deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Last fall, when I taught with [personal profile] astern, it wasn't until after we had started the semester that we realized what the ideal opening assignment ought to be. Now that we are taking a teaching hiatus, we have to give the assignment to you. This assignment will not be graded on a curve, so do your best work! We expect you to abide by the Honor Code*, which in this case means you may work together.

Your assignment:

Pick a book. In the spirit of the class we are not currently teaching, I suggest a speculative fiction work for children or young adults, but pick any book you are interested in talking about.

Now pick three types of writing off the following list. You must pick option 9, but the other two can be any you choose.

  1. A personal blog post reacting to your reading experience.
  2. A professional blog post about the text.
  3. The political response: a reading of the text on purely ideological grounds.
  4. A Goodreads or Amazon style review of the book.
  5. A professional (e.g. Kirkus, Publishers Weekly) style review. If you pick this option, read several examples, and pay attention to such things as house style, word count, ratio of summary/analysis/judgment, etc.
  6. Librarian book talk write up.
  7. Editorial analysis, from the point of view of a publisher or agent working with the manuscript.
  8. Critical scholarly discussion of the sort you would post in an educational forum discussing the text for a class.
  9. Formal critical scholarly analysis of any element of the text, as with a formal paper.


Write at least 500 words in each of your three styles (unless you are choosing to write a professional review, in which case use the word count appropriate for the house style you are choosing). Pay attention to what is different. Besides obvious changes (such as casual versus professional language), what differs? What different choices did you have to make? Did more or fewer words make things easier?

One of our goals with this hypothetical assignment was to show how, while each of these styles of writing is valuable and important -- we certainly don't think, say, personal blog posts of squee aren't valuable -- they are all wildly different. In fact, we hope some of you will choose to write both personal and professional blog posts, or both Goodreads and professional reviews, just to focus on the more subtle (but vital) differences between these types of writing.

Current students are so incredibly proficient at writing about reading, because what with blogs etc., they do so much of it. And yet at the same time, they are proficient in some very specific kinds of writing about reading (primarily personal blogs and Goodreads-style reviews, with some amount of professional blogs), and the process of showing people the requirements of the different kinds of writing is different than it used to be. Without devaluing existing proficiencies, we hope to show that high quality reactive blog post, for example, is not the same thing as scholarly forum discussion.

Over the next couple of days, we will be producing examples of each of these kinds of writing for a single book, and we will post our own examples as well as our own analysis of the differences in the writing style. Let us know here if you have tried this exercise yourself and would like us to link here to your results (whether that happens now or sometime in the future).


* Why yes, we are both bi-co, why do you ask? [Back]
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
The always brilliant [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman has a guest post up at The Rotund: "Fat Reader Singing". It's a great post about two books that I now have to put on my to-be-read list, about young adult books with successful, happy fat characters who don't lose weight. And apparently, if Rebecca is to be believed, fat characters with disabilities. And in one case, a fat character of color with a disability. It's as if it were okay to publish books with each character doesn't stand in for a single item in the Benetton circle of diversity!

She also links to a couple of responses I'd forgotten about to Scott Westerfeld's Missing Black Woman Formation, which I'm glad I reread. Although I still maintain that the Missing Black Woman Formation is endemic in middle grade adventure fiction, especially spy-fi, where there are way too many adventures where the hero is a white boy and his sidekicks are the white girl and the boy who has something that makes it impossible for him to be the hero (he's fat, Asian, poor, redhaired and freckled and comes from a large family and is clearly Irish Catholic even if that's never identified, black, not as smart as the hero, disabled, etc.). But even so, those posts about the MBWF make me want to go back and look again at all of those middle grade adventure books to see if I am fairly categorizing them, or their characters.

Actually, right now, off the top of my head, it occurs to me that I am ignoring Anne Ursu's Cronus Chronicles, which first of all has two protagonists, who are first cousins. And secondly, they're the white girl and the multiracial boy. In a fantasy book that's not about race, that's actually kind of a big deal.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Amy Stern ([livejournal.com profile] bigbrotherreads) has let me be a guest blogger on her blog YA Subscription, and I started off my contributions there with a post on Francesca Lia Block's Dangerous Angels quintet. I talk about feminism, race, sexuality, and intersectionality, and I'm surprised by how much I liked the books on reread.

