As you probably know by now, I have a positive-only policy on this site. I generally don't find it worth my time to pen negative reviews when there are so, so many great books out there that deserve an audience. It's a decision that I've felt especially good about in light of recent worrisome events. I love reading, and I like promoting the good books I've enjoyed.
I also like hosting reading challenges on this site. It's fun to branch out of my comfort zone, and having the support of other readers who are willing to read along with me helps me muscle through difficult classics and new genres I otherwise wouldn't attempt.
But here's the problem with choosing a book for a challenge: by definition, it has to be a book I haven't yet read. And sometimes, even with a considerable amount of research ahead of time, I end up selecting a book that's not a good match for my tastes.
And that, tragically, is what has happened with House of Leaves. I'm so disappointed.
I was excited to read House of Leaves when I first heard about it. I knew I wanted to do some kind of spooky horror challenge for the month of October, and when I read about this 700-page beast of metafiction, it sounded like a perfect fit. Normally I would be reluctant to spend the time reading a long book famous for its density; as a blogger, I like to get through titles quickly so I can get a post up and move on. But if I incorporated House of Leaves into a reading challenge, I would have plenty of time to read it while still maintaining my regular reading pace. I was also intrigued by the hype surrounding the book—I'm always eager to read polarizing works for myself.
As you can tell from my first three posts in the series, I started out optimistic. I was patient with Truant's footnote detours. I waded through the pages with words going in every direction. I dutifully flipped to the appendices when instructed. I slogged my way through, convincing myself I was having more fun than I actually was, because I was certain there would be a payoff at the end. Surely the various strands of the story would coalesce, Truant's role in the narrative would become clear, and I would come to care about the fate of Navidson and his family.
One month and 700 pages later, none of those things happened. I feel like I've been on a treasure hunt and the prize turned out to be an empty box.
So here is something you won't see very often on Reading With Hippos: my honest admission that I don't recommend this book. Danielewski's literary experiment may be clever, but it's empty. It's not a gratifying experience to go through the grueling process of reading a book and come away with nothing—no finality, no emotional connection, no substance. All I had after closing the covers for the last time was a desire to get the last month of my life back.
And the sinking sense that I should have just picked a Stephen King novel and called it good.
So for me and the Kansas City Royals, I guess it's better luck next year.
The title of this post is a reference to the T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.” It would be a far better use of your time to read it than House of Leaves. You can find the text here.