Bookends: January 2017

January was a very good month to immerse oneself in fiction. To do this, one needed only turn on the news, but, always one to choose the path that’s less likely to give me palpitations even if it requires a little more effort and better lighting, I opted to immerse myself in novels and short stories.

Towards the end of the month, I participated in the 24 in 48 Readathon. It was my first time with this particular readathon, and it only bolstered my burgeoning love of the “athon” philosophy of reading. Binge-reading generally seems more of an antisocial escape than a social activity, but with the magic of the Internet, it can be both. What a world we live in.

Here’s is the list of titles into which I escaped in January:

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January 2017 24 in 48 Wrap-Up Post

Well, the 2017 24 in 48 Readathon, January edition, has come and gone.

I’ll use the official 24in48 closing survey as a guide for my wrap-up:

How many books did you read? Pages?

I finished two books, The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike (325 pages) and Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (436 pages). I also read about ten pages of Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew, so my page total is about 771. And I listened to a little less than an hour of As You Wish by Cary Elwes while I took a constitutional, but I’m not going to attempt to convert that to pages read.

How many hours did you read?

I didn’t keep close track, but I estimate about twelve hours total, maybe fourteen. Some stuff came up that kind of derailed my reading plans (real life is always trying to push into my reading time), so I didn’t spend as may hours reading as I would have preferred.

What do you think worked well in this readathon?

I like the surveys, and I like the 24-in-48 format. I liked reading about the challenges, although I didn’t keep up with them myself.

What do you think could be done to improve the readathon for next time?

Couldn’t say. I didn’t follow the challenges or the social media presence all that well, but I think that’s my thing, not something anyone else needs to improve.

Will you participate in a future 24in48 readathon?

Absolutely. Anything to give me an excuse to bury myself in books for a weekend.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters is the second and last book I finished for this year’s 24 in 48 readathon, matching my “finished” total for Dewey’s Readathon this past October. I cheated a little and read for two hours past the official end of the readathon, but I’m counting it anyway.


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From when I started the book at breakfast-time on Saturday.

This was the second book in a row that I finished reading at 2am, sitting on the floor of the bathroom with the door shut so my late-night reading wouldn’t disturb my spouse, who is much better about observing a healthy, consistent bedtime than I am. He’s also much taller than me.

I’d read very little in the way of crime dramas/murder mysteries until a few months ago when I began feverishly making my way through Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I can’t say with certainty that the commonalities I see between this book and French’s books is also something in common with the genre in general, so I’ll just keep to what I know. Beukes does all of the things that I love about French’s writing, and she does them even more. Like French’s characters, Beukes’s characters are distinct personalities, but they’re even more clearly—yet still subtly—drawn. Both authors weave their characters’ personal lives and a broader cultural commentary into the murder investigation at the core of the novel, but Beukes does it in a manner even more seamless and emotionally authentic. Reading this novel, I was constantly blown away by the virtuosity and subtlety with which Beukes writes.

The biggest difference between French’s novels and Broken Monsters is that Beukes puts no brakes on the bizarre. But while the novel gets really, really weird, Beukes still takes the reader along with her. I happily read bizarre fiction, but there’s usually a self-consciousness about it, a constant awareness that I’m reading something bizarre. But with this novel, the weird just kind of snuck up on me so that, by the time I was really aware of just how weird it was, I was already in it.

I think what made the difference for me was the emotional authenticity that Beukes retains throughout all of the really off-the-wall stuff. There’s a scene towards the end of the novel in which Gabi says something to Layla that makes total sense but I completely didn’t expect. I hesitate to use the word poignant because that implies a level of sap that this scene does not possess, so I’ll just say that the exchange reveals the depths of the love between mother and daughter in a way that’s so surprising in its emotional truth that I cried just a little. Granted, it was almost 2am and I’d been sitting on the tile floor of my bathroom reading for nearly four hours, so perhaps I was in a more vulnerable emotional condition than if I’d been curled up comfortably on the couch and reading well-rested, but while I might not have teared up, I think I would have been surprised and the scene would have retained its emotional truth in either situation.

