History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Usually, I like reading books quickly. I like immersing myself in the world, a quick dive to the bottom of the pool and then back up again for a deep breath and the return of the pull of gravity on my limbs. If I take a long time reading a book, it’s because it’s difficult to read somehow, wordy in a nineteenth-century way or full of page-long sentences like those written by the literary Wunderkinder of the early twenty-first century or populated with a cast of thousands that I need notecards to keep track of.

This novel I read slowly for none of these reasons. History of Wolves drew me into the depths, past the hovering walleye, to a murky, beautiful place full of muffled sounds and a stinging cold from which I was in no rush to return.

Every word of this novel reaches deep. Fridlund wastes nothing. Linda’s memories of belonging and joy are so closely tied to memories of betrayal and pain that she can’t look at either directly. As we read, she circles around and around, getting close to the story and then drawing back, touching back on memories that take on one meaning in the first telling and another in the next. Fridlund puts the reader directly into Linda’s mind, and while it’s not always a comfortable place to be, it’s painfully real. This novel demands a slow read to savor each morsel, to roll each word over the tongue like a pebble.

A friend and I were talking about the difference between a novel about a young adult and a YA novel, and while there are perhaps some generalizations to be made about purpose and literary merit, at the root the difference seems to be one of subtlety. Most YA novels I’ve read at one point or another explain the conflicts of the characters directly, telling the reader explicitly that the main character feels alienated because despite some specific difference—poverty or learning disability or supernatural ability—she’s trying to be accepted by her peer group while remaining an individual. Linda feels the loneliness of a teenager trying to determine her place in the world, trying to feel accepted without blending in, but Fridlund shows all of this indirectly and more clearly and honestly than if she’d just written it outright.

I love this novel. I love the flawed, horrible, beautiful people. I love following Linda through the lakes and the woods, the slush and the mud, and the smell of pine sap and wet dog. I love seeing her poor decisions and her good decisions and the blurred dividing line between the two.

I’ve been reading novels lately with an eye for how they might help me improve my own character, and I can see two lessons that this book offers me on this front.

First is the reminder to experience everything. Hear each bird, smell each pinecone, taste each tropical Skittle, and note our relationship to these things because the same thing can seem different depending on the circumstances.

The second is to question my assumptions. Are the conclusions I’m drawing about the way the world works or about how the people around me act based on a sound premise? Am I leaving something out or missing a piece of the story that would allow me to understand a situation better? Are my assumptions blinding me to situations or evidence that might challenge my understanding of the world and of myself?

I have no memory of how this novel ended up on my to-read list, but I am so glad it was there and that it was on the shelves at my local library when I was looking for something to read.

24in48 January 2019 Wrap-up

Well. I’m done.

Working breakfast on Sunday

Actually, I’ve been done since 9:00 last night when I finished All Quiet on the Western Front just before my alarm went off signalling the end of the readathon, but I decided to sleep before posting my wrap-up.

I estimate that I got in about sixteen hours of reading, which is well short of 24 hours, but not bad overall.

I finished a total of three books.

Two of these—Winter by Ali Smith and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque—I started before the readathon.

The third—Sleep No More by Aprilynne Pike—I read start to finish on Saturday.

I’ve participated in enough readathons now to have developed some guidelines for making them work for me:

Unwritten rule: schedule in breaks to play board games with my family to distract them from the fact that I’m not cooking all weekend.
  1. Choose a TBR that’s smaller than I’d like. This is not the time to be super-ambitious. Pick three or four books that really interest me and maybe one or two alternates.
  2. Include at least one YA or graphic novel in my TBR. YA and graphic novels go quick and give a sense of satisfaction when I see the whole book lying there in my “finished” pile.
  3. Include at least one audiobook. This rule is more important for me during 24-hour readathons. During the 24in48, I have enough leeway to get up and move that I don’t have to be reading the entire time. For example, this time, I went with my family on Sunday morning to play some basketball, but during Dewey’s, I choose to go for a long, long walk and listen to audiobooks to get my reading in while I move around.
  4. Scope out a reading nook or three. This is has been a problem for me in our new house. It’s got an open floorplan and not only is there literally nowhere to go that isn’t noisy when my family are home, I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out a good place to put the furniture for a solid reading spot. It’s not perfect, but I have a little nook in our front room that works okay. I need to scope out a place away from the house, though.
  5. Be prudent about social media. It’s easy for me to get sucked into social media for an hour or more, so I need to be careful to limit myself. I only post on Instagram every six hours or so and on my blog for kickoff, half-time, and wrap-up. I miss out on some of the “community” aspects of the readathon, but it keeps me reading for more of the time.

