Category Archives: Nonfiction

House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski was a strange book. A very strange book. It’s been on my list, so I checked the library and it was out. Placed a hold, and two weeks later it came it. While waiting, I read another book by MZD, so I was expecting something strange. And it fulfilled my expectations.

I can’t find the cover blurb because of the massive cult following this book has, and I don’t feel like typing it in.

Let me try to explain what this book is about.

Will Navidson, Karen Green, and their two children buy and move into a house in Virginia. Because Will is a world-renown photojournalist, he’s been away a lot, but has agreed to settle down. In fact, he’s going to film their settling down. These films are eventually compiled into The Navidson Record, a documentary about the house. More on that later. Then, this guy named Zampano begins to write a book examining the meaning of the documentary and the quality of the shots and the relationships of the characters, etc. Zampano is never in the actual book, just the book he was writing about the movie. Then this other guy named Johnny Truant ends up with the (unfinished) manuscript and starts compiling it. To quote TvTropes, “It’s a book about a book about a film about a house that is a labyrinth.”

The actual physical copy of the book that you or I read is composed of Zampano’s book with copious amounts of footnotes. Many of those footnotes are Johnny’s comments and eventually, his journal. Also interspersed, but still officially part of Zampano’s manuscript, are transcripts of parts of the movie. Half or more of the books Zampano references don’t exist. Another large chunk of footnotes is devoted to translating all the bits of French, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, I don’t even know what else, that is throughout the text.

Later in the book, the shape of the text begins to reflect what the words are describing. Dripping across the page. Being mirrored. Sideways. Struckout. Upside down. The word ‘house‘ is always blue and often sub-scripted just a bit.

The quote earlier mentioned a labyrinth. I’m going to go back and try to tell the story of The Navidson Record first to explain that. Will and Karen buy a house. A while later, they take the kids to go visit grandma. When they return, there’s a sort of closet-like space between the master bedroom and the kids’ room where before there had only been a wall. Additionally, and far more importantly, there is now a door in the middle of the living room wall that opens onto a cold (nearly freezing temperatures), dark hallway to nowhere. The two windows on either side of the door open onto the back yard and it is indeed possible to walk out one window and in the other, crossing where the dark hallway SHOULD be. But it’s not. Then, Will measures the house. And it’s 1/4 inch bigger on the inside than on the outside. Repeatedly. This definitely made me think of the Tardis from Doctor Who, but I haven’t seen that comment anywhere else. The rest of the movie documents, though wall mounted cameras, hand-held cameras, and voice recorders, the 6 ‘expeditions’ into that hallway as well as the reactions of those involved. To not give anything away, I’m going to stop there.

So, we have Johnny writing about his life and a book by Zampano that was written about a movie by Navidson about a house. And that doesn’t even bring the appendixes into it! There are 3? but they’re mostly incomplete. And there’s an index. That’s also incomplete. Or completely wrong in several cases.

My reaction? I’ve seen places where it took people a long time to read it because of the page number (709). But that’s garbage, because a good many pages have less words than this paragraph.

I read it in a day. Of course, I was at the doctor’s office all day, waiting for 90 minutes at a time, 5 times.

I really liked it. My favorite character was Tom Navidson, Will’s twin brother. Zampano discussed the Jacob and Esau story and which Navidson brother was which. I’d have to say Tom was Esau because Jacob/Will was the deceiver, and Esau got the raw end of the deal. I also really liked the character of Johnny Truant. He’s on all kinds of drugs and drinks all the time and parties out the wazoo (That word was in the dictionary!), but he’s also simply a product of his upbringing. And he’s unexpectedly educated.¬† Some letters from his mother who’s in an asylum show that he got into some nice private schools on scholarship. Despite his random drug-induced hallucinations, he’s able to make intelligent literary references. Made me happy.

I don’t see how it’s a love story at all, though. Horror, definitely. Coming of age, possibly. But not love.

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Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose. This book was amazing. I’ve never seen the miniseries, but the book was magnificent. It follows Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army from training camp to the end of the war and beyond. I don’t really know what to say about this book. I can’t talk about characters because it’s about real people. I can’t talk about plot because Ambrose wrote it directly from interviews with the soldiers and letters and journals. I can say that Band of Brothers is the story of a group of heroes that is expertly crafted.

The thing about having never seen the tv version is that I had no clue, while reading the book, which soldiers survived the war. I could tell occasionally, when there would be direct quotes but it was an eyeopener. My favorite chapter, for some reason, was the “They’ve got us surrounded-the Poor Bastards”; Bastogne from December 19-31, 1944. In history, we spent three days of World War 2, but he talked about Bastogne.

Best map I could find. Germany is the orange, Allies are the light yellow. But Bastogne should also be light yellow, because the group followed in Band of Brothers was there and didn’t give in.

I also really liked in the end, once the troops got to the Eagle’s Nest, how they dealt with all Hitler’s stuff. He had some really nice cars, alcohol, etc, and once the higher-ups got there, the lowly soldiers had to turn the loot over. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t test the bullet resistance of the glass of the windshields first.

It’s strange, when I read this book, to remember that the people portrayed in it were born in the 1910s and 20s.

Anyways, I highly recommend¬† this book to anyone who likes history or just a good read. It’s quick, it’s 312 pages, and it’s so good.

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How to Read Literature Like a Professor

How to Read Literature Like a Professor. No, not some essay I wrote, a book by Thomas C. Foster. In fact, I had to read it for school next year. Just because I actually finished it before the current school year ended is no reason to think anything strange. The other book I have to read is Invisible Man. Ug.

So, HTRLLAP (:D) is supposedly ‘a lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines’, but it wasn’t that great.

(Tornadoes in Massachusetts?!)

The things I got out of this book:

  1. Archetypes exist.
  2. The author loves Beloved
  3. Everything has meaning
  4. The author REALLY loves Beloved.

The book discussed quests, eating, sex, quotes, myths, etc. But the author seems to spend most of the time explaining that everything has already been written and no story line is ever completely original. And there is a lot of literature out there, but the examples the author uses are quite limited. Mostly Beloved by Toni Morrison, I think. And Ulysses by James Joyce. He’s writing to college students, but treats the book that is well known for being confusing and dense as if it’s light and airy. I just wasn’t a fan.

314 pages.

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