30 October 2009

Happy National Cat Day!

In honor of National Cat Day we, Chaucer and Dante, have taken over our mommy's blog - now we'll get some love!

First, we stole her BlackBerry so there would be no distractions.

Then we worked on looking extra sad and lonely so we would be petted lots and lots.

And then we looked very, very cute.  Can we have some treats?  Please, mommy?

Chaucer even did his trick, can we have treats now????

Give us some treats or we'll barf in your slippers....we mean it.

Mmmmm...yummy treats.  We love you!

Happy National Cat Day, everyone!

28 October 2009

The Film Club

The Film Club by David Gilmour is the November edition of our little bookclub, picked by Kat (in case you're wondering, we drew names for each month except October).  It did look intriguing, a memoir written by a film critic who made the decision to let his son (Jesse) drop out of high school so long as the two watched three movies a week together.  It reads very fast so I finished it off the other night.

I regret to say I am underwhelmed by The Film Club.  I was hoping there would be a little more film criticism/theory, in that Gilmour would include more real discussion about the films he watched with his son.  The book instead is a memoir of Gilmour's attempt to keep his son engaged with the world by letting the kid do something he likes - watch movies - instead of what he has no interest in - go to school - with some film trivia mixed in.  As a memoir, I really don't feel anything for David, Jesse, Maggie (Jesse's mom), Tina (David's wife), or any of Jesse's spoiled girlfriends.  There is a detachment - I'm not sure if it's the writing or just the subject matter.  I did find there was an alphabetical list in the back with all the movies the two watched over the years but it's just a list, nothing more.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 7/10

27 October 2009

Penny for your thoughts?

A dollar? Five dollars? $9.99?

Or not?

With the release of the nook I've been seeing tweets and posts complaining about the prices of ebooks being "too high"/"too high at one retailer as compared to another". Prices needing to be "competitive" between retailers. And then there's the price war between Walmart, Amazon, and Target for pre-orders on future bestsellers (don't get me started).

What amazes me is how people keep wanting the prices to go down which is presumably what is meant by that term "competitive". At what point does the price get low enough? Zero? Is that really where we're heading?

What about the author who slaved for weeks, months, years over that book you complain about being priced "too high"? Does the author not deserve compensation? Particularly if writing is the author's source of income - books, articles, essays, reviews, etc.?  There has to be some value applied to the creative output of a mind.  Why is $9.99 so high for 250 pages of writing but $7.50 is better?  A lot of people have to be paid out of that $7.50.  If "competition" is about driving down prices, the competition isn't between the authors, it's between retailers so the author's slice of that little book pie just keeps on getting smaller as the price decreases.

What I find strange is that no one is demanding that the movie industry reign in the prices, that the studios and theatre chains "compete" with one another by lowering ticket prices, that the A-list "stars" work for less.  I don't see anyone "voting with their feet" by going to a different movie theatre chain - particularly in my town where the prices are the same and the choices no better.  I went to two midnight movie premieres this summer and not once did I hear anyone complain that they were spending $12+ and having to wait in line for hours ahead of time to get seats.

I'm not quite sure what I'm driving at in this post.  I got off on this tanget because I was really tired of reading all these wonks who purport to understand the "business model" but who I'm pretty sure have never actually had to stand on a sales floor in their life.  I sell books, pretty much everyday, and I can tell you what sells to what type of customer and what does not, "business model" bedamned.  I'm also tired of consumers who think that the entire driving goal of the capitalist system is to see how much stuff they can acquire on the cheap; my part-Scottish great-grandmother called that "mean".

There really isn't much of a solution in this post.  Just something I had to get off my chest before it manifested somewhere else in much ruder language.

26 October 2009

The Other

The Other by Thomas Tryon was Kat's choice for the bookclub's October creepy/horror novel month (Jackie's choice was Carrie, which I didn't re-read having read it in about 8th grade and scared the pants off myself).  I linked to the current trade paperback edition because there isn't a link for the edition I read - Kat got a ratty old mid-70s mass market edition and then passed it off to me (the binding glue was falling out in chunks and the pages were falling out).  That copy is pretty much unuseable now and will have to be consigned to the trash bin because I won't foist it off on the library sale in that condition.

The Other is a hard book to describe, other than a psychological horror novel, without giving too much away.  The main action of the novel concerns a set of identical twins - Holland and Niles - who may or may not do some pretty despicable things.  As in evil things.  Creepy, chilly, horror-novel-type things.  They also have a Russian maternal grandmother (who claims to have the sixth sense - alluded to as "the Game") and a mother suffering a major depressive episode over the mysterious death of their father.  The sections of the novel are narrated by a member of the community looking back on the past so there is a frame to the novel; handy since there's a point at which you wonder exactly what is going on here.  As with any good horror novel, I expected flinching and chills - Tryon delivered in spades.

Bookclub met the evening that readathon ended so (conveniently enough) I finished reading The Other as one of my last finished books during the readathon.  After a discussion of certain endpoints of the novel open to interpretation (which I really can't discuss here because that would sooooooo blow the plot of the novel and ruin the suspense) we settled in to watch Robert Mulligan's adaptation of the novel, The Other.  Tryon adapted, produced and wrote the screenplay for the movie which starred Uta Hagen as the grandmother and Diana Muldaur as the mother with Chris and Martin Udvarnoky as Holland and Niles (watch for a young John Ritter as the son-in-law).  The adaptation of the book to the screen is quite good, dispensing with the framing story (would have been too clunky) and removing a number of townsfolk to make the family more insular out at their farmhouse.  Tryon kept all the major scenes from the novel and it really was enjoyable to see a story told from beginning to end without major alterations for the movie (although I still cringe at two scenes even now - serious "ick" factor but not because it's gory).  A very good movie for a creepy time of year and one of the best book-to-screen adaptations I've ever seen.

The DVD treated us to several "previews", too, including The Hills Have Eyes and both versions of The Omen (the re-make must have been releasing at the time the DVD for The Other was, too).

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 6/9

Hush, Hush

I signed up for the First Look Book Club's first ever YA group because I thought it would be fun. I was reminded that I really don't care for paranormal romance. Regardless of the target age group.

