Amanda Gates
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A Musings - September 2009

So yes, this is what I've been reading for the past 12 weeks, which can only mean one thing. Come April, things are going to change around our house.

But, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I'll fill you in on my thoughts of this book. I think it's just OK. When you find out you're having a baby, at least for me, this seems like the must-buy-first book. Everyone reads it, right? I find the first page of each month interesting, because they tell you how big your baby is each week and what part of them is developing that week (though sometimes that can be a little gross, too.) I also have gotten some helpful advice from the Q&As;, learning when certain feelings and experiences are normal, etc.

However, I find the book a bit preachy, as well. The authors can take a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude about certain topics, such as organic foods, breastfeeding - you know, all the hot topics of pregnancy and parenting. I don't respond well to that - I try to be more of "to each their own" type of person: you make your choices and I'll make mine. So, I've found that I only read those parts of the book that I enjoy and I skip the rest. Same goes for other parenting books, magazines and Web sites that I come across.

My husband has read So You're Going to Be a Dad and The Expectant Father and he enjoyed both very much; the first is very humorous and the second more serious.

Posted: Tue, 09/29/2009 - 07:21 | Comments: 6

I'm a journalist. But I'm not the kind of journalist that goes out and nabs the "tough stories." I write and edit for consumer and business magazines. Very little controversy there. However, as someone who went to journalism school and feels she knows a lot about her profession, I feel I can say this: I hate the news.

My hatred for the news has grown consistently and exponentially over the past several years. Why do I hate it? Because those reporters, those network anchors - they're lazy and they're scared. Nearly every time we watch the news at home, which is more and more infrequently lately, I turn to my husband and say:

"Being objective DOES NOT mean you can't ask tough questions. Come on."

I'm tired of network and cable news channels just replaying snippets of the president, republicans in Congress, whomever, spouting the latest crap and then leaving it at that. What? Where are the follow up questions? Where is the research to prove them wrong or right? Why don't you point out how they're being hypocritical? Doing these things does not make you a biased journalist - it makes you smart. It makes you act like a watchdog for the people, which by the way is your job.

You know who was the best watchdog for the people? Tim Russert. That guy didn't care who sat at his table each Sunday morning, he asked the tough questions. He listened to his guest (democrat or republican) and then proceeded to show them a clip of themselves months earlier saying the exact opposite thing. Did this make him biased? No. He was holding our leaders accountable and he was searching for the truth. And I liked that about him. (I have to admit I haven't watched David Gregory in this role. Maybe he does the job just as well, but I don't know.)

(There's another man who shines in this area, though he doesn't call himself a journalist. Jon Stewart. Sure, he may lean left politically and be a comic by profession, but he's not afraid to throw up clips of the president when he's screwing up or Nancy Pelosi when she stumbles over her words, just as he's not afraid to devote 10 minutes to the grossness that is Glen Beck.)

I think I really started turning off the news when the health care stuff kicked into high gear over the summer. The whole "death panel" conversation had me in a tizzy. To me, it didn't even seem like the reporters had actually read the bill. The American people are not going to read this bill for themselves. It's the responsibility of reporters (both print and TV) to spell it out for us. Tell us the truth, and if the truth comes out in favor of the president, that doesn't mean you're biased. Or vice versa. (This was also around the time Obama's citizenship was being questioned. I was so disappointed that story made it on TV news so many nights that it did. Why is that even a story? He was born in Hawaii. Done. Over. Next.)

Anyway, long rant longer, Eric Black of MinnPost has an awesome column that talks about just this stuff - the responsibility of journalists and how they're failing. He points to an amazing article in the Columbia Journalism Review about how journalism is becoming irrelevant. It is. Either people think all news organizations are biased, or they're like me and just sick of the laziness. The author, Brent Cunningham, says some wonderful things and makes valid points. For example:

Meanwhile, American journalism, too, is in a protracted moment of painful change. Both its business model and its sense of mission are in full retreat. Much experimentation is under way, with different financial-support structures, narrower editorial missions, collaborative projects, etc. There is an urgency, a humility, at news outlets about the need to rethink things that is long overdue.

