Amanda Gates
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A Musings - August 2008

I don’t read too many crime novels. I used to drink in my mom’s Patricia Cornwell books like water back in high school, but that seemed to be a phase. I also read a few Carl Hiassen novels – but those are more humorous takes on crazy crimes (and not focused on one character like Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta). However, I read some good reviews of George Pelecanos’ The Night Gardener, and put it on my Amazon wish list. A couple of weeks ago I found the book on the discount table at B&N; for $5.95 and picked it up.

Here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

When the body of a local teenager is found in a community garden, homicide detective Gus Ramone relives intense memories of a case he worked twenty years earlier. When he was still a rookie, Ramone and his partner Dan "Doc" Holiday assisted legendary detective T.C. Cook as he investigated a series of killings involving young victims left overnight in neighborhood parks. The killer, dubbed, "the Night Gardener," was never caught. Since then, Holiday has left the force under a cloud of morals charges; he now works as a bodyguard and driver, taunted by his dreams of what he might have been. Cook retired, but he has never stopped agonizing about the unsolved case. Ramone is "good police," working as a homicide detective for the city's violent-crime division. He is also a devoted husband and father, and his teenage son, Diego, was a friend of the most recent victim, a boy named Asa." Could the Night Gardener be on the prowl again? Asa's death draws the three men together on a mission to finish the work that has haunted them for years. For T.C. Cook, it means solving one of the few cases that eluded him in his distinguished career. For Doc Holiday, the Night Gardener case is one last chance to prove - to Cook, to Ramone, and to himself - what kind of police officer he once was. For Gus Ramone, catching the killer means not only doing his job but knowing that his son will not be the next victim. The regret, anger, and fierce sense of purpose that once burned between them come rushing back as they race to lay to rest the monster who has stalked their dreams.

Because it’s considered crime fiction, I expected the book to sweep me up and become one of those can’t-put-it-down-type books. 150 pages in I don’t have that feeling. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the book, which is different for me. The book is very dark. It speaks of all the conflicts between races in Washington D.C., cops and parents and children. How do some of these kids keep it on the straight and narrow when there are so many forces pulling them to the dark side? How do parents help and hinder the situation? And what’s the role of law enforcement (or the local government)? Because all these questions and the sad, dark feeling the book gives me, I think that’s why it is taking me a little longer to digest.

There’s also the mystery. Those who know me know I like to try and figure it out before the big reveal. The mystery is good here, and there are so many characters in play, it’s definitely a challenge to try and place where they all fit in the end. This is the part that keeps me reading, for sure.

In a related note, we watched Gone Baby Gone this weekend. Another missing child-type mystery, filled with good cops and bad cops, race relations, and “right” and “wrong.” A very good, but very dark movie. Put that on top of reading The Night Gardener and it’s no wonder I had a bad dream last night.

What about you? What books did you like, but took a while to digest? Did a book ever give you nightmares?

Posted: Mon, 08/25/2008 - 05:32 | Comments: 2
I was reading my latest issue of Domino last night, and I came across a short piece titled "Bookish Eye Candy." The section highlighted five different publishers making their titles artful - perfect for dressing up any bookshelf.
Melville House takes some the world's most famous novellas - some that have never been published in book form before - and presents them simply in its The Art of the Novella line:

Penguin Books brings back some of the world's most debated books, such as Marx's Communist Manifesto, books by Freud and Common Sense by Thomas Paine, in its Great Ideas series. The covers are just beautiful using blues, greens and reds in letterpress style (this is just one example - there several):

Peresphone Books, a U.K.-based publisher offers books for women, by women, about women in lovey gray book jackets with unique fabric endpapers in each one. Seriously, lovely:

Posted: Wed, 08/20/2008 - 02:00 | Comments: 2

I'm joining the fray of the blogosphere and posting a (book-inspired) quiz. (Some of these questions were influenced by others, Library Thing and Pop Culture Junkie, so they deserve a separate shout out.)

1. Do you have a favorite book?
2. Do you have a favorite author?
3. Do you have a favorite genre?
4. From where do you get most of your books?
5. Read the book or see the movie?

1. I know. This is an unfair question. If you can’t name a favorite, I understand. I can’t really either. You can see my top five along the sidebar, and even after all the books I’ve read, these five still rank that high.

2. I have many authors I like to read, but I don’t think I’ll ever skip a book by Shannon Olson, Khaled Hosseini or Jhumpa Lahiri. While I enjoy Nick Hornby, Jodi Picoult, etc., after several books – with a disappointment thrown in here and there – I’m not as urged to read them as I once was, especially not as soon as they come out.