Suffice to say, I didn't like Hush, Hush. I forced myself to finish the book during the readathon because it was lurking in my bookshelf and if I finished it I could dispose of the advance copy. Two major reasons why this book got on my nerves:
1) if a female teenager complains to a teacher that she is being sexually harassed by another (male) student, the teacher shouldn't blow off her concerns because it's the only time the other student participates in class; in addition, said teacher shouldn't decide that the female student should tutor the male student...alone
2) I am very tired of YA books that have a "helpless" quiet, studious, intelligent central female character who must be "rescued" from her life-endangering plight by a "bad boy" male....who turns out to have insert-your-favorite-paranormal-trope-here; why can't the teen in need be a male rescued by a self-confident female sans special powers?

When the big climax of the book rolled around, I really didn't care what happened to any of the characters.

So YA paranormal romance is not for me. If you liked Twilight and others in that same vein (Shiver, House of Night, etc) then you'll like this one - angels/fallen angels/Nephilim instead of vampires and werewolves. If the thought of reading Twilight makes you gag...you'd best skip Hush, Hush.

PS: Nora, the protagonist, chows iron tablets like they were Flintstones vitamins. I'm an epidemiologist - I have never once ran across any chronic condition that called for the ingestion of iron tablets when one felt faint. If you want the heroine to have a condition requiring as needed medication when she starts feeling bad try diabetes. Otherwise that's just poor research (put me right off The Sister).

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 5/8

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

This will be a short review. For a long book.

I started Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human because Bloom looms large in the halls of Shakespeare criticism (no pun intended). You have to read it sometime so I figured I'd read it a bit at a time, not too awful. I'd listened to Bloom's Portable Professor lectures on Shakespeare's tragedies and thought them not bad (if you can get around Bloom's voice, which sounds like the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride, reading Juliet's speeches) as well as reading The Western Canon the year prior (also not bad).

But the Shakespeare book? Well....Bloom likes Falstaff. A lot. A lot, a lot. Enough to make you want to gouge your eyes out during the very, very, very long chapter on Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. Which is what I wanted to do and caused me to put the book away for a long time; the cats helped by shoving it behind the nightstand. I did eventually dig it back out from behind the nightstand, finished the Falstaff love-fest, slogged through the commentary on Hamlet, and polished off the last 200 pages during the readathon. I am glad I finished because the Antony and Cleopatra chapter had some good insights but the reading was pretty painful for a while.

One thing that baffles me is a complete lack of bibliography, index, and annotations. Bloom quotes any number of different critics during the book but I would have quite a hard time finding the correct AC Bradley source (for example) because I don't know which piece of criticism supplied the quote. No index makes this look like Shakespeare is for a layman, which might be the intent, but the language structure is advanced and assumes the reader has prior knowledge of the entire Shakespeare canon; at that point, you need at minimum a bibliography.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 5/7


I picked up Roseanna last fall during a mystery book sale; I decided I needed to read a few mysteries and since I really fell in love with Stieg Larsson's writing I went for at least one Swede. Roseanna is the first in the Martin Beck series; I'm not really familiar with the crime genre so I made sure I went for a "book 1" just in case.

The storyline seems "ripped from the headlines": a young woman's body found in a lake, no one knows who she is, can the police solve the crime, etc. There is a bit of a stylistic similarity with Larsson's writing and Sjowall/Wahloo's writing, making me wonder if it's a Swedish thing, even though Roseanna was published in the early 1960s. It's very matter-of-fact, no swirling images conjured by a flowing description just a simple statement of fact. This is what Beck thinks. This is what Beck does, eats, travels on, says. Just the facts, making the recounting of the murder and search for the killer all that more chilling because there's no padding between the reader and the investigation.

If I hadn't known the book was written and published in the 1960s I might not have guessed because the crime and investigation seemed very much what is still in vogue in the thriller genre today. Even the killer's psychological state seemed straight from an episode of Criminal Minds. I really didn't notice the absence of computers, Internet, and cell phones; the mark of a good story, yes? I'd like to read a bit more in the Martin Beck series but I need to read the Henning Mankell I've got on my shelves first.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 4/6

Wolf Hall

My copy of the Man Booker 2009 winning novel arrived one week after the award announcement (luckily, I finished The Children's Book just in time). Nice. Interesting red dust jacket. I know it's about Thomas Cromwell...but why is it titled Wolf Hall?

I'm not going to tell you why the book is titled Wolf Hall (it's an oblique reference, you have to know the history of Henry VIII's reign, and then you have to draw your own reasoning). Sorry, but telling gives a bit away, not that the major action of the novel is a mystery because nearly every character in the book is/was a real person. Wolf Hall is most interesting in that Hilary Mantel has taken a man rendered very cold and scheming by history (Thomas Cromwell is usually portrayed as a bean-counting, social-climbing lawyer) and redrawn him as a family man, albeit one with a very shrewd business sense. Scary shrewd business sense. Cromwell is a man who suffers the loss of his wife and daughters yet perseveres in supporting his son and an extended network of wards, nephews, neices, sisters, sisters-in-law, etc. during Henry's turbulent reign.

I did come to like the character Cromwell over the course of the novel. Mantel chose to write the novel using a limited third person narration so all events of the novel are told entirely through Cromwell's point-of-view (his is the only inner monologue to which the reader is privy); it's a bit like being the proverbial fly-on-the-wall in every scene because no scene in the novel occurs whithout Cromwell's presence. Mantel also used "he" to reference Cromwell most of the time, instead of I, and this leads to my one and only complaint: approximately 80% of the characters of the book are male, 100% in a number of scenes, so using "he" to almost exclusively refer to a character when multiple characters speaking/acting are male becomes confusing. Does the "he" really refer to Cromwell (because it did most of the time) but in some instances does Mantel mean Henry? Or Percy? Or Norfolk, Suffolk, Rafe, Call-Me-Risley, Christophe? Backtracking multiple times in a novel does kind of get to me after a while. In a novel that is otherwise very enjoyable and well crafted the lack of clarity seems a failure on both the part of the editor and author.

