Tagged: mark z. danielewski Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Jeff Somers 1:30 pm on 2018/05/16 Permalink
    Tags: alayna schroeder, big life changes, black & decker the book of home how-to, , buying a home: the missing manual, egypt sherrod, , home buying, home buying made slightly more simple, , , ilona bray, jack guttentag, jay anson, keep calm...it's just real estate, marcia stewart, , mark montano, mark z. danielewski, nancy conner, nolo's essential guide to buying your first home, real simple: the organized home, the amityville horror, the big ass book of home decor, , the mortgage encyclopedia   

    10 Books Everyone Should Read Before Buying a Home 

    Buying a home remains a huuuuge step in anyone’s life. While younger generations feel less pressure to hurry up and buy their own home, it’s still the ultimate goal of many of us to eventually own their own home. Homeownership is more than just a signal that you’re all grown up and ready to be an adult. It can also serve as an essential component of your net worth, retirement goals, and financial stability—not to mention a place where you can keep all of your stuff.

    But buying a house is scary—and it should be. It’s probably the single most expensive thing you’ll ever buy, the single largest loan you’ll ever take on, and one of the biggest responsibilities you’ll ever accept. Before you dive into mortgage brokers and real estate agents, open houses and the endless paperwork, here are ten books you should take some time to read in order to ensure you know exactly what you’ll be getting yourself into.

    Buying a Home: The Missing Manual, by Nancy Conner
    Start with some brass tacks. This book is a step-by-step guide that covers all the nuts-and-bolts aspects of buying a home, from choosing the house you want to assembling a real estate team ideal for your needs, figuring out mortgages and financing options, and dealing with inspections and other due diligence. If you think buying a home is a complex and overwhelming process, this book will take away much of the intimidation factor and mystery that surrounds many of the steps along the way.

    Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart
    It’s always good to get a second opinion, and this guide covers similar ground to Conner’s book while offering a different perspective. Instead of one expert’s advice, this guide collects the wisdom of dozens of real estate professionals from every facet of the business—Realtors, loan officers, investors, landlords, buyers, and sellers. The end result is a plethora of advice, facts, and useful true stories from various perspectives that really make it easy to understand how things work and the impact of certain specific mistakes.

    Keep Calm … It’s Just Real Estate, by Egypt Sherrod
    If all the talk of mortgages, putting down roots, and dream homes is getting you anxious, you might want a more comforting tone. Sherrod, host of HGTV’s Property Virgins, offers a great mix of advice, facts, and humor in this book. The main takeaway from her advice is that buying your first home doesn’t have to be a stressful horrorshow if you take the time to do some research and be thoughtful in your choices. While this book isn’t as heavy on the facts and figures as the other guides mentioned, it’s a friendlier, kinder, and gentler approach that makes it easier to get your head around such a big decision while also making the process seem a lot easier and less frightening than it otherwise might.

    The Mortgage Encyclopedia, by Jack Guttentag
    The biggest part of the homebuying decision for most people is the mortgage, which is just a fancy term for “huge loan.” Many first-time buyers are stunned to discover how much they can borrow—or or how little—and mortgages come in so many shapes and sizes (and loan officers can be surprisingly creative in putting together financing packages) that it’s easy to worry that you’re going to get pressured into a bad deal. This comprehensive reference work offers everything you need to know about how mortgages work and the different options you’ll encounter, giving you the expertise you’ll need when figuring out how to finance your dreams.

    Real Simple: The Organized Home
    One thing many people fail to think about when searching for their first home is how they’ll organize it. Sometimes the problem is moving from a studio apartment to a 3,000 square foot home means you’ve got a card table in the dining room and absolutely nothing in the spare bedroom. Sometimes the problem kicks in when you clear out your storage units and discover you have turned your second bathroom into a place to store your boxes full of comic books. Either way, thinking about how you’ll organize your home before you move in will save you a lot of stress.

    The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
    Similarly, Kondo’s runaway bestseller will get you into a crucial frame of mind: keeping things neat. A tidy, organized home will always seem bigger, newer, and in better shape than a disorganized, cluttered space. But when going from a relatively small space (or a space where cleaning and tidying duties were shared with others) to a larger space that’s all your own, keeping things neat can seem wearying and impossible. Let Marie Kondo show you the way before you move in.

