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Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

America lost one of its great twentieth century writers last night. Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron” has long been a staple of my American literature classes, and my students really enjoyed his tips on How to Write with Style (pdf), too.

Sometimes, when I have a male student — a certain kind of disaffected youth who has trouble finding books he likes — I recommend that he read Kurt Vonnegut.

Vonnegut Links:

So it goes.

[tags]Kurt Vonnegut, Postmodernism, literature[/tags]

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I changed my favicon. I just didn’t like the little apple anymore. For those of you who don’t know, favicons are those little icons that appear in the address bar or location bar in Firefox or Internet Explorer 7. Prior versions of IE won’t display them except in your Bookmars or Favorites. They will also appear in the tabs on Firefox or IE. Favicons are cute and fun, and they’re one of the things I initially liked about Firefox when I first started using it. It’s one way to make your site distinctive.

Favicons are not that difficult to create. They need to be pictures 16×16 pixels and saved in the .ico format. Most image software (Photoshop, MS Paint, etc.) won’t save files in that format, but an excellent free program called IrfanView will. The first step to creating a favicon is to find a picture you like and that you are allowed to use. Reduce its size to 16X16 pixels to see if it looks good. Many times it won’t. It’s hard to find pictures that will retain detail and resemble something when they’ve been reduced that small. Lots of favicons are simply letters.

After you have a favicon you like saved in the .ico format, you need to upload it to the root directory of your website. If you have a website run by Blogger,, Edublogs, Typepad, or some other hosted site format, you can’t change your favicon. You will notice that you have one — the site’s default favicon. If you own your own domain, however, changing your favicon should be fairly simple. Just upload it to your root directory, and all the pages should display it.

I made my favicon out of the image that appears in my bulleted lists. I thought it matched the template better, anyway. Some templates or themes come with favicons. Some web hosts also have a default favicon. For instance, I can always tell if a site is hosted by Bluehost because of the distinctive favicon with the blue squares. Of course, site owners can easily change this, but many of them do not.

Note: If you changed your favicon and can’t see it, you probably just need to empty your browser cache.  I won’t attempt to post instructions for doing this for everyone.  Here is a good tutorial that covers most of the bases.


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Vote: The Books America Can’t Live Without

This isn’t as scientific as I’d like, but given the amount of comments I received and the pool of books selected in those comments, coupled with informal polls offline, I have cobbled together a list of twenty books America can’t live without, in no particular order. Here’s where you come in. Let’s put them order. Vote for your top five in the comments. I will tally the votes and rank the books from 1-20.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Collected Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare
  • The Bible
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor
  • The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Remember to select only five books, and it would be helpful if you ranked them from 1-5 as well. More votes for a certain book for number one as opposed to number five might help me break ties.

[tags]literature, reading, education, favorite books[/tags]

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A Question of Honor

A Question of HonorAfter over six years of sitting on a finished book without time to shop it to agents and publishers (aside from the odd submission here and there), I finally decided to publish my book with

A Question of Honor is a young adult novel set in medieval Wales and Scotland. Gwenllian has been accused of a horrible crime; she’s not even sure she is innocent herself. How can she resolve this question of honor?

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

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Books America Can’t Live Without

On World Book Day in the UK (March 1, 2007), over 2000 Britons voted for the books they couldn’t live without.

I don’t remember any such research done for our own counterpart in America, Read Across America (March 2).

While this blog doesn’t generate enough traffic to consider the question resolved scientifically, I thought it would be interesting to find out what books America Can’t Live Without.

In the comments, leave your list (try to do at least five or ten books). Once I have a fair number of suggestions, I’ll put together a poll, and we’ll vote. I will post the results here. What do you say?

Update: Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. I wasn’t clear on several points. First, the books don’t have to be American; however, I was hoping that respondents would be. I don’t mean to discriminate, but what prompted me to wonder about this was a list of the top 100 Books the Nation [UK] Can’t Live Without that was published in conjunction with World Book Day. Also, I don’t mean the books “America” can’t live without — I mean the ones you can’t live without — you are America, all added up together, aren’t you? Think of it like this. Which book would you have to have, no matter what? Read this passage from Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. Is there a book you’d shoot someone over if it meant saving that book from destruction? Maybe don’t answer that… just tell me what books you can’t live without:

“Picture a conveyor belt, a huge conveyor belt, and at the end of it a massive furnace. And on the conveyor belt are books. Every copy in the world of every book you’ve ever loved. All lined up. Jane Eyre, Villette, The Woman in White.”

Middlemarch,” I supplied.

“Thank you. Middlemarch. And imagine a lever with two labels, On and Off. At the moment the lever is off. And next to it is a human being, with his hand on the lever. About to turn it on. And you can stop it. You have a gun to your hand. All you have to do is pull the trigger. What do you do?”

“No, that’s silly.”

“He turns the lever to On. The conveyor belt has started.”

“But it’s too extreme, it’s hypothetical.”

“First of all, Shirley goes over the edge.”

“I don’t like games like this.”

“Now George Sand starts to go up in flames.”

I sighed and closed my eyes.

Wuthering Heights coming up. Going to let that burn, are you?”

I couldn’t help myself. I saw the books, saw their steady process to the mouth of the furnace, and flinched.

“Suit yourself. In it goes. Same for Jane Eyre?”

Jane Eyre. I was suddenly dry-mouthed.