If I compare Wolf Hall to The Children's Book I have to say I'm a little disappointed. Byatt's writing is lush, her novel well-crafted with fantastic multiple voices that give color to her time period. Mantel's writing is much sparer - which I expected from a novel about Cromwell - but I didn't find it as evocative of the Tudor reign and the narrative convention did rub me up the wrong way. Do I think The Children's Book should have won the Booker? Yes. Am I biased because I think Byatt is fantastic? Of course. Does Wolf Hall deserve the Booker? On that question, my jury is still out; I enjoyed reading Wolf Hall (it is a good story) and it was a fun book to finish off during the readathon but since I didn't read all the Booker-shortlisted titles I really can't say if the race was solely between Byatt and Mantel. I've got some more reading ahead of me.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 3/5

The Invention of Air

I used to enjoy reading science-y books and I think my biology major/pre-med/MCAT studies/epidemiology master's pretty much ruined science for me for many, many years. I recently decided that science was fun and good again (probably because I drool all over the TV show Numb3rs) so picked up a number of books about physics, math, and the history of science.

The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson recently released in paperback and I picked it up last week. Now, I did start it before the readathon but it was the first book I finished in that 24 hour period. This is quite an easy book to read and really falls on the history side of the category "history of science." While Johnson goes through Joseph Priestley's discoveries in some detail (the discovery of "soda water" and Priestley's experiments concerning the composition of gases/air), he really doesn't go much beyond the layman's level of explanation. It was just a shade boring, very simplistic, to someone with what amounts to a minor in chemistry but it was not so boring as to be unreadable.

What was most interesting in The Invention of Air was Johnson's recounting of Priestley's work in theology and politics. Priestley was a Dissenter, someone who did not abide by the 39 articles of the Church of England, and could be potentially seen as a traitor to the UK. Additionally, Priestley was a supporter of the American Revolution not because he wanted the UK to lose but because he thought the colonists were being treated unfairly. Eventually, a mob destroyed Priestley's home and work in Birmingham, his politics became intolerable in the UK, and Priestley emigrated to Pennsylvania with his wife. Johnson also includes snippets of letters between Priestley and his great friends Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (Priestley's commentary on John Adams's politics became one of the means of repairing Jefferson's friendship with Adams).

Polymaths are very rare these days; the gentleman of leisure who studies science, ponders philosophy and religion, speaks eloquently, plays music, and reads extensively is pretty much a thing of the past. Knowledge in certain areas is so incredibly specialized that a man like Joseph Priestley is all but unheard of these days. A physical chemist with a doctoral-level knowledge of theology? Reading of the intersection of those disciplines in Johnson's book was very enlightening (a bit of a pun considering the time period) and that was what made the book enjoyable for a burnt-out nerd.

A good book to start off with for the readathon.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challege Count: 3/4

25 October 2009

24-Hour Readathon Wrap-Up: Totals!!

First off, thanks to everyone who popped by my blog for a comment. They all go right to my email so I was able to catch all the notes of encouragement even if I wasn't checking my blog :)

I had a lot of fun polishing off books that my ADD reading sensibilities had languishing in the "in progress" pile. I'm definitely up for the next readathon in the spring and maybe I'll get to start and finish books next time rather than just finish.

Books finished: 6
The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom
The Other by Thomas Tryon
Hush, Hush (ARC) by Becca Fitzpatrick

Books I made progress on: 1
Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters by Kathleen Ragan

Total number of pages read: 1183 (huzzah!!!!!)

I'm wrapping up my readathon weekend by reading a little The Shadow of the Wind and going to my book group tonight. I haven't checked my Google Reader as yet, but I'm sure it is full to bursting and beyong with all sorts of readathon goodness. The challenge for the next week is to write six new book reviews. The fun never ends!

24-Hour Readathon Update #4 - Make-up time

Making up a few hours since I worked a full shift at the store - meaning I was short about 8.5 hours, not counting having to sleep for another 4.

Make-Up Hour 1: 10am
Got up and dressed (slowly). Headed to Brugger's for breakfast (wow, drunk sorority girls....must have been a good post-game party)
Reading: Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters
page start: 171
page stop: 184
1130am - time for browse through Prairie Lights (bought new verse translation of Das Neibelungenlied)

Make-Up Hour 2 and 3: 1-3pm
Headed to B&N for coffee and magazines (confirmed bookclub for tonight)
Reading: The Other by Thomas Tryon (for bookclub)
page start: 84
page stop: 288 (finished)

Make-Up Hour 4 and 5: 3-5pm
Catching up on book journals (been really lazy about that), no page for Roseanna, odd.
Time to knock off another book.
Reading: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (ARC from FLBC)
page start: 115
page stop 391 (finished)
Paranormal romance is very much NOT my thing.

Starting work on The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Time to go calculate the page totals for a wrap-up post!

24-Hour Readathon Update #3 - but I'm not done yet!

Having hit a wall at 3am, I decided to read until I passed out in bed (with the cats - who were pretty PO'd I hadn't gone to bed yet).

3am: Hour 21
Reading: Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters by Kathleen Ragan
page start: 133
page stop: 170

4am: Hour 22
This is officially where I fell asleep because my journal says "4am: Hour" legibly and then a big scribble/squiggle for the hour because I fell asleep. With my journal on my face.

5am: Hour 23

6am: Hour 24

So I finished accounting for the official Readathon Hours. But I'm not done yet...I'll be making up some of the reading time I lost today so a bit more "readathon" for me. I'll be back for an official wrap-up post later.

24-Hour Readathon Update #2

Offically, I'm probably nuts. I decided to finish off Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human during the readathon. I've been working on it for about 2 years....do you think I'll finish?

