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.


World Class: Snapshots of Classrooms From Around the Globe

The ever-curious Brain Pickings yesterday shed light on a fascinating project, “Classroom Portraits.” Since 2004, photographer Julian Germain has captured images of classrooms the world over, progressing from his small corner of North East England to include schools from North and South America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Collected in a new book, Germain’s photos provide unique insight into childhoods both familiar and foreign, sharing what makes schoolkids around the globe so similar, yet worlds apart.

England, Bradford, Year 7, Art

Each photograph captures the same faces we’ve all seen in the classroom growing up: you have the bored and the enrapt, the angry and the apathetic, the eager and the daydreamers. Germain captures all of these and more in his trans-global portraits.

Wales, Felindre, Reception and Years 1 & 2, Numeracy

Yet, just as these photos begin to hark back to one’s own school days, you come across a classroom like the one snapped in Yemen, below. A small room packed with serious-looking men, the only thing belying their young age the dark but faint peach fuzz atop each one’s upper lip.

Yemen, Sanaa, Secondary Year 2, English

Flipping past the slightly militaristic uniforms of a class of Peruvian 4th-graders…

Peru, Cusco, Primary Grade 4, Mathematics

to a colorfully Havanan classroom…

Havana, Cuba, Year 2, Mathematics

and a stark Nigerian one…

Nigeria, Kano, Ooron Dutse, Senior Islamic Secondary Level 2, Social Studies

you are reminded that this (I’m presuming for most of you) is not the childhood you remember.

But while the environments and languages might not be the same, it’s always easy to spot some common ground: in one image a band of sulky pubescents, in another a mob of sticky-fingered kindergartners, and in all the compulsory child with the mischievous glint in his eye, the one who is certainly up to no good at all.

England, Seaham, Reception and Year 1, Structured Play

In each photo Germain has also managed to evoke the gang-like quality found in a room full of students. He positions them with their eyes locked on the camera, staring it down as though ready to pounce at any given moment. Perhaps the one similarity we should be mindful of in every classroom is the courage it takes to stand up in front of a room of these creatures and teach them.

Cuba, Havana, Playa, Year 9, national television screening of film ‘Can Gamba’ (about Cuban participation in Angolan Revolution)

No, in all seriousness “Classroom Portraits” is a joyful reminder of the many fresh young minds out there in the world, and the importance a good education serves in shaping every one of them.

Lagos, Nigeria. Basic 7 / Junior Secondary Level 1, Mathematics

For more on the project, you can visit Germain’s website or purchase his book Classroom Portraits 2004-2012 on Amazon.


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