(Un)Comfortable Reading Positions or “Norton Neck-Cramps”

There’s a common problem plaguing english grad students — in fact, it may have spread to all students generally. It is a problem oft dismissed as irrelevant; never talked about; never addressed, and students suffer alone when confronting it. I of course refer to this:

The 3,000 page neck-aching Norton Anthologies: textbooks that work your mind as well as your forearms. Pictured here is my Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Just look at it! It laughs at your futile attempts to read it comfortably. The first 500 pages or so are by far the worst of the experience — the book constantly shutting from the stress on its binding. Sometimes I look forward to mid-semester only because the book balances better on a table. Word of caution: do not attempt to read this book in bed, unless you have two spotters (very few people do). If you read it in a chair with your lap (which sounds reasonable) you will find your eyes cannot make out the micro-print typeface. The book must be 10-12 inches from the eyes, and the only way to accomplish this is on a flat table, with your neck precariously hinged, taking frequent breaks to relieve the stressors on said neck.



Fortunately, that has all changed. I’ve finally discovered a more comfortable way to read this book! I never thought I’d see this day, but alas: Behold, the book holder!

This ingenious device props books upright allowing it to be read easily at eye-level, relieving neck stress, minimizing head movements, and overall providing a more comfortable and healthy reading posture for uber-large textbooks.

In my mind, this is a revolutionary find (though, apparently a hushed secret among law students who have known about it for years: damn lawyers and their secret clubs!). I bought mine from Amazon for about 8$ and love it. It has already dramatically improved my reading experience, and as result, no doubt will seep into better grades. Simply search for “book holder” on Amazon and always remember who showed you the way 😉

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Statement of Purpose Writing Tips

Statement of Purpose essays are incredibly difficult to write. This past April, I began the application process anew for my PhD. Of course among the items required was a statement of purpose. Worse, I read it’s often considered the most important component of the application. The doctoral degree emphasizes specialization, focus and (gulp) “purpose.” Add to that, if you’re applying to a program where “writing” is central to success (English for instance) a Statement of Purpose holds evermore weight.

But after tips from friends, professors, and after studying several samples, I discovered advice to help craft a decent Statement of Purpose.

The following are 10 tips for anyone needing to write a Statement of Purpose for graduate school.

  1. Be humble. Don’t be a know-it-all who writes-out advice in lists of ten simple and fairly obvious statements.
  2. Leave the lofty goals and ambitions to Miss America pageants: Be real and be yourself. The world will not be a better place if you’re accepted to graduate school. True, you are special and unique; however, there are billions of people who are also special and unique. So, act accordingly after weighing in that proportion. A “real” person is much more refreshing and interesting then someone effusively optimistic/naive.
  3. Your opening sentence and/or opening paragraph are the most important parts. Spend time with them. Don’t make them generic and don’t take over-the-top risks to stand out; like opening with a haiku or some unnecessarily provocative statement.
  4. Stand out with specificity.
  5. Avoid all and every sort of cliche.
  6. Demonstrate focus and drive indirectly through illustration. Don’t explicitly say something about yourself that cannot be corroborated.
  7. Keep a common thread running through the essay.
  8. While you may not know exactly what you want to focus on in graduate school, it helps to highlight a focus area. There must be at least one thing you’re interested in. Find out what that is and talk about it. Allow your own natural interest to color your enthusiasm (don’t feign excitement when it’s not there).
  9. Have different people read your essay to offer their feedback. Think about using custom assignment help.
  10. Re-read the first paragraph of your essay and honestly ask yourself “If I were a random stranger, would I want to read on?” If not, don’t feel afraid to scrap that entire paragraph. It’s not about length, it’s about quality of content. Sentences should be painfully crafted, revisited, rewritten — polished to death as it were. If your statement of purpose doesn’t take you over a week to write, or if it doesn’t look drastically different than the first rough draft, it’s probably not ready for submission.

Explore yourself through the essay. You may come to discover that you have a clearer idea of yourself and your own purpose for pursuing graduate work by the very act of writing about it. In some respect, it can be an exercise for yourself.

Okay now, here’s a test: look at the paragraph you just read right before this. If any part of your essay reads like that, delete it! While it contains a modicum of truth, it’s wrapped in corny, lofty, non-specific, language that reads a bit like pablum — which has no place in your essay!

