The Oxford University Press has compiled some of the best books from American literature to read when you’re looking to escape into a story. Of course, they started with Moby Dick – one of the “greatest books of American literature ever written.”
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
“Call me Ishmael.” And so begins one of the greatest books of American literature ever written. Melville masterfully weaves the threads of high-seas adventure, romanticism, and megalomania in one epic story. Is the white whale just a whale? Spend your holiday getting your sea legs and decide for yourself.
Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Gimlets, flappers, and a “Diamond as Big as the Ritz” make Fitzgerald’s eponymous collection of short stories an opulent time capsule of the roaring 20s. Included also is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, the inspiration for the Academy Award winning film. Get dressed to the nines as the band strikes up and discover why these stories are still the bee’s knees.
The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Other Stories by Jack London
How thin is the veneer of civilization? Does the brutality of nature force us to find our better, stronger selves? Meditate on these themes through the lens of London’s famous dog stories located on the near mythic landscape of the Alaskan Klondike. You’ll never warm your hands by a fire, or look at man’s best friend and feel the same way again. Continue reading →
The Oxford University Press blog has a weekly etymology series. This week Anatoly Liberman researches the origin of the word “simpleton” and finds it’s not so simple.
Simpleton is an irritating word. At first sight, its origin contains no secrets: simple + ton. And that may be all there is to it despite the obscurity of -ton. We find this explanation in the OED and in the dictionaries dependent on it. The word surfaced in the middle of the seventeenth century and must have been a facetious coinage, but we are not sure in what milieu it turned up, and quite often the etymologists’ biggest trouble is their ignorance of the initial environment of a new term. The earliest attestation sometimes misleads the researcher, because a popular word need not have been first recorded in its “cradle.” If we knew more about the center of dissemination of hobo, kibosh, and their likes, we might be able to offer truly persuasive hypotheses of their origin and discard others as untenable. Those who have read my posts on chestnut, masher, and dude will easily recognize the problem. Who were the wits responsible for launching simpleton, and why did it catch on? Samuel Johnson (1775) offered a piece of relevant information in that he called simpleton a low word. He often used this label and apparently knew what he was saying. We can assume that in his days simpleton was slang, cant (which is much worse than slang despite the horror stories told about slang at that time), or a dialectal word not fit for polite use. Continue reading →
The Oxford University Press always has interesting articles, with odd little tidbits of information. For instance here’s one on “crawling leaves” by Sonia Cruz:
‘Crawling leaves’ or ‘solar-powered sea slugs’ are common terms used to name some species of sacoglossan sea slugs capable of performing photosynthesis, a process usually associated with plants. These sea slugs ingest macroalgal tissue and retain undigested functional chloroplasts in special cells of their gut (kleptoplasty). The “stolen” chloroplasts (kleptoplasts) continue to photosynthesize, in some cases up to one year.
I ran across the blog Medieval POC while reading an article at the Oxford University Press. The focus of the blog is to “showcase works of art from European history that feature People of Color” and to “address common misconceptions that People of Color did not exist in Europe before the Enlightenment”. Here’s a recent post:
The all-white reinvention of Medieval Europe commonly depicted in popular fiction, films, tv shows and art is entirely that: a fiction. An invention. An erasure. Obviously, people of color have been an essential and integral part of European life, European art, and European literary imagination since time immemorial. To cite “historical accuracy” as a means to project whitewashed images of the past into the future to maintain a fiction of white supremacy is an unconscionable farce. Continue reading →
For those of us whose appreciation for art is simply a personal asthetic, a kind of “aha this speaks to me,” Arthur Shimamura’s article in the Oxford University Press may shed some light on how our brains experience it:
…over the past two decades, neuroimaging research has advanced our understanding of the biological bases of many mental functions to the point that it has completely revolutionized psychological science. What has become clear is that for a thorough analysis of any complex mental process, including our appreciation of art, we must characterize how neural processes interact in addition to where in the brain they occur. With respect to art, I suggest that when our sensory, conceptual, and emotional parts of our brain are all coordinated and extremely aroused—say 11 on a scale of 10—we experience that “wow” feeling, as one might have while standing in front of Michelangelo’s David or Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone.
Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone Arles, September 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And, although he applauds the budding intellectual fields such as “neuroaesthetics,” “neuroarthistory,” and “neurocinematics” that have cropped up, in the end, what informs our choices, Shimamura believes, is more than just a mechanical brain function.
We never experience art with naïve eyes. Rather we bring with us a set of preconceived notions in the form of our cultural background, personal knowledge, and even knowledge about art itself. In large measure, what we like is based on what we know. When we accept the fact that our art experience depends on a confluence of sensations, knowledge, and feelings, it becomes clear that there is no “art center” in the brain. Instead, when we confront art, we essentially co-opt the multitude of brain regions we use in everyday interactions with the world. Thus, with respect to “neuroaesthetics,” the question “How do we experience art?” can be simply answered as: “It’s a whole-brain issue, stupid!”
For the many talented poets and writers that visit my blog, the Oxford University Press is holding an essay competition:
Sharpen your claws… er, pencils…
It’s the summer of the superhero here at Oxford University Press. We’re publishing two essay collections on the real powers superheroes hold — on our imagination and our understanding of the world. Our Superheroes, Ourselves, edited by Robin S. Rosenberg, PhD, and What is a Superhero?, edited by Robin S. Rosenberg, PhD and Peter Coogan, PhD, look at some of our greatest superheroes (and supervillains) and explore what exactly makes them “super”. We immediately think of the superhuman powers that our heroes use to save the day. But then again, superpowers can be used for good or evil…
What do you want for your superpower and why? Just as the powers and abilities of Batman and Superman reveal their personal history, your choice reveals a great deal about yourself. So in the spirit of revealing the truth about our superheroes — and ourselves — we are holding an essay contest to find out exactly what you’re made of. Simply follow the guidelines below on submitting your essay and you could be wearing Oxford lycra before you know it (wearing Oxford lyrca = holding an Oxford book). Entries will be judged by Oxford University Press superhero staff experts (costumes optional; secret identities to be protected and all). Continue reading →