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House of Leaves: A Novel


House of Leaves: A Novel Cover



Reading Group Guide

1) How did you read the book? Page by page? Zampanòs text, then Truants? What was your reaction to trying to navigate through the book? Confusion? Frustration? Claustrophobia? Terror? Intrigue? How does the form of the novel affect and reflect the emotional and narrative content of the book? How does the experience of reading House of Leaves mirror the experience of the various characters in the novel? In what way (if any) does the reader (and the author, Danielewski) act as a character in the book?

2) What are we to make of Truants claim, made early on (p.xx), that everything we are about to read is false? —the movie does not exist, the house does not exist, even many of the references sited in the footnotes do not exist. Is there anything in the book that we know is real, and more essentially, what does “real” mean in the context of a novel / this novel? Does any one of the major characters in the novel even necessarily exist? Zampanò? Truant (the editors point out that they have never met Truant in the flesh (p.4))? Truants mother? Navidson? And if the contents of Zampanòs scrapbook are false, why would any one of the characters imagine not only the documentary The Navidson Record but create fictional evidence, scholarship and commentary of that documentary? How is the answer different when this question is applied to Danielewski, the actual author of House of Leaves?

3) Is House of Leaves a horror story? In what ways does the novel fit the genre? It what ways does it subvert the conventions of the genre? What is the horror in House of Leaves? Can you make an equally persuasive argument that House of Leaves is in fact a love story?

4) Asked to briefly describe House of Leaves, Danielewski has said in an interview that he “likes to look at House of Leaves as a three-character play: a blind old man, a young man, and a very special, extraordinarily gifted woman.” Who is the “extraordinarily gifted woman” in the novel? What are her gifts? Is her role truly as central as the obviously integral roles played by the “blind old man” and the “young man”?

5) Describe Will Navidson as a husband; a father; a brother. “Why did Navidson go back to the house” (p.385)? In what ways do relations change within the Navidson family over the course of The Navidson Record? How does the house affect these relationships? How do these relationships affect the house?

6) Why does Johnny Truant become so consumed by Zampanòs manuscript? What in particular enthralls him so much - the house? The Navidson Record? The manuscript itself?

7) The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is referenced frequently throughout the book both explicitly and implicitly. In fact, Zampanò has attempted to obliterate all references to Minos and the Minotaur within the text. Truant meanwhile tries to “resurrect” most of these passages (p.111) and later dreams that he is a Minotaur hunted by a drunken frat boy (p.403-406). What is the significance of the Minotaur to the novel? Why does Zampanò cross out all references? And why does Truant then reconstruct them? Another element of the Theseus myth that features prominently is the labyrinth. How does the labyrinth function in the myth? In House of Leaves?

8) One of the major elements of the books layout is the use of different fonts. What fonts are used and how are they significant? For instance, Johhnys text appears in Courier—in what way does Johhny himself act as a “courier”?

9) On page 320, Zampanò appears to have written a typo—“He (Tom) might have spent all night drinking had exhaustion not caught up with me.” Should the “me” be “him”? Why doesnt Truant point this out as a typo, or is this another one of Truants “additions” to The Navidson Record? Is it possible that Zampanò was actually a member of the Navidson family?

10) What are some of the ways that the novel defines and explores the concept of space? In what ways is this concept distorted? How does space change physically, in the house; literally, in the layout of the novel itself; and psychically, in the minds of the characters and between the characters? How do these various spatial changes relate to each other?

11) What does it mean for something to be bigger on the inside than out? Is the Navidsons house the only thing in the book that can be described that way? Can the novel itself be described that way?

12) Much of the scholarship and commentary on The Navidson Record notes the vaginal quality of the house (for example, the footnote on page 358). In what ways is the house vaginal and/or feminine? How does the consumptive femininity of the house relate to Truants (and Navidsons) dysfunctional relations with the opposite sex? And how are the various female characters throughout the novel presented? Is the novel full of strong women or exploited women? Or both?

