Best Books with Unconventional Formats

You can open almost any book and find your average paragraphs, dialogue, and chapters. But occasionally, there is the odd rebel with its own unique format that puts some zest back into the act of reading.

For your next read, shake things up with one of the following unconventional books:

1. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

On the fictional island of Nollop, the tiles of an inscription of the famous pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” are beginning to fall. As the story continues, the government bans the spoken and written use of each letter that drops, leaving its eloquent citizens to come up with more and more creative and phonetic spellings in their correspondence.

Despite the darker themes of totalitarianism threatening freedom of speech, this progressively lipogrammatic novel is still an entertaining and engaging read.

2. The Call by Yannick Murphy

WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT: A rural veterinarian makes house calls while searching for the culprit behind a tragic hunting accident.

WHAT THE STORY IS REALLY ABOUT: Responsibility, guilt, loyalty, hope, and the true meaning of family.


The unique format of clinical field notes allows readers to feel the pure love and poignancy with profound clarity. The overall candor is also rooted in some dry humor that fits right in with the main character’s evolving stoicism. There also may or may not be spacemen.

3. To Be or Not to Be by Ryan North

No longer is Hamlet the person answering the question, “To be or not to be.” It is now up to the reader to decide the fates of Hamlet, Ophelia, and King Hamlet in this choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) novel.

As you flip from page to page of contemporary language and pop culture references, the reader can choose to follow a number of eccentric options that affect the plot that were most definitely not found in the original play. Ophelia can become a scientist, the King of Denmark can explore the ocean floor, and Hamlet can go to college and meet Macbeth. For those who prefer traditionalism, canonical choices are marked with “Yorick skulls.”  

There is even more Shakespearean fun to be had in North’s second CYOA novel: Romeo and/or Juliet.

4. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

The story is ridiculously simple: the narrator witnesses an argument on the bus. However, the entertainment of this book is not meant to come from the plot, but from the 99 different retellings of the short anecdote.

Whether it is in the style of an Italian opera, an official letter, nothing but exclamations, or slang, each version is humorous in its own way and exemplifies constrained writing at its finest.

5. Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini

The pages of this bizarre and beautiful book are full of brightly colored illustrations depicting fantastical flora, fauna, foods, and physics, all described in the looping font of a language that does not exist.

Codex Seraphinianus is an encyclopedia for an imaginary world, complete with parodies of real life objects in varying degrees of surrealism. This art book is considered by many to be the strangest of its kind to ever be published, and a “…weird and wonderful masterpiece of art and philosophical provocation on the precipice of the information age…”

These experimental formats are sure to inspire you to think outside the margins when choosing your next read.

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