The 2018 Reading Challenge

This really isn’t a book blog, because there are many book blogs out there run by people who a) are better writers than I am, and b) read more books in general. But I do like books, all kinds (except for you tragic grimdark novels, buzz off), and so I do like doing an occasional “52 Book Challenge.”

A 52 book challenge is an informal agreement to read 52 books in a year, or around one a week. Sometimes it’s a free-for-all, but my utter horror at making my own decisions prompts me to find guidelines for the challenge, such as this:

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The above was the challenge I attempted to do with my sister and my good friend Wendy, several years ago. Spoiler, we failed, but we attempted. Attempting was done.

The last time I did this challenge, I discovered some interesting new books- like Abhorsen– and some frankly terrible books, like Frankenstein.

Don’t try to tell me Frankenstein is good. It’s a million pages of story so dry you could sand a bench with it.

The point being, the challenge coaxes you into broadening your horizon, which is why I’m going to try again for 2018, with the list provided here. Will I give up? Oh, most definitely, probably around book 15. But it’s nice to feel like you’re trying something.

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Part of one of my bookshelves. Perhaps a fifth of these books are unread or only partially read because I collect books faster than I can motivate myself to go through them.

I encourage everyone to go out and try a challenge like this for a little while. Even if it’s twelve books a year. Or six. Or a half of a short story you’ve had on your shelf for the past eight years. Just give it a go.

Now I’ll reward myself by playing eight hours of Overwatch and thinking about what a bookworm I am.

An Excessive Amount of Literature

Every year around April, the Friends of the Public Library holds a massive, week-long used book sale in the local mall. I know this because I came across it completely by accident last year, and consequently staggered home with 25 lbs of books and the lingering feeling of having been hit by a book mobile.

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Last year’s books. I feel like that sideways one in the middle was something I was embarrassed about, but now I can’t remember what it was.

Accordingly, when April rolled around again this year Facebook had the common decency to remind me of what I had posted about a year prior, which was buying an excessive amount of books at said book sale. I immediately checked the mall’s website and discovered I had a tremendously long wait of three whole weeks before it was time.

On Monday, the dawning day of the book fair, I showed up five minutes before the mall opened and prowled like a cat in front of the doors, hissing at passerby that looked like a threat.

I needn’t have worried; the glorious thing about a large library book sale is that a) there’s frequently multiple copies of the same book, 2) no one really knows what they’re looking for until they see it and can’t plan ahead, and δ) everyone has different tastes in books anyway. And fortunately, showing up at 10:00am on a Monday meant I was mostly competing with nice retired people who weren’t there to aggressively snatch books the way I was.

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Table one of many.

I’ve never been able to give away books, unless I picked them up by chance and they turned out to be incredibly incompatible with my brain (I’m looking at you, The Martian). As such, even now, I’m envisioning loading all these books I’ve gathered in the last year and a half into a moving van to haul to wherever it is I live next.

That’s the problem with growing up in a household that had a certain reverence for books. Now I can only think of them in that high fantasy “BOOKS ARE MAGIC” mindset, which is often untrue and highly inconvenient, but I suppose there are worse things to hoard. Like garbage, or slunk pelts.

With book prices drastically varying from $1 to $3, I had to be very picky naturally bought any book that looked worth having. I followed a very complicated strategy:

  • Buy any book that I had read before and enjoyed, but didn’t own
  • Buy any book that I’d heard good things about but never read, such as New York Times bestsellers or classics I hadn’t gotten around to
  • Buy any book that just looked vaguely interesting
  • Buy any book

And so I came back with a modest nineteen used books. It’s very handy that I have a nice reading chair in my room now.

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While I was in line to buy them a man complimented me on my “Great Gatsby” reusable shopping bag. I had to admit I’d never read it and just bought the whole book-themed bag collection at Barnes and Noble. “Huh,” he said. “I thought it was required reading in all high schools.” Cough.

Now, of course, I’m facing the problem of running out of space (again) in my room. My bookshelves will probably house this batch of books with a little rearranging, but the next batch will overrun everything and soon I’ll be just like that nice couple in that Hoarders episode that had a house like Flourish and Blotts.

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I don’t have any more room to expand outwards, but I suppose I could stack another bookcase on top of that first bookcase. And then maybe a miniature bookcase on that tall bookcase, and a corner bookcase for the corner, and then I can just move into a library.

But fortunately it’s all over and I can begin methodically working my way through the new books, at least until next week, when an entirely new book sale begins at the other local shopping center. I regret nothing but my rapidly emptying wallet.

