Posts Tagged ‘mindfuck’

Book #111: House of Leaves

Holy. Shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. HOLY SHIT.

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House of Leaves. I…wow. Mark Z. Danielewski is a crazy motherfucker. House of Leaves is unlike anything I’ve ever read. I’m not sure there’s another book like it anywhere. Not only is the story (or stories, I should say) compelling and terrifying, the actual, physical experience of reading the book is also part of reading it.

The book is presented as an analytical textbook about an indie film that has gathered a cult following. The film – “The Navidson Record” – is a found-footage horror story about mysterious doors that open in famous photographer Will Navidson’s house. When a mysterious labyrinth with moving walls, a growling beast, and huge, cavernous rooms is revealed to exist inside the house, Navidson enlists a team of explorers, as well as his brother and some friends, to explore and try to get to the bottom of what is happening in his house. Running through the narrative is the strain that the cavern and its exploration has on Navidson’s relationship with his wife. It’s a little bit like the Paranormal Activity films, I’d imagine. Except that as things are revealed – through footnotes and appendices and interviews – you become unsure whether or not the film is fact or fiction.

That’s just the story of The Navidson Record. The text of the book itself is complied by tattoo parlor employee and slacker Johnny Truant. When Truant and his friend enter a dead man’s apartment, they find hundreds of pages worth of records and notes on the film that Truant feels compelled to organize into the book – House of Leaves. As Truant delves into Zampanó’s – the dead man’s – work, he finds himself drawn into a world where he questions his sanity and is forced to confront darkness in his past – and present. Truant’s story is told through lengthy footnotes throughout the actual “textbook.”

The book itself, like I said, is as much a part of the reading experience as the story it contains. The book is riddled with footnotes and symbols. Sometimes the text reads in more than one direction so you’re turning the book sideways and upside down and even moving it in a spiral to read it. Sometimes text runs along the top of the page, or the bottom of the page, or even diagonally across the page. Footnotes have footnotes, sometimes they refer you to appendices or back to previous footnotes. Sometimes you have to hunt for footnotes that aren’t where they should be. Labyrinths are key in the story, and Danielewski turned the physical book containing the story into a labyrinth. It’s completely insane.

More than that, the book is riddled with codes and secret meanings. Certain words are different colors. The word house is always printed in blue, for example. If you go online and seek out message boards you’ll find all kinds of crazy theories and things people have found in the book. There’s a coded letter to decipher, and then there’s a code within the code. There are ciphers. There’s a footnote listing famous architects and artists and if you take the first letter of all the last names, there’s a message. Other times there are codes, but you wouldn’t know it unless you really devoted yourself to decoding things, because the first few letters will be gibberish and then suddenly there are words.

The think about reading a book like this is that once you figure out that there are meanings behind the text, everything seems intentional. Why was this word misspelled? Why is this word a different font from the other? This word is missing letters, do the missing letters spell something? Why is this footnote in italics while this one is in bold? There’s even a bar of music printed in the book. Have you ever tried to seek out a piano so you can play music that you found printed in a novel you’re reading? I have. I felt insane. That book can drive you crazy, if you let it.

Let me tell you a little story about my experience reading House of Leaves. It was late. I wanted to go to bed, but I only had 30 pages until the end of a chapter. Finishing them would get me to bed a bit later than I wanted, but nothing major. But then a footnote led me to another footnote, which led me to an appendix with around 100 pages of letters. One of the letters was written in code, so I had to figure it out. There was a code within that code, and then I noticed another appendix. That appendix showed me that weird symbols connected to certain footnotes had meanings, so I had to go back and connect the meanings with the footnotes. The next thing I knew, it was 3 hours later and I still had 26 pages before the end of the chapter.

House of Leaves was an absolutely insane experience to read. It’s one of those books that could really fuck you up without all the unique footnotes and codes. Those extra elements only serve to get the book in your head a even more. It’s a horror story and a love story and the order you read the appendices and whether or not you choose to pay attention to the extra things like codes or footnotes can completely change your reading.

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It changed my idea of what books can be and what they can do. I think a lot about the connection between e-books and physical books, and House of Leaves definitely added to that. Reading that book on a Kindle would not be the same. You would lose so much of the physical experience of reading the book and flipping forward and backward in search of footnotes and codes. You’d lose the sense of space when Danielewski plays with the spacing of text on the page if you were looking at it on a small screen.

Mind-fucking plot and insanity-inducing codes aside, House of Leaves definitely makes a case for physical books. The physical book is as much a character as Navidson, Truant, Zampanó, and the House. The act of reading is an experience. It even adds something to the plot, instead of just feeling gimmicky.

If you’re up for a crazy experience, I’d totally recommend House of Leaves. It’s completely nuts.

And, if you know of another book like it, please let me know. Going back to reading books with straightforward plots and nothing to decode and no mysteries to solve is a bit like going back to driving an automatic after you’ve been driving a stick shift. There’s just not as much to do.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Goodbye To Berlin 

Book #107: The Butcher Boy

Oh man. Oh. Man.

Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy details a young killer’s descent into madness. It’s narrated by the teenaged Francis Brady, usually known as Francie. Francie grew up in a small Irish town with his mother and father, and he’s just a wee bit nuts. If you combined Norman Bates and Huckleberry Finn, you’d probably wind up with Francie Brady. If that’s not enough to interest you in reading this book, I’m not sure what to tell you.

Francie is an interesting narrator because he can seem so sane and rational, especially in the beginning, but then you slowly realize that this kid is fucking crazy.

He’s definitely a flawed narrator – he’s telling this story years later after he’s been convicted of murder – but his voice is so interesting. I found myself alternately hating him, being terrified of him, and feeling profoundly sorry for him.

It quickly becomes clear that Francie is not well and needs help, but there’s not really any help to be found. The twists and turns the narrative takes and the way Francie’s voice shifts and changes as the story progresses makes The Butcher Boy compelling and interesting the whole way through. You don’t really have time to get bored or look away or even get complacent.

The way the story unfolds and the changes in Francie’s voice as he gets closer and closer to recounting the actual murder and events that followed is so compelling. I really, really liked this book, even though it was pretty disturbing.

Rating: ****
Up Next: Lolita

Book #98: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Wow. Wow, wow, WOW.

I’m not entirely sure what I just read. My overwhelming first impression is Arthur C. Clarke > Isaac Asimov. By like ten billion. WOW.

Believe it or not, I haven’t seen the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and while I’ve picked up a bit on the general story just from existing in the world and hearing pop culture references, I didn’t really know too much about it. All I’d really heard about was that HAL went crazy and tried to take over the ship and that then the end was mind-blowing and no one really understood it.

I sort of thought that HAL was really the only plot. And I figured that the ending of the book couldn’t possibly be hard to understand. After all, words are easier to understand than when movies get all artsy and abstract. Unless, of course, you’re reading Ulysses, in which case nevermind. But I digress.

To be honest, I’ve written and rewritten this post several times over the course of about four days. I’d love to say more about 2001, but I’m just having trouble processing it and finding anything to say about it. It was so crazy and I’m not quite sure what happened at the end. I want to talk about it but I dont’ know how to put it into words.

This book was just so different from what I was expecting. The whole thing was also so well-done and so well-written and well-executed and just so different from anything I’ve ever read before that I’m still processing and trying to react to it. I think I might need to read it at least one more time to try and make sense of it. I also want to read the sequels, too.

I guess this is all I’m really going to say about 2001 for now, because whenever I try to think about it or formulate anything resembling an intelligent, coherent thought about it, my brain turns to mush. I will say that this is going to be one of those books I keep going back to and re-reading. I’m also definitely going to watch the movie. Someday I will figure it out.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Embers

Book #89: Fingersmith

Oh man.

Oh. Man.

For as much as I didn’t have anything to say about Christ Stopped at Eboli, I’m afraid that I’m not ever going to be able to stop talking about Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith.

I want to rave about it and scream about it from the rooftops so that everybody reads it.

Perhaps a more fitting title for Fingersmith would be “What?! No!” because that’s what I found myself saying repeatedly.

Fingersmith is a Dickensian-type story about con men (and women) and thievery that is riddled with plot twists and absolute shockers. I wouldn’t recommend reading it before bed, because there are all sorts of crazy what?! NO! moments that happen roughly every 60-70 pages. One night I accidentally stayed up until 3 am reading because there was an insane plot twist and I had to stay up and keep reading. And then I was so freaked out about what I read that I still couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was great.

Fingersmith is about Sue Trinder, an orphan who was raised by Mrs. Sucksby – a “baby farmer” who takes in abandoned children and sells them to people looking for children. Sue is raised to be a “fingersmith,” a petty thief who roams the streets of London stealing valuables and reselling them for profit – think Fagin and the Artful Dodger and their gang in Oliver Twist. When Gentleman, an “honorable” con man, comes to Mrs. Sucksby’s house with a brilliant con, Sue is tapped to help.

A young gentlewoman named Maud Lilly is in need of a new personal maid. Miss Lilly lives with her uncle in an isolated country house, and Gentleman has plans to woo her, marry her, commit her to an insane asylum, and make off with her inheritance. Sue will help convince Maud to fall in love with Gentleman and make sure the plot goes off without a hitch.

That’s the basic plot, but Fingersmith goes off in all sorts of CRAZY directions, until you’re not sure what’s going on. It’s crazy.

And I love it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun reading a book. I literally could not put it down. I want to buy copies for everyone I know, give them to them, sit them down, and make them read it. I will watch them read it so that I know they are actually reading it.

I recommend this book to everybody. EVERYBODY. I need someone to talk to about it. So read it. It will go fast because you won’t be able to put it down. You’ll be shocked.

I guess I should also add this disclaimer (that’s only a tiny spoiler compared to the HUGE turns this story will take): there might be some lesbian undertones. But don’t let that be the whole plot. People on Goodreads are all, “IT’S LESBIAN DICKENS!!!!” That’s true. There are some lesbians. But that’s not at all the sole focus of the book.

