Amanda Gates
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A Musings

A few years ago I read The Time Traveler's Wife. I always saw it on the B&N; Recommendation shelves and my Amazon recs would always have it listed, too. I'm not really into Sci Fi, and this book felt Sci Fi-ish to me. But I checked it out and it was worth it. Actually, my appreciation for the book has grown more over the years.

The main character, Henry, can travel through time - both into the past and into the future. He doesn't realize his powers until he's in his 20s - however, once he starts traveling, he makes his way back to the same girl several times. So, here's this girl who has a time-traveling friend throughout her life. Amongst the time traveling aspect unravels a love story between the two (nothing pedophile-like, they fall in love at the appropriate ages in present day). Henry can't control when he's going to travel, so this affects his life in many ways. Plus, he never knows where he'll end up, when it will be, and he's always naked. He spends a lot of time, while traveling, trying to fend off enemies (people he creeps out by appearing out of nowhere) and the cops (he has to steal to cover himself, eat, get around, etc.). The story follows Henry through the past, present and future, but also follows his love, Clare, through her life chronologically.

For me, the story felt complicated and I had to concentrate very hard to understand how time traveling could actually work. I was a huge skeptic, which unfortunately took away from my enjoyment of the book, I think. If I would've just relaxed and gone with the flow, I would've ended up with a better feeling of the book. But, like I said, as time passed, I now see the brilliance of the story and the creativeness of author Audrey Niffenegger. I borrowed the book to my mother-in-law and she loved it, too.

My appreciation for the story is probably why I'm very into Journeyman on NBC right now (Monday nights 10/9c). The TV show has a very similar storyline to The Time Traveler's Wife. Dan, the main character, suddenly discovers he can travel through time - unwillingly and only to the past so far. (Fortunately for him, he's fully clothed when he arrives.) Each episode has him helping someone in the past, which keeps episodes contained week to week, making it easy to miss it sometimes or come into in the middle of the season. Of course, time traveling can't be all fun. Dan's wife and child are the only ones who know he can do this (which causes problems itself), while his brother and boss are just wondering what the heck is going on with him. It's a very good show. I don't think I would have thought this if I hadn't read The Time Traveler's Wife and gotten over my need to figure out the "how."

Posted: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 03:19 | Comments: 4

If you read below, you learned my love for The Twentieth Wife. I lucked out when Indu Sundaresan published its sequel, The Feast of Roses. We join up with Mehrunnisa again, now in her 20s (and through most of the rest of her life). She's fulfilled her dream of marrying into the Empire, and the book follows her struggles to maintain power amongst her husband's other 19 wives and against her husband's personal assistants who feel the Emperor already gives too much power to his latest wife.

Mehrunnisa was an early feminist, demanding that she be able to hold court alongside her husband - while women usually have to sit above, behind a veil - and help him make his decisions. The Emperor was very accommodating toward her - she was his one true love - and, to me, he was unique among the men of those times. He respected his wife, loved her and her child, and valued her opinion, as she was very smart. Almost everyone within the Empire disagreed though, and Mehrunnisa's relationships with her friends and family suffered because of it.

Wives of the Emperor usually obtained assets of some sort - most likely a fleet of ships that they could manage and reap the monetary benefits from. This was very interesting as the book examined the trade relations between England and India as an offshoot of the main story. Also, if something were to happen to the Emperor, while Mehrunnisa could stay within the Empire, her power would diminish. Unless she could marry her daughter to one of the Emperor's many other sons. When her husband becomes sick, the book takes us through her determination not to lose the power she's worked so hard to gain.

I found The Feast of Roses, like The Twentieth Wife, to be very educational of the times. Even though the finer details of Mehrunnisa's life are exaggerated, the hierarchy, the customs, the names and the events (ex: construction of the Taj Mahal) are all very true. While the ending is bittersweet, it is nice to see Mehrunnisa's life through to the end.

Posted: Mon, 11/05/2007 - 04:55 |

As I was writing my previous post, I got to thinking about spoilers. I know how much I hate for endings to movies, books, TV shows, etc., to be spoiled for me, but I also know that given the opportunity, I have a really hard time stopping myself from reading a review or discussion even if I know spoilers are coming. This is why I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows within 24 hours. I knew if I wasn't done by Monday morning, I would probably find myself on a review that would spoil the ending for me.