Belated Christmas Gifts

I’m told that the problem with buying presents for me these days is that I’m an adult, and if I see something I want, I buy it. None of this waiting half a year in the hopes that Saint Nick will bring me something anymore. It was easier for my parents and my sister when I had no money, and it looked like I might never have any money, because then they could just give me money and be done with it.

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But since I’m adult, look at this plant I just bought! I forget what it’s called, possibly something like Hypothermia, but I felt a personal connection to it because it smelled funny and had a weird name.

These days, before I come home for Christmas, my parents ask me to put together a list of things I would enjoy owning that I don’t already, and then they pick just a few things out of the list so that it’s a mystery what I’ll get. This has worked well so far.

Of course, after I finish opening all my presents in Idaho, there’s the problem of how I’m going to fit them all into the four cubic inches of space my airline has allotted for carry-on luggage. Most of the things go into a box, and in the grand tradition of all Ludvigs we never send the box and forget that much of the stuff in it ever existed.

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This time I received the box, but I just didn’t open it for a week or two because I was “too busy.”

I had already forgotten what I had received for Christmas, so this was like unwrapping presents all over again. The rest of this post is all just me showing off my presents, so you can go do something else now. (I thank my good friend Wendy for the very pretty shawl I laid everything out on.)

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A while ago, unbeknownst to my family, I had purchased a book-shaped wallet for myself. Coincidentally, I received a book-shaped purse and a book-shaped backpack for Christmas, so now I can put my book-shaped wallet in a book-shaped purse in a book-shaped backpack, and still have enough room leftover for an actual book!

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I got the games “Coup” and “Happy Salmon.” Coup is a nice little social deduction card game that’s easy to learn and quick to play, good for my board game nights. Happy Salmon, on the other hand, is the easiest way to turn functioning adults into flailing, shouting, desperate maniacs. I highly recommend it.

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Did you ever want to read lengthy full-color comic books about small shirtless quasi-anime elfs that ride wolves and can talk to each other in their minds? Well, now you can! ElfQuest! Slogan: “Made in the ’70s and it shows!” (I love these things so much.)

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My parents are still very concerned that I’m going to be mugged or murdered by thugs out here in the big city, so they like to give me emergency items like heavy-duty flashlights and defense spray so I can use them on my opponent and then be mugged and murdered by even angrier thugs. Also, some earrings! Thanks, Mom and Dad!

And then, last but not least, I got this beautiful thing:

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I’m told it’s a sundial. A portable one, to be exact. If I were an especially competent hipster I could carry this around in my purse and pull it out whenever I wanted to know the time whilst outdoors on sunny days. Sadly, I have not yet figured out how to properly set the thing up, so I can only tell the time by looking at my phone. But it looks really classy.

This stuff really is spectacular. I have to hand it to my parents, they know what I like.

Because I tell them. In a list they request.

God bless us all, every one.

The After-Christmas

Christmas is done and gone, the children are back in school, businesses are opening back up, and my friends are planning fun things forty minutes from me, which is why it’s now snowing so heavily that I can’t locate the driveway or two of the children.

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These paper snowflakes feel kind of redundant now.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m conflicted about snow. I’m starting to realize that if you want the kids to go to school or want to be able to drive to Target, the roads need to be clear or you will inevitably end up upside-down in a ditch somewhere with children burying you in snow.

(Children never stop trying to bury you in snow after a certain age. It’s instinct.)

Fortunately, it’s snowing on a Saturday, which should give the schools ample time to shovel everything up in preparation for Monday. Unfortunately, it’s snowing so heavily at present that the roads aren’t really roads at all, but more like incidental logging trails covered in petroleum jelly. I foolishly tried to drive south to play some board games with friends today, and I drove for 40 minutes at 25 miles an hour on the highway. If you’re doing the math, that means it took me exactly an hour to realize I would be better off back at home with a cup of tea.

So now I’m back at home with a cup of tea, listening to the sounds of chaos outside my room, and I’m organizing the Christmas presents from my employers.

Yes, there are enough that they have to be organized.

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Bottom left: Box of chocolates that are missing most of the coconut variety already.

My employers are very kind and generous people, and Mrs. Parent in particular loves giving gifts that are thoughtfully tailored to the recipient. I’m not sure they quite understand the all-consuming passion I have for magic, fairy tales, etc., but they really do their best. The purse she was particularly proud of, because she knows I like deep browns and across the chest straps.

