Maddening to some and delightful to others, the ultra-ironic Miranda July is pretty much the epitome of twee, a wide-eyed pixie whose writing and films are impossibly cute, but also often incredibly poignant and affecting. Her newest book, It Chooses You, may actually be her most precious work yet, a compendium of prose, photographs and interviews from the time she drove around LA meeting people who were selling random items (kittens, leather jackets, bullfrog tadpoles) in the PennySaver. Even the book itself looks like an adorable cat-based scrapbook, but the stories inside are those of real people and her interest genuine, which makes it all okay by us.
Sample passage: “Weren’t leopards massive and deadly? These looked more like cute kittens. Then one of them suddenly jumped in the air to the height of my face. Two more began wrestling, slamming each other against the wall with violent cracks. They were small, but they no longer seemed cute; there was a strong man inside of each one. I tried to contemplate breeds and cross-breeds, but my knowledge was thin and I had to supplement it with what I knew about Spiderman and Frankenstein. And the Incredible Hulk.” ( It Chooses You , 2011)
Heralded (or mocked) by some as the “lord of twee literature,” Eggers has made a sizable career out of his tweedom. His moderately twee postmodern memoir was a huge success, and his very twee publishing house, McSweeney’s, publishes several of the other authors on this list. With his younger brother and under a pseudonym (Dr. and Mr. Doris Haggis-on-Whey), Eggers writes a series of children’s literary nonsense books, with titles like Giraffes? Giraffes! and Animals of the Ocean, in Particular the Giant Squid .
Sample passage: “I hung up the phone, jubilant, and threw myself into a wall, then pretended to be getting electrocuted. I do this when I’m very happy.” ( You Shall Know Our Velocity! , 2002)
We hope it’s not giving too much away to tell you that the conceit of much of LaFarge’s work, that he is in fact only translating the forgotten writings of Paul Poissel, is a fabrication. His 2005 book, The Facts of Winter , is “a series of short dreams, each dreamed by people in and around Paris, which is to say that it is a fictional account of the imaginary lives of people who may or may not be real.” Ah, the dreamers of Paris in 1881, with French and English on facing pages, all constructed under the ruse of translating an obscure French visionary. Twee — and quite wonderful.
Sample passage: “On March 10, a girl named L—- who works as a chambermaid at an inn dreams that she went to bed on the 24th of February and that by dint of staying there she has become a child again. She is already pink all over, and she gets smaller every day.” ( The Facts of Winter , 2005)
Karen Russell’s stories are filled with these sorts of things: sleepaway camps for disordered dreamers, girl alligator-wrestlers, boys who sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab, ghosts taken as lovers, theme parks, magic swimming goggles. Though the description of any of her works might sound too precious to bear from the outside, from the inside each story glows, and her first novel, Swamplandia! , frankly beams.
Sample passage: “She doesn’t know how to answer the man’s question about why she snuck into the conch. She just feels like there’s something she needs to protect. Some larval understanding, something cocooned inside her, that seems to get unspun and exploded with each passing year…That’s the way to do it, the grown up voices whisper. Wear your skeleton on the inside out, and keep your insect heart secret.” (“The City of Shells” from St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves , 2006)
Celebrated YA author and the man behind Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist , David Levithan’s first adult novel, published just this year, is a series of definitions relating to love that eventually gather themselves up into a love story. The conceit alone would probably make the novel really unbearably adorable if it weren’t so clever.
Sample passage: “indelible, adj. That first night, you took your finger and pointed to the top of my head, then traced a line between my eyes, down my nose, over my lips, my chin, my neck, to the center of my chest. It was so surprising, I knew I would never mimic it. That one gesture would be yours forever. ( The Lover’s Dictionary , 2011)
Daniel Handler is what Lemony Snicket calls himself when he writes books for grown-ups, if that gives you any indication of his tweeness. In his 2006 novel Adverbs , every chapter is named for an adverb. His forthcoming novel came to us this week in a box full of pistachios, complete with a plastic comb (it makes sense in context, we swear). Cute as it all is, Handler has an incredible knack for the lip-smackingly delicious phrase, the assemblage of each sentence often even better than its intended meaning. He’s the kind of author you could read for pages, even if he wasn’t saying anything at all. Oh yes, and he also sometimes plays accordion for The Magnetic Fields.
Sample passage: “This is love, a pretty thing on an ugly street, and why wouldn’t you pick it up if it appeared in a cab? Finders keepers is what they say, and I wanted to be kept. I could see, in this stark relief, every inch of Peter’s clothing as he nodded politely to me and began to walk toward a grimy little diner place, Sal’s. Black jeans. A sort of olive-green jacket, with a rip on one of the elbows covered in masking tape. Pretty, pretty, pretty.” ( Adverbs , 2006)
Roy is not as ironically, aggressively cutesy as some of the other authors on this list, and her real-world persona is certainly not the cute parade of a Miranda July or a Daniel Handler. However, she couches her serious topics in the sweetest of prose stylings, dreamlike and often adorable, as if plucked from the mind of a particularly precocious child, turning every snap of a twig into lush poetry or a winking setup.
Sample passage: “As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the Two Thoughts he thought were these: a) Anything can happen to anyone. and b) It is best to be prepared.” ( The God of Small Things , 1997)
Look, there’s nothing more twee than an epistolary YA novel, and this classic tale of first kisses and mixtapes is a particularly cute one, if only for the narrator’s wide-eyed, wondering, uncomfortably open way of describing his world.
Sample passage: “I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.” ( The Perks of Being a Wallflower , 1999)
Jonathan Safran Foer
In one half of Everything Is Illuminated , a young Jewish man by the name of Jonathan Safran Foer travels to the Ukraine with his new friend Alex, Alex’s grandfather and his “deranged seeing-eye bitch,” Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr., to find the woman who saved said grandfather during the Nazi liquidation of Trachimbrod. In the other half, Safran Foer presents a novel-in-process, a magical tale of Trachimbrod itself. While widely lauded as a wonderful novel, there’s no denying that parts of it are pretty twee. After all, when Elijah Wood is cast to play your main character, you know what you’ve done.
Sample passage: “He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded and as impossible as it actually was, happy. And during the course of each day his heart would descend from his chest into his stomach. By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others–the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. Because his life had unlimited potential for happiness, insofar as it was an empty white room. He would fall asleep with his heart at the foot of his bed, like some domesticated animal that was no part of him at all. And each morning he would wake with it again in the cupboard of his rib cage, having become a little heavier, a little weaker, but still pumping. And by the midafternoon he was again overcome with the desire to be somewhere else, someone else, someone else somewhere else. I am not sad.” ( Everything Is Illuminated , 2002)
Of course we had to include Tao Lin, king of the internets. His first novel was called Eeeee Eee Eeee and had a pink bear on the cover. If that’s not twee, we don’t know what is — but in Lin’s case, that self-aware childishness comes packaged with a dour sensibility that makes the whole thing rather dangerous.
Sample passage: “Lately, they were always reassuring each other that nothing was wrong; and probably it was true—life wasn’t supposed to be incredible, after all. Life wasn’t some incredible movie. Life was all the movies, ever, happening at once. There were good ones, bad ones, some went straight to video.” (“Sincerity” from Bed , 2007)