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

The 24 in 48 Readathon!

While friends march with thousands of others around the world, I’m reading. It’s not as extroverted an activity, but it’s subversive in its own quiet way, I suppose.

This is not my first readathon, but it’s my first time doing the 24 in 48 Readathon. I’ve done Dewey’s twice, and trying to read for twenty-four hours straight is awesome but especially challenging for someone with two kids and four decades and a desire to nurture her love for literature, not flog it to death. Reading for twenty-four hours within a forty-eight-hour spread is much more doable (and pleasant!). Not that I’m keeping track of how much time I spend reading, or at least not with any precision. But it’s a fun way to continue recovering from the cold my children shared with me and it gives me a chance to clean out the leftovers from the fridge.

This year, I chose a bunch of scary books. I generally don’t have trouble staying awake when I’m reading, but these should keep me from nodding off, if I start to fade in the wee hours or in an afternoon slump.

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(Okay, so that bottom book, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman isn’t scary unless you fear travel memoirs, but the other ones should qualify as “scary.”)

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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

Readathon Preparations

With today’s trip to the library, my Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon pile is ready for Saturday!

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Dewey’s 24 Hour #Readathon Wrap-Up Post

Well, there goes my first readathon. On the one hand, I didn’t read much, but on the other hand, I did well pacing myself. It was more of a read-a-5k than a read-a-thon for me.

Books:

I read sixty pages of Mary Beard’s SPQR and one hundred twenty-one pages of Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett M. Davis. I didn’t finish any books. *sigh*

Food:

I ate grapefruit, mango, macaroons, kale chips, kale salad, a grain-free muffin, rice crackers, Caribbean Beans and Greens (Moosewood recipe. My spouse and kids opted for collards and beans instead of pizza. It was a weird day), Read More

Raising Readers: Selecting Books

A week or so ago, I wrote about how my spouse and I accidentally created a Reading Culture at our house, and then accidentally inculcated our children into it.

Today, I wanted to write about how our kids get books into their hands. Do they read just what they’re assigned to read by parents and teachers, or do they read only what they pick for themselves? Do my spouse and I limit what they are allowed to read, or do we let them  read whatever printed materials they get their hands on?

In our house, the short answer to both questions is: It’s something in between. Read More

Raising Readers: Reading Culture

I was sitting and reading one afternoon last fall when the cat got up from my lap and, wakened from the world of the novel on my lap, I realized that the house was very quiet. So, I decided to check on the kids. I looked in on them in the room we’ve dubbed “The Library,” and both of my  children were sitting on the couch, reading silently to themselves. They looked up at me and smiled and then looked back at their books.

“Holy cow!” I thought. “Finally, we can all read as a family!” Smiling, I went back to my book and my couch in the other room.

Friends have asked me how we got to this point. How did we get our kids to love reading? How do we get them to choose reading over screens and devices? In a recent post, Cheyanne of Tangerine Wallpaper posited some related questions, and I figured the topic of reading was worth a blog post (or two).

Really, we didn’t set out to make our kids into readers, but when I look at our house, I realize that we have developed something of a reading culture in our house, and even though we didn’t develop this reading culture for the purpose of promoting a love of reading in our kids, I think it contributes to the reading habits my kids have developed. Here’s what our reading culture looks like: Read More

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

Welcome to Braggsville
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shortly after I moved from North Carolina to the San Francisco Bay Area, I saw a promo for a TV documentary that described the Bay Area as “the epicenter of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.” It was my first inkling that the Bay Area thinks of itself as the center of a pre-Copernican universe, the celestial body around which all of the rest of humanity revolves.

A year or so later, my spouse and I were having dinner with a couple who introduced us to James Fowler’s six (or seven, counting Stage 0) Stages of Faith. Over bok choy and warm water with lemon, they told us with all seriousness that most parts of the world, especially the American South, are at Stage 2 (“Mythic-Literal”) while the Bay Area is at Stage 5 or Stage 6 (Stage 6 being “enlightenment”). (This couple also lived in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood because of the lower home prices and then hired a full-time Colombian nanny so they could send their daughter to private school and she would still learn Spanish.)

So, the weather is awesome, but the culture is a little full of itself. (“Why would you live anywhere else?”)

As such, I was tickled when T. Geronimo Johnson imported a bit of Bay Area intellectual hubris to small-town Georgia. Read More