    The Big Ass Book of Home Decor, by Mark Montano
    Something else you should start thinking about before you buy your first home is what you want it to look like. While some people grow up cutting out photos from magazines and collecting fabric swatches, just as many step into their first home and realize they have no idea how to choose paint colors, upholstery, and other home decor basics. Get a head start and reduce that first-week stress load by boning up on home decoration basics, while also getting a load of information about how to re-purpose items and otherwise make your new home pretty without spending a lot of money—money you probably don’t have because you just bought a house.

    Black & Decker The Book of Home How-To
    Once you’re in the house, trust us: no matter how comprehensive your home inspection was, things will go wrong. Repairing and maintaining your new house is an essential part of protecting your investment, and if you want to save yourself a boatload of money along the way, learning how to do at least some basic stuff is an absolute must. This book offers easy-to-follow guides on all the basics you’re going to face, offering an overview of everything that gives just enough information without overwhelming you with complicated details you simply don’t need to know about. Having this book packed up in a box before you move will give you some peace of mind.

    Finally, house-hunting can be so exciting you overlook some of the possible problems, so here are a couple of books to remind you to consider everything that can go wrong—or at least to deflate that sense of optimism that might lead you to buy more house than you can handle, or to ignore downsides. In the horror classic The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson, you’ll get a good dose of house-hunting paranoia as the Lutz family is driven from their dream home in just a month by a malevolent force they maintain was very real. And in Mark Z. Danielewski’s modern classic House of Leaves a family discovers that their house is larger on the inside than the outside—something that might be cause for celebration when you’ve just finished calculating your price-per-square foot, but which serves as a reminder that no matter how much due diligence you do, a house is a place of secrets.

    Now that you’ve done the reading, go ahead and start house-hunting. Just remember the biggest lesson from those TV shows: don’t fret about the colors on the walls. Paint is cheap.

    What books would you recommend to potential homebuyers?

    The post 10 Books Everyone Should Read Before Buying a Home appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: , bentley little, bird box, blindness, , carrion comfort, , , , dathan auerbach, dawn, , exquisite corpose, , ghost story, , hell house, , , , jack ketchum, jose saramago, josh malarian, koji suzuki, lionel shriver, , , mark z. danielewski, , , penal, , peter straub, poppy z. brite, ramsey campbell, , richard matheson, ring, rosemary’s baby, scott smith, , something wicked this way comes, , the face that must die, the girl next door, , the ruins, the walking, , , we need to talk about kevin,   

    25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever 

    Literature can be a moving, beautiful artistic experience. Skilled writers can bring us face to face with scenarios and emotions we might never encounter in real life, expanding our understanding of both the universe and our fellow man.

    It can also scare the living daylights out of us. Horror novels don’t always get the respect they deserve; just because something is scary doesn’t mean it’s not “literary” or well-crafted art, but if the core purpose of a story is perceived to be “making you soil yourself in fear” for some reason that story won’t get much respect. Of course, a story can be terrifying without necessarily being great art. If your goal is to be so terrified of a book that you put it in the freezer and book a hotel room for a few days, here are twenty-five books that might not necessarily be the best horror novels, but are certainly the scariest.

    Literally Everything Edgar Allan Poe Wrote
    Poe had a knack for infusing everything he wrote with visceral dread. His characters and narrators tend towards the mentally fragile and the insane, people who are haunted by things that might be literal or might be manifestations of their unsound thought processes. Either way, stories like The Tell-Tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado retain their power to petrify more than a century-and-a-half after their publication because Poe tapped into the fundamental fear we all have that the world and people around us are not what they seem.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    Put simply, House of Leaves is one of the most frightening books ever written. From a fairly standard horror premise (a house is revealed to be slightly larger on the inside than is strictly possible) Danielewski spins out a dizzying tale involving multiple unreliable narrators, typographic mysteries, and looping footnotes that manage to drag the reader into the story and then make them doubt their own perception of that story. It’s a trick no one else has managed to such dramatic effect, making this novel more of a participatory experience than any other work of literature—which, considering the dark madness at its core, isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience.

    Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
    The film adaptation has supplanted the novel in pop culture, but the novel was a huge hit for Levin—and the film actually sticks to the plot and dialog so closely you really do get a feel for the novel from watching it. The story of a young woman who becomes pregnant after a nightmare gets its terror not from the well-known twist of the baby’s parentage (hint: not her husband), but from the increasing isolation Rosemary experiences as her suspicions about everyone around her grow. So many threads tie into the terror, from the emotional and economic uncertainty of a struggling young couple to the simple fear any mother has for their child, all expertly knotted into a story that will keep you awake at night.

    The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
    When you think about clichés in horror fiction, the haunted house is at the top of the list, an idea done so often it’s frequently an unintentional parody. Shirley Jackson, however, was no ordinary writer, and she takes the concept of the haunted house and perfects it. The Haunting of Hill House is simply the best haunted house story ever written. The scares come not just from the malevolent actions of a house that seems sentient and angry, but from the claustrophobia we experience from the novel’s unreliable narrator, Eleanor, whose descent into madness is slow and excruciating and only begins after we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming relatability of her early persona.

    Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    The great sage Pat Benatar once sang that hell is for children. Golding’s account of children stranded on an island without supplies or adult supervision is absolutely terrifying for one simple reason: there’s nothing supernatural going on. It’s a story about insufficiently socialized humans descending into savagery because that’s our fundamental nature. You look into the abyss at the center of this novel and the abyss looks back.

    We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
    Another story centered on the terror of children, the horror inherent in this story comes from the fact that the human beings we create eventually become their own people—and possibly strangers to us. Not everyone has a close and loving relationship with their parents, and while the idea that your own kids might grow up to be criminals isn’t pleasant, most people assume they will at least recognize themselves in their kids. But what if you don’t? What if your child—your child—is a blank monster?

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    In the Internet Age it’s pretty easy to fall down a rabbit hole of pop culture obsession, and there are still dark areas of culture that haven’t had a wiki created around them. Pessl’s story about a mysterious underground filmmaker whose movies may or may not contain hints of dark power and horrific events and the journalist who becomes obsessed with him asks the reader how you can be certain there’s a clear line between fact and fiction, then, once that wedge of doubt is established, presents a terrifying fiction to fill that space.

    Ring, by Kōji Suzuki
    The novel that inspired the horror films of the same name, the premise is well-known: anyone who watches a mysterious videotape of creepy images is informed that they will die in seven days—and then they die. The investigation into the tape and how to avoid this grim fate leads to what remains an incredibly shocking backstory involving rape, smallpox, and a forgotten well. Technology has shifted, but the terror never really relied on VHS tapes—it’s the concept that ideas can be deadly, that simply by experiencing something you can be doomed, that’s so horrifying.

    Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach
    Pivoting on the idea that we’re often blinded by the details we can see, making it impossible to see the bigger picture, Auerbach’s debut began life as a series of creepypasta stories on the Internet. The episodic nature of the story is ideal for the effect he achieves; the narrator tells of being a young boy and sending a penpal request attached to a balloon with his classmates, including his best friend Josh. He doesn’t receive a response until nearly a year later, and his life takes a turn for the bizarre shortly afterwards. A series of tragic and strange things happen to him and everyone around him, building a sense of dread that is only increased when the truth is revealed.

    Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons
    Simmons’ novel follows several groups of people who have The Ability, a psychic power that allows them to take control of others from a distance and force them to perform any action. When one of their puppets murders someone, the person with The Ability is invigorated and strengthened. Simmons doesn’t shy away from the implications of this power on history and the future, and the book will destroy any sense of security you have in the world around you, revealed to possibly be simply a worldwide board game for those who can control us all like pawns.

    Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
    Several of King’s books could be on this list, but he frequently blunts the terror of his stories with the richness and humanity of his characterizations and the sprawl of his narratives. Pet Sematary manages to be his most terrifying novel by dint of its simple, devastating concept: a magical cemetery where buried things come back to a sort-of life—but aren’t quite what they once were. From that simple idea King ramps up to a climax that gets under your skin in a fundamental way most horror stories fail to.

    The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
    Horror often pivots on the corruption or warping of societal norms and rules; once you feel like you can’t rely on the natural social order, literally anything is possible. Ketchum’s disturbing novel about the unimaginable abuse suffered by two sisters when they are forced to live with their mentally unstable aunt and her three savage sons is based on real events, but it’s the central theme of an adult giving official sanction to the atrocities that makes this story so utterly horrifying.