Two quotes stood out for me. The first, which I’ve truncated significantly because I don’t want to give too much away, stands out because it feels true to how our culture responds to attention-seekers at all levels, especially in this Internet-fueled, post-truth age:

“Just keep giving him attention. Even if it makes you an accomplice to his [expletive]ed-up fantasies.” (405)

And the second just made me smile because I’ve thought it so many times myself (minus the comma splice, of course):

“Hell isn’t other people, it’s other parents.” (316)

To any of my mom-friends who are reading this, I don’t mean you.

The Graveyard Apartment

This is the first book I finished for the 2017 24 in 48 Readathon! I cheated a little and started six hours early, but hey…I finished the book! I’ll post book reviews here on the blog, but if you want the play-by-play, take a look at @imperfecthappiness on Instagram.


img_20170121_091957.jpgOverall, this book was pretty good. It wasn’t super-spooky, but I sat up late to read the whole thing in one sitting (with a break to put the kids to bed) because it was easy to read and because I found the deeper issues in the novel compelling.

There were no huge surprises, horror-wise—an apartment next to a graveyard, misbehaving electronics, weird noises, spooky happenings, a trip to check out city records about the history of the site. There were some things that were unclear or just dropped without further explanation, like the bird and the dark little figures. Some of the language was cliched or otherwise uninteresting, but I have a higher tolerance for this sort of thing in a translation. I found myself wanting to ask my friends who speak/read Japanese to read this and tell me if the word choice was any more skillful in the original Japanese.

One of the biggest things that gave me trouble was that the motivation of the antagonist(s) was unclear. Did they want to drive out the tenants (if so, why make it difficult to leave)? Did they want to kill the tenants (if so, why drag it out)? Are they targeting the one family specifically (if so, why all the collateral damage)? As another reviewer mentions, are they the spirits of dead people or are they malevolent spirits of some other, mythological type? Are they limited in power, as the beginning of the book suggests, or are they omnipotent, as they seem to be by the end (although they apparently still need the elevator)? It seems like the author can’t decide.

Two things kept me interested in this novel. First, the author did an excellent job of maintaining suspense. The action took almost too long for me, but not quite. That’s good suspense.

Second, there’s this intersection of the personal haunted past of the main family in the story and the haunting of the building. Read More

2016: My Year in Books

I know a lot of people can’t wait to see the end of 2016, but the year really wasn’t so bad for me. I’m not a constitutionally upbeat person, and the power of positive thinking gives me hives, but I also don’t experience world events and celebrity deaths as personal tragedies, which has been helpful this year. For me, 2016 wasn’t unrelenting awesomeness, but it wasn’t unmitigatedly awful, either.

2016 was a year of introspection and reevaluation for me. In 2016, I turned forty, I visited Acadia National Park and Prince Edward Island for the first time, my spouse got a job promotion, I helped my religious congregation find a new minister, my son found a best friend, and my daughter grew to within 2.5 inches of my height. We welcomed new family members via birth and marriage, felt the constellation of our family shift as we said goodbye to other family members, and in general grew and changed and lived much as we’ve done in years past.

And in the midst of all of this, I read 89 books. Read More

Bookends: November 2016

Between the cold weather and the relentless holiday cheer, this is the time of year when I just want to curl up with a stack of books and ignore the world. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this month. It’s really helped me avoid buying holiday cards and putting together our yearly photo book. I’ve been making photo books each year since 2005, and while I like having the books to look through and I like that the grandparents appreciate the books, I’m not all that enthusiastic about actually making the books. And this year it’s even worse because with our weekly hikes there are so many pictures to sort through.

With that kind of task looming over me, I derive even more pleasure than usual from retreating into books and sorting my book lists on Goodreads and LibraryThing. I’m a little surprised at just how happy all of this reading and bookish re-organization has made me, but I’m not sure how healthy this happiness is. With my books, I’m fiercely giddy, like a food-aggressive labrador. Only I guess I’m a book-aggressive Charity. Either way, tread with care.

