Friday, August 27, 2010

Avoiding Facebook

While I can understand how some people can have a Facebook addiction, I've decided to start avoiding Facebook because it pretty much exists to anger me. In essence, some of the stupid things that people decide to post, such as links to news articles praising or condemning certain ideas or political figures, make me want to either immediately defriend them (seriously, I don't know if I can be friends with someone who publicly and proudly proclaims their love, admiration, and support for Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin) or curl up under my desk and cry.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that Facebook doesn't exactly encourage rational, reasonable, thoughtful discussions. Instead, what happens is closer to a flame war, where one person posts something and their virtual friends attack it (either supporting it or condemning it) like a pack of hungry piranhas. While I've gotten myself involved in some strongly worded exchanges, I have learned that, for the sake of my sanity and my blood pressure, it is best to ignore these things altogether.

The other problem that I have confronted on Facebook is that, by knowing about all of my virtual friends' thoughts, ideas, and political leanings, I've started to become very judgmental. When someone posts something (usually political in nature) that I find abhorrent, I can't help but question why I'm friends with this person in the first place, even though I know that, in real life, we:
  1. Would never, ever talk about politics
  2. Actually get along pretty well
As a result, I've decided that Facebook just isn't for me. I will continue to use it for work (because I have no other choice). Otherwise, I'm going to remain blissfully ignorant.

The Role Model Conundrum

I recently had an interesting conversation regarding celebrities and popular culture. During our discussion, my friend noted that she didn't consider celebrities, including actors and sports figures, role models and that she is able to separate their personal lives from their body of work. While I can respect her ability to keep these things separate, I don't know if I buy into the "I can overlook their bad behavior because they are good at what they do" argument.

The role model debate is one that has come up many times before. The issues surrounding Rhianna and Charles Barkley come to mind. It is true that many celebrities did not aspire to be role models. However, by a combination of talent and luck (and even some hard work), these people have found themselves bathed by the constant light of the paparazzi's cameras. While it is understandable that the cameras capture some unflattering moments, is it too much to ask that people, regardless of their fame and fortune, NOT ACT STUPID?

When did being a celebrity excuse you from having to act like a decent human being? Why shouldn't actors and sports figures be held accountable for the same behavior I expect of my college students? Why are people so willing to overlook an actor's or athlete's bad behavior when, if their neighbor did the same thing, these same people would shun him or her?

I'm not asking for celebrities to give up all of their money and go to the desert, and I'm not asking them to be more than human. I'm not asking them to do anything particularly admirable or worth emulating (even though that would be nice). I don't even want them to take up the mantle of role model or hero. However, I do think that they (as we) should do the right thing and not act like jackasses. Would it really be so damn difficult for them to not throw phones at others, verbally abuse their co-workers in an expletive-filled tirade, or sleep with everything that moves? Even with my rage issues, I've managed to go through life without having done any of these three things.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What I'm Reading - August 2010

I don't know what happened, but fall is in the air (both figuratively and literally - at least in Boston). Even though I have a ton of things that I need to do to prepare for the new semester, I'm also in the middle of three substantial (but very intriguing) books. However, with everything looming on the horizon, I have no idea when I will be finishing and reviewing them.

The first book that I'm reading is Eden's Outcasts, the Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the lives of Bronson Alcott and his famous daughter Louisa May Alcott. I'm about 100 pages in, and I've found the book very engaging and well-written, even if it isn't a fast read. So far, the book has mostly focused on Bronson, who the authors portrays as a brilliant but incredibly flawed man.

The second book is the delightfully titled Spunk and Bite, a play on the writing guide Strunk and White. In Spunk and Bite, author Arthur Plotnik focuses on writing and (according to the website) guiding "writers into language and styles fine-tuned for today's writing environment." It has been a surprisingly fun read, and Plotnik does an excellent job writing about writing, which is much trickier than it sounds.

Finally, I just started The Glamour of Grammar, which I received as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program. Since I got it with the expectation that I would write a review of the book in a timely fashion, I'm trying to focus on reading it (between prepping for classes and working at my other job). I just started it today, so we'll see how it goes.

I hope to keep up with the blog this fall, but the posts might be few and far between. Besides teaching a class, working at my consulting job, and (with any luck) starting my research, I am also scheduled to present at a conference in November. This would be much more exciting if 1) I had something to present (I'm hoping to have some initial data for my presentation) and 2) it was being held someplace other than the happiest place on earth. I have to stay at a theme hotel. There is no way this is going to end well...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Finding Joy Online

Although the internet provides us with many things (news, shopping, music, videos instructing us on the finer points of cat yodeling), it doesn't seem like something that can bring us joy or reaffirm out belief in the inherent decency of people. In fact, it seems like the internet can often bring out the worst in people. I don't know if it is the fact that it is an open and easily accessible forum for people to broadcast their opinions or if it is because it seems so impersonal that people, usually hiding behind the cover of anonymity, can say whatever pops into their heads, but comments on the internet sometimes trend towards the vile, hateful, or blatantly uninformed. While I am all about civil and thoughtful discourse, a quick peek at most comments under a YouTube video or Yahoo News article can make you doubt the goodness of mankind (it can also make you doubt their writing ability, but that's a subject for another post).

