Saturday, October 26, 2013

House of Leaves Review

House of Leaves is a novel written by Mark Z Danielewski and it is unlike any other (my, one line so far and this is already starting to sound like a raving review;  bear with me for a sec while I'll explain).

Let's start with the plot.  It has at least three parallel storylines that work on separate levels and time frames and from the various character viewpoints. The main thread, and the rest in their own way, focus on a house. This house has something peculiar to it which, as time goes on, begins beckon it's inhabitants until it reveals itself as a full-fledged manifestation. The phenomenon clearly merits investigation and the rest of this storyline details its progress and ultimate results in a Blair Witch fashion (not a spoiler!). 

The other threads house the main narrative in a meta sense and revolve around it.

Now, this has been seen in one form or another before. The construction of the book adds another layer to what is already a riveting foundation making it leapfrog over others & wannabes. It starts pedestrian enough with text and footnotes. Then the footnotes begin to grow, other supporting material emerges, text boxes shift and rotate and towards the end the text itself become s part of the setting. Other devices used include text color, blot outs, quotes, color photos, some comic panels and more. Oh, and the book is also self-referential.

There are some unstated enigmas which the reader can try to unravel with the help of an included index (how many novels have an index?).

From so many schemes one must conclude that this book can only exist in physical book format. In fact it appears as if the author tried to push the format as far it would comfortably go. It is architectural. That's the one word summary. Other formats simply cannot do it justice, as House of Leaves is so very visual and spatial.  A movie perhaps could perhaps only capture part of the whole, but definitely not all.

In light of what has been said, this book will appeal not only to those who like weird stories and some horror, but also to those that like, or are involved in, story crafting and who like to see how all the pieces fit together. It will also be of special interest to those who love books as objects.  Despite being a paperback, it can find a place in any booklover's collection.

In a world quickly shifting towards e-readers and tablets after a couple of millenia of the codex rule, it is comforting and, why not, exciting to see the old format still pull new tricks.

5 stars
You can take a look at last year's Halloween special here

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Balashov: Relativistic traveler

Just something I found cute. In chapter 4 Part IX of War and Peace general Balashov is sent with a letter and a message to Napoleon from emperor Alexander. With all possible speed he sets forth on his mission only to fulfill it after a week or so of travel, arriving to the same city, the same building, and the same room were he was given his orders.  An early case of relativistic time dilation?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Lonjing Dragon Well tea

The Longjing (aka Lung Ching)is a famous green tea from China that received the 1988 gold medal from the Institute of Quality Selection. At the present time I'm trying to get tea of differing  grades and locations for a project of mine and this Longjing has been in my radar for a while. I finally got a few grams at my local teashop.

Must say that I had some high expectations for this one. Among these, was to get a high grade alternative to Japanese sencha. Had to be tasty and not too expensive. It passed latter requirement with 100g@$17. I was underwhelmed with the former: it was too difficult to get anything out of it. Here's what happened on the first go.

3 minutes: almost transparent; tasteless
4 minutes: same aspect; still tasteless
5 minutes: some pale color now; still a long way to go
7 minutes: greenish golden liquor; faint flavor
10 minutes: marginally more intense; about the same taste
15 minutes: Oh, I give up. It is not giving anything more.

I know, I know, these are unusual steeping times for green, but I had to know if something would turn up in the end. One can get more from regular white tea on a quick steep than from this one. On the positive side it never turned bitter.

Now, really; I was half-jesting in the last paragraphs. Subsequent trials were more successful by adding more initial leaf: this compensated the faintness enough to yield a pleasurable brew. Since this is my first time with this tea, I do not know if it should be this way. Maybe I got a bad batch or something. I got the very last couple of ounces from the big tin at the shop and even the owner asked me if I was sure to take it all. "Sure! Pile it on!"

When properly prepared I find something buttery about it. As with the rest of the Chinese greens that I've tasted, this one stays well-behaved and rounded. Another plus is its non-grassiness.

So, pending an alternative source, I'd say skip this one in favor of other alternatives and come back to it later.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Theodore Rex

Bio writer Edmund Morris has a top-notch trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt. I've read all three on audiobook format and wanted to say that the centerpiece, Theodore Rex, which comprises Teddy's years in the White House is ironically the driest of the trio and wanted to give a warning. Unlike the other two, in which the charm of Roosevelt shines, this one emphasizes the political agenda to a higher degree which swamps the anecdotal. Up to a point, that's fine if that's the reader's interest or has to know the finer points of the policies followed during TR's tenure. But to me these felt like too much. Also, in the case of the unabridged audiobook version, the reader is a different person. The reader for the first and third books, Mark Deakins, is so good that you feel as if Teddy himself was speaking, specially when he imitates his quirks. In conclusion, T-Rex feels so different as to appear written by another author and that's no good. Go for the abridged edition.

Update 4/18/15: I'll backpedal a bit here. I'm rereading Theodore Rex and, if taken by itself, it is an enjoyable experience after all. The first sections in which Mr Morris, sets President Roosevelt's agenda is well-woven with the final trip of William McKinley and that the newly sworn-in to Washington covering the personal, political, international, domestic, economic and that of conservation in an attractive way. This echoes the profile of the big T at the start of the first book. The rest of the book is first-rate on the day-to-day proceedings and events and once it gets rolling has its own charm if taken on its own. Once more, the interweaving is to be noted for its seemingly effortlessness and the periodic appearances of the Roosevelt children always brings a smile. Even if its breaks the continuity, if you are planning of tackling the trio, start with this one first   Had to be fair.