In other news, I would love your suggestions on some books. I’m on a quest for well written, literary horror that I have to read in bed because after closing the book I get too scared to walk through the house with the lights off.

Books I’ve found that are like what I’m looking for are Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and several books by Neil Gaiman (including The Ocean at the End of the LaneCoraline, The Graveyard Book). Bonus points if it’s literary horror by a woman author. None of the books I read this month fit all of these criteria, although Tananarive Due’s The Good House was close. The books already on my list are near the bottom of this post and in my “scary” shelf on Goodreads.

So, let me know your suggestions, and in the meantime, here’s what my family has been afraid to stop me from reading this month:

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

18266071I’m not entirely sure what to think about this book. Parts I enjoyed, but mostly listening to this audiobook felt like a 32.5-hour slog. Well, slightly less than that because three-fourths of the way through I got a new phone with a different operating system and the new app let me speed up the playback. Boris’s accent sounds…interesting sped up.

Although I thought his description of existential depression was spot-on, I neither liked nor trusted Theo. There were odd inconsistencies in his story, like he has a memory of packing up the apartment, but there’s nothing in his story about going back to box everything up after the quick flight away, so where does this memory come from? And way back in the beginning, why the heck didn’t someone take this kid to a hospital right away? He talks about how he’s writing this at the intersection of fiction and truth. Is he admitting to lying? (I hope this is all vague enough not to spoil the plot, but I apologize if it’s not.) Read More

A Failure of Nerve by Edwin H. Friedman

151881For the most part, this book is amazing. It’s full of the kinds of ideas that make my brain feel like it’s been picked up and turned in a different direction. I feel refreshingly disoriented, as though the world holds more possibilities than I realized.

The pages of the library copy I read are porcupined with neon-colored paper flags as I tried to mark all of the passages I wanted to quote, especially from the first five chapters, which apply family systems theory to explain why there are problems within all sorts of systems—families, corporations, governments—that are resistant to fixing by myriad leadership techniques and logical plans of action. These sections helped me understand better what has been going on in the United States during my lifetime (and perhaps for a long time before I was born) and reading them helped decrease my surprise at the outcome of this year’s presidential election. Read More

Bookends: October 2016

I’m typing this from the stairs that overlook our front door, interrupted every few minutes by children dressed in costumes I can’t identify and begging for candy. Actually, it’s less begging and more demanding, and when I offer them the candy bowl, they empty a quarter of it with two handfuls. If the candy is going to last, I’m going to have to start handing it to them myself. Although if I let them take it all right away, I can turn off the porch light and ignore the door for the rest of the night. What a tempting idea…

These kids and their Halloween. They don’t seem to realize that last weekend was the real holiday: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon! Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas pale in comparison, and now that Dewey’s has been and gone, there’s nothing to look forward to until the next readathon in April. (Well, except maybe for this in January.)

I’ve read online about people who give books to trick-or-treaters. It’s an interesting idea, but I wouldn’t want to hand out picture books or middle-grade lit. No, this would be my chance to make a difference in the world outside my household by handing out titles like What Are People For? by Wendell Berry, Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin, Living More With Less by Doris Jantzen Longacre, and How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish. Or I could get into the Halloween spirit and share Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I’d bet their parents would really appreciate my promoting a love of reading in their children.

At any rate, here’s what I read (or stopped reading) this month before I devoted myself to being an active Halloween Scrooge:

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The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

22522805Often, especially when I’m trying to sleep, memories come to me bringing old emotions into the present, leaving me feeling embarrassed or angry or scared—and inevitably tired because they keep my brain churning instead of sleeping. Periodically, I wish there were a way to selectively erase these uncomfortable memories, à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or to declutter them like I do my children’s outgrown toys, leaving me who I am with the benefit of these character-building experiences but without the memory and emotions of the actual experiences themselves. Inevitably I decide I’m better off with all of my memories, which is all the better because they’re here whether I want to scrap them or not, but The Buried Giant has me debating with myself yet again just which would be better, remembering or forgetting. Read More