Just a couple days following the appearance of Neal Stephenson at Powell’s west, one of my favorite postmodern author’s, the risky and groundbreaking genius, Mark Z. Danielewski came to the main Powell’s to talk about his new book series, The Familiar. It’s a 27-volume series inspired by serial television, with many characters with intertwining lives, all written in each character’s unique typography.
Danielewski rocked my world around 2002 with his novel, House of Leaves. (Sadly, I can’t get this blog to properly color the word “house” in blue as it should be.) Every work of his, Danielewski deconstructs the idea of the “novel” as a form, and reinvents it. Using every trick of typography imaginable (and some unimaginable), he turns the act of reading a novel into a unique and active experience that derives from the story, but exists outside the story.
Reading a novel is a passive experience, for the most part. Sure, it’s far more active than sitting in front of a screen where nothing is expected from you except a working sensory system. A novel has you converting symbols on a page into meaning and engage your imagination to bring the narrative to life. But it’s still passive in the sense that the traditional novel is just a platform, a means of ingesting a story.
Danielewski’s works expect the reader to be more actively involved than to just look at words in a continuous line from one page through a serious of ordered pages til the end. His books demand for you to interact with it. To actually make choices with how you are going to ingest the narrative, and thus with how the narrative is revealed and understood. My reading of House of Leaves, or Only Revolutions, is going to differ from yours not just because we might be imagining the same story with differences, such as hair color or tone of voice. Our experience of the book will differ structurally, fundamentally.
Well, anyway, he read a relevant bit from House of Leaves, and an interesting chapter from his first volume of The Familiar. And his Q&A session was great! Man, I so wish I’d taken notes. Most people asked really thoughtful questions, and his answers were so well-said, so insightful, and inspiring. The only thing I can remember, and is probably the least interesting thing he said, was “The way you live your life will affect the kinds of things you create.”