Friday, March 27, 2009

Zen and the art of reading it

I have only the most nodding acquaintance with Zen Buddhism, despite Jon Stewart and other pop references, but I do know a good middle-school story when I see one. Jordan Sonnenblick's Zen and the Art of Faking It is an excellent entry into this overcrowded genre. It is the story of San Lee, who has just moved to Nowheresville (Harrisville), PA, his family's umpteenth move in as many years. San has perfected his chameleonism -- he can adjust his personality to fit in successfully. Wondering what will be his shtick in Pennsylvania, he realizes that the social studies unit on Zen Buddhism is a rerun -- he got it last year in 7th grade in Houston. When a classmate who has caught his eye -- a pretty girl who plays the guitar and goes by Woody (a la Mr. Guthrie) -- expresses interest in his knowledge, San's new role is destined.

So San recreates himself as a Chinese Buddhist, sitting zazen in the morning before school, eschewing the trappings of wealth (well, he is actually pretty poor), emulating the archers of Zen in the Art of Archery in his pursuit of the perfect free throw, and helping out at a homeless shelter, all in the pursuit of Woody. Alas, San is really the adopted son of two white people -- one of whom is currently serving time for fraud. And, it's only a matter of time before his carefully constructed persona is revealed ... and San wonders if he's no different from his father.

I liked this book -- it was effortlessly funny and yet it also delivers its message about figuring out and being true to who you are. It does the latter without feeling message-y in the least. San is a very likeable character, self-aware and self-deprecating, and he gets himself into a number of humorous situations that would appeal to young middle schoolers. There's even a librarian -- who first appears as the antithesis of best practices for serving teens and she's got white hair and glasses -- but she ends up on the right side of things, and the true practitioner of Zen.

But I wasn't crazy about the audiobook. I've heard the reader, Mike Chamberlain, read two other titles, Spanking Shakespeare and Twisted, and I was not impressed by him either time. Here, he's creating a slightly younger character and I found his reading style to be almost remedial. It always sounded like he was reading a book (I could hear the pages turn, metaphorically), as each sentence was delivered with a measured pace and deliberate pronunciation. Chamberlain got San's humor, but when the time came for San to confront his father with his anger at his father's behavior or when he realizes what his fakery has done to his relationship with Woody, the voice was no different. It was different was when San would exclaim "Yikes!" at a situation he'd gotten himself into; in this case, the vocal change seemed intrusive: I would stop and ask myself, who's the eight-year-old who's intruded into the story?

Chamberlain's voice seems unusually high for a male adult, it almost sounds strained. You could argue that this is what a 13-year-old boy's breaking voice sounds like, but instead it was merely painful. This was an original funny story, but no great shakes read aloud.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let it be

Things That Are is the third installment in Andrew Clements' stories about Bobby Phillips -- who woke up one day and was invisible -- and the friend he made while in that state, the blind Alicia Van Dorn. I loved the first book, Things Not Seen, and listened to the second a couple of years ago (before I had grasped the technology of book covers), finding it a bit of a disappointment. I'm sad to say that the enthusiasm has further waned after listening to this episode.

Alicia is the narrator here and she is awaiting Bobby's return from New York (and the adventure -- that she doesn't know about yet -- that he had there, described in Things Hoped For). As both are in their senior year, and have been close for two years, she believes it's time to change their friendship into something more. But Bobby came upon another invisible person while in New York; and now that person -- an Englishman named William -- has followed Bobby home to Chicago, with the FBI on his trail. Soon, Bobby, the FBI, and William have all made appearances at Alicia's house -- where her father has been conducting physics (invisibility) experiments on some lab mice -- all of which gets in the way of her plans to talk to Bobby.

This seems like a lot to cram into a book that's under 200 pages, but oddly, most of the story consists of Alicia's zen-like (things that are ... om) internal musings about Bobby, life as a blind person, the problems posed by the appearance of William and the FBI, etc. She does go on and on. The episodes of sci fi that pop up in the story seem hurried and without much tension. Just as in the previous novel, the invisibility story feels awkwardly draped over a novel that wants to be something else altogether; in this case, a domestic does-he-love-me drama (kind of like the Princess Diaries, only not as funny).