    Blindness, by Jose Saramago
    Helplessness is a key factor in a lot of horror; most people labor under the delusion that they are in charge of their destiny and their lives, and horror is often effective simply by reminding us how little control we actually have. An epidemic of blindness leaves an entire city’s population secluded in a mental institution as society within and without crumbles. The brutality and descent into animalistic madness is all too realistic, and Saramago manages to capture the terrifying confusion and helplessness experienced by people in a society that no longer functions.

    Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
    McCarthy’s entire writing style and technique is terrifying; the man could write a grocery list that leaves the reader dripping with dread. This tale of extreme, ruthless, and pervasive violence in the American west emerges from under a sheen of the unreal to become all too real, and the greatest trick McCarthy manages here is by making the single most terrifying aspect of the story—the main character’s death—the one act of brutality he doesn’t depict, leaving the terrors contained within that scene to our imagination—which is infinitely worse than anything he might have conjured.

    Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite
    Brite’s most famous novel follows two serial killers who initially aim to kill each other but, upon discovering a fellow traveler, instead engage in a spree of horrific sex and murder. The matter-of-fact way the pair concocts a plan to kidnap, torture, and then consume a beautiful gay man named Tran is the sort of stuff that could simply be shocking, but Brite continuously considers the value of existence and what we could all be doing with the time we have left—time we too often imagine to be infinite when, of course, we’re all going to be consumed someday by something.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
    Bradbury’s epic rumination on childhood and adulthood tells the story of a magical circus come to a small town, offering the residents dark gifts they weren’t aware they wanted—most notably the carousel that can change your physical age, making boys who yearn to be adults grow older, and middle-aged men and women who yearn for their lost youth to grow younger. Bradbury knows the worst horror in the world is losing the natural order of your life, and perfectly captures the combination of dread and excitement everyone experiences as they crack the mysteries separating them from adulthood.

    Hell House, by Richard Matheson
    What Matheson taps into in this classic haunted house story is the universal fear that we are already lost, already broken. Hired to investigate the existence of an afterlife by exploring the notoriously haunted Belasco House, a team moves in and slowly succumbs to the influence of the entity within—an entity that only uses their own weaknesses and secret shames against them. Their descent into the depths of horror is too close for comfort as a result—for everyone reading the book knows all too well that they have weaknesses, and secret shames, as well.

    The Face That Must Die, by Ramsey Campbell
    Campbell wrote a number of books that are absolutely terrifying, but this one stands out in the way he forces the reader to completely inhabit the mind of a very sick man, Horridge. As he fixates on an overweight man living in his neighborhood, the reader is forced to see the world consistently through his eyes. Everything is off-beat, everything drips with ominous meaning and horrific intent. Horridge sees the entire world as a horror that must be destroyed, and for a while the reader is carried along on that uncomfortable point of view, leaving them exhausted and terrified.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Told in alternating chapters that depict a group of aspiring writers voluntarily secluded in an unusual writer’s retreat and the stories they’re writing, Haunted not only contains one of the most disturbing short stories ever published (“Guts,” which caused several people to faint when Palahniuk read it in public) it’s also a deep dive into madness as the reality-TV obsessed characters start sabotaging their experiment in a quest for fame. The sense of suffocating dread that Palahniuk applies grows so incrementally you don’t notice it until you suddenly realize you’ve been holding your breath for five pages.

    Dawn, by Octavia Butler
    Although technically science fiction, this story of the human race centuries after a devastating apocalypse is straight terror in many ways. Lilith is one of the last surviving humans, awakened on an alien ship. The aliens, three-sexed and many-tentacled, offer Lilith a deal: they will help her repopulated the Earth, but their price is to breed with humanity to gain humanity’s “talent” for cancer (and the creative possibilities it offers) while blunting their self-destructive tendencies. The horror imbued in each page is subtle, but it exerts tremendous mental pressure as you progress through the story.

    The Walking, by Bentley Little
    Far from just another tale of zombies, Little’s story of a man whose father rises from death after a stroke sizzles with a sense of doom long before the reader understands what’s at stake. Discovering that many families are hiding zombie relatives, and have been for some time, private investigator Miles Huerdeen digs into the mystery—and what he finds is easily the scariest stuff about zombies you’ll ever read. If you watch zombie movies and shows and laugh at their shuffling, mindless threat, this book will change your mind.

