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

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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.

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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.


Some Take-Aways from Twitter’s Fiction Festival

As promised in last week’s post on Twitter’s Fiction Festival, here’s a round up of a few standouts of the online event, which finished this past Sunday.

Four things I took away from the festival, besides learning how to read from the ground up:

1. My personal favorite was Andrew Pyper’s sinister adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic horror novel The Turn of the Screw. Only downside, should blare a massive SPOILER ALERT banner at the top of the account page. Do not ruin this story for yourself by reading the first few tweets! Scroll straight to the bottom of “White House”, which you can read in full here. #socreepy

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2. Another fantastic creative endeavor was writer Lucy Coats’ retelling of 100 myths in 100 tweets. Check out this pithy (and alliterative) summary of Odysseus’ encounter with the sirens, below:

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You can find a collection of many more of her mythical re-imaginings, including the tales of Leda and the Swan and Heracles, at her twitter account here. #pervyancientgreeks

3. Elliott Holt’s mystery tale had an interesting twist to it. The story was made up of tweets from a crowd of partygoers, unambiguous as to whether what they witnessed was a suicide, an accident, or murder.

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The multiple voices create an interesting, interwoven narration. Plus the self-centeredness and banality with which these characters tweet spins an interesting satire on the way we present our lives online for others’ amusement and approval. I think. Scroll down Holt’s twitter page to read this very interesting and suspenseful form of the classic murder mystery. #likecluebutbetter

4. Twit-Lit-Crit: so now that we have twitterature changing the form of storytelling, will literary criticism follow in the same vein? Carmel Doohan of Exeunt Magazine conveyed a critique of the weekend via a series of tweets, just like the authors had done themselves:

Essentially a blank page where any text or format can be uploaded, @storify makes a bricolage of social media.

On it the twitter fiction works, but when encountered on twitter itself it is frustrating; interruptions and RTs spoil the flow

Yet there is something very modernist about it- interruptions incorporated into the fiction; remaining true to the fragmentation of reality

Even the Guardian jumped into the fray, doling out self-effacing reviews in under 140 characters.

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It makes me wonder, like Doohan asks, “will the twitter essay forever change the face of criticism? Answers on a postcard.”

Did you have time to check out the Twitter Fiction Festival? If so, what were your take-aways?


#twitterfiction Worthy of a Retweet

Literary festivals come to town and go, and for whatever reason you just couldn’t make it out to all you wanted to see this year. Fear not! Now the festival can come to you.

Today is the first day of Twitter’s very own Fiction Festival, an event that draws writers and readers from around the globe together on one page. Literature has never been so instant, accessible, or succinct, as authors craft stories from afar in real time, sometimes as short as 140 characters.

The Festival showcase will be a completely virtual event, taking place on Twitter with participants from five continents and stories in five languages. For five days, Wednesday, November 28 to Sunday, December 2, you’ll be able to find creative experiments in story-telling on Twitter around the clock.

Want to get involved? At this festival, you’re not relegated to the sidelines. Jump in with your own fiction, and use the tag #twitterfiction for all to see your work. You could:

- create a character and tell a story in his or her voice
- tell a story from your own account
- tell a story in a single Tweet
…and of course, any other creative ideas you have.

A showcase page of all the festival’s entries can be found at this link. Missed the daily live retweeting of Hamlet? Don’t worry, all of the selections are collated for you like this. You’ll never miss a lit festival again.

To give you a heads up on the happenings, here are a few highlights. No need to grab a map and traipse from tent to tent! You can also head to Twitter’s blog for a complete schedule:

  • Starting with the idea of a Twitter feed used as evidence, author Elliott Holt (@elliottholt) will tell the story of a crime. The audience will see that story unfold via three different perspectives, and then will have to weigh the presented evidence for themselves. Wednesday at 7pm EST
  • Perhaps no story is more powerful than a myth. Lucy Coats (@lucycoats) from Northampton UK, will re-tell 100 Greek myths in 100 Tweets. Wednesday 21 Nov. till Sunday 25 Nov. 9am EST
  • Emmy Laybourne (@emmylaybourne) and Anna Banks (@byannabanks) will put a humorous spin on the paranormal young adult story with love affair between a teenage girl and a…Sasquatch. Wednesday through Sunday at 4pm EST (21:00 GMT) 
  • For author Kurt Crisman (@unpublishedguy) online descriptions of TV episodes tell a story all their own. He’ll weave a whole story together out of these to describe five seasons of a science fiction show with an absurdist twist. Every day, updated hourly
  • Ifeoluwapo Odedere offers a satire, written in the style of the King James Bible, about a Nigerian community whose attempts to find a sustainable power source are continually thwarted by a saboteur. Thursday through Saturday at 8am EST
  • In a tense psychological thriller, Andrew Pyper (@andrewpyper) re-tells the classic Henry James ghost story “The Turn of the Screw” — set in a present-day White House. We will follow the Tweets of the new nanny, who is increasingly convinced something strange is afoot. Thursday through Sunday at 7pm EST
  • A group of four authors in Paris plan to work together to build collaborative sonnets in French, which they call #TwitRature. Thursday to Sunday at 5am EST
  • AND if you’re lucky enough to be in New York, the New York Public Library will be hosting the festival’s only non-virtual live event this Saturday.

I love that all of these creative people have embraced the idea of “twitterature.” I’m sure it’s a challenging way to stretch (squeeze?) one’s writing skills, and really brings the audience something innovative. What are your thoughts on how Twitter is changing the literary world?

Check back next week for a summary of the festival’s highlights!


