Amanda Gates
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A Musings

Last year at this time, I was on day two of National Novel Writing Month. I was nervous about it and I really didn't know if it was something I could complete. As the month went on, I went through a series of emotions from happiness to frustration, but in the end I finished a 50,000-word young adult novel. (You can review my progress in the few posts I wrote last year.)

Well, with it being NaNoWriMo time again, I'm feeling some nostalgia. I went into this month knowing it wasn't a task I could repeat this year. We have some other things going on, plus the hubby is in school and many of his nights and hours on the weekend are spent in his office studying and using our computer. Last year we didn't have to share the space. This year, I just didn't foresee that working out, even though he said over and over we could make it work.

I'm fine with my decision. I'm tired often and have lots of odds and ends (cleaning, organizing, shopping, painting) that I'm looking to complete before the new year. Adding a 50,000-word novel to that mix, well, I probably don't need the extra "thing" to do. But, I do miss it a bit. I'm very proud of my book I wrote, even if it's just a silly little story about a high school girl and the mystery she solves. But, I wrote a book. With a beginning, middle and end. I bound it so it can sit on my shelf, with my name on the cover and the spine. I'll always be proud of it, and I'm so glad I participated last year.

I also know I would never have written a "first" novel any other way. NaNoWriMo pushes you to get that story out, no matter how awful (or fabulous). So many people say they'll write a book someday, but when they look at it as the daunting task that it is, most never try. With NaNo, you can do it. And it's daunting, sure, but only for a month. Then you can quit. And hopefully you quit with something resembling a full-out novel.

Then it's just editing that you can choose to put off for as long as you want.

Posted: Mon, 11/02/2009 - 09:13 | Comments: 1

Honestly, I can't believe it took me this long to read this book (I got it for Christmas last year), especially since you can read it all in about 45 minutes. But it was perfect for a few short bus rides, and I really enjoyed it.

J.K. Rowling wrote and illustrated this book of fairy tales last year and the proceeds go to a children's charity. The book contains five fairy tales that revolve around the wizarding community, but they're just like Muggle fairy tales; they can be scary, they hold a lesson and they toy with good and evil.

The tales themselves are cute, but it's the included notes that were my favorite part. Supposedly, Dumbledore himself was studying The Tales of Beedle the Bard (he also posthumously gifted it to Hermione in the final Harry Potter book and it helped them solve one of their missions) and left copious notes. Dumbledore offers up extra history about each tale (for example, one story was offensive to Death Eaters so they tried to get it banned from the Hogwarts library; banned books being something of which the Muggle world knows plenty) and he also offers up his analysis for each story - what it may mean, why it's improbable it's more than just a story, where Beedle may have come up with the ideas, etc.

I love Dumbledore. He is one of my favorite characters in the series. I love his wisdom, but more I love his wit. His wit shines through in the notes in this book and it reminded me of my love for Harry Potter as a series. The Tales of Beedle the Bard is just more evidence at how talented and imaginative Rowling is, too, to come up with unique fairy tales that continue the magic and traditions that she started with the very first book.

Simple and short, but a classic read for Potter fans.

Posted: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 03:18 | Comments: 1

I finished this book over the weekend. It was another lucky find on the free counter at work. It was already on my wish list, so I couldn't believe my luck when I saw it just sitting there waiting to be read. The book is set up as a bunch of letters, which at first was hard to get used to. Would I really enjoy reading an entire book through letters? But as I got used to the technique, it faded into the background.

Juliet is an author living in London after WWII. She receives a letter from a man who lives on Guernsey Island (off the coasts of England and France) because he by happenstance bought a book she used to own (her name was in it). They begin corresponding and Juliet learns about how the island was occupied by the Germans during the war and how the residents formed a pretend book club- which didn't stay pretend for long - as a way to get around curfew rules.

The story is unbelievably sweet. Even just through letter form you fall in love with all the different characters - and what characters they are! You learn of sad stories of the war, but you also learn of heartwarming stories of hope, courage and perseverance. Some of them are really touching.

While I say the letter technique fades into the background, I did try to consciously study the technique and how it works. For example, when Juliet decides to visit Guernsey, how are we going to learn what she's up to? She's obviously not going to write letters to the residents of Guernsey while she's there. Hence, the placement of other characters in the story who live elsewhere. It's very interesting, and I don't think could always be as well done if not done carefully.

I really enjoyed the story, and it ended just the way I wanted, if a bit abruptly, so that always makes for a good book, too.

Posted: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 03:16 | Comments: 3

We saw Where the Wild Things Are over the weekend. I've been anxiously awaiting this movie ever since I saw its first preview months ago. I have memories of reading the book as a kid, and the images that splashed across the screen during the previews - and the music! - looked so magical.