(I sent the post to Amy a while ago, and reading it now for the first time in ages I am embarrassed to see how many typos that are in it; I thought I proofread that thing about 17 times. But such is the blogosphere.)

Anyway, please, go over there, contribute to the conversation!

On another note, I feel like Kristin Cashore has joined the ranks of bloggers such as Ta Nahesi Coates and Slacktivist who are just too smart and useful to miss. It feels somehow dirty to say that about someone who is a friend, but I think it's true.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I've seen some people in the blogosphere saying things like "the New York Times charging for online access to its articles oppresses poor people".

So, guys. I'm a librarian. Hell, I'm a digital archivist. I believe information was meant to be free. I live information was meant to be free.

And you know what's awesome? It is. In most parts of the United States, there are public libraries. Most of those public libraries have print subscription to the New York Times. In fact, most of the public libraries are part of larger networks which enable their users to plug their library card numbers into a website and get digital access to the most recent issues of the New York Times without ever leaving their seats. This is important, especially for people who live in rural areas, don't have transport to the library, or work unusual or excessive hours.

Does this mean that all of the linky-linking that goes on in the blogosphere, with people labeling their links "here" and not identifying the article in question by title or date, will be less accessible to people who don't pay the New York Times? Of course it does. But just because I believe information was meant to be free, doesn't mean that I believe that the New York Times is obliged to make it trivially easy for everybody to get free access to their expensively-generated content in the most easy way possible without doing any extra work. Bloggers can damn well learn to cite the articles they link to. The rest of us can learn how to login to our local library systems' databases.

You should note that the more you use your online library's databases, the higher their use statistics are, that they can then bring back to the town during budgeting sessions explaining how heavily used they are and how they should get more money to subscribe even more online databases. Supporting libraries for the win!

And as for supporting newspapers, well. I'm in the front lines of people bitching that most newspapers have stopped doing investigative journalism and instead just reprint wire pieces or post she said/he said controversies. But investigative journalism is expensive, and journalists asking to be paid is not oppressive.

(Libraries are awesome, guys. Of course I want you to be supporting your local independent bookstore, but remember you can always order books and DVDs via interlibrary loan! FREE.)
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I've been going interlibrary loan-mad lately (my to be read list at worldcat has gotten a little out of control what with all of the books you people recommend), and I've just finished Five Flavors of Dumb, by Antony John, this year's Schneider family teen book award winner. The award goes to that book which "embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences" which is actually not what I think this book does. I think it's a young adult book about a girl who wants to go to college, who wants to have friends, who's decided to challenge herself by making a punk rock band succeed when she doesn't care about punk rock, who is deaf, who may or may not be interested in boys, who has family difficulties, who has to learn to see other people and their problems as well as her own. This book embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience as much as it embodies an artistic expression of the high school experience, of the first boyfriend experience, of the high school rock band experience. And that's what's awesome about it. Of course deafness is integral to the story, but so are all the other elements. Presenting this book as a disability story does it a disservice -- and yet that's why I read it. Y'all should read it, as well.

Also, the happy nappy bookseller keeps reminding me about the Nerds Heart YA bracket which is explicitly the opposite of a popularity contest.

To qualify for Nerds Heart YA 2011 a book must:

Have been published between Jan 1st 2010 and Dec 31st 2010

Contain significant characters that fit into at least one of the seven categories of under represented groups that the Nerds Heart YA organisers have identified, or have been written by an author who comes from within one of these groups of people

Be young adult fiction

Be a book that you feel has been under represented by book blog coverage.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
The Happy Nappy Bookseller has been running this great series profiling Latino authors of MG/YA books. The series started when she did some research and discovered only 16 MG/YA books published this year in the United States by Latino authors: "More Latino Authors Please/ necesitamos mas autores Latinos". The jumping off point for each of these profiles is the blog post "Authentic Latino voices" by Mayra Lazara Dole, author of Down to the Bone.