12am: Hour 18
Reading: Roseanna
page start: 168
page stop: 212 (finished)
Need food - sandwich made and cats pacified with treats.
Reading: Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom
page start: 546
page stop: 558 (yes, I know - I am crazy)

1am: Hour 19
Reading: Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
page start: 558
page stop: 662
"Antony and Cleopatra" chapter done - actually liked Bloom's thoughts on a play for once
"Coroilanus" chapter done ("bad" plays don't get many pages)

2am: Hour 20
Reading: Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
page start: 662
page stop: 745 (finished)
Yes!!!!! I have finished the behemoth Bloom book - took two years and much gagging over Bloom's Falstaffian love affair with the fat oaf from the Henry plays. Blech. This calls for chocolate!!!!!

24 October 2009

24-hour Readathon Update #1


I forgot I had to work today (closed at the store) so I'm definitely short about 8 hours+ of the Readathon. I plan to read a little extra tomorrow to make up for that. In the meantime, here's what my journal looks like (just for laughs):

7am: Hour 1
Oops. Overslept.

8am: Hour 2
Reading: The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson
page start: 69
page stop: 82
Just woke up at 840am. Boo. The Johnson is interesting, if a little simplistic.

9am: Hour 3
Reading: The Invention of Air
page start: 83
page stop: 166

10am: Hour 4
Reading: The Invention of Air
page start: 167
page stop: 240 (finished)
Time for a shower.

11am: Hour 5
Reading: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
page start: 410
page stop: 532 (finished)

12am: Hour 6
Just finished Wolf Hall - totally spaced while trying to find Roseanna

1pm: Hour 7
Fetching lunch and heading to the store

2pm: Hour 8

3pm: Hour 9

4pm: Hour 10
15 minute break - no time to read. Boo.

5pm: Hour 11

6pm: Hour 12
Dinner break @ 630pm
Reading: Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
page start: 52
page stop: 68

7pm: Hour 13
Back to work. Boo.

8pm: Hour 14
Getting Hawkeyes updates via text - we're winning! (Beat Michigan State, yeah!)

9pm: Hour 15
Hawkeye's are behind MSU...boooooo...but then the Hawks scored on the last play of the game - yay!!! Hawks win!! 8-0 for the first time ever!

10pm: Hour 16
Back home @1030pm.
Catching up on Twitter and email (thanks for the cheering!)
Reading: Roseanna
page start: 68
page stop: 90

11pm: Hour 17
Reading: Roseanna
page start: 91
page stop: 167

I've decided that I'm going to knock out some half-finished/in-progress books for the Readathon. Does make choosing a little less crazy...unless you manage to misplace a book under the nightstand (probably fur-ball-assisted) like I did with Roseanna.

23 October 2009

I'm gonna get a book "nook"

It took all of three days before I caved and pre-ordered Barnes and Noble's new eReader - nook. I was sort-of thinking I could wait until we got the units in the store* at the end of November...but no. I'm actually surprised I lasted three days before breaking down. I ordered the nook (obviously) as well as the protection plan (it prices out at about the same as my iPod protection plan from Best Buy - and I'm a spiller and dropper so this is a good buy for me).

I also ordered a pretty cover. Choosing took ages and not all the covers are currently available (too much selection - gets me everytime). I finally picked a black synthetic leather cover with a quote from Mme de Sevigne - When I step into this library, I cannot understand why I ever step out of it. I also ordered the film kit; no scratches for me, thankyouverymuch, and I always find the films very easy to remove/replace as needed.

So now I get to wait until November 30. *le sigh* It is always hard to wait for shiny new toys.

Some of you are probably wondering why the heck am I ordering an eReader? Don't I have enough books? Don't I love printed books?

I do love printed books - I have thousands of them. I also love techie gadgets when I think they're going to be useful and I think this is going to be useful. What caught me on the nook is the partnership with GoogleBooks; I read a lot of old books (i.e. Victorian, Edwardian, even older) and those books are in the public domain...and they're free...so if I can access one (or many) needed for a class and download it to an easy-to-read eReader then I don't have to pack my backpack chock full (heavy, oy). One can also "side-load" ePub, PDF, and a number of other file formats (not Word - would need to convert to .pdf first) so hellloooo research articles. Wouldn't have to tote a 3-inch binder full of articles around, either. I'm also interested in nook because I occasionally find myself reading a book that I know I really wouldn't care to own permanently; disposal of unwanted books is a problem in my house (first, I must be convinced to get rid of the physical book, even if I didn't like it, and that is the hard part).

The final nook "hook" for me is the design - it is a pretty little toy. Pretty, pretty (sorry, Sony, but I never really liked the look of your eReader). Also, nook is not sold by Amazon. Amazon and I haven't gotten along since I was given an Amazon gift card in grad school (~10 yrs ago) and it turned into the worst online shopping debacle ever. So even though I knew people who loved their Kindle and Kindle 2 I was never, ever going to buy one because I would be actively giving Amazon business. Plus, I'm a bookseller. In a bookstore. You can do the math.

So now I get to (more-or-less) patiently wait for my nook. Hurry up, Thanksgiving! Once I'm eating turkey I know my nook arrives soon.

*FYI: Even the employees of B&N do not get a discount on nook. We have to pay the full price - just like everyone else.

FEED READ 3 Tote Bag

Barnes and Noble has partnered with Lauren Bush, CEO, Creative Director, and co-Founder of FEED Projects, LLC, to sell the exclusive FEED/READ tote bag. Made of organic cotton canvas, each $24.95 tote bag provides three school lunches and three Room to Read children's books for children in Nepal. The bag is 14" x 12" x ~3" - just right for a book or two, wallet, and smartphone (there's a small interior pocket, too).

I picked up mine the other day and it's a really handy little bag for running around town; the canvas is thick and the straps are long enough for the bag to hang comfortably on my shoulder. I'm a tote bag fiend so adding another to my collection was a snap and I get to help out underprivileged children, too. The price may seem steep for just a bag but you get not just a bag but a way to give back as well. You can follow FEED Projects on Twitter.

20 October 2009

10 Books to Read Before You Die

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Pam at Bookalicio.us has come with a fun meme to see what books we would like to shift off our TBR before we shuffle off this mortal coil. If you want to put in your own 10 books, go to Pam's site for the code and enter the link to your meme post in the Mr. Linky.

