I finished House of Leaves. A synopsis of the book - if such a thing were actually possible - might go something like this: This is the story of the aI finished House of Leaves. A synopsis of the book - if such a thing were actually possible - might go something like this: This is the story of the assembly by one man, of the notes of another man, written on random bits of paper into a review of a movie - actually a documentary film - and the scholarly research spawned by the film. The film is about a house owned by the photojournalist who created the documentary. Or is it the house that owns him...and his family? Writing a review of this book at this point would be difficult at best, because there's so much there. Fortunately, as I was reading the book, I added comments about it on Goodreads. I've assembled those notes here, along with a couple of messages to a friend who had read the book and loved it.
I got through the intro Sunday night, but only the first chapter last night. I already know I'm going to like this a lot. After the few pages I've read, there are so many questions I want answers to. I always like writing that has no wasted or useless words - what I call dense writing because of its "density" on the page - and this definitely falls into that category. I also get the impression this is one of those books where you need to read every word between the front and back covers...footnotes, chapter epigraphs, maybe even the review excerpts and publication information.
Made it through the second chapter last night. Not really into the crazy part yet but I can sense it coming. I can see already this won't be a quick read but that's okay because I want it to last as long as possible. I see what you meant about extra bookmarks. Four-page footnotes that get totally off the subject make it hard to remember what was being discussed by the time you get to the end of them, but for some reason that just feels right in this book. After my comment about reading every word between the covers I went back and read the review clips and the publication info. Nothing out of the ordinary on the reviews. In my edition, "house" is printed in blue everywhere it appears even if it's only part of a word like household. Since the publisher is Random House, every House is in blue. I really like the way that you can tell whether Zampano or Truant is "writing" just by their different styles. One of the reviewers compared Danielewski to a combination of Pynchon, Joyce, and King. I don't see any Joyce in there so far and I've only read one Stephen King book but I definitely see some similarities to Pynchon. I'd say he's in a class with Pynchon, Woolf, and Eco. Strange class but I get the feeling he may be kind of a strange guy...which is good because, in my experience, most of the best literature comes from strange people. I can foresee some nights coming up where I start reading and the next thing I know it's 1 or 2 in the morning.
Although footnotes having their own footnotes is interesting, it's going to take me a while to get used to tracking them and then getting back to the narrative. After reading Truant's account of his "feeling" at the tattoo parlor, I kept sensing movement across the room out of the corner of my eye. I would never have guessed that a description of books falling off a bookshelf could give me a shiver down my spine that spread to my whole body or that thinking of that description a couple of hours later would cause another shiver. Saying that this is a great book doesn't seem like quite enough.
So, in Chapter V - the "Echoes" or "_allways" chapter - Zampano has a two-and-a-half page footnote consisting of names of photographers who are supposedly examples of those who show "an extremely original manner" relative to their subjects. When I read Truant's footnote to this footnote, in which he points out that the list of photographers is entirely random, I thought, "Of course! The man's blind!! What does he know of photographs - or films for that matter?" Now I'm hoping that somewhere in this labyrinth I'll find how Zampano became blind and that it will turn out to be a result of, and occur during, the time of his research on The Navidson Record.
I notice here that I'm discussing this as if it were non-fiction. A good sign for how well the book is written because that's what it's trying to portray. Possibly a bad sign for my sanity.
Toward the end of Chapter V, an editor's footnote tells us that one who wants to better understand Johnny Truant's past would do well to read his father's obituary and his mother's correspondence during the time she was institutionalized. So off I go to Appendix II. (Jess - I now have two bookmarks permanently in the book and one that comes and goes as needed.) The obit is brief. The correspondence covers sixty-seven pages. You can see the progression of his mother's illness in her correspondence. You can also see how her letters could adversely affect a young boy. I also just realized that the fact that the letters are here in the Appendix means that Johnny received all of them even if he wasn't very consistent in replying to them. The glimpses of Johnny's life during this time are also pretty revealing relative to his personality and behavior during the time he was caught up in Zampono's scribblings but you have to question the reliability of those glimpses because they're filtered through his mother's illness. I was reading through her letters, watching her slow but steady, Poe-like, descent into insanity when I came to the May 8, 1987 letter. I thought the book had been transformed into my copy of Ulysses. I was suddenly reading three pages of randomly-strung-together words with punctuation thrown in here and there. About halfway through the second page - it was late and my brain was tired - I remembered that, in her previous letter, she told Johnny she would have to write her next letter in code, so I dug out pen and paper and found that the steady decline was back on track, albeit at a little steeper angle now. I think there may be something to the capital letters in the middle of words randomly scattered through the letter but, if so, I haven't figured out what yet. The last book I read that was this interactive was Pat the Bunny.
