Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Top Ten Essays Since 1950

Robert Atwan, the founder and creator of the Best American Essays series, has read a lot of essays.
“To my mind,” writes Atwan, “the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process–reflecting, trying-out, essaying.”
As a college writer now specializing in essays you might want to take a look at Atwan's choices for style and organization.

Here's his list of the Top Ten Essays Since 1950 along with links to online versions of five of the Top Ten Essays Since 1950:
>James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son,” 1955. "Against a violent historical background, Baldwin recalls his deeply troubled relationship with his father and explores his growing awareness of himself as a black American."
>Norman Mailer, “The White Negro,” 1957. "An essay that packed an enormous wallop in 1957 may make some of us cringe today with its hyperbolic dialectics and hyperventilated metaphysics. But Mailer’s attempt to define the “hipster” is suddenly relevant again."
>Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp,’” 1964. "Sontag’s groundbreaking essay was an ambitious attempt to define a modern sensibility, in this case “camp,” a word that was then almost exclusively associated with the gay world."
>John McPhee, “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” 1972. "Conceived from a series of Monopoly games, McPhee juxtaposes the well-known sites on the board—Atlantic Avenue, Park Place—with actual visits to their crumbling locations."
>Joan Didion, “The White Album,” 1979. "Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the Black Panthers, a recording session with Jim Morrison and the Doors, the San Francisco State riots, the Manson murders—all of these, and much more, figure prominently in Didion’s brilliant mosaic distillation (or phantasmagoric album) of California life in the late 1960s."
>Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse,” 1982. “Total Eclipse” has it all—the climactic intensity of short fiction, the interwoven imagery of poetry, and the meditative dynamics of the personal essay."
>Phillip Lopate, “Against Joie de Vivre,” 1986. “Over the years,” Lopate begins, “Lopate dissects in comic yet astute detail the rituals of the modern dinner party."
>Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature,” 1988. "An unforgettable meditation not so much on suicide as on how we remarkably manage to stay alive."
>Jo Ann Beard, “The Fourth State of Matter,” 1996. "In this emotion-packed essay you will find entangled in all the tension a lovable, dying collie, invasive squirrels, an estranged husband, the seriously disturbed gunman, and his victims, one of them among the author’s dearest friends."
>David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster,” 2004. "The annual Maine Lobster Festival boasts “the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker." Wallace poses an uncomfortable question to readers of an upscale food magazine: “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?”
Read more about the "Top Ten Essays Since 1950" at Publisher's Weekly. Have you read any of these essays? If not, read at least one and you'll see why it made the top ten list.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Illustrating Scientific Mysteries

Can you guess what this picture illustrates?

If you look at the context clues by reading the picture, what does the apple represent? Click on the apple for the bigger picture.

Could it be the story of Adam and Eve? No?

What about that universe inside the apple? Do you remember the story about Sir Isaac Newton and how an apple dropped on his head while napping and voila he realized there must be some force acting on the falling apple, and everything else for that matter.

Over at BrainPickings they reviewed 75 Scientific Mysteries, Illustrated by Today's Hottest Artists, a book that explores scientific complexities through pictures, including gravity and the big bang.

About gravity, Terry Matilsky notes:
[T]he story is not finished. We know that general relativity is not the final answer, because we have not been able to synthesize gravity with the other known laws of physics in a comprehensive “theory of everything."
Another artist illustrates his vision of what existed before the Big Bang
in a painting reminiscent of an M. C. Escher style stairway of the universe.

Brian Yanny asks:
Was there an era before our own, out of which our current universe was born? Do the laws of physics, the dimensions of space-time, the strengths and types and asymmetries of nature’s forces and particles, and the potential for life have to be as we observe them, or is there a branching multi-verse of earlier and later epochs filled with unimaginably exotic realms? We do not know.
Do illustrations help you "picture" complex phenomena? Would you like to see more illustrations in your scientific textbooks?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The US in Japan

When you think of the Japanese you may think of pachinko machines, but when the Japanese think of Americans they picture Nicholas Cage square dancing?

Do Japanese people think every American drives a pick-up truck while singing along to Beethoven? Cage played his "American-ness to the very hilt. When pachinko machine manufacturer Sankyo recruited Cage, they went all-out, getting him square-dancing in the middle of a lonely southwestern highway with a pack of metal ball-headed aliens" says Open Culture.

But the Japanese aren't the only ones who stereotype foreigners. How do American commercials stereotype other cultures? Do you think these stereotypes are fair? Why or why not? Why do we stereotype?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ancient Rome: When Being a Teen was Tough

Being a teenage in ancient Rome wasn't easy. There were no X-box 360's to play or cars to drive, or even chariots to cruise around in. Don't get me wrong, there were chariots, but the only teens that got to drive them were those young men going off to fight the latest Roman war, or, if they were lucky enough, race around the colliseum, a sport that often resulted in death.

According to A Glimpse of Teenage Life in Ancient Rome
while your average American teenager devotes more than seven hours a day to imbibing media – to watching TV, playing video games, hanging out on Facebook — the average 17-year-old Roman kid (circa 73 AD) had some more serious business to deal with. Like mastering reading and writing in two languages, fighting in imperial wars, taking care of (obscenely young) spouses and various other items.
See for yourself:

The video was created by Ray Laurence, a classics professor, from the University of Kent.

How is being a teen tough today? Do you see any parallels between the world of today's teenagers and the teenagers of ancient Rome?