1. The Tale of Genji

2. Finnegan's Wake

3. The full In Search of Lost Time

4. The Magus

5. The entire Arabian Nights (or 1001 Arabian Nights depending on translation)

6. Kristin Lavransdatter

7. Plato's Republic

8. Tom Jones

9. Herodotus's Histories

10. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

(Note: Some of these books I've read excerpts of, but never read the whole book)

19 October 2009

Dr. Ignacio Ponseti (1914-2009)

The University of Iowa community lost a colleage and friend when Dr. Ponseti died of a sudden illness on Sunday; he was 95. Dr. Ponseti developed a groundbreaking treatment for clubfoot using only casting and braces, not surgery, to train the foot into normal alignment. He persevered in his work even when the orthopaedic community disregarded his findings; through peer-reviewed research the Ponseti method has been shown to have a success rate of nearly 98 percent without the risks of a surgical procedure (the method is also inexpensive and popular in poorer areas of the world). Dr. Ponseti's method was championed by parents, eventually culminating in founding of The Ponseti International Association in 2006 at the University of Iowa.

From the UI HealthCare news release:
Ignacio Ponseti, MD, whose pioneering, non-surgical, low-cost clubfoot treatment has benefited hundreds of thousands of children worldwide, died today at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa, at age 95 following a sudden illness. Ponseti's gentle methods and soft-spoken compassion were a hallmark of a six-decade commitment to helping children, and belied a sometimes tumultuous, even dangerous, early career in medicine.

Ponseti was born in 1914 on the Spanish island of Minorca. As a teenager, he worked summers in his watchmaker father's repair shop. Hours spent learning to make and replace tiny, delicate watch parts were lessons in patience and precision that would serve him well in the years that followed.

Ponseti entered medical school in Barcelona in 1930 and completed his degree in 1936, just before the start of the three-year Spanish Civil War. Volunteering to serve as a medical officer with the Loyalist army, he spent the war in the Orthopedic and Fracture Service treating battle wounds. By 1939, General Francisco Franco's fascist army had gained control, and Ponseti, fearing imprisonment or worse, chose to leave Spain.

His escape was not a solo effort, however. Ponseti also arranged a risky evacuation for the nearly 40 wounded men in his care. He worked for three days and nights to set their fractures, and then, with the help of local smugglers, he transported the wounded by mule over the Pyrenees mountains to safety in France.

Finding himself with no home or citizenship, Ponseti left France for Mexico, where he served as the community doctor for Juchitepec, a small town south of Mexico City. There, he successfully treated typhoid patients with hydration and bean puree.

While in Mexico for two years, Ponseti met Dr. Juan Farril, a professor of orthopedics at the University of Mexico who had trained in the United States. With Farril's assistance, Ponseti arranged to study with Dr. Arthur Steindler, then chairman of orthopedics at the University of Iowa. In 1941, Ponseti moved to Iowa City.

Ponseti's limited English and lack of a medical school diploma (due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War) almost stymied his entry into Iowa's residency program. Fortunately, he was able to explain the situation - in French - to Carl Seashore, then dean of the UI Graduate College, who helped resolve the problem.

After completing his residency in 1944, Ponseti joined the orthopedics faculty at UI Hospitals and Clinics, where he remained for the next four decades treating patients, teaching and conducting research. He retired as professor emeritus in 1984, but returned to the University in 1986 to a consultative practice in orthopedics until he fell ill last Tuesday (October 13, 2009).

Ponseti's work on clubfoot started very early in his UI career in the 1940s. It was obvious that without treatment, children with clubfoot faced a lifetime of debilitation, and even possible amputation. But the surgical treatments used at the time had significant limitations. With nearly 200,000 children born each year with the condition, the need to find a more effective treatment was imperative.

During his first year as a graduate fellow, Ponseti reviewed the outcomes of Dr. Steindler's clubfoot surgical treatment used between 1921 and 1941. Analysis showed that surgical treatment often resulted in stiff, fixed ankles. Moreover, although the treated children could walk, they almost always had a limp.

Ponseti's extensive examination of the anatomy and biology of infant feet, led him to believe that physical manipulation and casting might be a more successful approach. In 1950, Dr. Carroll Larson, head of orthopedics at the University of Iowa, put Ponseti in charge of the clubfoot clinic, where he developed the eponymous method that would slowly but surely revolutionize clubfoot treatment.

Known as the Ponseti method, it involves the careful manipulation of muscles, joints and ligaments held in a series of casts and braces to reposition the foot back to normal. It has become the "gold standard" for clubfoot treatment, after decades of positive follow-up results and numerous international peer-reviewed studies showing success rates as high as 98 percent.

However, for the first 40 years after developing the technique, only Ponseti and a handful of orthopedic surgeons used the method, treating more than 2,000 children. Frustrated by the under-use of his technique, Ponseti and colleagues who had used the technique began making a concerted effort in the 1990s to communicate the method and its successful results to as wide an audience as possible.

Ponseti's book, “Congenital Clubfoot: Fundamentals of Treatment,” published by Oxford University Press in 1996, describes his experience with the method and includes patient studies confirming the success of the approach. A string of peer-reviewed articles, including multi-decade follow-up studies, also helped raise awareness and professional acceptance of the method.

By early 2000, the Web became an effective grass-roots medium, especially among the parents of successfully treated children who advocated the Ponseti method to other families searching for the best treatment for clubfoot. Over the past decade, these educational and advocacy efforts have resulted in the Ponseti method being considered the mainstream treatment for clubfoot in North America today. The technique is increasingly used to help children with clubfoot from underdeveloped regions of the world. In August 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the Ponseti Method.

Even though he was in his eighties and nineties, Dr. Ponseti continued to train physicians in his method, many of whom came from around the world to learn the technique. You could see the gaggle following Dr. Ponseti down the hallway. Dr. Ponseti's 1996 textbook, Congenital Clubfoot: Fundamentals for Treatment, has recently been reprinted. In 2006, Helena Percas-Ponseti, herself a professor emeritas of Spanish literature, wrote Homage to Iowa: The Inside Story of Ignacio V. Ponseti, a biography of her husband. I have a copy of this book, signed by both Dr. Ponsetis, on my bookshelves at home.

