June 24:  Devil’s Dictionary Day  

Today is the birthday of Ambrose Bierce, American journalist and short-story writer. He was born in Ohio in 1842, and after serving in the Civil War he traveled west. He rose to prominence as a journalist in San Francisco. His best-known work of fiction is a short story called An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a war story about the last thoughts of man before his execution.

Cynics Word Book.jpgBierce’s best know work though is his Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical work featuring definitions that display Bierce’s sardonic, piercing wit. Bierce began publishing his definitions as a part of his newspaper column in 1875 and continued until 1906. A complete collection of words and definitions was first published in 1911.

Here are some samples of the definitions:

Bigot: n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

Cynic: n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.

Dictionary: n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work (1).

Year: n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

The Devil Made Me Define It

Given the definitions below from Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, see if you can come up with the appropriate word.

  1. n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
  2. Adj. Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket or a left.
  3. n. The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.
  4. n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage . . . .
  5. n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.
  6. n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.
  7. n. A rich thief.
  8. n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.
  9. n. A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.
  10. n. A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey (1).

Today’s Challenge:  The Glass is Half Full and Half Empty
What are some examples of nouns that you would find in a book called ‘The ABCs of Life’?  Select five nouns that represent universal aspects of human experience, such as school, walking, breakfast, parents, and job.  Next, generate two contrasting creative definitions for each of your words.  For the first, follow Bierce’s example from the Devil’s Dictionary and write a definition that reflects a cynical, pessimistic mindset.  For the second definition, put yourself in a positive, optimistic frame of mind.

JOB:

Half Empty Definition:  A tedious way to spend one third of each day in exchange for a few greenbacks.

Half Full Definition:  A daily opportunity to transform your passion into a livelihood.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: There is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so. -William Shakespeare

Answers: 1. telephone 2. ambidextrous 3. wit 4. love 5. patriot 6. heaven 7. kleptomaniac 8. peace 9. dentist 10. fashion

1 – Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil’s Dictionary. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.

 

June 21:  Bibliophile Day

On this date in 2003, 16-year old Emerson Spartz traveled nearly 4,000 miles, from Chicago to London, to buy a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Spartz could have stayed in the United States since the American release of the book was on the same day as the British release, but Spartz said that he wanted to be “where the story began” and to “feel the weight of that book” (1). The fifth installment in the Harry Potter series, Order of the Phoenix weighed in at 768 pages.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.jpgAlmost ten years earlier the New York Times featured an article called The End of Books that speculated whether or not books and other print-based media were on their way out, being superseded by computer technology, principally hypertext. This is certainly not the first time that anyone prematurely declared books dead. As early as 1894 Scribner’s Magazine published an article entitled The End of Books, relaying the predictions of Arthur Blackcross, who claimed that inventions like the photograph and the Kinetoscope, the first silent movie projector, would replace the antiquated written page.

John H. Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston, makes an interesting analogy, challenging the conventional wisdom that says that new technologies replace old ones:

So, are paper books doomed? Oddly enough, they’re not. Think about pianos. Pianos evolved from harpsichord improvements. But soon they were something wholly different. You still need a harpsichord for harpsichord music. In this century, cars replaced horses. But cars aren’t much use in rough, roadless country (2).

Lienhard continues to argue in the article that books do something for us that no other media can. Instead of just supplying us with images and sounds in a passive manner, books allow us to participated in the creation of images as we read actively and interact imaginatively with the text. Perhaps that’s why readers like Emerson Spartz are willing to travel to distant cities to feel the weight of a book in their own hands.

And speaking of distant cities –the Greek word for book biblos originates from the name of a Phoenician city, Byblos, renowned for its manufacturing of paper from the Egyptian papyrus plant. It’s the same root from which we get the word Bible, meaning book of books.

Bibliomania

A book for all book lovers(sometimes called bibliophiles) is A Passion for Books, a treasury of stories, essays, and lists all related to books. In a chapter called Bibliolexicon, it lists a number of words with the biblio root. See if you can match up each word with its correct definition. When you finish, go to your local bookstore and buy a book.