A Sample Statement of Purpose Essay

Review: “We The Living,” by Ayn Rand

Review: “We The Living,” Ayn Rand (Book 34 of 100)

WE THE LIVING is a great and interesting novel—though to be frank, I wouldn’t necessarily place it on the all-time top 100 book list. My suspicion is that it landed on this list much the same way that 12 Charles de Lint novels did, or 4 L. Ron Hubbards: in a word, “obsession.” There is such a cult-following surrounding the works of Ayn Rand that label anything she’s ever produced as worthy of unquestioned acclaim. Admittedly, I have immensely enjoyed a few of her other works, particularly “The Fountainhead,” a book I read in High School—though not for any class.

How did it happen—my reading that novel? (What’s that? You didn’t ask? Pardon the rhetorical, it serves as a segue for my sharing.) Maybe 10 years ago, in a physics class, a girl named Jessica had said something to a group of people that I happened to overhear. She and a few of her dorky friends that were all in the same “AP English” class were commiserating together—and out loud of course. To be sure, they were a tedious pretentious posse of privileged, pretty girls: sometimes obsequious, sometimes sycophantic, but always hard to ignore. Jessica, the more gregarious alpha-prig of the group had dropped the mention of this novel to my ears for the first time, “The Fountainhead.” Of course, this wasn’t nearly enough persuasion to pick up the strange book for myself, but I remember to this day something she had said soon after that motivated me toward it. What she said was that her older sister had read the book before, and had claimed, “It changed her life.” What an assertion! My interest was immediately piqued. How a fiction novel can change someone’s life, this I had to see for myself. I immediately purloined a copy and dug right in.

After reading, “The Fountainhead,” I actually had to admit it: I think the book did change my life. It is a silly story, with frankly a dull plot, and often very unrealistic dialogue and circumstances, however, there is something laced within the pulp that may adjust your view on certain things. What those certain things are, I haven’t the slightest idea—which I realize is very unhelpful. But, that book, for certain, I really do recommend. Although, I suspect that that same profound effect the book had on me then, was probably augmented by my having still been in High School. Whether it would have a similar affect now—assuming I had never read it—I cannot say for certain, but I’m very willing to doubt it.

Having said that, and now realizing that I’ve said very little about my topic book, “We The Living,” I hope I’ve at least set the background to the extratextual associations surrounding the works of Ayn Rand in many lives, as well as my own, and also in large part to why her books are so sanctimoniously revered—regardless of their literary merit.

“We The Living” was Ayn Rand’s first novel, and like her later works, contains a layer on top of the narrative—best described only as spiritual—that is less substantial and often unrealistic—or perhaps, just Russian. The characters bleed emotion, and are incredibly complex. They engage in philosophical transcendental musings and acts that truly take place nowhere aside from the closed sphere of printed matter. One thing for certain, the book does offer an excellent first-person glimpse into the specifics of communist Russia during the 1920s. You can hear the shouts at the picket rallies, the windy dogmatic speeches bellowing in repetitive ideology to a receptive, though desperately starving, and utterly impoverished proletariat. But, and more closer-to-home, you can see what it’s like to not have a ration card, and try in earnest to support an ailing family. To see your wife cough-out blood and die on a bed, after being refused at a hospital for less-than-perfect party alliances. It is often, a very sad story. If I say more, I would risk ruining it for any that might want to read it.

To describe in brief the general plot, it is about a woman,– a young girl at first–Kira Argnovask-too-long-to-remember, as she grows up in an environment that is completely changing, mostly, if not all, for the worse. But instead of becoming consumed by the exerternalities outside of her control, and falling-in, capitulating, she does what she can to keep her sense of self from being conquered.

As you can see, it is hard for me to describe this book without wading into the metaphysical. In short, I will say that I enjoyed “We The Living.” It wasn’t as fast moving as some other books that I’ve read, and as such, was a bit harder to get into. However, the novel is incredibly complex—one can probably develop an entire course around the book. And I’m sure, I haven’t given this book nearly the credit it deserves. It would probably take me a few more gray hairs, and years under my eyes, and certainly a few more readings, to begin to approach that. But, if you are looking for something deep; if Anna Karenina is your favorite novel; if you have Ayn Rand posters in your bedroom, and an “I’m with Ayn” bumper-sticker on your ’87 Bug, then this book is certainly for you.

