Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Neverending Story

"If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger-
If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early-
If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless-
If such things have not been a part of your own experience, you probably won't understand what Bastian did next."

            Out of all the books I've read, there are very few that stay with me as long as this one has. And the story  of how I wound up finding this one is about as long as that. When I was a lot younger and my mother was working late, my dad used to go above and beyond for us. This usually meant we'd go to the library, or do fake-fighting on the front lawn, or any number of things, always something special...something different from the usual nightly routine. But there were two things that always stood out to me: One would be that he'd read aloud to us to get us to settle down, and the other would be that we'd all watch a video together. We had a video store up the street from us, one with a seemingly endless collection of B movies, films from the eighties, and an astonishingly large horror/science fiction/fantasy section. We would pick out a film, go home for dinner, and then after bathtime, we'd all sit down-- me, my brother, and my father-- and watch it together. And one of those early films was The Neverending Story. It's actually one of my happier memories-- watching an effects-heavy movie on the futon in the den with my dad and my younger brother. 
            About three or four years later, I'd gotten bored with the books in the kids' section of the local library, and stumbled upon a copy of the book The Neverending Story in the well-hidden science fiction section. I barely remembered the movie, but I remembered it as a favorite, so I immediately clutched the book to my chest and took it home, where I started reading almost the moment I got in the door. It took me about two weeks to read, and I read it constantly: In bed by the light of my sister's tropical fishtank, in the middle of math class...whenever I could find a moment to read it and launch myself back into this world, this strange, beautiful world. And something like that, the joy and amusement I felt, it sticks with you. I immediately insisted my dad read it aloud at night because I wanted to share, to have him find the same things I did in all of it. And those memories just add to what it means to me.
             The Neverending Story is about a young boy named Bastian Balthasar Bux. Bastian is having serious problems at home because his father has walled himself off emotionally, and he's getting picked on at school by all of his fellow students, so when he's being chased, he runs into a used bookstore where the curmudgeonly owner promptly insults him and leaves to take a phone call. In the meantime, Bastian is drawn to a large book with a copper-colored cover-- a book called The Neverending Story. The plot splits between the epic quest of a warrior named Atreyu trying to save a world called Fantastica, and Bastian reading the book in the loft of his school. And as the quest continues, past some really freaky creatures and odd situations (such as a giant turtle that talks to itself as if it's two separate people, and the fearsome Ygramul The Many, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like only poisonous), the line between Bastian's world and Fantastica begins to blur. And then things get weird.
              Bastian, because he's a boy with an imagination, is summoned to Fantastica to help heal the Childlike Empress (the world's goddess figure) and remake the world anew. To help with the task, he's given the amulet AURYN, which grants his every wish...but with a price, as the longer he stays and plays with the world he's been given control of, the more corrupted, power-mad, and divorced from himself he becomes. Bastian faces outer conflicts, like the evil sorceress Xayide (who accellerates and plays into his corruption), and internal ones as he comes more and more to believe he is a god. In the end, Bastian must rediscover who he is and return home if he is to protect himself and the world he fell in love with.
              The Neverending Story is, at its core, a book about trying to find one's self in the midst of distraction and all kinds of outside obstacles. It's a universal theme, which just makes the framework easier to understand and relate to. But it's not just about that, either. It's also about getting lost in a good book, reconnecting with those close to us, and in the end, it's about realizing that, much as we need that world to (in the words of Barry Hughart) curl up into on those cold, dark nights, we need this one as a counterbalance, and if we lose our anchor to reality, we lose part of what makes us us. But the central theme isn't what makes this a great book. What makes this a great book is that it tells a good story first, and lets all of this stuff shake out second. It never attempts to lecture its audience, but instead lets them discover what it is for themselves.
               To add to this, Michael Ende did a wonderful job with sketching out his world. Fantastica is a very well-realized place, to the point that even the small details can be visualized. Ende describes his world as boundless and beautiful, but to craft something like this without even much illustration-- though there is that, too. The twenty-six illustrations (one for each chapter, and also one for each letter of the alphabet) are done in the style of illuminated manuscripts, or stylized tapestries, lending to the overall feel of the book. The archaic feel gives it the atmosphere of old legends, which, with the actual integration of some old and legendary concepts (djinn, werewolves and the like) creates something rather interesting to read and behold.
                 And finally, along with the wonderful descriptions and the relatable themes, the characters are much more than two-dimensional. Most authors would make the fantasy world a deliberately "lesser" place, something for their character to add to. Ende instead creates a fully realized world that doesn't completely need Bastian, but that Bastian can still add to and make his mark on. Bastian and all the characters save the Childlike Empress herself have motives and means, desires, and underlying motivations. Instead of simply being constructs, they're all very real and very three-dimensional within the story. Bastian, in particular, despite being an everyman, is quite well put-together, and his transformation from cowardly little boy hiding underneath blankets to hero to power-hungry tyrant and then back towards a more beneficial medium.
                 The book isn't without its fault, though. And there is one major one. Despite all his development, despite all his trials and tribulations, Bastian comes off as the biggest Mary-Sue ever in a credible work of fiction. He immediately goes about setting things up so he's the fastest, strongest, smartest person in all of Fantastica, and then lets all his fabricated power go to his head as he humiliates his enemies and raises up his friends. Sometimes, this gets really wearing, almost as much as the rather heavy setup of Bastian as a sad sack. But where the book is heavy handed, it more than makes up for it when it isn't. It balances out wonderfully, and works out all its kinks as it goes. Though sometimes the whole setup feels contrived, it's brief  and in short fits. 
                    But overall, this is far and away one of my favorite books. Ende is moving, touching, and uses some wonderfully vivid imagery throughout, the characters stay with me and are easy to identify with, and the underlying themes are strong as ever. This is also one of those books you can return to again and again, finding something different each time. Every time I've read it, and at different times in my life, I've found a new way to look at it and a new way to enjoy the book. There's always something new to draw me back in. So between the constantly-changing nature of the work, the vivid imagery, memorable characters, and interesting events and plotline. Never does it really approach the frivolous or the contrived, and when it appears to, it at least takes it in new directions. You should read this book. You should own this book. The Neverending Story is one of the five or ten books I will always own a copy of, and would never dream of giving up even to borrow. If that doesn't tell you something about how good this book is, then I really don't know what else to say.

