Tag Archives: house of leaves

House of Leaves

71Vmj-9DZYLMark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is one of those books that I’ve tried multiple times to read but never completed. I always knew I’d come back to finish what I started because I really hate not finishing books, though, and now I can finally say I’ve finished this one.

A friend recommended this book to me probably around 2007 and I tried and tried and tried to get into it, but when I was 18, it just read as pretentious drivel. Now that I’m older, I definitely had more of an appreciation for all the hard work and effort that went into the creation of this novel. But I also think that Danielewski is a bit pretentious still, especially because I’m sure he went into the creation of the book with the intention of making a cult classic. I also don’t think it was necessary to have so many stylistic tendencies, like having his words spiral or reducing word count page by page until there’s just one word on a page. Turning a 600+ page book upside down to read four sentences every other page while standing on the subway at 9 a.m. is enough to make anyone want to throw the book between the gap.

House of Leaves has a serious cult following behind it where obsessed fans have an ongoing forum that they still post it almost 20 years after the book’s publication. Some of these more than dedicated fans have even created the fake cited sources Zampano refers to in the book. Yep. It’s THAT kind of book.

In a 600+ page novel, you want to be gripping the pages anxious to see what happens next. With House of Leaves, that was often not the case. A lot of the book drags on and on with deep mythological explanations of where an Echo came from and “removed” (aka red crossed out passages) about Minotaurs that, while interesting, could definitely have been shortened. It’s almost too obvious that Danielewski wants people to take a metaphor away from these passages.

The novel is narrated by Zampano, the old man who created this in-depth analysis of a movie that he also made up, and is full of fake sources, fake definitions, and tons of other falsities where you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Sure, it’s metaphorical as fuck, but after page 250 of intense metaphors that you can’t quite put your finger on, most normal readers resort to heavily skimming and sighs of frustration.

The other narrator is Johnny Truant, the sex and drug addicted son of a mother who spiraled into violent psychosis after she tried to murder (and possibly succeeded, according to one fan theory I read) in murdering her son because she didn’t want him to suffer through how horrible the world is. I mean, I guess that’s one way of dealing with how much life sucks. As Johnny becomes immersed in this world that Zampano created, he begins to have trouble differentiating reality from dreams from paranoias, a theme that runs rampant throughout the book: What exactly is real? What exactly is going on?????

My disdain for Johnny is practically unrivaled; I haven’t hated a character in a book since reading the abomination that was Blackbirds. The parts where Johnny was writing, I was overcome with rage at this fictional character because his rantings often revolved around who he was fucking, how many drugs/drinks he had that night, and the CRRAAZZZYYYY antics that Lude was up to. What’s that Lude gonna do next!?

One theory that I read and really liked was, as I mentioned before, that Johnny’s mother actually did kill him and House of Leaves/the writings of Johnny are all this elaborate story that she created and wrote. She loved writing her son letters as we knew but also suffered from some sort of psychosis (schizophrenia? bipolar? something else indicating that she was delusional?), and possibly the contents of this book are the ramblings of a disillusioned woman. For example, Lude’s and Thumper’s names are characters of what they’re known for (lewd behavior and…thumping), which can be evidence of a person that’s unable to create anything more than a flat, two-dimensional character whose actions are indicated by their names. Anyway, it’s not necessarily a good theory but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Regardless, I did actually like this book for the most part. After four years as an English major, I find a lot of enjoyment from book/movie analyses, even if they are fake, and took a lot away from it. I didn’t care for drunken, drug-induced, unreliable ramblings because those got old pretty fast. No one in the book club aside from me (I WIN!) finished the book, so I would one day like to actually talk to someone who read it in its entirety because I think there would be a lot of interesting things to discuss. For now, I’m basically just talking to myself about it.

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Naked Lunch

nakedlunchAbout a month ago I founded my own book club. It all happened so fast, but I’m (so far) really pleased with it. Aside from the fact that we all absolutely hated the first book. Woops?

It all began with This American Life’s William S. Burroughs podcast. I never cared for Burroughs or his writing, but the podcast had me enticed—because what’s not fascinating about some drug addicted pervert’s musings? My friend Nuala and I talked about the podcast together and both said we wanted to read a few of his pieces afterwards. From there I moved on to talking to other people about how we missed reading/discussing literature in general and are always craving new books recommendations. (Seriously, always. Send me all of your recommendations immediately!) So I decided that maybe we could read Burroughs’ most acclaimed work together, Naked Lunch. And thus my baby book club was born.

It’s worth mentioning that I tried to read Naked Lunch once before and that I fucking hated it. I read the entire thing because I can never begin a book without finishing it. It was torture for me, though. I had no idea what was going on, hated the content, and forced myself through it without retaining a single thing aside from my intense dislike of it. So obviously a great first choice for our club.

I figured maybe I was just too young or immature to understand the novel, and now that I’m older, it should be a lot more enjoyable/interesting. WRONG. WRONG. YOU WERE WRONG, NICOLE. AND IF YOU’RE READING THIS POST IN THE FUTURE AND CONSIDERING READING NAKED LUNCH AGAIN, YOU WILL MOST DEFINITELY HATE IT AND YOU SHOULD STOP. JUST STOP IT.

I got about 95 pages and for about the third time ever, I stopped reading a book. I can rest easy knowing that at one point in time I finished this book, but not this time. And never again. I had no idea what was going on and suddenly found myself in the thick of a 30 page description of suicidal orgies. I gave up. I have no idea who any of the characters are, where they ever were, what they were ever doing (aside from the painfully obvious), or what they wanted to be doing.

No one in the book club was able to finish it—in fact, I made it the farthest out of anyone. I’ve heard his other, shorter works are more enjoyable, such as Junkie or Queer. I’ll never find out because I’m done trying. Beatnik era writing is simply not for me (I also hated On the Road in the past and will not make the mistake of trying that one again).

The only other time I can really remember beginning a book—multiple times, actually—and not being able to finish it was with Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. And just guess what our second book club novel is…

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