Amanda Gates
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A Musings - July 2009

Thanks to the always helpful MinnPost, I came across NPR's Audience Picks for the 100 Best Beach Reads Ever. Yes, ever. It's quite interesting to peruse the list. (Feel free to do the same and come back if you'd like.)

Out of the top 10, I've read seven (and have at least started, but not finished, two others). Out of all 100, if my memory serves me correctly, I've read 20. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Pillars of the Earth are on my Amazon Wish List already. I've also enjoyed several of these books (Under the Tuscan Sun, The Princess Bride, Cold Mountain, etc.) as movies.

I enjoyed MinnPost's Amy Goetzman's column about the list. She's a bit surprised more Minnesota authors didn't make the list. I agree with her suggestions, particularly Shannon Olson and Lorna Landvik. They'd make my summer reading list (and have) any day.

What about you? How many have you read? Any arguments for those books MIA?

Posted: Fri, 07/31/2009 - 00:53 | Comments: 2

Through my Twitter feed at work, I discovered this New York Times article, “Harry Potter is their Peter Pan.” It talks about how Generation Y, roughly those born between 1980 and 2003 (though other articles say Gen Yers are born between 1977 and 1995, which I personally prefer. It’s hard to imagine I have anything in common with someone born in 2003), are latching on to nostalgic movements, i.e. Harry Potter, late- or early-‘90s reunited bands, etc. [Note: I also wrote a bit about Generation Y here.]

The reason? The current state of the world has us searching for the security blanket of pre-9/11 life, when we weren’t at war, our jobs (or our parents’ jobs) were secure, and everyone was just happier.

It’s an interesting theory. I could maybe chalk up my love for Harry Potter and Saved By the Bell (Zack Morris on Jimmy Fallon was more than funny; it was brilliant) to a return to innocence. It’s soothing to think about the time in my life when those things were new to me. When New Kids on the Block got back together last year, it gave my best friend in third grade and I a chance to be those screaming, sighing girls again – however, this time over e-mail: “Did you see them sing on the Today show” and “Donnie hasn’t changed a bit” – and remember our childhood of Jordan Knight t-shirts, collecting stickers and all-around elementary school fun. I connected with her on a level I haven’t been able to in a long time.

And that’s just it. I don’t think it’s necessarily all about remembering better, safer times. I think it’s more about reconnecting. It’s more about reliving, and not because our current lives are lacking, but just because it’s fun. It’s why I still watch Friends reruns. It’s why I can’t believe Ally McBeal could just be coming out on DVD. It’s why I love any reference to The Princess Bride. It’s why I’m nearly exasperated when little kids don’t know who Ramona is or the Muppet Babies (or why I love my brother and sister-in-law because my niece and nephews love Tom & Jerry reruns).

Those bands, books, TV shows made me who I am. And if I like who I am, then of course I’m going to like revisiting how I got here. And while I can somewhat push my favorite things on the little kids in my life (Christmas and birthday presents), I’m also curious to see what will form their personalities and who they become.

What bits of popular culture do you look back on fondly? What will the kids of today have to look back on, do you think?

Posted: Wed, 07/29/2009 - 13:15 | Comments: 1

I liked this story in our local Star Tribune (courtesy of Associated Press). It talks about how second-generation Harry Potter fans don’t get the chance to “grow up” alongside Harry. If you were 10 when Sorcerer’s Stone came out, then you were 20 when Deathly Hollows hit shelves. At 20, you’re prepared for the darkness of death and war that takes place in the seventh book.

However, if you’re a parent interested in starting your kids on Potter now, and if they really enjoy them, you could end up going from book one to book seven in as little as a year or two (or less). Would your 8-year-old be ready for Deathly Hollows? Your 10-year-old? And if not, how do you tell them, “I know you love Harry, but we have to wait until you’re older to keep going…”

But, as the article says, maybe that’s exactly what you have to do. I loved the story of the 9-year-old boy who was reading Half-Blood Prince before the movie came out this month. Before he gets to the end, he’s so upset he stops reading and tells his dad to sell his movie ticket; he’s not going.

I completely understand, kid. Half-Blood is brutal. I’m surprised he even got through Order of the Phoenix. That ending just about killed me. And I was 22 when I read it.

There are plenty of books like this out there, too—series that grow as their characters grow (Traveling Pants, Twilight). From innocent kisses to sex. From talking it through to major violence. So, if you’re lucky to be there at the beginning, the transition is usually seamless. But if you’re second-generation readers, or parents who can’t wait for your kids to love Harry or Carmen or Bella as much as you did, then you have some thinking to do.

What do you think? How do you rein in little readers if they’re diving into territory they shouldn’t be? What other books offer up this conundrum?