There are only two books that have ever affected me in the same way aside from The Neverending Story. Sadly, like the book says:

But that is another story and will be told another time.

Next Week: We drop back into metafiction with the very strange mushroom and squid-infested City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanDerMeer. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Expiration Date

 "Madam, I've just run over your cat and I'd like to replace it."
"I don't good are you at catching mice?"
- Elizalde, to herself

            As previously stated, I freaking love Tim Powers. And this is one of the books that did that to me. At the time I found it, I'd just finished Last Call and found this one on the "Leave a book, take a book" rack at one of the public places in town. The story sounded so engaging and the ideas were definitely ones I hadn't heard before, and it was Tim Powers to boot, so I started it, hoping it would grip me the way Last Call did and give me just as many reasons to love it. Annnnd...I was wrong. It wasn't completely the book's fault as much as it was the format. For some reason, I am completely incapable of reading mass-market paperbacks these days. I still do from time to can't really avoid it these days, particularly in genre writing, but my preferred format is a nice-sized hardcover or trade paperback copy. It's the way the pages tend to slip while I'm reading and the spine bends too easy, I think.
            But when I got a copy I could actually read, and got through the parts where I'd kept putting it down, I loved it. Maybe not as much as Last Call, but definitely more than Deviant's Palace. Powers has managed to take his own weird, somewhat gritty style and reliance on historical fact, meld it with a modern-day crime novel sensibility (I'll get to what kind later), and then let it run amok all over Los Angeles. Expiration Date is our world, more or less, but one with pragmatic supernatural rules, a certain sensibility to it. Ghosts are commonplace and can be bought and sold fairly easily. The more famous and the "purer" the ghost, the more in demand they are. And why are ghosts so in demand? So they can be inhaled. Yes, Expiration Date is a drug novel about people snorting ghosts. And I can't believe I just typed that with a straight face.
             Expiration Date begins, though, with Koot Hoomie Parganas, whose parents are part of a rather strict Buddhist sect. Kootie, as he will be known for the rest of the book, is a young man who wants to run away from home. His parents treat him like a reincarnation of a dead religious leader, which means no meat, no real friends, and Kootie is tired of it. But in running away from home, he destroys a precious bust of Dante Aligheri, a bust with a rather important artifact that Kootie's parents were keeping from some very unsavory characters who want it for themselves. With his parents brutally (and I do mean brutally) murdered, Kootie sets off with this artifact (okay, it's the last breath of Thomas Alva Edison) into the world, trying to figure out exactly what the hell is going on. He is pursued by a one-armed amnesiac ghost trapper named Sherman Oaks, and at various times aided by a cast of other characters. The other three main leads are Pete, an electrician with certain latent psychic abilities (and a psychic mask of Harry Houdini), Shadroe, a ghost haunting his body to evade the main antagonist, and  Doctor Elizalde a former psychologist whose brush with the supernatural destroyed her career. Together, they're afloat in plots they can never quite understand, trying to keep between their pursuers and their next fix. 
               The one major problem with the book is its focus. In having these protagonists and stories running around, you easily find that you like some better than others, and the worst of them is the stupid double-act that makes up the "Kootie and Edison" arc. Edison gets absorbed by the young man, you see, but not enough to be assimilated. So he shares Kootie's body as the two evade the violent and irrational Sherman Oaks. And it's dull. Pete's arc has the traditional "man on the run" story, Elizalde is trying to piece together what happened to her despite her being an avowed atheist, Shadroe is possessing his own body, and we get stuck with the kid for the brunt of the book. They have some good moments, of course, but overall, it feels like it should be leading somewhere, and it doesn't until two-thirds through.
                 Which isn't to say the book is bad at all. Powers exercises amazing control despite the "large sprawling cast" form being out of his usual purview, and each of the characters (including the villains) have their own motivations and reasons. It's all handled wonderfully, and comes to a climax that's well worth it and where more than a few plot twists are answered (Tim Powers never met a loose end he didn't want tied in a neat little bow), too, which is nice. Elements found at the beginning of the book come into play near the end, improbable escapes are had by all, and the story and theme fit almost as if they'd been designed for each other. 
                And the themes are death, the apocalypse, and addiction. I know, it's hard to have a happy ending with those things in there, but somehow, they manage to pull it off. Pete, Elizalde, and Kootie start to form a family structure somewhere near the end, there's a nice ironic fate for the villain, and things go swimmingly from there. Though...I really do have to wonder why there are all the apocalyptic overtones in the work, like the gigantic "lobster-quadrille" that beaches itself on the shore, or the fact that dead people are walking the earth to get inhaled by the living, another sign of the apocalypse. The dead walking around, not the inhaling thing. 
                  Powers does a wonderful job with the spiritualist parts, too, as Thomas Edison and Harry Houdini actually were interested in the spirit world (which was the very reason Houdini went around debunking mediums-- he wasn't skeptical about the existence of spirits, he just wanted people to stop with all the fake claims and making money off of spirits), and they're used to fantastic effect. As usual, Powers has definitely done his research, and it shows in every last bit-- be it the constantly referencing the Queen Mary's history, or the flashbacks to Edison's past. There's definitely a command of the language and ideas here that makes the book well worthwhile.
                      But with all of these things, I can't recommend it completely. The first time I read it was in the prime of my Tim Powers infatuation, and looking upon it now, I see that may have clouded my judgement. Expiration Date is a fine book, yes, but not as original as it might seem. The plot is loose, but follows many of the conventions of a regular crime novel, where all the characters eventually come together and the ending has at least one gunfight. It hardly seems as tightly-woven as many of his other books, in particular Last Call, the companion piece and preceding volume to this one. Kootie is too annoying a main character to stick with for two-thirds of the book, and the other characters aren't featured enough to pick up the slack, leaving me with a feeling that this should really have been a different kind of book. 
                        So in the end, yes, you should read Expiration Date, but please don't buy it. Pick it up from the library, read it over a weekend, and you'll find it enjoyable enough that it will leave a good impression. But please, instead, save your money for one of Powers' much better books, such as Three Days to Never, Last Call, or his other equally brilliant works (except for The Anubis Gates, but I'll get to that later). This is a good book, but not a great one.

