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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I May Be Mad I May Be Blind

On our company website, each of the agents has a paragraph about the kinds of book we are looking for. In mine, I wrote that I like the “hard to categorize,” which I thought was a clever way of saying that I’m quirky, that I think outside the vag, that I welcome misfits, eccentrics, lunatics and losers. And as a result, I get the craziest shit.  The “truth” is that I do like the HTC, but I probably can’t sell it. The reason is that HTC stuff is hard to package, hard to market, hard to  publicize and ultimately hard to find an audience for.  I could cry over the HTC books I haven’t been able to find a home for. And as a result, I’m not as open as I have been. I just turned down a beautifully written book about marrow, an epic poem about saline. I turned down a family memoir about a group of people who don’t know one another but still hurt each other, and a book of humorous essays about genocide. Am I losing my edge?

What are your favorite “hard to categorize” books?

36 Responses

  1. David Shields’ Reality Hunger. Strange, but it sold.

    • Dunow sold it, if I remember right. And Hosier’s just gagging for books that everyone else has rejected. I’d love to see the slush at Lerner & Associates.

      My favorite hard-to-categorize book is this: http://onthecommons.org/tangle-thorns

      My actual favorite hard-to-categorize books are probably Percival Everett’s (maybe AMERICAN DESERT). And I feel like the kind of snotty creep who liked the band before it was popular, but Lethem’s GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC. Although I’m not sure those are so hard to categorize.

    • Roland Barthes – Lovers Discourse

  2. Mary Robison’s novel WHY DID I EVER; Abigail Thomas’ memoir SAFEKEEPING; Mary Rakow’s roman a clef novel in verse THE MEMORY ROOM; Maggie Nelson’s memoir BLUETS; Rebacca Solnit’s memoir? Novel? A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST; and my go-to fave, Nick Flynn’s memoir ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY, which almost feels too mainstream to mention now, but was certainly HTC when it first came out. Also, anything Mark Danielewski (sp?) has ever published, ever.

  3. Also? I’m pretty sure that a baby aardvark would solve a lot of my problems.

  4. Finnegan’s Wake or The Third Policeman ( joyce, Myles na Gopaleen)

  5. If you lose your edge, you can always stop slicing and start bludgeoning. And if you didn’t “welcome misfits, eccentrics, lunatics and losers,” I’d have to go play in somebody else’s sandbox.

    Off of some part near the top of my head, my favorite “hard to categorize books” may be anything written by Sebald.

  6. I don’t know from HTC. But Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried turned my perceptions of memoir inside out.

  7. Gertrude Stein, Julio Cortazar, Maxine Hong Kingston, Kate Zambreno, anyone who stirs together the empirical and the fictional–who makes me lose my place. I’ll never forget the linear choice of Cortazar’s Hopscotch, or Stein’s stumbling syntax.

    To me the lure is difficulty, true dramatic weight and structural difficulty. Not wondering where it goes in the Dewey system or someone’s small mind.

    • I first read The Woman Warrior in my freshman year of college. It was like a hand print in wet cement. I read it over and over, too green to immediately grasp it, but enthralled by its language. That book’s rhythms and images stay with me to this day.

  8. My recent fave HTC is actually one of yours, Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift. There’s nothing else out there like it.

    I say keep the lunatic asylum open. Where else will they go?

  9. I like parody, and it’s hard to find good ones. I also like books that combine genres, and I’m thinking of Jasper Fforde here, with his groundbreaking The Eyre Affair and sequels. Also Terry Pratchett’s early works.

    I was as shocked and appalled as anybody when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out, but I loved the cover of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, so bought it and love it. I’m still not into the zombies and vampires mash-ups, though.

    I like nonfiction such as Archeology From Above with its gorgeous photographs that prove that are no straight lines in nature, but is a book so large I can’t hold it comfortably. Sigh. Oh, and I like “cracked history” with plenty of anachronisms, such as Defoe’s Pirate Captain books (new one coming out soon!) and anything by Joan Aiken.

  10. “Wolves and Honey” and “The Names of Things” by Susan Brind Morrow

    • Oh, yes! The Names of Things is the one book that I try to get everyone I like to read and so far I’ve been very disappointed that nobody has loved it as much as I do. There is no more elegant memoir than The Names of Things and I re-read it every other year to remind me how smart and simple and rich the form can be.

  11. Peter Matthiessen’s Far Tortuga (written in the sing song rhythm of the sea), Richard Brautigan books. A Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane, a beautifully illustrated ode to trees. Wendell Berry, Aldo Leopold (Sand County Almanac) andThe Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley all had a big influence on me. And, to pay my final respects to Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things are changed children’s books – for the better – and opened up a whole new world for future readers.

    • Brautigan’s THE PILL VERSUS THE SPRINGHILL MINE DISASTER had a tremendous impact on me when I started writing poetry. I carried my copy around for weeks, reading and rereading.

  12. Tinkers was pretty hard for me to categorize.
    Amelie Nothomb’s books are crazy stuff I love.
    And anything by Carole Maso. Her thoughts on writing have kept me going many a time.

  13. Nat Tate by William Boyd

  14. Housekeeping by marylynne Robinson. There is no log line for that book- no movie will ever be made of it. All the greats are HTC.

    • There is a movie, though I haven’t seen it. It’s a coming-of-age novel — not that hard to categorize — but from a time before novels had to read like chick lit movies.

  15. I’m too moody for favorite all-time books, but an HTC book I really loved recently was The Green Girl by Kate Zambreno.

  16. The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw was HTC, I think. And maybe Numb by Sean Ferrell.

    General Fiction appears to be the Misc.Category shelving ground in a library, by the way. Anything that doesn’t easily fit one (or two) genre labels tends to go there. But then, selling to libraries is easy.

  17. Just heard Will Allen on NPR. The Good Food Revolution sounds like a melting pot of goodness. I don’t know if it fits in the HTC category but whatever.

  18. I’ll vote for Vonnegut’s sardonic/absurd, big-hearted, sci-fi mashups.

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