And now I see that my comments on this book are sounding more and more like Truant's footnotes. Oh well, back to the labyrinth.
I had a status comment from Mandy the other day in which she asked if I was able to follow the book so far. I answered that "it's not really hard to follow because it's structured so well." Ha! That'll teach me to get cocky. Started Chapter VI late last night (I've got to start reading this thing during the day when my mind is a little more functional) and was pretty well lost within the first few pages. The chapter starts with footnotes to the chapter epigraphs and those footnotes have footnotes. The actual narrative of the chapter starts somewhere on the second or third page. There are footnotes that reference not only each other but footnotes in previous and subsequent chapters. I think there may be Zampano footnotes that reference Truant footnotes and Zampano never knew Truant...at least there's every indication so far that he didn't, but who knows what the future-past may hold. There are long passages - and their related footnotes - that are lined through rather than simply deleted. There are footnotes in sidebar format - left page right side up and right page upside down but two different footnotes - that go on for pages and pages and pages, making you turn corner after corner after corner in search of the end. There are footnotes in boxes in the middle of the page like you're standing on a sidewalk looking at a sign painted on a store window. You turn the page and exactly opposite the footnote on the page you just read is a box with the same footnote but it's backwards as if you've gone through the door and are now looking at the sign from inside the store. The chapter is somewhere in the 40-50 page range. Around the fourteenth page I remembered Mandy's question and my answer and I thought, "I don't see how anyone's ever supposed to follow this," followed immediately by a palm slap to the forehead. You see, Chapter VI is about labyrinths...the structure, history, nature, philosophical meaning, and so forth of labyrinths in general as well as the fact that the house both is and is in a labyrinth...but the best thing about Chapter VI - the labyrinth chapter - is that it is itself a labyrinth in which it is fully intended that the reader get lost. Is this an amazing book or what?
I'm beginning to wonder if Johnny's sexual exploits (escapades?) - while interesting in themselves - aren't similar in nature to his frequent visions (delusions?) of his own destruction...possibly even just different forms of destruction.
So...last night I decided to restart the labyrinth chapter to see if I could make any more sense out of it. The first thing I noticed is that it's not Chapter VI as I indicated a couple of comments ago. It's actually Chapter IX. One of the Chapter IX footnotes referenced a Chapter VI footnote, so apparently I went back that way and became temporarily (temporally?) lost. In the process of trying to locate, in the Appendices, a Truant reference to some Zampano writing about Natasha I came across a list of potential chapter titles that Zampano had considered. At first, I was a little gratified to find that the titles were the same as what I had thought of for some of the chapters. Then I became a little concerned that the titles were the same as what I had thought of for some of the chapters. Oh, well. While re-reading the "store window" footnote - which lists every kind of housing fixture imaginable by way of stressing the absolute absence of anything but walls, floors, a shitload of stairs, and maybe some ceilings in the labyrinth - I kept picturing Zampano wandering through a Lowes or Home Depot, aisle by aisle, writing down the name of every product on every shelf. I made it back pretty much to the same place I'd stopped at the night before - kind of like travelling through the maze in a circle - and even though I'd covered the same ground and was still pretty much lost I felt better about that and at least knew one way not to try again...hopefully.
Last night I read the chapter in which the house goes berserk. Don't remember the number and have no idea what I would call it, but it reminded me why I prefer my horror in written rather than cinematic form. In horror movies, the predominant means of scaring the audience is by startling them with a sudden action or image and a large part of the scare is a reaction to the reactions of the rest of the audience. A given scene that would "scare" an audience might therefor have no effect at all on an individual watching alone. A writer of good horror stories, on the other hand, knows that in order to scare his reader - or listeners in the case of stories told or read to a group - he has to engage the "fear center" of the reader's imagination. We all are capable of imagining far scarier things than anyone can ever put on film and Danielewski is very, very good at just pricking our "fear center" often enough to keep the imagination going and the skin crawling. If The Navidson Record film actually existed I'm sure it would be frightening, but I doubt that it would come close to being as scary as the written description of it. I think I may have just realized the answer to the oft-asked question of why I so seldom watch movies...books are so much better at engaging my imagination.
"'Staires! We have found staires!'" A fairly innocuous few words...until you put them in the context of the preceding four hundred and some-odd pages. Put them in that context and they'll make the skin on the back of your head crawl and the hair there stand on end...every time they pop into your head for days and days. And they will pop into your head over and over again...maybe for the rest of your life. Therein lies Danielewski's genius. He's so patient in building up structures that he has every intention of knocking over. And when he does knock them over, he does it with such simple, innocent words and events that it scares the crap out of you. And yet, you keep right on reading because you can do nothing less.