  1. Bibliobibule
  2. Biblioclast
  3. Bibliodemon
  4. Biblioklept
  5. Bibliolater
  6. Bibliophage
  7. Bibliophobe
  8. Biblioriptos
  9. Bibliosopher
  10. Bibliotaphe

A. One who steals books
B. One who buries or hides books
C. One who worships books
D. One who tears pages from or otherwise destroys books
E. A book fiend or demon
F. One who eats or devours books
G. One who reads too much
H. One who fears books
I. One who throws books around
J. One who gains wisdom from books (3)

Today’s Challenge:   RUSH for MORE Books
What are four books that should be on every bookshelf? What four books should readers buy today, read immediately, and keep on their bookshelf forever?  Make your argument for your Mount Rushmore of books.  Give a brief overview of each book along with an explanation of why each book is so essential.  (Common Core Writing – 1)

Quotation of the Day:  A room without books is like a body without a soul. Marcus Tullius Cicero

Answers: 1. G 2. D 3. E 4. A 5. C 6. F 7. H 8. I 9. J 10. B

1 – Grobman, Paul. Vital Statistics: An Amazing Compendium of Factoids, Minutiae, and Random Bits of Wisdom. New York: Plume Books, 2005.

2 – Lienhard, John H. Engines of Ingenuity Episode No. 2009: “The End of Books: 1894

3 – Rabinowitz, Harold and Rob Kaplan (Editors). Passion for Books: A Book Lover’s Treasury. New York: Times Books, 1999.

June 18:  Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary Day

On this date in 1746 Dr. Samuel Johnson, poet and critic, signed a contract with bookseller Robert Dodsley to write the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language. Johnson thought he would complete the project in three years, but the dictionary was not completed and published until April 15, 1755.

Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds.jpgAlthough it took six years longer than he first estimated, it was worth the wait. The dictionary contained 40,000 words and definitions, along with 114,000 supporting quotations, and is written with precision, clarity, and wit. Johnson did for English in nine years what it had taken 40 French lexicographers 40 years to complete for the French language (1).

Here are few examples of words and definition from Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language:

Amulet: An appended remedy, or preservative: a thing hung about the neck, or any other part of the body, for preventing or curing some particular diseases.

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.

Microscope: An optick instrument, contrived various ways to give to the eye a large appearance of many objects which could not otherwise be seen.

Zootomy: Dissection of the bodies of beasts.

In his Preface, Johnson talks about the challenges he faced in trying to harness the recalcitrant words of English:

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity, and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority.

Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as experience and analogy suggested to me; experience, which practice and observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others.

Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language set the standard for future dictionaries. Unlike other languages like French and Italian that established academies to fix the language and prescribe how words should be used, Johnson’s approach was not to prescribe but to describe the language. In this way, instead of fixing the language Johnson registered the English language by basing his definitions not solely upon his own whims, but upon the written record of centuries of writers in English. In the words of Simon Winchester, Johnson’s method created “a whole new way of dictionary making, and an entirely new intellectual approach to the language, had been inaugurated” (2).

Johnson’s process inspired the writers of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose 10 volumes were completed in 1928. And still today English lexicographers take the descriptive approach to dictionary writing by reading all kinds of published words and recording how the meaning of words are changing and what new words are appearing.

Today’s Challenge: The Only Constant is Change
If you were writing a dictionary, what are ten words — all starting with the same letter — that you would define?  New editions of dictionaries in English are published every year because the language is constantly changing. Because of this change, some of the words from Johnson’s Dictionary have very different definitions today than they did in 1755. Visit the online edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, and select five unfamiliar words.  Record the parts of speech and definitions of the words.  (Common Core Language – 4)

Quote of the Day: At painful times, when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction. -Elizabeth Barrett Browning

1 – McCrum, Robert, Wiliam Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

2 -Winchester, Simon. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hitchings, Henry. Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/

June 16:  Bloomsday

Today is the anniversary of one of the most important dates in the history of fiction. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, one of the 20th century’s most important and most controversial novels, takes place on one day: June 16, 1904. The novel tracks the day in the life of three characters, Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, as they walk the streets of Dublin, Ireland.

JoyceUlysses2.jpgAlthough the book is set in Dublin, the characters and events parallel Homer’s Greek epic the Odyssey. But Ulysses is not written in verse nor a traditional prose style; instead, Joyce’s novel employs stream of consciousness narration, where instead of moving in a linear fashion, the story flows from the impressions, random thoughts, sensations, and associations of the characters. In an attempt to imitate the natural flow of the characters’ thoughts and dialogue, Joyce omitted conventional punctuation. This, along with the novel’s many allusions to history and literature, make the novel notoriously hard to read.

