Thursday Quotables: West With the Night

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

West With the Night by Beryl Markham
(published 1942)

I’ve listened to the first few chapters of this audiobook so far, but because my listening time has been very choppy this week, I may switch over to the print edition. West With the Night, the memoir by famed aviator Beryl Markham, is a book I’ve meant to read for years. The writing is just gorgeous. From the very chapter, here’s a lovely passage:

Three hundred and fifty miles can be no distance in a plane, or it can be from where you are to the end of the earth. It depends on so many things. If it is night, it depends on the depth of the darkness and the height of the clouds, the speed of the wind, the stars, the fullness of the moon. It depends on you, if you fly alone — not only on your ability to steer your course or to keep your altitude, but upon the things that live in your mind while you swing suspended between the earth and the silent sky. Some of those things take root and are with you long after the flight itself is a memory, but, if your course was over any part of Africa, even the memory will remain strong.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Shelf Control #74: Riding Rockets

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: Riding Rockets
Author: Mike Mullane
Published: 2006
Length: 382 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

On February 1, 1978, the first group of space shuttle astronauts, twenty-nine men and six women, were introduced to the world. Among them would be history makers, including the first American woman and the first African American in space. This assembly of astronauts would carry NASA through the most tumultuous years of the space shuttle program. Four would die on Challenger.

USAF Colonel Mike Mullane was a member of this astronaut class, and Riding Rockets is his story — told with a candor never before seen in an astronaut’s memoir. Mullane strips the heroic veneer from the astronaut corps and paints them as they are — human. His tales of arrested development among military flyboys working with feminist pioneers and post-doc scientists are sometimes bawdy, often hilarious, and always entertaining.

Mullane vividly portrays every aspect of the astronaut experience — from telling a female technician which urine-collection condom size is a fit; to walking along a Florida beach in a last, tearful goodbye with a spouse; to a wild, intoxicating, terrifying ride into space; to hearing “Taps” played over a friend’s grave. Mullane is brutally honest in his criticism of a NASA leadership whose bungling would precipitate the Challenger disaster.

Riding Rockets is a story of life in all its fateful uncertainty, of the impact of a family tragedy on a nine-year-old boy, of the revelatory effect of a machine called Sputnik, and of the life-steering powers of lust, love, and marriage. It is a story of the human experience that will resonate long after the call of “Wheel stop.”

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

2010 or thereabouts.

Why I want to read it:

I have a soft spot for a good space exploration story! I read Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars when it came out, and thought it was hilarious — and I’m pretty sure I either read or heard her recommending this book. Memoirs by people involved in NASA and the space race and the science of space exploration are just so fascinating to me. I really do need to make a point of reading this one!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Fabulous Non-Fiction Favorites

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week is a Freebie — we each pick our own topic. After much debate and a few false starts, I thought I’d write about my favorite non-fiction books. I really don’t read much non-fiction, but I’ve read enough over the years to be able to choose some real stand-outs.

My top 10 non-fiction favorites are:

Ice Bound

1) Ice Bound by Dr. Jerri Nielsen: The late Dr. Nielsen writes about her winter at the South Pole, her personal journey, and her battle with breast cancer with unflinching honesty and remarkable courage.

Poisoners Handbook

2) The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum: A fascinating look at the early days of forensics during Probition.

Don't Let's Go

3) Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller: A startling and disturbing memoir of a childhood in Africa.

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4) If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende: I go a bit overboard for anything connected to Alaska, and I really enjoyed this slice-of-life book about a woman raising a family in an Alaskan small town.

Life

5) Life by Keith Richards: KEITH! What is there to say about this book? Amazing. My only complaint was that I’d wished it came with a soundtrack.

Packing for Mars

6) Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach: If you like your science packed with humor, then you really can’t go wrong with any of Mary Roach’s books. This is the one I’ve read most recently, but I also loved Stiff, which taught me that it’s possible to laugh hysterically while reading about cadavers.

Fear and Loathing Campaign

7) Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson: Everyone should read Hunter S. Thompson at some point in his/her life, and this is the one I’d choose above all others. It just has to be experienced — no point in further explanation.

Blind Side

8) The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis: This is the book that made me run around my house shouting, “Look, I’m reading a football book!” I am not a sports fan, and have never read another football book in my life… but this one was just so gripping, I couldn’t stop myself.

Devil's Teeh

9) The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey: A brilliant account of the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, the great white sharks that fill the waters there, and the scientists who study them.

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10) It’s a toss-up between two very different books by Jon Krakauer: Into Thin Air, his classic tale of a disastrous Everest expedition, or Under the Banner of Heaven, a history of the Mormon church and exposé of Mormon Fundamentalist communities.