"Authentic Latino voices" touches on two issues: one is the question of authenticity and opportunity for authors and editors with a Latino background, which is often raised and for which there are plenty of intelligent arguments on every side of the issue. But the core of Mayra Lazara Dole's post, which I've seen far less often, is about the lack of representation in literature of the diversity of Latino experience:

Latino cultures are as distinct and diverse as ants (which, by the way, have over 280 species). All Spanish-speaking folks don’t share the same culture, heritage, dialect, or culinary traditions.



Also from the Happy Nappy Bookseller, how did I not know about Nerds Heart YA? The contest has the aim of showcasing books that had not received as much publicity as the big hitter books of 2009. This year, the contest focused on diversity, which they defined as books which feature characters, or are penned by authors, who fall within the following categories:
  • Person(s) of Color (POC)
  • GLBT
  • Disability/Mental Illness
  • Religious Lifestyle
  • Lower Socioeconomic Status


I love the idea of making sure we hear about the books that aren't quite so much featured in the echo chamber, even though most of the echo chamber books were also fabulous.



Philip Nel, over at Nine Kinds of Pie, writes about how "Book banners hurt young people". Nel looks at the list of frequently banned and challenged books and notices that most of them depict difficulties faced by children and teens. Nel points out Children in vulnerable populations need to read books that help them make sense of their experiences. On Nel's mind, as on everyone's right now, is the suicide rate of queer teens, but his point is more general.
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
I subjected the poor subscribers to the Diana Wynne Jones mailing list to my rant on poor representation of both authors and characters of color in the YA Fantasy Showdown, but I didn't want to subject you all to it. For one thing, it's clear the creator of the showdown tried; I just think she did a fairly poor job.

Anyway, in the current round of voting, I noticed several comments that made me exceedingly happy. Right now Ai Ling (Cindy Pon, Silver Phoenix) is up versus Jace (Cassandra Clare, Mortal Instruments trilogy). Jace is predictably if annoyingly beating Ai Ling simply because, as several of the comments say, jace gets my vote because he is hot. But one of the other commenters on this round of voting says, Never heard of Ai Ling but sounds like she's gona win. Also, is she chinese? Because I'm chinese, and you don't get many cool chinese characters so I feel like I need to show her some support...even if Jace is hot! Another says I've never read Silver Pheonix before, but I totally want to now.

In other words, Silver Phoenix isn't less popular because it's less good. It's less popular because nobody has heard of it. If readers haven't seen it, they can't make their own judgments about whether it equally good or not. (I acknowledge that even if readers had read it, Mortal Instruments certainly appeals more to contemporary young adult tastes in twisted paranormal romances. But the point is, readers aren't being given the opportunity to make that judgment for themselves. And in the meantime, participants in this showdown, both those who identify as Chinese and those who don't, are really excited by learning about the existence of the book.)

This is it is so important for we in the children's and young adult mediating business -- and these days that includes not just booksellers, teachers, librarians, and parents but also bloggers -- to care about representation. It's appalling but true that Silver Phoenix got shafted by the major bookselling chains because they didn't want a fantasy with an Asian girl on the cover. Those same readers who saw Jace every time they walk into a bookstore never saw Ai Ling. By the same token, they never saw Zahrah, Anand and Nisha, or Quincie Morris. If we bloggers, when we talk about young adult literature, remember to talk about those underrepresented books, teens will read what we have to say.

Well, not what I have to say. I'd be surprised if I had any teen readers. But you know what I mean. *g*
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
YALSA Blog had a post I mostly liked about Blogging as a Professional Development Tool, but the opening paragraph concerned me greatly.

"Last month I posted an interview with Perry Moore, the executive producer of the Chronicles of Narnia films and author of the Y/A novel, Hero, to the YALSA blog. Did I know Moore personally before interviewing him? No, I didn’t. How did I get to know him? I blogged about his book. Yes, you read it right. I posted a blog entry on my own blog about his novel, Hero. Moore read my review, liked what I had to say, and suggested an interview."