13) What are we to make of the death of the baby on pages 518-521, which is the last time we hear from Truant and the only time Truant tells us anything completely in third person? How does this story relate to the Minotaur? Whose baby is it? Could the baby be Truant? What does the passage suggest about Truants mother locked away inside “The Whale”?

14) What can we tell about Truants relationship with his insane mother, Pelefina Heather Lievre, especially from looking at the Whalestoe Institute Letters? Does she have any relationship to Zampanò? Navidson? Karen? On page 615, one can read the encoded line: “Dear Zampanò, Who did you lose?” This is found in the passage that follows if you take the first letter of each word, spelling “&:” as “and”: …destroyed. Endless arrangements—re: Zealous accommodations, medical prescriptions, & needless other wonders, however obvious—debilitating in deed; you ought understand—letting occur such evil?” Who did Zampanò lose? Why would Truants mother ask?

15) How does Johnnys story end? What is Johnnys mental state as the book comes to a close? Is the end of Johnnys story the end of the novels story?

16) One of the centerpieces of the novel is a film, and Danielewski has said that film and film criticism were a (if not, the) major influence on the writing of the novel. In what ways would you describe the book as “cinematic”? How is the language of film (high angle, low angle, jump cut, pan, etc.) used in the text and reflected in the scenes chosen and in the layout? Going further, the novel contains references to the work of Fellini (for example, Zampanò shares his name with a character in the film, La Strada). What are the film allusions in the book and how do they inform the story?

17) Danielewskis sister is the rock singer POE and her album, Haunted, serves, in many ways, as a companion piece to House of Leaves (and vice versa). How do the album and the novel echo, mirror, and distort each other? How does the song “5-Minute Hallway” reflect the themes in the book? How about the two versions of “Hey Pretty”?

18) Danielewski originally self-published House of Leaves on the Internet. In what ways does the novel comment on the Internet and the “information age”? The novel has been called the “first major experimental novel of the new millennium.” In what ways is the novel a product of its times and a comment on its times?

19) The House of Leaves has been published in various editions, including the web edition, the US hardcover, the US softcover, the UK edition, etc. These editions have been different in a number of ways (see “A Note On This Edition” on the copyright page for descriptions of some of these differences). What does the existence of these various editions suggest? More specifically, what do their variations mean?

20) What is the significance of the blue type in the book? In what various ways and to what effect is the blue type used? Why “blue”? And very specifically, why does the word “house” always appear in blue?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 20 comments:

clloop, February 9, 2015 (view all comments by clloop)
One of my favorite books of all time although its hard to describe to some one. 3 stories intertwined all relying on the others. I am not a horror novel fan in general, but this story draws you in and your heart will race wondering what may be around the next turn. The navidson record alone would make for a good book, but the way the other two stories feed off it make this an amazing read.
Years later it will have you saying "the house was bigger on the inside", while people look at you like your crazy.
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michaelleehoward, October 22, 2014 (view all comments by michaelleehoward)
One of the best books ever written. It is a compilation of three stories one of them a ghost story that scared me ..... to this day I have no clue why but such a brilliant book
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
WongKaiWen, December 22, 2012 (view all comments by WongKaiWen)
This is without a doubt one of the most engrossing books I've ever read in my life. I'm almost embarrassed to admit the amount of notes I've scrawled in various notebooks while reading it. You can call this book a horror story, but you can also call it a love story. You might call it the reinvention of the novel, or at the very least it's a book that makes you question your ideas about what a novel could or should be. About where the line is between fact and fiction, author and creation, about investing ourselves in a story we know isn't real. But more than all the surface elements I talked about, this book is an exploration of the human psyche, about characters who are dealing with issues of identity, sorrow, loss, regret, obsession. And those things more than anything about this book is why months after reading it I'll get random flashes from the book and an irresistible urge to pick it up. It haunts you, but in a way that makes you want more. Read it. If only just for novelty of the reading experience. As an added bonus, those readers who are truly obsessive will undoubtedly realize how much more is going on in this book and spend many a sleepless night trying to solve a riddle with no answer and reach the end of a path only to realize they've been walking in a circle.
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Product Details

