Usually, I don’t like to read hard books. Fundamentally, it may be because I’m just lazy, but I think it has more to do with the escapism. I read books to immerse myself in another world and I often find myself gravitating to the books that most smoothly create this other world. But, occasionally I do enjoy something a little bit tougher and this is about two books that I found particularly challenging. Of course, this could just show how much of a Neanderthal I am when it comes to the written word. We shall see.
One of the most interesting and absorbing books I’ve ever read would have to be House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I found out about this book from a conversation that I had with two friends one afternoon. Friend #1 read the book and found it to be creepy and weird and very rewarding. Friend #2 found the book to be too difficult to read and couldn’t finish it. Intrigued, I borrowed the book off of Friend #2 and proceeded to read it. I can’t recall how long it took me to finish, but I remember it being a while. Originally published and circulated by hand, the officially released book retains that DIY feeling. When holding it in your hands, it almost still feels warm like a pile of pages straight off the copying machine. The book has three distinct levels to it and each level maintains its own unique shifting text and page layouts. Level 1 recounts the life of a young man who finds a dead blind man’s trunk that is stuffed with information meticulously describing a video that the blind man seems to have at some point watched. Except that he is blind. And the video never even existed. And neither did the family that the video is supposed to be made by. But that doesn’t stop him from describing it so complexly and completely that it becomes real and begins to affect his life. Level 2 consists of the blind man’s story that the young man is able to put together from his belongings. Level 3 consists of the story of the family that the video is about, documenting what happens after they find that the interior of their home is actually bigger than the exterior. Both Levels 2 and 3 begin to have terrifying effects on Level 1 as the young man delves deeper and deeper into the fictional mythology. Does that even make any sense? My point is that this book does what Inception wished it could have. It creates a revolving set of fictional worlds that weave throughout the story and forces the reader to physically manipulate the book in a variety of ways to finish it. I will admit that I didn’t read all of the footnotes.
The second book, I didn’t have as much success with. After finishing the Invisibles, a genre and gender bending, weirdo punk rock comic series by Grant Morrison, I heard some rumblings about the Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. It was to contain a lot of what made the Invisibles great. When reading, I got the distinct feeling that almost every contemporary conspiracy theory got its humble beginnings in these 816 pages, of which I made it to 786. I finished a paragraph in the middle of a chapter and just stopped. I couldn’t take it anymore. This isn’t to say that it is not good. In fact, I’d probably say that the book is great. Like House of Leaves, the history that it tackles is meticulously researched and outlined for the reader. Alternate viewpoints to actual historical events are complex and believable. The mythology of chaos and the religion of Discordianism are introduced with all the confusion that they represent. Perspective changes happen without warning and often times in the middle of a paragraph. Time and space are bent and broken, often times leaving the reader stranded in entirely unfamiliar landscapes. This book is not for the weak of mind. I failed at finishing this, but that shouldn’t discourage you. As pointed out earlier, I am a bit of a halfwit. Get out there and take the Illuminatus Trilogy challenge. Or you could just read the Invisibles and Sewer, Gas and Electric (The Public Works Trilogy) and call it even.