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My favorite, of course, is the tea.

The peculiar tea set they gave me was composed of one single teabag per type of tea, which is artistic if not very practical, and each tea bag has a little leaf on the end of it for decorative purposes. The covered teacup has a little hole in the top which lets the teabag string through, allowing one to steep their tea without it going cold.

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Much like in fancy restaurants, you know the food is too classy for you when there’s so little of it.

Naturally the teacup can be re-purposed to fit regular teabags with enough folding and stuffing.

So now I’m stuck inside the house, but I have my own little oasis, lit by Christmas candles and smelling like chocolates and tea. It’s almost enough to forget that there are three to six boys outside my room, gleefully smacking each other with their new stuffed Pikachus.

I also gave them extreme dot-to-dot books so that they have something that requires sitting quietly for hours at a time. It doesn’t sound like they’re using them.

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Don’t tell anyone I’m still playing holiday music. This could be the fourteenth day of Christmas.

Christmas in Idaho

I returned to the east coast at the hideous hour of two o’clock in the morning yesterday, which was appropriate because I left for Idaho at the hideous hour of two in the morning on Christmas Eve. I arrived at the airport over three hours early, because the last time I flew out on Christmas Eve there was an ungodly line through security of hundreds upon hundreds of people, and from which I had to be rescued ten minutes before my flight was scheduled to leave.

Naturally, when I arrived at the airport this time it was dead and I had just over three hours to kill, long before any of the shops had opened. I played a lot of Fallout.

I prepped myself for the most comfortable plane ride I could manage, because it’s a little over six hours to fly to Seattle. Of course, Seattle isn’t in Idaho, but it’s not like we have major airports in Idaho. We don’t even have Wawa in Idaho. We’ve barely even mastered highways in Idaho.

So every time I head home I fly first to Seattle, and then backtrack a couple hundred miles to Spokane (Washington), and then drive an hour or so to actually get into Idaho, and home.

When I left New Jersey, it was 45 degrees and muddy, so seeing the first hints of snow was exciting.

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This. This is what I was really going home for. Not to see family or anything. It was always snow.

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Ahhh…

And Idaho delivered. Going home to Idaho was going home to a good foot of snow, lightly whipped up into drifts. It made the roads terrible, of course, but it made everything look just delightfully pretty.

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For most of my stay, it looked like I was running my photos through a black and white filter.

Christmas Eve evening has always been the time that the Ludvig family opens presents (presents from Santa arrive Christmas morning). Because my parents chose to live as far away from phones, lights, motorcars, and other luxuries, our extended family likes to stay in California where it’s warm and they’re unlikely to be eaten by mountain men, so Christmas is usually the parents, my sister, myself, and the neighbor couple without children.

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Not pictured here: The dog, the maniacal parrot velociraptor, chickens, cows, horse.

And it’s peaceful. Oh, so peaceful. It struck me again and again how quiet it all was. The people, who weren’t yelling at each other. The outdoors, which were silent and still and not interrupted by headlights and engines. The loudest thing in that house was the wind whistling so hard through my closed bedroom window that the curtains moved, but I digress.

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My father ran out of regular wrapping paper. On left: Hint of dog’s tail.

I got a lot of neat things for Christmas, and I have pictures of none of them because they’re all on the way back to the east coast in a box, since they wouldn’t fit in my carry-on. Among other things, I received a book-shaped purse and a book-shaped backpack to go with my book-shaped wallet (I have a problem), a couple of actual books, and a really neat sundial for when I want to tell the time after the world ends.

I gave my father a nice copy of all three Lord of the Rings books, and my mother a cast iron skillet. I frequently give my mother things like spatulas and vacuum cleaner parts. She’s a very practical woman.

(My sister, being a college student working at a place where they try to sell wooden heart models, got money.)

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No, really.

And it was all very merry.

Tea, Books, and Eyeballs

It’s the “season of giving”, that phrase that TV shows use when they don’t want to ascribe to any particular religion but also really want you to buy from their sponsors. I fall for it whole-heartedly every year, and it’s why I was roped into two different Secret Santa exchanges; one in person, one by mail.

Last Friday was in person, and I got together with a mess of my board game playing friends to unleash the flood of gifts.

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“This is the perfect bag to carry the presents in,” I said. “Absolutely no one will know that this cheesy Barnes & Noble book-related quote is from my arsenal of reusable bags,” I said.

