This list, which spans a number of years and publishers but focuses on books still available, works under the belief that the term “alt-lit” applies to literature disrupting or defying the trends and constraints of mainstream literature. A number of these authors may deny that their writing falls under the label of alt-lit, but if that defiance doesn’t embody the idea of alternative literature, then I don’t know crap about shit!
1. Everything’s Fine by Socrates Adams (2012)
A desk jockey is demoted and demoralized to absurd depths; if the protagonist weren’t such a complete idiot, one would pity his circumstances more. Not only can Adams concoct a fascinating story, but some great tube puns as well. I will never stop talking about how funny this book is.
2. Alone With Other People by Gabby Bess (2013)
By drawing from life both online and in person, Bess makes clear to readers that people are not just gross because humans are “that way” – people are gross because of society. Failed social interactions, the anxieties that cause them & are caused by them, and the vulnerability to acknowledge each are on full display in these poems and stories.
This anthology casts the widest net across alt-lit out of the books in this list, making it one of the best representations of the genre. Boost House assembles top caliber work from more than 50 writers across the spectrum of Internet writing and compiles it with a design that is both sleek and humorous.
4. Scarecrone by Melissa Broder (2014)
These are poems that have no time for pity. Full of old words, Scarecrone feels as if it is evoking power as it is read. Rather than provide some artificial light at the end of the tunnel, Broder instead focuses on revealing the true beauty of the darkness to which we are all damned.
5. OHSO by Mike Bushnell (2014)
Scott McClanahan calls Bushnell “a ghost of the classics,” and if that’s the case, he is a pixelated one: the shards and fragments of hashtagged text almost appear to be a form of rebuffering poetry. The payoff of this digital deluge comes from its framework of raw emotion and trauma. OHSO is the only book that contains multiple pages of HTML code that has also made me cry.
6. Baby Babe by Ana Carrete (2012)
Carrete’s collection reads like a published diary from a disarmingly introspective teen embroiled in the process of becoming an adult. Published by Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press quickly establishing a strong catalogue (they published a whole bunch of these books), Baby Babe seamlessly blends poems, emoticons, and artwork into a funny, flirty, riveting inquiry into what it means to be grown up.
7. You Private Person by Richard Chiem (2012)
The narration in this collection contains some of the best-sounding prose I have read in years. Whether it’s a long, hard stare at a strained relationship or a second-person near-death experience, Chiem’s stories are impossible to pick up without becoming fully engaged.
8. Nouns of Assemblage, eds. Housefire (2011)
Sixty-three pieces of flash fiction, or prose poems, or who cares what we call them, published by the online literary mainstay Housefire, this anthology provides another great range of alt-lit voices. Each story is titled after a different species collective, and they are as different from one another in tone and style as the animals that they assemble.
9. Spiritual Instrument by M. Kitchell (2015)
The latest and deepest of Kitchell’s meditations on architectural/metaphysical space and desire, Spiritual Instrument also upends traditional design methods in a highly polished manner. Also, it’s a great book to turn to if you’re looking for gay ghost sex. An extended haunting; coming soon.
10. Irritant by Darby Larson (2013)
A 624-page block of text that challenges the will as much as the imagination of readers, Irritant is best described as a novel that would have been written by Gertrude Stein were she actually a language-bot (which, while cool, would mean she would not be able to enjoy her girlfriend’s invention, the pot brownie L ). Every word gets to interact with every other word in a sort of “language love story”.
11. Beauty Was the Case That They Gave Me by Mark Leidner (2011)
The poems in this book remind me of dreams more than in any book I’ve read in a long time – and not because they just rely on the mismatching of situations and events like in some half-assed surreal poems. The more disturbing or revolting parts of society burble up like flashes of nightmares amongst the pop-culture references, making this book feel like a mirror of an unconscious 21st century brain.
12. Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin (2013)
Martin accurately captures the humor and tension that develop from the mundanities and neuroses in relationships – some even framed with specific camera blocking. The other minutiae included in these sparse poems indicate a highly observant protagonist, which instills further gravitas in her observations.
13. The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Vol. 1 by Scott McClanahan (2012)
Established indie publisher Lazy Fascist Press provides an assembled reprint of McClanahan’s first two short story collections (minus a few entries – where’d “Possums” go, Scott??) along with a great foreword and afterword about “the ramblin’ man of alt-lit,” a stupid title that I just made up. These are stories that smack you about the face and demand that you feel something, and it’s hard not to emotionally react to them.
14. Witch Piss by Sam Pink (2014)
Pink has one of the strongest voices in the alt-lit community thanks to his uncensored internal narratives that crave bloodlust and eternal release from mental agony. Also, he is hilarious. In Witch Piss, the unnamed narrator hangs out with some homeless folks and it seems like a pretty good time, besides the whole “wanting to die” part.
15. Matt Meets Vik by Timothy Willis Sanders (2014)
A sustained and often hilarious internal narrative is also present in Matt Meets Vik, but the thought processes in this story are organic enough to avoid non sequitur and provide a unique perspective to this modern love story. Sanders has long proven to be a genius with tightly-controlled prose and his latest novel is no different. (I can also personally attest that the protagonist has the worst job in America, if not the world.)
16. Wastoid by Mathias Svalina (2014)
A collection of 154 poems entitled “Wastoid,” each a prose poem yet they are designated as “Sonnets” by the book’s subtitle, Wastoid is a metamodernist ode to love in its most conceptual state. Even the title of “lover,” normally a term that conjures the clearest of mental associations, is bestowed upon metaphors in a manner that causes readers to adjust their deductive methods in ascribing meaning.
17. Blacken Me Blacken Me, Growled by Cassandra Troyan (2014)
The refusal of restriction to singular form and syntax is but one challenge issued to the world in Blacken Me Blacken Me, Growled. These fiery, gutsy poems (meaning full of human guts on fire, not some feeble rants that fail to live up to expectations) are the closest I’ve ever seen to literature getting as “real” as possible with sex. Troyan’s desire to get at what’s real in all regards comes across with great intensity and pays off big. Plus, this book looks totally badass.
18. Wolf Doctors by Sara Woods (2014)
Some poems in this strange collection seem to collapse in on themselves, condensing imagery beyond syntax, while others expand and create worlds in only a couple paragraphs. These are anchored by more than just a poetic voice, but a full-fledged personality that comes through the page, leading readers to feel less toyed with than purposefully guided.
19. Billie the Bull by xTx (2013)
A story, a description of a bullfight, a series of lists – this tiny powerhouse by pseudonymous Internet writing linchpin xTx is a surprising number of things in such a small book. Ultimately, the readers learn how they are prepared (or, perhaps are incapable of preparing) for unimaginable carnage and a particularly gutting social studies report.
20. You Are Not Dead by Wendy Xu (2013)
Xu’s debut collection is a masterful blend of imagery both contemporary and laden with meaning, proving to the alt-lit community that there’s still life in conventional forms. In fact, these poems show readers so many things that they come away feeling truly alive. You Are Not Dead makes an impact long felt after closing the cover.
Shaun Gannon lives in a little book fort outside Washington, D.C. His e-books and other publications are available at shaunwow.tumblr.com. His Twitter handle is @GrouponFan888 because he has made many poor decisions in his life.