.) — “The ‘whaaaat!?’ factor was simply the unrelenting brutality of the narrative, and in retrospect, I’m shocked that I was able to actually finish the book, given how it made me feel.”

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (Diane G.) — “A wild, labyrinthine trip of a book.”

Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon by David McGowan (William S.) — “A weird book about living in Laurel Canyon during the 60s and 70s. Hippie culture, CIA operations, UFO sightings and a bunch of other mind blowing stuff all happening on that little hillside.”

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Kevin O.) — “I don’t want to write a sentence or 3 about why, because I hope that there are some people out there who will read the book and get the same ‘whattt??’ experience without it being ruined beforehand due to spoilers.”

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (Tom Z. and Juliene M.)

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Raphael S. and AnnMarie K.)

The Prestige by Christopher Priest (Juliene M.) — “There are large sections in which one paragraph or sentence is completely contradicted by the following. I can’t say anything more than that.”

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (Gypsy M. and Marc H.) — (The following by Gypsy) “The novel is composed of several (six, I think) nested stories, each in a totally different voice and genre, and with just a few slender threads that hint they are all connected. To suppose that these disparate stories (a thriller, historical fiction, fantasy, dystopian, etc.) are all part of the same tale makes for a really great ‘whaaaat.’ It makes the ‘world’ we think we know far bigger, more magical, and more mysterious than any one of those stories could portray on their own. The stories aren’t truly connected in a logical narrative sense, so that is also “whaaaat”-inducing. I loved it, but I could see how some wouldn’t.”

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (Jennifer N. and Nicole P.) —(The following by Jennifer:) “The premise is horrifying. Basically, a couple decides to breed their own freak show by purposefully mutilating their own children in the womb through drugs. But even more so than that, I thought there was a lot of really disturbing, but authentic moments of humanity in the midst of this chaos. Anyone who has ever felt alone or different can relate to aspects of this novel. I read the whole book in one night during college, and I STILL think about it on a regular basis.”

The Flowers in The Attic by VC Andrews (Eunice C. and Monica M.) — (The following by Eunice) “*cringes* It made me feel uneasy but fascinated. It was the first time I read a book that had a sex scene in it. It was the first time I had venture into the adult fiction section at my local library. I started with the As and the title and the cover caught my attention. Now I understand why the Librarian asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to check out that book. Of course, I passed it on to my younger sister when I was done. And read all her other books.”

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (P.D.) —” I rarely like a YA Fic but this definitely had my kinda ‘Whaaat?’ factor. I’m leaving the definition of ‘Whaaaat’ pretty vague.”

Political Brain by Drew Westen (John C.) — “For me, it was this quote: ‘The problem, however, is that once beliefs changed, the terms of the argument simply changed to avoid the inconvenient facts.’”

Political Mind by George Lakoff (Patrick S.)

Wilson by David Mamet (Greg P.) — “…A reconstruction of our times, from a post-apocalyptic future — which either does or does not take place in the mind of Mrs Woodrow Wilson.”

States of Mind by Brad Herzog (Greg P.) — “ a travelogue of American cities with odd names, seeking to connect those names with the character of the inhabitants.”

A Void by Georges Perec (Greg P.) — “…French existentialism, wrapped in a lipogram. A murder has been committed. The fifth of everything is missing, including the letter E — which does not appear in the book. Why? Because E is on the run!”

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus (Susan A.) — “Two-hundred-eighty-page buildup of suspense through letters to the absent, mysterious Dick resulting in the biggest slap in the face you never saw coming.”

The Third Policeman or At Swim-Two-Birds by Brian O’Nolan (Philip P. and Cherry O.) — “Even the very structure of his sentences seems other dimensional. They cannot be summarized or described.”

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson (Monica M.) — “Saw it in a bookstore and many of the first pages were of glowing raving reviews, one of them claiming the book ‘is hard to put down’ which I always read with skepticism! But the story of this book actually kept me up late reading for hours and the ending had me stunned, a real 4-a whaaaat!?! Loyalty and justice are at the heart, centered around family and a murder, with a young voice telling the story of the adults around him. This story had a strong impact for me, I highly recommend it!”

Kevin W. wrote “[A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick] was great, but Ubik is even more of a mindbender. I still don’t know what was going on there. Sci-fi is great for that. Dhalgren by Sam Delaney is another headscratcher. My favorite author who makes me say whaaaat? on the regular is Grant Morrison. Probably his weirdest standalone stories are ‘The Filth’ and ‘Flex Mentallo’ although the ‘Savage Sword of Jesus Christ’ is pretty mental in a different way.”

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (Ron C.) — “It’s tremendously difficult to follow and is like a free flow of thought.”

Will F. wrote “The sci fi of Cordwainer Smith, wild stuff. Scanners Live in Vain is just the start of a cool series of stories he wrote.”

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (Will F.) — “Brutal, but I could not stop reading. And I read it again every five years or so. Stunning.”

Phantoms by Dean Koontz (Kimberlee W.) — “…It was truly, utterly frightening in a way no book has matched besides contemporary non-fiction.”

Gerald’s Party by Robert Coover (Millicent A.) — “Kind of a stream of writing random things about a horrific party where you cannot figure out what is going on — sex, murder, monkey business. So weird.”

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro (Rosa C.) — “There’s one word in one sentence that changes everything you’ve been led to think and you go ‘what?!?’ And call your family and friends who’ve read it and they say ‘I know!’”

Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks (Jessica C.)— “It’s just such a weird trip into a teenage girl’s demise — annnnd it was posed as a true diary of an anonymous girl when it was actually written by a therapist and Mormon woman.”

The Holy Bible (Ariel G., Hannah L., and Faith M.)

Rotters by Daniel Kraus (Sherry W.) — “Strong whaat and ick factor. When one realizes what they are doing.”

Ka by John Crowley (Julie M.) — “…just made me go woaaaw. It is a sort of historical magic realism from the perspective of an immortal crow. So maybe I’m this case whaaat is also wwwow or whoaaa.”

The Dhammapada (John L.) — “It explains that all things, all experiences, all values you have exist only in the mind. By the end, you believe it. A concise introduction to Buddhist principles.”

And now you have a reading list that will get you through life with regular literary surprises! If you have other “Whaaaat!?” books to recommend, by all means add them as responses below!


What’s the best place to borrow books that make you say Whaaaat!? The Library! Support EveryLibrary!

EveryLibrary

Stories about libraries and librarians around America. We cover the breadth of experiences that people have through their libraries, and showcase the amazing people who work there.

Oleg Kagan

Written by

Writer and librarian. More at lifeinoleg.com

EveryLibrary

Stories about libraries and librarians around America. We cover the breadth of experiences that people have through their libraries, and showcase the amazing people who work there.

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