Five of the Strangest Books of All-Time

by | Jul 11, 2019


It is very hard to write a book. Like super-duper hard. What’s even harder is to write a book with bizarre rules or constraints. Here are five of the strangest works of fiction ever written:

(1) Gadsby, by Ernest Vincent Wright. Written in 1939, this is a 50,000 word book that does not contain the letter “E”! Amazing. Here’s a sample from the middle of the book:

Now, in any city or town, or almost any small community, you will find a building, or possibly only a room, about which said city or town has nothing to say. It is that most important institution in which you put a stamp on your mail and drop it into a slot, knowing that it will find its way across city or country to that man or woman who is waiting for it. But how many young folks know how this mail is put out so quickly, and with such guaranty against loss? Not many, I think, if you ask.

(2) Alphabetical Africa, by Walter Abish. This book has a crazy writing constraint. Description from Wikipedia: “the first chapter contains only words starting with the letter a, the second chapter only words starting with a or b, etc.; each subsequent chapter adds the next letter in the alphabet to the set of allowed word beginnings. This continues for the first 25 chapters, until at last Abish is (briefly) allowed to write without constraint. In the second half of the book, through chapter 52, letters are removed in the reverse order that they were added. Thus, zwords disappear in chapter 27, y in chapter 28, etc…”

(3) Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, by Bohumil Hrabal. In this book the narrator, an elderly gentleman, wonders up to some sunbathing women and then proceeds to tell a rambling story of his life. The whole book is a single sentence!

(4) The Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel, by Milorad Pavić. This very strange novel is written in the form of an actual dictionary and to understand the story you read the dictionary entries and can do so in any order. It’s entries are in alphabetical order and tell the story of the fictional people, the Khazars. Even stranger, the book is written in a male, female or Androgynous Edition. It was an international best-seller and has been translated into 39 languages.

Here’s a summary from Goodreads: “Dictionary is the imaginary book of knowledge of the Khazars, a people who flourished somewhere beyond Transylvania between the seventh and ninth centuries. Eschewing conventional narrative and plot, this lexicon novel combines the dictionaries of the world’s three major religions with entries that leap between past and future, featuring three unruly wise men, a book printed in poison ink, suicide by mirrors, a chimerical princess, a sect of priests who can infiltrate one’s dreams, romances between the living and the dead, and much more.”

(5) Life: A User’s Manual, by Georges Perec. This book tells the story of Bartlebooth, a man who has decided to devote his life to a meaningless task which culminates in solving a jigsaw puzzle. His story is told through 179 stories, each focused on a different room or apartment of the building in which Bartlebooth lived. More from Amazon:

“Structured around a single moment in time — 8:00 p.m. on June 23, 1975 — Perec’s spellbinding puzzle begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, an extraordinary rich cast of characters is revealed in a series of tales that are bizarre, unlikely, moving, funny, or (sometimes) quite ordinary.”


  1. John, I almost skipped this one; but, so glad I didn’t. Those books are absolutely amazing. In fact to me it seems none human, or above human capabilities. Possibly literary savants. I am conflicted when I see someone do something that I can’t see myself ever being able to achieve.

  2. Thanks for the reminder of what a magical and wonderful world we live in.


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