“All you have to do is shoot. I won’t tell. No one ever need know.” She waited. “They’ve started to fall. Just the first few. But there are a lot of copies. You have a moment to make up your mind.”

I rubbed my thumb nervously against a rough edge of nail on my middle finger.

“They’re falling faster now.”

She did not remove her gaze from me.

“Half of them gone. Think, Margaret. All of Jane Eyre will soon have disappeared forever. Think.”

Miss Winter blinked.

“Two thirds gone. Just one person, Margaret. Just one tiny, insignificant little person.”

I blinked.

“Still time, but only just. Remember, this person burns books. Does he really deserve to live?”

Blink. Blink.

“Last chance.”

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Jane Eyre was no more.

Margaret!” Miss Winter’s face twisted in vexation as she spoke. (240-241)

[tags]World Book Day, Read Across America, literature, reading, books[/tags]

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Karen Crow: NFL Teacher of the Year

My grandfather’s first cousin Mary sent me an e-mail today informing me that her niece Karen Crow was selected as the NFL Teacher of the Year based on essay written by her student Devan M., who landed in her school after fleeing Katrina.  Devan’s essay was one of 5,000 submissions.  Karen is the principal of A.G. Elder Elementary School in Joshua, Texas.

Mary said Karen and her family were having a great time in Hawaii, where she will be recognized (we think) during the NFL Pro Bowl game tonight.  Watch out for that.

You can read Devan’s winning essay here.

Congratulations, Karen!

[tags]NFL, Teacher of the Year[/tags]

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Civil Rights and Rock and Roll Journey, Day 4

Before I forget I have to set down my thoughts on visiting Sun Studio. Wow. Ellie was right. Best part of the trip. To be in the room and see the equipment so many famous songs were recorded with was nearly spiritual. Johnny Cash used the same mic that our tour guide showed us, and he guide even let us touch it. Why couldn’t I touch the mic like the kids did? Too much reverence I guess.

The outside of Sun Studio:

Sun Studio

Our tour guide in Sun Studio. In this room, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded hit songs:

Sun Studio

Microphone used by artists who recorded at Sun from 1952 to about 1960, including Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and presumably Elvis, though the guide didn’t mention him by name:

Sun Studio's Mic

I wish the weather had cooperated so we might have been able to sit next to the river. I wanted to connect with Jeff Buckley [before Buckley fans get too excited, yes, I realize that he drowned in the Wolf River, not the Mississippi, but he was in Memphis] I guess. I suppose there is next time. I want to come here with Steve.

Looking toward the river at night from the top of the Peabody Hotel:

Peabody Lookout

I really enjoyed Graceland, too, but again, our tight schedule didn’t allow us to really enjoy our trip through a museum — I guess you could call Graceland a museum.

Some of our students waiting to enter Graceland:


Elvis’s grave:

Elvis's Grave
I ate fries alone at the Pig on Beale. I was the only customer for a while, so I chatted with the waitress. She was really nice. We talked about what we (the students) had seen and done. Very friendly.

The Pig on Beale:

The Pig on Beale

Billy was right. Memphis does get under your skin. I think it’s the river, the blues, and the lights.

How do I begin to describe seeing the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot? So many times I’ve seen it in photographs and film. The Civil Rights Museum was interesting. I was especially moved by the Rosa Parks bus exhibit.

View of balcony where Dr. King was assassinated:

King Assassination Site

Memorial plaque:

King Plaque

As far as our discussion with Jacqueline Smith, I found her ideas interesting. She was nice to talk with us. I found it intriguing to learn she was an opera singer. She mentioned that Carmen was what made her want to sing and that she tried out for the Met. Considering she’s been protesting the museum for 19 years, I doubt Steve knows her. He might have heard of her protest.

Protester Jacqueline Smith:

Jacqueline Smith

Best day of the trip. I hope the kids learned as much as I did.

[tags]Elvis, Sun Studio, Jacqueline Smith, Martin Luther King, Civil Rights Museum, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee[/tags]

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Civil Rights and Rock and Roll Journey, Day 3

After Midnight.

At night we went to the Rum Boogie Café — a blues bar at 3rd and Beale. It was great to hear live music again. I really wanted to dance, and I wished Steve were here to dance with. It was fun to watch the kids dance.

The Rum Boogie Café (sorry for the poor quality):

Rum Boogie Cafe

Inside Rum Boogie:

Inside Rum Boogie

Serendipity once again — I turned on PBS and Kelly Richey — a phenomenal woman guitarist is on. She could hold her own with any man and proves women can rock. Too many female artists aren’t doing what she’s doing. They sing pop tripe or go too heavy metal glam. Kelly Richey is blues rock. Never heard of her before. Now I’ll look her up online when I get home. This program is at the Master Musicians Festival. Her group is the Kelly Richey Band. Why haven’t I heard of her? [Note: check out Kelly Richey at her MySpace page, too; you can listen to a few tunes there.]

Tomorrow we go to Graceland, which is what I was really looking forward to. I wish I had a real day off between this trip and school.

[tags]Beale Street, Rum Boogie Café, Kelly Richey[/tags]

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Junior Journey Video

The old saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. I asked if the seniors might share the video they created to document their trip last year. They went to the same places and met with the same people on their trip as our current juniors did. Here is their video:

[tags]Memphis, Tennessee, Tupelo, Mississippi, Montgomery, Birmingham, Alabama, Civil Rights, Rock and Roll, Elvis[/tags]

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