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Publication and Sequel

Now that we are several months out from when we first read The Familiar, more information is available about its sequel and the final design of the book. We spent a lot of time interpreting the black and white design elements of the pre-release copy, and it will soon be available in full color with even more interpretations. To the left is the book’s cover, and I think it does a fantastic job of introducing the reader to what they will experience while reading it. Not only does it include a pattern of the margin symbols (which, I believe, we now know are some sort of timeline), but the images within the 1 become less clear the more you look at them. I see what appears to be a dinner plate and centerpiece overlaid by two different kinds of orbs. The one on the left looks especially sic-fi, while the one on the bottom seems to show the functions of the Orb with its warped presentation of human silhouettes in front of the sun or some other source of light.

The Amazon page also provides more information about Volume IIInto the Forest, which is set for release on October 27, 2015.

The Familiar, Volume 1  Wherein the cat is found . . .
The Familiar, Volume 2  Wherein the cat is hungry . . .

From the universally acclaimed, genre-busting author of House of Leaves comes the second volume of The Familiar, a “novel [which] goes beyond the experimental into the visionary, creating a language and style that expands the horizon of meaning . . . hint[ing] at an evolved form of literature.”*

This seems like good news for cat lovers, as the cat is presented as the main focus of the series. It is also ominous about what it means that the cat is hungry. The way Xanther found the cat was odd enough, and now I am really curious about what exactly it is hungry for—perhaps the birds we saw in the preview for this book?

I’ll be preordering the sequel, and I think the pace at which the books are being released bodes well for those of us who don’t want to be in our 40s (or older) when the final volume is released.

Thoughts on the cover design and the hints about Volume Ii?

The Emotional Visuality of The Familiar and Maus

Both Spiegelman’s Maus and Danielewski’s The Familiar incorporate many more visual elements into the storytelling process than do most novels. Maus, as a graphic novel, naturally relies more on the image as a plot device, yet both novels make use of their visual aspects as a more visceral and ineluctable means of portraying the emotions and thought processes of central characters. In Maus, for instance, the manner in which dialogue is delivered is often revealed through the construction of the speech bubble; Spiegelman typically shows distress or fear through more jagged bubbles and enlarged or bold text, while narration from Vladek is printed outside of the frames to contextualize it for the reader. We also see Vladek’s body separated into several different panels in another scene in which he explains that almost his entire family was killed during the war, showing the physical embodiment of his shattered mental state (276). The most inflated examples of this sort of emotional expression through the image can be found in the “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” section, which takes on an almost surrealistic form; Spiegelman here embodies the turmoil and guilt he felt after his mother’s suicide in monstrous depictions of his father and his mother’s doctor (102-5). Moreover, his depression seems to affect even his more mundane perceptions as streets and figures are transformed into harsh and deformed geometrical contours, defamiliarizing them to make the world appear strange and frightening.

The functions of the visual aspects in The Familiar often work similarly in giving insights into characters’ psyches, yet on a more structural level. One of the most common examples in the novel is the abundant use of negative (white) space on the page to give a sense of the character’s excitement or fear; we see this, for example, when Anwar and Xanther return home with the cat (657). Not only does this technique mirror the rushed or confused thoughts of the character, but it also forces the reader to flip through the pages faster and faster, creating a real physical embodiment of the narratives racing speed. In the chapter’s following Cas and Bobby, the form of the orb dominates the page in much the way it dominates these characters’ thoughts, and as the reader learns more about the orb it shifts from a hollow outline to actually containing text itself, becoming more of an integrated part of the text than an obstruction. Even the fonts and syntax used in The Familiar seem to embody the personalities of the characters that they are associated with in many ways, like Özgur’s stocky bold or Astair’s heavy use of bracketing and parentheses.

The Subversion of the Human-Animal Hierarchy in The Familiar and Disgrace

In Danielewski’s The Familiar and Coetze’s Disgrace, we see the subversion of the animal-human relationship play out through the experiences of central characters. Both David Lurie and Astair, whether they openly admit it or not, can be seen as perpetuating this sort of rigid order through their assumptions of what an animal is and is not. Lurie, soon after he arrives at Lucy’s farm, tells his daughter that “as for animals, by all means let us be kind to them. But let us not lose perspective. We are of a different order of creation from the animals” (74). While he claims that this order of humans is not necessarily higher, “just different,” it feels rather clear from the pandering condescension of his tone in this passage that he truly feels otherwise. He continues, saying that “if we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we feel guilty or fear retribution,” more or less refuting his own statement on the relative equality of the two orders; would we not feel guilty for rearing humans in the deplorable conditions of modern corporate farms? By rejecting the notion of human guilt in regards to the way we treat animals, he is either taking an extremely callous position towards suffering or acknowledging that animals are not, in fact, on the same level as humans in his eyes. Yet, his position seems to change as the novel continues, perhaps first evidenced in the scene in which Lurie moves the goats waiting to be slaughtered to a grassier patch of land so that they can eat, and again later when he builds a relationship with the injured dog at the animal clinic. While the extent of his transformation is somewhat ambiguous by the novel’s conclusion, the fact that “he no longer has difficulty in calling [what he gives the dogs] by its proper name: love,” suggests a new sympathy for animals in Lurie and an acknowledgement of their ability to experience complex ‘human’ emotions (219).

