edx.org as a means to enhancing your reading experience!

edx-logo-headerEver wanted to “dig deeper” into a piece of literature you really liked? Whether a classic or a modern novel, sometimes a books touch as so much that we want to learn more about it and just reading it once isn’t enough. That’s what book clubs are for, right? But nowadays there are more ways to do that.

One that I have found beautiful, clever and extremely helpful is the platforms for learning, such as Coursera or Edx. For those not  familiar with them, they are designed in such a way that the user can, for free, learn a series of subjects via videos and online reading material. The subjects are designed and run by universities around the world.

Untitled
Some of the courses available

I jumped at the chance to learn what I can from one of those courses. It is on the edx platform, in collaboration with Berkley University. The book discussed is A study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the first story of Sherlock Holmes. I have just finished week one, and it is quite good. It looks a lot like a virtual book club, where you are given a reading plan ( for example two chapters per week) and then discuss the chapters on the platform’s forums. There are glossaries to help you study deeper into the book, information about the author and their era, the historical and political  situation of the time,  and some quizzes at the end of the week so that you can see if you have grasped the essence of the story so far.

Overall, I would say it is a good experience. You exchange a lot of ideas, which is quite pleasant. The information you gather about the author and the era are also very interesting. It doesn’t require a lot of your time, just a couple of hours per week, so that is a pro. If you are interested in learning more, edx provides courses for a variety of books. Go ahead and take a look, you might find something really interesting.

The watchmaker of Filigree street

{AC3657CB-4C16-4B7D-BE06-C1FF6560D7FC}Img400London, 1884. Thaniel Steepleton comes home from work to find someone has broken into his flat and left an elaborate, expensive clock for him. Six months later, when the clock saves his life from a bomb explosion, Thaniel will try to find the watchmaker and get some answers. In the same time, Grace Carrow , a theoretical physicist, is struggling to become a respected scientist in a time when women were supposed to be strictly wives and child bearers, while her mother is desperately trying to get her married. When Thaniel and Grace meet the watchmaker, mysterious things start to happen.

This is a very good mystery, full of plot twists that will leave you gasping. Admittingly, you will have to give the book some time. Personally, I found the first twenty pages or so a bit boring, but after that the story became much better, and very interesting. The character of Mr. Mori, the watchmaker, is so elaborate and mysterious, that will have you binge reading in no time.

There is more to it than the actual plot, however. I loved the fact that the author handled serious issues in the book  in a way that it blends in completely. For example, it depicts aspects of racism (in this story it is English against Japanese), women in science and voting rights, and marriage as an obligation versus marriage for love. It is sweet, without being corny.

All in all, considering that it is the author’s first novel, The watchmaker of Filigree street is quite an achievement.  If you are into fantasy books, this is one worthy of your time, especially if Victorian era is a personally favourite of yours.

Words we owe to Shakespeare

Everybody knows Shakespeare. Well, not everyone, but come on, everyone who has ever read books. But did you know that the prolific writer had a flair for creating words? As a matter of fact, a multitude of words we use nowadays are attributed to Shakespeare and can, indeed , be proven to have firstly appeared  in his works. Here are some of those:

pizap.com14448224494331

Yes,seriously, he was the person to invent the phrase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pizap.com14448232727501

pizap.com14448230995781

pizap.com14448228155791

Inspiring female authors of the classics

Being an author is a great accomplishment in itself. Becoming an author two hundred years ago was a greater one, considering how hard it was to become one, what with the small number of publishing books and far smaller reading target groups. However, what I consider an even grander accomplishment is becoming a female author , which is why I admire some of the classics so much. So here are some intelligent, inspiring women who were not afraid to express themselves in difficult times, and to achieve what only few women in the world could in their era.

 

800px-SenseAndSensibilityTitlePageJane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817). One of the most widely read writers in English literature, her works include Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. Little is known of her personal life, it is ,however, known that she received a proper amount of education and was one of the “lucky” women of her era, as she is said to have been given free access to her father’s library, having therefore an access to literature that most women did not have. Her works were published anonymously, and therefore brought her little acknowledgement through her life. Her novels, however, quickly became fashionable among opinion-makers.

