Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Advent and Prep

We're clearly entering the season of Advent. Today, I found this from St. Casserole -- a lovely link to an artist's studio, complete with a display of Advent stoles. There is one stole that features the Jesse Tree and designer Jenny Gallo of the Carrot Top Studio wrote briefly about the use of the Jesse Tree tradition as an educational tool.

The author of Dewey's Treehouse takes her Advent preparation very seriously as well. Her first post this year was about finding the basis for a Jesse Tree calendar via the Mennonite Central Committee. Then today's lengthier entry discussed how she'd embellished it for her own family's celebration.

Then I was over looking at Stainless Steel Droppings and Carl V. has posted a lovely Christmas idea. I already have two Christmas stories to share by way of participation.

But I think today Diaphanous published the best entry with regard to the spirit of the season. She starts out describing herself as a little grumpy, but then you get to the part about the package for the little girl and your heart just melts. What nice people there are in this world!

I'm not that nice at the moment. I have work to my eyebrows and I did nothing on Black Friday by way of seasonal preparation. I have a book talk tomorrow night and I figured on posting about the title we're discussing as a casual addition to my list for the From The Stacks Challenge. Then I have to still write up the second title on my list for that challenge (A Splendor of Letters but you should know that Nicholas Basbanes just really irritated me!) I want to get both of those posted by the weekend because the first Sunday of Advent is December 3. My private tradition in past years has always been to start the new year's reading journal in conjunction with the beginning of Advent so I want to be ready to start the third title on my list - The Battle for Middle Earth by Episcopal priest and preacher, Fleming Rutledge. It's absolutely appropriate to the season and it will take me the whole time frame of Advent.

Stay well, folks. (Back on Friday). Oops, forgot something. For those of you who enjoyed the picture of the ships a day or two ago, the artist's name is Rob Gonsalves. Didi of Minute Marginalia who has a great store of knowledge about picture books, emailed to let me know that he has two books of similar pictures (a) Imagine A Day and (b) Imagine a Night. Perhaps someone out there needs an idea for a Christmas gift....

Monday, November 27, 2006

Something to consider

JenClair over at A Garden in the Pocket is having trouble with her Bloglines account so I wanted to post something here and I do hope she sees it. I commented at her blog but don't know if it "took".

The Flock browser (downloadable from has a wonderful reader for capturing blog feeds. The code is actually quite robust as it is modelled on the same code as the Firefox browser but Flock was actually designed as a browser for bloggers. The functionality allows you to read the feeds from other blogs and then capture a URL or an item and post it to your own blog (all via the browser itself). It's supposed to be good for pictures as well (although I've never used that particular function in Flock). It's a young release as it's only up to version 0.7; it will be up to version 1.0 before the New Year. And it doesn't yet support Beta Blogger (again it is supposed to be upgraded to support the Beta version by year's end). But it's a good, solid tool if you're inclined to try something new! Email me if you want more details. Jillmwo (at) gee-mail dot com.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Isn't this wonderful?

It's my favorite from the Seamless Pictures Gallery :

I think it's most creative. You don't catch the illusion immediately.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Great Quote on the Activity of Reading

There was a long and twisting pathway to get to this quote - Lorcan Dempsey saw it on William Gibson's blog who had kiped it from Boing-Boing who'd grabbed it from Michael Leddy who had heard it on KCRW Radio. Following bread crumbs from blog to blog...The point is that author Zadie Smith was the one who said it originally:

"But the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film, or watching television. So the greatest principle is, 'I should sit here and I should be entertained.' And the more classical model, which has been completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true."

I'll stick the other links into this entry when I can get to it some time late in the holiday weekend. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Scatter Ye Links While Ye May

In the midst of preparations for the return of offspring #1 and #2 from college, one or two things showed up on my radar today.

