The first challenge book I read was The Body Artist by Don DeLillo-- a very short, very weird and sometimes very beautiful novella, different in feeling and tone from the equally grim at heart but much more humorous (or satirical at least) White Noise, a book I enjoyed a lot more. So if you haven't read DeLillo maybe don't make this one your intro to Herr Maestro Americano. However, on the other side of the balance, TBA was also much shorter.
One of my favorite writers of all time is Frank O'Connor, who wrote "My Oedipus Complex", which just happens to be the funniest, most brilliant short story of all time. Anyway he said somewhere else-- not in that story. I just mention it, because your life will be incomplete if you don't follow the link and read it-- but somewhere else he said (and I paraphrase. Liberally.): "In America you make the most marvelous things, gloves and dresses." He was walking around New York in the anecdote, admiring all the spectacular sales windows.
"But," he went on to add, "all your writers sound the same." My name-dropping point is this: I didn't exactly love The Body Artist, but I did appreciate it. It was lyrical and weird, very weird, sometimes self-parodyingly weird but at least it didn't sound the same and had lovely lines like this passage:
Time seems to pass. The world happens, unrolling into moments, and you stop to glance at a spider pressed to its web. There is a quickness of light and a sense of things outlined precisely and streaks of running luster on the bay. You know more surely who you are on a strong bright day after a storm when the smallest falling leaf is stabbed with self-awareness. The wind makes a sound in the pines and the world comes into being, irreversibly, and the spider rides the wind-swayed web.
I'm not really sure what the heck the book is about, other than this body artist and her work and her grief about her husband's suicide, which I already feel like is saying too much because the book is that short, so I'll just say: if you don't want to read it, go see Don DeLillo in conversation with Paul Auster at the Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, November 1 anyway. (BTW quelle coincidence, methought when I saw the poster today). Sounds neat, huh?