Read it. Read it, read it, read it. And then freak out to me in the comments.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Call It Sleep

Book #67: The Magus

Reading John Fowles’ The Magus may well have been one of the oddest reading experience of my life. 

I’m going to paraphrase something one of my college professors said about John Keats’ poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” because it’s fitting: It sucks into it and turns you around so much that, wen you get to the end, you aren’t sure just where you are. You don’t know what happened. You don’t even know which way is up.

That’s how I felt when I finished The Magus.

Basically, a young Englishman named Nicholas Urfe, bored and directionless after graduating from Oxford, winds up accepting a job teaching English at a boys’ school on a remote Greek island. There, he meets Conchis, a reclusive, enigmatic millionaire whose trickery and cleverness land Nicholas in the middle of a “godgame” that tests everything he thought was real.

There’s so much going on in  The Magus that it’s impossible to truly know what’s happening. It has people who are presumed dead come back to life; people are maybe-possibly-actors, are maybe-possibly-crazy, were actually dead all along, are actually someone else, are actually who they say they are, might be part of the game, might not be part of the game, or might not even exist at all.

Read this book, and I promise, by the end, you’ll have absolutely no idea where to look for reality. I re-read parts of it a few times, I’ve read reviews and other people’s comments on it, and I’m still not sure what happened. I’m not even sure what I think happens.

Basically, The Magus is the textbook definition of a mind-fuck read. And I loved it.

Read it. It will make you question reality, how you perceive things, and the many different forms fiction can take. Read it late at night. Preferably, like I did by candle light when the power goes off in your shitty apartment for the 4th night in 6 days. Read it in one sitting. Don’t ever stop reading until you’re finished and wondering what the hell just happened. It will be the most fun you’ve had with a book in awhile.

I dare you to try and unravel the godgame.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Death In Venice

Book #45: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was really weird.

It’s set in some futuristic, post-apocolyptic society where nuclear war has basically destroyed Earth and most of the genetically, physically, and mentally sound people have emigrated to Mars. Most of the people left on Earth have been somehow damaged by nuclear fallout. Because life has been so totally destroyed, owning and caring for a living animal has become a mark of social standing. People who cannot actually afford real animals spend money on convincing electronic animals, so no one will know that they can’t afford the real thing.

In this world where electronic versions of animals can fool people, there are, naturally, electronic versions of people. The androids are manufactured on Mars and intended to serve the people there. Like most technologies, they keep getting smarter and generally better. The problem is that sometimes these servants “go rogue” and escape to Earth. This is where the bounty hunters come in. It’s their job to try and figure out which people are the androids.

The thing about this book is that it makes you feel like you’re going insane. Like…for real. You’re reading along and you think everything’s fine and you’re into the plot and then suddenly Dick flips your world completely upside down. Then it’s like you’re standing on the ceiling of the book, which is never fun, and you aren’t even sure if you’re actually right side up or not. And you’re just like, “Whoa, I’m not even sure what’s happening right now.” Sometimes it’ll be the little things that freak you out.

For example, there’s a part where John meets one of the androids. She tells him her name and she says it’s Pris. Then in the next sentence, she says her name is Rachel. Then she goes back to being Pris. For some reason, that tiny moment in the book freaked me out a whole lot.

Overall, I liked Androids. At first when I was reading, I wasn’t terribly excited or interested in the book. But once Dick really got rolling and things got weird, I couldn’t stop reading it. While I was reading the book, I told my roommate about how it made me feel crazy. He told me that it’s supposed to do that. Dick was actually probably schizophrenic. At the very least he had mental illnesses that he worked into his books. If he really was schizophrenic, I’m pretty sure that Androids gives a pretty good representation of what that must feel like.

My goodness.

Rating: ****
Up Next: Enduring Love

Book #34: Trainspotting

I’m reading Trainspotting right now and it’s, uh, special.

I mean, I guess it’s a “junkie novel” (or at least that’s what I call novels where everyone’s addicted to drugs [see: Naked Lunch]) so it was bound to be weird. And maybe I should’ve been more prepared for this, but I loaded it onto my Kindle, started reading it, and was like, “Oh shit. It’s written in Scottish dialect.”

Here’s the deal: I do not like reading things that are written in dialect. It’s too much trouble to decipher what they’re saying. It’s so hard for me to even figure out what the characters are saying that I can’t really get much deeper than “Okay. So… ‘The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. Ah wis jist sitting thair, focusing oan the telly, tryin no tae notice the cunt. He wis bringing me doon.’ must mean, ‘Sick Boy was sweating and trembling. I was just sitting there, focusing on the TV and trying not to notice him. He was bringing me down.’ Next paragraph.”

It just irritates me. I wish I was one of those people who could decipher dialects when they’re written out. I also kind of wish that I knew more Scottish slang, because that might help. But either way, dialect doesn’t add anything to the story for me. All it really does is make me think in a Scottish accent sometimes, which is weird. In fact, I’m not really sure what it does for any story, ever. What’s it supposed to add.

Seriously, if anyone has any idea why authors do this and what purpose it serves, tell me. I really, really want to know.

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