  • Bookplates appear to be a circulating meme this month, and thus I found this blog devoted to antique varieties.
  • The dragon bookplate at right was found at My Home Library and was created by artist Chris Riddell. See here for useful information about the artist.
  • I have successfully inveigled my friend, Didi, into blogging about her reading as well. Minute Marginalia -- what a great name for a book blog! I am so jealous that I didn't think of it first.
  • Didi acts as hostess for a group of us to meet monthly to discuss either a mystery or a sci-fi/fantasy selection. This time round (and admittedly off-topic with regard to the book we'd chosen) the group got somewhat exercised over whether or not the famous Lenore (referenced in Poe's The Raven) was in fact actually dead. Apparently, there is a school of literary thought that believes that Lenore has merely gone from the narrator of the poem for reasons of her own and he, being none too mentally stable, refers to her as lost when what he really means is "dead to me..." Personally, I adhere to the really-most-sincerely-dead school of thought. I do recall offspring #1 telling me that he had been taught in high school English that the narrator of "The Telltale Heart " might well be female. That theory actually seems plausible to me.
  • I think my next From-The-Stacks book will be the collection of essays by Nicholas A. Basbanes, The Splendour of Letters (link to the work on Librarything ).
And can someone please explain to me why HTML bullets in Blogger don't display after you have published a post, despite the bullets displaying appropriately in the wysiwyg editor? Why is that?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A "From The Stacks Challenge" entry

The Well Educated Mind
An entry for Michelle's From-The-Stacks Challenge

More on reading as an activity and The Well Educated Mind:

Professionally, I work with both content providers and libraries. In a period when Google is digitizing and indexing books, I have a vested interest in figuring out what underlies reading as an activity and in observing how readers think about books and their various uses in educating and entertaining. Usage behaviors are the underlay for decisions regarding user interfaces in digital environments. We're transitioning between print and fully-electronic delivery, so these issues are critical to both librarians and content providers (publishers).

Ideally, an author and a reader don't need a mediator. In a perfect world, the mind of the author reaches across time and touches the mind of the reader. As an example, I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for the very first time as a working mother, about two years after giving birth to my youngest son (just now turned 18). That reading experience actually helped me to clarify what my emotional anxieties were at that point in my life. I could so easily relate to the level of exhaustion and the overwhelming burden of responsibility and guilt that drove Victor Frankenstein's actions. I too was intimidated by the requirements of parenting; doubtful that I could live up to this creature's needs. Shelley's mind and mine met across a span of more than 150 years. To my way of thinking, that's the sign of a great work of literature; I, as a reader, had no doubts as to what Shelley was talking about. I knew instinctively that it had little to do with the misuse of technology or science and I remember telling a friend (another woman with young children) that I thought Frankenstein was the most subversive piece of literature by a woman that I had ever encountered. In fact, I warmed up to the theme and told her I thought the 1931 Boris Karloff movie classic was just about the worse bastardization of a novel's intent that I had ever encountered. I didn't pound my shoe on the table, but I was pretty emphatic.

I think that kind of interaction with a book is what Susan Wise Bauer is trying to encourage in readers of The Well-Educated Mind. As I said previously , Bauer's book is a detailed outline of how to gain the most benefit from reading beyond superficial entertainment and/or distraction. Given the importance associated these days with lifelong learning, I think there may be a growing need in the marketplace for works that can bolster our acuity or even remind us that we shouldn't just stop exercising our curiosity. If Google's digitization project does anything, it makes it a tad easier for readers to find something that might intrigue them as a topic. Bauer looks at five forms -- the novel, autobiography, history, drama and poetry -- in the hope of inculcating the adult reader with a sense of the value associated with the individual in Western culture. The development of those forms mirrors the development of that value in ourselves. The questions that she advises the reader to ask in studying each of these forms are designed to provoke more than a cursory response. You can quibble with her selected bibliography of works that she sets forth for each form but they are deliberate choices for the purposes of shaping a thought process. Were I constructing such a bibliography, I might have chosen differently but that isn't to say that her recommendations were faulty, given Bauer's intent.

My only real irritation in assessing the book was the lack of preface or introduction. I understand that one might not want to intimidate the very reader that this book is aimed at supporting, but a trained information professional expects to be able to quickly scan such front matter to determine whether or not a book satisfies a particular need. If there's a major failing in this book, I think it was that lapse in publishing practice, although nowadays you can't always know whether such an omission was the fault of the publisher for financial reasons (ie. page counts, marketing, or whatever) or the author's intentional omission by choice. The book's website doesn't exactly address my concerns either, so I am assuming it was the author's decision.

