These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

It’s almost a new year, let the embarrassing work Christmas parties commence and the Auld Lang Synes ring! For my part, I’d like to say farewell to 2012 and herald 2013 with a list of favorite things I discovered or enjoyed this past year, for the most part online. Hopefully you’ll agree that this collection has a little something for everyone: students, teachers, avid readers, art admirers, humorists, or simply the perennially curious.

Working for eNotes I try my best to promote learning at every age. I strongly feel that if you cannot participate in a classroom, you should at least maintain an active level of curiosity and wonder about the world around you. With the many information-grabbing, curio-snapping sites below, you’ll never be at a loss for tools of learning and instruction…

1. Brain Pickings

It’s not hard to imagine the Internet as a museum of wonders. It’s much harder to imagine oneself as the curator of such an exhibit. Enter superwoman Maria Popova, “interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large” and creator of the wonderful blog Brain Pickings, the site that collects everything funny, captivating, and obscure from the far corners of the interweb for your consumption. Without Brain Pickings this year I would not have learnt of Salvador Dali’s struggle between skepticism and faith, or of how to talk about books I haven’t read, or book spine poetry and how to dabble in it myself.

Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are… Brain Pickings is your LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces across art, design, science, technology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, you-name-itology.

2. Underground New York Public Library

As the Sartorialist does for the fashion conscious, UNYPL documents in photographs the penchants of everyday people in a bustling metropolis, the difference being that creator Ourit Ben-Haim is more interested in what you’re reading than who you’re wearing. If you’re looking for book recommendations hot off the pavement, this blog is the place to find them. And if you’re looking for the picture of a kid grossed out by reading Fifty Shades, that can be arranged too.

But the best part about UNYPL (besides the also stellar visuals themselves) is that beneath every caption telling you what the subject is reading, you’ll find links to either “Read” by purchasing the book online or “Borrow” the book from your local library (via the very handy WorldCat library network service). You’ll find works you never knew existed, not only in a New York subway, but right outside your front door, too.

The photos come together as a visual library. This library freely lends out a reminder that we’re capable of traveling to great depths within ourselves and as a whole.

3. What a year for literary adaptations!

Yes, books are adapted for the silver screen all the time, but in 2012 the results really stuck out for me, either for their ambitious undertakings (naysayers said Cloud Atlas and Life of Pi could never be made into films) or for their daring takes on old classics (such as the stage play-esque adaptation of Anna Karenina and the forthcoming 3D “red curtain” spin on The Great Gatsby). It’s also the year that most of the Internet fell in love with the British series Sherlock, a modern-day adaptation of the Holmes mystery series (and precursor to CBS’s Elementary). There are so many more books worth a mention here… Cosmopolis, The Hobbit, Great Expectations, On the Road, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Midnight’s Children… come Oscar season, the awards will be dominated by films that were originally books. Watch out for a punch up over the Best Adapted Screenplay prize, not to mention the Best Visual Effects nod, as filmakers outdid themselves in 2012 to recreate the stunning landscapes of these imaginative novels.

4. S#@! My Students Write

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 11.35.48 AM

If you are or have ever been in charge of a classroom, you’ll likely have a few gems in your back pocket similar to the above. Now there’s a tumblr account to collect other unintentionally hilarious snippets from teachers everywhere, and yes they’re all true. Even this one. And this one. You would not believe how much tumblr helped me waste time ahem, grow as a person this year.

S#@! My Students Write: Evidence of the true cost of educational funding cuts.

5. eNotes Quizzes

Interestingly, a great way to counteract the above problem! This year we at eNotes released our very own collection of quizzes across hundreds of book titles. And because they’re all developed in-house, these quizzes contain thousands of unique questions geared towards helping students study for their literature tests. They’re also a pretty fun way to kill a few minutes, or 30… Out of all of eNotes’ releases in 2012, Quizzes iss definitely my favorite, and it’s an area of the site we expect to grow and grow. If you haven’t checked it out yet, test your knowledge today to try and beat some of our top quiz takers.

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 12.05.59 PM

6. TED Talks

Okay, I admit, I must seem a little late to the game right now, but omg TED Talks!! I love you. You’re so great, you even made it into one of those futuristic teasers for the Prometheus movie. Where else could I learn about neo-evolution, how to 3D print a human kidney, or about time-lapse nature photography all in one place? I also believe that any site that allows you to sort through its video archives by “Rated jaw-dropping” must contain some very humbling stuff. If you’ve never visited TED before… what are you doing with your life? Get on it now, or better, watch one of my favorite ever talks below:

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.

