In the beginning of Nikolai Gogol’s crazy story The Nose, a barber reaches into a pieces of bread, feels something unusual, and pulls out…a nose. Not only that, but a nose that he seems to recognize.
It’s even weirder than it sounds, but that’s Gogol for you.
Along those lines, off the top of my head, today I present to you a selection of books and stories which feature body parts as characters, symbols, or weirdness for the sake of weirdness.
The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton
This is a fun book to to read, even better to reread, and contains the only duel I know of in which the offense is one man’s refusal to let another man pull his nose.
Much attention is also given to the head and face (or non-face) of President Sunday, who might be the head of the anarchists, or might be the Peace of God. Yes, it is strange.
PS: this one also appears on the list of free Kindle books.
Guts by Chuck Palahniuk
Perhaps the least family-friendly story in existence. Guts features some unfortunate innards and may force you to reconsider certain pleasures in the swimming pool.
Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
The Dexter books are comparatively heavy on detached body parts, but Dearly Devoted outdoes the others. “The Yodeling potato.” Enough said.
Good Country People Flannery by O’connor
An improbably-named atheist salesman named Manly Pointer (no giggling) indulges one of the stranger hobbies in all of O’connor’s odd stories: he collects prosthetic limbs from the disabled.
The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
A delightfully demented children’s tail featuring assassins, a smashed cricket, murders, Pinocchio getting hanged, Pinocchio getting his feet burned off in a fire, and other bits of nastiness that you might not have seen in the Disney film. Oh, and he’s got that nose. That’s three nose stories on this list.
The Breast by Philip Roth
Did you read Kafka’s Metamorphosis? In that much, much better story, a man named Gregor wakes up to find he has become a cockroach. In The Breast, a man wakes up to see that he has become a 155 pound female breast.
Some entertaining moments. At fewer than 100 pages it’s a pretty quick read.
The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
The beloved and enduring horror story. One of the very best examples of being careful what you wish for.
Sandkings by George R.R. Martin
My very favorite use of faces in any story. Also, one of the most frightening stories I have read. If you only know Martin from the Song of Ice and Fire books, this is worth checking out. It’s very different.
Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurtry
One of the more painful examples I can think of in which someone loses a leg.
Corregidora by Gayle Jones
Yuck. That’s all I have to say.
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
One of the most famous anti-war books. It features a soldier who basically has no body parts left, including a face, as he struggles to communicate with his nurses.
Invitation To A Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov
A man is arrested for the poorly defined crime of “gnostic turpitude” and spends much of the novel trying to figure out what he is convicted of. Oh, and nobody will tell him when his execution will happen.
Ozma of Oz by Frank Baum
If you saw the movie Return To Oz, you saw the head-shifting witch Mombi. I can’t remember if she was in other Oz books, but I know she was in Ozma.
The Cloven Viscount by Italo Calvino
A Viscount gets hit with a cannonball during a battle. It cleaves him in two, which results in him becoming two separate people. A fantastic read by one of my favorite authors. I’ll also sneak in a recommendation for his Invisible Cities here.
Chemical Pink by Katie Arnoldi
A satire on female bodybuilding gone mad, with much attention given to what happens with various body parts when they’re subjected to an onslaught of pharmaceutical strength.
What else can you think of?
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