Like most readers, I love books with strong characterization, compelling plots, and beautiful prose. However—and this may reveal the depths of my nerdiness—I’m always happy to find a book where the author has also done something unusual with the narrative structure.
Books with interesting structures give the reader an extra layer to unravel and appreciate. They deepen the experience of reading a good book, and salvage the experience of reading a mediocre one. (I’m looking at you, Gone Girl.) And they always make for great book club discussions.
These 5 books are (in my opinion) genuinely good to start with, but their interesting narrative structures elevate them to something special.
Science writer Lightman’s premise is as follows: in 1905, young Albert Einstein dreamed repeatedly about time as he worked on his paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” and made creeping progress on his special theory of relativity. Each dream reveals "one of the many possible natures of time.'' Lightman presents these (entirely fictional) dreams as a collection of poetic vignettes. Small enough to read in an afternoon, but easy to wander in and out of. Unusual and utterly delightful.More info →
In this biography-of-sorts, Rubin argues that the larger-than-life Churchill's portrait could be drawn in many ways, all "true." She presents 40 different angles on Churchill, as child, man, politician, leader, husband, etc. All are interesting; many contradict each other. This fascinating, multi-faceted approach appeals will appeal to some, and make others crazy. A little slow in places, but worth the time. If you like this, go on to read Forty Ways to Look at JFK, but only after you've read this one: Rubin explains the reasoning behind her "forty ways" approach in this volume and doesn't revisit them in JFK.More info →
I began this book knowing nothing about it, and it took me a while to get my bearings. Atkinson's creative (and sometimes, mind-bending) structure shows clearly how tiny choices in her protagonist's life (and the lives of those around her) lead to vastly different outcomes. Vastly. Ursula Todd dies before taking her first breath, while another Ursula Todd is born with a piercing wail. The rest of the book follows Ursula's unique life cycle from death to life and back again, as WWII approaches. Bonus: Atkinson's novel is packed with literary references that serious literary types will appreciate.More info →
What do you do when your mom dies and leaves you her old journals? And then you discover that her journals are blank? In 54 separate meditations, Williams unfolds the mystery of her mother's life, and of her empty journals, and explores the power of words—and withholding them.More info →
What would you add to this list?