I know a lot of book bloggers who treat their online reviews with the same sense of professionalism as professional reviewers. They write positive, negative, and mixed reviews, depending on what the book deserves. I know bloggers who have received angry mail from authors or editors and have taken it as a mark of pride. But this opening paragraph from YALSA Blog, in all its well-meaning optimism, exemplifies everything that worries me about encouraging people to become book bloggers.

This post explicitly states that the author (a) did important professional development and (b) met a successful young adult author and film producer because she wrote a review the author liked. I'm sure most people start out with every intention of integrity but it's hard to keep that when you know publishers are more likely to send you galleys* if you say nice things about the books. It's hard to remember when authors are coming into your blogs themselves and praising you every time you say something nice. A lot of people work very hard to keep that level of integrity, and the YALSA Blog article inadvertently but actively discourages that. I'm sure Perry Moore would not have suggested the interview if the blog post have been a negative review (although I can't swear to that, because I can't find the original blog post anywhere).

I had to take [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman's excellent advice and unsubscribe from most author blogs after one author had gotten in the habit of posting squeefully along the lines of "wow, anonymous Kirkus reviewer, you are the best person in the world and I love you love you love you." That just felt too good, and compromised my integrity when I was reviewing that author's books. My hindbrain would send little reward signals every time I wrote a sentence in a review that I thought would make the author say nice things about me. (Yes, some of you are authors. Hopefully I will not be sent any of your books to review, and if I am, I will figure out what to do then.)

First of all, you should only book blog if you love books and love talking about them. Secondly, it can indeed succeed as a professional development tool -- although keep in mind that a reviewer who only writes squee might have prospective employers think twice about that blogger's ability to do collection development and selection. But you should NEVER be encouraging people to do book blogging in order to get the attention of authors or to get galleys from publishers, because both of those goals will result in intellectually dishonest reviews. The blogger with the best intentions cannot override the hindbrain's desire for free stuff and the friendship of famous people.




* I really don't understand why adults get so excited about galleys. First of all, they are often full of errors, and rarely read as smoothly as the finished copy. Secondly, yes, you get the book early -- but if nine months are going to pass between the finished version of book 1 and the finished version of book 2, those same nine months are going to pass between the galley of book 1 and a galley of book 2. And if you aren't guaranteed to get the galley of book 2, you will be waiting even longer between books than the people who waited for the finished version. If it's just the "free", than I would like to recommend to all these people their awesome local public library and its interlibrary loan program.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Over at the DCA blog (RSS/[syndicated profile] tufts_dca_feed on DW/[livejournal.com profile] tufts_dca on LJ), I've posted asking people for their favorite reference books. Come and tell us!

I was a little bit disingenuous over there when I said that the OED was my second favorite reference book. Really, the OED is my favorite reference book, because it is best for party tricks. I do love my Debrett's Peerage, and probably the only reason that DARE doesn't come first is that it is not complete. But where else but the OED can you easily find the connection between "cool" and "aftermath"?
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Reason 1: Her blog post for today, "Intertextuality". Way to not-at-all sneakily introduce young readers to the completely accessible awesomeness of the subject they usually wouldn't get until college or graduate school, if at all, Kristin!

Reason 2: This galley which I am currently holding in my grubby little hand, with a cover graced with what I am reliably informed actually is an accurate depiction of a short bow.
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What are some of your favorite digital libraries, archives, and collections? I don't mean what has your favorite content, but what is your favorite user interface? Which is easiest, simplest, most clear, most fun, prettiest, cleanest, most accessible, or simply best tied into your everyday workflow? What do you like about it? What do you wish were different?