Rest well, Dr. Ponseti, you gave hope and happy life to so many.

15 October 2009

BTT: Weeding

This week’s Booking Through Thursday question asks:

When’s the last time you weeded out your library? Do you regularly keep it pared down to your reading essentials? Or does it blossom into something out of control the minute you turn your back, like a garden after a Spring rain?

Or do you simply not get rid of books? At all? (This would have described me for most of my life, by the way.)

And–when you DO weed out books from your collection (assuming that you do) …what do you do with them? Throw them away (gasp)? Donate them to a charity or used bookstore? SELL them to a used bookstore? Trade them on Paperback Book Swap or some other exchange program?

Culling the library is an ongoing battle - the front keeps moving forward and back. I get really motivated from time to time and can actually get rid of a good number (keep in mind that "a good number" and "being realistic about what you can keep" amounts to 10 books on a really motivated day). I keep a box in my office and fill it up as I go - some books go in the box after reading, some after a weeding session.

I let my family have first pick of my "weeds" - my parents and brothers and sisters-in-law pick through the boxes and then my dad takes them to the drop-off for the Cedar Rapids Friends of the Public Library (which is in more need than ever since the library flooded and lost the majority of its collection in 2008). Taking books to the used bookstore for money/credit isn't really possible in a college town; the used dealers are innundated with books that college students don't want and the university won't take as a buy-back.

14 October 2009

The Children's Book

I love A.S. Byatt. Possession is easily one of the best books in the English language (haterz need not respond). I was stalking my pre-order of The Children's Book for weeks before the US release date - see previous postings about Man Booker prize nominees for my issue with the delay between UK/US printings - and happily toted my copy home the day before the Booker was awarded. I was pulling for Byatt; she didn't win but she did write a beautiful book.

Creating fictional Victorian writers is a Byatt specialty (cf. Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash from Possession) and the pieces "written" by her characters can easily be mistaken for authentic period pieces; I should know, having Googled LaMotte and Ash thinking they were real but obscure. Byatt is a Victorianist and she knows her stuff (was co-editor of a volume of George Eliot's work), mixing it with influences from D.H. Lawrence and Iris Murdoch. The Victorian "writer" in this novel is Olive Wellwood, Fabian idealist and writer of fairy tales who also writes a private book for each of the seven children in the Wellwood family (Olive plunders her children's private books for publishable stories). One of the more fascinating aspects of the "literary" world in The Children's Book is the inclusion of German puppen and marchen (in need of umlaut, I know) elements to mix with the English fairy stories. Aschenputtel (Cinderella) figures very prominently early in the story.

What I loved most about this novel is that there is truly no central "plot" - no mystery, no central conflict to resolve - but instead the novel chronicles the development of the World War I generation, the men and women born as Victorian England gave way to the twentieth-century and grew up to give their lives on the battlefields. Byatt gave herself a set length of time and chronicled the development of her characters' lives over approximately twenty years, much like a parent would do with a baby book. There is a sense of inevitablility in The Children's Book - Byatt cannot change the major events of history, cannot blot out World War I, and so fits her characters' lives around reality. All done with lush prose, too.

I'm to the point where all I really want to do is drool over this book and not say anything intelligent about it; I like it that much. So go; read it. Marie at The Boston Bibliophile has an excellent review of The Children's Book so if you need more convincing she has a few more reasons why you should get thee to a library/bookstore and read The Children's Book.

On to Wolf Hall - it won the Booker over The Children's Book so it better be pretty good.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 2/3

13 October 2009

Bookspotting: October 13, 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
13 1/2 by Nevada Barr
Something in French (my French is limited)

Slim pickings - the non-literature-minded masses were either attached to cellphone/iPod or, like my benchmate, arguing over the merits of receiving jail-time or probation when assaulting the mother of one's child (aka "bitch-slappin' ma baby-momma"). True story.

And what was I reading? A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book (only 175 pages to go). Lovely.

Teaser Tuesday: The Mill on the Floss

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Mr Tulliver and his family must live more meagrely and humbly, but it would only be till the profits of the business had paid off Furley's advances, and that might be while Mr Tulliver had still a good many years of life before him. It was clear that the costs of the suit could be paid without his being obliged to turn out of his old place and look like a ruined man.
~ p 206, The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot

09 October 2009

Obama awarded 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

I got nothing.

I'm not sure whether to congratulate the man or ask the Nobel committee for some insights.

08 October 2009

Herta Muller: 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature

I'm always excited for literary prizes (conveniently the Man Booker and the Nobel were within two days of each other this year). I have to say I'm a little surprised the Nobel committee did not choose Adonis, a Syrian poet whose name has been tossed around as a contender for years. I know even less about winner Herta Muller, a Romanian-born German-language writer, than I did JMG le Clezio (2008 Laureate). Muller has won numerous awards in Germany, including the Kleist Prize and the Kafka Prize, so it's not like the Nobel committee picked a dud.

At this point I could get back up on my soapbox like I did when the Booker longlists/shortlists were announced and again complain that it sucks to live in the US and not have access to new and/or quality work coming out of the world literature (can't even get the good UK titles in a reasonable amount of time). Like flogging a decayed pack animal. Tangential to this argument is the insinuation that Americans are too insular and don't read world literature; I'll throw that right back at you and note that we can only read what we can lay our hands on. If publishers are unable or unwilling to negotiate for the translation and publication of non-US work then it's really hard to read world literature. So we read what we can even if that's our own corner of the world. Admittedly, I would have loved to see Kurt Vonnegut awarded the Nobel, a truly wonderful writer, but when you only give out one award per year for the entire world...you lose some of the good ones.

With the goal of "reading more world literature" in mind, I'm going to formally announce two long-term projects: the Nobel Project and the Booker Project. I'm sure other bloggers do this, too, and the goals are similar to my Newbery Project. I'd like to read at least one work by each Nobel Prize for Literature laureate and each of the Booker Prize-winning books...by the time I die. I figure that gives me a good long time to get that accomplished because each project will grow as the years pass. Obviously, I have some winners on each list covered so I might throw those in as "pre-blog" retro posts unless I really want to read the book again (it gives me an excuse to re-read Possession in any case).