Next week: We get even more conventional with The Neverending Story, a children's fantasy novel that is a lot darker and more German than one would think

Saturday, February 12, 2011


"Your mischievous remedies have smashed us all!"
- Alger Lattimore            

           Oh, god, where do I begin? Way back in my first review, I mentioned a conversation I had with my friend Greg. Greg and I had a gym class together about once a day, and in this class, we talked books with each other a lot (as well as other things, but this blog isn't about those, so screw 'em). He got me into Terry Goodkind, I got him into Dune, and so on and so forth. At the time, I had just discovered the "bizarro" literary movement and was making my way through a couple of severely strange books I couldn't get through interlibrary loan. The one title I could get my hands on was Steve Aylett's Lint. For back then, I couldn't believe that a book so audacious could ever make it to print, though I figured it being small press had something to do with that. And within about two or three days of laughing uncontrollably and trying to quote passages to my friends and loved ones, it was love.
           So naturally, I handed my ILL copy to Greg. He finished it by that Friday and we had the conversation I mentioned earlier, where he asked me "How the hell can you recommend this to someone? How can you hand someone a book going 'I know you're going to want to punch me for making me read this, but...'" Still, he liked the book, so it wasn't all bad. And now I finally know how I can possibly recommend it to someone: It's freaking brilliant for what it is. Steve Aylett has crafted in Lint an insane book with an equally-insane title character, an absurdist satire of biographies, cult authors, and indeed most science fiction. If you don't find something even amusing about the book, I am shocked and surprised by this. The book is absurd but never forcibly so, and the quotes I have wrung from it stay with me to this day, in the form of things like the "Great crowd tonight, release the tigers" mantra, the phrase "That's not a scarecrow, it's a crucifix in a hat!", or other choice bits. It's memorable, light, relentlessly funny, and most of all, it's fun.
           Lint is the biography of Jeff (possibly Jack) Lint, a science fiction author who started with the pulps in the 1940s under the pen name "Isaac Asimov". He would continue to inflict his quite nuts and absolutely unpublishable work on the general populace through a series of books, short stories, TV and film scripts, and a failed children's series, all while mingling with the elite and the lowest alike. The book (written, as it says on the cover, by Steve Aylett) follows this luminary from the moment of birth to his eventual death of a cerebral hemorrhage in the mid-90s, giving us an insight into how this tall, gangly whack job captivated the hearts and minds of thousands. But there's something not quite right. Occasionally, the absurdity gives way, showing something darker waiting just outside of the capering, brightly-colored satire. A world of freakish details and possible parallel worlds, where a man "pushed his face so far into the book that it was unable to be removed",  until someone has to cut away most of his face and skull. A world where a children's cartoon that didn't last more than four episodes invaded the minds and dreams of the people who watched it. Where the impressive figure in the book might not be all he appears to be, nor the world he inhabits all that stable.
             First and foremost, I love this book for the sheer balls-out way it commits to its premise. On the back cover, you won't find quotes talking about the fictitious nature of the work, but instead praising Steve Aylett and talking about how they discovered Jeff Lint's work-- most notably from Alan Moore and Michael Moorcock, two acclaimed British authors. Lint is laid out in chapters, an index, and even quotes from Lint's work and interviews, all sourced to books. The tone never once winks at the audience, but lays its absurd premise out in the most serious way it can. If its stated premise was to get us to laugh, we'd be on guard for it every second we spent reading it, but it doesn't, so we're caught off guard by the naturally funny syntax. 