(You might notice that this entry is crossposted from its new location, deborah.dreamwidth.org. I'm going to be cross posting from the new location to gnomicutterance for the foreseeable future, and everybody with a livejournal account can still comment over there using OpenID; your livejournal account is your OpenID account. Anonymous commenting is also turned on, as always. Gnomicutterance.livejournal.com is still going to be a functional address which mirrors all those posts, but I find Dreamwidth's commitment to accessibility and usability makes it more attractive than Livejournal.)
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For some time now, I have been unhappy about the thinning of the wall between authors and readers that has taken place in the blogosphere. I've never been able to pin down exactly why (except in little ways -- as a reviewer, I had to stop reading Scott Westerfeld's blog when he started posting gleefully about positive reviews he'd received from me). I've also found it frustrating when other people post mixed or negative reviews on their own blogs, which they immediately retract if the author shows up in the blog comments to ask why the review was negative. The sense the blogosphere gives us of all being friends makes it more difficult to fulfill the professional obligation of the reviewer: to advise people on where to spend their limited resources.

Now I have a non review-related example of how this thinning wall aggravates me. Will Shetterly's behavior online has made me feel uncomfortable about the fact that his Elsewhere is required reading in my class, because I don't want to give him the sales. This is clearly a ridiculous concern on my part. For one thing, I regularly support far more loathsome people with my purchases. Shetterly, on the other hand, was probably once a pretty well-meaning guy who has just reacted pretty badly to being told that his own history of hardship does not make him always right. But more important, much more important, the book is pedagogically important. It's a little-known precursor to the genre which would eventually spawn Wicked Lovely and Twilight. Giving Shetterly a few dollars in royalties (dollars he desperately needs; the man is filing for bankruptcy, not living large on ill-gotten gains, and unless I'm going to stop requiring Twilight I really just need to get over myself) is the necessary price to teach my students what I need them to know to understand the genre.

Still, it sticks in my craw. And it shouldn't, I should be able to keep the artist and the art separate in my head. It makes me sad that the blogosphere has made that more difficult for me.

ETA: A. helped me narrow down exactly what's making me uncomfortable here. It's not an artist being Wrong on the Internet; Orson Scott Card, for example, is Wrong on the Internet pretty much every time he opens his keyboard. It's this thinning of walls, this Internet-created feeling of fellowship which allows us to engage with each other in the same spaces. When Card is an ass, he's an ass in newspaper columns. When authors engage with their critics (not even critics of their books, but critics of their extratextual words) in the spaces populated by their fans and critics, I get uncomfortable. As A. pointed out, some of the people Shetterly is insulting, investigating, and posting rumors about could easily be my students or potential students. It's that which makes me uncomfortable, not his willful blindness to the legitimate concerns of people whose side he would like to think he is on.

Well, that, too.
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I've just been catching up on a month of old ChildLit messages, and current context is making me notice something unpleasant. When there's an accusation of cultural appropriation in LJ fandom, fans immediately fall on the side of saying "How dare those of you with white privilege tell PoC their claims of having been harmed are false?" Whereas on ChildLit, accusations of cultural appropriation lead to a massive pileup on -- well, pretty much always on Debbie Reese. I don't always agree with Debbie, but the constant claims over there that her understanding of Native appropriation is wrong leave a vile taste in my mouth. Especially when contributors hit multiple bingo squares:
  • You're telling us what we can't write!
  • You're telling us what we can't read!
  • It's just fiction.
  • No, it's different when it's a non-Native [in this case Jewish] story that's mistold; that's BAD.
  • Isn't it racist to say you need Native clearance to tell this story?
  • But the author had anti-racist intentions!
  • You say that the characters are portrayed unrealistically as members of their culture, which means you want a sterotypical portrayal, which is racist.

[livejournal.com profile] steepholm, [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman, [livejournal.com profile] fjm, other ChildLitters, am I wrong? I know I'm a month out of date with my reading, but it really seems sketchy, how that conversation usually goes. And it happens again and again. Is fandom really that much more capable of seeing its own white privilege than ChildLit (which I know is not monolithically white any more than fandom is)?
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
yAt! My copy of the encyclopedia Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Robin Anne Reid, has arrived. I wrote the essay "Girls and the Fantastic" and the short entries for Ursula LeGuin and Raphael Carter. I'm so pleased by it, and will shelve it right next to my Oxford encyclopedia of children's literature.

