The Nora Ephron Writing Rant

I’ve created an electronic version of one of my favorite lectures: the revision lesson based on sarcastically destroying a Nora Ephron essay. Former students, get ready for a quality stroll down amnesia lane!

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One-Star Reviews of Asimov’s Foundation

I have a policy about judging books based on reviews: a well written positive review is a good sign, and a badly written negative review is also a good sign. To put it another way, if an idiot hates a book, I’ll probably like it.

That came back to mind yesterday. I’m reading Isaac Asimov’s science fiction classic Foundation right now, and I wanted to get some other perspectives on it, so I looked it up on Amazon.

Pretty sure I’ll love it. Check out some of the Einsteins who gave it one star.

1

“A sci-fi book on people who want to create an encyclopedia?” That sounds…awesome!

 

10

“like reading dozens of books each with its own characters and new plot” Again…awesome.

 

11

This was enlightening.

12

Dwight: It is your birthday.

13

I love reviews that downgrade a book because their copy fell apart.

“Illegal Scam”

scamKudos to whatever genius made this appear on my caller ID. It was enough to get me to pick up the phone, but the girl at the call center didn’t think it was funny. In fact, she wouldn’t go off her script about solar panels to even speculate with me how this bit of subversive honesty happened. Since I wouldn’t stop asking, she eventually just hung up on me. Pretty rude.

Adventures in Indexing

I spent some time this morning indexing some marriage records from 1882, and I noticed something funny in the lines shown here.

The top half is the marriage of John Dwyer (1) and Eliza Horan (4). John’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (2) and Ann Young (3). Eliza’s parents are Thomas Horan (5) and Mary McGrath (6).

But then, on the bottom half, we see the marriage of Michael Horan (11) and Mary A. Dwyer (12). Yes, they seem to be the siblings of the couple above. However, Michael’s parents are given here as Thomas Horan (5) and ANN YOUNG (3). And then Mary’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (12) and MARY McGRATH (6).

Whoever recorded this list seems to have switched the fathers’ wives by accident. I mean, either that or there was some crazy 19th century partying going on. But then some of the newly wedded couples would be half siblings already, so that’s much worse than a simple clerical error.

At any rate, I wonder if this was a double wedding–both weddings happened on April 17th (7) and were performed by the same reverend (9). I’m guessing the weddings recorded in this register happened in the order they’re written, which means that John married Eliza and then Eliza’s big brother Michael immediately married his brand new sister-in-law Mary. Notice that, in a delightful family arrangement, Michael was the witness at John’s wedding and John was the witness at Michael’s (8).

Another cute detail: under each groom’s name is his occupation. John Dwyer was an engineer (10), and Michael Horan was a “saloon keeper” (13), which seems like a pretty stereotypical job considering that he was born in Ireland (14).

1882

 

Dean Koontz on Science Fiction Classics

For some reason, I’m reading a 1988 Dean Koontz novel, and I come across this:

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Really? Really? These three movies belong together in a list of the genre-defining benchmarks in science fiction? Two record breaking franchises and a kids’ movie with 15 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes?

And being aware of those three things is enough, apparently, to make someone an “expert in the weird.”

 

 

The Happy Days / Scarlet Letter Crossover You Never Knew You Needed

At the end of major reading units, I often have students do a series of small creative tasks to demonstrate understanding by extending or reinterpreting material in various ways. This pivotal scene from The Scarlet Letter has been combined with a classic TV reference. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Several months ago, the same student who did this drew the courthouse scene in The Crucible with Sesame Street‘s Big Bird sitting in the rafters. Very clever.

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This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

IMG_20171221_130715983On the left is a picture of the hall pass in my classroom. It is four months old. On the right is a new one. That is what the old one looked like four months ago.

How did this poor little bit of laminated plastic get so mangy? Was it dragged through a radioactive sewer full of piranhas shooting lasers?

No. It was taken by 16- and 17-year-olds to go to bathrooms in the same hallway as my class. That’s it. All that destruction and decay resulted when this pass escorted teenagers to the potty.

There’s some hair stuck to the bottom.