    The Ruins, by Scott Smith
    Smith’s story is deceptively simple: a group of tourists in Mexico go off in search of an archaeological site where a friend has set up camp; they find a pyramid covered in odd vines, the land around it salted and barren. Once on the pyramid, they discover the dead body of their friend, covered in the vines, and that the nearby villagers have arrived with guns to force them to remain on the pyramid. The vines are one of those simple monsters that seem so easy to defeat at first blush, yet the inexorable doom that descends on the characters slowly, grindingly proves otherwise.

    Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
    Malerman’s intense story of a world that slowly crumbles as people go murderously insane after seeing mysterious creatures—referred to simply as The Problem—is so scary because the reader only has the information that the characters have, and that’s not much. The world collapses and the survivors can only seal themselves off from the outside and try to avoid the worst, leading to a torturous wearing down of hope that leaves the reader defenseless against the horrible images Malerman conjures.

    Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
    A good old-fashioned ghost story is designed to terrify and entertain, and Straub’s breakthrough novel does both. Five old friends gather regularly to trade ghost stories, but when one of them dies mysteriously and the survivors begin to dream of their own deaths, a secret from their past is revealed—and the simple pleasures of a ghost story are explored to their most frightening ends by a master of the form.

    Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    If you don’t think of Beloved as a horror story, you haven’t been paying attention. Morrison’s skill as a writer is in full effect as she draws the reader into what is assuredly one of the saddest and most horrifying stories committed to paper. There’s no more terrifying sequence than the long slide into madness as escaped slave Sethe, convinced the young woman calling herself Beloved is the daughter she murdered in an attempt to keep her safe from slavers come to reclaim them, grows steadily thinner and weaker as she gives everything she has—including food—to Beloved, who grows steadily larger.

    Did we leave off any truly terrifying books? Let us know in the comments.

    The post 25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 8:00 pm on 2015/08/20 Permalink
    Tags: , experimental fiction, footnotes, , literary experimentation, mark z. danielewski, , ,   

    Consider the Footnote: Why Don’t More Authors Use This Powerful Tool? 

    Novels can be roughly divided into two broad categories. You have your books that simply seek to tell a good story1, and you have your novels that attempt to do something new and unexpected. Every month brings us dozens of books that keep us turning pages with their expert use of tension, twists, and character development, and an equal number that take all the traditions of the form and toss them out the window, challenging us to learn to read in new ways2.

    Whether you deem an “experimental” or “postmodern” novel a success depends on what you get out of it: entertainment and awe? Or rage and frustration, and the lingering desire for a refund? While a traditional story well-told, will always succeed on at least one fundamental level, an experimental novel can fail a million times, in spectacular ways3. For every The Mezzanine, a book that inventively plays with reader expectations and traditional structures4, there are a dozen attempts that emerge from their author’s laptops practically begging us to perform a mercy killing. Even then, some of the most reviled novels will always have their fans. No literary experiment can ever be a complete failure5.

    Naturally, some are more successful than others. Found a new way to structure your novel so the sequence of events is a complex, jeweled puzzle box? Fantastic! Figured out how to write a novel without using the letter “E”? Slightly less exciting, though certainly impressive. One service these books render is to identify new tools and techniques that can be appropriated by less-cutting edge authors and repurposed, slowly subsumed into the standard toolbox.

    How this applies in the literary world: a hundred years ago, genius authors began experimenting with stream-of-consciousness narratives; a century later, every high school kid with literary ambitions ponderously writes a stream-of-consciousness story and feels super smart, though all they’ve done is taken a tool that was forged for them decades earlier and used it (probably very, very poorly6).

    Writers use a lot of tricks to forge new ground in their fiction. They play with typesetting and fonts and design, breaking free of the constraints of language. They enforce arbitrary constraints on themselves to push themselves to think in different patterns. They borrow techniques and lietmotifs from other cultures. One favored trick is the use of tools and styles of academia and research: the formal language, the list of references, the deeply researched and realistically rendered background information, and other physical facets of a report or journal article7. And one of the most interesting and powerful tools popularized by fiction writers of the 20th and 21st centuries is the footnote (or endnote). In fact, the footnote is possibly one of the most powerful, flexible storytelling tools absorbed into the novelist’s toolbox in recent years8. They can be used in a wide variety of ways to produce a wide variety of effects, grounding the story in reality or undermining its moorings. They can add depth or complexity, mislead or clarify9. The footnote is a powerful, thoroughly postmodern device in fiction.