             The syntax, too, is especially funny. While silly, it resembles actual quotes from cult figures. It's merely the frantic mumblings of a Burroughs or a Thompson, or even Philip K. Dick, but taken to their logical extremes. Aylett is exceptionally vivid, but in a fairly restrained way. He's not above going for a vivid and surrealistic scene or six, but keeps it framed within the work-- this is, after all, a biography, not a run-of-the-mill novel. He has to keep some level of seriousness in presentation and tone. This also makes for a nice contrast when Lint utters such phrases as "When the abyss gazes into you, bill it.", or submits his manuscripts in drag. Or when his agent enters a "catatonic insectile state" and spends the rest of the book decomposing.
            Which brings me to the world. Lint purports to set itself in modern day, but a ridiculously bent version, mostly due to the influence of the Lint character. Lint is the center of things, after all, and gives the book a very skewed focal point. He is given friends both historical and real, a pretentious nemesis in the form of literary critic Cameo Herzog (who inadverdently sets the mob on our protagonist), fans, and disciples. It's very clear from the scenes involved and the way everything from decomposing literary agents to taxi-driver suicides (due to Lint's theory of space) is treated as commonplace that this is definitely not our world. Either way, Aylett has the utmost control over his setting, and draws us in quickly by making it seem like it's our own before yanking the rug (and indeed the house) out from under our feet and plunging headlong into the account of a madman writing fiction. 
             And this brings us to that dark side. No, the book isn't outright a horror novel. It presents itself as a very pleasant satire. It's only when you read passages such as the recording of The Energy Draining Church Bazaar, or the fact that Lint used a cipher based on a torture manual to write a chapter of his magnum opus, or the account of Lint's failed TV series Catty and the Major that you get the sense that something is wrong. And not just sort of wrong, either-- very, very wrong. This feeling won't engage you directly, of course. It lets you think about what you've read, and then in some quiet moment springs upon you and makes you go "Oh, god". I haven't ever had a book do this to me before...they either wear their horror on their sleeve, or reveal it quickly and decide to leave the horror obvious, or continue on their merry way after pouncing on you with it. This, among the other things, makes Lint very, very unique.
            But it isn't for everyone. More than one person will find it trying or stupid. The gimmick of the book is welcome but not quite needed, and the sections on Lint's religious experiences and philosophy tend to wane. The bit about "shallow vanishing" is interesting, but doesn't completely fit in with some of the other work. But overall, the book should carry through, and it's more a matter of what one thinks of the book than how the book is. 
           In the end, it's a book I finally had to break down and buy this summer so it could be put into the private collection. It's hilarious, a little frightening, and hits all the targets it wants to hit. While passages may drag, and the bit about the progressive rock group stands out as mildly incoherent, it's a fun read, will take you less than a week to get through, and multiple readings might allow one better insight into the dark mysteries surrounding Jeff Lint and the "Lint is dead" rumors, which persisted long after his actual death. If you can find it, give it a read. It's worth a look-through, and the low price should be enticing enough. It'll give you a few good laughs, maybe an uneasy feeling or two, and more than that, it'll stay with you long after you've closed it up. 

