Amanda Gates
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A Musings - December 2009

Here is my annual list of books that I received this year for my birthday/Christmas:

The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson. I have yet to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but once I do, I'll have the sequel at the ready.

Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength, by Laurie Helgoe. I'm always interested to learn how introverts get along in the world, especially since I'm one of them.

Things I Learned About my Dad in Therapy, edited by Heather Armstrong.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley.

Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby.

Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I loved Freakonomics tremendously - so interesting - so I'm excited for this one, too.

Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood, edited by Camille Peri and Kate Moses of

Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write about Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race & Themselves, also by Camille Peri and Kate Moses.

A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas.

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, by A.J. Jacobs. I fully enjoyed his first two books, which were big-time experimemts, so I look forward to reading about some of his mini experiments. What a life, right? Just live through experiences and then write about them... nice.

And once again, I have a few B&N; gift cards to spend, too. Woo!

Posted: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 13:05 | Comments: 2

How ever you celebrate this time of year, may your days be bright and filled with love.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Posted: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 04:11 |

I meant to post this last week. I'll be seeing Sherlock Holmes in the next week or so, most definitely. But it was so interesting to discover that the largest collection of Holmes memorabilia is located right here in Minnesota. In a basement at the University of Minnesota some 60,000 artifacts are at home, including book volumes, magnifying glasses, broadcast recordings and much more.

I haven't actually read much Sherlock Holmes, but the movie and this article might entice me to check out at least a story or two. Are you a Holmes fan?

Posted: Tue, 12/22/2009 - 09:17 | Comments: 1

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay takes place in two different times. Sarah, a young Jewish girl, lives during WWII in occupied France. On morning in July 1942, she and her parents are taken away from their home during a roundup called Vel' di'Hiv'. Thousands of families are taken to a large arena and kept in horrendous conditions for several days, then sent via train to prison camps and later onto Auschwitz. Before the men take her away, Sarah hides her little brother in a cupboard, promising to come back for him. Her chapters are told from Sarah's point of view about how she overcomes her fears, strives to be strong and find a way home to her brother.

These chapters alternate with those of Julia Jarmond, a present-day American journalist who has lived in Paris for 25 years. She's married with a daughter, and is assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the roundup. In her research, she uncovers the story of Sarah, and makes it her mission to find out how it ended up.

I loved this book. I think by alternating the stories of Sarah and Julia in short chapters, de Rosnay keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. I gobbled the story up in less than a week. The story engages you from the beginning and keeps you turning the pages. I had no idea that France went through such a roundup, and that the French police were ordered to ship tens of thousands of Jewish people to the camps over a period of time (and nearly all didn't come back). It's a very dark period of the country's history, and Julia found that many French people would either pretend like they didn't know what was going on during that time or just wanted to bury the past.

A little more than halfway through the book, de Rosnay shifts the entire storytelling to Julia. While I understand this was probably to maintain the mystery of the rest of Sarah's story, I found I missed Sarah's chapters. I wasn't ready to let her go, which in a way is probably better than getting tired of her. I enjoyed all the characters, I loved the storytelling, I was heartbroken by the events of history. This was a very good piece of historical fiction.

I have realized that I'm drawn to fiction about WWII. I've now read WWII stories from several sides: Polish with The Zookeeper's Wife; Russian with City of Thieves; English with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; German with Those Who Save Us; and now France. While they're all fiction, they are seeped in historical accuracy. And while they're all sad, they're all very good as well.

Do you have any favorite books about WWII? Any other war?

Posted: Wed, 12/16/2009 - 01:26 | Comments: 1

I just finished Second Chance by Jane Green. I've read some of her books in the past. Mostly what you'd call "chick lit," but entertaining and quick reads if that's what you're looking for. Second Chance is about a group of high school friends who have lost touch, but then are reunited around the age of 40 after the tragic death of one of the group members. The death happens quickly in the book, so the rest of the pages are devoted to the grief of the friends and then basically their life stories. They're all in different places in their lives - all at different turning points - and perhaps the friend's death has led them all to look at their lives differently. Will they all get a "second chance"? Ah, yes, cheesy. But entertaining for the most part.

I particularly liked the story line of Holly, a wife and mother who's unhappy but can't figure out why. However, I think the reason I liked this story line the most is because Green spilled the most ink on Holly. She really feels like the central character, and everyone else is just a minor character in the book. You don't really get attached to any of the other characters, which makes you not really care what happens to them. Maybe that was the point? But I don't think so.

And Holly still feels like the main character even though Green uses the technique of writing from everyone's perspective - sort of. It's hard to explain, but sometimes while reading it you feel like you're in the mind of the character and other times you feel like it's just Green telling you what's going on in the mind of the character. This got to be confusing and bit frustrating, and as an editor I would've cleaned this up a bit and made the story feel a little more cohesive.

