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Books that defy labels

What makes a novel? A poetry collection? A memoir? 

The following books defy classification. They dare librarians to place them in fiction rather than poetry, or with the biographies instead of the short stories. Regardless of where we put them on the shelf, these books are interesting and dynamic and they will test the limits of your imagination. 

The White Book by Han Kang
At once lyric memoir and poetic novel, The White Book resists linear narrative. With no beginning, middle, or end, this book becomes a melting pot of meditations on grief, solitude, and family all reflected through sections titled after white objects. Reading this book is both a haunting and tender experience that will make you want to read it again and again. 

 Field Study by Shet'la Sebree
A bold and compelling collection from an American University MFA graduate, Field Study retains elements of poetry, memoir and essay. With unmistakable beauty and grace, Sebree examines love, the self, womanhood, and Blackness in lyrical prose with touches of humor and striking vulnerability. Interweaving her own writing with tweets, quotes from T.V. shows, and excerpts from intellectuals like bell hooks and Audre Lorde, Sebree studies herself and her past relationships as if conducting a scientific study through literature, creating a genre-bending work of art that is teaming with life. 

 If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino 
From one of the most widely-translated authors of all time, this playful book about books can be found under "Fiction" on our shelves, but the story pushes the limits of what "fiction" is and what writers can do with the written word. On the surface, the story follows two readers as they try to reach the end of the same book, but their reading process is constantly interrupted in strange and comical ways. The whole story is difficult to pin down, and the book ends up feeling like ten different stories in one, each overlapping and spilling into the others, but you'll have to read it to experience the ride for yourself!

 The Toni Morrison Book Club by Juda Bennett, Winnifred Brown-Glaude, Cassandra Jackson, and Piper Kendrix Williams
Anyone who has been in a book club knows that most of the time it just becomes an excise to drink wine and talk with friends. The Toni Morrison Book Club takes this familiar experience to a whole new level. Simultaneously a group memoir and an insightful meditation on the power of literature, this book touches on a wide variety of topical subjects like police brutality, racial justice in America, first love, music, and friendship. With tenderness and startling honestly, the authors envision book clubs as a healing force in our lives, and offer a restorative reading experience that is, in itself, like gathering and laughing with your best friends after a long, hard day. 

Bluets by Maggie Nelson 
Published in 2009, this sweeping tribute to the color blue has drawn many fans over the years. This insightful collection of shorts is often classified as an "essay collection," but it is undeniably poetic and philosophical, often drawing on the writer's own experiences with suffering and love. This collection also manages to reference other artistic voices while maintaining its own lyricism, including Joan Mitchell and William H. Gass. Bluets disrupts the literary landscape with its sweeping observations on life, art, and color and is an excellent example of Maggie Nelson's striking voice and literary talent.