07 October 2009

FTC blogger regulations...overkill?

The book blogging world tweeted like crazy Monday morning (at least in my neck of the Twitter woods) when the FTC announced new guidelines concerning endorsements and/or testimonials (I am unable to open the pdf so have to rely on repostings). It's still going strong. In a nutshell, bloggers will need to disclose their receipt of products, particlarly if "endorsements" or "compensation" is involved.

Shorter nutshell: the FTC made some "guidelines" for bloggers but they aren't specific to product.

Several book bloggers I follow put up spectacular posts in trying to unwind the Gordian knot of the FTC's guidelines. Edward Champion posted a short interview with Richard Cleland of the Bureau of Consumer Protection which demonstrated the FTC really hasn't thought this one through (best idea from the FTC: to avoid having to declare compensation, etc., one should return the book when you're done reviewing it, never mind that it was an ARC and you're not supposed to sell those anyway so book is worthless). The Boston Bibliophile has a guest post with Internet and media attorney Jeffrey Hermes to answer some FAQs about the FTC guidelines (NOTE: the post does not constitute legal advice; if you have a problem, hire an attorney). Chasing Ray has posted an email that's going out to any publishers she's worked with. The major problem with the FTC guidelines is that they group everything ever reviewed or advertised in the blogosphere as "product" - anything from books to bookshelves to appliances to drugs is "product" that falls into the new guidelines. As Hermes points out, the issue of false advertising is less an issue with book reviews than, say, claims that Hydroxycut makes your fat melt off in a week but "compensation" is a gray area. Hmmm.

All of the above leads me to the long-term problem: what do the FTC guidelines mean to me? I'm a little blogger; in fact, I've only ever accepted two unsolicited books. I don't request review copies, either, since I'm already drowning in books I own. My second job is as minion at a bookstore and my product links go to my company 99% of the time (I don't participate in the affiliate program because I'm too lazy to actually apply for it); being a minion, I also know that selling your ARC copies is a big, fat no-no. I am an unpaid moderator at our bookclub site and the admins send me review copies of my reading selections if (and only if) I haven't bought the books already. If you read my blog at all, you've probably figured out that I have all kinds of snark in me. Snark is not conduscive to being a review product whore so I would be a poor gamble if a company thought they'd get a good review just because the review item was provided to me gratis. If I don't like the book/movie/CD/whatever, you'll know.

So to me, the FTC guidelines = serious overkill; it's like using a grenade launcher on a gnat. The FTC needs a rethink and probably ought to look at the value of the items and/or risk of bodily harm when laying out guidelines. Remember: be specific.

06 October 2009

Teaser Tuesday: The Children's Book

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along!
Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
They went to the Rodin Pavilion in the Place de l'Alma. Here were gathered most of Rodin's works in bronze, marble and plaster; the walls were hung with large numbers of his drawings.
~p 297, The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt
Picked a vague one, didn't I? Mwahahahahaha.
PS: Congrats to Hilary Mantel for her Man Booker win!

05 October 2009

The Oracle

I ran across The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind its Lost Secrets by William Broad when one of my managers merchandised it on an "Angels and Demons" display we had around the time of the movie release. The Oracle doesn't have anything to do with Dan Brown, or the Illuminati, or conspiracies, but in the grand scheme of things is does have to do with mysticism. Mysticism is sort of tangential to the Brown oeuvre, particularly with the then-upcoming release of The Lost Symbol (and we'd run out of places to put new paperbacks for display). Broad is a good science writer, so I thought I would give this one a whirl.

The Oracle turned out to be a very readable, highly informative examination of both the Delphic Oracle in history and the scientists involved in her twentieth-century fall and resurrection. The Oracle at Delphi featured heavily in Greek drama and history, even when the Oracle's prediction turned out to be ambiguous (see Croesus for an example of hearing only what you want to hear). Broad opens the book with a summary of ancient writings cataloging the Oracle's divine power; this was interesting because I'd really only heard of the Oracle in Herodotus and Oedipus Rex.

The "science" part of the book comes into play after the Oracle and her history has been discredited by French archaeologists; excavations at Delphi in the 1890s, published in 1904, find no source for the mysterious "pneuma" that would have aided the Oracle's communication with Apollo. Geologist Jelle Zeilinga de Boer developed an interest in Delphi after mapping fault-lines in Greece for an energy project; he enlisted naval archaeologist John R. Hale (schooled in the French discovery of "no pneuma") and the two began to investigate the Pythia using scientific tools not available during the French excavation. de Boer mapped criss-crossing fault-lines under the Pythia's adyton in Apollo's temple and noted the limestone was of a type that could contain hydrocarbons, important for a source of ethylene; eventually de Boer and Hale brought in forensic chemist Jeffrey P. Chanton and toxicologist Henry R. Spille to analyze the contents and effects of hydrocarbon deposits found at Delphi and similar sites in Greece.

What I love about this book is how the tools of science (geology, tectonics, gas chromatography, physiology) are used to support observations made when such tools weren't even thought of as possible. When the principles behind those tools weren't even thought of as probable. Broad makes this book of history very enjoyable and makes the mystery of the Oracle accessible to everyone.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge: 2/2

04 October 2009

The Link

I was a biology major. I took evolution, developmental biology, the works. I even wanted to be a paleontologist...until about age eleven when I found out you had to go dig up the fossil rather than have someone do it for you (and I don't like dirt or being outside, so that really scotched paleontology as my future career). When The Link released last May I was really excited; a new, very complete fossil that could be a "missing link"? I'll read a book about Ida.

Notice this is October. Notice The Link is not a long book. Yeah. Right around page 100 this book takes a detour into some seriously boooring info-dumps about taxonomy and human/primate evolution. It was not interesting to me as someone with degrees in natural science because, well, I'd seen it all before in one format or another; it probably is not interesting to the lay-reader, either, because the authors didn't take time to explain the family/genus/class/species, etc. layout from the basis on up and it probably left some readers behind.