And that’s pretty much it. I would love to develop some guidelines around snacks—like not buying a huge bag of salt and vinegar kettle chips at Costco at the beginning of the readathon—but that will have to wait for the next readathon, which might not be until October. The next 24in48 is July 20-21, and the next Dewey’s is April 6, but I’ve got family responsibilities during both of those. *sigh*

24in48 Halftime Report

Twenty-four hours into the January 2019 24in48 readathon, and I’m still in the game.

A hand holding a book in front of a bookshelf. The cover of the book has a black-and-white image of a woman's face overlaid with the title Sleep No More and the words Forget the Past, Change the Present, Fight the Future. Aprilynne Pike is printed across the bottom of the book cover.

I finished Ali Smith’s Winter (which I was already halfway through at the start of the event) and read all of Sleep No More by Aprilynne Pike.

That was a very strange sequence of books, but it seems to have worked alright.

Snack-wise, I made some similarly incongruous choices. Half-caff coffee then fruit-infused water. Three bowls of salt and vinegar chips and three bowls of bell pepper slices. Popcorn with homemade vegan nacho seasoning and an apple. Scrambled eggs and dark chocolate (consecutively, not mixed together).

Apple slices on a wooden cutting board.

The chips were probably the snack I most enjoyed and the snack that I most regret.

I estimate that I read for roughly 10 of those first 24 hours. A decent showing. With several things on my schedule for tomorrow, I’m not sure I’ll be able to make the full 24, but I can give it a try.

For now, though: bedtime.

Feet clad in gray slippers crossed and propped on a brown chair on a sunny patio. The legs are in blue jeans and a Kindle Paperwhite is resting on them..
One of my reading spaces today. I couldn’t be bothered to fill the fountain.

Cautious Optimism: Preparing for the 24in48 Readathon, January 2019

January 2018’s 24in48 readathon came when we were deep in moving mode. I made some half-hearted plans to participate, but reading took a backseat to finding lodging and figuring out where to buy food.

After a year here, I’m slowly reclaiming my reading game, and after my bit of success managing Dewey’s this past October, I’m giving 24in48 a try again.

I’ve got a small stack set aside—a Classic to finish (All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque), a book of short stories (Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado), and a YA book my teenager recommended (Sleep No More by Aprilynne Pike, whose middle name I hope for symmetry’s sake is Maria). Plus Ali Smith’s Winter, which I’m reading on my Kindle.

TBR flanked by local limes, meyer lemons, pink lemons, and grapefruit.

Start time is 12am/9pm Eastern/Pacific, but I’m heading to bed shortly and plan to be up and reading bright and early, with a few breaks to shop for groceries, shoot hoops, slice lemons to put in my ice water, and play Harry Potter Hogwart’s Battle Cooperative Deck Building Game.

With any luck, I can do all of that and still get in roughly 24 hours of reading during the 48 hours of the readathon. I plan to post a half-time report here and interim reports on Instagram (@imperfecthappiness).

Let the reading begin!

(Or rather, let the sleeping begin and then let me begin reading in the morning when I’m refreshed, rested, and have had a couple of samples of Trader Joe’s coffee while shopping!)*

The Epic of Gilgamesh

A bit of background: The Epic of Gilgamesh is old. It’s very, very old. So old, it’s more than a little amazing that any of it has survived, let alone enough to put together a cohesive narrative.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is also bizarre. A bizarre, old story. It’s got elements common to familiar creation myths—a flood, a descent from a state of nature precipitated by a wily female—and a really close friendship that seems to be based on the fact that both guys are the biggest and strongest guys around and on their shared interest in gratuitous deforestation.

