Amanda Gates
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A Musings - February 2008

I'm still cranking away at this book - the book with 150 possible endings. I probably have only gotten through half of them? I'm really enjoying it, even more now that I've figured out the best way for me to read it (see previous post). I thought I'd use today's post to share some of the ways I've kicked the bucket in the book:

1. Drowned
2. Suicide
3. In my sleep/old age
4. Choked on a mango
5. Choked on elk jerkey
6. By a terrorist bomb
7. Food poisoning
8. Car accident
9. Struck by lightning

Some very interesting ways to go, if I do say so myself.

Posted: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 02:23 |

What else has happened to "me" while reading Pretty Little Mistakes?

1. Joined a cult
2. Moved to Duluth and baked pies at Betty's Pie Shop
3. Lied about a pregnancy to get a guy to marry me
4. Taught art in Minneapolis
5. Had an affair with an Italian millionaire
6. Designed shoes for Bergdorf's

I've figured out a better way to read this book. At least better for me. Instead of reading straight through a scenario and then starting over again, I mark my pages at each "choice" page. Then when I'm finished with one route, I go back to the previous section and choose the alternative. Once that route ends, I go back two sections and choose the alternative, and so on. I like this tactic because then I get to read the multiple endings to one storyline right after another - it feels more satisfying to me, plus it's easier to remember what paths I took. I'm not sure how long it will take to finish this book, but it could also be a good book to set down for awhile and pick up again later, since it reads so fast and it's more like a group of short stories, instead of a novel.

Posted: Fri, 02/22/2008 - 02:11 |

I started reading Pretty Little Mistakes this week. The book is written by Heather McElhatton, a producer for Minnesota Public Radio and a frequent contributor to NPR's This American Life. Do you remember Choose Your Own Adventure books from when you were younger? Pretty Little Mistakes is like that, but for adults.

Definitely for adults.

You start at high school graduation. Should you go to college, or travel? After you make that choice, 150 possible endings exist. So far, I'm enjoying it. It's a quicker read then I expected. I can get through one "life" in less than 20 minutes, which is nice for bus rides or reading before bed. Once you get through one life, you start over again. It's humorous, too. The one thing I find interesting is that so far I've tried to make the responsible choices: going to college, not dropping out, etc., and it ends up not working out so well for me. (These are just three examples, and out of 150 possible endings, I don't think it's spoiling things too much.)

Story 1:
I choose to go to college. I major in art. I form an artists' club. Other members decide to make a statement by streaking at the next football game. I choose to stay behind at club headquarters. While alone there, I'm sexually assaulted. The police never find the guy. Since I don't feel safe, I buy a gun. I see my attacker, but choose not to kill him. I choose to testify. The stress kills me and I die on the witness stand. I'm curious to find out what would happen if I killed him (or chose not to testify)?

Story 2:
I choose a science major, which is very stressful, but I choose not to drop out from the stress. Instead, I get addicted to meth. I graduate and become a pharmaceutical rep. I choose not to give doctors incentives to buy my product. I get fired. I get cancer from all the meth-taking. This story does end better, as I survive the cancer and make a difference in the end.

Story 3:
I choose to travel. I go to England. I meet an Indian transvestite and travel with her to her home country. I eat an apple there. I get hepatitis and die.

These ones just cracked me up, and as my first three trips through the book, made me wonder if any of my "lives" would end up happy. But, I've had some good stories, too. I'll keep you posted.

Posted: Wed, 02/20/2008 - 02:02 | Comments: 4

I finished this book over the weekend. I really enjoyed it. I liked that while reading something that felt like a novel, I learned the true stories of Warsaw during the war. I learned of the cruelties and of the bravery.

I learned about the Ghetto Uprising when the Jews fought the Germans with rocks, sticks and fists (they had no weapons) and held them off for nearly one month. After the Ghetto fell, the Poles took over with the Warsaw Uprising, in which Antonina's husband Jan went and fought.

I learned that while the Soviets were fighting through from the East, for political reasons, they stopped short of Warsaw and didn't help the Poles fight. They watched thousands die, the rest eventually surrender and then be shipped off to POW camps (including Jan).

After the war was over, people estimate that the population of Warsaw fell from 1.5 million to 500,000. These people came back to a city bombed to the ground. They lived in caves, holes in the ground, etc., because their homes were ransacked and destroyed. The city was then under Soviet rule. The kids went to Soviet school where they were taught that parts of the war never happened.

It was a moving, interesting story. The author really makes you connect to the characters, specifically Antonina. Some parts of it can be a little staggered when she throws in some historical references or jumps to other characters suddenly, but overall, it doesn't take away from the very importance of the story.

