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Maria Tatar

Five Books About Nonsense and Disorientation

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to recommend five books based around a common theme. These lists aren’t intended to be exhaustive, so we hope you’ll discuss and add your own suggestions in the comments!

When Noam Chomsky challenged himself to write a sentence that was grammatically correct but made no sense at all, he came up with “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” Chomsky overlooked the human drive to make sense out of everything, even nonsense. There is poetry in his sentence, and, after a vertiginous moment of disorientation, we move rapidly from crisis to the discovery of meaning, with truths often more profound than what we find in sentences that make complete sense. There is magic in non-sense, for words turn into wands and begin to build new worlds—Wonderland, Neverland, Oz, and Narnia. Presto! We are in the realm of counterfactuals that enable us to imagine “What if?”

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Series: Five Books About…

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