The reader is Jennifer Ikeda, not a favorite. But her narrating style is absolutely perfect for this novel of internal dialogue -- it's all soft and introspective, with spikes of humor and emotion. She actually makes a clear distinction between Alicia's halves -- the one talking (endlessly) to herself in that lulling, sing-song way and the one carrying on conversations with those around her with intelligence and personality. It's just there's too much of the former in this novel for me. Ikeda also creates a third Alicia persona, in the form of her devil on the shoulder. This figure is sassy and speaks brightly and more quickly.

Ikeda also does a nice job with her portrayal of Bobby. His voice has a deeper register, and he sounds completely natural. She's not as successful with William. His English accent comes and goes, and sounds like he came from different parts of the British Isles at different times.

I didn't hear much differentiation with the other characters in the story, which made following the dialogue occasionally tricky.

There are very long pauses here -- between both the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, and then following the announcement of the chapter and the beginning of the text. In the extreme (and I realize that this sounds ridiculous, but it's really a long time in an audiobook!), there's as much as 20 seconds between chapters -- punctuated with that short chapter announcement.

Andrew Clements is such a great storyteller that I wish he would finish up this story -- which I think has been stretched way too far -- so he can tell some new ones! I like the fact that the Things books are for teens, but can be read by younger readers; so I'd like to see what else he can do with stories like this.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Knight accreditation

Why is this woman purple? And, she doesn't even look like Keladry of Mindelan (as described in Lady Knight), who sounds a little less willowy than this specimen. Yes, you can lift a heavy glaive, wear armor, ride a really big horse and have Audrey Hepburn's neck ... at least on the cover of a book you can. Compare and contrast with Kel's initial appearance in 2002 (I think I've solved the problem of the weird formatting with two pictures). I fully understand why the covers of these novels have been redesigned. The earlier look has an old-fashioned quality that might not appeal to tweens.

Anyway, here I am at Book 4 of Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small Quartet and you know how much I hate coming in late. (Is that link to a fansite or not? It's hard to tell, so take a look at the author's blog as well.) In Kel's backstory, she has overcome many obstacles to become a full-fledged knight in her kingdom of Tortall, and now -- as a strong and skilled defender of what's right -- she is ready for her first command. And what a retro female job she's given: Running a refugee camp. No marching into battle for Lady Kel, she's managing the women and children. She feels the same way as I do, but because she's Kel, she digs in and does the best job she can.

But then her camp is attacked and its people kidnapped, and -- with the help of her many loyal year-mates, subordinates, and bewitched animals -- she storms into the neighboring country (with whom Tortall is at war), and rescues everyone. In the immortal words of author Pierce, Kel kicks butt.

I didn't care for this book, but I generally don't care for much from Tamora Pierce. So, here's thoughts on the audiobook. The reader, Bernadette Dunne, sounds utterly confident in her portrayal of Kel and her world: She knows all the characters and how they should sound and she fully understands and sympathizes with Kel. I believed her as Kel. She's very skilled at creating tension in a story, through her pacing and tone of voice. In the many battle scenes that pepper this story, she vividly recreated the confusion and terror of the fighting.

I'm not as enamoured of the sound of her voice -- I heard a harsh, occasionally painful sibilance. She was also sometimes a sloppy reader: swallowing words and varying the pronunciation of a character named Toby. Ultimately, it seemed an acceptable performance of what is a wildly popular series; I didn't find it to be outstanding.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My, what big eyes you have!

As I broaden my audiobook listening this year to include picture book read-alouds, I need to listen to some outstanding examples in order to understand what makes a good one. Someone recommended Ed Young's fairy tale, Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood story from China. In this version, three girls are left alone while their mother goes off to visit grandmother. The wolf -- seeking some tasty morsels -- comes to visit them, and is outwitted by the clever sisters.

I loved Young's dedication: "To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol for our darkness.'' Is that a terrifying wolf on the cover, or what?

This story is narrated by B.D. Wong -- an actor whose work is always a pleasure to watch and listen to -- and the audiobook is published by Weston Woods. Accompanied by eerie music that occasionally sounds like a lonely, whistling wind, Wong reads the story simply without sounding like a simpleton. The music has a palpable menace when appropriate. There are also sound effects (knocking at the door and the creaking of a rope) that add to the atmosphere without detracting from the words. Since Young's Caldecott-Medal-winning illustrations have a shadowy, impressionistic feel, the music is responsible for creating the atmosphere in an audio version, and it fulfills its role well.

