zBench is a good starter theme for a new author to experiment and begin to understand wordpress and the various themes and features (layout, plugins, fixed or fluid width, columns, etc). This theme is a two column – which is what I wanted. It has ample widgets but I had to upload a few, which is a somewhat easy process. I don’t care for the comment plugin that came with the theme – too much spam gets thru. I visited this page on 5 essential comments and chose GASP. I go to dashboard – plugins – add new – search – gasp – install – and activate the plugin. I installed 4 other plugins: enhanced text widget, fast secure contact form, image widget and sidebar login. For my purpose, I don’t like the bold type in the text widget, would rather it be plain type. If anyone knows how to change it in the css or php files, please comment and let me know what to edit. Sidebar login replaced the default meta widget. Many don’t know about the image wiget for photos in the sidebar with this theme. This codex page will help if you are having trouble figuring out how to add categories like I did. In this theme its in the posts dropdown menu. I changed the default title tagline in the theme to WP themes (settings / general). Otherwise people googling would see on your site “just another wordpress blog”. I downloaded the background file from Subtle Patterns, hopfully bringing about a soft relaxing tone to site. Same zBench theme, Cat Taylor delivers a different tone.
A few google plugins to consider would be google analytics (free traffic report) or an advanced wordpress plugin analyticator (wp directory), connects to your registered analytics account. Another may be a sitemap generator to aid google indexing your blog – automatically generates code of new or updated post. A third may be google webmaster tools.
Jason Cordova is an example of a feature rich zBench theme website. He uses a 3 column layout, with a visitor stat count, calendar, twits and a few other plugins.