I think it's interesting that Web-based feedback on this book range the spectrum (between this and this). Clearly, not everyone will find this book appropriate to their need. Some business readers, for example, will think something on the order of this article will be more than adequate. I was reading Well-Educated Mind particularly for the manner in which Bauer broke apart the mental process rather than because I felt a need to supplement my education. I am not necessarily motivated to immediately follow her recommended course of study; I will however keep the book as a reference work, useful for keeping my own reading process sharp.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Wrapping Up Ghosts and Gothic Tales

Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings suggested that if participants did a wrap-up post on the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) 2006 Autumn Challenge , he would add it to his Newsletter of the event. Well, I entered his challenge about a week after he'd announced it and so I suppose it's characteristic to respond to that blog entry more than a week late as well.

First of all, this was the first time I had participated in a reading challenge on the Web; I had no idea how it would work and I wasn't sure I would actually sustain the effort. I do an enormous amount of reading for a variety of roles (day job, local library work, personal book group, etc.) and unless I enjoyed what I picked, it was going to be a crap shoot as to whether or not I would continue with it. Blogging takes time as well and I hadn't been able to sustain the activity for any length of time before. But my youngest had just left for college when I first saw Carl's posting, so I thought a new reading approach would at least distract me from worrying about "freshman follies".

I plunged in. H.G. Wells didn't write lengthy works so I buzzed through two of his novels fairly quickly. The Island of Doctor Moreau and The War of the Worlds both held my interest as entertainment and, given some of the philosophical discussions, gave me a certain low-level of anxiety well in keeping with the spirit of the autumn challenge. As a largely scientific society, we still haven't ironed out the ethics supporting our scientific endeavors and explorations. The human failings of those who faced the Martians seem still to be around a century later. (I wonder if any of this influenced my voting in the midterm elections...I hadn't thought about that until just this minute.)

Elizabeth Gaskell's Gothic Tales weren't really very spooky, but she captured beautifully the way in which bad behavior carries down the generations. The misunderstandings between parent and child, and the impact of a parent's emotional maturity and personal behavior on their children played throughout her stories. Those themes came up again in Grange House by Sarah Blake. There was the romanticism of thwarted loves, ruins and ghosts, but the point made by both of these authors seemed to be that we are allowed to make choices in life, those choices in turn have consequences, some of which won't always be happy.

All of this was lightened by the happy discovery of Montgomery Rhodes James, a nineteenth-century antiquarian scholar and teller of literary ghost stories, whom I had never encountered prior to Carl's early reference to Edward Gorey's The Haunted Looking Glass. His short stories were quite enjoyable, particularly Casting the Runes and The Mezzotint. I found one collection of his short stories at a Borders in Center City Philadelphia, and happened upon the other volume in Coliseum Books in New York. As the clerk finalized my sale, we chatted about horror movies inspired by James!

I tripped over ghost stories by all sorts of Victorian writers because of the Gaslight etexts and the content made available at I ended up reading ghost stories by Rudyard Kipling , Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other Victorian types. I didn't blog about all of them, but I certainly encountered and enjoyed more than I had anticipated.

I was writing as well on my blog about all of this. My formal entries for the challenge came across as a little too formal and a little too long, perhaps, but I am still working out the best way of thinking out loud about books and life. (I haven't yet figured out how to make Blogger let me do one of those (more) below-the-fold links.)

The last weekend of the challenge was tough, trying to finish The Unburied , a mid-stream substitution for Dracula. The college freshman had come home for birthday presents, extra sleep and mom's meals; I was glad to get a better handle on his life and his new experiences, but somewhat selfishly also wanted to finish my book for the challenge!