Before we got to the presents, my very creative friend Amelié deposited approximately two metric tons of crafting supplies on the center table and told us in no uncertain terms that we were all going to be creative with her that night, yes, even you math teachers. She went on to explain how to make various Christmas ornaments, and flawlessly produced a golden snitch using only feathers and sheer force of personality.

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This thing is better than anything I will ever accomplish in my life.

The rest of us, ranging from incompetent to highly incompetent in the making of crafts, fiddled around with the adorable supplies until Amelié was satisfied that we had had enough fun. I just glued eyes to a plain Christmas ornament in the hopes of creating some kind of minor eldritch abomination to put on my miniature Christmas tree.

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Another friend of mine took one look at it, exclaimed “It’s an eye-ball!” and I did not stop laughing for ten minutes. I still giggle a little when I look at it. I’m easily amused.

Then it came time to open gifts, and when it was my turn, I steeled myself to pretend that I liked it and tore open the paper to reveal…

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Oooooohhhh…

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Ooooooooooooooohhhhh….

I’m so supremely bad at giving gifts, you see, that I’d forgotten some people are actually very good at it. And, to be fair, my love of tea is rather obvious if you spend any more than eight minutes in my company.

I tried it out today. My back has been doing its best impression of an eighty year old’s back this week, and the only thing that helps it to briskly walk half a mile to stretch it out. In this case, it’s a brisk half a mile walk in 23 degree weather through bone-sanding winds. I was very, very ready for warm tea when I got back.

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It’s like a lava lamp for tea lovers!

While I waited for it to steep I cracked open my by-mail Secret Santa gift, which turned out to be the book Fangirl, a book that all my writer friends have been subtly suggesting I read. (“Jean, you should read Fangirl,” is what they said, every day, for two months.) I’ve never picked it up, but apparently it’s… uh… similar to my style of writing. Or sense of humor. Or something. I can’t remember what their reasoning was, as I’m only a very basic fan of any given thing, but I do like reading.

The tea, meanwhile, was looking lovely.

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And- get this- if you set it down on the rim of your cup, it starts pouring automatically! Like magic!

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Note to self: It does not automatically stop pouring, don’t get carried away.

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It was, I have to say, one of the better cups of loose-leaf tea I’ve ever brewed up. Not only was it strong, but I only came away with small pieces of tea leaves in my teeth, which is a tremendous victory in my book.

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I then took the tea and my book and lay down flat on the floor to read, to ease my aching back. The window looks pretty neat from down here, though.

An Afternoon Raid

The Barnes and Noble nearest to me is closing. This isn’t surprising, because it’s in the same neighborhood as a in-Walmart McDonald’s that someone on Google Reviews helpfully described as “The closest thing to the Mos Eisley spaceport you’ll ever find in real life”, and none of the creatures therein strike me as big readers.

Fortunately, this is not the Barnes and Noble I usually go to for my peace and quiet. Unfortunately, everything in this store is on sale, and I am as unable to resist book sales as I am able to reach things on high shelves (not).

So when my friends treacherously informed me that everything in the store was on sale, I sprinted over as early as my job would permit.

Of course, everything in the store was on sale by Barnes and Noble standards. 30% off plus my 5% member discount. In total, this means everything in the store was only about 5% cheaper than it would be new on Amazon, but never mind that. Books!

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I was going to save for my future, but it turns out everything with a white sticker is 30% off, so forget that. My future is a nest of books.

Now, I had just returned from a trip to Disney World, the Land of Enchantment and High Pricing. I didn’t even pay for the tickets, food, or room and I had spent a considerable amount of money. And so even as I darted through the store, I had to constantly ask myself, “Do I need this? Do I really-“

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Oh my God, all the journals are on sale!

I have a journal problem. The problem is that I love them too much. More specifically, I love to look at them, but not to actually use them for anything. “What if I mess up the pretty cover?” I always think. “Better to buy a lot of dollar store notebooks to go with the journals, so I can fill the notebooks with all my scribbles and save the journals for something cool.”

And then I never, ever use the journals.

I have several blank ones right now. In all fairness, they make my bookcases look classier.

I narrowly resisted buying an armful of journals, and when I turned the corner I faced another problem.

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Oh, good. More things I can buy and never use.

Puzzles are very similar to journals in my mind, but I’m more likely to use one at least once. Because once > never, I bought a set of four.

And the worst thing is, soon even more things in this store will go on sale as their date of closing draws nearer, and I will have to go back again and buy more books and puzzles I don’t need, and I will probably own ten new leather journals by the end of the year.

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But my bookshelf will look ten times as classy.