As the release date approached, I had some worries. Was I expecting too much? Would I be disappointed? How could Spike Jonze turn a 300-word story into a 90-minute movie? But in the end, I wasn't disappointed. I really, really enjoyed the movie. I won't say I loved it, but I did love parts of it.

I thought the actor who plays Max (Max Records) was well cast. He was a sweet, lonely boy aching for attention. And as any 9-year-old would behave, he didn't always know the best way to get that attention. But the kid had quite the imagination, and that's something I appreciate. (My imagination ran wild, no pun intended, when I was a kid.)

When he arrived on the island where the wild things are, it was pretty magical. I loved the monsters. I loved how you could see the personalities of the actors shine through the big, furry costumes. (Seriously, KW actually looked like and had the mannerisms of Lauren Ambrose.) Some critics thought the CGI facial expressions and mouth movements didn't come through that well, but I disagree. I didn't think anything about the monsters was distracting from the story.

I also loved how the monsters represented parts of Max's real life. Carol didn't want things to change, and when they did, he destroyed things and threw tantrums (see Max in the first 15 minutes of the film). KW wanted to love Carol, but found it very difficult when he acted that way (ah, see moms everywhere). I loved how Max learned from this. I loved the Rumpus, I loved the sleep pile, I loved the scenery.

I do disagree with some who say it's not a kids movie, though. I definitely think you could take an 8 year old to see this movie and he/she would be fine. There's maybe one or two frightening parts, but they're no more frightening then some parts in the Pixar movies. And because I disagree, this means that some parts of the movie were just a little childish for my taste. Just a few parts dragged - only a few. But in the end I cried because I was attached to the characters and I was quite pleased with the movie as a whole.

Posted: Mon, 10/19/2009 - 02:51 | Comments: 2

How awesome is this? A huge clue in the mystery of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is actually at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. To solve part of the puzzle, Robert Langdon has to look up on a computer a piece of art by Albrecht Durer. In that piece is a magic square with numbers relevant to the mystery. Well, that piece of art is owned by the MIA. The Star Tribune reports that the museum's print curator heard about this, pulled the piece out of storage and hung it up. (Head over to the Strib post to see the painting.)


Posted: Thu, 10/08/2009 - 07:16 | Comments: 1

Go Twins! You scrappy little team - you make my heart bigger.

Photo courtesy of Star Tribune.

Posted: Wed, 10/07/2009 - 02:14 | Comments: 2

Yes, I was one of the millions to read this book within the month it came out. I borrowed it from my mom and read it in less than a week. (If I had a little more energy, I could've read it much faster.) I'm feeling a bullet list coming on, but first I can say I enjoyed the book. It wasn't fabulous, but it was typical Dan Brown: action packed, twists and turns, short timeline (this one took place in less than 12 hours), and cheesy but fun.

+ When I first had the book, I skimmed through the super short chapters (his effective technique to keep you reading) and read some of last lines in different chapters. Most of the chapters end in cliffhanging lines like, "But she was no longer on her feet. She was airborne," or "And then he started screaming and pounding on the walls once again," and so on. I was laughing because it so reminds me of every David Caruso line before the opening theme of CSI Miami. So dramatic, with the gruff voice, the putting on of the sunglasses, and the scream into The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." Effective, yet so cheesy.

+ I enjoy Robert Langdon as a character. Even though he's been around for three books (and now Hollywood movies), I do still find it refreshing that a geeky professor can be the hero. Sure, it makes for a little less thrilling of a film, but in a book it works. You can also totally tell Brown bases parts of Langdon on himself. Langdon gets crap for his turtlenecks and elbow-patched blazers. Funny, do does Brown.

+ The premise was interesting. I liked that the book took place in D.C. We were there a couple years ago, so the landmarks and the architectural elements (for example the painting on the ceiling of the Capitol building) were very familiar to me. It was also interesting to learn about the Freemasons, on who the book's central mystery surrounds.

+ The symbolism references can also be interesting, but sometimes too intense. I found myself skimming over some of the long-winded explanations for different things. While it's cool to learn that our founding fathers had a very specific plan in mind when designing D.C., I don't need to read on about it for five pages. Get back to the action.

+ The ending was just OK. The mystery and the revelation at the end was nowhere near as fascinating or intriguing as The Da Vinci Code. Sure, Brown messes with religion (and science) once again, and I could see some people balking at his musings, but the end result was anti-climatic. I half-read the last 40 pages while watching the Vikings game, and I don't feel I missed much.

End thoughts: Not worth $25, but if you liked his previous novels, this one falls right in line with those. Borrow it or get it from the library.

Posted: Tue, 10/06/2009 - 02:45 | Comments: 1

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