House of Leaves.
February 12, 2005 11:36 AM   Subscribe

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is not just a novel, it's an experience. Danielewski's sister, the recording artist Poe, wrote the soundtrack to the book. If a novel with its own soundtrack isn't a complete enough experience for you, the book has spawned its own web forum, to discuss any and all related minutiae.
posted by grapefruitmoon (41 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
you're a few years behind on this phenomenon, but you're definitely right about it being an experience. Many sleepless nights ensued when I was reading this a few years back. It's a semiotician's wet dream.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:38 AM on February 12, 2005

BuddhaInABucket : I may be a few years behind, but I was astonished to find nothing in the MeFi archives on House of Leaves and thought this needed to remedied.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:43 AM on February 12, 2005

not to derail, but another book you might like (written in a similarly self-referential style, albeit with a completely separate subject matter) is Dave Egger's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It's like HOL in that it's a book that's largely about itself.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:48 AM on February 12, 2005

I've read A.H.W.O.S.G. about a bazillion times now... it's among my favorites. Though I fail to see the resemblance to House of Leaves - I suppose your argument that they're both books largely about themselves is true, but I think that the structure of House of Leaves and it's spiralling narratives is much more complex and interesting than Eggers' constant waxing about himself.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:53 AM on February 12, 2005

maybe I'm wrong about their similarities, but obviously I was right that you'd like it. ;)
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:05 PM on February 12, 2005

Need further Danielewski reading material? Check out POE's semi-autobiographical tale called "The Psycho." In a round-about way, she describes how a voice she thought was her's, now belongs to someone else. (In other words, an veiled explanation of why we've heard nothing from her since 2000's Haunted.)
posted by grabbingsand at 12:10 PM on February 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

i must live under a rock, because i had no idea poe was mark danielewski's sister. i like both of them. you learn something new every day...
posted by ifjuly at 12:12 PM on February 12, 2005

grabbingsand: we have actually heard from her- she did vocals on a track called "Center of the Sun" by Conjure One.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2005

Just the other night some friends remarked how Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's "I See A Darkness" was their de facto soundtrack to this book.

Blankets by Craig Thompson also has a soundtrack.
posted by rfordh at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2005

what's the soundtrack to blankets? i loved that book.

also, will oldham rules.
posted by Igor XA at 12:56 PM on February 12, 2005

I was lucky enough several years ago to have a girlfriend who introduced me to both House of Leaves and Poe simutaneously. I've passed both the book and her CD's around to quite a few people. It's the only book I can think of that I've stayed up to 5am reading, even though I was deathly afraid to read it, by myself, in darkness.

Back when Poe was touring her brother used to come onstage and perform with her. Several of 'Haunted's songs are specifically timed to sections House of Leaves. I can only remember one, but I know "Hey Pretty" goes along with the section of HOL where one woman drives the commentator out to the oceanside for a little fun. I'll see if I can find the MP3's. They were beautifully timed.
posted by Be'lal at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2005

My roommate beats me with a truncheon every to get me to read House of Leaves. Haven't done it yet, but Poe is Poetastic.

I remember when my roommate lent the book to a mutual friend, and she showed up the next night at like 2am to give it back, because she could not sleep - it was driving her mad - and she refused to finish it.

(I also remember a Poe-related joke in Panic Room that only I laughed at.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:24 PM on February 12, 2005

Yeah, so a few years ago everyone raved and got me to read this book. I... found it boring. I read enough boring real scholarship that I don't feel the need to read boring FAKE scholarship.
posted by JZig at 1:28 PM on February 12, 2005

The Whalestoe Letters, the ramblings of the main character's mother as she loses her mind, are also available and well worth reading.
posted by whatzit at 1:58 PM on February 12, 2005

When I first real HOL, I was in the middle of moving.
Between the old and the new apartments, I would find myself double checking the walls for new doors.

The first night in my new apartment, I awoke to two very angry cats, growling and yowling and fighting -on top of me-. I screamed and ran out of the room as a 30 year old is wont to do. I got lost in the halls of my new apartment. Then there was an earthquake.

