Amanda Gates
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A Musings

Oh Nick, I think it’s time we part ways. I really, really do. We’ve had some amazing times - High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch – and during those times, I never thought this day would come. But Nick, you’ve disappointed me too many times in a row now. And I’m puzzled. What happened? What happened to the great “maleness” you gave your characters – those funny, self-deprecating, quirky yet redeeming men that graced the pages of my favorites of yours? Sure, we all evolve and I understand you had to try something new, like speaking from a female voice (How to be Good) or the voice of a child (Slam), but when those things didn’t work for you (and honestly, they so didn’t work for you), why didn’t you go back to what did?

I talked you up, man. I would rave about you. I wrote papers in college analyzing your complex characters. Those first books are ones I keep on my shelves – they’ve moved with me from dorm room to first apartment to condo to townhouse. They've never been thought of as bait for Half-Priced Books. That’s how much they mean to me. Yet, with each following book you’ve written, part of my love for you dies. Your stories aren’t funny anymore. They’re actually either puzzling or quite boring, in fact. And why should I continue to love someone who bores me?

This last book, Juliet, Naked, was the nail in the coffin, I’m afraid. I did finish it, for the most part because it was quick and something to do on the bus, but I was never attached to any of the characters. Not the jerk/creepy music fanatic, not the lonely middle-aged woman, not the washed up, lazy rock star. Nothing stuck with me, and really I didn’t see the point in the story at all. And that lackluster ending? If I had liked the book, it would’ve been a complete disappointment. But then, its lackluster-ness might have just been on par with the rest of the story. If so, you get props for consistency, I suppose.

So, Nick, I’ve been disappointed one too many times. I’m going to have to say goodbye. I’m too busy to waste my time on you anymore. I would say: it’s not you, it’s me. But that would be a lie. It’s you.

Posted: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 09:14 | Comments: 2

For the past month, the hubby has been talking to me about the Kindle. “Don’t you think you’d like one of those?” Books are cheaper, it’s easier to carry, yadda yadda yadda. I always said no. I like my books. I like seeing the covers. I like turning the pages. Mostly, I like the community of sharing books with friends like Willikat and CMS and my mom and mother-in-law. Plus, as a devoted reader (and a magazine editor), I want to support the publishing industry as much as I possibly can.

[Note: However, when my hubby, the music lover, couldn’t quite get on board with iTunes right away and kept purchasing CDs to show his support, I was on him about all the space they take up (!) and how much easier and cheaper iTunes was. Same argument, different genre. A tad hypocritical?]

Well, I got a Kindle for my birthday. It was a very generous gift from my MIL; she was super excited to buy it for me, and even though Jon told her I didn’t want one, when she asked a second time, he told her to go for it. I was very surprised by the gift. As we were on the way to our birthday dinner, Jon asked me if I really liked it. I told him I thought it was cool, it’s convenient, the books are cheaper…but it will take me awhile not to feel like a sellout. The publishing industry is my world; am I betraying it by reading books like this? Even my boss, who does everything via iPad, has yet to purchase a real electronic book.

However, it is very easy to read on. I don’t have books on there yet, but I’ve been reading the user’s manual and the e-paper is pretty cool. Plus, the books are like 50 percent cheaper, which in tough economic times, that means a lot. And, as a friend pointed out, I don’t have to read all books this way.

I’m going to keep it, because it was a lovely gift from someone who cares about me a lot. And I don’t remember the last time I received (or treated myself to) something this extravagant. (I use the free cell phone from our plan and a hand-me-down iPod; I don’t have my own computer.) And it’s not like I won’t use it. I’ll just use it while having an internal struggle and a bit of book-lover's guilt. All the while still reading physical books, too, and sharing those with my friends.

So, am I a sellout? I’ll keep you posted on my thoughts on the Kindle.

