House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

A Love Story Framed Within a House of Horror – House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

It is a curious thing to have a chat with a book store manager who is ardently recommending a book to a customer. I was such a lucky customer, and upon browsing the book being recommended to me, I was amazed to see the text artfully laid out on the creamy pages. Mirrored text, inverted text, scattered text, text grouped in tight squares, text running at the bottom of the page, and text forming circles. This is what I came to know later as an example of ergodic literature.

It is a curious thing to see a single word printed in a different color. House, haus, maison, domus are all rendered in blue. Further scanning revealed footnotes on footnotes, extensive appendices, full-color collages, and index. I was sold, so to speak, but I didn’t manage to read this book after two years.

House of Leaves (2000) is popularly known as a terrifying story about a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. That is only one layer of narrative because that surface story is just as expansive as the story that happens outside of it, which is definitely bigger. Such stories upon stories, I feel, demand to be read with a support group. To be blunt about it, there are three main story arcs:

  • The Navidson Record, a documentary film that deals with the aforementioned house and the family that inhabits,
  • The story of Zampano, a writer who, upon his death, leaves behind the manuscript of an academic and critical study of The Navidson Record, and
  • The story of Johnny Truant, a tattoo shop employee who stumbles upon the aforementioned manuscript.

There are many references and parallelisms with the myth of the Minotaur and his labyrinth, which one might find really interesting. The Minotaur references are supposed to be not there, according to Johnny Truant, but even if the text about it were successfully removed, one would still detect them.

The narrative style depends on which text the reader is on. The Navidson Record reads like an expository report. It presents a lot of details that one might feel are irrelevant until the thesis is presented. An example is a discussion on the physics of sound. How fast does sound travel? How soon is an echo created? How far is the source of an echo once it reaches the ears? Once the formulas and the factors are presented, the reader, as a parent, will realize the horror of hearing his or her own children’s echoing voices, who are just playing at a seemingly nearby part of the house.

Additional story arcs are left for the readers for their own theories, which are best discussed with a support group. Although this book can be read alone like any other book, the urge to discuss this after is going to start aching, an ache that demands to be soothed with the balm of a book discussion.

The artistry of the text’s layout may strike the distrusting reader as gimmicky and pretentious, but this has its purpose. It serves as the cinematography of the book, creating images in the reader’s head and an illusion for the eyes. To illustrate, some text is cramped in a tight square at the center of the page, a square that gets smaller and smaller as the character crawls through a tunnel that gets smaller and smaller until he is squirming through it on his belly. This creates not only an illusory tunnel but a feeling akin to claustrophobia.

Another example is that as the characters get lost, the text runs on the top, bottom, or edges of the page, with footnotes jumping at each other, thus making the reader just as lost as the characters in this labyrinthine reading. One may dismiss it as drivel, but it does work.

The not Kindle-friendly design demands some skill from the publisher, but more skill is demanded from the author, Mark Z. Danielewski. It actually requires a different kind of talent and intellect to put together this seemingly mashed up pulp and let the reader make sense out of it. One is always on the lookout for any coded text, suspicious misspellings, or any winking clues that are left at various places. One wonders if this indeed is a début novel.

As if that task were not daunting yet challenging enough, there are the appendices, particularly The Three Attic Whalestoe Institute Letters, which all seem to push the story further and shed a different light when the story is supposed to have ended. The truth is it all might not make any sense but the reader is still left wanting to untangle the reality from the fiction.

Perhaps the attempt to do so is the point of the book. My support group and I might not have the best theories, what with so many questions still left hanging in the air, but we are quite happy to at least have unspooled our own threads of thoughts.

I do not know anything about Art with a capital A. What I do know about is my art. Because it concerns me. I do not speak for others. So I do not speak for things which profess to speak for others. My art, however, speaks for me. It lights my way.

This is the art of reading this book. In the end, House of Leaves will continually be that horror book with the unconventional text layout, but one must not forget that at the core of it is the story of a couple, a couple named Will and Karen, trying to save their relationship as they delve so deep into their respective psychological houses, houses which reveal something about the guilt of success, the trauma of the past, the depression that is never suppressed, the fear that we don’t know exists, and the complexity of human nature.

[Read in June 2014.]
[5 out of 5 stars.]
[709 pages. Trade paperback. New.]
[Read with Kristel, Maria, and Monique.]