Needless to say, I put the book down for a few weeks after that :)
posted by zerokey at 2:43 PM on February 12, 2005

There's this great website I found called Fray!

as long as we're going back in time...
posted by solistrato at 2:51 PM on February 12, 2005

i must read this book. I will read this book.
posted by indiebass at 2:55 PM on February 12, 2005

"If a novel with its own soundtrack isn't a complete enough experience for you, the book has spawned its own web forum,"

Ha ha! STFU Herman Melville! Your piece of crap about that whale didn't have no soundtrack, and it wuz 2 long for twitching ADHDers like me brought up on Mtv!

And screw you Dante Allegry! That boring thing about Hell wasn't divine and it didn't have no comedy either! And if it was about Hell, where were Jason and Freddie? You shoulda got a soundtrack by like some German thrash band, dude. No wonder no one reads your crap!

I mean, how can mere words on a page be moving or life changing? I laugh at books that pretend they can stand on their own without a soundtrack, man!

STFU, intellectuals! I don't just want a novel, I want an experience!
posted by orthogonality at 3:01 PM on February 12, 2005

Read HOL in one day, while lurking in a hostel in Florence. Boy, the weird dreams I had that night.

House of Leaves is one of the more visual books I've read; it is, I believe, deliberately cinematic in its stylistics (and not just in the bits describing the movie). Someone will try to make a movie out of it, and inevitably it will suck.
posted by Paragon at 3:13 PM on February 12, 2005

This has been a favorite read of mine for some time now, one of those damn books I have to keep buying because people never return it.

posted by moonbird at 3:44 PM on February 12, 2005

The forums are indeed very comprehensive. I recall posting about a mistake I thought I'd found and spurring something of a decent conversation soon thereafter.
posted by codger at 4:39 PM on February 12, 2005

Contender for favorite book O.A.T. House of Leaves and the Bible are two of my desert island selections, for sure.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 5:13 PM on February 12, 2005

I read HOL a few years ago, and I too spent long hours and late nights poring through it, it became something of an obsession. That said, the main first-person narration (don't remember the main character's name) got pretty tedious pretty quick. The other half, though, "The Navidson Record" (or something) was really really fascinating. The whole idea of Joe Blow finding otherworldly weirdness in his own house, his own bedroom....that part is great. Then you have to get back to the ((semi)autobiographical?) narration, which I found really self-indulgent and overlong, especially when compared to the craziness of the other half.

The layout alone is pretty unique....upside-down text in places, text in spirals, weird shit. One word was always in red...was it "leaves"? I forget.
posted by zardoz at 6:07 PM on February 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Another article found via the webforum : The Uncanny in the House of Leaves from Image and Narrative.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:09 PM on February 12, 2005

zardoz : The word always in red was Minotaur.

Also, House was always in blue.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:09 PM on February 12, 2005

House of Leaves is the only book that's given me nightmares since I was a kid. Loved it.
posted by ruddhist at 6:42 PM on February 12, 2005

That said, the main first-person narration (don't remember the main character's name) got pretty tedious pretty quick. The other half, though, "The Navidson Record" (or something) was really really fascinating.

This was my experience too: The core narrative about the house was fascinating. The framing device of Zampano was neat. The stuff that's purely about Johnny Truant and his hard knock life: mostly tedious.

(And yes I realize there's semi-hidden references in the book that suggest there's another layer or two going on that may invalidate some/all of the "reality" of the Zampano story. I still don't find the Truant sections compelling.)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:04 PM on February 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed HoL when I was younger, but reading it now feels like watching Borges' corpse being dragged about by a team of early 90s MTV VJs who've run out of Ritalin. Fun, sure, but a bit embarrassing and terribly depressing.

Of course, I also regard "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" as less a novel than an epic about masturbation. Matter of taste.

Still, wasn't meta so much more impressive back when it was new?
posted by Luther Blissett at 8:22 PM on February 12, 2005

I'm sure there have been more such experiments, but one I recall (and have packed away someplace) is Ursula K. LeGuin's Always Coming Home, stories about a fictional future culture, accompanied by a cassette tape of music and songs from the book.

Also cf. The Road Goes Ever On, songs based on Lord of the Rings. Many of the lyrics, of course, are Tolkien's.
posted by dhartung at 8:43 PM on February 12, 2005

I agree with PinkStainlessTail. In high school I remember loving the whole book, but reading it again in college I found everything involving Johnny Truant incredibly stupid, hilariously so. It was like some 12 year old writing a fantasy about crazy bachelorhood. Really awful.

