Category Archives: Reading

Book Review: House of Leaves

The week’s book review is House of Leaves, written by Mark Z. Danielewski. I have been procrastinating on reading this one for a long time mostly because of its length (the novel itself is around 530ish pages plus a very large appendix in the back). But, despite its length, House of Leaves was actually a pretty fast read for me due both to its formatting (in some places there are only a few words on a page) and suspenseful pacing. Actually, one of the reasons I picked this book up in the first place is because of how unconventional its formatting is. As I will discuss later, Danielewski employs a unique approach to formatting in order to make his novel more immersive to the reader. In order to explain how this works, however, I should first provide you with a brief summary of the books plot. If you would rather read the novel without any prior knowledge of its plot, i’ll preface by saying that I really enjoyed this one, and if you are looking for something different that will make you think a lot both during and after your time reading it, pick this one up.

Anyways, House of Leaves comprises several layers of narration, all of which Danielewski separates for the reader with different fonts. The top most layer of narration is a supposedly written by a man named Johnny Truant, who has stumbled upon a manuscript written by an old man named Zampano after he dies. Johnny finds Zampanos work after entering the old man’s apartment with his friend Lude before it is cleared out. Zampano’s manuscript discusses a documentary called The Navidson Record, and this is mainly where the novel gets its reputation as being horrifically scary. The Navidson Record tells the story of Will Navidson and his girlfriend Karen Green’s experience in their newly acquired house in Virginia. The film was meant to illustrate the experience of a family moving into a new house, but it takes a weird turn when they discover that the house has very strange physical properties. For example, they find that it is larger inside than outside through measuring their bedroom wall, and a door spontaneously appears out of no where in their living room. This door opens into a dark hallway that should be possible when the house is viewed from outside. This is where the true horror starts, and I don’t want to ruin any of the novel so instead I will provide you with the book’s wikipedia page for those who would like to know more before reading (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Leaves).

I would like to talk now about how the formatting of the novel affects the reader’s experience. As I said before, in one way it separates the many levels of narration so that it is easier to read the book. More importantly however, in several places Danielewski arranges his words on the page at different angles so that you have to flip the book upside down and around in order to read the text. I don’t want to give away the full context in which he does this, however I will say that by doing so he forces the reader to perform actions similar to those experienced by characters in the story. He also uses footnotes on most pages and a large appendix at the end of the novel, which the reader needs to flip back to intermittently while reading. The effort that Danielewski has put into this appendix was well worth it because it adds an even greater layer of realism to the novel, making it even more immersive for his reader.

Considering all of these aspects of House of Leaves, I think that it is pretty clear that this is not the type of book that you read before bed when you’re tired or when you don’t feel like thinking too hard. This book forces you to think, and it demands the focus of its reader in order to put together a fairly large puzzle. That being said, reading House of Leaves is by no means a chore. Most of what makes this novel enjoyable is its ability to put its reader in the crazy mindset of its characters to the point of obsession. Johnny Truant becomes consumed by Zampanos manuscript and the story of the Navidson record, and in many ways you do as well. Part of what contributes to this is that the ending of the novel is not clear cut, and thus demands further investigation. I kept returning to different parts of the novel to come to my own conclusions about what had happend and what, if anything, the novel itself was trying to say. For some people this aspect of the novel might be a turn off. I will admit that I did become confused at some parts, but I was never frustrated. Another potential issue with this novel is that in some places the suspense can be interrupted by Danielewski’s use of parallel narrations and plot trajectories. This being said, however, it is rare that a book has such a significant affect on me, and it definitely speaks a lot about how powerful it is.

This is the type of book I think you will probably want to return to in order to see what new things you can discover. I know that Danielewski has hidden a bunch of easter eggs in the novel if you search hard enough. Therefore, I would recommend that you buy it instead of borrowing it out of the library, but make sure you get it in the full color edition.

8.0 – Buy

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Book Review: Ender’s Game

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For some reason I was never a big science fiction reader, which is a bit peculiar considering I spend so much of my time studying science as a biology major. I think it may have been the fact that shows like Star Trek always seemed so corny, and the result on screen seems to always fall too short of the realism that the writers intended. It is for this reason that it took so long for me to pick up Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and now I am filled with the regret that comes with missing out on these books when I was a child.

If this book hasn’t been recommended to you before I would be surprised, but if not let me be the first to tell you that this is a must read! The suspense that Card maintains relentlessly throughout this novel is unparalleled, and I am sure you will enjoy it thoroughly regardless of your preferred genre of literature. However, to give you an idea of how gripping this book truly is I’ll use the timeframe in which I read it. I picked up the book on a Sunday night on my way back to school and I read the first two chapter before I went to bed. I was so anxious to continue reading that I started the second I got on the bus to my first class. I finished the entire novel that night by sneaking a few pages in during classes and abandoning all of my school work for the rest of the day.

The novel follows the journey of Ender Wiggin, a child genius who has been chosen to train among other elite children at a Battle School located in space. These children are training to become future commanding officers so that they may protect humanity against their biggest alien threat, who are infamously named the Buggers. On his journey Ender not only fights to live up to the ridiculous expectations that his intellect has given him, but he must also struggle to find friends in the competitive atmosphere of the Battle School.

The story and the ridiculous pace with which Card writes his novel is what makes this a must read. However, all novels have their faults and this one is no exception. While Card makes his novel very easy to pick up and comprehend, it does fall short in some cases in its attempts to include deeper themes. Instead of using subtlety, Card often shoves philosophy into the readers face, which can sometimes slow down the suspenseful pace, which he maintains for the majority of the novel. This is a very small price to pay, however, considering how exceptional the novel is as a whole.

Ender’s Game is the first book of a series, but I have heard that the others fall short of the bar that Card set with this novel. I can’t comment on them personally as of yet, but I’ll probably give the next book a shot in the near future.

My rating system is on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a perfect novel. I will also note next to the numerical rating whether I think you should buy, skip, or barrow the book from your local library.

This one gets a solid 9.4, and considering that I will probably be reading it again I would recommend that you buy this novel. What do you guys think?

-Ben

9.4 – Buy

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Summer reading

Summer reading

I just started reading House of Leaves, and I’ll most likely write a review in the next couple of weeks. I’m looking to add more books to my list if I can keep up this pace. Infinite Jest could be tougher than I expect though. We’ll see how it goes.
-Ben

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