If You Liked Covfefe, Try these Books Written in Nonstandard English
Yes, I am a bit late for the "covfefe" train but I'm going to climb on board anyway because it gives me a great excuse to promote books that are written in nonstandard English. This includes books in dialect, slang or with completely invented languages.
Personally I love books that do interesting things with language even though reading them can sometimes feel like codebreaking. Not everyone agrees, however. James Kelman's How Late it Was, How Late (eBook, Talking Book), written in working class Scottish vernacular, caused a commotion when it won the 1994 Booker Prize. The novel is narrated by an ex-con who regains consciousness after a bender to find himself trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare, accused of a crime he can't remember. There is much profanity. One member of the judging panel angrily walked out of the announcement and a number of literary critics including Kingsley Amis condemned the selection. In his acceptance speech, Kelman accused the book's opponents of snobbery stating that "[m]y culture and my language have the right to exist, and no one has the authority to dismiss that".
Here is a selection of books that you might want to try:
Bitter and deranged cab driver Dave writes a book for his son sharing his biography and his perspective on the meaning of life. The book is uncovered many years later and Dave is heralded as a great philosopher. Written in Mokni and Arpee – invented English dialects.
Fifteen-year-old Alex and his friends do whatever they want and are especially fond of anything violent. When the State catches up with Alex, it is determined that he must be "reformed" through aversion therapy. The classic novel is written in Nadsat, an invented language influenced by the Russian language and British rhyming slang.
Although set in 2053, the City of Bohane is not dissimilar to a lawless town from an old western movie. Controlled by a few powerful gangs, the town is full of criminals, gamblers and prostitutes and scheming is the main survival strategy. Chaos ensues when gang lord Logan Hartnett is challenged by an old rival. The dialogue is comprised of archaic, contemporary and invented words.
Celie, a poor, abused black girl in 1930s Georgia, describes her life in a series of letters to God. Alice Walker described the dialect in the novel as "Black Folks English".
In this post-apocalyptic novel, a disease called Posies kills everyone at the age of 20. Ice Cream Star is 15 when she meets a stranger who claims to have a cure for the ailment. As she travels in search of the cure, Ice Cream Star realizes that she may have to lead her people in a war. The book is written in a form of African American Vernacular English.
The first of the Douglas Brodie mystery series is set in post-World War II Glasgow. Brodie is contacted by a friend who is a few weeks away from execution for the murder of a child. Brodie reluctantly agrees to investigate and finds himself in a race against time to clear the man's name and save his life. The novel makes use of Ayrshire and Glasgow dialects.
Londonstani by Gautam Malkani
Narrator Jas and his friends try to get rich through a cell phone scam while wrestling with family and community issues. The novel is written in an invented combination of cockney, hip hop, Asian slang and Pakistani.
The 1993 Booker Prize winner was less controversial than Kelman's would be the next year, yet it also employed nonstandard English to tell its story. Ten-year-old Paddy Clarke tries to make sense of his increasingly mystifying life over the course of a year as his parents' relationship disintegrates. Doyle uses the vocabulary and speech patterns of a young child living in North Dublin in the 1960s.
Eleven-year-old Harri Opoku has just moved from Ghana to London. He lives with his family on the Dell Hill housing estate where he must contend with gang warfare and violence. When a boy from the estate is killed, Harri and his best friend Dean set out to solve the crime. Narrated by Harri, the book is written in a combination of London urban and Ghanaian slang.
Physically abused by her parents, pregnant for the second time with her father's child, 16-year-old Precious finds support and acceptance when she begins attending an alternative school. Precious narrates the novel in African American Vernacular English.
After a long absence, Janie Crawford returns to her hometown and tells the story of her search for love to an old friend. Now considered a classic, Zora Neale Hurston's decision to write this novel in African American Vernacular English dialect was not without controversy at the time of its publication. Author Richard Wright felt that she was exploiting her own culture for the amusement of white readers, much like a minstrel show.
A cult novel about friendship, love, betrayal and heroin addiction among a group of friends in Edinburgh in the 1980s. Narrated by several different characters in accents including colloquial Scottish, Cockney, Brummie and Glaswegian mixed with Standard Scottish English in places.
A wealthy landowner runs afoul of the invading Normans and after his property is destroyed, he sets out on a mission of revenge. Kingsnorth has used what he calls a "shadow tongue" based on 11th century English but adapted, so it is easier for a present day reader.
If reading an entire novel in dialect is daunting, this anthology will give you a taste:
Rotten English: A Literary Anthology edited by Dohra Ahmed