Of course, the internet and email is awash with supposedly heartwarming stories that are supposed to inspire us to be better people. Unfortunately, these stories and emails tend to cross the line that separates heartwarming from trite. They are so prevalent that coined the term "glurge" to describe the genre.

However, the internet delivered two surprisingly heartwarming stories to me today. Thanks to the Mental Floss Watercooler News email I get during the week, I found out about Joel Armstrong, who rescues ducklings (just click on the link and see the Telegraph's photo essay on it).

After reading about this story on my way to work this morning, I thought that I had gotten my daily dose of uplift. However, several people on Facebook posted a link to the following StoryCorps animation:

Danny & Annie from StoryCorps on Vimeo.

Even though the entire video is sweet and sad, it is the last few seconds that really gets to me. Besides Danny and Annie's story, which is profoundly touching on its own, the addendum, where it mentions the letters of condolence Annie has received, gives me some hope for mankind. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: "Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife"

"Dear Anne,
Your silent photograph disperses you thirteen shrouded
years. Were you always
so fragile and mute, Anne Frank? I look at you but you
are no longer a face behind the bankrupt mirror"
- from Dear Anne Frank: Poems by Marjorie Agosin

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is a book that students usually encounter as an eyewitness account of one girl's experiences during the Holocaust, and they often remember the book as a straightforward diary. Although the diary does function as a firsthand account of a tragedy, it isn't pure, unedited work that most people think it is. Besides the fact that Otto Frank, Anne's father and the only surviving member of the Secret Annex, decided not to publish some of the more intimate entries and unflattering portrayals of the Annex dwellers (out of respect for the dead), Anne herself did a lot of editing and rewriting of her work while in the attic, looking ahead to its publication after the war.

Francine Prose's Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife attempts to correct the misconception that Anne's work is merely a diary by offering an in-depth look at her self-editing process, her growth as a writing, and the immense influence her diary has had (both as a book and as a play/film). It is a surprisingly effective way of forcing the reader to rediscover a classic and appreciate it on a new level.

While Prose gives us an overview of of the Franks' lives before the war, the first half of the book is entrenched in discussing Anne's writing and editing process. Inspired after hearing on the radio that Gerrit Bolkestein, the minister of education, art, and science in the exiled Dutch government, was looking for documents written by Dutch citizens during the war, Anne made numerous rewrites and revisions to her existing writing. Prose also cites other influences on Anne's writing, including the popular Joop ter Heul novels (an adolescent literature series) and the continued evolution of the relationships among the inhabitants of the Secret Annex.

The second half of Prose's book gives us an account of the book's influence, including the formation of the Anne Frank-Fonds and the Anne Frank Foundation, the opening of the Anne Frank House, and creation (and bitter disputes over) the Broadway play based on the diary. Throughout all of this, Prose never allows us to neglect Anne's skill and voice as a writer. For instance, she calls attention to the problematic Broadway adaption. Although she concedes that the play did bring Anne to a larger audience, she also notes that, by trying to make the play more universal, the playwrights under emphasized the work's Jewish identity and made Anne seem naive and "stupid, which is the impression created by scene after scene" in the play.

Despite possibly overstating Anne's metacognitive abilities when it comes to her writing, this book is successful overall in that it provokes us to rethink the diary as not just an eyewitness look at the Holocaust but also as a piece of literature. I particularly recommend for teachers (and English teacher educators) to read this book and reconsider how to approach The Diary of a Young Girl when teaching it to students. By encouraging us to look at the diary with a new perspective, Prose's work might be one of the best ways to remember and honor Anne's legacy, not just as a victim of the Holocaust or as an adolescent who died far too soon but also as a writer.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The World Needs This...

I have very fond memories of playing "Carmen Sandiego" and "The Oregon Trail" on my elementary school's computers. It all seemed very advanced, at least for the 1980s, and while I never did well at either game, I still enjoyed playing them (and watching my friends get thwarted on "The Oregon Trail" by the dreaded Jed, who seemed to get every disease known to man and would inadvertently screw things up).

Apparently, other people have a similar affection for these computer games of yore:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Geekdom Continues

I just won a book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program called The Glamour of Grammar. I don't know what's sadder: the fact that, based on the books listed in my LibraryThing library, I fit the profile of someone who would enjoy this book or the fact that I'm actually psyched about getting this book.

Consequently, you can look forward to seeing a review of this book posted to the blog in the next few months. I'm also hoping to write a review on Francine Prose's Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I'll Be Back Soon!

Sorry again for being AWOL - my jobs have been crazy lately! However, since we've completed the move for job #1 and the summer term is coming to an end at job #2, I should be much more attentive to posting this month.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a great way to wile away the hot summer hours while surfing the net from an air conditioned space, may I suggest the addictive TV Tropes site? Besides deconstructing the tropes often found in television shows (and other media), it also reminds people (or at least me) of pop culture from years gone by. I've wasted much more time that I care to admit by reading this site.