Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank you.


by Derek Spencer

I am thankful for all my teachers, who introduced me to fantastic works of literature, works that I may otherwise have never discovered.

I am thankful for my 9th-grade English teacher, who reminded me that rules of grammar, while important, should be broken if breaking them will help you more clearly convey your message.

I am thankful for my 10th-grade American Lit teacher, who allowed a few classmates and me to make a highly entertaining short video about The Crucible for a class project, and who also greatly expanded my vocabulary through direct vocabulary instruction.

I am thankful for my 11th-grade Brit Lit teacher, who rekindled my love affair with Arthurian legends and introduced me to the great Modernist poets.

I am thankful for my 12th-grade AP English teacher, who asked me to read one of my essays in front of the class, which taught me that creativity and a novel perspective are attributes that other people truly value.

My English teachers nurtured my desire to read wonderful texts that transported me to faraway lands, spoke of impossible futures, and depicted raw human nature at its most terrifying and most inspiring. I and everyone here at Prestwick House thank all those teachers out there who, like my teachers, transfer their electric enthusiasm for the written word to their students and spark an eternal flame in their minds.

Thank you so much. Have a happy, safe Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Instagrammar: Oxford crowns "selfie" word of the year

by Derek Spencer

Oxford Dictionaries has crowned "selfie" the word of the year for 2013, marking the third time since 2004 that the US and UK Word of the Year have been the same. For the full story, head to the Oxford Dictionaries blog:

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013: SELFIE

Whether you love or hate the word (not to mention the photograph genre), it's hard to deny selfie's ubiquity in the media this year. Passionate articles attacking the selfie have been written, as well as those in defense of the practice.

What do you think about selfie's coronation? Which words were snubbed? Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Happy birthday, Voltaire!

by Derek Spencer

Surprise, old friend!

Oh, of course we couldn't truly surprise you, you're much too perceptive for that . . . You're how old? 319, you say? I wouldn't have guessed — you don't look a day over 316 to me. Speaks to your remarkable vim and vigor, certainly, and your ideas are as fresh today as the day you first laid ink to the page.

. . . Yes, Candide was a challenge, you crafty rogue — a challenge to the established order of thought! Juvenal would have been proud. But perhaps you could have made the ending a bit more incontrovertibly cheerful, eh? . . . No, no, I agree, ending your tale that way was your prerogative; the author knows his own work better than the critic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the piece. After all, I don't want to end up like that joyless wretch of a critic you created, oh, what was his name . . . Pococurante! That's the very devil of which we speak. That poor soul simply forgot to enjoy life somewhere along the line.

Perhaps someday I'll have the opportunity to see a performance of one of your plays. I hadn't realized you had written so many! . . . Yes, I agree that Œdipe would be a fantastic work with which to start; your gentle tweaking of Oedipus Rex might be just the thing to spur a fresh evaluation of the source material.

Okay, I've talked your ear off long enough. By the way, have you had a slice of your birthday cake? The icing's rather bitter — I think you're gonna love it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Come see us at NCTE 2013

by Derek Spencer

If you're attending NCTE 2013 in Boston this weekend, we'd love to see you there!

Stop by our booth and chat a little bit with us — we want to hear about your struggles, your triumphs, your joyful moments in the classroom. Let us know what you want your students to achieve in their time with you, and tell us what we can do to help.

(Oh, and did I mention we're giving away books?)

Here's everything you need to know to find us:

Prestwick House Booth Numbers
Booths 1613 & 1712 (they're adjacent to one another, promise)

Convention Venue
Hynes Convention Center
900 Boylston St.
Boston, MA 02115
Exhibit Hall Times
Friday: Noon – 6PM
Saturday: 9AM – 5PM
Sunday: 9AM – 1PM

Hope to see you there!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The troubled printing of Moby-Dick: how tech errors affect more than just e-books

by Derek Spencer

Not content with destroying Ahab, the white whale went on to smash his creator's finances.

We don't often think of print books as objects that fall victim to technological problems. When we go out and buy a book, we expect our copy to be of the same quality and contain the same information as every other copy of the same edition of the book in existence.

