Friday, September 23, 2011

House of Leaves.

So, a while back, I remember reading someone who was posting about Infinite Jest as they read through, half to encourage themselves not to abandon reading it (as they had before, and as everyone does I imagine) and half to try and make sense of it. Writing things down is often much more linear than thinking them. In your head you can go around and around, and when you write things down, you can progress. At least, this has been my experience.

So, I'm going to write about House of Leaves while I read it. I've known about it for a long time now, my friend Randy was the first person to recommend it to me. But lots of people have told me about it since then. And I think now is the time.

So, here's what I know about the book so far, prior to reading it.

- I know that there's a lot of trickery going on, and have heard that at times the book convinces you that as a reader you are in danger. I find this a very interesting idea!

- I know that in the book, the word House is always in blue. I have the "remastered full-color edition" and it seems ridiculous to me to go to so much trouble just to make one word blue - and always the same word. But, I have not read the book, and my mind is open to the possibility that this will be meaningful and effective.

- I know that the house changes shape, with hallways and rooms moving. To be honest, this is the biggest reason I finally decided to sit down and give this book a go. I love this sort of funhouse of horrors idea, like that serial killer at the Chicago World Fair, who had a house with corridors that shrunk down to nothing, and trapdoors hidden all around.

- I also know (and really like) that in the index the word house and haus are blue, but also, there is an entry for house (black) with the page DNE (which I assume means does not exist.) I am a sucker for fun indexes.

Anyway, we'll see. I bought it in paperback because buying the ebook version seemed foolish, though for all I know they went to incredible lengths to match the typographical trickery. But, in my experience with ebooks, they most likely didn't. Let me know if I'm wrong, but in the meantime I'll be reading hardcopy.


  1. But the full-color edition will also have "minotaur" in red, and the struck line in purple. As well as the plates in the appendix being in color. Prior to that, there was the edition with "house" in blue, and one with "minotaur" in red and "house" in gray.

  2. I'm so glad you're reading this book. I think everyone should. It's impressionistic, like an all-over composition, that left me feeling haunted weeks later, even though I wasn't entirely sure what happened in the story.

    I want more books to be written this way - where you don't try to understand as you go, but let it rise up in you after you finish.

  3. There's also an edition with actual braille in it, though I've never been able to track it down.

    My biggest recommendation is that you read every single word that you possibly can. Sounds like an odd thing to say, but trust me, just do it. One of the most captivating things about this "book" is it's ability to completely consume your senses, and overwhelm/fatigue you to the point that you let your guard down.

    I would also suggest listening to some creepy music in the background, such as Ulver's "Teachings in Silence" or School of Emotional Engineering's "School of Emotional Engineering". Me and a friend made an album based on the book too, but I won't spam you with it unless you're interested.

  4. DNE does in fact mean "Does Not Exist".

    I think part of the reason the word "House" is blue is, like the suggestion that the reader is in danger, part of a concerted effort on the author's part to shape the reader's perception. I know after I finished the book for a while my brain would automatically transpose the color blue onto the word 'House'. The blue house, in a way, affected me. It was kind of neat.

    I will say that I kind of had trouble sticking with Johnny Truant's parts after a while, since the story-within-the-story was so much more interesting to me.

  5. "There's also an edition with actual braille in it, though I've never been able to track it down."

    I think, and I would hate to go on sort of authoritative statement here but this is based on several years working in/with books at stores and libraries and having a fascination with this one in particular, that the hinted at braille version found in the "versions" section at the front of the book is part of the meta-fiction of the book where the book itself is something like a character in the book...itself. The old double/triple pun-play of House of Leaves (aka amongst others: a structure made up of pages).

  6. I felt much the same way about House of Leaves before I read it as you do not but... this book is much better if you don't read it. The sections where the reader is meant to feel in danger really don't work. The book also feels really dry and hard to relate to, I had to force myself to read it. And while some of the tricks in it are neat, they seem gimmicky after a while and begin to take away from the story. A much better book in the same style is The Raw Shark Texts. All in all, House of Leaves has some really cool ideas, but fails to pull them off.

  7. @Doug Bolden

    Yeah that's what I've been thinking too...but that doesn't stop me from looking for it.

  8. I love this book a lot, but I know there are many people out there who find it pretentious and silly. (At least one poster above seems to be in that camp.) As with anything, my best advice is to try to ignore everyone else's opinion as much as possible, and just go in with an open mind.

    I find that it's really stuck with me a lot. There are certain passages and images that hit me particularly hard, and the whole book just sort of lurks in the back of my mind. Also, whenever possible when I write out the title, I write the word "house" in blue.

    I haven't heard as much about Danielewski's second novel, Only Revolutions. I've read (and own) that book as well, and I love the craft of it and the style, but it didn't hit me as hard.

  9. The best part about House of Leaves is there's so much to discover. You can re-read it and pick up new things, and read the worryingly extensive research people have done about it online and read through to notice these things. It's a book that rewards exploring, and that's a lot of fun.

    Good call on the hardcopy version, also. There are bits when you're turning the book over and leafing through pages that I just can't imagine the ebook copy doing nearly as well.

  10. The way I feel about House of Leaves is similar to the way I feel about Roberto BolaƱo's "2666."

    Or, instead: the way I felt reading 2666 reminded me of how I felt reading House of Leaves.

    Both are, physically, very overwhelming books. They're not easy to tote around. They make you angry when you try and stuff them in your bag. People on the bus look at you askance when you pull them out.

    I loved House of Leaves when I read it in high school. It was unlike anything I'd read before in how the book's physical presence was reflected in the heaviness of the text, in how much brain power it took to get through a section. In how it demanded I spend time thinking about it, whether I was trying to read the little lists put throughout, or trying to fit in on my shelf.

    Still, I got through it and loved it. (And then I listened to Poe's accompanying "Haunted" and freaked out a bit.)

    When I tried to read 2666 a couple of years ago, I couldn't finish and I ultimately stopped reading novels for a year. I still think it's one of the best books I ever read (or, partially read). I just got to a point in the middle of the fourth section when it was too much. I would get through two pages and feel exhausted, only just then realizing that there hadn't been a period in that whole section. It made me feel a little sick. I wanted to bury it in the backyard and never think about it again. But it keeps reappearing, in the bags of my friends, left behind at work, uncovered on my shelf.

    Danielewski does an amazing job making the reader feel uncomfortable, bringing the horror into the reader's world. However, I feel like it tries to do so much (and verges on gimmicky) that it ultimately makes the reader feel just alienated enough to walk away from the book feeling slightly disturbed, but ultimately OK.

    Despite being nowhere close to being labeled a "horror novel," 2666 gave me nightmares.