3. I read lots of different genres, from nonfiction to fiction to memoir. I’m not into Sci Fi or comic books really (though Maus I and II are both hands-down, life-changing amazing), and I only read thriller/mystery every now and then. I may get on a fiction kick for awhile, but then I’ll have to move to a bit of nonfiction to bring myself back to reality and keep my brain from feeling like it's turning to mush.

4. I buy almost all of my books from Amazon for the cheaper prices and the Super Saver shipping. Next in line is Barnes & Noble because it’s right down the street from my work. I sell my books to Half-Price Books.

5. I prefer to read the book before seeing the movie, because in my mind, the book is almost always better. However, sometimes if the book doesn’t really interest me, but we’re looking to see a movie, I make an exception. (Examples: Because it has many famous faces in it, the movie He’s Just Not That Into You, coming out this fall, looks cute. I don’t plan on reading the book though. No Country for Old Men won Best Picture, so I felt like I had to see it. Because I was worried I wouldn’t be a huge fan, I didn’t want to spend time with the book. That was a good decision. I read The Hobbit, but just couldn't get into LOTR. The movies, however, were awesome.) And, sometimes I never even know a movie was a book to begin with.

I know I took the easy way out on some of these questions by giving multiple answers, so feel free to do the same. Let me know your thoughts!

Posted: Fri, 08/15/2008 - 02:22 | Comments: 5

I’ve read a few more chapters in The World Without Us. This book is dense! But definitely interesting. One chapter talks exclusively about New York City (“The City Without Us”) and it’s just amazing all the things that would happen without humans to run things (and I don’t mean for the better; we could be running things into the ground for all we know). Once upon a time, the land that is New York City was hilly and green, but it was flattened to make room for skyscrapers and such. Because of the lack of vegetation to absorb it, rainwater has nowhere to go but down. And what’s down? The subway.

NYC has an organization called the Hydraulics Emergency Response whose job it is to keep 13 million gallons of water each day from encroaching on the subway system. And that’s on a day when it doesn’t rain. In a world without pumps, people and electricity, the experts think the NYC underground would fill completely in two days. TWO DAYS. Within 20 years, the streets become rivers.

In an interest of looking at the world without humans, Weisman studies the world before us. He delves into the ice ages and eras before humans. He talks about how humans evolved from apes and started moving from Africa to Australia and America (continents were much more connected than they are now) and came face to face with such huge creatures such as the wooly mammoth, the cow-sized giant sloth and the black bear-sized beaver. Creatures that are no longer here. Why?

A well-respected theory that Weisman seems to believe is that humans hunted these beasts into extinction. We hunted them for food, for sport, just because we could, not realizing what we were doing. The places we didn’t get to right away (some islands in the Caribbean, farther into South America), well, those species lasted a bit longer. Interesting. When these creatures were gone, we learned to farm. Many people of varying levels of intelligence don’t want to believe this theory. But it makes sense to me. I mean, we seem to care about extinction nowadays, but if our lives depended on it or we just didn’t know any better, there’s no doubt in my mind we’d go after the endangered species. (Weisman even mentions in the book how Teddy Roosevelt killed 600 animals on one safari in 1909. One safari. For sport.)

More recently humans had an effect on nature as well. We brought over new plants and organisms that changed our landscape outright. Writes Weisman, “The European starling—now a ubiquitous avian pest from Alaska to Mexico—was introduced because someone thought [NYC] would be more cultured if Central Park were home to each bird mentioned in Shakespeare. Next came a Central Park garden with every plant in the Bard’s plays, sown with the lyrical likes of primrose, wormwood, larks’ heel, eglantine, and cowslip.” We are so dumb.

Whether you believe in evolution or not, it’s very interesting to think about where we came from and how, quite possibly, we’ve been ruining things for thousands of years. Or, is it all just part of the natural cycle? Extinction is a part of life, many scientists say. That’s probably true.

But who’s next?

Posted: Tue, 08/12/2008 - 08:09 |

My bff sent me this article from One of the magazine's reporters discovered by happenstance that one of her articles was copied nearly verbatim in a Texas alt-weekly. After a little more Googling and research, she discovered this is pretty much the way they do things at this newspaper.

Unbelievable. My co-worker and I were just talking about it and we think this happens a lot more than we realize, especially now that people - anyone with a computer - can publish online. Why did this reporter even bother to change a few words here and there? Why go to the trouble? Just steal full out, then. It's just pure laziness. And maybe jealousy, as Slate's writer has an obvious way with words. Hey Bulletin: It's called ethics. Get some.