Wong infuses his narration with a slight Chinese cadence that sounds utterly authentic (he pronounces Po Po more like Powh Powh if that's clear ... less of a long 'o'). Each of the three sisters sounds unique, as does the truly frightening wolf.

This is not a bedtime story ... unless you like to go to bed with a delicious tingle of fear.

A brother's war

Rodman Philbrick hasn't updated his website to include his latest book, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (P. Figg and Philbrick have some aural similarity, I like that). I can forgive authors who are actually writing from keeping up their websites. Homer is an orphan, living with his older brother Harold on their evil uncle's farm in Maine. When the uncle takes cash from a local rich man who wishes his own son to avoid military service, Harold is nefariously drafted into the Union Army and marched south. Homer -- who never lets the truth get in the way of a good story -- escapes the farm and follows Harold. On his journey, which winds up at the Battle of Gettysburg, Homer meets a number of interesting people -- not all of whom have his welfare at heart -- and has some lively adventures. Homer can tell a good story.

This novel is narrated by William Dufris, who is -- I learn from the audiobook -- the voice of Bob the Builder (which I guess you can hear at this website). [Bear in mind that I only know of Bob because young children ask for books about him, and his DVDs are often the only ones sitting on the shelf.] Dufris reads Homer's story with a high-pitched, slightly hoarse and squeaky delivery that seems appropriate for this excitable, adventuresome boy. He's very good at creating characters through voices, and provides many memorable creations of the people Homer meets on his journey. The kindly Quaker, the fast-talking grifter, and Professor Fleabottom, the flim-flam operator of the traveling medicine show -- where Homer performs as a pig-boy -- all stand out for me.

At the end of the novel, there is an extensive glossary of terms used in the Civil War era, which Dufris reads in a neutral, non-character voice. It's pretty dull to listen to, particularly after Homer's exciting story.

On the whole, however, I simply enjoyed the fact that a storyteller's story is told to me out loud. At the end of the book, you learn that Homer is looking back and telling you the adventures of his childhood, and I could just imagine him as grizzled grandpa (a little bit civilized thanks to his Quaker foster father), sitting with his rapt grandchildren -- heck, all the children from those parts -- and spinning his yarns. Perfect for an all-ages family car trip ... and there are never enough of those!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Gypsy moths?

I'm in a Philip Reeve mood right now. I just finished reading Starcross, so I could listen to Mothstorm with a guilt-free conscience, and then -- with all this year's award books finally under my belt (nothing was possible until I got through Octavian Nothing, Volume 2) -- I picked up Here Lies Arthur for my eyes. The guy doesn't have a webpage, nor does he blog, but he's such a good storyteller (spending a fair amount of his free time at the pub!). [Look, Mortal Engines has a prequel!] I think that Mothstorm is the final adventure of Art and Myrtle Mumby, and sorry I am to see them off.

In their third adventure [Here's the full title: Mothstorm, or The Horror from Beyond Uranus Georgium Sidus! or A Tale of Two Shapers: A Rattling Yarn of Danger, Dastardy and Derring Do Upon the Far Frontiers of British Space and I also enjoy the wit of the author credit: as told by Art Mumby, Esq. (with the usual interpolations by Miss Myrtle Mumby) to Philip Reeve (purveyor of scientific romances to the discerning gentry).], the Mumbys are celebrating Christmas (where "the pudding has gone rogue!") at their moon-orbiting home, Larklight, when the British Navy (astronomical division) arrives seeking the advice of Art's mother. Mrs. Mumby -- we learned in Larklight -- is a millennia-old creature known as a Shaper, and she is the creator of our universe. She loved it so much that she took human form.

The Navy has seen something way out beyond Uranus (which true ladies such as Myrtle politely call Georgium Sidus -- roughly translated as George's star), and the Mumbys, the Navy, and eventually Art's friend, the privateer Jack Havock make their way to those far frontiers. (Bear in mind that this is an alternative Victorian world, where the British empire extends to the nine planets and their inhabitants -- there's a funny little riff on Pluto here -- and space travel is possible due to a magical mixing of alchemical elements in what is called the "wedding chamber.")

