Amanda Gates
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A Musings - July 2008

Last December, I mentioned J.K. Rowling's latest creation: the handwritten, personally illustrated, very limited edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which she gave out to six special someones and auctioned off the seventh for some $4 million (for charity).

Well, Harry fans rejoice! The compilation of fairy tales will be available on Amazon come Dec. 4, 2008, in both a collector's edition and a standard edition. The perfect holiday gift for any Harry fan.

[Side note: There are several The Half-Blood Prince trailers out there now. Check YouTube. Movie hits theaters this November. Looks like the creepiest and most emotional movie so far!]

Posted: Thu, 07/31/2008 - 06:02 | Comments: 1

I finished New Moon over the weekend and finished Eclipse last night. The fourth and final book comes out at midnight on Friday, so I'm back to reading a non-vampire book until I can get my hands on Breaking Dawn sometime this weekend (No, you won't find me at a release party dressed in vampire garb).

I liked this book just as much as the others. New Moon ended with danger still on the horizon for our main characters, so Eclipse opened with some tension from the start. Bella has found herself torn between two loves, a serial killer is on the loose in a nearby city and a significant deadline is fast approaching. I don't know how she gets anything done with so much on her mind.

What I enjoyed about this book was the evolution of Edward and Bella's relationship. While I mentioned previously that I don't quite agree that an 18-year-old girl should be so in love and broken without a certain boy, I got over it. Edward has been on Earth for more than 100 years and it's a bit refreshing how mature he is compared to the other boys Bella could be dating. While it doesn't hurt for her to experiment, have fun and learn who else is out there, I can see why other boys might pale in comparison (ironically) to Edward, who rarely throws fits, controls his jealousy and is willing to let Bella go (whether for an hour or forever) if that's what would make her happy.

The two of them also worked on compromising a lot in this book, which if you're set on being in a relationship, is the most important thing to understand and learn to excel at. They held rational discussions, came to terms with the struggles of a human/vampire relationship and made decisions both of them could be happy with. I enjoyed these parts of the book. While Edward's need to "protect" Bella would get to me sometimes - she's not a child! - I do think that as a girl who took care of her scatterbrained mother for her entire life, letting Edward hold the reins in their twosome might be a bit of a relief.

The entire book led up to a battle scene that I thought would be the "epic" battle of the series. It wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be and wished for a bit more action. But that part of the story was important in its own way. Maybe the big fight will come in the end, ala Harry vs. Voldermort or the Fellowship and the Battle for Middle Earth. I can't wait!

Posted: Wed, 07/30/2008 - 02:51 |

You may have noticed my new widget over to the right: the Grammar Girl Quiz. As a journalist/editor, I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing and I discovered Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, awhile back. She just came out with a new book, Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing, which brought me back to her again. Mignon hosts these fabulous five-minute podcasts (you can find them on iTunes) that study different grammar/language trickeries. Seriously, I’ve learned so much—just what does semiweekly and biweekly mean? I can never remember! Lie or lay? Agh!

Her podcasts can also be found on this Web site, which is filled with a bunch of other Quick & Dirty tips about law, finance, technology, travel and more. Seriously, why can’t I think up brilliant ideas like this? Take the quiz (I’m disappointed with my 11 out of 15, so I'll definitely try again - they change EVERY week) or listen to her tips—you’ll love ‘em!

Another Web site I like is one that Mignon actually pointed out in her latest podcast. The Sentence Sleuth posts errors from books, newspapers and what have you, and either asks you how to correct it or tells you herself. Love it! Being an avid reader, as well as an editor, I am always semi-pleased with myself when I find mistakes in the things I read (as long as it’s not my own!).

What about you? Do you find that you catch the gaffes that slip past editor after editor? Does it bother you, or do you feel smug?