Posted: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 11:13 | Comments: 1

Now I've started reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, a journalist and documentary maker who, in this book, studies what would happen to the planet and all that's on it, if humans left. Have you ever seen I Am Legend? Will Smith plays a man who is alone in New York City and has been for three years. Weeds grow up from the sidewalks, corn fields grow in the middle of the city, animals wander much more freely. And that's only after three years. Weisman discusses what will happen after many more years than that:

Look around you, at today's world. Your house, your city. The surrounding land, the pavement underneath, and the soil hidden below that. Leave it all in place, but extract the human beings. Wipe us out, and see what's left. How would the rest of nature respond if it were suddenly relieved of the relentless pressures we heap on it and our fellow organisms? How soon would, or could, the climate return to where it was before we fired up all our engines?

...Might we have left some faint, enduring mark on the universe; some lasting glow, or echo, of Earthly humanity; some interplanetary sign that once we were here?

...Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?

The first chapter I read was about what happens to our homes (suburban homes) if we're not here to keep the elements out. If we're not here to fix the roof, seal the basement, etc. It may take 50 to 100 years, but they all will eventually collapse. It starts with mold. Which rots the sheetrock and the wood. Rotten walls let in water, which produces more mold. Holes in the foundation let in critters. Soon it collapses upon itself. Weisman also looks at our past to determine a future without us. While some of the book is a tad on the slow side for me, Weisman does have a beautiful way of stringing words together - as you can read above. And, it's all very interesting to think about, sad and depressing, too, but interesting.

Posted: Wed, 08/06/2008 - 02:05 |

I wasn't sure I'd have the time to buy and read Breaking Dawn this weekend, but I couldn't put it down. And I couldn't go to bed last night until I finished it. Trying to get through today waiting to finish it tonight just didn't seem bearable. :)

This was a great final book to the series. I read last week that Meyer thought about putting a warning on the book, because it was a bit more adult than the other three. And that's the truth. Much more gory, much more sexy - and very good. The book held some surprises for me, most definitely, which I'm always happy about. Meyer also detoured a bit; the middle section of the book was narrated by Bella's bff Jacob, instead of by Bella. When I got to this part, I was a little disappointed (I stand firmly on Team Edward), but in the end I thought it was a great storytelling technique, particularly for that section of the book. Jacob is the funny sidekick who can lighten any mood, so him as narrator just worked.

Danger and secrets were around every corner of the book, which made it that much more suspenseful. The reader gets to meet many more vampires from around the world, many with special powers of their own (Edward can read people's minds; Alice can see the future, etc.). I really enjoyed meeting these new characters as they gathered in Forks for a very important reason. The book ended perfectly, in my eyes, tying up loose ends and truly providing a happily after after conclusion. I'm extremely glad I gave these books a try this summer; it's been a very entertaining two weeks.

UPDATE (same day): I just listened to a brief interview with Meyer on B&N.; She talks about her inspirations for each book and other stories these books circle around. Twilight: Pride & Prejudice; New Moon: Romeo & Juliet; Eclipse: Wuthering Heights; and Breaking Dawn: A Midsummer Night's Dream and one more book she wouldn't mention, afraid to give something away. OK, Twilight saga readers, what do you think it is? I'm not sure...

Posted: Mon, 08/04/2008 - 02:12 | Comments: 5

An article in today's local paper (and I'm sure in every other paper in the country, too) focuses on the love for the Twilight series. However, this article takes the twist of why adult women, not teenagers, love these books. If you want to know why I fell in love with them, too, read this article. I can totally relate. Some highlights:

Julie Price is 35 and single and loves them "because they remind you of being young again, of how intense your feelings are when you're a teenager. It makes your heart race."

Price also voiced a common refrain among Twilight's older readers: She had never before read a vampire story, only to find herself hooked. "There's something very appealing about the culture of the vampire," she said. "They're so beautiful and untouchable. And how Edward is overcoming his vices, his natural tendencies, makes him even more exciting. He could kill her, but he loves her."


Stacey Erickson, an Eagan mother of three and Twilight Mom, at age 35, has found herself head-over-heels in love with -- well, love. Meyers, she said, "just captures that feeling of having such a crush on some boy, that if he ever even brushed against you, you would shiver."

I was talking with my friend Em about these books yesterday and I mentioned that another reason I love them is because in the first three books, despite their utter infatuation with each other, Bella and Edward have abstained. I think this is a very important message to send the teenage audience (and probably makes moms very happy). Author Meyer is religious (she's Mormon, doesn't work on Sundays, etc) and has said in interviews that she was a very good girl when she was growing up. I definitely appreciate her drive to keep these two apart physically. While I also love the Traveling Pants series, I couldn't quite get onboard with a few of those girls having sex in high school. These books prove that teenage girls (and even women) don't need to read about sex to enjoy a book. Romance comes is all shapes and forms, and oftentimes it's about much more than the bedroom.

Posted: Fri, 08/01/2008 - 01:56 |