Helen Fielding Working on New Bridget Jones Novel (v.g.)

Everyone’s favourite singleton to be thrust into the brave new world of Twitterature.

It’s been thirteen long years since a new volume of Bridget Jones’ diary, with all its obsessive weight woes and love laments, has been unleashed upon the world. In that time, fanatics have had to content themselves with reading the series’ two books over and over again, to the point of having memorized them by rote. (Okay, maybe some of us are more fanatical than others.) But the agonizing wait is finally over: Helen Fielding has confirmed that she is working on a new Bridget Jones novel to be released late next year. Hurrah!

And one of the most interesting tidbits to come out of Fielding’s announcement is how her writing and Bridget’s life will be thrust into the world of 2012. Instead of beginning the day with her routine account of weight, alcohol units drunk, calories consumed, and 1471 calls made, Bridget’s diary entries will begin with a tweet. Says Fielding, “It’s more like ‘number of Twitter followers: 0. Still no followers. Still no followers.’”

Perhaps Fielding will take it a step further. What if Bridget’s diary was not on paper at all? What if she has discovered the world of blogging, even tumblr, or instagram? Not only does the new medium give Fielding lots to play with, it gives Bridget an infinite number of worries to obsess over, like the number of visitors she has on her online dating profile, or her mother’s permeating presence on Facebook. Worries that make her just like the rest of us, regretful though we are to admit it.

In the age of social networks and text messages, Bridget has the power of instant drunken replies.
Oof, tumbled over.

As for the story at the heart of the work, it’s a mystery as to whether the perennial men of Bridget’s life, sensible Mark Darcy and reprehensible Daniel Cleaver, will be making an appearance. “Some characters remain and some may have disappeared,” Fielding said. “They’ll still be presences in the book. Like all of us you keep your friends, people stay in your life, but everyone’s life moves on.”

What? Possibly no Darcy and Cleaver? But what will have become of Bridget? If she is to have aged in real time, that would put her in her late 40s to early 50s. Is she the tragic spinster retread she always feared she’d be, the threat of being half eaten by alsatians looming? Or the lonely single mother of a pair of troublesome teenagers? Fielding isn’t giving away much information.

She has grownup. My life has moved on and hers will move on too. She’s still trying to give up [drinking and smoking], she’s still on a diet. She’s trying a bit harder, and is a bit more successful, but she’s never really going to change.

Phew. Now all one has to worry about awaiting this twitterature-influenced Bridget Jones episode is avoiding eating the entire contents of one’s fridge. Non v.g.


One of These Days, None of These Days: Why We Procrastinate

The Science of Procrastination and How to Manage It

Sorry everyone, I meant to post this last week…

Sound familiar? If you’re a human being (and I’m betting you are) you’ll have procrastinated at some point in your life. More likely, you’ll have procrastinated a lot in your life.

But why is that? What is there in our genetic makeup that causes all of us to struggle with procrastination?

The duo behind AsapSCIENCE answers that very question. Thankfully, they do so in the form of a YouTube video, which means you can procrastinate your procrastination by watching a video on how not to procrastinate… Ah, the delicious irony.

Though the psychological causes are still debated, there’s a human tendency to over or underestimate the value of a reward based on its temporal proximity. This is often referred to as “temporal discounting.”

Basically, temporal discounting is a fancy explanation behind why you’d rather watch that cute video of a Costa Rican sloth orphanage NOW and write that important research paper LATER.

And it gets worse the further away your deadline is. Have a deadline at the end of the term, or even the school year? As it turns out, your weirdly-wired brain currently considers that exam or project of less important for being due further into the future.

Human motivation is highly influenced by how imminent a reward is perceived to be, meaning the further away a reward is, the more you discount its value. This is often referred to as “present bias” or “hyperbolic discounting.”

This is why students cram; you don’t realize the value of a high grade until you come close enough to the time that grade will be evaluated. And more often than not, procrastinators will have acted too late to achieve the grade they really want.

So there’s the science of why. Now, how to keep your procrastination in check…

1. How can you counteract present bias? Well, if the root of procrastination lies in the distance you are from your eventual deadline, why not bring that deadline closer? Setting smaller deadlines for yourself that line the way to your ultimate deadline is a good method to avoid last minute scrambling.

2. Immediate reward vs. future reward–so, a reward that’s far off in time doesn’t hold the same weight as some immediate satisfaction.  The best way to prevent the immediate reward being satisfied by Facebook or YouTube is to grant yourself another kind of reward. This could be a snack, a study break, or 15 minutes of browsing time. The important thing is that it has to be immediate. Telling yourself you’ll enjoy sweetmeats and other luxuries after you receive the grade you want is nice, but it won’t stop you from procrastinating before then.

3. Related to the above, you might want to try the Pomodoro technique. This involves the use of a kitchen timer, set at 25 minutes, to improve your stamina for studying over time. You spend a little bit of time on, a little off, and in the process you gain the ability to judge the amount of time and effort you’ll have to put into each assigned task, thus allowing you to manage your future time more effectively.

4. And if all of that still can’t peel you away from distractions, well just uninstall the internet. Seriously. Working writers do this all the time. There are even downloadable programs for it, like Concentrate and StayFocused (both for Chrome) and Leechblock (for Firefox). If you need the Internet to study, don’t panic; you can use these programs to temporarily block yourself from the sites most offensive to your study time (because there’s no way you’re using Facebook and Pinterest to study).

Furthermore, if you can practice the art of avoiding procrast… Oh hey, look, another cat video!


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