When one of my best friends got an agent who sold her novel, I asked her if she’d recommend my writing. The agent asked her to characterize my work and she called it “quirky.” At the time, I took it as a put down. But as time went on, however, I noticed more and more book jackets describing the content of their books as quirky. When you Google search quirky books, here’s a small sampling of what comes up: Douglas Adams’ The Hitchkiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and more recently, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Karen Russel’s Swamplandia! Quirky has become a literary subgenre. Google shows that the use of the word skyrocketed around 2010. A quick Amazon.com search of books with the word “quirky” in the title delivers more than 900 results. Some bookstores even have a Quirky Reads shelf. The term seems metamorphosed from bad to good.
So what exactly does it mean when applied to literature?
Well, no wonder I felt insulted.
My oldest friend from 4th grade says I am decidedly unusual. I suppose I’m unusually honest. I’ve never understood why people hide their hurts, fears and flaws. We all have them. All people deep down are full of oddities, quirks, and unexpected turns. Maybe what quirky really means is authentic. Instead of putting up a conventional façade, quirky lit celebrates how people really are. Maybe that’s why its popularity is growing. In a world where big businesses homogenize and mass-produce everything, where commercials scream attention to glossy surfaces, people are getting hungry for the beautifully, wonderfully, strangely deep down.