Now, as I write my personal thoughts on the books I read, I'm trying not to spoil anything for anyone who should happen upon Bookish Bent. However, I do want to create enough of a discussion so people who have read the same books as me, could actually discuss if they wanted.

I mulled over it this weekend and I decided that if I'm going to give away huge plot points, I'll provide warning somehow:

****SPOILER ALERT****

Or, something similar.

Posted: Mon, 11/05/2007 - 04:48 |

One of my best friends borrowed me this book more than a year ago. She had read a few years before that and loved it. She's big into historical fiction, or was at the time. I had run out of things to read and was starting to panic. Fortunately she came to my rescue and provided me with several books at once. I started with The Twentieth Wife, even though I was uncertain if I would enjoy historical fiction as much as she did.

Written by Indu Sundaresan, The Twentieth Wife takes place in India in the 17th century. It follows Mehrunissa from the day she was born, as her father searches for a better life for his family and ends up in the royal court of the Mughal Emperor. The book tells of Mehrunissa growing up in the imperial harem, falling in forbidden (and semi-secret) love with the Emperor's son and direct heir, and her arranged marriage to a soldier.

For me, the book was magical. Through Sundaresan's detailed way of writing, I felt I could really picture this kingdom. Though it's still fiction, I also felt I learned a lot about India in the 1600s and the hierarchy of the Empire. How rich they were! The fabrics, the gold, the jewels, the fact that the whole kingdom - hundreds and hundreds of people - would move across the country in the summer, to stay somewhere cooler. The harem politics were particularly interesting, as was the realization that lies, backstabbing, revenge, and ultimately love, are the same now as they were hundreds of years ago. This book got me on my kick of reading Indian fiction, as will be illustrated in posts to come.

Posted: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 07:52 |

The next book I'm reading is Nick Hornby's latest, Slam. I just started it this morning on the bus. I've read most of Hornby's books: High Fidelity, About A Boy, How to Be Good and Fever Pitch. Obviously, I enjoy his work. High Fidelity was my first contact with his writing. The movie had already come out, I was semi-interested in it, but I decided to read the book first. It grabbed me from the beginning. Not only do I like reading British books, but Hornby's writing is very entertaining. He can speak from the male perspective well, and isn't afraid to write what men are really thinking (this is what I've heard and how it seems to me, since I'm of the opposite gender, I don't know first hand). There were so many situations in the book that were real to me - the way men may fantasize about other women, but how those fantasies "don't deliver" like the person they're really with and who they truly love. While the movie is set stateside, and Rob is played by the American John Cusack, it's perfectly done as well, and one of my most favorite, most quotable movies.

About A Boy was a similar experience for me. The book was engaging and hilarious. I went out and bought it shortly after I read High Fidelity. And when I heard they were making a movie, and an English flick at that, I was excited. And that movie delivered as well. Hornby has a way of making the most painful situations turn out to be heart-warming. While the boy's mother attempts suicide, the boy's reaction is true and realistic. His need for male companionship is gut-wrenching, but the events that ensue are hilarious. And just the thought of a young kid reaching in and melting the cold exterior of a self-absorbed man-boy is very hopeful.

In How to Be Good, Hornby took a detour and wrote from the female perspective. While the book was still entertaining, I wasn't as enthralled as with the other two, and I honestly have a hard time remembering what it was about. Fever Pitch, Hornby's memoir of his love of futbol/soccer, is also great. He's back in his natural style of speaking from the male side of things. He's obsessed with the sport - obsessed. Being someone who has also been obsessed with different things at different times in my life, I could totally relate once again. I'm anxious to see if Slam will captivate me the same way - will I truly care about a skateboarding teenager who talks to his poster of Tony Hawk? I'll let you know.

Posted: Wed, 10/31/2007 - 03:12 |

I finished The Overachievers last night. I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the end of the book, Robbins gives her own list of tactics that schools, teachers, parents and students could use to help bring this overachiever mentality under control. By the end, as a reader you know where Robbins stands on this issue. I can understand why some readers may not appreciate her personal opinions showing through, but in this case, I'm fine with it. While I don't want to spoil the book for anyone, one of Robbins suggestions made a lot of sense: Teachers could assign test days for their particular subject - Physics on Monday, English on Tuesday, Math on Wednesday, etc.