In other news, I'd like to encourage you to check out the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives blog ([livejournal.com profile] tufts_dca), especially if you like photo blogs. [livejournal.com profile] lamentables, I'm looking at you! We post about once a week, and most of the posts involve an awesome picture from our archives. For example, my most recent contribution there, "Disaster!", features a fabulous photo of Jumbo the Elephant looking just a tad battered.
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Sometimes, when I am looking through our collections, I discover shocking, shocking things. For example, in preparing my blog entry for this week, I discovered that in 1996, the Tufts Daily editorialized on the inadequate spookiness of Spooooky World. Didn't those students understand that spooky world is Spoooooky?

In other words, being an archivist has taught me that students of the distant past (1996!) didn't truly value the cultural centers of greater Boston.

ObDisclaimer: I have never been to Spooky World. But it must be spooky. I mean, it's called Spooky World.
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My department, Digital Collections and Archives at Tufts University, has just put together a new website. My colleague Jennifer chose the banner photos for each main section, and I adore them all, particularly the banner photo for Submitting Materials.

Even more exciting, we are now blogging! You can catch the Digital Collections and Archives Blog, subscribe to the syndicated RSS feed, or read it right here on livejournal at [livejournal.com profile] tufts_dca. I'm already for my chance to blog about my favorite treasures in our archives.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
First the blog rec: New YA author Kristin Cashore, author of the forthcoming YA fantasy Graceling, has written a fabulous post on an author's perspective of trying to do right by body image issues while still being true to the characters and stories in her head. How can you go wrong with a blog post which climaxes "AARRGGHHH! AT THIS RATE I WILL NEVER SAVE THE WORLD!!!"? Answer: you can't.

Secondly, a (half-assed) book review: Lisa Fletcher's brand-new Historical Romance Fiction: Heterosexuality and Performativity (Tasmania: Ashgate. 2008) First I want to give a major caveat, which is that I read this book in a hurry because it is an overdue ILL book, and even though I'm going to read it again I can't renew it right now. In fact, given that set of circumstances I feel so uncomfortable about writing any of my negative impressions I'm just going to hold off on them right now. When you read a book at this pace, I don't think initial discombobulation should count for anything.

The text's project is to show how performativity (through speech acts and the performance of gender) in historical romance novels, crossing the boundaries from "literary" to "popular" (a boundary Fletcher complicates by pointing out the high sales figures of so-called literary romances such as Possession), reinforces heterosexual norms. In a manner which I admit I didn't quite follow given my hyper-quick reading, she discusses the performance of gender through cross-dressed heroes and heroines and relates it to Judith Butler's performance of gender, paying special attention to Butler's insistence that gender performativity is not a choice that can be turned on or off at will.

One thing I found interesting in an initial misreading I gave to a passage in this text is a dichotomy I thought at first was being constructed: the essential statement of the heterosexual romance is the explicit statement of love, and the essential statement of the homosexual romance is coming out of the closet. That isn't actually what she was saying -- she was leaning towards the heterosexual declaration of love as a possible statement from the closet itself (it's complicated, and I'm going to point back to my quick reading as an excuse for not getting into it here) -- but I think I prefer my initial misreading. It's obviously incredibly flawed; for one thing, it rules out any homosexual romance that doesn't begin in the closet. But I feel like I have something there that I want to run with, and see where it goes.

I can't really say more about it it; with such a brief read I'm not sure if the book had a more overarching takeaway than what I've already stated. But there's definitely food for thought in there.
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Some library, book, archives, records, baseball fandom, and government information musings and links just so I can clear the tabs out of my browser again: Cut to save your screen real estate )
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
After Henry Jenkins' male/female scholar acafan debate, he asked for feedback from the participants. I didn't contribute any, mostly because real life intervened, but I was so intrigued by the responses of those who did that I found I did need to say a little something, after all.

Here is what I sent to Henry, which will probably be added as comments to the above-linked post )
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