    Which leads to the question: if this is how it works, then how come it is so seldom used?

    The Power of the Footnote

    The footnote’s power derives from its disruptive nature10. When you read fiction, you’re allowing yourself to be fooled. If it’s written in the first-person, you believe you’re privy to the point-of-view character’s thoughts and feelings. Third-person narratives are a bit easier; you can imagine you’re reading someone’s writings on a subject, or that the narrator’s voice is a godlike, all-seeing presence11.

    Whatever the narrative scenario, you have to suspend disbelief to buy into it. A footnote or endnote drags you out of that trance and forces you to break the connection—essentially, it breaks the fourth wall12. This is one reason authors who use footnotes in their fiction are sometimes accused of showboating: the footnote can feel akin to a writer suddenly leaping into your room through a window and dancing around waving her arms, shouting “look at me! LOOK AT ME!” The footnote purposefully plays up the artificiality of the reading experience, allowing the author to intrude on their own narrative13.

    In other words, it’s disruptive, and when used creatively can add an exciting energy to any story. Footnotes function in at least four distinct ways: providing supplementary information that goes beyond the narrator’s point of view, adding meta-commentary on the story itself, telling a completely distinct and separate story, and serving as simple entertainment.


    Some books, like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, use footnotes very traditionally. Christopher, the narrator, is very intelligent, but socially challenged and quite possibly somewhere on the autism spectrum, and his approach to his life is one of rigorous logic and deduction in place of the “normal” human abilities of empathy and reading social cues14. As a result, the book is littered with footnotes in which Christopher explains concepts and follows thoughts in logical—but often surprising—ways15. The footnotes are traditional in the sense of providing information to the reader that isn’t naturally found in the narrative, but they also serve a world-building function, in that they make the reading experience similar to Christopher’s own thought process, with his hyperactive imagination running in several directions at all times.

    In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, the footnotes are also employed in world-building, but in a more general sense, expanding areas of the story and character backgrounds that are nonessential but enrich the experience. It’s entirely possible to read the novel while skipping the footnotes altogether, and the reader will not suffer any loss of comprehension in terms of plot16.

    Separate but Equal

    Footnotes are also used to explore related but wholly separate stories. Instead of merely providing interesting references or background information, or to better establish the world of the novel, the footnotes in books such as Nabokov’s Pale Fire or Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao actually offer additional narratives. In Pale Fire, the footnotes are ostensibly commentary and gloss on a lengthy poem by the fictitious poet John Shade, but in reality, they allow the author of the footnotes (the equally fictitious Charles Kinbote) to tell a rambling story of his own that involves Shade (whose poem he acquires after Shade’s murder), the deposed king of invented country Zembla, and an assassin hunting the king who accidentally kills Shade instead. Confused? Historically, you’re not alone. Nabokov uses footnotes to write a hypertextual book that can be read in a variety of ways: either as direct commentary on the poem itself, as a completely separate narrative read in order, or by jumping around from footnote to footnote, piecing the story together in whatever order appeals to you.

    Diaz’s novel offers alternative narratives that are not exactly essential to the main story. They deepen and expand, continue the work of developing characters, and offer fascinating background information. However, reading the footnotes is in some sense optional—you can read the book without once referring to the footnotes and come away with a perfectly sound understanding of the story, the characters, the themes, and the allusions. What Diaz does by breaking much of the background information into footnote form is challenge the reader to consider the value of that information: how essential is it? If the primary story is clear and complete without footnotes, what do you lose by not reading them? Interestingly, the two portions of the book can be read separately: each describes a single world and a single story in different ways, from different angles, ultimately making both deeper and richer17.

    Parallel Lines

    Footnotes in novels like Infinite Jest and House of Leaves operate in entirely different ways. In Infinite Jest, the footnotes seem at first to function solely as universe-expanding background information. As the novel progresses, they become longer and more complex—eventually even the footnotes have footnotes—until we hit the infamous Footnote 324, which is seven pages of small type the length of an entire chapter if printed in normal-sized font. The footnotes in Infinite Jest are so numerous and varied in content, some of them begin to take on a wholly separate nature, more or less a parallel narrative that tells its own story18.