Perhaps my favorite part is Gilgamesh’s journey after Enkidu’s death. After all of the wanton violence, I appreciate the self-doubt Gilgamesh shows and the wisdom of Uta-Napishti, which the sage delivers with just a little smugness.

I’ve not read any other translations of The Epic of Gilgamesh, but this one by Andrew George worked for me.

I read this as part of round two of my Cavalcade of Classics. You can see all of the titles on the list here.

Bookends: October 2018

October brought cooler weather and a much-needed readathon, which helped me make a good dent in my Cavalcade of Classics list. My goal was to read at least one title from my list each month, and this month I read four. Starting strong and hopefully not burning myself out too quickly.

Regular TBR reads (including those that weren’t on my TBR until I picked them up):

New Boy by Tracey Chevalier (audio)

The Traveling Bag by Susan Hill

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (audio)

Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff (read-aloud)

Ghostland by Colin Dickey

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

From my Cavalcade of Classics:

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (audio)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (audio)

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (on audio)

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Currently Reading:

Gilgamesh Among Us by Theodore Ziolkowski

The Ramayana by Vālmīki ( I’m working on the shortened modern prose version by R. K. Narayan. I can’t tell if it seems weird because it’s just weird or because it’s from a mythology that’s unfamiliar to me or if it’s just the version I’m reading. I might try another version to find out.)

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (audio)

To-Read in November:

November is going to be a challenge. I decided at about 2:00 pm on October 31, to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo. I reached the 50,000-word goal in 2010, attempted but didn’t reach it in 2011, and haven’t tried since. A friend is participating this year, and I figured this would be a chance to show her some support and to try to get something down from a novel idea I’ve been poking around at for a few years.

I figure it could go one of three ways:

  1. I write a lot and meet my daily word count goals and don’t have time to read, or
  2. I read a lot to distract myself from the fact that I’m not meeting my daily word count goals because I’m reading, or
  3. I really nail time management, make the most of the extra hour the end of Daylight Saving gives me, and meet both my reading and my writing goals.

Anything’s possible, but there’s precedent for only two of those possibilities.

Reading goals for November, in addition to completing the books I’m currently reading:

The Odyssey by Homer (Emily Wilson translation)

Circe by Madeline Miller

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What books have your read recently that speak to you? What books are you excited to read in November?

Dewey’s October Readathon Wrapup

And here we are. Another Dewey’s in the books!

I didn’t make it 24 hours, but I didn’t really expect to, either. Around 11:30 last night, I decided I was too tired for reading to be enjoyable, and I knew I needed either to sleep or eat. I chose to sleep with the thought that I’d get a couple hours in and get up to read the last couple of hours until 5am. Instead, I slept like a rock and woke up an hour and a half after the readathon ended. Looks like neither Gilgamesh nor I won immortality this time.*

Still, I did a solid job this readathon. Let’s look at the numbers:

IMG_20181020_214036Books completed: 3

Hours read: about 14 (18 if you count the time I lost to showering and paying attention to my family)

Pages read: 593

Cats petted: 1

Cups of coffee drunk: 1 caf, 2 decaf

Miles walked: 11.68

Closing Survey

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hours 19-24. Or maybe those were the least daunting because I ended up sleeping through them.

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (audio; second half finished)

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (audio; finished)

The Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous (finished)

Gilgamesh Among Us by Theodore Ziolkowski (first 39 pages)

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?

The Call was a great one for a readathon. Plot-driven but with decent character development and just fun to read.

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you happy?

I can’t really think of anything. I feel pretty happy about the readathon as it is.

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep?

I definitely plan to participate again, but I would not be interested in volunteering to help. I mean, I’d be interested, but I know I’d have trouble following through so I don’t want to commit even to thinking about volunteering.

Next Dewey’s is April 6, 2019. My daughter has a band concert that day, but I can probably bring a book.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the 24 in 48 Readathon in January!