Next week: In an attempt to get back to coherent works, we return to Tim Powers with Expiration Date, a novel about people snorting ghosts. It's more coherent and less crazy. I swear.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

And as an added bonus...Poe!

This is a track off of the album that sort of serves as a companion piece to House of Leaves. It's also one of the more theme-connected songs. So here. Without further ado, "Haunted" by Poe, off of the album of the same name.

House of Leaves

In an effort to retain the feel of the novel and keep things true to the form of the review, I have preserved all differently-colored words and font choices of the author, just to capture that extra bit of weirdness. 

This is not for you
- Johnny Truant

"...and choose, however, to dismiss this enterprise out of hand, then may I suggest you drink plenty of wine and dance in the sheets of your wedding night, because whether you know it or not, now you are truly prosperous..."
-Zampano, warning both Johnny and the reader

         Way back in the dawn of time about a decade ago, I spent every afternoon after school at the Maplewood Memorial Library. To the point that the librarians all knew me by name and asked me how I was doing. In fact, they still do. Though circumstances mean that I pop up there a hell of a lot less. And in all that time, it took me a while to realize that right up front where I came in, they had seasonal displays. The first time I realized this was in October during my high school career, where I discovered, "Hey! There are horror novels stacked up here! Oh-- they're for Halloween. That makes sense." Yes. I was that dense. But less pretentious. Anyway, in amongst the usual trashy ghost stories and a copy of Harvest Home that had probably been there before the book actually went into publication, there was an oddly-shaped paperback that caught my eye. The cover had a fold-over leaf, and inside was a color plate that showed seemingly random clutter. And this book-- which might have found me as much as I found it, judging from my interactions with it, was House of Leaves. When I picked it up, I thought it was just a quirky book using different colored words and playing around with text. And it is. Sort of. It's also not quite-- oh, fuck it. Let me try to explain:
         House of Leaves is about a young man named Johnny Truant who finds a manuscript in the apartment of a dead old man named Zampano. Near the body are four large, unexplained gouges that look like an animal put them there. Being a young, foolhardy man in the prime of his youth, and not too concerned about the ethical matters of stealing from a dead man, Johnny takes the manuscript with him. Following the man's instructions with the loosely-bundled heap of papers, he begins to edit the work into something coherent, leaving his own footnotes along with it to tell his story. The book itself is mostly comprised of Zampano's critical analysis on a film that has not and does not exist, a film called The Navidson Record, thus also being about the film. And the third part of the plot is the actual film of The Navidson Record, about a photojournalist who tries to make a film about his house in the suburbs...a house that has a small architectural discrepancy of three quarters of an inch at first, but then the small closet that seems to be entirely painted black grows, each shift bringing more insane dimensions and impossible rooms upon impossible rooms, creating a labyrinth that threatens to swallow more than one of the characters who decide to do everything but leave it alone or move.
        The three plots tend to intertwine with each other, elements from one appearing in another, and feeding on each other all at once. Johnny in particular is an unrepentantly unreliable narrator, at one point even going "Hey, not fair, you say. Hey, fuck you, I say." in response to changing a few words in one passage. Later on, he invents entire sequences and openly tells us that he wanted to end a sequence by having two characters murdered, but doesn't. Johnny is openly mocking, even as he's slowly losing his mind, and the book helps him come to terms with his rather checkered life and several incidents. Oh, and it's also driving him slowly insane. Finally, he gets the book published to give himself some peace of mind, though it never stops being more than a book for him.