I saw Half-Blood Prince over the weekend and I really enjoyed it. Big surprise, huh? I did think it was a touch too long. I can imagine how hard it is to cut down one of those books to fit a movie, but I think even if it were just 20 minutes shorter, that would've made a difference, and maybe left a little more time to make the ending a bit more impactful. Overall, the movies have come a long way. They keep getting more exciting, more humorous and more mature. It's probably because the kids keep growing up, but I like the movies more and more as the series goes on.

Posted: Mon, 07/27/2009 - 04:07 | Comments: 3

As I mentioned previously, Believe Me by Nina Killham, is about a teenage boy who, despite being raised by an atheist mother, starts going to bible study and church with some kids from school. This really throws his mom for a loop, and like you’d expect, many conversations about the universe and heaven take place.

I thought Killham’s portrayal of a teenage boy was pretty spot on. Nic is moody, interested in girls, confused all around. He seemed a touch too smart for his age, but his parents are both college professors, so maybe his high intelligence is probable. I found it interesting that Nic was suddenly so interested in God, but I think the reason he responded to it had less to do with “religion” and more to do with having someone to talk to and believe in (God), knowing there is a place to go when you die (heaven) and just fitting in with a group of kids (his fellow students).

The book brings up the question: How would you react if your child decided to go against all you raised him to be? I actually think his mom, Lucy, handled the situation pretty realistically. Shock, at first, some anger, but then she just let him do his own thing. She was a bit judgmental toward his church friends, but I think his church friends were actually way more judgmental of her. His friends would actually say to Nic that his mom was going to be damned to Hell. Who says that to a kid? Nice.

The book was predictable in the end because (obviously) some sort of tragedy will strike so everyone’s faith comes into question. Is it enough of a tragedy to make either Nic or his mom change their beliefs? As I was reading I thought to myself, if that’s the case, I will not enjoy the ending. Too easy.

The book is quick, funny (Nic is pretty hilarious) and a decent story. There were some parts I thought were a little far-fetched or convenient, and some of the characters weren’t as fleshed out as I would've like. But overall, a decent read. I’m going to look into Killham’s first novel, How to Cook a Tart. I’ve read some good things about that one.

Posted: Thu, 07/23/2009 - 03:33 | Comments: 1

I loved Angela's Ashes. While it tells of his quite depressing childhood, and made me very sad at times, the book is a lovely piece of literature. Here is an obit from CNN.

Also, even if you're not that into it, please take a moment to realize how freakin' amazing it was that 40 years ago today, two men walked on the moon. The moon. It's a shame we haven't been back.

Posted: Mon, 07/20/2009 - 03:26 | Comments: 4

My bff wants to start a book club, so she charged a few of us with reading Jane Austen. I have to say, I felt this was quite ambitious for a book club start out. Though, maybe it’s just me. I read Pride & Prejudice in college because my roommate at the time loved it and the women in my office raved about the Colin Firth movie. The book is good, don’t get me wrong, but it was my first introduction to Austen – or really any book written from that time – and, well, it made me feel kind of stupid. I’m not sure I understood half of what was going on. What the hell is she talking about, I kept thinking. It takes them a paragraph to say something I could say in a sentence. I’d get snippets of the story eventually, and could piece together what was happening, but it was so wordy, so involved, so old-fashioned. In the end, I enjoyed the story, but I felt it took way too much effort to get through.

So, I was apprehensive to say the least about diving into Northanger Abbey, our first Jane Austen book to read. I found the book on sale at Barnes & Noble (they have really good deals on the classics) and, luckily for me the book came with notes and an introduction by a present-day scholar. I read the introduction and got a really good idea of the story line, which helped me out quite a bit while I was reading it. He also created footnotes to explain the old-fashioned words. Those I didn’t need too much because with the context of the sentence you can figure it out, but still, helpful.

And I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I was able to get through it easier than P&P; several years ago, and I felt like I comprehended more of it than I thought I would. There were still plenty of times I thought, Seriously, what are you talking about and please get on with it, but maybe that’s just another Austen trait. (Maega and I were talking about this book the other day, and mentioned how Austen tends to use her books as platforms for what she believes. She doesn’t follow the “rules” that the author should remain anonymous, but instead puts her feelings right out there in the pages. Interesting.)

Her books are also filled with misunderstanding. I think that’s her humor style. It probably sounds weird, but they remind me of episodes of Frasier. Each episode of that show revolved around some stupid misunderstanding. (Daphne hears one thing, Niles hears another, Frasier acts weird, shenanigans follow.) It frustrated me so much! Just figure it out! So, I find myself feeling that way with this book (and P&P;) – a little frustrated.

The structure of the story was odd. It took quite a long while, more than half the book, to get to what the back cover said the book was actually about – and even then, it was just a minor part of the story. The book is more about the main character, Catherine’s relationship with two different sets of siblings. It’s not really about Northanger Abbey and “its secrets.” Though, maybe I’m missing some symbolism here, which is quite possible. So, I felt the ending was very abrupt. However, this book was published posthumously and Austen never actually had it properly edited. A good edit could do this book wonders. Tighten things up, fix contradictions, etc. (This is also one of the shortest of her works. I’m worried about getting through the longer ones like Emma and Mansfield Park.)