So, if you're a fan of the green-pink-and-white-covered, female-driven literature out there, this is probably right up your alley. If you're like me and sometimes just want a book that's easy that you can devour in a few days and then forget about - this works, too. Otherwise, nothing to write home about.

Posted: Fri, 12/11/2009 - 01:51 |

Each December I usually compile a list of five posts of my favorite reads of the year. However, this was a more lackluster year for reading. It started out strong, was mixed with some surprises, but overall, I couldn't really pick five books I loved. At least, not ones worthy of an end-of-the-year shout out. So, in lieu of a series of posts, I'm going to write one longish post, highlighting a couple books I really enjoyed, as well as a few blog posts of which I'm proud.

The Last Lecture
I don't think you'll find a negative review about Randy Pausch's book anywhere. It's engaging, inspiring and heartbreaking. It's short and sweet, but it's a thinker. What if you only had six months to live? What legacy would you want to leave behind? What lessons have you learned that you'd want to pass on to your children? Excellent book.

City of Thieves
This was a fluke. I found this book for free at work and gave it a try. I've since loaned it to three other people who all agreed: extremely good. Disturbing yet real, sad yet uplifting - plus you learn a little something, which is never a bad thing. Good for men and women readers. Definitely one I'll keep on my shelf for awhile.

Pretty is What Changes
While I can't say this is the most impressively written memoir I've ever read, the challenges the author goes through and the decisions she makes about her body are truly thought provoking, especially for women. It forces you to ask yourself some tricky questions, and the story has stuck with me all year.

Dreams From My Father
(three parts)
This was also an impulse read. I never really planned on reading Obama's memoir. I'm not like that with politicians and their books. But, for some reason I gave this one a shot. It's completely different than a memoir written after a presidency (or first lady-ship or rogue-ish VP run) because Obama wrote this before the political "machine" started for him. As I said in one of my posts, the absolute coolest thing about our president - whether you agree with his ideas or not - is that he's really one of us: raised by a single mom, middle class, worked hard to go to college, etc. (He's not some entitled kid who grew up in a wealthy family that had political connections from day one.) And he became President. It proves that if your kid says he or she wants to be president one day, you can actually say with some confidence now, "Yes, that's definitely within reach."

So, those four books stood out the most for me in 2009. Sure, I read some others that were cute, or fun, or interesting, but nothing that really grabbed me. I did, however, write some posts about books and popular culture that I thought were good conversation starters (whether they started conversations or not).

How Young is Too Young?

Does Pop Culture Make Us Feel Safe Again?
For the Love of First Grade
My Rant on Journalism Today

Here's to a great new year of reading. Though with a baby on the way, I'm guessing, perhaps, a little less reading than I'm used to.

So, what were your favorite books of 2009?

Top 5 Books of 2007
A Look Back 2008

Posted: Tue, 12/08/2009 - 08:12 | Comments: 3

There are many things I liked about Marg Stark's What No One Tells the Mom.

1. It gives you permission to be scared about what you're about to embark on.

2. She uses frank, funny language that's engaging to follow and quick to read.

3. She's not afraid to show her faults and the faults in her marriage, even if it means telling us how disappointed she was in her husband for a very long time (he's a saint by the way, if he's OK with her airing their dirty laundry like that), about how she almost drove away and never came back...

4. ...but then she doesn’t forget to explain how it all got better: her husband started helping out more, how they found more time to be together as a couple, how sweet and special her kids are a majority of the time.

5. The book takes away any preconceived notions, letting you know that things won’t be perfect, and you shouldn’t expect them to be, and that’s OK.

6. Stark and her army of friends and interviewees provide helpful tips for keeping your sanity during an insane time.

A few quotes I enjoyed:

“The standards to which we hold ourselves contribute to the enormous tension we feel, and underestimate a child’s fervent desire to be team player and to help manage family life and its complications. Most moms I know don’t think to delegate chores and they try not to bore kids on weekends with grocery shopping and errands. We’re managing motherhood with white gloves when even in the roughest, dirtiest of circumstances, kids are astonishingly smart, sometimes even prescient.”

She also pulled from another book (The Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner) these valuable lessons:

“Venting anger may not help. It tends to protect or solidify, rather than challenge, the existing rules or patterns of a relationship; the only person we can truly change or control is our own self; blaming and fighting are often ineffective methods for exacting change, and ways to avoid the more threatening job of changing yourself.”

One thing that I started to get to me though, by the time I read the 250 pages, was her downer attitude. Stark sought counseling and she suffered from a bit of depression. While this is all fine, and I appreciate her sharing that with her readers, I do think the depression probably made motherhood and marriage seem a little more torturous for her. While I can definitely see the fighting, the resentment, the frustration all coming to fruition in any new family of three (or more), I hope for most it’s much easier to find the happiness than it was for Stark.

So, in the end: loved the lessons, loved the advice, loved hearing from all the other moms. Laughed out loud. Dog-eared pages. I could’ve just used a little more positive words from the author herself.

Posted: Tue, 12/01/2009 - 09:47 | Comments: 3