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“It’s called the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’”

— Bruce Feiler in The Stories That Bind Us

A collection of covers for The Great Gatsby.

I first read a copy with a cover similar to this one.

my gatsby

Meanwhile, I would have been equally happy with either of these:

no gatsbyblack and white gatsby

With the graphs spread out in front of him, Bentley says, the patterns are easy to see. “The ’20s were the highest peak of joy-related words that we see,” he says. “They really were roaring.”

But then came 1941, which, of course, marked the beginning of America’s entry into World War II. It doesn’t take a historian to see that peaks and valleys like these roughly mirror the major economic and social events of the century.

– Alix Spiegel in Using Books to Map Emotions Through a Century

A fasinating and strange analysis of the text of billions of books.

The lookup logs from April 2003 read like a keyword list from a Tom Clancy novel: “regime”, “coalition”, “brigade”, “fatwa”, “semper fi”, “vanguard” and “propaganda” overwhelmed more mundane lookups like “affect” and “effect”. It was shock and awe, cinematic: things were happening so fast we could barely keep up. As the war progressed, “insurgent” shot to the top of the lookup list, then “collateral damage”.

There was one startling, enduring lookup that no one could have predicted: “democracy”. Democracy was in the top 20 lookups every year that coalition forces were in Iraq, and small wonder: were we not, after all, toppling a dictatorship and “bringing democracy to Iraq”?

— Kory Stamper in WMDs, RGPs, DHS: How the Iraq War Transformed the English Language

 My girl crush on Kory Stamper continues.

 

#13 Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

What do all great stories have in common?

The word “but.” Which is to say inexperienced or poor storytellers structure their material with the words “and” or “then.” So “They did this, and then they did that, and then they did this, and then they did that,” which produces an episodic structure that doesn’t build on anything, and there’s no relationship between what came before and what came after.

Without the surprise, without the twist, if you don’t pull the wool over the audience’s eyes, then it’s unlikely you’re going to be memorable. It’s precisely the fact that things are not what they seem that makes a story interesting.

– Howard Suber in UCLA Professor Explains How You Can Be a Better Storyteller

Remember, this National Grammar Day, that there are people all around you with varying degrees of knowledge of and appreciation for the intricacies of English. Instead of calling people out on March 4th for all the usages they get wrong, how about pointing out all the thing things that people–against all odds–get right? Can you correctly pronounce “rough,” “though,” “through,” and “thought”? Congratulations, you have just navigated the Great Vowel Shift.

— Kory Stamper in A Plea for Sanity This National Grammar Day

I take from this two things: 1) National Grammar Day is a thing that exists, and 2) we could all use a reminder about the importance of approaching grammar with an attitude of kindness.

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I have found my new favorite reason for having an iPad: Paragraph Shorts.

 

The vast majority of the world’s books, music, films, television and art, you will never see. It’s just numbers.

Now, everything gets dropped into our laps, and there are really only two responses if you want to feel like you’re well-read, or well-versed in music, or whatever the case may be: culling and surrender.

Linda Holmes in The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going to Miss Almost Everything