Seeking to read non-linear books.
December 13, 2012 6:19 AM   Subscribe

I would like to read some non-linear books. Could you recommend titles and authors to me?

I know about James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, in which the last sentence and first sentences are both fragments. You read the book in a loop, such that after finishing the last page you continue on page 1. Has anyone else done this type of thing? Has anyone written books, especially for adults, that use narrative webs, like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series? Are any of these types of books available as e-books? It seems to me that e-books would be well-suited to non-linear writing. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.
posted by tnygard to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar would be the canonical answer. Get it in print.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:23 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Geoff Ryman, 253. It has a dead tree edition too. Forgive the old school look of the website--it came by it honestly.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:25 AM on December 13, 2012

Cloud Atlas isn't a loop, but it surely isn't linear, and you read half of each story, and then the other half of each story (in reverse), so that's an interesting effect too.
posted by acm at 6:26 AM on December 13, 2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is told from the perspective of two people in a nonlinear fashion. Some of it is in the form of diary entries. There are a few twists that make it really interesting.
posted by coolsara at 6:30 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are a bunch of adult choose-your-own-adventure books. Just type that in on Amazon. And I've been wanting to get this book after reading that post. It's by the creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. He calls it a "game-book" in much the same vein as the choose-your-own- adventures.
posted by catatethebird at 6:35 AM on December 13, 2012

House of leaves is famously non-linear. Great book. Gives me the jeebies though.
posted by mooselini at 6:35 AM on December 13, 2012

If you like science fiction, Use of Weapons has dual narratives; one moving forward in time, the other moving backward. It's amazing.
posted by lilnublet at 6:37 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't read it yet - I'm actually waiting for it to be delivered - but A Dictionary of the Khazars sounds fascinating. The kind of thing Borges would have written a short story about - but it actually exists!
posted by Ted Maul at 6:39 AM on December 13, 2012

Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic was intended to be read like this: You read some, you put it down, you pick it back up, you start again at a random entry.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:39 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, a horror novel about labyrinths, which consists, structurally, of several, the most obvious being a literal labyrinth of hundreds of cross-referenced footnotes.

Also seconding Milorad Pavic's Dictioanary of the Khazars, a novel written as an encyclopedia.

Also (a stretch): Anything by David Markson. Non-linear to the point of nigh incomprehensibility. Hard to even call them novels really.
posted by tsmo at 6:40 AM on December 13, 2012

You may want to search for hypertext fiction. My favorite non-linear book is Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine.

I also read a book recently (the author is a close friend) that might fit what you're looking for. It's hierarchical, not circular. It's The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. I won't spoil anything if I say that it's been described as "a nest of Russian dolls" in terms of the layers of stories. Sadly for most readers, it's not officially out until March 2013.
posted by knile at 6:42 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am in no way saying it's a non-linear book but Straw Dogs by John Gray - he claims in the prologue you can read it by opening any page.

Also by the same author:

Title: Black Mass
Subtitle: Apocalyptic Religion And the Death of Utopia
(My title: hmm, fun for the kids, right? No.)
posted by evil_esto at 6:42 AM on December 13, 2012

Samuel Delany's Dhalgren uses a similar looping structure.
posted by bcwinters at 6:44 AM on December 13, 2012

Oh, and Galatea by Emily Short is a work of interactive fiction which rides the line between being a non-linear story and a game. But that mundane description doesn't even begin to do it justice - it's incredible and you can play it online for free.
posted by Ted Maul at 6:46 AM on December 13, 2012

See also ‘shuffle literature.’
posted by misteraitch at 6:47 AM on December 13, 2012

Oh, and what about Nabokov's Pale Fire?
Starting with the table of contents, Pale Fire looks like the publication of a 999-line poem in four cantos ("Pale Fire") by the fictional John Shade with a Foreword, extensive Commentary, and Index by his self-appointed editor, Charles Kinbote. Kinbote's Commentary takes the form of notes to various numbered lines of the poem. Here and in the rest of his critical apparatus, Kinbote explicates the poem surprisingly little. Focusing instead on his own concerns, he divulges what proves to be the plot piece by piece, some of which can be connected by following the many cross-references. Espen Aarseth noted that Pale Fire "can be read either unicursally, straight through, or multicursally, jumping between the comments and the poem." Thus although the narration is non-linear and multidimensional, the reader can still choose to read the novel in a linear manner without risking misinterpretation.
posted by bcwinters at 6:49 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Kim Newman's Life's Lottery, though it's out of print.
posted by permafrost at 6:54 AM on December 13, 2012

Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson is decidedly nonlinear, and, for that matter, not really narrative either.
posted by OHenryPacey at 6:58 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Unfortunates by B. S. Johnson. ISTR the BBC did a faithfully non-linear radio adaptation of it fairly recently (it shuffled the chapters randomly on their web player app) but don't have time to go looking for a link.
posted by pont at 8:15 AM on December 13, 2012

I am in the middle of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which is another duo narrative. Can't say more about it yet, except to note that so far it's an amazing book.

What Entropy Means to Me, is a very non normative book, including in plot layout, that I am still trying to process months after reading it.
posted by edgeways at 8:18 AM on December 13, 2012

MeFi's own shakespeherian writes some fun interactive CYOA stories using G+.
posted by dizziest at 9:17 AM on December 13, 2012

David Markson's later books are better than Wittgenstein's Mistress IMHO.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:32 AM on December 13, 2012

Oh good, a chance to recommend one of my favourite novels!

Key statement from the author: "I want Lanark to be read in one order but eventually thought of in another". Which is certainly what happened to me.
posted by Decani at 9:33 AM on December 13, 2012

Always, always, Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual. My favorite book. You can read it straight through from cover to cover and pick up narrative that way, but the book has multiple indices so that you can navigate the book in a variety of ways. It does start out a bit slow, but if you can make it 50 or so pages in, you'll begin to notice all manners of delightful things.
posted by taltalim at 9:59 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino is sort of nonlinear.
posted by likedoomsday at 10:36 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always loved Don't: a woman's word. An autobiography told in fragments of memory.
posted by saucysault at 3:42 PM on December 13, 2012

Alasdair Gray's Lanark is brilliant.

And I see Decani beat me to it - seconded then!
posted by goo at 6:59 PM on December 13, 2012

Jason Shiga's Meanwhile is for kids, but it's so astoundingly nonlinear that it required an advanced algorithm to work out. (And yes, it is also available as an app.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:58 PM on December 13, 2012

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