Posted: Mon, 07/28/2008 - 02:00 | Comments: 2

I started New Moon, the sequel to Twilight, on Tuesday. I’m nearly finished. I love when I read books I can’t put down. Plenty of books are good and fun to read, but it seems rare that a book keeps you thinking about it and wishing you were reading it when you weren’t (or can’t because you’re driving, eating or working). I don’t feel this way about the Stephenie Meyer books because they’re so intriguing necessarily, but because they’re so fun.

I didn’t know what to expect from New Moon, but I figured it would be similar to Twilight. Bella and Edward’s romance will grow, something life-threatening having to do with mythical creatures will happen and they’ll fight for their love. All the basics of a good romance. Well, so far the book hasn’t turned out quite that way; it took a different turn. I was surprised at first, but soon I figured out what was going on and I predicted exactly what was going to happen. However, this didn’t bum me out like it might with other books. I actually was glad Meyer took the story a different way for the second book. Usually that’s something you wait a few more books for when you’re writing a series. (J.K. Rowling waited until Goblet of Fire to really heat things up.)

New Moon takes Bella through all sorts of emotions: heartbrokenness, depression, risk-taking behavior, new love, relief, sadness. Poor girl - I had to feel for her. Granted, normal teenaged girls don’t fall in love with vampires and experience near death on a regular basis, but you can’t disagree that they do go through every single one of the emotions above. That’s why I think these books are so popular. Meyer speaks to all the issues teenagers (boys get their fair share in here, too) go through, just in a different way.

I apologize if my obsessive consumption of these books is boring to read about – especially if I continue to read them all in a row – but I’m sure it’ll be out of my system soon enough.

So, what books have you read that you just couldn't put down? (I've been trying to think of some besides Harry Potter. I'll let you know what I come up with.)

Posted: Thu, 07/24/2008 - 10:10 | Comments: 1

I finished Twilight last night, if anyone had any doubt. I really enjoyed it. The story captures you from the first page and holds on to you throughout the story. I found myself captivated by the vampire family, which is weird because I never thought I was into vampire stories. I know there are readers out there who just love vampire books - so maybe I've been missing something? Or maybe Harry Potter and the LOTR trilogy opened my eyes to fantastical story lines? Whatever it is, I liked the book for the romance, the suspense and the action.

There are so many people out there who love these books. If you peruse B&N; customer reviews, nearly everyone gives is five stars. I do agree with some of the semi-negative things I've read about the book. Meyer tends to repeat aspects of the story; the characters seem to have similar conversations or arguments throughout the book. However, this seems to be a similar event with other teen books, especially series (Harry Potter, Traveling Pants, Sweet Valley Twins, etc. all "review" throughout each book and/or the series). I don't know if publishers think teens need the reminders (I don't think they do), but I'm not sure it should be considered bad writing necessarily.

I can also see the point that the all-consuming romance between Bella and Edward is a little unhealthy. If she were my daughter, at 17 I wouldn't feel she's ready to devote her life to a boy. However, we've all been teenagers ourselves and felt that pull toward friends or boyfriends or girlfriends. It's the hormones and I'm not sure anything can be done about it. (Fortunately, though I'm only through one book so I don't know for sure, I don't think the two can get too close and mistakenly have a little half-vampire baby!)

All that aside though, if you read this and just let your real-world thoughts leave your mind and don't think too hard about the logistics (I had to do this with The Time Traveler's Wife, too, before I could enjoy it), Twilight is a wonderful escape. Plus, it's gotten kids to keep reading after Harry graduated. I'm all for that.

Posted: Tue, 07/22/2008 - 02:35 | Comments: 2

The cover story of my Entertainment Weekly a few weeks ago was about Stephenie Meyer, creator of the Twilight series. Being a pop culture nut and a reader, I'd obviously heard of these books, but I didn't know much beyond their existence until I read the story in EW. The story lines intrigued me, and learning Meyer's story also interested me. She published Twilight, the first book in the series of four, when she was 29 years old. I mentioned to the hubby that I might want to read these books. I searched the libraries and, with the highly anticipated fourth and final book about to hit shelves, all of Meyer's books were out. Thursday he made a stop at the bookstore and brought home the first two books for me.