So often students end up with midterms, projects and papers due within the same week, or even worse, on the same day. While I understand the importance of learning time management and the ability to multi-task, I think by knowing tests would at least fall one day apart, would help students study better and, in the end, perform better. I also understand that in college and the "real world" your deadlines won't be assigned this way. But, maybe a variation of this system would be beneficial and help teachers understand that their classes aren't the only ones these students are taking?

One other real life situation that I've paid more attention to since starting the book is the Academic All-Stars that a local news station hypes each week. More often than not, these students have 4.0+ GPAs (weighted GPAs, seriously?), volunteer, play sports, play an instrument, are in the National Honor Society and so on. While I think it's great to publicize these student's achievements, these past few weeks I've wondered if on the inside these students are depressed, frustrated, stressed or lonely. Are they slamming Red Bulls to get through the day? What messages do these news spots send to fellow students who "only" have a 3.5 GPA and play just one sport really well? That they're not good enough?

Posted: Wed, 10/31/2007 - 02:48 |

I love when the books I read, especially nonfiction books, pertain to my daily life. This afternoon I learned that my 7-year-old niece has about an hour of homework each night - in first grade! Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I had homework in first grade. Maybe a project here and there, but every night?

I told my sister-in-law about The Overachievers, and how, in the end, I think all the homework (I'm talking about busy-work homework, not math skills, sentence structure and things you just need to know), the grades, the numerous activities, don't matter so much. As long as you strive to do your best and develop important social skills, you can succeed in life.

And not only is this hour of first-grade homework each night affecting the student, but the parent also has to sit with him or her and help out. Which they should. But add on two, three or four more kids, and that's a lot of time taken away from family time, play time, or as they get older, bed time. My sister-in-law did make a good point though. The homework is only going to increase from here, so she's glad my niece is learning the discipline of doing homework now, even if it is first grade.

Another portion of the book I found very interesting had to do with sleep habits of teenagers. Robbins fills in all the facts very well, but in general, a teenager needs more sleep than a younger child or an adult. In addition, teenagers naturally stay awake later. However, high schools start around 7:30. So, teens are staying up late to get their homework done - or just because hormonal imbalances make it hard for them to fall asleep earlier than 11 p.m. - and still have to rise before the sun. I was proud when Robbins called out Edina and Minneapolis school districts as systems that changed their high school start times by an hour. What did they discover? After some time, they were left with happier, less moody, healthier kids who were participating in class and getting their homework done on time.

Posted: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 09:52 |

I'm almost done with The Overachievers, by Alexandra Robbins. If anyone has read Pledged, The Secret Life of Sororities, also by Robbins, and enjoyed it, you'll like this book, too. Robbins has a way of integrating herself into a culture, painting a picture of what life is like for the participants. However, she can also take herself out and talk directly to the reader. Robbins has been criticized for being biased in her writing, but this doesn't bother me much. Maybe because I always agree with her.

The Overachievers follows a group of high school students who strive for straight A's, throw themselves into numerous extracurricular activities, stay up late studying, take the SATs multiple times - all to make themselves look well-rounded and superior on their college applications, in return fighting depression, stress, sleep deprivation and peer pressure . While these kids push themselves to be perfect, they're not the only ones. Robbins examines parental pressure on kids, parental pressure on teachers, administrative pressure on teachers, college admissions pressure on administrators and government pressures (No Child Left Behind). Robbins also goes back to the beginning, when expecting parents put the name of their unborn child on the waiting list for their city's best, private preschool.

The book is comprehensive and full of facts, but reads like a novel. As someone who did well in high school and college, made friends, played in band, etc., I was also told just to do my best. In the end, grades don't matter all that much. Happiness comes from somewhere else.

Posted: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 03:12 |

I read a lot, probably two or three books each month, in addition to several magazines, blogs and online news sources. I'm a journalist, so reading comes with the gig. Because I consume so many different stories each day, week and month, I can't keep track of it all. Plus, I love to share with others about what I read, hear what they have to say, and receive recommendations.

As I was reading my latest book last night, sharing my thoughts on it with my hubby (J), he said, "You should have a book blog." A very good idea (he has many). So, here I am. To share about what I'm reading, or what I've read, with whoever's interested. Sometimes it'll be nonfiction, sometimes it'll be escape-type fiction; a news story here, a review there. We'll see where the pages take me.

Posted: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 02:47 |

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