The rest of the book is pretty great, though. He loses points, however, for the pretentious middle initial.
posted by deafmute at 8:46 PM on February 12, 2005

House of Leaves scared the bejibbers out of me, so much so that I sometimes wonder if it didn't cause me psychological trauma.

But ultimately, I can't help but wonder if the book isn't a big gag poking fun at postmodernist literature like Eggers'.
posted by malaprohibita at 9:28 PM on February 12, 2005

Ha ha! STFU Herman Melville! Your piece of crap about that whale didn't have no soundtrack

Well, actually...
posted by brevator at 9:33 PM on February 12, 2005

Too weird! I was packing up my books a few weeks back and came across HOL and thought my roommate might enjoy it. I warned him that I had really bad dreams when I started it back in '00. I couldn't finish it. My girlfriend, who had bought it for me, got upset at my abandoning the book and decided she would read it. Of course, she started having horrible nightmares too and just as quickly put it down and neither of us ever finished reading. So, anyway, my roommate reads it in like 3 days and enjoys it and says that he actually slept better than he had in a long while. Now, 5 years later, I'm tempted to try again, but fear the intense nightmares.

Very odd to see a post about an old book that has recently re-entered my reading queue. Are you spying on me grapefruitmoon?
posted by shoepal at 11:11 PM on February 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

One of the beautiful things about this book in particular, and metafiction in general, is that if it's done well, there are so many layers to explore, it would take ten readings or more to fully "get" it. The reader has to do some work.

Milorad Pavic, one of my favorite authors, says something in the preface of one of his books that addresses this: loosely paraphrased, he says that the author must treat the reader like a horse; if you ask the reader to perform a trick, or do soe work, and s/he acquits themselves well, they should get a treat.

This book is filled with treats.

It's also the only book that really scared me.
posted by exlotuseater at 5:34 AM on February 13, 2005

I once datwed someone solely on th fact that they had read House of Leaves and Lempriere's Dictionary and liked them both.

We had some fun together.
posted by Dagobert at 5:38 AM on February 13, 2005

The use of the words in red and blue is like the staging of conspicuously red and blue objects in Lynch or Kubrick movies.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:58 AM on February 13, 2005

I thought the first half of the book was strong and compelling, but by the end it was like a bad B movie. Also, I could care less about Truant's storyline. It was a disappointing read.
posted by kindle at 8:36 AM on February 13, 2005

Read HOL in one day

I cannot imagine anyone reading this book in a single day. Unless you mean that you started it at 12 midnight and finished it at 11:59 the following night, I would think it's nigh on impossible even then. Even skimming it would probably take longer than that.
posted by crunchland at 8:51 AM on February 13, 2005

I feel compelled to say that Poe & Mark's "Hey Pretty" (particularly the 6 minute version) is one the coolest songs I have *ever* heard. Also, one of the most surreal experiences of my life was hearing it in a supermarket.

I've gotta finally read this book. Thanks, grapefruitmoon, and everyone else!
posted by kimota at 9:38 AM on February 13, 2005

Can someone explain what is so scary about HoL? I read it, and took my time over it as one does with a well written, layered text. But scary? While it's psychologically interesting, in terms of subtle or even sheer terror it's on par with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (if tLtWatW had mad people with guns, I suppose).
posted by Sparx at 1:39 PM on February 13, 2005

What's scary about HOL? Aside from the fact that it preys upon our basest fear of mortality. and the uncertainty of why we're sentient?

Who else spent an intense 20 minutes decifering Truant's mother's letter?

Some gorgeous writing from what is basically a horror story:

"The thread has snapped. No sound even to mark the breaking let alone the fall. That long anticipated disintegration, when the darkest angel of all, the horror beyond all horrors, sits at last on my chest, permanently enfolding me in its great covering wings, black as ink, veined in bee's purple. A creature without a voice. As immortal as my life. Come here at long last to summon the wind."
House of Leaves - P327

Thank you grapefruitmoon.
posted by mnemosyne at 3:42 PM on February 13, 2005

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