day four: sidebar and salt

January 4, 2017 @ 3:53 pm | Filed under: ,

jumble of books


In addition to the household Fresh Start cleaning spree, the New Year always means an overhaul of my sidebar here on the blog. It begins with the year’s reading log, which must be transferred from sidebar to its own page. (In 2016 I got smart and started the page early—but then Cybils overtook my reading life and the page remains, as my sidebar note says, about thirty books behind. Perhaps more like 27 today. I’m getting there, book by book.) The empty space under the current year’s heading always drives me crazy until I’ve finished a book. Lots of years, I find time on January 1st to read a short children’s novel—last year it was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower—just so I can remove the placeholder text and enter an actual book title. I roll my eyes at myself while doing it, but I do it all the same.

Except I haven’t done it this year. Too busy sparking joy with every book in the house. I’m reading Cat’s Cradle, because I never have and Scott asked me to. 🙂 We often slide each other reading requests, wanting our frames of reference to be shared as much as possible. When Jane was a newborn, Scott would read aloud to me while I nursed her. We started with some childhood favorites the other had missed—The Great Brain (his); Harriet the Spy (mine). (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Scott’s Ole Golly, let me tell you.)

Cat’s Cradle isn’t a long book, but this week’s pattern of cleaning frenzy in the morning and brain-work in the afternoon has left me too tired to make it through more than a few pages when I hit the pillow at night. So the gap remains.


The reading log is my sidebar equivalent of Flylady’s shiny sink. Once it’s been updated for the year, I have to start moving other things around. As the year’s book log grows longer, it throws columns off balance. I rearrange things and in January have to arrange them back. Which leads to a reassessment of what else is occupying space there. I’ve nixed some bits this year, tried to make the informational bits up top more compact so you get to the part that contains actual content—the recent comment widget and the “Caught My Eye” links—more quickly. I let the links section slide a bit during Cybils season, but I’m planning to use it more actively now, entering short remarks on the shared links so that section is more like a mini-blog within the blog. I know from your comments in the past that some of you do click through to see if I’ve added new links, which makes me so happy. 🙂 I’m glad you find them useful or interesting.

I’ve found a way to add links to this section directly from Feedly—very convenient! But I have to go in manually to add commentary.


At the bottom of my sidebar you’ll find a new addition: a “Blogging Like It’s 2005” blogroll. Yes, a blogroll—seriously old-school! This is the fruit of a conversation on my Facebook page. I asked my FB friends questions whether they still read blogs, and if so, do they use a feed reader like Feedly or Bloglovin, or do they rely on social media for notifications of new posts. I was surprised to discover that almost everyone who answered said they pretty much just click through on links from Facebook or Twitter.

It gives me the shivers to think of relying on the caprices of Facebook to find out if blogs I love have new content up. I will forever mourn Google Reader, but Feedly does the job pretty well for me—and has some nifty post-sharing functionality that comes in quite handy, as I mentioned above.

But I seem to be in the minority. Now, until this conversation I was posting my own blog links on FB only sporadically, because 1) I hesitate to spam my friends’ feeds with my own content; and 2) Facebook’s tricksy algorithms have a way of downgrading your updates if they too frequently contain links to the same website. Which means there’s no guarantee your friends will see your new post links, even if you do put ’em on FB.

But that’s fine, now that I know people prefer to see blog updates in their newsfeed, I’m happy to comply. And I have to say I’ve been thrilled by all the discussion happening in the comment box this week—thank you all for taking the time! 🙂

Well, as I said, this FB conversation led to a burst of wistful reminiscing about the lively blog community of old. A few of us decided to try to revive the spirit of those days by posting more often, more chattily, and by making an effort to comment on one another’s blogs. Thus the new blogroll. Let me know if you’d like to be included.


Today’s picture book: well, so far we’ve only read Hedgie’s Surprise again. (“Because I love it so much!” Huck pleaded.) But I found Jan Brett’s The Wild Christmas Reindeer mixed in with non-Christmas books (so we missed it), and I think since we’re on a Brett kick, it’s what I’ll read tonight. I did begin The Firelings last night, by the way. Huck had played outside all day and fell asleep two pages in. And today I happened upon The Minstrel in the Tower, which is a nice short readaloud that I haven’t done with this set. I’m contemplating holding off on Firelings for now.


I’d like to start sharing thoughts on some of the Cybils nominees I read this fall. To begin with, here’s the blurb I wrote for one of our finalists, a beautiful historical novel called Salt to the Sea.

As the Nazi Reich collapses and the Soviet army sweeps across the East Prussian countryside in the winter of 1945, three young refugees find themselves thrown together among the crowds of desperate, uprooted travellers. The distinctive voices and histories of Joana (“the nurse”), Florian (“the knight”), and Emilia (“the Polish girl”)—each guarding painful secrets—create a harrowing picture of the lives thrown into tumult by the war. A fourth narrative voice, the self-aggrandizing declarations of a young Nazi soldier named Alfred, adds an unsettling counterpoint to the narrative. The fates of the four narrators will converge at the doomed MV Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship targeted by Russian submarines. Ruta Sepetys brings authenticity and heart to this moving, gorgeously realized work of historical fiction.

It’s hard to pull off good historical fiction, and even harder (in my opinion) to manage multiple narrative voices gracefully. Sepetys excels at both endeavors. Her characters have lodged in my heart—particularly the old shoemaker, whom you’ll meet on the road. Highly, highly recommended.


I’ve been so busy this week, I haven’t had time to explore the other Cybils categories. We always try to read as many finalists as we can, especially the picture books! Time to fill up my library cart…

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17 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Jen says:

    I’m adding Salt to the Sea to our reading list. The list itself has gotten so long it’ll be Summer before I need to search out books. 🙂

  2. Nancy says:

    Mt 15-year-old daughter fell very, very hard for Between Shades of Grey by Sepetys. She has Salt to the Sea waiting in her book stack; I may have to swipe it. Please just keep talking books like this for all of 2017, OK? I adore it!

