Bookends: October 2020

During the pandemic, when each day seems to blend into the next, I’ve been trying to make holidays and birthdays stand out a little more. This is not an innate skill for me. I’m not sure if it’s laziness or perfectionism or if the thought of putting away and storing all of the decorations is so unpleasant that it saps the pleasure I feel in the decorations themselves, but it seems to take a lot of work for me to make things special.

I really tried this Halloween. I bought more Halloween decorations—lights for the front of the house, jack-o’-lanterns to hang in a bunch of our windows—and talked early and often with my children about costumes, virtual alternatives to trick-or-treat, and homemade treats to make up for lack of candy from strangers. But I don’t have enough interest in the holiday to carry the full weight of initiating everything, so when my children didn’t take some initiative things just kind of fizzled. I figured if they weren’t into it, I wouldn’t push it.

Then around 7pm on Halloween they looked up from the episode of She-Ra they’d just finished and said, “Man, I wish we’d done more for Halloween!” It was too late for most things, but not too late to carve pumpkins, so they did that just before going to bed. They turned out pretty nice, too.

We’ll toast up the seeds tomorrow and postpone putting away decorations for one night so we can enjoy the lit jack-o’-lanterns for an extra evening. Maybe they’ll remember this experience when it comes time to plan for winter holidays and will be a little more active with planning. I do think I need to put a little more effort into connecting them with family and friends, but it’s difficult. All of our family members live 2000 or so miles away, and most of them aren’t as cautious about COVID as we are so they get together with each other and with friends in person, and there’s not much room in their schedules for virtual get-togethers with California cousins. But since we’re not traveling for the foreseeable future, it’s probably a good idea to prioritize those second-best gatherings.

Now, books!

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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

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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Review: Horror Story And Other Horror Stories by Robert Boyczuk

Horror Story And Other Horror StoriesHorror Story And Other Horror Stories by Robert Boyczuk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend bought this for me, I think because of the hours we devoted in our misspent youth to discussing horror films. Since having kids, I’m not as enthusiastic about horror as I once was (I seem to be more easily scared than I used to be), but I still enjoy the genre and the tingle of being frightened every once in a while. And I was pleased to find that Boyczuk isn’t going for the easy scare with the stories in this collection. The stories touch on very basic and universal human issues (which is a good part of what makes them so scary), and they have literary merit to boot.

Boyczuk explores issues of love and the intricacies of relationships while giving his readers the willies. His characters find that issues in their subconscious with which they haven’t dealt become manifest in the outside world. Love is portrayed as a kind of addiction, and sex as a way of taking something from another person (most literally in the story “Doing Time,” which the notes at the back say was first published in the book Erotica Vampirica, which should give some sense of what sort of story it is).

I found it enjoyable (if disturbing) to see how Boyczuk makes the inner workings of his characters’ psyches part of their external worlds. I found the last story in the collection, “Horror Story,” to be the scariest. I read it after everyone else was in bed and it took a great deal of bravery on my part to turn out the lights all over the house before I turned in for the evening. I’m glad I didn’t read it while my husband was out of town.

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