Though I have only written about books I’ve read for the first time here on the blog, I love to re-read things. Though it’s often less magical than the first reading, a re-read can allow for much deeper connection with a story and a better understanding of the overall structure. And re-reading books in different stages of life allows for brand-new perspectives and interpretations to appear.
House of Leaves is a book that I read back in high school after a friend of mine — who I had a major crush on — recommended it to me. It was one of his favorite books and when he let me borrow his copy (swoon), I devoured it.
The First Time
In the past, I avoided horror at all costs. I wouldn’t watch scary movies, I wouldn’t play scary games, and I certainly wouldn’t read scary books. But I went ahead and read House of Leaves. I had my doubts, but soldiered on in order to discuss the book with my crush.
At first, I thought things were going just fine. It wasn’t a very scary premise and the events that took place were so far removed from anything I ever saw myself experiencing that it was easy to detach from them. I mean, there were no strange doors appearing in my house, and if there ever were, I would just move. Immediately.
But after I finished the book, things changed. After I’d returned it to *name redacted* and discussed it with him, then it started to feel scary. Despite not connecting with it on any sort of surface level, I internalized the story much more than I had originally thought. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It started with just an odd fascination with the book’s unique structure, with its haphazard footnotes and forced interaction. I kept replaying having to turn the book and revisiting the way I felt with the physical object itself. Then I started really thinking about the story, allowing it to burrow deep in my mind and take root, refusing to let go.
Why did I connect with House of Leaves so deeply, despite not feeling as if I were doing so? If I had to wager a guess, I’d say it had a lot to do with my depression. The situational horror didn’t resonate with me, but the psychological implications were another story. Watching the various characters lose their grips on reality, seeing them become prisoners in their own heads, that was horrifying. Because I’d been there. Oftentimes, my own head was a prison and the more I thought about how it impacted the characters within House of Leaves, the more disturbed I became with the idea.
House of Leaves was one of the first books I read that dealt with mental stability and questions of sanity in any sort of nuanced way. I had read books featuring characters who were clearly sane pitted against the mechanization of characters who were clearly insane, but never before had I witnessed the deterioration of a mind. Being present for the entire journey added nuance to the loss of the mind, and blurred the edges between normal and abnormal. That connected with me somewhere way down deep, and greatly impacted the way I thought about mental spaces.
The Second Time
Fast-forward seven years and you’ve got a completely different Autumn than the one who read House of Leaves to impress a crush back in high school. An Autumn who, upon reading something with lots of footnotes, thought about House of Leaves for the first time in a long time, and decided to read it again.
I fully expected to re-connect with the story instantaneously, since I’ve thought about it frequently throughout the years and it impacted me so profoundly as a teen, but that didn’t happen. I felt disappointed more than anything else.
Rather than feeling like a reflection of my own inner demons, the whole book felt like just another story. It was a good story, and frightening on a psychological level, but didn’t carry the same impact it did when I was a teen.
House of Leaves is certainly different than many other books I’ve read, but it’s not the fantastic work of mastermind I thought it was when I read it back in a hormonal haze. I’m glad I read it the first time, and I’m glad I read it the second, but there probably won’t be a third.
So, should you read House of Leaves? Despite my disappointment with my second read-though, yes. It really is a fascinating play on structure, and the amount of work that went into creating a sense of depth and interconnection is impressive. Danielewski’s world is one that it’s easy to get lost in.
Just make sure you can get back out.