I think this was a great experience. I'm participating in other challenges like Michelle's From the Stacks challenge, but the RIP challenge was a fun first foray!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Low-key charm

Television and Charm

"Mulberry" (1992)

Usually one doesn't put the word "television" in the same sentence as "charming". Charming implies something low-key and likeable, rather than the blaring broadcasts of the "squawk box". Mulberry was a wonderful television series from the early '90's that really was charming in the most positive sense. It's a story of a young man luring an elderly woman back into life, along with her two rough-edged family retainers, Alice & Bert. Miss Farnaby, played by Geraldine McEwan, is delightful. The young man playing Mulberry is gently funny without the raucous rudeness of so much television. Buy it, watch it, keep it and most of all, talk about it with those you love. One of my favorites!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Activity of Reading

One of my books for the From the Stacks Challenge is The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer which I had originally purchased about two years ago. I had bought it on the strength of the discussion of *how* one should read; Bauer outlines a set of steps that an adult might follow in order to maximize the value of reading literature, autobiography, history, drama and poetry. Each form has its own demands and therefore a discerning reader will want to adapt his or her reading style and mental thought processes in order to ensure the likelihood of engaging fully with the work. Bear in mind that Bauer's reputation in the public community is based on a book she co-authored with her mother for those interested in home schooling their children (see The Well Trained Mind). This book is an offshoot of that text, aimed at helping adults, who may find themselves at a disadvantage in trying to teach their children, to improve their own skills in reading analytically. I don't need to homeschool my children (my two have made it into college) but Bauer's book is a detailed outline of how to gain the most benefit from reading beyond superficial distraction. I don't necessarily employ all of her recommended techniques, but there is enough overlap between my own habits and her process, that I don't feel I'm missing any essential step.

Her program requires scheduling and committing to an undisturbed segment of time for reading each week. She specifically recommends to her audience that they begin with four segments of thirty minutes each over the course of a seven-day week. Personally, I can read in 20 minute chunks on the train while I commute, but retention is often spotty. If I really want to extract something from my reading, I prefer to do it mid-day ideally in an undisturbed 90-minute session. Those sessions can only happen on a weekend, and many weekends it would be a challenge.

Her recommendation of taking notes is something I do follow, although I can't bring myself to write in a book. My mother raised me to take care of my things and she taught me that you don't write in a book. That might have been largely because we tended to rely on library books growing up, but I don't think she saw writing in books as anything other than damaging or defacing a text. Formal library training just reinforced the idea. I do take notes but tend to scribble on index cards or on small notepad sheets that you can stick inside a front or back cover. The difficulty in doing this task on the train is that jostling little sheets of paper while balancing a book on my knee in a moving train can be somewhat disruptive to the thought process necessary to thoughtful retention. Only in the past eighteen months have I indulged in the extravagance of Moleskine notebooks for ordinary note-taking. Post it notes and flags are good, but I am well-aware that the chemical make-up of the adhesive can hasten acidification of the paper page. There is a certain guilt associated with using them. For work-related articles, I generally use a yellow highlighter on pages that I've printed off from the Web.

The real question that I'm asking myself while reading The Well Educated Mind is when does someone need to be able to read at this level of depth, if one isn't reading for purposes of education? Why do we stop engaging at this level with the content we read once we get out in the so-called real world? Is the lack of time really the reason? These are rhetorical questions to a certain extent, but feel free to chime in.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Yahoo has actually been in touch and is working on a fix/work-around for my problem (see entry for Wed, Nov 8). I really hope this works out! At any rate, I wanted to make sure folks know that Yahoo actually does pay attention!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Claiming the blog for Technorati's purposes

Technorati says I have to do this in order to be crawled by their system. [Technorati Profile ] Of course, this is the beta version of blogger so for all I know that won't work (I may have read that in the FAQ but am too busy to go look it up.) I know that the Google Blog Search tool has picked up this blog, because I searched for my review of The Unburied (see below) earlier today and I was in the first ten hits.

Idiots! A rant aimed at Yahoo!

This post started out as a rant against today's changes at Yahoo! But like most rants, a good deal of the outburst can be discarded once one has had time to think and work out the correct next action. It started this morning when I opened up my personalized page at Yahoo! While it's not fashionable to still have one of those pages, I have honed my own MyYahoo page to the point where it is actually very efficient as a launch pad through out my work day. The most successful column I ever wrote to our membership was the one I did on my use of this particular page; it got circulated throughout organizations and I even got a speaking engagement out of it.