    Wallace uses the footnotes (technically, endnotes, as they are gathered at the end of the book) to control the reading experience even more tightly than most authors. The author is always in charge, of course; they choose when to provide information, when to introduce characters and events—they control everything we experience as a reader. In Infinite Jest, Wallace goes one step further; he literally stops you whenever he thinks it prudent and forces you to go to the back of the book—to displace, reorient, and then follow his new line of thought for as long as he wants. It’s an exercise in control that’s remarkably powerful, especially when he takes you out of a complex story and leads you down a lengthy aside, only to dump you back where you left off. It’s a bit more ominous when you consider the novel’s Macguffin: the mysterious Entertainment no one can stop watching, shadowing the control Wallace is trying to exert over his readers19.

    For the ultimate rabbit hole of footnotes, we turn to House of Leaves, in which Mark Z. Danielewski uses footnotes not simply to produce a disruptive effect, or exert control over his readers, but to purposefully build three distinct narratives—to make his book larger on the inside than it at first appears, as they would take up many more pages if set in the same typeface as the “main” plot. Consider that this is but the first sign the titular house is something more than a house—it’s measurably larger on the inside than should be possible—combined with the potential interpretation of the title House of Leaves as a metaphor for a book. Your head just exploded, and Danielewski is made happy.

    Footnotes add dimension to fiction of all sorts (Wallace used them extensively in shorter works), and yet they aren’t used often. Reasons for this could be simple: they add a layer of formality that could prevent some readers from absorbing a story—passages that would be happily devoured if placed on the page in the perfect spot become homework assignments. And some folks regard footnotes in fiction as an affectation of postmodernists who value form over content, or who don’t mind being annoying.

    The disruptive nature of the footnote is also an argument against it. As enriching as they are as a literary technique, not every tool is right for every job. Disruption can be enervating and exciting—but it can also be frustrating and distancing. Still, let’s take a moment to consider the eerie power of the footnote to transform and elevate a work of fiction.

    1. As opposed to all those novelists who seek to tell a story badly, I suppose. I guess I’ll start apologizing for these sorts of things now.[back]
    2. I don’t know about you, but I find novels that have contempt for me to be strangely exciting.[back]
    3. Except as a doorstop, as almost every experimental novel ever written is approximately the size and mass of a small galaxy.[back]
    4. Still waiting for the thrilling film adaptation of a novel that takes place entirely during an escalator ride from one floor to another. Soundtrack would be one piece of music. OSCARS HERE WE COME.[back]
    5. Even this one.[back]
    6. You can probably change that to certainly.[back]
    7. As it turns out, academia says “right back at you” to fiction.[back]
    8. If we’re discussing the Fifty Shades of Grey books, of course, the terms ‛powerful’ and ‛flexible’ have very different meanings. Also, now that we think about it, ‛absorbed.’[back]
    9. They can also be used purely as entertainment, in the form of hilarious asides to the reader.[back]
    10. See? Annoying, isn’t it.[back]
    11. Much like the voice that urged me to write this essay, and keeps assuring me I am hilarious and also very smart.[back]
    12. Except you, right here, right now, because you are reading an essay, not a book. Although science tells me that by this point it probably feels like you’ve been reading this forever.[back]
    13. Trust me: This footnote idea felt clever when I started.[back]
    14. In other words, he’s a writer. SELF BURN.[back]
    15. In the theater adaptation of the novel, this is handled in a fun way by having Christopher promise to explain how he solved a particular test question after the play has ended. After the cast has taken their bows, Christopher bounds back onto the stage and regales the audience that has remained with a spirited explanation of a geometry problem.[back]
    16. Just like this essay, amiright?[back]
    17. Imagine if E.L. James chose to do this from Christian Grey’s point of view instead of publishing Grey. Sure, the original trilogy would be 15,000 pages long, but the immersion would be 100%, resulting in societal breakdown and leading directly to the scenarios depicted in the Mad Max films.[back]
    18. In fact, some people earnestly advise you to buy a paperback copy of the book and rip it in three: The main narrative into two equal shares, and then the endnotes, then tape the endnotes to the first half and read it, then tape it to the second half and read it. This not only gives you the classic aura of Literary Hobo (hot), it spares you the back strain of carrying that book around.[back]
    19. Unlike this essay, which you likely stopped reading ten minutes ago. Hello?[back]