I was in the middle of another book, but I couldn't wait to start. I picked up Twilight yesterday morning and consumed nearly the whole thing. I have about 100 pages left, and it's almost killing me to have to wait until tonight to finish it.

These books are meant for teenagers, but like Harry Potter and the Traveling Pants series, that's not stopping me from enjoying what is some really talented writing and imaginative, fanciful storytelling. Bella is a junior in high school who moves to a new town in northern Washington. She meets Edward, a beautiful creature, who has a pull on her she can't escape. One little problem: Edward is a vampire. This first book mostly describes their courtship - it's not that easy, for obvious reasons - but there's plenty of action to come. I can feel it.

Posted: Mon, 07/21/2008 - 02:43 | Comments: 2

I just read this article on MinnPost about green publishing, and how the book business uses up a lot of our natural resources. Some of the stats from the article:

According to the Green Press Initiative, 30 million trees are used to make books to be sold in the United States every year, and sources include endangered, ecologically sensitive and old-growth forests. The carbon footprint of a single book is 8.85 pounds, and the book publishing industry as a whole emits a net 12.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide every year, taking into account all steps of the production cycle, from tree harvesting to incinerating that paperback you left out in the rain.

And this one:

Ironically, the book that has consumed more trees in recent history than any other has helped push changes in the publishing industry. On the urging of author J.K. Rowling, Scholastic printed 65 percent of the U.S. first edition of the final Harry Potter book on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper, meaning it was harvested from responsibly managed forests, and included at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled paper.

The impact was significant: These moves saved 200,000 trees and had the same carbon impact as taking 1,577 cars off the road. Furthermore, printers across the country began stocking more recycled and FSC-certified paper to meet the demand.

It's really an interesting article and it also touches on the newspaper and magazine industries, which hits close to home for me. I'm encouraged that publishers are taking these issues to heart, because as I've posted before, I love to hold books in my hand. I'm not one who wants to read off a computer screen for too long. I don't think books will ever go out of "style," so it's important to keep ahead of the curve and be good to Mother Earth while still publishing important, fun, educational or classic writing, wherever it may appear on the printed page.

Posted: Mon, 07/14/2008 - 07:48 |

I finished The Latehomecomer. I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes it's easy to think that someone as young as Lang Yang - 28 - doesn't have enough to say for a memoir. But, I think she fills the pages well. I don't think we always understand what a struggle immigration is for groups of people like the Hmong (or Somali, etc.). All they're looking for is a better life than the one they came from, but imagine moving to a country with a different language and completely different customs and trying to fit in. I don't know if I could do it. Which makes books like this one all the more powerful for me. Her family is very strong and she and her siblings went on to do great things (Yang and her sister co-founder Words Wanted, an agency dedicated to helping immigrants with writing, translating and business services.)

Here is one of my favorite passages from the book. When she sees her mother crying because her grandmother in Laos passed away (the last time Lang's Yang's mother saw her was during the war), Lang Yang describes her feelings:

I realized then that my mother had left her mother, the woman who had loved her best in the entire world, to walk with my father toward this life with us. I felt worried that perhaps I'd been selfish. I felt sorry for the decisions a Hmong woman faced, the decisions that this Hmong woman - who I had never seen as such, simply because she was my mother - had made. Why does love in a war always mean choosing? Her mother or my father? The country that gave birth to her or the one that would give birth to me? The little girl she had been or the woman she would become? For the first time, I knew the sadness of choice in my mother's life. I had a glimpse of the world she was working hard to protect me from, to keep me young in, this education and pursuit of a life she never had a chance at. I have the freedom to stand strong in the wake of love and to perhaps choose my own mother - instead of a man.

Posted: Wed, 07/09/2008 - 02:05 | Comments: 1

I'm really enjoying the book so far. Lang Yang starts by telling the history of her parents, who meet in the Laotian jungle as their separate families hid for their lives from enemy soldiers. They marry amongst the bombs and the fighting, and even still certain traditions remained. A dowry is a must, even if they barely had enough food to last the day.