So the press needs a new mission, and the nation needs someone to help initiate and lead the discussion of what kind of place America will be in the twenty-first century. It is not at all clear that our best news outlets have the will to become true arbiters of our public discourse, but given the increasing inadequacy of the journalistic status quo, and the nature of the challenges facing the country, such a mission shift could offer a crucial way forward for both the press and the public.

If you don't want to read the long Cunningham article, Black does pull some other great snippets in his own column. To all of it, I can only say: Right On. And then hope for a change.

Posted: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 05:17 | Comments: 3

Thanks to PopCandy I discovered Blogfest 2009: 40 authors, 14 questions, 2 weeks, 1 blog. Simon and Schuster got together several of their young adult authors to answer different questions every day for two weeks. The questions range from "Have you ever just wanted to give up?" to "Is it harder to write the first book opposed to the second?"

I've read through the first two days of answers, and they're pretty cool. I'm not familiar with many of the authors as I don't read too many young adult novels, but I like how their answers really vary. I also like how some are long-winded as you'd expect a writer to be, and others have really short answers.

My favorite answer so far came from Neil Shusterman on "What was the first thing you wrote?"

The first thing I remember writing was a Halloween story in third grade. My teacher (who didn’t like me very much) gave me a D-minus on it, because in this story, the ground opened up, swallowed my third grade teacher, and closed up again, squirting blood everywhere (I didn’t like her much either.) She used to get so annoyed at me, she would throw me out of the classroom, and send me to the library just to get rid of me. That’s where I developed a love of reading, and eventually writing.

Hilarious! I plan to keep reading for the entire two weeks. I'm especially interested in the answers to the questions "Is it difficult to get a book published" and "Who are your favorite authors and what are your favorite books?" I can only imagine how different the answers will be.

Posted: Tue, 09/22/2009 - 21:10 | Comments: 1

Here's a list of book-related articles I've discovered recently:

+ A few weeks back I happened upon this article where the world's second-largest publisher says eBooks will kill the hardcover. It's an interesting discussion because when Amazon can offer books for your Kindle for just $9.99, and you're the type of person who reads on a Kindle (I am not), why would you ever actually purchase a book again? I find it more interesting of a discussion as to how $9.99 was established as the price (similar to how did iTunes establish $0.99 for a song?). Because once that price is established, no other seller can really dare to charge more than that. (We can get into why this is a problem with the Internet, too: can't start charging people for online content when you've been offering it up for free for so long. But I won't go there.)

Some can suggest that physical books may go the way of the cassette tape, VHS or perhaps soon the CD or regular DVD, but I believe books will be around for a long time. Sure, publishers might have to renegotiate the ways in which they work, but who doesn't these days (i.e. newspapers/magazines)? Because, like the end of the article says, books have been around for hundreds of years, and you can't say that about the VCR or the CD player. I bet we won't even be able to say that about the iPod.

+ If you're into cooking, here's a list the Star Tribune put together: 20 cookbooks every cook should have. I don't own any of these, but then, I'm nowhere near a cook.

+ Minnesota Monthly has a nice Q & A with locally based, but nationally known author Vince Flynn. He offers up some great stories about the White House and other political figures. It's an interesting, quick read.

+ This was a big week in books because Dan Brown's sequel to Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol arrived on shelves. It broke a first-day record, selling more than 1 million copies. If you pay attention to big-time book news, it's no surprise that publisher Knopf Doubleday was counting on this book to make its year. I even heard rumors that a delay in the book's publishing actually caused the hurting publishing house to layoff a bunch of people several months ago. Can you imagine if your book was the lone book that was possibly keeping a publisher afloat? That's insane. What tremendous pressure. EW's review wasn't stellar, but I don't think that matters to Robert Langdon fans. I enjoyed the first two books, as quick, suspenseful reads, so I'd read this one too, though I don't think I'd purchase it for myself.

Posted: Sat, 09/19/2009 - 08:11 | Comments: 2

Yesterday, local online news source MinnPost launched its Book Club Club (BCC), a place where Minnesota book clubs of all shapes and sizes can register (for free) and be part of an online community. From the looks of it, BCC will feature different reading-related posts on which book lovers can comment. One of the first posts provides a timeline for the evolution of book clubs in the United States. It's very interesting; some of the highlights:

+ While it would be silly to believe Benjamin Franklin didn't have something to do with book clubs back in the day, I love that a majority of book-club history revolves around women.