Here is a brief excerpt of the opening of the novel:

STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:–

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

— Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

Even before Ulysses was published it stirred up controversy because of its sexual passages. The novel was banned in the United States until 1933, when a New York judge ruled that the book was not obscene.

Born in Dublin in 1882, Joyce attended Catholic schools in Ireland and earned a degree in Latin. This probably explains his selection of the name of Ulysses for his protagonist, since Ulysses is the Roman name for the main character in Homer’s epic poem, while Odysseus is the Greek name (1).

June 16 is a date where fans of Joyce hold public readings of Ulysses, and in Dublin, fans retrace the steps of the book’s characters.

One resource traces 365 days of “events that did not really happen.” It’s called The Book of Fictional Days by Bob Gordon. Gordon’s book ties each day of the year to events from fiction and film.

Today’s Challenge: What and When It Didn’t Happen

What are the most memorable events from fiction?  If you could memorialize one specific event from fiction on one specific day, what would it be?  Select one unforgettable fictional moment in a book you love.  You may not know the exact day, but describe the specific event, what happened, and why you think it is so memorable.   For example, in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird the climactic events of the novel’s final chapter — Chapter 31 — occur on Halloween night.  Bob Ewell attacks Scout and Jem.  Boo saves the children and stabs Ewell.  After seeing Boo in the flesh for the first time, Scout escorts him home.

The following dates and events below are from The Book of Fictional Days (2).

January 12:  HAL 9000 becomes operational in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

February 1:  Willy Wonka gives a tour of his chocolate factory.

February 14:  Sam Baldwin and Annie Reed meet at the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle.

February 26:  James Leer shoots Poe (Professor Grady Tripp’s lover’s husband’s dog).

May 1:  Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf return to Rivendell and the house of Elrond in The Hobbit.

May 15:  Horton the elephant hears a small noise in Horton Hears a Who.

June 3:  Billy Joe McAllister jumps off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

June 19:  Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee arrives in Camelot (1528).

(Common Core Writing 2  – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Mistakes are the portals of discovery. –James Joyce

1 – Raftery, Miriam. 100 Books That Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2002.

2 – Gordon, Bob. The Book of Fictional Days: A Collection of Events That Did Not Really Happen. Korea: Tide-mark Press Ltd., 2003.

http://lithub.com/50-fictional-days-immortalized-in-literature/

June 12:  Daily Diary Day

On this day in 1942, a 13-year-old girl received a birthday gift — a red and white checkered autograph book.  Instead of collecting the signatures of others in the book, the girl decided to use the book as a diary to record her own thoughts.  

AnneFrankSchoolPhoto.jpgThe young girl was Anne Frank, the German-Jewish girl who went into hiding with her family during World War II. She spent 25 months hiding in an annex above her father’s office in Amsterdam before she and her family were betrayed, arrested, and transported to Nazi concentration camps.

While Anne died of typhus in 1945 at the age of fifteen at Bergen-Belsen, the diary that she received for her thirteenth birthday in 1942 was saved and published by her father in 1947. Over five million Jews died in the Holocaust, but through her diary, one voice lives on to remind us that in times of humiliation, degradation, and even during the horrors of war, the human spirit can be triumphant.

In her diary, Anne’s remarkable courage and vivid insights into the human condition live on. Anne’s diary has inspired millions of readers around the world and has been translated into 67 languages (1).

From the very beginning Anne wrote in her diary as if she were talking to an intimate friend; in fact, she even gave it a name, Kitty, and throughout her entries she addresses it by name.

In one of her last diary entries in July 1944, the maturity, wisdom, and honesty of Anne’s voice:

“For in its innermost depths youth is lonelier than old age.” I read this saying in some book and I’ve always remembered it, and found it to be true. It is true then that grownups have a more difficult time here than we do? No. I know it isn’t. Older people have formed their opinions about everything, and don’t waver before they act. It’s twice as hard for us young ones to hold our ground, and maintain our opinions, in a time when all ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when people are showing their worst side, and do not know whether to believe in truth and right and God (2).

The word diary comes from Latin diarium, “daily allowance, daily journal” a derivation of dies, “day .”

Today’s Challenge: Today is the First Day of the Diary of Your Life

What would you say in the first entry of a daily diary that you started today?  You don’t need to wait until your birthday to start a diary. At the end of your day today, take a moment and reflect back on what you did, what you said, and what you heard. Write down anything that you think might be worth remembering, what might be worth a second thought, or what might be noteworthy ten years from now.  If you can’t think of anything to write about, follow Anne’s example and record your reaction to what someone else has said or written.