I finished House of Leaves. More accurately, I finished my first reading of House of Leaves. I'm not sure this is a book that you can ever really finish...or that it will ever be finished with you....more
Some of the sentences Woolf puts together make Cervantes and Pynchon look like Dr. Seuss. Parenthetical phrases and bits of stream of consciousness neSome of the sentences Woolf puts together make Cervantes and Pynchon look like Dr. Seuss. Parenthetical phrases and bits of stream of consciousness nested three or four deep make for a few incomprehensible sentences. Although her stream of consciousness has a tendency to ramble, it relates to the story much better than those of other practitioners of the form. Reading Woolf requires a greater degree of focus than do other authors, but the rewards are worth the effort. Her lyrical style leads to a certain understanding of those convoluted sentences and frames some amazing insights into human nature.
The first thing to note about To the Lighthouse is that it's more a character study than a story. The story is about two days – separated by ten years – in the life of the Ramsay family. The ten years account for about 10% of the story, and the two days that make up the other 90% are somewhat boring from a plot perspective. The two days on either end of the story take place at the summer home of the Ramsays on the Isle of Skye. The house overlooks a beach and an offshore lighthouse.
From the perspective of human nature, individual personality, relationships, and social interaction, this is an exceptional book. Given their seemingly incompatible personalities, the symbiotic relationship Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay share is both beautiful and frustratingly painful...the “how-did-they-end-up-together” syndrome. Mr. Ramsay's personality desperately needs attention and affirmation. Despite her personal strength, Mrs. Ramsay's personality needs to provide that to others. The most interesting thing about the relationship is the way she selectively withholds attention to keep him from being a whiny little child all the time. Also interesting is the similarity of Mr. Ramsay's behavior to that of six-year-old James. The depiction of the ways a strong personality, such as Mrs. Ramsay's, can impact others is striking.
A recurring theme of the book is Mrs. Ramsay's beauty. She retains the beauty of a 50-year-old woman who has always been physically beautiful, but the true beauty seen by others, is the outward manifestation of her strong, yet gracious, character. She instinctively relates to others in the way they most need at each moment.
The "dinner" chapter is gratifying for the fun it pokes at the inane conversation to which we subject ourselves in the name of being sociable. The ways family and guests deal with that is quite amusing.
In the second section of the book, the Ramsays suffer the loss of family members through war and natural causes. The metaphor of the decline and restoration of the empty house for the effect of the loss of Mrs. Ramsay on the others is brilliant. It’s a perfect bridge for the two decade-separated days that anchor the story.
The final section, centers on a trip to the offshore lighthouse; a trip originally planned on the Ramsays’ last stay at the house ten years earlier, but aborted due to Mr. Ramsay’s concerns over the weather. The children, now teens, are reluctant to make the trip, but accede to their father’s urging. In the course of the day, father and children discover in each other the family connection they need to finally begin recovering from their loss. While the Ramsays journey to the lighthouse, Lily Briscoe completes a painting she began during the last stay at the house. The way she does so, reveals the importance to each of us of finding our own "self" – whether through the influence of others in our lives, or in spite of it.
To the Lighthouse is must reading for anyone who has ever wondered about the collective sanity of that group of people they call their family....more
Sometimes, when what we've sought is almost within our grasp, we make our faith a lie so that we don't have to give up our quest by achieving its goalSometimes, when what we've sought is almost within our grasp, we make our faith a lie so that we don't have to give up our quest by achieving its goal....more
My first encounter with Steinbeck was The Grapes of Wrath. I didn't enjoy the encounter. Had my first encounter been East of Eden, I most likely wouldMy first encounter with Steinbeck was The Grapes of Wrath. I didn't enjoy the encounter. Had my first encounter been East of Eden, I most likely would have already read everything else he's written.
This is the the age-old story of the struggle between good and evil, but with an interesting twist. Steinbeck sees the coexistence of good and evil as necessary for the emergence of character or greatness. He lays the responsibility for that emergence squarely on the shoulders of the individual and shows that the exercise of free will (timshel) is the key to that emergence. Some people (Adam, Aron, and Cathy/Kate in the story) possess within themselves only good or only evil. Achieving true character or greatness is an impossibility for them, because choice is not possible and is, in fact, meaningless. Rather than character or greatness, their lives lead inevitably to self-destruction. For others (Sam, Lee, and Cal) good and evil constantly struggle for domination. Even when the good naturally dominates, one must exercise free will to exhibit character or achieve greatness. Sam and Lee are both considered good men, but each must choose actions that hurt Adam and Cal respectively, to bring them to necessary realizations. Sam and Lee consider themselves cowards for having not chosen to act sooner or for not acting in instances where action was called for. In Cal, the evil tends to dominate and he tries to shift the blame for his actions to heredity. He uses the evil as a balm for his guilt...he feels better about himself by feeling sorry for himself. Through Lee's refusal to let Cal do either, Cal begins to take responsibility for his actions and choices.