+ I also love that in the late 1700s, Hannah Mather Crocker took the position that the study of science and literature was much more important for women than other "frivolous" activities. I can only imagine what activities she was talking about.

+ Mail-order book clubs (ex: The Literary Guild) began in the 1920s. By the 1980s, when big-box discounters really flourished, these mail-order clubs felt the hit.

+ And the best line from the timeline: "It is estimated that there are more than 5 million book club members in the United States. Most clubs have 10 or more members. 70 to 80 percent of clubs are all-female." It goes to show you that women love to learn, we love to socialize with each other, and we're all about putting those two things together.

You can also catch part I of an eight-part series on book clubs in Minnesota.

Posted: Wed, 09/16/2009 - 01:40 | Comments: 1

I'm not sure I've ever gone a full two weeks without a post. But the past month and a half have seen a lack of reading on my part. A big reason for it is because the book I've been reading hasn't been all that fun of a read for me and it took me a long time to get through. I also don't have any unread books on my shelf right now that peak my interest. My mom just loaned me Pillars of the Earth (which numerous people I know have read and have loved), but the thing weighs 10 pounds and is 1,000 pages - so it's a bit daunting to try and start it.

I have been reading lots of magazines though. My husband had like 6,000 Northwest Airlines frequent flier miles and when NWA merged with Delta, his miles were no good. So, to "make up" for it, they offered us the opportunity to get magazines for his miles. So we ordered like six new magazines for free. We had just purged and stopped subscriptions a bunch of magazines to save money, but these were free, so why not? We now get Health, Fast Company, Allure, Travel + Leisure, Details and Esquire (again) - this is on top of Entertainment Weekly, Motor Trend, Playstation, Wired and Sports Illustrated. (I also get Glamour as a replacement for the defunct Domino, and I'm sorry but Glamour sucks - bad design, bad edit, bad everything.)

So, we've found ourselves surrounded by piles of magazines, trying to read them all. However, if I just flip through Allure and Glamour and recycle after 10 minutes, I don't feel so bad, since we're not paying for them.

Posted: Mon, 09/14/2009 - 02:33 | Comments: 5

Because the Obama's took a vacation last week, it was necessary for the White House to release a list of books the president was bringing along. I find it all pretty ridiculous, and as the Slate column eludes, it just leads to an over interpretation of his leisure reading material. Can you imagine the thought that goes into this list? There has to be meetings about it, right? "He should have a couple of novels, so he doesn't look too snooty..." "Oh, but he has to read something pertinent to present day, like the environment..." "Something historical, too!" But if this is the case, according to Slate (who is going along with the over interpretation), the meetings weren't completely successful:

But his list is also clearly not poll-tested. Women played a key role in Obama's victory in 2008. They're swing voters. And yet all of Obama's authors are white men. The subject of the longest book, John Adams, is a dead white male. Obama couldn't get away with that in an election year, and, given his aides' penchant for cleaning up little things like this, we'll soon see the president with a copy of Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women.

In the end, do we really care? Does it really matter? Nah. I just want a president who reads, period. And I have no doubt our president has done a little reading in his lifetime. I actually think less of the publicized lists because I think they're manufactured. Maybe Obama really doesn't want to read those books. Maybe he's a closet Twilight fan (doubtful, but fun to imagine nonetheless). Or maybe he just wanted to take this vacation as a break from all the crazy and just spend time with his ladies. Perhaps instead reading bedtime stories to the girls, and spending the evening talking to his wife.

What do you think? Do you care what our president reads? Or does it just depend on who our president is to care what he reads?


I have to geek out for a second and summarize what comes to mind whenever I see the acronym POTUS: The very first scene in the very first episode of The West Wing, when Sam Seaborn is awoken out of the bed he shares with a beautiful woman to a text message: "POTUS fell off his bike." (Or something like that.) "POTUS?" asks the woman, wrapped in a sheet, looking over Sam's shoulder. "Who's POTUS?" As he dashingly hops out of bed and starts to dress, Sam says in all seriousness with a hint of a self-important tone, "The President of the United States." Gosh, I miss that show.

Posted: Tue, 09/01/2009 - 04:31 | Comments: 3