The next time a student complains that I don’t respect them enough as mature young adults, I’ll show them this picture.

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester. After class, I will destroy the old pass by soaking it in bleach, incinerating it in a furnace, and burying it in a lead box on Mars.

I’m curious to see how long before the new pass also looks like a ragged refugee from some dystopian novel about hall passes.

Gulliver’s Travels

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Google images result for the title…most of these are the famous scene from chapter ONE.

I read this last summer, and while it starts out strongly enough, it gets much better as it goes on–the satire gets far darker and more biting. Maybe that’s why the single part everyone seems to know and like–Gulliver being tied down by the tiny Lilliputians–is from chapter one. Nobody ever talks about the better parts later on.

The second half of the book really ramps ups the social commentary to Voltaire levels of savagery. Consider these observations of a university, from part III:

I saw another at work to calcine Ice into Gunpowder; who likewise shewed me a Treatise he had written concerning the Malleability of Fire, which he intended to publish.

There was a most ingenious Architect who had contrived a new Method for building Houses, by beginning at the Roof, and working downwards to the Foundation; which he justified to me by the like Practice of those two prudent Insects, the Bee and the Spider.

There was a Man born blind, who had several Apprentices in his own Condition: Their Employment was to mix Colours for Painters, which their Master taught them to distinguish by feeling and smelling. It was indeed my Misfortune to find them at that Time not very perfect in their Lessons; and the Professor himself happened to be generally mistaken: This Artist is much encouraged and esteemed by the whole Fraternity.

In another Apartment I was highly pleased with a Projector, who had found a Device of plowing the Ground with Hogs, to save the Charges of Plows, Cattle, and Labour. The Method in this: In an Acre of Ground you bury at six Inches Distance, and eight deep, a Quantity of Acorns, Dates, Chestnuts, and other Maste or Vegetables whereof these Animals are fondest; then you drive six Hundred or more of them into the Field, where in a few Days they will root up the whole Ground in search of their Food, and make it fit for sowing, at the same time manuring it with their Dung. It is true, upon Experiment they found the Charge and Trouble very great, and they had little or no Crop. However, it is not doubted that this Invention may be capable of great Improvement.

And this rather wry bit where the joke about government working purely and productively might seem like a lame cliche today just shows us, yet again, that there’s nothing new under the sun:

In the School of Political Projectors I was but ill entertained, the Professors appearing in my Judgment wholly out of their Senses, which is a Scene that never fails to make me melancholy. These unhappy People were proposing Schemes for persuading Monarchs to chuse Favourites upon the Score of their Wisdom, Capacity, and Virtue; of teaching Ministers to consult the Publick Good; of rewarding Merit, great Abilities, eminent Services; of instructing Princes to know their true Interest by placing it on the same Foundation with that of their People: Of chusing for Employments Persons qualified to exercise them; with many other wild impossible Chimaeras, that never entred before into the heart of Man to conceive, and confirmed in me the old Observation, that there is nothing so extravagant and irrational which some Philosophers have not maintained for Truth.

The final section of the book has the darkest humor, such as this almost invisibly veiled swipe at expansive governments spreading their influence:

But I had another Reason which made me less forward to enlarge his Majesty’s Dominions by my Discovery. To say the Truth, I had conceived a few Scruples with Relation to the Distributive Justice of Princes upon those Occasions. For instance, A Crew of Pyrates are driven by a Storm they know not whither, at length a boy discovers Land from the Top-mast, they go on Shore to Rob and Plunder; they see an harmless People, are entertained with Kindness, they give the Country a new Name, they take formal Possession of it for their King, they set up a rotten Plank or a Stone for a Memorial, they murder two or three Dozen of the Natives, bring away a couple more by Force for a Sample, return Home, and get their Pardon. Here commences a new Dominion acquired with a Title by Divine Right. Ships are sent with the first Opportunity, the Natives driven out or destroyed, their Princes tortured to discover their Gold; a free Licence given to all Acts of Inhumanity and Lust, the Earth reeking with the Blood of its Inhabitants: And this execrable Crew of Butchers employed in so pious an Expedition, is a modern Colony sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous People.