Obscure, weird, sui generis books
June 2, 2011 5:02 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend obscure, weird, sui generis books -- the more unique and obscure, the better!

I'm looking for examples of unusual, one-of-a-kind literary works, especially ones that nobody has heard of. For example:
  • In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women by John Barton Wolgamot (as seen on MetaFilter!).
  • Musrum by Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw.
  • Anathema! by Benjamin de Casseres -- imagine if Howl was a tract on nihilism by H. P. Lovecraft.
Books like Hypnerotomachia Poliphili or Locus Solus would be perfect, but they're too well-known. If it doesn't have a Wikipedia page, that's a good sign. If it's just an experimental novel with a cult following (like House of Leaves), it's probably not what I'm looking for.
posted by twirlip to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
It's not too obscure to have a Wikipedia page, but Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd might be exactly the kind of thing you're looking for.
posted by neroli at 5:11 AM on June 2, 2011

Spencer Holst, The Language of Cats and Other Stories. The author has a Wikipedia page, but the book doesn't. Not an experimental novel -- it's a collection of stories meant to be told out loud.
posted by pie ninja at 5:15 AM on June 2, 2011

In the world of WWI literature, there is In Parenthesis -- a rather great epic poem. It is, for my money, the best WWI book, but I run into very few people who've waded in.
posted by LucretiusJones at 5:22 AM on June 2, 2011

This thread is a goldmine.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:27 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The strangest book I have ever seen is "Dictionary Of The Khazars" by Milorad Pavic.
posted by grizzled at 5:37 AM on June 2, 2011

The Greek poet Lasus of Hermione wrote the world's first lipogram--a literary work that excludes one or more letters of the alphabet. In the 6th century BCE he wrote a hymn to the goddess Demeter without using the letter S

Ferdinand Flocon (1800-1866) turned 22,892 articles, statutes, amendments, and annotations comprising the French Civil Code into a 170,000 word poem. His goal was to make the code more accessible. He died in obscurity.

Henry James Pye, appointed poet laureate of England in 1790, wrote a long book called "The Effect of Music on Animals" that's never talked about.

18th-century earl Lord Mondobbo spent his life convinced that babies were born with tails and that there was a universal conspiracy of silence among midwives who cut them off. He outlined his theory in a six-volume treatise called "The Origin and Progress of Language," which also addressed why Mondobbo practiced nudism.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 5:50 AM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Don't know if this passes the obscurity test, but on a recent Slate Culture Gabfest they were pretty adamant about Laura Redniss's Radioactive being sui generis.
posted by vecchio at 6:07 AM on June 2, 2011

Codex Seraphinianus does have a wikipedia page, but it's pretty odd. More art weirdness at the sadly retired Giornale Nuovo.

In the outsider category, there's Henry Darger's The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.
posted by zamboni at 6:24 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

No collection of truly weird books is complete without If We Can Keep a Severed Head Alive...Discorporation and U.S. Patent 4,666,425 by Chet Fleming. I'm rather proud of the fact that I was once left alone with an unguarded copy of this book, and I did not steal it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:29 AM on June 2, 2011

If We Can Keep A Severed Head Alive… reminded me of the Odd Books list, a selection of books which are more in the Weird Self Published Cranks category than Misunderstood Genius.

Burr Identification System of Breast Analysis, Subjective Concepts of Humans, The Legend of the 10 Elemental Masters, etc.

posted by zamboni at 6:58 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

They're more art than literature, but Timothy C. Ely's books are weird, somewhat obscure, and most of them are unique in the sense that they exist only as single manuscripts. Two of his books printed in more readily-obtainable editions are The Flight Into Egypt and The Tables of Jupiter.
posted by misteraitch at 7:04 AM on June 2, 2011

Lingua Ignota a dictionary of an otherwise unknown language compiled by medieval visionary and hymnist Hildegard van Bingen.
posted by nangar at 7:05 AM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

BadgerDoctor mentioned Lord Monboddo and his orangutan theory--that calls for a mention of Thomas Love Peacock's satirical novel Melincourt.
Scary--I have actually read at least seven of the books mentioned on the post that Hooks linked to, including Le Ton Beau de Marot, which is wonderful.
posted by Logophiliac at 8:43 AM on June 2, 2011