Posted: Mon, 12/20/2010 - 07:47 | Comments: 10

Well, 2010 was much slower in the reading department for me, which kind of sucks when you have a book blog that you like to keep up with. But, for three months out of the year I didn’t pick up one book, let alone a magazine. Newborns tend to have that affect on you. I had no idea what was going on in the world. Things still pop up in random conversations and I’m like, “What? When did that happen?” Oh, it happened in April, May or June… That’s why I don’t remember. And then, after you become a parent, things like reading on a snowstormy Saturday goes out the window too. I remember when I read Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn over 24-hour periods the weekends they came out. Yeah, never doing that again, until perhaps age 50. Anyway, when the only time I have to read is on the bus and the occasional lunch hour, it’s slow going. However, each December I’ve compiled a roundup of my favorite books of the year, so here it goes:

The Help. One of my first books of 2010 and I’m so glad I read it. This book was touching, educational, funny, sad, joyful, vengeful and moving all at once. I fell in love with Skeeter and Aibileen, and I grew more and more embarrassed of our past. I laughed, I cried. Two things that always guarantee I’ll like and remember a book. I’m very interested in the movie, too.

Millennium Trilogy. Yep, I was one of the millions who got sucked into Lisbeth Salander’s three-book adventure. While the books could be quite detail-driven and it was easy to get lost in side stories that were overwhelmed with information and Swedish-sounding surnames, there was enough action and female kick-ass-ery in these books to keep me flipping the pages. Plus, being a journalist, I very much enjoyed the evolution of Millennium magazine. They were tough, conscious-driven editors – we don’t have enough of those these days. But, in the end it was all about Lisbeth and she’s definitely a character for the ages.

Where Men Win Glory. Once again Krakauer taught me a bunch of things I didn’t know. He did it with Under the Banner of Heaven and Into Thin Air and once again with this book. I learned so much more about the wars we’re fighting, basic training, friendly fire, the (despicable) marketing of war, and a man who was truly unique. Pat Tillman was a thoughtful, generous, caring person whose life ended much too early. The book made me mad and sad and depressed about our current situation, but it also made me a bit hopeful that perhaps there are more men like Pat Tillman out there. God knows we need them.

So, what were your favorite books you read in 2010?

Archives:
End of the Year, 2009
A Look Back 2008
Top Books 2007

Posted: Wed, 12/15/2010 - 05:11 | Comments: 1

I just finished SuperFreakonomics. I really enjoyed Freakonomics, the first book, but since I read it so long ago, I couldn’t remember why (a curse of a mega-reader; don’t you hate that?). Superfreak (as I’ll call it for short) reminded me why. I’m not a data head, but these two guys – an author and an economist – present data in the most interesting, most digestible way. And about the most interesting topics. Who knew I could read a chapter on prostitution and leave it thinking, ‘Hmmm, I can see why that profession works for some people. Good hours. Good wages. You’re your own boss.’ Or, as a mother, these two actually got me thinking about the necessity of car seats. CAR SEATS. Yes, they claim (with data!) that after age 2, regular seatbelts work just as well, if not better. Also: An entire chapter on why this whole global warming thing is kind of bunk, or if it’s not bunk, then about how we’re handling it in the completely wrong way.

When a book shocks you, makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you shake your head in disbelief, and it’s about real stuff… Well, I loved it. I was dog-earring practically every other page because either what they said was smart, awesome or hilarious and I wanted to go back and read it again.

Some interesting tidbits:

+ When families in India got cable TV, suddenly the women stood up for themselves and wouldn’t put up with as much crap from their husbands.

+ The feminist revolution has harshly impacted school children. As more and more women went to college and went into higher paying fields, they stopped becoming teachers. Teachers test scores went down, as did their salaries, which keep more women from becoming teachers. A vicious cycle.

+ Due to police resources being flooded into terrorism-fighting efforts after 9-11, perhaps less were watching Wall Street?

+ In most cases, chemotherapy is ineffective. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars per patient to extend life by as little as two months. Cancer patients make up 20 percent of Medicare cases but use up 40 percent of its drug budget.

+ Iran (I know, we don’t like Iran) pays people if they decide to donate a kidney; and they have no wait list for organs. Demand met. Here, we feel paying for organs (but not sperm or eggs) is immoral yet 50,000 people in the past 20 years have died while on the organ donation list. Does this show that money is a great motivator, more so than “the goodness of our hearts”? Um, yes.