Oh, and did I mention that this exact same book is the one that's been in your hands the whole time? The book you've probably been trusting to remain truthful to itself on at least some level? I probably should have. Oh well.

       Yes, ladies and gentlemen, House of Leaves is a mindfuck with a pneumatic drill, a book that plays fast and loose with its own ideas and logic to gain some unknown benefit, or maybe just because it can. Text is put in different colors. A chase scene is spread out over several pages to keep you turning the pages just to reach the end of it. One particular sequence creates an air of claustrophobia by clustering the words together smaller and smaller on the pages. As the secret space (yeah, that's the best name for it) builds and builds, the sentences begin to fragment, words fly all over the page, and footnotes circle in on themselves. The protagonists (all three of them...I think) quickly lose control of their lives as the book loses control of what was once a tight, organized format. As things go on, large passages of the book are excised by Zampano for seemingly no reason, Johnny's footnotes become more and more about his experiences which have nothing to do with the book, and Will Navidson becomes trapped in the house that originally intrigued him. And it is brilliant.
     It's a very hard thing to get a book to lie to its reader on this scale. Eventually, an unreliable narrator gets found out, the tricks dissolve into gimmicks, or the narrative thread has to come to a conclusion. It's a rare feat when a book manages to make the reader doubt their own faculties when reading it, to get inside their head and under their skin the way House of Leaves does. And it does a truly amazing job. The individual voices and texts do a lot to immerse and unnerve the reader, be they calm and academic (Zampano), neurotic and frightened (Truant), or weirdly passionate and cold (Navidson. Yes, both at once). Throughout, the sense of immersion is nailed down by footnotes and references to actual things, as well as narration from voices who, in their own way, are easy to listen to. They're trustworthy in their own bizarre fashion.
     Between these voices and the immersive quality of the book, the response it evokes makes it all the more fascinating. This is a book that pretty much commits to its premise fully and wholeheartedly, a book that never backs away, never flinches, and never goes "hey, I'm just kidding, it's all a joke." That it does this makes it somehow all the better, be it the exploration of the spaces, or indeed the unhinging of various minds. In total, that it never once winks or lets on is admirable. It's like a magic show where everyone's forced to believe the illusions are real, because there is no other logical explanation for them. That a book has such an immersive tone and manages to be so fascinating that I can read it over and over again and find new things should be commended.
      But this is far from a flawless classic. Many people will have problems with the different colored words, the text that sometimes will appear upside down and backwards on the middle of a page, and the constant revisions of the truth by Truant and Zampano. There are parts where the actual critical parts are dry and all you want to do is get back to Johnny's story, and parts where Johnny's rambling on and on and you want nothing more than to read Zampano's account of Will's film. Many people don't like to be conned or played with by a book, and will dismiss it on the grounds that it's "too gimmicky", or stupid. But it's a personal choice. Give it a go. If you don't like it, then you don't have to read it.
      In the end, though, I recommend House of Leaves to read. It's something that seems new every time I read it, and it's stuck in my memory since the first time I did. It's a fantastically-written book that moves beyond its gimmicks, and it's easily one of my all-time favorites, a list of which I'll have to get to writing up one of these days, just for posterity. The book also has an awesome soundtrack in the form of the album Haunted by Poe. Maybe find a copy and give it a listen with the book if you like. It may enhance the experience and help with the immersion. My final point is, it's a good book, and well worth reading over and over again. Just watch out for the minotaur.

Next Week:  The pile of weird almost boils over with the bizarro satire/biography book Lint by Steve Aylett.