Hte "treated Victorian novel" A Humument certainly qualifies as unique.
posted by googly at 8:45 AM on June 2, 2011

Perhaps a little mundane, but anything by Robert Anton Wilson probably qualifies...
posted by paultopia at 8:57 AM on June 2, 2011

"The Mythological Travels of a Modern Sir John Mandeville, Being an Account of the Magic, Meatballs, and Other Monkey Business Peculiar to the Journey, Together with Divers Speculations Thereon," by Daniel Spoerri.
posted by jayder at 9:25 AM on June 2, 2011

OH OH OH!! What a great thread! I found this site, http://ajourneyroundmyskull.blogspot.com/ particularly useful for book recommendations. Also, you may want to look up a book on diabloramas...I forget the name but it is amazing!!
posted by Dauus at 9:57 AM on June 2, 2011

Ruskin's Fors Clavigera are ostensibly a series of letters to the working men of Britain for their moral instruction. In reality they're wonderfully discursive essays that have an underlying hint of madness.

Another daffy one from Ruskin is The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century. That's not a metaphorical title: it's a lecture about storm clouds in the 19th century (when Ruskin lived) and how they've changed during that period.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:07 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

HA!: A Self Murder Mystery

HA!, at 864 pages, consistently surprises. You are not holding a book you must endure; rather, reading, you feel engaged. The shape-changing book mirrors Aquin himself. Sheppard shepherds you through a series of mostly-real interviews (mainly with Aquin’s partner of twelve years, Andrée Yanacopoulo, but also with other family members, friends, his first wife, his housekeeper, his secretary) spliced into various forms: images (Blake, Goya, Michelangelo, et al); excerpts from the writings of Aquin and bygone literary giants (with the appearance of same at his fantastical wake); manically referential SOUNDSCAPES (“A gurney wheeling wonky mmmmmm down an empty corridor…Sotto voce float the intertwined strains of Bach’s Art of the Fugue…The resulting sonic puzzle should do for the ear what the anamorphic image in Holbein the Younger’s painting The Ambassadors does for the CinemaScoped eye…”); maps; newspaper clippings; envelopes enclosing facsimiles of actual correspondence; French phrases; suicide statistics and theories; musical scores-altogether HA! is a multi-media pastiche, a polyphonic rush of voices.
So. Sex, art, death: where the shadows of these meet and blur, Aquin chose to live. In HA!, which Gordon Sheppard worked on for twenty-six years, he deftly explores that life. The book is a work of art, sui generis.

posted by juv3nal at 10:12 AM on June 2, 2011

Joris-Karl Huysmans' À rebours isn't totally obscure, at least if you're a 19th century intellectual, but I don't think it's too known or beloved outside of researchville in the present day (hence the dryness of its Wikipedia article). It certainly seems to have been remembered, when at all, more for its influence on other people than for its own qualities (supposedly it's the unnamed book that corrupts Wilde's Dorian Gray, among other things). Here's a translation.

It's about hedonism, basically, in the most absolute sense. The author/narrator immerses himself in aesthetic stuff - perfume, flowers, literature, philosophy, painting - and describes the experience in vivid, lurid terms until he breaks down from the decadence of it all. Best read when sleep deprived.
posted by bubukaba at 10:25 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Since 2001, the electric publishing wing of kobek.com has offered freely available editions of obscure, outlandish and otherwise outré works of semi-fine literature."
posted by Iridic at 10:36 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

And they also tell the story

of Papadiabolous the Devil and his company, and of two of the hidden lives of Finnegan; and how it is not always serious to die, the first time it happens.

Here is one man who was buried twice and now lies still (but uneasy of mind) in his two separate graves. Here is another man who died twice—not at all the same thing. And here are several who are disinclined to stay dead: they don’t like it, they won’t accept it.

Given here, for the first time anywhere, are the bearings and correct location of the Terrestrial Paradise down to the last second of longitude. You may follow them. You may go there.

Here also will be found the full account of where the Devil himself is buried, and the surprising name that is on his tombstone boldly spelled out. And much else.

We will not lie to you. This is a do-it–yourself thriller or nightmare. Its present order is only the way it comes in the box. Arrange it as you will.

