by Dave Wheeler
Believe it or not, the holidays are upon us. For me, this means hasty days while customers schlep themselves through the store on the hunt for the perfect gift. Everyone on my list gets books. Whether they like it or not.
Meanwhile, I escape the bustle on my own time with a carefully chosen novel of great ambition (both for its writer and its reader). Often in my adult life, I’ve found solace from the holidays’ chaotic excess in the unforgiving landscapes of cold Russian novels like Anna Karenina (holiday season 2008), The Brothers Karamazov (holidays 2009), and Crime and Punishment (holidays 2010). I don’t know why; I find them soothing. Before that I swept through the sepia Salinas Valley in Steinbeck’s East of Eden (holidays 2007).
But now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t recall if I bothered with this little tradition last year. Like you, I don’t always have the time to invest in some lengthy piece of prose that requires an expansive portion of my attention. I’m of the internet generation; I’m told I don’t have an attention span beyond 140 characters.
Now I don’t know about all that, but I do know the combination in my life of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, and any traveling I might be doing for such holidays affords me solid blocks of time I can devote to putting my feet up, spiking some eggnog, and reading something I might not otherwise consider other times throughout the year.
This year, I’ve chosen a novel that has intimidated me for a long time, because it twists, expands, contracts, at its own will. That book is Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Not a classic, in terms of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Steinbeck, but nonetheless a challenging book with a shifting and dangerous landscape — a book orbiting film footage of an eerie house and an analytical found manuscript, wherein footnotes give way to more footnotes like trapdoors and “Five and a Half Minute Hallways.”
I’ve always been drawn to haunted houses, stories of hauntings, and have spent too much time watching Syfy’s Haunted Highway (yes, the one with Jack Osbourne), so I connected with a blogpost from a fellow bookseller and friend of mine, Lindsey McGuirk at Village Books, when she wrote about her journey into House of Leaves. So far (yes, I’ve begun my holiday book already, because, well, with this one, I’m going to count [as I usually do] Halloween in the greater order of The Holidays), all I can say is, like Lindsey, this book has found me at just the right moment. A moment in which I have mountains of tolerance for wandering divergences in narrative and winding structural twirls.
Probably because its how the holidays feel to most of us — a long month and a half of growing tensions, secrets stored in false walls, hearts and wallets managing to be larger on the inside than their measurements on the outside. Or maybe just because I’ve meant to read it for so darn long. And the holidays are — well, the holidays are a good enough excuse for just about anything. Am I right?
“Sundays In” will be on hiatus until January due to said “holiday bustle.”