The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.
I just spent two weeks in Northern California – a place that is incredibly familiar and that I am lucky to call home. While we were on the plane flying back to Virginia on Tuesday, my three year old told me, “I can’t remember what our house looks like.” We spent some time describing everything that might be familiar to him, but he still could not remember our home. There is something so uncanny about how our minds and memories navigate what is familiar to us and how fast we forfeit our sense of familiarity.
On that note, Freud makes a really interesting point in his 1919 essay, “The Uncanny.” He explains that everything that is new or novel is not necessarily uncanny. The uncanny often makes the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end, but for this to happen, the strange or unfamiliar experience needs to be surrounded by what is familiar.
Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle elaborate on this strange paradox:
“The uncanny has to do with a sense of strangeness, mystery or eeriness. More particularly it concerns a sense of unfamiliarity which appears at the very heart of the familiar, or else a sense of familiarity which appears at the very heart of the unfamiliar. The uncanny is not just a matter of the weird or spooky, but has to do more specifically with a disturbance of the familiar. Such a disturbance might be hinted at by way of the word ‘familiar’ itself. ‘Familiar’ goes back to the Latin familia, a family.“
There is arguably nothing more familiar than family and the idea of home. This is why our current articulation of the uncanny points back to both the German and Latin linguistic origins to communicate its fullest meaning of home and family or what is unhomely and unfamiliar.
I say all this as a primer to announce our next book club selection. This season we are reading The Familiar: Volume I: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski.
Most of you know that I choose books I think you will enjoy and that I haven’t read. While I typically read side by side with you and share my thoughts and insights as we go, this time around I have something special in store. There are a handful of veteran MZD readers who are going to lead, support, and encourage us through this book. I met them online and know they have the humble, intellectual curiosity that characterizes our Book Oblivion community.
We are going to spend six weeks reading The Familiar. The book is separated into acts, and we will read one act each week. They will lead discussions over the weekends, but you’re always welcome to post any thoughts you have as you read, no matter when that is. All of the discussion will take place in our private Facebook group.
I chose this book for a lot of reasons. Mark Z. Danielewski is the author of House of Leaves – a book our community read together a few years ago. I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun reading a book, and I learned a ton from the others members of our group. I remember glossing over the music that spanned a few pages because I don’t know how to read music. When we got together to discuss it, one person whistled the notes while another person identified the song. My experience of the novel deepened through our communal read. That single experience really fueled my desire to read in community and is one of the driving forces of Book Oblivion. More than anything, I wanted to read this book with you because I know we will learn from one another and find joy in reading it together.
But there is still one more reason I moved it to the front of our reading list.
The novel (if you can call it that), The Familiar, is a total of 27 volumes. The volumes are published in a series, and the first series consists of five volumes. Those first five volumes are the only books published so far. The second series is due out soon, but according to the publisher, the series is “on pause.” Basically the series is not selling and the remaining 22 volumes will remain in limbo if readers like you and I don’t do something about it.
If you’re in our Critical Theory & Philosophy Reading Group or are part of our Reading Beyond Murakami community, then chances are you are already familiar with Mark Z. Danielewski. If you have not had the pleasure of reading him, then you are in for a treat. His work is a really good fit for the minds in our community. I can *almost* guarantee his work will resonate with you.
Mark Z. Danielewski is single-handedly changing what it means to read a novel. He is taking risks, and because of that, his work has got a kind of cult following that does not always translate to popular culture. You do not read his novels, they read you, and they read you in a deeply disruptive way that is difficult to put into words. When The Familiar: Volume 5 – Redwood was released and sent to readers on Halloween of last year, it actually smelled like Redwood. When I first heard that, my jaw dropped.
Not quite sure you want to join us? Here’s how critics describe the book:
“Sweeping ambition and fierce intelligence… A quintessential novel of our time.”
~Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times
“…the fusion of art and language is exhilarating and even frightening.”
~Stuart Kelly, The Guardian
“Funny, moving, sexy, beautifully told, an elaborate engagement with the shape and meaning of narrative.”
~Robert Kelly, The New York Times Book Review
I hope you’re ready and willing. We’ll start reading in two weeks to give everyone a chance to order the book. We’ll kick off our discussion of Act One on Friday, May 4. We’ll read one act a week for six weeks. In the next few weeks, we’ll be posting different primers that will help inform the text. If you end up wanting to move on to the other four volumes in the series, we can definitely do that together in our Facebook group as well. For now, we’ll focus on Volume One and we will read and discuss the sections based on the schedule below.
You can purchase the book HERE or find it at your local bookstore. And you can request to join our private Facebook group here to read with us. Even though Dorothy says there’s no place like home, I’m looking forwarded to traveling through time and space with you all in the unfamiliar pages of this book.
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3 thoughts on “Mark Z. Danielewski on Craving the Familiar”
Looks like something I will need to pick up, at my local bookseller-definitely not suitable for Kindle.
Agreed! I’m actually surprised it’s even available on Kindle.
A belated follow up comment to our earlier conversations – I ended up purchasing the Kindle version in addition to the physical copies of the book and it’s beautiful. I was really surprised. If you need to travel and read the series, the possibility is there.
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