Set off the devils and the monsters, the wonderful beauties and the foul murderers, the ships and the oceans of middle space, the corpses and the revenants, set them off in whatever apposition you wish. Glance quickly to discover whether you have not the mark on your own left wrist, barely under the skin. Build with these colored blocks your own dramas of love and death and degradation. Learn the true topography: the monstrous and wonderful archetypes are not inside you, not in your own unconsciousness; you are inside them, trapped and howling to get out.

Build things with this as with an old structo set. Here is the Devil Himself with his several faces. Here is an ogress, and a mermaid, both of them passing as ordinary women to the sightless. Here is a body which you yourself may bury in the sand. Here is the mark of the false octopus that has either seven or nine tentacles. Here is the shock when the very dead man that you helped bury continues on his way as a very live man, and looks at you as though he knows something that you do not. Here is a suitcase with 36,000 pieces of very special paper in it. Here is Mr. X, and a left-footed killer who follows and follows. Here are those of a different flesh; and may you yourself not be of that different flesh?

Put the nightmare together. If you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.

Old Burton urged his subscribers to keep their copies of the Nights under lock and key. There are such precipices here! Take it in full health and do not look down as you go. If you look down you will fall and be lost forever.

Is that not an odd introduction? I don’t understand it at all.
-Promantia from The Devil is Dead, by R.A. Lafferty
posted by Iridic at 11:28 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 1965 edition of James Eyre's The Roosevelt-MacArthur Conflict starts as a dry, self-serving, and unoriginal assessment of the Philippine presidency during the Second World War and General MacArthur's anger at FDR for not contesting the islands more bitterly at the start of the war. (Here's a review of the original 1950 edition in two links on Jstor.) For the 1965 reprint the author adds 150 pages of coda that at first is an autobiographical sketch that explains his interest in the subject matter. Then on page 240, it goes off the rails:
Outstanding though it was in my life, the long and extended chain of events relating to the controversy which had centered around Douglas MacArthur became irrevocably subordinated to developments of the greatest-possible significance involving myself during the seven years covered by the period from 1957 to 1964. As a result of what then happened to me, I was forced to grasp three facts of paramount importance: (1) that the earth is but one of trillions of planets with human and other life on them; (2) that systems of human and associated types of immortality exist throughout the tremendous geographical areas of creation involved; (3) that the atmospheres of this world have been invaded by spacecraft and their accompanying space beings from distant planetary regions.
From here he uses Arthurian legend, a whole lot of biblical quotes, and some KJV numerology to demonstrate that the archangels are leading armies of UFOs to invade the earth in 1976 and warn about how to fend them off. On the last page he declares his wife The Goddess All Mighty and himself ALL MIGHTY GOD. Then there's a bibliography.

The front blurb reads "This book – which factually and forcefully explains in coordinated fashion (1) the history-shaping controversy featuring the late Douglas MacArthur and (2) the forthcoming military occupation of the earth my armies from outer space – is by far the most important volume ever published on this planet."
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 4:28 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Curzio Malaparte was an Italian war journalist during world war 2. During the war he was also secretly writing an antifascist novelisation of his experiences, which was published as Kaputt after the war.

It's divided into sections, each named after an animal, in which a group of people (dining German aristocracy, guglag'd jews, swedish princes) are compared to that particular animal in exquisite fervent prose. It's like a Chesterton fever dream but more lucid and sensitive. His descriptions of colours are incredible.

Get the above linked edition with the afterword – I don't want to tell you what is written there, as you should read the book first.

Incredibly well-written. Heart-wrenching. It was an international bestseller after the war, but has all but disappeared from view since then. Sui generis for sure.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 7:13 AM on June 3, 2011

Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov.

The Voynich manuscript.
posted by Mendl at 2:22 PM on June 3, 2011

Crispin Glover's Rat Catching was based on Studies in the Art of Rat Catching (openlibrary).
posted by benzenedream at 5:39 PM on June 3, 2011

"On the Shoulders of Giants: A Shandean Postscript," by Robert King Merton.
posted by jayder at 3:42 PM on June 4, 2011

Tree of Codes by Jonathon Safran Foer
posted by holdkris99 at 3:44 PM on June 8, 2011

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