  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2014/11/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , mark z. danielewski, , these books will blow your mind,   

    Four Brain-Bending Doorstoppers that Will Challenge, Intrigue, and Possibly Break You 

    Marisha Pessl's Night FilmIf you’re like me, you spent some variable period of time in your youth thinking you were smart, perhaps even some sort of unrecognized genius. And then you had an encounter with true genius—or the yawning abyss of your own dumbness—and had to issue a retraction. A retraction no one saw, because no one was taking your claims of genius seriously anyway. Perhaps, like me, your brush with true genius came in the form of a book, but not just any book. One of those thick, heavy tomes with a thousand pages of dense, twisty prose that left you humbled, scratching your head, and not entirely sure you “got” it. If you didn’t encounter one of those books, this is your chance: here are four huge books that will hurt your brain—but in a good way.

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    Night Film is an imperfect book, but what it gets right it gets right. The spooky, creepy story of a legendary reclusive filmmaker who may or may not be involved with black magic and/or literally committing terrible crimes for verisimilitude in his films and the disgraced journalist who investigates the death of the filmmaker’s daughter, Night Film pulls off a head-spinning trick by establishing a very real-feeling universe that it then begins to destabilize, until you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. Using a few modern multimedia tricks like reproducing webpages and articles right there on the page, that link out to extra information and images or videos on the web, the whole book slowly warps into an unreliable narrator that still somehow feels grounded in reality. The ending, on the surface, feels surprisingly reasonable—for a moment. Then you realize you don’t actually know if you can trust the words you just read. It’s one of those maddening narratives where you’re certain all the necessary information is right there in the pages, but you can’t seem to solve the puzzle.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    When it comes to books that have the power to break brains, it begins and ends with House of Leaves. Part haunted house story, part celebration of the unreliable narrator, part brain-destroying puzzle you will never solve, this book is so crammed full of puzzles, wordplay, and downright trickery that endless Internet debates have sprung up around a single word choice. Everything about this book, from the layout on the page to the footnotes that circle back and lead you on a mazelike trip through pages you’ve already read, to the anagrams and mini-riddles that pepper every paragraph, gives the impression that the story itself is just the proverbial iceberg tip—and the roots go down into a deep, dark, place you might regret traveling to. In fact, the debate about what’s real, what’s imagined, and who, exactly, is telling the story in the first place continues to be lively and unlikely to be solved any time soon.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    If you’ve never read Infinite Jest, it’s likely the only thing you know about it is that it’s incredibly long and concerns, to some extent, tennis. While both of these things are true, the book is complex, filled with a huge cast of characters who dip in and out of the narrative, and constructs what is essentially an alternate universe to our own that nevertheless feels absolutely real. While not as formally perverse as House of Leaves, Infinite Jest is a book that has several layers, and on first read you can only hope to understand the surface story, about an “Entertainment” that is so entertaining people starve to death watching it over and over; a tennis prodigy who loses the ability to express himself; and a future where time is subsidized, resulting in things like the Year of Glad, where “Glad” refers to the brand of trash bags. The rest of it is buried in the dense prose, clever plotting, and yards of complex and well-researched footnotes.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Even if you haven’t read Haunted, you may have heard about one of the stories it contains: “Guts,” which is so disturbing in its imagery people reportedly walked out of several readings Palahniuk gave before the book published. The story of a writer’s retreat that takes a left turn into horror, there are two tracks to the book: One the tale of the trapped writers, who are locked inside an ancient theater with food and water and other comforts and told they cannot leave until three months have passed—time in which to write their masterpieces—and the other the short stories each writer produces while at the retreat. To say things go sour would imply you’re unfamiliar with Palahniuk’s work, but understanding how it all ties together is something else entirely. In fact, considering that the characters in the book are all obviously self-sabotaging, the best question you can ask after reading this book is simple: Why is it titled Haunted?

    What’s the most mind-bending book you’ve ever read?

compose new post
next post/next comment
previous post/previous comment
show/hide comments
go to top
go to login
show/hide help