Steinbeck develops the character (in more than one sense) of Lee throughout the book and uses him as the primary vehicle through which he expounds the concepts expressed above. Of all that can be said about Lee, two things stand out. First is the influence that Sam Hamilton had on him. In a passage near the end of the book, much of what Lee says to Cal is what he learned from Sam early in the book and sounds like Sam speaking to Cal through Lee. Second is that Lee understands the difference between heritage and culture. His life demonstrates that both are important and that they overlap but he never confuses or equates the two.
East of Eden should be required reading in every high school American Lit class....more
"The fact that Ferdinand and Isabella did not choose the path of tolerance is seen as an example of the intractability and inevitability of intoleranc"The fact that Ferdinand and Isabella did not choose the path of tolerance is seen as an example of the intractability and inevitability of intolerance, especially in the premodern era. But their actions may be far better understood as the failure to make the more difficult decision, to have the courage to cultivate a society that can live with its own flagrant contradictions. They chose instead to go down the modern path, the one defined by an ethic of unity and harmony, and which is largely intolerant of contradiction."
Although specifically related to the act that was the final nail in the coffin of a culture of tolerance that had existed to greater or lesser degrees for hundreds of years on the Iberian peninsula, this passage from the epilogue is an excellent summary of Menocal's book as well as of the place and period which are its subject matter. This book should be required reading for leaders at all levels in every organization and for anyone naive enough to demand tolerance of others or to believe that worldwide tolerance can be achieved by the unilateral desires of individuals. While this is a well-researched and well-written history, the underlying theme is that a culture of tolerance requires that individuals and institutions of all types embrace contradiction and the "yes and no" worldview rather than the "yes or no" that so limit science, philosophy, and fundamentalist religions of all types. Menocal puts it best when she asks in another passage from the epilogue, "Does poetry - or language or philosophy or music or architecture, even that of our temples - really need to dance to the same tune as our political befiefs or our religious convictions? Is the strict harmony of our cultural identities a virtue to be valued above others that may come from the accommodation of contradictions?"...more
Celebrate the Sinner is told from two perspectives, but by the same individual. The majority of the story is narrated by Teddy – seven years old at thCelebrate the Sinner is told from two perspectives, but by the same individual. The majority of the story is narrated by Teddy – seven years old at the beginning of the book – while Ted pops in from time to time to tell us how life is treating him at eighty-nine and to brag about his sexual exploits. Teddy’s father, Merle, has only enough time and interest for the sawmill he’s recently purchased in a remote Oregon valley. His mother, Marie, dotes on Teddy, but is too distracted by her gin and her vanishing dreams, to be concerned about his day-to-day activities. As the Great Depression looms larger, Teddy finds others to fill his parental needs. Miss Cherry, his teacher and first crush, sees potential where others see only what his Grandma Lulu calls his defects. Boone is a sawmill mechanic, roadhouse bouncer, and part-time prospector. Wattie is an old black musician with a troubled past who calls square dances at the local roadhouse. Together, they teach Teddy to deal with the harder side of life as he encounters it on a daily basis. Much of the hardship comes in the form of watching his father struggle to keep the mill operating profitably in the midst of financial uncertainty, unions, the KKK, hangings, and arson. No amount of teaching can keep Teddy from being pulled into the climactic clash of those forces, though.
I like Scott’s portrayal of Teddy/Ted as essentially two different characters in the story. Each has his own outlook on life and his own voice. Those voices are visually displayed by the use of italics when Ted is speaking, but you can also hear the difference in the way they speak and in the things that hold their interest and drive them to the actions they take. Ted speaks briefly of his marriage, and that’s all we know of the seventy years between our last view of Teddy and the cantankerous old fart now living in a retirement home. That silence leads us to wonder if it was Teddy’s childhood or the intervening years that led to Ted’s current frame of mind.
There’s a sense of directed aimlessness in the characters throughout the book, as if they know where they’re going, but aren’t entirely sure how they’re supposed to get there. The occasional purposeful action taken by one or another of the characters almost always leads to unintended consequences for everyone. Teddy and Ted each have surprise “endings.” Ted’s is more unexpected than is Teddy’s, and has a very karmic feel to it.
Celebrate the Sinner won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a very good read. It’ll give you pause to consider what your past may say about where your life is headed....more