As I started working on this list, I kept jotting down more and more non-fiction books that I’ve read and loved. I was reminded that I went through a Vietnam War obsession phase and a weird neurology phase, and then there’s my need to read off-beat personal stories and adventures. In other words, although my reading definitely skews heavily toward all fiction, all the time, I’ve actually read more non-fiction than I’d realized.

Do you have a favorite non-fiction book that you recommend?

I’d love to know what everyone else picked for a top 10 freebie topic! Share your link, and I’ll come check out your list.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You WishIf you randomly find yourself uttering things like “Anybody want a peanut?”, “Have fun storming the castle,” or “I’m not a witch. I’m your wife!” — then face it: You’re a hopeless Princess Bride fanatic… and you’ll probably enjoy As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Prince Bride very, very much.

Written by Cary Elwes (Westley!!!), the book is a nice jaunt back in time, telling tales from behind the scenes of the production, from his casting and the early days of filming all the way through the cast’s reunion for a 25th anniversary celebration of this amazing movie.

Surprisingly, The Princess Bride was not a huge success when it was first released — perhaps due to completely bungled marketing on the part of the studio. Audiences who saw the movie loved it; the problem was, not that many people actually saw it. But with the advent of VHS (remember those?), the popularity of the movie took off until it became the cult classic it is today.

In As You Wish, Cary (can I call him Cary? I feel like we’re connected…) tells about his early meetings with director Rob Reiner and with his co-stars, and how the movie was made, start to finish. His reminiscences about the late, great André the Giant are particularly sweet and heartfelt, and his obviously sincere praise for the rest of the cast is quite lovely and a lot of fun to read. Side notes from Reiner, Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, and other cast members help round out the story of the movie-making, sharing other perspectives and anecdotes related to events that Cary describes.

I especially enjoyed the little tidbits that I hadn’t known before. Did you know that Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin did all of their own sword fighting in the movie? They trained rigorously for months to pull off The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times, which makes it extra fun to watch and rewatch, now that I know.

If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride, this quick book is a fun way to spend an afternoon or two. It’s not especially earthshaking or surprising in any way, and there’s certainly no gossip or scandalous escapades here. As You Wish is a tribute to a movie that so many of us know and love, and it’s clear from reading this book that Cary Elwes and the rest of the cast and crew consider being a part of The Princess Bride a once-in-a-lifetime, extra special experience. Consider this a lovely little gift to the fans, straight from Cary Elwes’s heart… and enjoy.

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The details:

Title: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride
Author: Cary Elwes (with Joe Layden)
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: October, 2014
Length: 259 pages
Genre: Entertainment/memoir/non-fiction
Source: Purchased as a gift… then borrowed it back to read!

Flashback Friday: Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight

ffbutton2Flashback Friday is a weekly tradition started here at Bookshelf Fantasies, focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. If you’d like to join in, just pick a book published at least five years ago, post your Flashback Friday pick on your blog, and let us all know about that special book from your reading past and why it matters to you. Don’t forget to link up!

This week on Flashback Friday:

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
(published 2001)

 Synopsis (Amazon):

In Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller remembers her African childhood with candor and sensitivity. Though it is a diary of an unruly life in an often inhospitable place, it is suffused with Fuller’s endearing ability to find laughter, even when there is little to celebrate. Fuller’s debut is unsentimental and unflinching but always captivating. In wry and sometimes hilarious prose, she stares down disaster and looks back with rage and love at the life of an extraordinary family in an extraordinary time.

And from Publishers Weekly:

A classic is born in this tender, intensely moving and even delightful journey through a white African girl’s childhood. Born in England and now living in Wyoming, Fuller was conceived and bred on African soil during the Rhodesian civil war (1971-1979), a world where children over five “learn[ed] how to load an FN rifle magazine, strip and clean all the guns in the house, and ultimately, shoot-to-kill.” With a unique and subtle sensitivity to racial issues, Fuller describes her parents’ racism and the wartime relationships between blacks and whites through a child’s watchful eyes. Curfews and war, mosquitoes, land mines, ambushes and “an abundance of leopards” are the stuff of this childhood. “Dad has to go out into the bush… and find terrorists and fight them”; Mum saves the family from an Egyptian spitting cobra; they both fight “to keep one country in Africa white-run.” The “A” schools (“with the best teachers and facilities”) are for white children; “B” schools serve “children who are neither black nor white”; and “C” schools are for black children. Fuller’s world is marked by sudden, drastic changes: the farm is taken away for “land redistribution”; one term at school, five white students are “left in the boarding house… among two hundred African students”; three of her four siblings die in infancy; the family constantly sets up house in hostile, desolate environments as they move from Rhodesia to Zambia to Malawi and back to Zambia. But Fuller’s remarkable affection for her parents (who are racists) and her homeland (brutal under white and black rule) shines through. This affection, in spite of its subjects’ prominent flaws, reveals their humanity and allows the reader direct entry into her world. Fuller’s book has the promise of being widely read and remaining of interest for years to come.