Here are a few of Anne’s thoughts as examples:

-We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.

-No one has ever become poor by giving.

-Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction.

-Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. –Anne Frank

1- Anne Frank Center, USA. http://www.annefrank.com/1_life.htm

2- Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

 

February 18: Sequel Day

On this date in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the United States.  Since its publication, the language of Twain’s novel has sparked controversy, yet it remains a book unparalleled in its influence.  Unlike other American novels of the time which were imitations of European literature, Huckleberry Finn was a truly American book, the first to be written in the American vernacular.  Twain’s revolutionary move was to give the narration of his book to the uneducated, unwashed Huck, who speaks in dialect and introduces himself in the novel’s famous first sentence:

Huckleberry Finn book.JPGYou don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another . . . .    

Ernest Hemingway praised Twain’s book, saying, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn’ . . . . All American writing comes from that.  There was nothing before.  There has been nothing as good since.”  

Twain began write his masterpiece in 1876, but after writing 400 pages he set it aside unfinished.  At one point Twain threatened to burn the unfinished manuscript, but luckily he took it out of his drawer and went back to work on it in 1882, finishing in August 1883.

Twain’s novel is so influential and so distinctive that some forget that it was a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).  It is the rare sequel that achieves the level of its predecessor, let alone eclipses it.  

In 1995, American novelist E.L. Doctorow highlighted the differences between the two books, pointing out that Twain’s motivation was to take on the issues of racism and slavery in his sequel — issues he had ignored in Tom Sawyer:

But Twain had to have understood, finally, that, in its celebratory comedy, his book [‘Tom Sawyer’] was too sentimental, too forgiving of the racist backwater that had nurtured him.  He had ignored slavery as if it hadn’t existed.  And after all was said and done his Tom Sawyer character was a centrist, a play rebel, who, like Twain, had been welcomed into the bosom of a ruling society he sallied against.

Today’s Challenge:   It Takes II to Tango

What are some examples of great sequels, great books or movies, that continue the story of an original book or movie?  Make your argument for the single sequel, book or movie, that you think is the best, and explain what makes the sequel so great.  See the list of examples below.  Don’t assume your reader has read the book or seen the movie. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Books:

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

That Was Then, This Is Now  by S.E. Hinton

The Odyssey by Homer

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Movies:

The Color of Money

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

The Bourne Supremacy

Monsters University

The Matrix Reloaded

Quotation of the Day:  It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened- Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. -Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

 

February 1:  From News to Novel Day

Robinson Crusoe 1719 1st edition.jpgOn this date we celebrate two influential works of fiction, both influenced by actual events. The first was Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), a novel based on the real-life castaway Alexander Selkirk, who was rescued on this date in 1709.  

A black cover depicting a woman swimming and a shark coming towards her from below. Atop the cover is written "Peter Benchley", "Jaws" and "A Novel".The second work of fiction is the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley, published on this date in 1974.  The idea for the book, Benchley’s first novel, began ten years earlier in 1964 when Benchley read a news story about a 4,550 pound Great White shark caught off the beaches of Long Island, New York. The brief news story sparked Benchley’s imagination:  “And I thought right then ‘What if one of these things came round and wouldn’t go away?’” (1).

The true story behind the fictional Robinson Crusoe begins in 1704.  Alexander Selkirk was a Sailing Master aboard the Cinque Ports, an English frigate fighting with Spanish vessels off the coast of South America.  When the captain of the Cinque Ports stopped at a desert island to re-stock supplies of fresh water, Selkirk refused to get back on board due to the ship’s less than seaworthy condition.  When the Cinque Ports left him behind, Selkirk hoped to quickly flag down another ship. This, however, was a more difficult task than he imagined.

Selkirk spent the next four years alone on the island, surviving primarily by hunting and eating goats, which were in plentiful supply on the island.  Unfortunately for Selkirk, rats were also in plentiful supply.  They would gnaw at his clothes and his feet as he tried to sleep.  To solve this problem, Selkirk domesticated several cats he found on the island, employing them to keep his campsite rat-free.

Finally on February 1, 1709, Selkirk was rescued when two British ships spotted his signal fire. When the landing party came ashore, they were astonished by Selkirk’s appearance:  he looked like a wild man dressed from head to toe in goat skins.