Once there, they are taken captive by another Shaper -- who has created huge attack moths that are ridden into battle by a blue lizard race called the Snilth -- intent on conquering our universe. Art escapes capture, while Myrtle works her feminine wiles from the inside, and much ridiculousness (Queen Victoria atop a Christmas tree) occurs as our universe is saved.

I enjoy the sly inventiveness, the over-the-top British pip-pip, the innocence of these stories. I really liked Larklight when I listened to it two years ago, and I think Reeve has kept up his end nicely in the interim. The narrator of these stories is Greg Steinbruner, and I feel extremely schizo about his work. He has an unnatural sounding English accent (actually what it sounds like is that he is working very hard to create it) that I've commented about before, yet at the same time, he uses accents very successfully to create the British characters that populate this story. I enjoy his vocal creations quite a bit. I like his Art, narrator of these adventures, who boyish enthusiasm is deeply appealing. Art's elder sister Myrtle graciously shares portions of her diary to tell these stories as well, and Steinbruner is very careful to distinguish between his two narrators. Myrtle's tone and delivery are quite different from Art's, and Steinbruner's consistent in his two creations.

There's also the ... pause ... silence problem. Steinbruner has shown a tendency to take some serious time between sentences, which he doesn't need to do in order for us to follow what he is telling us. In close listening to this audiobook, it appeared to me that he and the publisher had made a conscientious effort to reduce these to a more natural length. But, then it felt like they stopped listening about halfway through: Steinbruner's pauses at the ends of sentences began to recur, as did the very long silences between chapters.

Finally, though, I don't think these would bother a casual listener. Steinbruner gets into the spirit of these novels quite nicely, and brings you along for a delightfully fun ride!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Huge hearted

This year the State of Oregon is celebrating its sesquicentennial (that's 150 years to you!), and we are knee deep in Oregon books at the library. Alas, Rosanne Parry's Heart of a Shepherd has arrived too recently to be included on this list. (Great cover, yes?) Eleven-year-old Brother (real name Ignatius) lives on a sheep and cattle ranch in remote Malheur County (way in the lower right corner of the state, as far away from Portland as you can get) with his grandparents, dad and four big brothers. None of his brothers lives at home now, and Dad's National Guard unit is about to be posted to Iraq. Brother and his grandparents -- helped by a hired hand from Ecuador -- will be running the ranch in his absence. Brother, undersized and lacking confidence, is determined to do right by his father and the ranch.

The chapters of this episodic novel touch down occasionally during the 14 months of Dad's absence -- gently describing what happens in a place so dependent on the seasons (a lot of hard work!). Naturally, Brother's skills and confidence and body grow, so when faced with a true crisis, he is more than up to the task. Brother's deep Catholic faith -- tempered by his grandfather's Quakerism -- is movingly portrayed, along with that sense of a rural community where everyone truly knows how dependent they are on each other. You never forget that he's a boy, but his journey toward adulthood feels very real. This slim novel surprised me, and reminded me of another fictional boy of whom I grew very fond while reading, Alabama Moon.

I'm sitting fencewise on the audiobook. The narrator, Kirby Heyborne, is a frequent visitor to my headphones (and whose name I have consistently misspelled in this blog, but no more!), and I'm not particularly fond of his reading style. I shall attempt to describe: He seems to overly pronounce the vowels in his words, so that they sound drawn out and he sounds pretentious. He attempts to produce a New Yawk accent in this book and I could still hear those vowels lurking awkwardly within. And while this pronunciation tic didn't sound right for Western farm-boy Brother, who narrates his story, but Heyborne's gentle, kind of lulling, voice sure did. I never doubted Brother's affection for his world when Heyborne described it.

He doesn't voice very many characters in this story (all the brothers are pretty much indistinguishable), but he does give a fine portrayal of Brother's father and grandfather -- who both sound warm and hardy and worthy of Brother's love and admiration. The Ecuadorean shepherd, Ernesto, also sounded like someone you'd like to know, and his Spanish-accented English sounded fine to me (who has no skills to judge the difference between South-American-accented English and Mexican-accented English).