*Uta-napishti told Gilgamesh that he could attain immortality by staying awake for six days and seven nights, and Gilgamesh promptly fell asleep for exactly that length of time, which they measured in loaves of bread, a means of calendaring I’m totally behind. Of course, I just read a 5,000-year-old book about Gilgamesh and am currently blogging on the Internet on which nothing dies, so perhaps in that sense, G and I are both immortal.

Dewey’s October Readathon – Midpoint Check-in

Well, I’ve made it to hour twelve! And unlike most other readathons, I have spent most of the past twelve hours reading (or “reading” in the case of audiobooks).

The first nearly six hours were devoted to listening to audiobooks while I walked to, up, and around a local mountain and back home. My tracking app was being temperamental but the total distance was 11.68 miles, more or less.

The hours since have been at home, reading and eating and lazing in the sunshine while my family were out running errands. They’re on their way home now, though, so we’ll see how much reading I get done in the next twelve hours.

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Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Tablet IV of The Epic of Gilgamesh. I’m reading it in translation rather than in the original cuneiform.

2. How many books have you read so far?

I finished two audiobooks, The First Next Time by James Baldwin, which I started earlier this week, and all of The Call by Peadar O’Guilin. In addition to those and the bit of Gilgamesh I’ve consumed, I also listened to about two chapters of The Penderwicks on Gardam Street during lunch with my children.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

I don’t have much more on my list, but once I finish Gilgamesh, I’m looking forward to Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. Although I might just grab my daughter’s copy of The Fault in Our Stars if I get too sleepy.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Not too many interruptions so far, but that’s about to change. Hopefully I can manage my expectations and keep my cool.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

That I’ve read as much as I have. I really like the West Coast 5am start.

IMG_20181020_135620

Dewey’s Readathon – October 2018

It’s time for another Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon!

I’ve had some trouble participating in readathons since we moved in January, but I’m hoping I’m back in action this time around.

I doubt I’ll read for the full 24 hours (I’m over 40 and have things to do tomorrow that will be easier to do if I’ve slept), but I’m going for at least twelve.

My Cavalcade of Classics will be making an appearance this time around, too, wrestling with Gilgamesh for at least part of the time.

I’ll mostly be checking in on Instagram, but I’ll try to post here for big events, like the kick-off.

My books:

The Epic of Gilgamesh (starting page: 12)

Gilgamesh Among Us by Thoedore Ziolkowski (starting page: 23)

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (audio; starting at 1:10:00)

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin (audio)

IMG_20181020_043916

Opening Survey

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I’m reading from San Diego, California. My first West Coast readathon, I’m starting at 5am Saturday with an Epic Walk and an audiobook.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Probably The Epic of Gilgamesh. I’ve already read Tablet 1, and this thing is weird.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

To be honest, the snacks aren’t really on my mind today. If I can manage the reading, I’m sure the snacks will fall into place.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Goodness. Well, I read. I homeschool. I make homemade hand cream. I have a cat. I like to take long walks.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

My stack is much smaller this time, and I’ll be spending more time outside, starting with a three-hour walk and audiobook. Which I’d better get started!

More at the halfway mark! Catch my posts on Instagram to keep up with my adventures more frequently.

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

13784569I listened to this on audio, and I have to admit, the first few hours were pretty brutal. I listened to the first three hours while taking a long walk and nearly cried from the boredom (it wasn’t all the audiobook’s fault, though; I’d picked a particularly blah section of suburban sidewalk along which to amble while listening). But as I stuck with the novel (at 1.5x) it grew on me. Dreiser brought things together in a satisfying way towards the end, allowing Carrie to grow and change throughout the novel and dealing with his characters with compassion even when it was clear that he didn’t approve of their actions.

I kept forgetting that this novel was written before the stock market crash of 1929, before both world wars, even before the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. I need to look back at this time in U.S. history for more context.

I’m definitely getting this one in print so I can read more deeply—and underline. There are some parallels between themes in this book and other books I’m reading/have read recently, and I need the book in front of me to catch them.

This is another title from the second round of my Cavalcade of Classics. Here’s a view from my otherwise boring walk during the first hours of the audiobook. Not so bad when I look back on it now.

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