Time’s Top Ten

I don’t know if this is copyrighted or not (i’ll just assume not) but I found this list on Time Magazine that tries to identify the top 10 books of all time! “Top 10?”… please! Truth be told, such a statement is so trite and overused, that if our ears had spam filters, they would be lodged in there right after the words “Top 10”. But after reading the essay that precedes Time’s little pronouncement, and being charmfully beguiled by their clever writing, I’m actually quite impressed with the list. If you swap ‘1’ with ‘3’, and ‘2’ with ‘6’, I think it’s spot-on–at least the first 7. I’ve never read 8,9,10 — but who can argue with Time?

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  7. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
  10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

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Do(n’t) read The Kite Runner

My cousin had suggested I read the Kite Runner, ensuring that I particularly would like it. I’m not sure what she meant by me particularly, but I really did enjoy it, and I think anyone that reads it would. Granted, I’m somewhat of a sap, as in, I don’t deal with sad stories very well (don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil any of this book), but this book, at the risk of sounding clique — which at times can’t be helped — this book is really great.

I know what you’re thinking. “Great. Great. Great. Great. Every book seems to be ‘Great'”, and of course, if you sat down and wanted to read every book that the New York Times, or some idiot in a blog (like me), claimed was “great”, you’d have to forfeit your job, or any other interests you might pretend to have, and spend the rest of your life reading. The problem, I think, is with tastes.

You realize, the ancients, the people of old, the people with bad teeth, long beards, wearing white robes while surreptitiously passing gas; these same people loved to arugue and put on airs of profound pontification. I’m talking about the ones responsible for phrases like “I think therefore I am”, which I’m certain I could have come up with had I the time and the gross unemployment. However, even these people recognized the futility of arguing against tastes: des gustibus non disputandam est. There’s no disputing taste.

So, if we’re to logically break this down, logic being the Skelton of philosophy, we end up with this conclusion:

Starting with an objective premise:

P1: You can’t Dispute Taste
P2: Which Implies: someone’s feelings on taste can never be wrong
P3: And equally, someone’s feelings on taste can never be right
P4: Since it is true, that taste can never be right, you shouldn’t listen to someone’s tastes

C: Therefore, don’t read anything anyone tells you is “great”. And, Reading Rainbow is a complete crock: “But don’t take my word for it”, what a bunch of balony.

So, don’t read The Kite Runner. Although, I’ll tell ya, it is a great book.

Sadie and Maud

By: Gwendolyn Brooks

Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine toothed comb.

She didn’t leave a tangle in
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chicks
In all the land.

Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.

When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie left as heritage
Her fine-toothed comb.)

Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.

*************************



Alright, you’re not making much sense. You break two months of silence with a cut-and-paste poem and write it off as a post? This I don’t accept. Explanations please.

Okay, okay. Some reasons for my brief hiatus:

1. My incorrigible laziness
2. My new job
3. School-work: papers and papers and papers, Courier New, and MLA, and citations, and ixnay on the personal pronouns, passive voice? What’s passive voice?

This is not a cut-and-paste poem–not exactly. There was a preceding Google search then the cut-and-paste. I actually had to write a paper on “Sadie and Maud” for class.

Before I began my own analysis, my roommate Mark gave a crack at it. He had a completely different take on this poem than I did–different but valid.

To him, Sadie was an alcoholic with a dissipated lifestyle who eventually commits suicide and passes on this lifestyle to her progeny. Mark maintains that the author is not favoring Sadie’s life over Maud’s but is sympathetic to both.

Interesting take on the poem, and I certainly don’t find it wrong.

My understanding is a little different. I don’t believe Sadie is as dissolute as Mark suggests but rather, admirably lives her life under her own choices. Maud on the other hand, lives the life she is expected to live. I don’t think Sadie commits suicide, and I think the legacy she leaves for girls is to sieze life with passion. Maud is the one to be sorry for, not Sadie.

So what do you think the poem means? Whose life appears better? Sadie or Maud?

full essay (doc|html)