A Novel
Danielewski, Mark Z.
Introduction by:
Truant, Johnny
Truant, Johnny
Pantheon Books
New York :
Poetry (poetic works by one author)
Horror fiction
Horror tales
Experimental fiction
Horror - General
Edition Number:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
March 7, 2000
Grade Level:
9.17 x 7 x 1.39 in 2.5 lb

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House of Leaves: A Novel New Trade Paper
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Product details 736 pages Pantheon Books - English 9780375703768 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

"Saints be praised, this is the best book of the new millennium. A veritable tour de force. Pynchon meets Stephen King meets Robert Hughes meets Borges meets Dante. Joycian. Jungian. Mythic. Any clich used by fawning literary critics applies. Yadda Yadda Yadda. Impossible to put down. Impossible to believe it's his first book. I spent several hours trying to figure out if Danielewski was an anagram, which is a fraction of the time I spent deciphering the many anagrams, puzzles, hidden meanings and symbols which make this book so rich. It's an allegory/horror story/love story/philosophical soft porn/psychological thriller. It scared the crap out of me. It made me cry. It filled me with joyous rapture. I stopped eating, sleeping, working, (please ignore that boss) just to finish it. Then I started it again and it's better the second time. Hurrumph. Yammer. Gawk. OK I'm back. It's a book about a guy who finds a manuscript about a film about a family who have moved into a house that is smaller on the outside than it is on the inside. If I told you any more I'd have to kill you (or maybe you'd have to kill me.) I've already said too much."

"Review" by , "An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel...that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted house tale....One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year."
"Review" by , "[A] wonderful first novel....[F]unny, moving, sexy, beautifully told, an elaborate engagement with the shape and meaning of narrative."
"Review" by , "Danielewski's eccentric and sometimes brilliant debut novel is really two novels....One — the horror story — is a tour-de-force....[T]he novel is a surreal palimpsest of terror and erudition, surely destined for cult status."
"Review" by , "This stunning first effort is destined for fast-track cult status....This work is a kaleidoscopically layered and deconstructed H. P. Lovecraft-style horror story. It hums and resonates with wonder, dread, and insight."
"Review" by , "Danielewski employs avant-garde page layouts that are occasionally a bit too clever but are generally highly effective....It is simultaneously a highly literary work and an absolute hoot....[P]owerful and extremely original..."
"Review" by , "This demonically brilliant book is impossible to ignore, put down, or persuasively conclude reading. In fact, when you purchase your copy you may reach a certain page and find me there, reduced in size like Vincent Price in The Fly, still trapped in the web of its malicious, beautiful pages."
"Review" by , "House of Leaves actually gave me nightmares: I had to stop reading it before bedtime. I'm sure klaxons will be set blaring around it and klieg lights will be trained on it, and so they should. Its secrets are rich and obscure. Danielewski's textured novel is about apprehensions, in all senses of the word: to anticipate with dread, to seize, to understand. If you can imagine that Peter Pan's enemy is not Captain Hook but Neverland itself, or that the whale that swallows Jonah is Moby-Dick, you'll begin to appreciate what this book is about. Anticipate it with dread, seize, and understand. A riveting reading experience."
"Review" by , "A great novel. A phenomenal debut. Thrillingly alive, sublimely creepy, distressingly scary, breathtakingly intelligent — it renders most other fiction meaningless. One can imagine Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, Stephen King, and David Foster Wallace bowing at Danielewski's feet, choking with astonishment, surprise, laughter, awe."
"Synopsis" by , A family relocates to a small house on Ash Tree Lane and discovers that the inside of their new home seems to be without boundaries.
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