So, what Austen books have you read? Does anyone else have trouble reading books from so long ago? Or is it just me? I felt really great about myself when I read some customer reviews and the women were saying they read Jane Austen at age 10. Are you kidding?! I read a ton at age 10, but not Jane Austen.

What other classics do you enjoy?

Posted: Fri, 07/17/2009 - 04:17 | Comments: 5

In honor of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in theaters today, here's a list of links to Harry Potter-related posts I've written, and anything else Harry I could find today:

Half-Blood Prince trailer.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.

J.K. Rowling podcast, parts I and II.

Tomorrow night my DVR will be set to ABC for the documentary that followed Rowling during the year leading up to the release of Deathly Hollows.

Last week's Entertainment Weekly's cover story was on Harry. I can't believe how grown up these kids are (and they so far seem very well adjusted). Also, here's EW's review of the movie.

Our local Star Tribune's review. It surprises me that the film is back to being rated PG. They're only getting more scary and more complex.

I'll leave it at that. I plan to see the movie soon, but unlike reading the books, I don't have to see this before everyone else. I've been trying to catch Order of the Phoenix on TV, but it was only playing on HBO. I did watch Goblet of Fire recently though. All the films are fabulous. I love that they're a who's who of English actors too - Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, this time Jim Broadbent who I've loved ever since Moulin Rouge, Emma Thompson, Helena Boham Carter and Robbie Coltrane. Seriously, all they're missing is Hugh Grant and Keira Knightly (though, that doesn't mean I'm suggesting they would be right for these movies... No.).

Anyway, Happy Harry Potter Day!

Posted: Wed, 07/15/2009 - 02:46 | Comments: 1

Two hundred posts in less than two years - I feel that's pretty good, especially when most all I write about is books and related topics. When I set out to write this blog in October 2007, I wasn't sure what would come from it. But, I enjoy having this outlet to write about the books I read. I find that I read more carefully now when I know I have to share my thoughts with you. Sure, I phone it in sometimes by pasting a summary here and there, but most often I do that with books I feel just OK about. Books I love or that make me think, well, I'm happy to have this venue in which to write about them. Unfortunately this milestone is being honored with a so-so review.

Diana Joseph's I'm Sorry You Feel that Way was just OK for me. In each chapter, Joseph talks about a different man in her life: her 14-year-old son (at different ages), her live-in boyfriend, her exes, her brothers, her dad, her boss, her dog (not a man, but male). Some chapters, or parts of chapters, were funny. I like the way she described the relationships with her brothers. Lots of siblings have special relationships and they're fun to learn about. One brother is hard to talk to because he just doesn't have that much to say, while the other brother can keep her on the phone for hours talking about his sexual exploits.

I also thought the chapters about her son were interesting. She raised him by herself mostly, and it's always interesting to learn about parenting styles: How do you handle it when he has opinions much different than yours? Why is he always in his room playing video games? Some of her observations about her son were pretty hilarious and the way she talked to him or embarrassed him were funny, too. But, the rest of the book lacked luster, I guess. In some chapters I just wasn't interested at all (her alcoholic boss, her pervert friend, her hump-happy dog) and through quite a few, I just skimmed to get to the next chapter.

It's hard to say you don't like reading about someone's life. It obviously seemed interesting enough for her to get a book published, and I do think she has good writing skills and good humor, but maybe it was the way she decided to write about her life? Granted, this was an unabridged, unpublished version we got free in the mail at work. Maybe it's improved since then?

Posted: Fri, 07/10/2009 - 02:59 | Comments: 2

Rita Wilson, aka Ms. Tom Hanks, is looking to bring the novel Middlesex to the small screen as an hour-long drama on HBO. I'm not sure what to think about that. I can see how it would work - following the life of a hermaphrodite - but do you think people would watch it?

I tried to think of other books that have become TV shows: Little House on the Prairie, Friday Night Lights, Gossip Girl, True Blood (those last two are based on books, right?)... but what else? I think this is less of an occurrence than book-to-big-screen.

Posted: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 02:21 | Comments: 4

I read Pretty Little Mistakes, by Heather McElhatton, last year and really enjoyed it. I've put her latest book, Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single, on my Amazon Wish List, and I look forward to A Million Little Mistakes coming out sometime soon.

McElhatton is from Minnesota, a former producer for Minnesota Public Radio, so it's obvious the local Star Tribune would interview her for an article. She's a humorous, engaging woman, with a talent I envy. She thinks there should be a genre rivaling Chick Lit called Bitch Lit and she has interesting views on matrimony.

My favorite quote from the article is the last one: "I love traveling, but there's nowhere else in the world but Minnesota where I can recharge my batteries. I think of it as the world's library: It's cold, quiet, calm, peaceful, thoughtful -- and there's plenty of parking."

Posted: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 02:59 | Comments: 1