+ Global warming scientists with the craziest, yet perhaps most workable, ideas, change their skew more toward what’s considered “acceptable.” If they didn’t, they wouldn’t get funding. That’s why we never hear about some of the crazy, yet cheap and workable, global warming fixes the authors list in this book. If these scientists said what they really wanted to try, they would never get the money to do it.

+ Solar panels, which are black, send 88 percent of their heat back into the atmosphere – contributing to global warming. Shut up.

+ Airplane contrails help prevent warming. When planes were grounded for just 3 days after 9-11, the ground temp increased by 2 degrees.

I don’t think the book is necessarily meant to change minds, but it does get you thinking. There’s no one answer. The popular answer is not always the right one. Things that are bad can sometimes turn out to be good for you. We should really listen to everyone’s ideas because you never know who’s got the next fix, for cheap. Real life scenarios spelled out simply and economically – it’s good.

Posted: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 09:19 | Comments: 1

I've always kind of believed in ghosts. I'd hear stories of people's ghosts and they'd sound believable. My mom once brought home a picture that was taken in a friend's basement and you could clearly see the silver outlining of a man in a hat holding a shovel. Then, about a year ago, the hubby and I started watching Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. Three guys travel to some of the most haunted places in the world, get locked in overnight, walk around with night-vision cameras and high-powered digital recorders and catch shadows, lights, voices, noises, etc. If you get us going, we can talk about that show for a long time. The things these guys have experienced - intelligent conversations, scratches on their bodies, objects moving when no one is around - there's no way it could be fake. (If we're watching it before bed, we have to watch something funny afterward for a bit, or I will have ghost dreams.)

My husband found this book online, and because of our recent fandom of ghost stories, bought it and read it. He really enjoyed it, so I gave it a go, too. Author Gary Jansen is an editor at Doubleday Religion, a pretty devout Catholic (though he swears like a sailor) and is/was studying to be a deacon. So, here's a man who really believes in his Bible. And then he started feeling very weird in his own house. Electricity running over his body, cool breezes, dark shadows. His kid's toys would make noise by themselves. Weird, weird stuff.

As a natural researcher, he read as much as he could about ghosts. He wasn't convinced at first that he had ghosts (wouldn't he be a bad Catholic if he believed in ghosts?), but as he did his reading, he found there were actually more ghost stories in the Bible and religious texts than he realized. And, as more and more weird, creepy things started happening in his house, the more he couldn't deny that something "bigger" was going on than just creaks and groans of an old house and malfunctioning batteries.

He calls up the real Ghost Whisperer for some help. Now, while I think I believe in ghosts, I've never been very certain about psychics or ghost whisperers. But, this lady is the real deal. If everything Jansen writes is true, and I believe it is, this woman is amazing at what she does. She helps him, that's all I'll say.

I don't want to spoil the story by going into what/who is haunting his house, but it's pretty awesome, and the reasons why and the coincidences that appear - it seems insane, really. The book is quick. I skimmed some parts where he talks a lot about his research. While it's interesting, I just wanted to read about the present-day ghost story happening right in his own house, so I would try to hurry and get to those parts. If you like ghost stories, this is a real-life one that's pretty entertaining.

Do you believe in ghosts? Know any good ghost stories?

Posted: Fri, 11/19/2010 - 02:55 | Comments: 2

I just finished this book of essays, edited by Dooce's Heather Armstrong. Books of essays can be hit or miss, but I loved nearly every essay in this book. I either laughed or cried (or both) at each one. Some authors reminisce about their fathers, some author-fathers talk about fatherhood, some author-wives talk about their husbands as fathers. It was very entertaining. (Is it more entertaining if you have a child? Perhaps.)

