Amanda Gates
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A Musings - April 2008

If you haven't read Middlesex, but plan to (I recommend it, by the way), please don't read past this paragraph. Or do so at your own risk. For those of you who have read the book, I have some questions/feelings that I wanted to run by you. Please fill me in on your thoughts.

(P.S. I tried to figure out how to make a jump to a new page, but don't get me started on how I almost lost my blog completely trying to do so. So, we'll just have to deal. If anyone knows how to do this without messing with spatterings of html code, let me know.)

*******SPOILER ALERT********




I began Book Four today, so I've now met Dr. Luce and he's given Callie and her parents his diagnosis: she should remain a girl.

1. I know this is his profession, he's a doctor and his work should be beneficial to Callie, however, did you ever feel his actions were a bit inappropriate? Showing her porn. Seeming to get pleasure from the porn himself. "Examining" her without letting her know what he was doing and why. I know it was the 70s and I know it's fiction, but I still feel all those "tests" should have been explained and consent should have been given (waivers signed, etc.). I mean, as a 14-year-old girl, I would think all of that would have felt really, really wrong.

2. Do you think that Callie making her decision to become a boy happened a little quickly? She decided within hours. I know her surgery was coming up quickly, but in reality, if you lived as a girl for 14 years, would you be able to change your mind that easily? Would you be able to make such an 'adult' decision that quickly? I almost feel a child that age would go along with what her parents and doctor wanted because she wouldn't know what else to do. Or do you think Callie was feeling so much like a boy already, it just made sense to her once she found out - which in turn made the decision easy?

It's all very interesting to me and very sad. Sad because I wish the adults in this situation could've gotten things figured out much sooner. Thoughts? Anything else that puzzled you?

Posted: Mon, 04/28/2008 - 07:34 | Comments: 1

Last week many news stories were about the rice shortage, due to the increase in price. Seriously? Is this where we're at now - rice is too expensive to get to the people who need it?

This blog is about books and reading, not world news. However, one way we can help sort of has to do with reading. If you head to FreeRice, you can donate rice 20 grains at a time. Just test your vocabulary, and for each correct answer, 20 grains of rice is donated to help end world hunger.

I'm sure many of you know about FreeRice already. If so, then here's your reminder to go back often. In March alone, FreeRice donated more than 4 BILLION grains of rice.

Even though I'm a writer, my vocab isn't that great. Best part about FreeRice? No penalty for incorrect guesses. You can even change the levels at which it quizzes you. Here's hoping you can learn a little something that will help you with your reading, while contributing to the greater good as well.

Posted: Mon, 04/28/2008 - 03:01 | Comments: 2

If you read the Publisher's Weekly review I posted two posts ago, you know that Middlesex, and the main character's messed up chromosomes, has some to do with incest. It's kind of creepy actually, but once you get into the story, you forget about all the inter-family marrying going on. However, this did get me thinking about family trees. How much do we really know about our ancestors? I mean, you may know their names and birth dates, but do you know much about your grandparents' or great-grandparents' medical history? Do you in fact know that you're not caring a dormant gene that could spring up and wreck havoc in your children or grandchildren?

It would be wasteful if everyone went around getting a series of genetic tests just to be on the safe side, since most people would turn out just fine. But, it made me think about it. Plus, if anything, it makes me want to learn more about my ancestors.

Also, I'm fascinated by the language and the writing of this book. It's so captivating and descriptive. Another reviewer on the B&N; Web site wrote about how this book could be a movie. I agree. As I read, I can see it playing out on screen so easily. I can hear the voice over. I can see the scenes set in Greece, the scenes set in 1930s Detroit. It's a longer book, so the movie would have to be a condensed version. Which, in the end, wouldn't do justice to the novel. But, it's fun to think about.

Posted: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 03:50 |

As I was trying to peel the "Oprah's Book Club" sticker off my copy of Middlesex (to no avail - too sticky), I wondered how many other people are like me. Are you embarrassed if the book you're reading has that infamous sticker on it? I am, but why? (Willikat also made a comment on my last post about enjoying/reading Middlesex "before Oprah," so that also partially inspired this post.)

I'm not an Oprah fan, so maybe I try to peel off the sticker because I don't want people thinking I actually take her recommendations. I don't. It just so happens she recommends some good books, so her book club sticker is plastered over many a covers at Target and other stores.

Maybe it's because I didn't agree with her almighty response and public reprimanding of James Frey, after he made her look like a fool for defending him in his A Million Little Pieces debacle. I may be one of the few people who haven't read his book, however, I read all memoirs knowing that some facts may be exaggerated or placed out of order for whatever reasons. That's no reason to publicly humiliate the guy even more.