Of course, we live in a time in which communication across continents is near-instantaneous and huge chunks of information can be sent almost anywhere in the world in seconds. When Herman Melville was writing, however, this was not the case.

This article from The Atlantic tells the sad but true story of how miscommunication, variations in copyright law between nations, and long printing times doomed Moby-Dick to a savage drubbing by critics. The book sold poorly as well, earning Melville merely $556.37 — an estimated $16,812 in 2013 dollars. Melville had financial troubles for the rest of his life.

But while printing errors are usually bad for authors, they can be great for collectors, as this article discussing nine very valuable misprints demonstrates. Apparently, a first edition of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises that contains one error — one error! — might be worth between $40,000 and $60,000. Crazy. So hang onto those printed books, collectors, because you won't be selling your e-books for that sort of cash.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rare Shakespeare First Folio soon on display in Philadelphia

by Derek Spencer

Photo by Ian's Shutter Habit @, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Ever wanted to see an original printing of Shakespeare's First Folio in person? If you live in or near Philadelphia, you'll get your chance soon.

As part of the free Shakespeare For All Time exhibition, the Philadelphia Free Library's Rare Book Department will be displaying this incredibly rare tome, along with the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios, from January 27 &ndash May 31, 2014.

The copy of the First Folio on display contains handwritten annotations that are over 300 years old — pretty exciting stuff.

You can find information about the Rare Book Department, including its street address and hours, here:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Etymology + Google Search =

by Derek Spencer

Edublogger extraordinaire Larry Ferlazzo writes that Google has added an etymology feature to its search function. It's easy to use — all you have to do is type "etymology" and then the word you're interested in, and Google will deliver an attractive chart that shows the history of the word.

It's not perfect; some words are missing, and I find myself wanting more information for some entries, but should I be expecting a full, detailed explanation in my search results? There are other resources available should I desire to dig deeper.

Overall, I think this is a nice step forward. It even shows how Latin and Greek prefixes, suffixes, and root words combine to make new words, and we think learning these Latin and Greek roots is a great way to study vocabulary.

Thanks, Google. For this one, you get a big from us!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Conflict and character development are forever conjoined

by Derek Spencer

Author Alan Sitomer is writing blog posts every day in November to help writers participating in NaNoWriMo. Today, he offers some insight into why conflict is central to any novel. Check it out here:

There's some great writing advice in this post, but I want to point out one outstanding paragraph that applies equally to reading and evaluating literature:

Basically all novels are, at the end of the day, about one thing: character and plot. Okay, that’s two things but they are so closely tied together in terms of importance, it’s better to simply view them as one single, two-headed monster. Luckily for us writers, each side of the head thrives on conflict. Plots are driven by it and character is revealed by it.

Plots are driven by conflict, and character is revealed by conflict. The way a character responds to a conflict reveals more information about that character, contributing to character development and potentially setting up future conflicts or character development.

When students recognize how conflict can contribute to character development, they're better equipped to evaluate how well the author handles these elements in a given text. A couple of questions students might want to ask themselves while reading a text:

  • Is a character's reaction to a conflict proportionate to the conflict, given what we know about the character? And if the character reacts in an uncharacteristic way, does the text justify this reaction?
  • Is the character development spurred by a conflict plausible, or does it seem to have been shoehorned in by the author?

Thinking about questions like these and examining why authors make the choices they do is an essential step toward evaluating texts not just as stories but as works of literature.

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo has begun!

by Derek Spencer

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2013 is now underway!

For those of you unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo challenges authors to write a 50,000-word novel in one month — from midnight on November 1st to 11:59 PM on November 30th.

It's an incredible challenge that requires some serious dedication, especially if you want to write a novel that actually holds together as opposed to one that's disjointed and bizarre . . . though, of course, that's what editing is for, right?

In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to write 1,666.67 words per day on average. So, um . . . best get crackin'.

(Perhaps I should take my own advice, as I've managed to bang out a piddling 380 words thus far — and even that took quite an effort. [Yikes.] )

Not in the mood to write yet? Procrastinate (but only a little) with this article, which lists a few works written in a tiny span of time (including Faulkner's As I Lay Dying!):

Are you and/or your students participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you participated before? Let us know about your experiences in the comments!

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.