Free knowledge for all! (If not a free pass to their annual TED Conferences, which will run you more than the cost of ten Coachella tickets. But hey, that’s what the video archives are for.) If you’re interested in keeping up to date with all the world’s brilliant ideas, this non-profit organization has a great blog to peruse, too.

7. Books on the Nightstand

A podcast I discovered just this year, BOTNS is a great resource to turn to to stay ahead of the latest book-selling trends. Hosted by industry insiders Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, the show offers lots of great conversation on new releases, mostly sorted into various categories (their holiday gift guide does a great job of this, collating best graphic novels, best non-fiction, best children’s lit, and so on into a neat gift-giving manual). It’s because of this podcast that I picked up my current read, Age of Miracles, and have a lot more waiting on my Amazon wish list. Check out the show notes on their website for lots of good end-of-year recommendations, plus info on their annual reading challenge and Booktopia Festival.

8. Twitterature

Last but not least, if you’ve read any of my past posts you may have noticed my growing fascination this year with the idea of “Twitterature.” I was never a great supporter of Twitter until 2012–I knew it was a good publicity tool, yes, but how could it actually work for me in my life? At best, I thought of tweets as glorified Facebook statuses, and the last thing I wanted to read on the Internet were the details of others’ lives eating chips and looking out windows. I do enough of that on my own, thank you very much. I also don’t like this new word we have in our lexicon thanks to Twitter: hashtag. To me, it’s an ugly word that now, unfortunately, is somebody’s ugly name. But I digress…

In May I encountered Jennifer Egan’s short story created purely for Twitter, “Black Box.” The installments, all published as tweets of 140 characters or less, read like a kind of poetry. It struck a chord with me–if tweets reveal a person’s thoughts, then perhaps narration is perfectly suited to Twitter? Luckily, authors across the world have taken this idea and run with it. At this year’s Twitter Fiction Festival, I encountered a variety of stories created purely for this new form, from the murder mystery narrated by three party guests’ Twitter accounts, to a retelling of Hardy’s The Turn of the Screw, via the perspective of the nanny’s tweets.

While I still may not hold a Twitter account personally, I am eager to see where this new avenue of literature leads to in 2013, especially in light of the latest Bridget Jones’ scoop.  It’s always exciting to feel in the midst of a big change in the world of literature. Sure, tweeters may not make up the next Romantics, or Beats, or Angry Young Men, but they might, just might, be carving out a new form for a brave new literary world.

Well, that’s all from me until next year. Happy holidays, and a very happy 2013 to everyone! I hope this new year will be just as exciting as our last.


RELAX. The World Ended in 634 BCE

If you are stressing because there is not a single bed-and-breakfast in Bugarach, France (purportedly the only place in the world safe from the predicted Mayan apocalypse of 2012), relax.  For a variety of reasons, the world is NOT going to end tomorrow. December 21, 2012, has been ballyhooed for years as the date the world will end. Fin. Finito. That’s all folks. And I’m not paying that cable bill either.

Except… that it won’t be.

The list of “Yep-that’s-it. The-world-has-become-as-evil-as-it-possibly-can-be-and-____________(your god here)-has-HAD-ENOUGH” is a loooooooooooooooooooong one, folks. Better get crackin’ on buying that gift for your aunt, because no one is gonna give you an eternal excuse.  Here is a brief list of the various “We Are DOOMED!” scenarios, all come and gone:

romulus

634 BCE and Some Pissed-Off Eagles

Many Romans feared that the city would be destroyed in the 120th year of its founding. There was a myth that 12 eagles had revealed to Romulus a mystical number representing the lifetime of Rome, and some early Romans hypothesized that each eagle represented 10 years.

christian_apoc

1st Century, Early Christians

Some first-century Christians expected Jesus to return within one generation of his death. According to some scholars, Paul the Apostle was one of these.

martin_tours

375-400 CE, Martin of Tours

Stated that the world would end before 400. Writing “”There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.”

hippolytus

500 CE, Hippolytus of Rome,Sextus Julius Africanus,Irenaeus

All three predicted Jesus would return in the year 500.

pope_sly

January 1, 1000: Pope Sylvester II

The Millenium Apocalypse. Various Christians predicted the end of the world on this date, including Pope Sylvester II. Riots in Europe.

black_plague

Panicky Europeans, 1346-51

The black plague spreading across Europe was interpreted by many as the sign of the end of times.

noah

1656, Various Christians 

There’s always been a lot of monkeying around with numbers, with sects swearing that they have figured out the secret formula (yeah…riiiight…. we still don’t know what, precisely, the secret spices are in KFC…). Anyhoo…. “[s]ome Christians believed the world would end this year, as 1656 was the number of years between Creation and the Great Flood in the Bible.”

cotton_mather

1697, Cotton Mather

Well-known for his love of a good prank (kidding), “[t]his Puritan minister predicted the world would end this year. After the prediction failed, he revised the date of the End two more times.”