Heyborne's a little sloppy though, with inconsistent pronunciations of Iraq (long and short 'i') and Boise (with both the 'z' and 's'). He did this earlier in Little Brother with variations on Al Qaeda. While this may not be the one, I know there's the right book out there somewhere for his prodigious skills.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Take a hike!

If it seems like I've been posting a lot lately, it's because part of my listening portfolio now includes much shorter books for shorter readers. There are good books for beginning readers and there are not-so-good ones. Haunted Hike, a Halloween entry from the Elliot's Park series, is one of the latter. Written by The Land of Elyon author Patrick Carman, the Park is the home of a gaggle of youthful squirrels who -- in this tale -- get dressed up for Halloween, go on a tour of their neighborhood, get frightened by one of their number who is up to no good, and celebrate in a self-esteemly fashion where everyone gets a prize for something.

I don't think my ears are quite tuned for beginning reader audiobooks. The simple sentences, coupled with the narrators' tendency to read pretty slowly and deliberately, lead the adult mind to wander. I mean, I have an eight-minute walk to and from work and I lost track of the plot between here and there ... twice. I ended up listening to the story twice -- the second time at my kitchen table where there were no other distractions.

But its beginning reader quality was not really why I didn't care for this (I don't think). The reader, Chris Sorensen (new to me), perks up the story with some character interpretation, but never seemed to lose that measured pace that has shown up in every one of the "non-novels" I've listened to recently. There's a character named Crash who inexplicably has an English accent and Sorensen couldn't maintain this consistently. He also frequently uses a slight, sipping inhale at the beginning of his (short) sentences and that got old very fast.

The publisher included the book with the cds, does that mean it's a read-along? Or does it have to have the page-turn tones to be a read-along? There were no tones in this one (thank goodness ... that would've added another five minutes!). As a result, I didn't look at the book, except when I took a peek after listening and discovered a very handy-dandy map of the Park on the endpapers! This might have helped while listening, but I simply wasn't going to put it through my ears a third time!

But the book really fell down because the publisher decided to produce a strictly unabridged audiobook, which meant that it included some backmatter (which I believe if the publisher decides not to include does not mean that the book is unabridged for our purposes) that really doesn't belong in an audiobook. First there is a lengthy cast of characters. I actually found this quite helpful, once I went back and listened to the book again. But, since the descriptions appear in the book following the story, I guess you can't have them before the story begins.

After the characters, though, came instructions for two craft projects and a suggestion for a field trip. So, Sorensen is reading a list of supplies for the crafts, followed by the step-by-step instructions on how to make them. Are you supposed to take notes? Not very interesting listening, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

To the edge of the world

Now that the submissions are coming in for Odyssey consideration, I shouldn't really be listening to other things, but I had checked out this Chronicle of Narnia earlier this year and so snuck it in between the 2009 offerings. For the long term, I'm listening to each of the books in the series (chronological order, not publication) since I read them in childhood (and didn't really care for them). The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is number five this way (which many people believe is the wrong way). What I really like is that HarperAudio has got all those fab British actors to read them (Kenneth Branagh, Michael York, Lynn Redgrave, plus an actor with a loverly voice of whom you likely haven't heard, Alex Jennings), including Sir Derek Jacobi who reads this one. (And Jeremy Northam and Patrick Stewart to come!)

In this adventure of the Pevensie children, younger siblings Lucy and Edmund are spirited away -- along with their annoying cousin Eustace -- on board the Dawn Treader. Prince (who is actually a king now) Caspian is fulfilling an oath to try to find some missing Narnian lords, banished by his wicked uncle. Their voyage takes them to the end of the world and Lucy and Eustace (whose name I kept hearing as "useless") undergo some personal growth along the way, but otherwise not much happens. The Pevensies are told by Aslan that they have grown too old and will never return to Narnia. Eustace, on the other hand ...

You know, I can say it, these books are very old-fashioned. The story moves slowly, and there are lengthy passages rife with symbolism and portent that never actually go anywhere. I did enjoy the author's viewpoint that occurs in this story (which may be in the other ones and I just don't remember), as he frequently makes asides to us about what we and he might be thinking. There's not much humor in this one (just that odd little interlude with the one-footed gnomes). If I hadn't been listening to Sir Derek's unique voice (and had a lot to do this weekend that required hands but no brain), I might have given up. Those rounded vowels and that deep register are sometimes all you need.