Maybe it's because some authors don't even want to be mentioned in the same sentence as "Oprah's Book Club," yet their books still get the sticker (and their publicists probably love it).

Maybe it has to do with reasons completely unrelated to reading and books.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm happy her book club gets people reading. If that's what it takes, by all means. I just personally prefer not to associate my book choices with her. I make the decision about what I read based on other reviews, friend recommendations and just gut feelings.

Anyone agree? How do you decide what to read? Oprah fans out there, I don't mean to offend...

Posted: Thu, 04/24/2008 - 03:33 | Comments: 3

I've been reading Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides for the past week. I've looked at this book on the shelves and on Amazon for years (it was published in 2002), but the subject matter kept me from buying it. I just wasn't sure reading about a hermaphrodite in 1960s Detroit was something I'd enjoy. However, I saw more and more good reviews of the book, so I added it to my list. I'm probably about half way through it now. It's hard for me to know what to post about just yet, because I don't want to spoil the story for anyone. So, to start, here's a review from Publisher's Weekly:

As the Age of the Genome begins to dawn, we will, perhaps, expect our fictional protagonists to know as much about the chemical details of their ancestry as Victorian heroes knew about their estates. If so, Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides) is ahead of the game. His beautifully written novel begins: "Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce's study, 'Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites.' " The "me" of that sentence, "Cal" Stephanides, narrates his story of sexual shifts with exemplary tact, beginning with his immigrant grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty. On board the ship taking them from war-torn Turkey to America, they married-but they were brother and sister. Eugenides spends the book's first half recreating, with a fine-grained density, the Detroit of the 1920s and '30s where the immigrants settled: Ford car factories and the tiny, incipient sect of Black Muslims. Then comes Cal's story, which is necessarily interwoven with his parents' upward social trajectory. Milton, his father, takes an insurance windfall and parlays it into a fast-food hotdog empire. Meanwhile, Tessie, his wife, gives birth to a son and then a daughter-or at least, what seems to be a female baby. Genetics meets medical incompetence meets history, and Callie is left to think of her "crocus" as simply unusually long-until she reaches the age of 14. Eugenides, like Rick Moody, has an extraordinary sensitivity to the mores of our leafier suburbs, and Cal's gender confusion is blended with the story of her first love, Milton's growing political resentments and the general shedding of ethnic habits. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this book is Eugenides's ability to feel his way into the girl, Callie, and the man, Cal. It's difficult to imagine any serious male writer of earlier eras so effortlessly transcending the stereotypes of gender. This is one determinedly literary novel that should also appeal to a large, general audience.

I know some of you have read it - let me know your thoughts.

Posted: Wed, 04/23/2008 - 02:05 | Comments: 3

I finished A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically. I recommend it. It made me laugh a lot, but it also made me think. Jacobs heritage is Jewish, so you learn more about that denomination than any other, but he also dives into other forms of religion a bit, too. He travels to Israel, he travels to the Creationist Museum, he travels South - uncovering for himself many different ways to worship. Jacobs is very honest about his struggle as a secular Jew to dive into a project like this. I felt the ending was just as it should be, too.

Whether or not you believe in a higher power, the book is definitely interesting. And I think it's more interesting because Jacobs was an agnostic going in. No preaching, few judgments. Because of the wide divide that there is between people who strongly believe in something and those who don't, or the divide between those who believe in one thing and those who believe in another - well, I feel pretty good about the country we live in. We're allowed to practice whatever religion we want (or don't want). While we could disagree with our neighbor over religion, and even argue loudly with him about it, we don't have the right to persecute him - and him us. For the most part, we honor each other. And that's a great thing. Obviously, as current events relay, not everyone is so fortunate. I forget that sometimes.

Posted: Fri, 04/18/2008 - 09:38 |

Several times through out the book, Jacobs talks about the ever-important (yet pretty impossible) commandment, Thou Shall Not Lie. Besides the part about the tantrum his son throws when Jacobs doesn't lie about the English muffin (see two posts ago), I have another favorite moment: When he and his wife run into her old college friend and his response to setting up a play date for their kids is: "You guys seem nice, but I don't really want new friends right now." You see, he's not trying to be mean - just honest. They hardly have time to see the friends they already have - why throw more into the mix?