(Okay.. this is getting tedious. There are literally dozens more but in the interest of time, and of course, our imminent demise, let’s fast forward to the twentieth century).

dixon

Feb. 4, 1962: “Psychic” Jeane Dixon

Predicted a planetary alignment on this day was to bring destruction to the world.

jehovah_1975

1975, Jehovah’s Witnesses

In 1966, Jehovah’s Witnesses estimated it had been 6000 years since man’s creation; therefore, in the fall of 1975  it would be “appropriate” for Christ’s thousand-year reign to begin. These claims were repeated throughout the late 1960. In 1974, they reaffirmed their belief that there was just a short time remaining before “the wicked world’s end.”

pat_robertson

Oct/Nov 1982:  Pat Robertson, Evangelical Pastor

In late 1976, Robertson predicted that the end of the world was coming in October or November 1982. (Well, that was the year of my first date, an event many would’ve predicted would bring the world to an end so perhaps a little leeway for ol’ Pat).

halleys-comet

April 29, 1987:  Leland Jensen, Halley’s Comet

Jensen predicted that Halley’s Comet would be pulled into Earth’s orbit on April 29, 1988, causing widespread destruction.

nostradum

July, 1999: Nostradamus 

A prediction attributed to Nostradamus stating the “King of Terror” would come from the sky in “1999 and seven months” led to fears of the end.

mayans

Annnnnnnnnnnd… Presenting… Despite All Historical Evidence and Obvious Fallacies to the Contrary! THE MAYANS!

The so-called Mayan apocalypse at the start of the 14th b’ak’tun. The Earth is destroyed by an asteroidNibiru, or some other interplanetary object; an alien invasion; or a supernova.

Good night, all. Unless I am destroyed by aliens or burned to a crisp by a supernova, I’ll see you next week with some elegant toasts for the New Year, in which, surely, there will be predictions that all of us will become toast.


2002 Has No Idea What You’re Talking About, 2012!

A couple of years ago, my then 10-year-old son declared that “everything is the best it could ever be.” He was quite sure that, new iPhone in hand, nothing could surpass the (then) current marvels of the Modern World.  I was just as sure that everything could and would be surpassed. Twenty-five years ago, if you told any adult that typewriters would be as extinct as the buffalo, no one would have believed it.  Today, 95% my 19 and 20-year-old students have never even touched a typewriter. I have seen card catalog cabinets busted up for firewood (not really, but you get it). I remember when floppy disks really were floppy. Now there aren’t even disks! I remember when…. excuse me, “Hey, kid! Get off my lawn!!” 

Anyway, a group of friends and I got into a discussion about what has changed in the last ten years. I asked them to come up with sentences that would have made no sense to someone in 2002.  Here is what we came up with:

1.   There’s an app for that!

2.  You can download movies to your tv and control it with your Android tablet.

3.  Did you check in? I’m the mayor of this coffee shop.

4.  “I’ll Facebook you.”

5.  “I’ll Text You”…”I’ll IM You.”

6.  I just got this 4D camera.

7.  I can de-friend anybody I want to.

8.   I am going to put all these thumbnails on my flashdrive.

9.  I asked a silly question and got over 60 responses from all over the country in a matter of a few minutes.

10.   I 3D printed a new handle for my suitcase.

11.  Call Homeland Security.

12.  Dang it! I got busted by a red-light camera.

13.  Did you see the Tupac hologram?

14.  There’s a fee for checked in baggage.

15.  Let me check Snooki’s Twitter feed.

16.  I drove over a cliff because I trusted my GPS.

17.  Hey, wanna Skype?

18.  Gay marriage was approved by voters in several states.

19.  We elected a black president. Twice!

20.  I store my books and music in the cloud.

21.  I don’t know what time that show comes on. Everything’s on the DVR.

22.  Send that PDF to my FTP.

23.  Stream it.

24.  I’ll download the podcast from iTunes.

25.   Park in the Blink so we can recharge the car.

26.  thx ttyl kbye o_0

27.  “Can I haz cheeseburger?”

28.  Do you have a Tumblr?

29.  Would you take a picture of my paycheck and send it to BofA?

30.  Occupy Wall Street

31.  Fracking destroys water supplies.

What about you? Can you think of any more words in common use that would not have made sense in 2002? We’d love to hear them.  Who knows what is coming, and what will be obsolete by 2022.


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