In 1713 an account of Selkirk’s ordeal was published, and six years later, influenced by Selkirk’s adventures, Daniel Defoe published his novel Robinson Crusoe*.  Defoe’s book went on to become one of the most widely read books in history and is recognized today as the first work of realistic fiction.  Selkirk and Defoe also influenced world geography; in 1966 Mas a Tierra, the Pacific island which Selkirk inhabited for four years and four months, was renamed Robinson Crusoe.  A separate island, 100 miles west, has been renamed Alejandro Selkirk (2).

Like Defoe’s novel, the story of Jaws also follows an interesting path from fact to fiction.  The novel’s author Peter Benchley was working as a journalist in 1971 when he had lunch with a publisher from Doubleday.  They discussed Benchley’s book ideas which were all non-fiction.  At the end of the meeting the publisher asked Benchley, who had never written fiction, if he had any ideas for a novel.  At that point Benchley remembered the 1964 news story about the colossal shark caught off of Long Island.  He told the publisher,  “I want to tell the story of a Great White shark that marauds the beaches of a resort town and provokes a moral crisis.”

When Jaws was published on February 1, 1974, it made Benchley one of the most successful first-time novelists of all time.  The book spent 44 months on the New York Times bestseller list and sold over 20 million copies.  Benchley went on to co-write the screenplay for the book’s wildly successful film version; today the film Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, is recognized as the movie that invented the summer blockbuster.

Today’s Challenge:  All the Fiction That’s Fit to Print

What story from today’s newspaper could you adapt for a short story?  Select a story from a recent newspaper, and use the facts from the true story to spark your imagination.  Generate a central conflict from the true story that might be used in a fictional story, such as an individual fighting to survive alone on a desert island or a town struggling to survive attacks from a killer shark. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth. -Albert Camus

*The complete original title of Defoe’s novel is:  The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.

1-http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3400291.stm

2-http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/scottishhistory/europe/oddities_europe.shtml

 

January 27:  The Book of Qualities Day

On this date in 1984, J. Ruth Gendler published The Book of Qualities. In Gendler’s unique book she writes individual profiles of over 50 human emotions, using personification to bring each to life.  In Gendler’s book we’re reintroduced to familiar emotions, like joy, innocence, and discipline — not just as abstract ideas, but as living breathing individuals.  

Each of the profiles is an excellent reminder of the power of personification to enliven writing.  In our normal life we don’t have the power to breath life into inanimate objects.  When we write, however, he can wield this rhetorical superpower by employing personification.  With personification, it’s as if we’re putting arms and legs on an idea, allowing it to walk around the room, and teaching it to talk.

In the following examples, Gendler employs personification to introduce us to “Despair,” “Stillness,” and “Confidence.”   Notice how she employs specific action verbs and concrete nouns:

Despair papered her bathroom walls with newspaper articles on acid rain.

Stillness will meet you for tea or a walk by the ocean.

Confidence ignores “No Trespassing” signs.  It is as if he doesn’t see them.  He is an explorer, committed to following his own direction.

Today’s Challenge:  Abstractions in the Flesh

How would you bring an abstract human emotion to life using personification?  Write a profile of at least 60 words on one specific human emotion.  Use your imagination to explore what the emotion would look like, what kinds of things it would be doing, and what it might say if it could talk.  Select one of the qualities below from The Book of Qualities, or come up with one of your own.  

Anger, Beauty, Certainty, Doubt, Excitement, Fear, Guilt, Honesty, Imagination, Jealousy, Loneliness, Perfection, Suffering, Terror

Before you write your profile, read the following example.  It’s on humor; one quality that Gendler doesn’t write about in The Book of Qualities:

Humor is unpredictable.  He hides around corners and jumps out when you least expect him.  He’s optimistic, healthy, and smart.  Never depressing or anxious, he thrives on the unsuspected and spontaneous.  He’s a great companion, constantly reminding you to loosen up, look at the bright side, and smile more often.  He loves to break up fights — when he’s around no one has the strength to make a fist.

Quotation of the Day:  There is no armor against fate; death lays his icy hands on kings. -Jane Shirley

1-Gendler, J. Ruth.  The Book of Qualities.  New York:  HarperPerennial, 1984.

 

 

January 21:  Novel First Lines Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of the first novel in America, The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature.  When the book was first released in 1789, it was published anonymously.  Later, however, William Hill Brown, a 24 year-old Bostonian, came forward to claim authorship.