While Astair’s transformation may be less apparent, her views towards animals are illuminated by her desire for a dog and the juxtaposition of this desire with Xanther’s pure love for the kitten. Astair “just envied (envies?) how easy dogs made saying hello to a stranger (seem(!)). A dog would get her out of the house… [and] out of her head” (442). Here we see that Astair’s desire for a dog is not motivated by altruism or a legitimate want of companionship. Rather, she seems to view the dog simply as another accessory with which she could make her own life easier, seeing the animal as a being itself only to the extent to which it could improve her own life with no regard for how she could improve its life. Interestingly, both Astair and Lurie are academics and seem to view animals only in terms of abstractions rather than as real creatures; for both of them, any given animal seems to function more as an archetype of its species than an individual, perhaps reflecting the rather humanistic persuasion of academia which values intelligence most of all and thus relegates creatures seen as unintelligent to the sidelines of society. At first, Lurie even distances himself from the bleakness of his euthanasia work at the clinic through the German abstraction of “Lösung,” allowing him to shield himself from the reality of the situation to some extent behind a cold and emotionless concept (142). Only through hands-on experiences with the animals is he able to overcome the distance engendered by his abstractions as he learns that animals are not representative of the entirety of their species, but rather are individuals themselves in many ways. To some extent, then, both authors seem to be commenting on how abstractions can function as a sort of self-deception or cognitive dissonance which allows for the perpetuation of cruel practices towards animals; when animals are conceptualized as non-individualistic and unemotional, it is much easier to justify their suffering than if we legitimately choose to view them as distinct individuals with desires and even with the ability to love.

Does Danielewski draw, write, or both at the same time to bend our minds?

“Signiconic = sign + icon. Rather than engage those textual faculties of the mind remediating the pictorial or those visual faculties remediating language, the signiconic simultaneously engages both in order to lessen the significance of both, and therefore achieve a third perception no longer dependent on sign and image for remediating a world in which the mind plays no part.”

In my reading of this definition, the instance in which “rain” is spattered five thousand times across the page, is Mark Z. Danielewski inserting the Sigiconic into his narrative style.

Both language and image are being sublimated—an aesthetic effect is achieved by giving prominence to neither word nor picture, but equal disregard to both. The result is a zen-like suspension between grasping and grasping at straws.

As a comic book reader, this technique does not seem new, and it makes me wonder how far ergodic technique can go before its treading graphic novel waters.


As I read this book, I am noticing the time stamps on some of the pages. They are not in sequential order, nor are the dates the same. The time stamp shows military time, date, and the location (5/10/14 and 5/11/14). Seems that the location does coincide with the location of that particular story, rather, at this time, it is hard to tell what exactly it means. We can assume that the author is trying to tell us the location immediately but I feel we are to view each story and blend them together with time and space.

Has anyone any ideas to this assumption?

700701 magic tricks; where’s your cat?

Les Chats

Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.

Amis de la science et de la volupté
Ils cherchent le silence et l’horreur des ténèbres;
L’Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S’ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s’endormir dans un rêve sans fin;

Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d’étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d’or, ainsi qu’un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.

— Charles Baudelaire

The Familiar “kindle edition”?

When I was looking online to see the cover image that is being advertised with the book now, I discovered that the book is going to be available for purchase in Kindle edition here:

This naturally had me wondering what effect the digitalization of the book will have. I think that having the book be an ebook would beparticularly interesting with respect to the narcons since they (like e-readers) are a fusion of technology and storytelling. I wonder, though, if the unique visual aspects of the book (like the symbols in the spine of the book or the dog eared pages) will be lost in a kindle version of the book…


Little solace comes

to those who grieve

when thoughts keep drifting

as walls keep shifting

and this great blue

world of our

seems a house of leaves

moments before the wind.

Regarding the official cover art

I’m curious to know what people make of the relevance that pink has to THE FAMILIAR? Our copies are pink, which is apparently intentional because if you look up the official cover online you will notice that the title is the same shade of pink there as well. In HOUSE OF LEAVES the word House was always blue on account of the backdrop-like canvas it represented (a blue screen of sorts) so I’m figuring that there must be a deeper meaning behind the color pink as it is used here. Anyone care to hypothesize?

How many…?

Saying I was mildly concerned about Xanther’s rummaging through the grime in that rain storm would be putting it, well, mildly. But that’s just the hypochondriac in me talking.

Yesterday, I commented on ktoney2015’s form and function post highlighting the several instances of pages with deliberately unreadable text: text so small it requires a magnifying glass, or blurry text etc. Immediately after this, I come upon a few pages with painted text that look like rainbows and raindrops. At this point it becomes obvious that the novel is doing something other than inviting reading–at least not in the demotic sense of the word “reading”–although maybe in our broader, critical sense.

At first glance at those pages (478-79; 494-5; 506-7; 514-15), I half expected the characters to be binary. We’re all probably familiar with the trope of constructing visual images out of a bunch of ones and zeros, which become apparent as the image is magnified beyond recognition. I actually almost couldn’t stop myself from viewing the raindrops on p. 514 as zeros–so I guess from that perspective the rain would represent ones? Except, there really is no difference between the zeros and the ones, since the ones (raindrops-in-flight) become the zeros as soon as they hit the ground in a puddle. Then, of course, the circularity of the raindrops and the puddles they carve into the ground is reminiscent of that clock ticking out its seconds up to 5:32

5:33. (Bones Nest chapter)

I guess I never really spend too much time wondering what cryptic things mean. There’s a certain freedom in accepting the solipsism of the text, and I revel in that. An earlier post mentioned how much this novel is meant to be viewed, and not merely read, and I agree with that. It requires that you allow its import to bypass your intellect and mean (signify?), even when you don’t know just what it means. (MacLeish, anyone?) “How many raindrops” is the chapter’s (even the novel‘s) refrain, and to me that “means” how many pages, how many lines, sentences, words, letters, pixels… A lot, and the experience is actually kind of in the deluge of the text, the overwhelming power of it that cannot be contained, counted, arranged in any particular way. Understood.