The family (a daughter, Dawb, is born on the jungle floor) eventually makes it across to Thailand where they spend several years in different refugee camps. Lang Yang is born here and her story begins. The following stories come from her memory (and probably some things her mother, father and grandmother told her about), and it's amazing how much she remembers, particularly smells and sounds. She's actually pretty happy in the camp (that's all she knows), but she can tell her parents yearn for a better life.

Soon the Thai government doesn't want the Hmong anymore and slowly over several years the U.S. government offers them homes here. We're the cause for why they're refugees of war anyway. (We convinced them to fight the "Secret War" against the Vietnamese and now they've been run out of their country for helping us.) Lang Yang and her family traveled here when she's six years old.

Her stories of the airplane ride and her first month in America, St. Paul to be specific, are extremely interesting. Americans didn't know what to think about these people entering our country, and Lang Yang and her family could tell. But her parents always stressed that their lives would be better here. Lang Yang spends several different moments throughout the book discussing whether this is really true. With all the struggling to learn the language, the customs, living on welfare, etc., is life really better?

As Lang Yang and her siblings grow up, it's very interesting to read about the pressure put on them by their parents (as with all the Hmong families she knew). Hmong children have to become adults quicker - their parents need them to translate. If they're ever ungrateful or distant (typical teenagers - at least typical American teenagers), the parents' disappointment is overwhelming. The pressure to do well, to go to college, to become successful is preceded with [me paraphrasing] "We traveled all the way here to give you a better life - don't go wasting it."

I'm glad I'm reading this book, especially since Lang Yang is near my age. She was right on the cusp of the immigration. She was born elsewhere, but spent a majority of her life here. Her younger brothers and sisters were born Americans. They'll never have those memories of Laos or Thailand. They'll never know personally the way it was - they only know the way life is now or the way it could be. I think this is a major reason why she wrote this book. Maybe she felt a sense of duty?

Posted: Tue, 07/08/2008 - 23:15 | Comments: 2

I've just started The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, a story about a Hmong family's journey from Laos to Thailand to America. It's written by Kao Kalia Yang, a new Minnesota author. Several years ago, Yang, who is not even 30 years old, began writing down her grandmother's memories. Those memories turned into this book.

For the few pages I've read, I'm enjoying it. The book got high praise from Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, another book about Hmong culture and history that I really enjoyed. For more information on Yang, you can go to her Web site, or you can read this article on One quote from this article is just so heartbreaking and also so amazing that it comes out of someone's mouth who is just my age - though obviously much more worldly than me:

“There were lots of defeats,” remembers Yang. “One day, I was reading on the Vietnam War and noticed that the Hmong weren’t anywhere [in the account]. Just like the American history books I read all through college and all through high school – "Hmong" wasn’t mentioned anywhere. And yet, I knew that war was responsible for us being here, and that it killed two-thirds of the people I belong to. People are still dying in the jungles of Laos, remnants of this fight. In the process of writing this book, I learned that that wars don’t end." She pauses then says, "There were so many lessons. What happened to old men and women during and after the war? I looked for the answer to this question everywhere, but no one answered it satisfactorily. So, I faced the problem: how could I begin to tackle this question, especially as it concerned my grandmother, who was already old by the time this war had come?"

I also enjoyed this paragraph on her experience in grad school. As a writer, it hit home, because I've always questioned my experiences and wondered if they're worth applying to my writing (maybe it's an American thing?):

Yang adds that her singular purpose and passion for these stories gave her an advantage over some of the very talented writers she studied with in the MFA program at Columbia University. “They were writing about drugs, or about other things that I knew were part of the contemporary American landscape. But I never got the feeling that they were really quite convinced that that was their story to tell yet," she reflects. "But in my heart, I was already burning with a story."

I'll keep you posted as I read more.

Posted: Mon, 07/07/2008 - 02:05 |