Did I mention yet that this book is boring when they're not talking about Ida? I think Ida is fascinating. The documentary shown on the History Channel was very interesting. This book does not do Ida or her research team justice. When comparing Ida's bone structure to that of a lemur and noting how there are similarities and differences, I would have liked a side-by-side layout of the two skeletons with the differences notated. I would have liked a detailed discussion of how the 3D reconstructions of Ida's skeleton were made since the fossil was almost completely flattened into a single plane over time. I would have liked illustrations or pictures of the fossils described in the very boring section about evolution because my memory isn't terribly good and sometimes you need to compare pictures of Old World monkeys, New World monkeys, chimpanzees, and orangutans to keep the taxonomy straight. I did not need pictures of fossilized fish or bats (ok, maybe one to illustrate that Ida isn't the only complete fossil found in the Meissen pit, but we don't need that many when better illustrations and pictures are needed elsewhere in the book).

Just to sum up: Ida is fascinating and holds a unique place in paleontology but the book is just middling and really could have been done better. Buy the documentary because the book really isn't worth all the hype.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 1/1

03 October 2009


I'm very rarely at the theatre these days - having a major flood take out all the performance venues in your area will do that to your social life. Wicked came to Des Moines for a few weeks and my youngest brother asked if we (parents, brother, sister, and sister-in-law) would like to go see a performance as his birthday present. Pretty nice present, eh?

I really can't say there's anything not to like about Wicked as a musical - the story is a great adaptation of the Maguire book and the Stephen Schwartz score is amazing. If I hadn't known it was a Schwartz score, I probably would have guessed that anyway. The costumes are fabulous and the sets are amazing with a steam-punk vibe.

Major, major kudos to the woman who portrayed Elphaba (don't have the program on me right now so name to be filled in later). She was the standby, not first cast, and blew everyone's socks off. Amazing voice. Truly spine-tingling, especially "The Wizard and I" and "Defying Gravity" (I dare anyone to dislike that song).

The performance's only let-downs came from Glinda (who seemed to be doing a "Kristen Chenoweth does Glinda" thing and it didn't feel natural) and the performance venue. I'm not going to harp on the actress - maybe her performance was having an off night. I will complain about the acoustics in the Civic Center. I actually performed there in high school for State Jazz Band competition and it's like performing in a big, fuzzy barrel; being an audience member isn't much better. The auditorium isn't very live (the walls have thin carpeting on them) so the sound starts to muffle about halfway into the auditorium even if the performers are miked combined with the fact that this auditorium is very long (there's no center aisle (s) so the rows have to be much wider to allow people to walk all the way to the center of the row). The solo performers had enough diction to be understood in the back of the auditorium but the ensemble really should have been biting off the consonants during group pieces. We lost a lot of chorus lyrics which is too bad because "No One Mourns the Wicked" is a great number. The piece about "Dear Old Shiz" was really garbled and even I couldn't make out the words (my brother compared it to watching an opera in a language you don't speak).

I'm very happy I finally got a chance to see this musical, having heard the original cast recording sooo many times via friends. I also, whilst digging around on IMDB to find a picture of Idina Menzel (love her!) to show my mom, noticed that a movie version of Wicked has gone into pre-production with some of the original Broadway cast rumoured to be involved. If true....that would be fantastic!!

02 October 2009

Bookspotting: October 2, 2009

Stephen King The Stand
Same lady reading Lorraine Bracco
Nick Hornby Juliet, Naked
One The Lost Symbol
Mm ppbk Charlaine Harris (yellow)
Forgotten Realms Dissolution (?, had a hand over title)
One more mm that is about 7 seats ahead and I can see it

The mentally challenged guy is having an INTENSE conversation with some random dude who is really intoxicated; drunk guy is interested in where you can get the best Hawkeye gear in town. True story.

The traffic is worse than normal today, also true story.

And what was I reading? Nothing, I was composing this one-handed while hanging onto the hand-hold, trying not to fall over.

01 October 2009

Wrapping up a Challenge, on to the next!

J.C.'s Banned Books Challenge is wrapping up since September ended (but Banned Books Week continues through Saturday) and I didn't finish all my books that I said I would finish this month. *hangs head* I did get through American Psycho and Frankenstein (already on the books for BNBC September) and I did manage to get to page 100 in The Satanic Verses...but I didn't have much time to read Foucault's Pendulum or make it much farther than page 50 in The Naked and the Dead. Must try harder.

On a side-note for Banned Books Week I did some Googling and figured out why A Light in the Attic was one of the most challenged books of the 1990s...it apparently inspires disobedience in children through breaking of dishes and dying because your parents won't buy you a pony. Also, it has occult underpinnings because there are ghoulies and ghosties and witches. Yup, pretty sure I never got out of doing the dishes by breaking them on purpose and I didn't start worshipping Satan because my favorite book of poetry had some imaginary beings.

I remember laughing when reading Silverstein's books. A lot. My parents did, too. Parents seem to be a big theme in BBW posts this week, how parents try to control what other parents' children read. If someone feels something is not correct for their children then it must be bad for all children. You know, some things are bad for everybody. Doing lines of cocaine and walking down the middle of the freeway is bad for everyone involved; reading Brave New World or Catcher in the Rye or even American Psycho is not bad for everyone. But that's a personal choice (dude, even the coked-up lane-divider thing is a personal choice, albeit a bad one). Don't take away another's personal choice; the First Amendment guarantees our freedom to choose, but that also means we have to respect others' choices.

Moving on. Swapna's Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge starts today. Woot! To that end I will start my challenge reading by finishing the books I said I would read for the Banned Books Challenge. All are less than half done (in two cases barely 10% read) and I've purchased all of them in the past and the books were languishing on the shelves until September. Ha.

I'm wondering how to keep track/count of the books for this challenge on the blog. Particularly since the books for the challenge have to be a percentage of the total number of books I read these two months. My coding/layout skillz are not particularly good but I'm thinking maybe a post that I update and can be placed in my sidebar like a widget? Is that even possible on Blogger? Help? If you have Blogger tech tips suggestions please comment and let me know! Many thanks in advance.