The most humorous essays were those by new fathers. "10 Conclusions from Four Years of Fatherhood" discussed everything from new parents' obsession with poo (so true!) to how your home will be a disaster area for the next several years (unfortunately, so true again, but maybe I should feel better about it knowing I'm not the only parent with a messy home?). I loved how "Sam I Am" compared pregnancy to Lord of the Rings. Wife = Frodo, who has to bear the burden the entire way. Husband = Sam, who is just their for moral support but can't really do anything. I loved "The Force is With Us. Always" in which the author described her husband's love for Star Wars and how it took just two years for him to introduce it to their now-obsessed son. Why I liked it? I believe it's my future, which is great because while the kid and dad play "light saber," I get to read a book or take a bath.

Of course, the essays that made me cry? The ones about the authors' own dads. I've always had a wonderful relationship with my dad. He was very present in my life. He's proud of me, he loves me and he's not afraid to tell me. So reading about how other people love their dads...well, it pulls at the heart strings a bit, you know?

This book is quick and fun. So if fatherhood from any level interests you, or if you just like good writing, I recommend it. A couple fun/true passages:

From "Peas and Domestic Tranquility"

A couple of years ago, we spent an afternoon at the park with some friends and their three girls. While the girls sat in the sand and shared toys and bonded in a way that was only missing a few glasses of wine or some chocolate ice cream, my sons ran in noisy circles around them, trying to punch each other in the face. "Wow," my friend said. "Is that what boys are like?"
"Yeah"
"Man. They just...Wow."
"If it makes you feel any better for me, your kids are going to mutate into teenage girls at some point, and that will make this little melee look like tea with the Queen. The boys are just going to keep hitting each other. The only thing I have to worry about is fratricide. Your girls are going to run psy-ops campaigns that would make the CIA curl into a fetal ball and cry itself to sleep."

From "Not My Problem"

I had more questions than answers. Little did I know, that would never change.

There is something to be said for the phrase "day by day." Just take it one day at a time, they say. Each day was a new adventure and we were amazed at how excited we were about little changes. Sitting up was a big deal. Crawling gave us personal entertainment. Walking was a milestone and speaking drew us into rapt attention.

In time the manual wrote itself. What they never told you is that your child will write the manual, adding a few words every day. As a father, my job was to support the author, edit the work when I could, and hope that the book would be a best seller.

Posted: Fri, 11/12/2010 - 04:00 |

My friend CMS loaned (Chrissy, is that the correct term?!) me this book because she read it and enjoyed it. Hunt Sisters is told completely through letters from one sister, Olivia, to a bunch of different people in her life: parents, exes, best friend, sister, brother, work folks, etc. Olivia is a newbie producer in Hollywood, trying to get a movie made. Her little sister has just been diagnosed with leukemia. The story follows Olivia over the next year as she helps her sister through her illness and also tries to get her movie made.

As always, like with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, novels written only in letter form are a bit jarring to begin with, but I always get used to them and things tend to flow. Olivia is a great writer and her letters are full of humorous language. You'd think it would be hard to tell a complete story just from the letters of one person, too, but the author, Elisabeth Robinson, makes it work. Sure, Olivia has to recreate every scene for us within letters, but it doesn't seem weird. I like her honesty (in letters to her family) and her spunk (in letters telling off her movie counterparts).

At the end, in an author's note, we learn Robinson was a movie producer in Hollywood for 10 years. And her sister was sick with leukemia. When she finally decided to fulfill her dream of writing a book, she contemplated writing a memoir vs. a novel. But when she realized with a novel she could say and be all those things she couldn't say or be in real life, that pushed her toward novel writing. So, how much is true is left up to our imagination, but I think the book comes across so truthful feeling because so much of it is in fact based in truth.

It's nothing groundbreaking, nothing fabulous, but it's a sweet, entertaining story. I found one passage on relapsing cancer that I thought was beautifully written (and could only be written by someone who knows), and I wanted to share it here, just to remember it:

Maddie relapsed. I hate to put it that way; it suggests responsibility that she did it, she relapsed, when it's the cancer that did it. There is a continual balancing act between acceptance and defiance, between being the victim and being the attacker. As a fighter, she just lost, which implies weakness, ineptitude, a lack of some crucial smarter strategy, greater strength, and this defeat would have been, should have been, a victory. You can't say, well, this enemy is just too strong for any fighter, because she is the enemy, too; the cancer is a part of her, as much as her will to conquer it is.