This made me think of a feature Jacobs wrote in Esquire last summer, "I Think You're Fat," an article about a movement called Radical Honesty. Jacobs tries to immerse himself in a completely truthful life, discovering how hard it really is and how many people he can easily piss off (we don't all handle the truth very well). It's hilarious and worth a read. It also made me wonder if he came across this Radical Honesty movement while living biblically and thou-shall-not-lying? I'm sure the two go hand-in-hand somehow.

Side note: Another passage in the book that really made me think was about prayer. Jacobs tried to pray several times each day. Once he got the hang of it, it made him feel good. One of the advisers on his call list suggested that he should really be praying for God, not for himself. It should take time out of your day - you should sacrifice to pray. However, as Jacobs points out, if he sacrifices and becomes more selfless, then he'll actually become a better person, and good for him. It's silly, but it reminds me of an episode of Friends when Joey and Phoebe talk about how there aren't any selfless good deeds - they all make you feel good about yourself. Maybe that's OK, though? I say, even if people do good things for others because it makes them feel good, it's still better than no one helping anyone else at all.

Posted: Wed, 04/16/2008 - 08:30 | Comments: 1

In a couple chapters of his book, Jacobs works on gossiping. According to the book, the Bible has at least 20 passages condemning gossiping. And, I don't think that means eliminating talking badly about other people, but talking about people behind their backs at all, really. But, what happens when your significant other comes home after a hard day and vents to you about his or her coworker (as did Jacobs' wife)? Instead of offering moral support with a "you're right, what a freakin' jerk," you sit there and listen silently and then say, "ah, that's too bad." As with the author's wife, that may not go over too well.

In the same vein, Jacobs writes that really, it's better to not talk negatively at all. Jacobs admits he fails on a daily (hourly) basis. I mean, think about it: how many conversations do you come across every day that are negative in some respect? How many are you a part of yourself? Me? A LOT. People bitch and complain - that's what we do. But, after reading about how hard he's trying not to speak that way, maybe the world would be a brighter place if we all cut back on it a little.

When he comes back to the topic of gossip several chapters later (Do not go around as a gossiper among your people... Leviticus 19:16), Jacobs mentions that the more he keeps his negative thoughts to himself, the fewer negative thoughts he thinks up in the first place. "I refuse to let that toxic cloud gather in my brain. It's a purifying feeling..."

Couldn't hurt, right?

Posted: Mon, 04/14/2008 - 03:51 |

The hubby and I are making a big move over the next week, so I'm going on a brief hiatus. Please check back the week of April 14. I have lots more to say about the current book I'm reading.

Posted: Thu, 04/03/2008 - 10:55 | Comments: 1

I'm about 75 pages into The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. After he decided this was what he wanted his next book to be about, Jacobs spent four weeks reading the Bible cover to cover, writing down all the "rules" he came across. At the end: 72 pages and more than 700 rules. So, for the next year, he planned to live by the Bible. At first he takes it for its literal meaning, but as with anything, there are plenty of meanings for different passages. He forms an advisory board of pastors, rabbis (Jacobs was born Jewish, though non-practicing), and other people who can help him with this translation. Instead of trying to live by all 700 rules each day (which he found very tiring the first few days - like he couldn't even leave the house), Jacobs decided to focus on certain ones each day. The book follows his day-to-day journey. A few things that made me laugh:

1. Thou Shall not Lie: Easier said than done when your child wants a bagel but all you have is an English muffin. Instead of "lying" and saying the muffin IS a bagel, you tell the truth. Thirty-minute tantrum follows.

2. Within certain sects of the Jewish faith, a man and woman aren't allowed to touch for 12 days after she starts menstruating. Nor is a man allowed to sit where she sits. Or lie on the same sheets as she does. Before Jacobs comes home from work one day, his wife (who feels like a leper because of this) sits on every surface in their home.

3. Thou Shall not Covet: He starts with just the wanting of "things" (planning to tackle the coveting of other pretty women for later). Different followers believe different things here, as Jacobs found out by interviewing his advisory board. If your coveting means you'd cause harm to your neighbor, then you should refrain; but just liking that Porsche down at the dealership - not a big deal. But, some believe any and all wanting is forbidden. The author talks about how he covets for his two-year-old son every day. My favorite example: A girl his son's age can say words like 'helicopter,' while his son still just gurgles and grunts. Jacobs covets that girl's vocabulary for his son.

It's a very entertaining read. Plus, I'm learning a lot about other religions (and my own). Just this morning I read about his encounter with a Jehovah's Witness. (The author actually invited the man into his home and talked so much, the man kind of had to beg to leave...)

Posted: Tue, 04/01/2008 - 02:32 | Comments: 5