Reading “House of Leaves” has been both a challenging and rewarding experience for me thus far. I feel as if we have a love hate relationship. There are aspects of the book (if you could call it that) that I really love and find utterly enthralling, and other portions that completely drive me insane.
One of the interesting things about HoL is that it becomes more interesting and easier to understand the more I discuss it. Because the piece is so dense, and open to hundreds of interpretations, there is a lot to talk/argue about. Yet, that density is also part of what can sometimes make the reading challenging. There are so many different stories/footnotes/lists that I often skip parts for fear I will never reach the last page (we all know by now you can never really finish). Rather than starting from the beginning and ending at the end of one story, HoL doesn’t necessarily start or end any place. The entire piece is reminiscent of the five minute hallway in that it is never ending, there are new doors constantly being opened, and there is no way back the way one came; not to mention the fact that I’m left in a grey area when it comes to many details of the plot/plots.
The most obvious difficulty with how to approach reading HoL, is the Format. At first I would become frustrated because just as I would get into what Johnny was saying, or what was being explained about the Navidson Record, the book would switch. Then there are the still more puzzling portions where both stories are being written concurrently. While I have heard from others that its best to read one section at a time (for example Johnny’s story and then the Navidson sections) I don’t agree. Even though it greatly slows your pace I find it important to read both simultaneously because they are pieces of each other. How the reader experiences one story affects how they interpret the former. This piece completely breaks the mold of how we have come to read because it doesn’t allow the reader to get comfortable. “House of Leaves” is not a book you take to bed to rock you to sleep. Where other stories the building of the plot starts from the bottom up, HoL begins in the middle jumping from side to side, up and down, and from the inside out. Reading becomes frightening because we apply the stories to ourselves fearing, and almost knowing that we too are capable of sinking to Johnny, or Zampano’s level. In this the story becomes physically upsetting, as the story begins to cause mental upset. What makes the piece so horrifying is that it is written in non-fiction form, thus frightening the reader into considering that the events could possibly be factual.
Something great that Sean Michael Morris said in our twitter chat was “It’s interesting to me that we’re talking about HoL in ways we talk about other fiction. It doesn’t feel like other fiction to me.” This really stuck with me because I see his point. I have come to the conclusion that HoL is the love child of fiction and non-fiction writing. While some parts are assumed fiction much of the book is stood by as truth by many of its followers. In this sense I am reminded to any autobiography. When someone tells their life story they are telling things they believe to be true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are accurate; a bystander may tell the same story a much different way. For a piece to be considered non-fiction does it really need to be truthful, or does the author/reader just need to think its true?