Although the novel is not remembered today for its literary excellence, it is characteristic of it time.  Reflecting a popular 18th century literary device, the novel was epistolary, that is, its story is told via letters between characters.  The novel involves an illicit love triangle and is written as a cautionary tale.  Some speculate that Brown published his novel anonymously because the details of his plot were based on actual events in the lives of his Boston neighbors.

Although there are certainly examples of long fiction that might be called novels before the 1700s, it was the 18th century that launched the popularity of this “new form” of extended narrative, best exemplified by the works of English writers Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding.

Today’s Challenge:  Blackjack Sentences

How can you captivate a reader by writing a 21-word opening sentence of a short story or novel?  To celebrate America’s first novel, your task is to craft a novel first line for a story that is exactly 21 words.  Think about a narrative hook that will grab your reader.  

Here’s an example:

At 7:10 am that Monday morning, Bill awoke to the choking sound of his cat, Hamlet, vomiting violently on his pillow.

There is nothing magical about 21 words, but writing to an exact word count will force you to pay attention to the impact of each word you write. It will also force you to pay careful attention as you revise and edit.  When you write the first draft of your sentence, don’t worry about word count.  Get some ideas and details down on paper first.  Then go back and revise, making every word count — up to exactly 21 (no more, no fewer).

The sentences below are some examples of opening sentences from American novels.  They are not 21 words, but they will give you a flavor for the ways different novelists have opened their works:

You may now felicitate me — I have had an interview with the charmer I informed you of. -William Hill Brown, The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature.  (1789)

I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. —Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.  -Jane Austen

1-http://mentalfloss.com/article/74019/7-fascinating-facts-about-first-american-novel

 

 

January 16:  Eponymous Adjective Day

On this day in 1605 Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote.  Cervantes’ novel, originally written in Spanish, remains one of the most influential, most reprinted, and most translated books ever written.

El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.jpgThe novel’s plot begins with an ordinary man named Alonso Quijano who voraciously reads romantic tales of chivalry.  Alonso becomes so obsessed with the stories of knights errant that he decides to become one himself.  Taking the new name Don Quixote de La Mancha, he mounts his horse Rocinante and joins forces with his sidekick Sancho Panza to battle the forces of evil and to defend the weak.

Deluded and clearly insane, Don Quixote attacks windmills, thinking they are hulking giants.  Ordinary inns to Quixote become castles, and peasant girls become beautiful princesses.

Literary critics call Don Quixote the first modern novel, and the critic Harold Bloom argued that only Shakespeare approached the genius of Cervantes’ writing.   William Faulkner read Don Quixote every year and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaimed Don Quixote his favorite literary character (1).

Often when an idea or a style originates from a specific person, that idea or style takes on new meaning, not just as a noun but as an adjective.  There are many examples of these proper nouns that become eponymous adjectives (sometimes called proper adjectives), such as:  Darwinian, Epicurean, or Kafkaesque.  When proper adjectives spring from literature, it’s usually the author’s name that become transformed from noun to adjective (as in Orwellian, Shakespearean, or Byronic), but occasionally a character comes along who is so distinct and so unique that the character’s name takes on a more general adjectival meaning.  Cervantes’ Don Quixote is such a character.  Check any dictionary and you will see that the adjective quixotic refers not just to Cervantes’ famous knight, but also to anyone who is “exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic, or impractical.”

Today’s Challenge:  Autobiography of an Adjective

What are some examples of adjectives that derive from the name of a specific person, real or imaginary?  Select one of the eponymous adjectives below and research the etymology of the word, including the biography of the person behind the word.  Then, imagine the person behind the word is telling the story of how he or she became so well know that his or her name became an adjective.  Also, have the person explain the meaning of their adjective as it is used today and also what ideas or styles it embodies? (Common Core Writing  2 – Expository)

Arthurian

Byronic

Chauvinistic

Darwinian

Dickensian

Epicurean

Faustian

Hippocratic

Jeffersonian

Kafkaesque

Leninist

Lutheran

Marxist

Newtonian

Oedipal

Orwellian

Platonic

Pyrrhic

Reaganesque

Sisyphean

Stentorian

Trepsicordian

Victorian

Wilsonian

Zoroastrian

Quotation of the Day:  It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth. —Miguel de Cervantes

1- http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/dec/13/classics.miguelcervantes

 

TAGS:  autobiography, Cervantes, Don Quixote, eponymous adjective, proper adjective