Because, quite frankly, Sir Derek isn't the greatest audiobook reader. His voice tends to get "juicy," full of saliva (all that enunciating!) that a listener can hear sloshing around. When he gets chirpy -- as he does for the mouse knight, Reepicheep -- or girly -- for Lucy -- it can be a bit grating. But he does give you that avuncular uncle feel of C.S. Lewis actually telling you this story, so his faults are easy to overlook. Also, I fully confess to the anything-read-in-by-an-Englishman-is-fine-by-me prejudice. I can say that because I was that way long before I began listening to audiobooks. Can you say raised on Masterpiece Theatre?

Now back to the current stuff, something perfectly awful called Haunted Hike.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Moonrise

Is it my dirty mind? Or is the cover of Sarah Dessen's Keeping the Moon a tad on the racy side? Is that crotch male or female? This is among her earliest novels (1999), just published in audio. It's your standard Sarah Dessen story: Colie is spending the summer with her eccentric aunt at the North Carolina beach while her overachieving aerobic/lifestyle coach mother is touring Europe. Colie and her mother lost weight and got fit together, but Colie still feels like the fat, bullied girl she was. During her summer on the beach, she finds work at the local burger joint, meets two older girls who teach her about self-respect and romance, and connects with an intriguing young man, and -- oh yes -- learns that it's what's inside that counts.

Yes, Dessen does have her formula, but she does it well. Teens gobble them up, I think because she is very successful at creating authentic teenage characters. Their conversations sound like teenagers, and the inner conflict seems natural as well. Like Lock and Key, she is well-matched with her narrator. Stina Nielsen sounds like a teenager too -- both in vocal quality and in her pacing of the dialogue. When the teens were all conversing, she truly made it sound like a conversation. And since Dessen propels her story forward with dialogue, this is an essential skill in a narrator. Like the women who read Lock and Key, she is very adept at burying the many "he saids" so they don't become intrusive. I didn't mind listening to a story I've heard before.

I've got a quibble though, in that the regional setting (which seemed important) was not reflected by the characters' voices. Everyone sounded very upper middle class America. At the same time, it was clearly Nielsen's choice not to create characters except through very subtle voicing, so that's why it's only a quibble.

Also in the quibble department, there is a moment in the text where Colie watches the sun set over the water. Hmmm ... I thought, can the sun set over the water in North Carolina? (As Mary Burkey would say, that pulled me right out of the story.) I guess it can -- on the Outer Banks, but I didn't recollect (which doesn't mean Dessen didn't say it) that Aunt Mira's house was oriented toward the [name of the body of water that separates the Outer Banks from the rest of North Carolina].

Attracting hummingbirds

I am not Mo Willems! [Duh!] Thus I cannot write even a pastiche of his witty Geisel Award acceptance speech that he gave last summer at ALA Annual (which doesn't seem to be online anywhere). But, his skill at that (and at beginning readers) inspire my brief comments on Annie and Snowball and the Pink Surprise by Oregonian Cynthia Rylant.

Annie and her pet rabbit Snowball love working and hanging out in her garden of beautiful flowers. One day they see a hummingbird, and -- with the help of her cousin Henry and his oversized dog Mudge -- they figure out how to attract more hummingbirds to the garden. It involves lots of pink! Annie is very fond of pink.

I'm trying to hang on to a positive attitude, but there must be few things more enervating for adults than listening to a beginning reader book read aloud by someone other than a beginning reader. Each sentence is pronounced carefully at an unvarying pace. You await the little tone that cues you to turn the page. It takes 10 minutes to read a book that you could probably read in a minute, except that turning the pages might slow you down.

But there is definitely a place for this genre on audio, as reading along can be a skillbuilder. The narrator, Cassandra Morris, brings a youthful enthusiasm to the brief story and has no trouble find the humor that is there. (I loved her reading of a young adult novel, Elsewhere.) The storyline is original and the resolution is silly -- both of which should keep the interest of young readers. And, it's only 10 minutes! (I can't even knit a sweater row in that time.) So bring 'em on! Maybe when I've got a few more under my belt I can write a blog post like Mo.