  3. Diana says:

    Your blog is like an old friend that I can come and pick right back up. Love what you do here! Keep it up!

  4. Melanie Bettinelli says:

    Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. I love Rumer Godden’s doll stories so much. I found Sophie a really nice hardbound collection of them all last year for her birthday, The Fairy Doll, it’s called. She was in a phase where she didn’t want to read books that Bella had read previously or ones that I pulled off the shelf. They had to be her own, new books. Second child problems. She’s now, finally, gleefully reading everything Bella hands her and Bella is in her glory getting Sophie to read all her favorite books. A little book club of two.

  5. Kimberlee says:

    This is delightful! Blogging like it’s 2005. I love it. Happy New Year!

  6. Alice Gunther says:

    I love this, especially the endless supply of books I have never heard of that you know about. Nothing has changed since 1996. (And, yes, my order of The Firelings has shipped.)

  7. selvi says:

    Gosh, what a treat these chatty posts are! I love the blogging like it’s 2005 idea. It almost makes me want to start blogging again. I also love your “caught my eye”. I’ve often wished I could comment back to you on something you linked there, but it seemed odd to comment on the blog post. It’s sort of the short-term gratification version of reading a book you have recommended.

    One question: what do your children do while you are doing all the decluttering? Are they helping or are they hindering?

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      Selvi, feel free to comment about sidebar links anytime you want! What’s your bird of the year? 🙂

      I admit I’m taking advantage this week of the neighbor kids being home from school. My littles have spent a lot of time outside, up and down the block. The older girls are helping me with the sorting, because I’m not allowed to purge any picture books, etc, without a consensus. 😉 Plus: so much dusting!!

      On the first day of this endeavor, I did mention to my younger three that I was going to have LOTS OF JOBS CARRYING BOOKS for anyone who couldn’t find something else to do. That usually inspires a lot of games. 🙂

      • selvi says:

        I think it was a seagull? And now that I’m committed to The Year of the Seagull, I mean to make the most of it. According to wikipedia they are “resourceful, inquisitive and intelligent birds, demonstrating complex methods of communication and a highly developed social structure” (never mind the examples given of these qualities). More importantly, just today I was thinking of the concept of “swallowing the frog”, i.e. doing the hardest thing on your to-do list first (I think I read it on Modern Mrs. Darcy) and guess what? Gulls have UNHINGABLE JAWS! It’s a sign!

        Also inspired partly by you I signed up for the Apartment Therapy January Cure. It’s nice to have someone tell me what to do in this area that I’m so bad at. So far it’s going well. But I only do stuff when the kids aren’t here.

        Thanks for chapter book recommendations, we were in need of some and these look great. It’s nice now to have the kids at ages (similar to your own) where they are enjoying the same books. Does your family know the How to Train Your Dragon series audiobooks read by David (Daniel?) Tennant. They are brilliant! They are cartoonishly violent and politically incorrect in ways that require some discussion, but they are so funny and he does the most amazing voices and accents, and there is an underlying message about integrity and nobility of character. The writing is a ragged in a way that almost becomes a style of its own and anyway everything else being so good you totally forgive her for it.

  8. tee+d says:

    We use BRIEF here; I cannot rely on social media links for blogs — they definitely have a different opinion about what’s important than I do!

  9. Monica Klepac says:

    waaaahhhhh!!! i am really wanting to blog like its 2005. I will let you know if I get back to it.

  10. Leslie in VA says:

    I have been writing to you for awhile now but only in my mind. . . Please keep blogging like its 2005 because you have been inspiring my family through your book suggestions before that! Long ago, in the dark ages, Catholic Charlotte Mason egroup felt like a group of encouraging Catholic sisterhood when family demands constant and my confidence was low. I “met” many nice ladies who turned into some of my best real life friends. I wrote down (and most likely read) every book that appealed to me and our children. We are a very bookish family. Many, many years ago. . . you gushed over “Fruitless Fall” and that book truly changed our life. I read it, my husband read it and our older kids read it. My husband (phobic of bees) wanted to get bees (still does). Fast forward to today and my oldest son, 21, now works on a queen bee farm in Hawaii. He was truly inspired by that book. Thank you for your part in him finding his path!
    I am a huge fan of “goodreads” and when I sing its praises, I always mention how my “friendship” with you has provided us with years of delightful reading titles. Please accept my superlative thanks and gratitude for all the ways you have blessed our family!

    n.b. I LOVED Salt to the Sea. . .what a talented writer and fascinating story.

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      Leslie, this comment absolutely made my week. Brought tears to my eyes! You gave me an honest-to-goodness George Bailey moment. 🙂 The bees! I’m thrilled and fascinated to learn of your son’s job and the small role I played in his going that direction. I’ll have to share this with Rowan Jacobsen too–you know we went to grad school together. That’s how I found out about Fruitless Fall.

      Always a delight to see your name pop up in the comments.

      • Leslie in VA says:

        I am so glad it made you happy! When your blog kept popping up in my feedly I was giddy with excitement! Yes! You are my favorite for book suggestions! I am very grateful for your work and if I haven’t read a book you mention, I put it on to my “want to read” at goodreads! I know that there are many others who feel the same way! So please. . . blog on!

        Also, thoughts on goodreads? I think it is a valuable tool but decreased activity over the past year. Are people reading less, not using it, is there another site? I have been keeping track of our books for over 5 years (kids have different shelves) because I often draw a blank when asked for suggestions for a certain age. Wondering what you think of its usefulness?

        Have you read Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter? Delicious!