Posted: Tue, 02/19/2008 - 02:46 |

I received a press release about a new series presented to the Twin Cities by The Loft Literary Center and the Hennepin Theatre Trust: Literary Legends. From March to October the series welcomes literary greats for special in-person appearances. I'm really excited about this, not only because I would love to see a few of them speak, but because I think gaining access to authors is a cool experience for many of us. Here's a bit from the press release:

Literary Legends launches March 30 with Mary Oliver, the beloved American poet acclaimed for her lyrical connection to the natural world, and recipient of the Pulitzer, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Book Award. The series continues on June 23 with the groundbreaking Armistead Maupin, who is now back with more eagerly awaited “Tales” in his 2007 book “Michael Tolliver Lives.” October 2 brings a not-to-be-missed opportunity to hear David McCullough, two-time recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, comment on the U.S. presidency as the country prepares for an historic election. October 17 offers another special highlight with Khaled Hosseini, the Kabul-born author of two recent worldwide best-sellers—“The Kite Runner,” just released as a hailed yet provocative film, and “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” On October 19, David Sedaris, the funny and sardonic perennial favorite of the literary world, reads from his much anticipated next collection “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.”

Minnesota Public Radio also offers up great authors to Twin Citizens through Talking Volumes. One I would love to see: Judy Blume. In June she talks about her new children's series, an off-shoot of her hit "The Pain and the Great One." I read that book so many times when I was little.

What author would you love to see if you had the chance?

Posted: Fri, 02/15/2008 - 04:15 | Comments: 1

Just a few thoughts:

1. The bravery: In this book, Jan risks his life every day, sneaking into the Warsaw Ghetto (a space no larger than 15 blocks, filled with disease, that holds thousands of Jews) and sneaking out with one prisoner at a time. I want to think if faced with a situation like this, I would be one to be brave, but it's hard to know for sure. Anyone who survived this time (or any forms of genocide that exist today) are true heroes.

2. The number of Germans who also risked their lives by looking the other way. Jan couldn't have sneaked into the Ghetto if it weren't for a very powerful Nazi covering for him. It's a least a bit hopeful knowing they weren't all bad.

There was a marathon of Band of Brothers on the History Channel this weekend. An excellent series about Easy Company's fight throughout WWII. In one of the final episodes, the company comes across a concentration camp. It's 1945. The troops have never heard of these camps. They didn't know this was going on, even when they landed in Normandy, even when they fought in the dead of winter at Bastonge. If any of those soldiers had any doubt about why they were fighting, I think those doubts must have vanished when they saw all the dead bodies and the hundreds of starving people. It made me think of this book. At least people like Jan and Antonina saved a small percentage.

Posted: Mon, 02/11/2008 - 02:56 | Comments: 1

This true story takes place before and throughout WWII when the Germans invaded Poland. Married couple Jan and Antonina love animals and own Warsaw's zoo. When the animals are lost because of the war, the couple starts hiding Jews within the walls, caves and cages of the zoo - saving hundreds from a dreadful fate.

Author Diane Ackerman takes notes from history, scenes from Antonina's diary and snippets of interviews with the survivors. She discusses the family's love for animals - they had some amazing ones on display for the 1930s, I think. She also teaches the reader more about the war, and how Hitler felt this ethnic cleansing was necessary. At the same time, there are other zoologists in Germany who are trying to do the same with animals - recreate extinct species by killing off the weak herds and mating only the most dominant, the most pure.

Jan was a solider in his younger days, so as a leader of the Resistance's Underground, not only does he help hide and transport Jews to safety, he hides weapons under the Germans' noses, derails trains with bombs and poisons Nazis with worm-infested meats. And he gets a real kick out of it. :)

This book is a fast read - and I'm loving it.

Posted: Thu, 02/07/2008 - 02:06 | Comments: 1

I finished! How I feel (not in totality, just a few points):

1. If our medical system had a better interpreter policy in place, things may have turned out better for the Lees (and many others in similar situations).

2. Perhaps we truly are over-medicated as a population? While I would want doctors to work their hardest to cure me, maybe all the meds they pump into us hinder our health, too?

3. There is a high population of Hmong in Pennsylvania. They sew products for the Amish, so they can still be labeled "made locally." I thought this was hilarious, and hubby made a comment about how sad it is when even the Amish "outsource."

4. We all need to be more tolerant. A huge discussion in the book was about the thought that because a majority of Hmong are on welfare, they're lazy freeloaders. In actuality, we're the ones who forced them out of their mountain homes in Laos. We're the ones who brought them here. We're the ones who put them on welfare. The Hmong families Fadiman talked to in the book just want to work - they want to grow their own food, work in their own fields, build their own homes. We definitely don't make this easy for them.

5. However, in terms of No. 4, we can only be more tolerant if we're fed all the information. Our leaders keep these sorts of things pretty hush hush. So, we need more books like this one - and they need to be read.

It was an eye-opening book. I was pulled in many different directions - still am. It's definitely worth a read. Once you do, come back and tell me what you think about it. I'm dying to hear other people's opinions.

Posted: Wed, 02/06/2008 - 02:15 | Comments: 2