I read this brutal yet often funny memoir with my eyes hidden behind my hands half the time. It’s terribly straightforward and often hard to take, yet also contains moments of humor and warmth. I couldn’t help being horrified by the truly awful parents and their attitudes about issues from race to child-rearing, as well as the carelessness that constantly imperiled their family. It amazed me that the author actually survived her childhood — a real train-wreck, yet surprisingly hard to look away from. This is a fascinating and memorable book.

What flashback book is on your mind this week?

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join in the Flashback Friday fun:

  • Grab the Flashback Friday button
  • Post your own Flashback Friday entry on your blog (and mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the host of the meme, if you please!)
  • Leave your link in the comments below
  • Check out other FF posts… and discover some terrific hidden gems to add to your TBR piles!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Flashback Friday: Ice Bound

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the  South Pole

Ice Bound by Dr. Jerri Nielsen

(published 2000)

From Goodreads:

During the winter of 1999, Dr. Jerri Nielsen, the only physician on a staff of forty-one people, discovered a lump in her breast. Consulting via satellite e-mail with doctors in the United States, she was forced to perform a biopsy and treat herself with chemotherapy in order to ensure that she could survive until conditions permitted her rescue. She was eventually rescued by the Air National Guard. Dr. Jerri Nielsen’s story of her transforming experiences is a thrilling adventure and moving drama. Since the publication of Ice Bound in hardcover in January 2000, Dr. Nielsen has inspired people throughout the country, met hundreds of fans, received numerous awards including Irish American of the Year, which was presented to her by Hillary Clinton, as well as tremendous praise from the media.

I don’t generally read a lot of non-fiction, but I’m always thrilled to encounter a memoir that transports me into another place or another life. Ice Bound is just such a book. I’m sure many people are familiar with Dr. Jerri Nielsen’s incredible story, which received a great deal of media attention as it was actually happening. In Ice Bound, the author writes about her personal struggles and challenges with honesty and humor. But it’s not just her battle with cancer that makes this book such a remarkable read. In Ice Bound, Dr. Nielsen also invites us into the little-known world of “wintering over” at the South Pole, describing with great detail and heaping doses of humanity just what it means to spend months in isolation in Antarctica, what kind of people sign up for this unique experience, and what it takes to get through it all.

Sadly, Dr. Nielsen passed away in 2009. If you enjoy reading about strong women who make a difference, I encourage you to give Ice Bound a try.

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!

Book Review: Wild

Book Review: Wild: From Lost to Found On The Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Why on earth would a 26-year-old woman with no backpacking experience whatsoever set out on a grueling solo trek of over 1,000 miles? The answer lies in the powerful memoir Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a nationally designated hiking route stretching from the California border with Mexico all the way north to Washington’s border with Canada. Along the way, the PCT traverses formidable mountain ranges including the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade, as well as the Mojave Desert and points in between that most of us have never even heard of. Each year, people travel from around the globe to hike all or part of the PCT. For many, tackling the PCT is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

And yet Cheryl Strayed, with practically no preparation, sets out on the PCT for a three month journey, a mere seven months after first hearing of the PCT. For Cheryl, it must have sounded rather like a last grab at a lifeline. Four years after her mother’s wrenching death from cancer, the author found herself in a downward spiral. Her remaining family had scattered; she’d let her young marriage to a good man disintegrate as she herself fell apart, pursuing infidelities, bad decisions, and even a brief involvement with heroin in an attempt to detach and shield herself from the grief she’d never fully dealt with.

When Cheryl picked up the PCT trail guide in a check-out line, it was purely on a whim, but something drew her back. And thus, a few short months later, she began the extraordinary adventure with a tremendously over-stuffed backpack (nicknamed “Monster”) weighing her down so greatly that she was unable to even stand upright… and yet somehow, she set out on the trail, one foot in front of the other, to escape her woes and to find something — anything — to give her reason to keep going.

The story of Cheryl’s journey and transformation is remarkable. As she accumulates the miles, pushing her body beyond any limits she could have imagined, she slowly finds an inner strength and manages to come to terms with her personal demons.

At the outset, I could only shake my head in wonder. Despite her guidebooks and helpful advice from the staff at her local REI, the author really had no idea what she was doing and had no business doing it. Her mistakes were enormous, and easily could have gotten her killed. Her first day on the trail was her first day of backpacking, ever. She had only the smallest cash reserves for the trip, and so time after time found herself stumbling into the next resupply location after days on the trail with only 60 cents (or less) in her pockets. The extent to which she basically let herself jump without a safety net is rather scary to read about. We know because we’re reading a memoir that the author survived her incredible journey, but in chapter after chapter in Wild, we can see that Cheryl’s survival had a lot to do with good fortune. At any one of at least a dozen points, events could have taken a different turn, resulting in injury at the least or perhaps even a tragic fatality. A more spiritual person might even say that someone or something must have been watching over her, because there’s no way that a person so completely unprepared should expect to come out of the experience in one piece.