At any rate, one of the things that the page has allowed me to do for years (up until this morning) is keep a static list of about a dozen to eighteen bookmarked pages in a special segment of the page. I used that segment of the page as a navigational launch pad to reach sites whose content was not really suited to an RSS feed. I'm talking about sites like Techmeme and Reddit and Google Books, sites whose engineering of content makes them of more value when you pay an actual visit. As near as I can think it out, content comes in three ways for my purposes: RSS feeds for content updates, aggregation sites for overviews of multiple feeds from sites that I might or might not need to follow daily, and individual content pages that are stored because they are useful for background and/or current research. I use news readers (like the one built into the Flock browser), I use aggregation sites like Findory and I use social bookmarking tools. (I have bookmarked pages in all three Yahoo tools (, MyWeb, and the recently launched beta Yahoo bookmarks).

Yahoo this morning eliminated the static bookmark listing from my personalized page (without warning me that if I didn't move those 12-18 links to one of the bookmarking tools, they would disappear at a time of Yahoo's choosing). Without that static navigational list of bookmarks immediately accessible to me on that page, the value of the MyYahoo! page as an information dashboard is lessened considerably.

I suspect that Yahoo! wants to drive me in the direction of what they deem to be better tools -- social bookmarking tools (one huge database of valued web pages visited by many people and against which they can sell advertising), their social networking platform (360) and the handy Yahoo toolbar. Bear in mind I already use all of those tools at Yahoo! I suppose they ultimately hope to drop the hosting of personalized portal page in favor of these other offerings.

But as a user, I'm really not happy now. I had honed that MyYahoo! page down to the specific elements I regularly consulted. I visited that page multiple times daily (in large part to use the navigational links). Yahoo! in turn sold advertising off that page and reaped the benefit of my frequent visits.

My solution (and I'm not thrilled with it because I am not all that fond of the personalized Google homepage) was to replicate the list of links over in the Google environment. My attitude has always been to distribute my "Attention data" through use of a variety of sites and now Yahoo has forced me to move something over to Google's column. Believe me when I say I emailed Yahoo this morning and let them know that they were driving me over to that side of Silicon Valley Street. Should they be allowing that to happen when they just got downgraded by analysts this past month?

Hey, Yahoo guys! Guess what? You're trying to be "helpful" and I don't want to be helped and/or upgraded! Don't force me into adopting a tool or service I don't want. I want my nice legible static page with my static list of bookmarks that I've used for years!

Do you suppose anyone heard me?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Official List for the Challenge

Okay, I have dithered long enough regarding the From The Stacks Challenge. The list is as follows:

  1. The Well Educated Mind - Susan Wise Bauer
  2. The Battle for Middle Earth - Fleming Rutledge
  3. The Things That Matter - Edward Mendelson
  4. A Splendour of Letters - Nicholas A. Basbanes
  5. Murder Will Out: The Detective in Fiction - T.J. Binyon
This is way too ambitious in many respects...I am, after all, only a "bear of little brain".

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Working Up to the Challenge

I am still debating what titles I want to include on my list for the From The Stacks Winter Challenge. (Visit Overdue Books to learn more.) I've got two definites:

  1. The Well Educated Mind - Susan Wise Bauer
  2. The Battle for Middle Earth - Fleming Rutledge
I'd like to work my way through both of those. Throughout the other titles I've pulled, there is something of a reading-as-activity theme. I could go back to a book from a year ago, Walking A Literary Labyrinth, which I got halfway through before being interrupted. It deserves additional attention. I have two titles by Nicholas Basbanes (A Splendor of Letters and Every Book Its Reader). I have another book, The Things That Matter, by Mendelson (picks up on life stages in seven classics including Frankenstein, Jane Eyre and Middlemarch). I have an older book from Oxford University Press, Murder Will Out: The Detective in Fiction. For that matter, I could finally read Mary Barton, because I really do like Elizabeth Gaskell.

Hey, at least the first two are set....

Chortling rudely

Indiana Jones is denied tenure. Well, yeah....