Posted: Wed, 11/03/2010 - 04:16 | Comments: 1

This week's issue of EW had a first look at The Help movie. (The article's not online, otherwise I'd link to it.) The lovely and sweet Emma Stone as Skeeter? Awesome. Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly? So awesome. Viola Davis as Aibileen? Perfection. I cannot wait for it. I think it'll be fabulous! I loved, loved the book.

Then I saw this on my Twitter stream this morning: Someone is making What to Expect into a movie? Huh? The post says it'll be sort of like Love Actually (one good thing about Christmas coming soon - my annual viewing of Love Actually...sigh) following five pregnant couples around. Well, OK, maybe that could work, but obviously it's very loosely based on the book then.

Any other books-to-movies you're excited for?

Posted: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 02:55 | Comments: 4

I was at home with a brand-new baby when the School Library Journal's Top 100 Children's Novels list came out in mid-April, so I'm definitely behind the curve on this one. However, I love me some lists, so it was fun to look this one over (filled with the help of multiple entries from J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl and Judy Blume) and count how many I've read. I also loved this second-grade teacher's breakdown - with charts and graphs! - of the list. Book-nerdy fun. It's interesting that series books accounted for 61 of the 100 books and that a good percentage were written in the past 20 years or so.

Anyway, I've read 30 out of 100 of the children's novels. Which is just OK, I think, but also considering several were written after I was of age to read these types of books (Harry Potter notwithstanding). And several bring back fond memories: anything Ramona; The BFG (which I can't help but think about every time I write my initials ABFG); The Witch of Blackbird Pond (I forgot about that book!); and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (reading aloud in sixth grade.)

What about you? How many have you read?

For more fun, see last year's list of Top 100 Picture Books. I've also read about 30 of these, and we have a few on the shelf as we speak.

[Quick pet peeve note: Why does Blogger insist that "children's" is misspelled? Drives me crazy!]

Posted: Tue, 10/19/2010 - 09:57 | Comments: 2

I just finished Anna Quindlen’s Every Last One. As promised, my next book was by an author I’d never read before. Even though Quindlen’s written plenty of well-known novels, I’ve never picked one up. Somehow I must’ve put Every Last One on my Amazon wish list, so I had it on my shelf to read.

I can’t really summarize the book too much without giving everything away. But, the story focuses on Mary Beth and her family of five: her, her husband and three teenage children. The first half of the book builds the family. We learn about Alex’s athleticism, Ruby’s individualism and Max’s loner-ism. From the beginning of the book, Mary Beth looks at her life from afar. She knows she should be thankful for all she has, yet it can also feel like something is missing. Every day is the same – get up, take care of the kids, worry about the kids, kiss the husband, work, make dinner… lather, rinse repeat. Then halfway through the book, tragedy strikes and everything unravels.

I think the book was good. The writing was good and Quindlen can paint a picture and create a cast of characters with the best of them. However, because of the subject matter, the book also haunted me and made me very sad at some points. Now, one could say this obviously means the book was good, since it made me feel so strongly. Which is probably true. But it also made it very hard to read, too.

There’s been conversations on the blogosphere and Twitter (I know both Jennie and Jen have mentioned this recently) that one of the things that changes when you become a parent is that it’s nearly impossible and completely heart-wrenching to watch or read anything that has to do with a child struggling, being hurt, dying, etc. It can be as minor as a baby hitting his head to a story about a cancer patient giving her Make a Wish to someone else…as a parent you just die a little inside. (There’s a trailer for Paranormal Activity 2 out right now that shows a baby in a crib…I have to close my eyes.) Maybe that’s why the struggles of this family in the book affected me so much? I guess I won’t ever know since I can’t go back in time and read it 15 months ago, childless. But, it does show me that I’ll have to be a bit more careful picking my books. Again, while I thought the book was good, I’m just not sure the heartbreak I felt is really worth it, you know?

What do you think? Do you read books that you know will make you sad? Are there different kinds of sadness that are easier to deal with than others? What books have haunted you?

Posted: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 04:02 | Comments: 2

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