Despite my disbelief — verging on disapproval — for the shaky decision-making that the author applied toward her trek, I could only end up in admiration of her courage and fortitude. How many of us would have the nerve to take such a giant leap into the unknown? Granted, perhaps the fact that Cheryl had hit bottom helped propel her forward. There really was nothing left for her in her old life, so a dramatic departure was pretty much required. As the book progressed, I was increasingly impressed both by her physical stamina, despite unimaginable pain (she lost half her toenails along the PCT!) and her mental determination to see this quest through, no matter how many obstacles she encountered. Her gradual acceptance of the good and bad in her own life and her growing belief in her ability to change, move forward, and make a new start is quite beautiful to witness.

Along the PCT, Cheryl meets a number of fellow hikers who for a wide variety of reasons have also decided to make the journey. It’s lovely to encounter these strangers and see the instant bonds that form, as these individuals who perhaps overlap in their treks for only a few days form a community that stretches the length of the trail.

The book wraps up at the conclusion of Cheryl’s trek, and I wasn’t ready for it to end. Having come that far with her, I wanted to know what happened next — how did she manage to start a new life? Did it go the way she’d hoped? How did she readjust to civilization? I actually have tickets to hear the author speak in April, and I’m so looking forward to learning a bit more about her thoughts along the trail and the challenges she faced afterward.

The only minor detail in the book that still bothers me — but I’m not a long-distance hiker, so perhaps I simply cannot understand — is Cheryl’s approach toward reading along the PCT. She read throughout her journey, usually alone in her tent at night, and each day before setting out again she’d burn the pages that she’d just read so as to continually lighten her load. I’m sorry, but the idea of burning book pages for any reason gives me the shivers. At each resupply location, people would leave unwanted items in a “free” box for other hikers. Couldn’t she have kept the books intact and simply left them for another person to read? I know, it’s probably petty for me to focus on this, but as someone who practically cries over dog-eared pages or a dented book cover, this felt fairly horrifying. But that’s a very small complaint.

Overall, I’m very glad to have read Wild… although I did come away from it with the probably completely wrong idea that if she could do it, as poorly prepared as she was, then so could I. Not that I would. But, you know, I could! (Ha! Yeah, right…)

Wild is the story of one woman’s journey away from grief and loss and toward a new personal strength and a future of hope. I recommend it highly.

 

Flashback Friday: Farewell To Manzanar

It’s time, once again, for Flashback Friday…

Flashback Friday is a chance to dig deep in the darkest nooks of our bookshelves and pull out the good stuff from way back. As a reader, a blogger, and a consumer, I tend to focus on new, new, new… but what about the old favorites, the hidden gems? On Flashback Fridays, I want to hit the pause button for a moment and concentrate on older books that are deserving of attention.

If you’d like to join in, here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

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Farewell To Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston

(published 1973)

One of my new acquisitions this week is Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield, a new novel set in the Manzanar internment camp in which thousands of Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during World War II. I’m very excited to be starting Garden of Stones, but in thinking about this book and this era in American history, I was reminded immediately of the classic memoir Farewell To Manzanar, which I first read in high school and remember to this day.

From Goodreads:

Jeanne Wakatsuki was seven years old in 1942 when her family was uprooted from their home and sent to live at Manzanar internment camp–with 10,000 other Japanese Americans. Along with searchlight towers and armed guards, Manzanar ludicrously featured cheerleaders, Boy Scouts, sock hops, baton twirling lessons and a dance band called the Jive Bombers who would play any popular song except the  nation’s #1 hit: “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Farewell to Manzanar is the true story of one spirited Japanese-American family’s attempt to survive the indignities of forced detention . . . and of a native-born American child who discovered what it was like to grow up behind barbed wire in the United States.

Farewell to Manzanar shocked me when I originally read it. As a young teen, it was almost impossible to believe that the events depicted actually happened in the United States. I understand that this book is now included in many schools’ required reading assignments, and I hope that continues to be the case for some time to come. As a personal glimpse into a disturbing chapter of history and as a finely-written story of one family’s struggles, Farewell to Manzanar is a modern classic that shouldn’t be forgotten.

… And I think I’ve just convinced myself to re-read this book.

So, what’s your favorite blast from the past? Leave a tip for your fellow booklovers, and share the wealth. It’s time to dust off our old favorites and get them back into circulation! 

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join in the Flashback Friday bloghop, post about a book you love on your blog, and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!