F2F30: The City and the City by China Miéville

TFG’s Book of the Month for June: The City and the City by China Miéville

The City and the City Face to Face Book Discussion Details:

  • Date: June 28, 2014
  • Place: Balboa, Shangri-la Plaza, Mandaluyong City
  • Time: 3 PM to 6 PM
  • Discussion Leaders: Gwaxa and Meliza
  • Attendees: Me, Aaron, Aldrin, Allan (my guest), Cary (after), Ella, Honey, Marie, Monique, Rhena, Tina, Tricia (after), Veronica, Ycel
  • Food I Ate: Banana and berry shake (I already ate before arriving at the venue).
  • Activities: True or false trivia, word games, unseeing and unhearing, and book raffle (I won one of the three books).
  • After the Book Discussion: I left right after the discussion so I don’t what the others did.
  • Other Nominated Books: Embassytown and Un Lun Dun, also by China Miéville.
Discussion Time

Discussion Time

The F2F30 Attendees

The F2F30 Attendees

  • Next Month: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. If you wish to join us, please visit the discussion thread and the event thread for more details.

Photos courtesy of Rhena and Ycel.

Book Report: June 2014

Book Report: June 2014

Today is the exact middle of the year (check Wikipedia), and today I will present not only my June Report, but also my Mid-Year Report.

Here’s the June Report:

Books Finished:

  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – 1 out of 5 stars. I’ve returned the copy to its rightful owner. 1/3 of my 2014 Dare Reads.
  • The City and the City by China Miéville – 3 out of 5 stars. Our June book of the month.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 4 out of 5 stars. Read this as fast as I can to catch the movie in the theaters. 2/3 of my 2014 Dare Reads. My copy is currently in the hands of my office mate.
  • The Stories So Far by Jessica Zafra – 4 out of 5 stars. Finished this as soon as I bought it from the author herself. (Php 399, June 21)

Currently Reading:

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – Currently on page 74 of 709. After so many failed plans, I’m finally reading this. What’s more, I’m finally reading this along with Kristel, Maria, and Monique.
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – Currently on page 70 of 172. I paused because I ordered a new edition.  I can’t resist the Vintage Classics Virginia Woolf series. (USD 6.26, The Book Depository, June 26)
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Currently on page 61 of 470. This is our July book of the month. A difficult first chapter should be surmounted before the pages spin what seems to me a beautiful tale.
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Currently on page 211 of 604. I’m thinking of restarting this book.

New Books:

  • Embassytown by China Miéville – I won this from our book discussion raffle. Thank you! (from Gwaxa and Meliza, June 28)
  • The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – I would like to think of this as a belated birthday gift. Thank you! (from Huhi, June 16)
  • The Summer Book by Tove Jansson – An NYRB Classic that has great reviews from some of my favorite reviewers. (USD 12. 04 less USD 4.5 partial refund, The Book Depository, June 26)
  • The Waves by Virginia Woolf – The search for the meaning of life continues. (USD 8.64 less USD 4.5 partial refund, The Book Depository, June 26)

Here’s the Mid-Year Report:

2014 Fave List (4 and 5 star books)

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • A Death in the Family by James Agee
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
  • A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
  • The Stories So Far by Jessica Zafra
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

2014 Mid List (3 star books)

  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr
  • The City and the City by China Miéville
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

2014 Hate List (1 and 2 star books)

  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
My Most-Prized Possessions

Books Are the Things I Treasure the Most

We are now going to wrap up Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit. I immensely enjoyed this course and I think it really helped. I looked forward to going home to sit in front of my laptop and check out the new challenges. What will happen to this blog after the course? You’ll definitely miss the crazy bookish ramblings that were inspired by the not entirely bookish challenges. But you’ll see more book reviews, which is something that I terribly miss writing. I intend to focus on my review back log in the upcoming months.

The final challenge asks us to do this:

Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.

Today’s twist: We extolled the virtues of brevity back on day five, but now, let’s jump to the other side of the spectrum and turn to longform writing. Let’s celebrate the drawn-out, slowly cooked, wide-shot narrative.

Books.

Why Books?

It’s not an entirely subconscious decision although I admit that books had this irresistible charm for me. You’ve probably read in my past posts how my childhood was with regard to books. Anyway, in high school, I hung around the high school library during my break times instead of mingling with my classmates. I liked walking around the cramped spaces between the shelves and reading the titles that jumped from the spines. I picked titles that caught my interest and read random pages. I borrowed books every week. I actually didn’t read them. Silly, I know, but I just liked having a borrowed library book in my bag.

Tales with the Librarian

I became friends with the librarian. She must have been in her mid 20s during that time when my face was encrusted with zits. She asked for my help to organize the Junior Librarians’ Club. She made sure that I will be elected among the officers. I became the treasurer. We organized field trips to libraries of different high schools and interacted with their library clubs, if any. We asked members to be student aides of our library at least once a month. We were a small but thriving club, and when our number started to grow, I decided that I wanted to be a reader. A real reader.

This decision coincided with the time I finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. What beauty! What wonder! What books should I read next to give me these visions and feelings? I stayed longer hours at the library. I went there immediately after my last class and read at a corner until our librarian told me to pack up. We would sometimes walk together until the gate. Sometimes, she would buy me a banana cue. I think I may have had a crush on her.

But that is entirely beside the point. I was happy that I was actually reading the books that I borrowed. I didn’t incur penalties for overdue books because our librarian saw that I was really reading. I am a slow reader, you see, owing to the intrusive narrator in my head, but I no longer mind that narrator now.

Borrowing Burrowed

There came a time when I didn’t want to borrow books anymore, and that’s because I wanted to own the books that I read. I grew up in a town where there was no decent book store during the late 90s. The books available were limited to romance bestsellers. I bought some titles with what money I could save from my allowance.

I wish I remember the first book that I bought with my own money, but as one book became two books and these two became the foundation of a book stack, I couldn’t suppress the happiness that I felt by merely looking at them. I always told myself, someday, I will have more. Someday, I will have a shelf. Someday, I will have a library.

Buying Blast

These fantasies were not immediately fulfilled because as a student who was entirely dependent to low-income parents, my bookish whims could not be instantly granted. When shopping malls with decent book stores started to be erected in our town, I was ecstatic. One of those book stores that opened was Book Sale. It is a secondhand book store that would thrill any book hunter. One has to dig through its bins and stacks in the hopes of finding a treasure. It really is book hunting.

Thanks to Book Sale, my meager allowance allowed me to eat at school, buy any school requirements, and buy books. At the end of one semester, I have amassed a tall stack of books. It wouldn’t stop growing. An additional stack sprouted. I couldn’t catch up with my reading, what with my studies and all that jazz, but it was a happy problem.

After I finished school and lived independently, I still continued to visit any Book Sale branch that I would come across my way. I also started buying brand new books without having to worry that my allowance wouldn’t be enough. I’ve been buying so many books that I forgot to buy clothes and shoes and, sometimes although rarely, food. There was a time when my stacks of books collapsed on me while I was sleeping. That was a problem.

Shelf Life

I was reluctant to buy a book shelf because I move around a lot. But what if my books fall all over me again? What if it becomes lethal? So I bought a book shelf. The second someday that I was telling myself when I was younger became true out of necessity.

I may need a new book shelf if I continuously hoard. I still buy books and I always will, so long as I have money and so long as I can go to a book store, but I don’t hoard as aggressively as I did before. I don’t think I should worry about another book shelf. My book shelf is serving me well. It keeps my books organized, sort of, and it houses my most prized possessions.

Biblio Blog

Without my books, there would probably be no Book Rhapsody. I’d probably be blogging about something else, that’s for sure, but thank heavens that I am a book blogger. This blog documents the lives of my books, and writing their biographies is something that I would like to do for a long, long time. That’s how much I value my possessions. I’d read them and squeeze my brains to write about them. My life may get in the way, but hey, I made it. I am still here.

I have a hundred lives waiting to be written, and hundreds more waiting to be discovered. They are all here, in my library. Yes, the final someday has become a reality. It has long become a reality. My younger self didn’t realize that my library sighed its first breath with that first book.

My Norton Short Fiction Anthologies, 3rd and 4th

Here’s a reading project that I might organize in the future

It’s the penultimate day of Writing 101, and it’s a free one.

Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

I have always wanted to be a part of a group blog. I don’t know what’s with my obsession about this, but I just want to. I was once part of the Booker, Nobel, and Pulitzer projects. They are nice group blogs, but I left. Why? At the time I left, I felt that the members were merely cross-posting their book reviews, which is not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing because these blogs offer rich content regarding the projects’ respective focus.

I guess I wanted something more than that, something more collaborative, like members pitching in their ideas, and writing about original stuff without having to cross-post them and link them up to the original blogs. There is a sense of collective ownership in it, and it appeals to me.

Anyway, the reading project that I’ve been thinking of for the longest time is the Norton Short Fiction project. This will be based on the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. I’ve been stalling this because I am waiting for the eighth edition, which I imagine will be out soon. It would be nice to discuss the stories in it and have members post stuff regarding the stories, the writers, and various topics related to the art of the short story.

I don’t remember discussing this with anyone because I think it’s quite demanding. I mean, we all have our lives to live and blogs to maintain, and asking for time, which we never have a surplus of, for such a long-term project is too much. But if it’s going to be one short story a month, I think it’s going to be manageable. Besides, I’ve already listed the “core” stories, the ones that are always present in each edition, at least from the editions that I’ve managed to get a hold of. So even if one doesn’t get the eighth edition, one could still participate.

Sometimes, I wonder if I could really take on this or if I am merely being restless. I want to do so much and yet there are already so many things to do. I have a job, I have this blog, I have a reading group, and I have other interests. But this project has been playing in my head for maybe two years now, or even longer. I don’t think it will go out of my head, and it feels great that I am finally talking about its possibility.

Once that eighth edition comes out, I think I will pursue it, alone or not.