 

 

 

 

 

CharlotteBronte
Charlotte Bronte (wikipedia.org)

Charlotte Brontë (21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855). Bronte’s life was not an easy one. Having lost her mother at an early age, she acted as a motherly figure for her younger sisters.Her first novel, the famous Jane Eyre, was rejected and had to be re-edited before it was accepted under a male pseudonym. . In May 1846 Charlotte and her sisters,  Emily and Anne self-financed the publication of a joint collection of poems under their assumed names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The purpose of the pseudonym was to hide their gender. Charlotte’s pseudonym was Currer Bell, and she continued using it throughout her writing career.  Although she died at the very early age of 38, Charlotte Bronte managed to leave behind wonderful novels, such as The Professor, Emma, and Jayne Eyre.

Emily Jane Brontë (30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848) . The younger sister of Charlotte Bronte was a poet and a writer,  best known for her only novel (and my all time favorite classic), Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature. She wrote under the pen name Ellis Bell in order to conceal her gender.Emily died of tuberculosis when she was only 30 years old, and all she had managed to leave literature with are some poems and her novel, Wuthering Heights, but it is such a wonderful classic piece of literature, that is now considered one of the masterpieces of literature.

 

Louisa_May_Alcott_headshotLouisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist and poet. She is best known as the author of the novel Little Women. Her family suffered severe financial difficulties and she had to  work in order  to help support the family from an early age. She worked as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper and  was a strong supporter for women’s suffrage , becoming the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts in a school board election. When the American Civil War broke out, she served as a nurse . She was a prolific author, writing throughout her entire life. Her works include Little Women, Litlle Men and Jo’s Boys.

 

 

 

FrankensteinDraft
Shelley’s handwritten notes of Frankenstein

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley ( 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) is best known for her gothic novel Frankenstein. Daughter of a political philosopher and a feminist, Shelley remained a political radical throughout her life. Until the 1970s, Mary Shelley was known mainly for her efforts to publish her husbands, Percy Shelley, works and for her novel Frankenstein.  Recent scholarship has yielded a more comprehensive view of Mary Shelley’s achievements. Scholars have shown increasing interest in her novels, which include Valperga and The Last Man and Falkner.

Harry Potter fun facts you may have missed

HarryPotter5posterAny Harry Potter fans out there reading this? I hope so… I am a huge fan myself, and I was surprised to learn that J.K. Rowling loves hiding so-called Easter Eggs in her books. To anyone not familiar with the term, an Easter Egg is a small “hint” of the plot, something so well hidden that only few will get to spot. So here are the Easter Eggs I have found out about so far

Professor Trelawney Was Right…

We all thought Professor Trelawney was somewhat nuts, right? Actually, her prophecies were quite good. In The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Trelawney refused to sit at the table where she would be the thirteenth person sitting as she believed that the first person to stand up from that table would be cursed and die. What she failed to count was that Peter Pettigrew was sitting on that table in the form of a rat, so it was already thirteen people at that table. The first to rise from it, Dumbledore, was later killed. In The Order Of The Phoenix, after sitting at a table of thirteen people, Sirius was the first one to stand, and we all know what happened to him.

Dementors Were Created From Depression

J.K.Rowling was suffered from depression while writing the books. The Dementor’s Kiss is supposed to represent how mental illness can make you feel.

October 31st

Halloween Eve, October 31st, is a very significant date in the books. It is also the date his parents were killed by Voldemort, the mountain troll was let into the school, Sirius Black broke into Hogwarts and slashed the Fat Lady’s portrait and it is also on Halloween that Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet Of Fire.

200811131411282LRon had revealed Myrtle’s murder

Not knowingly, of course. In the Chamber of secrets, Ron, talking about Tom Riddle, jokingly says that he might have been rewarded because he “ saved some teacher from a giant squid. Or maybe he murdered Myrtle…”. Little did he know he was actually right!

Snape’s Heartbreak

In the first Book , Snape’s question to Harry is:

Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?

Now, if you look up the meanings of these plants, asphodel is a lilly and wormwood  symbolizes absence and sorrow. Snape is saying ‘I bitterly regret Lily’s death.’

Then secret behind the Longbottom name

The Longbottom surname’s origin  is in J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Longbottom is a region of the Shire renowned for growing plants . Considering Neville’s flair for herbalism and magical gardening, this is certainly not a coincidence.

Alan Rickman knew all along the reasons Snape hates Harry.

In the films, Snape’s emotions towards Harry are exactly how J.K.Rowling expected him to act. How was he so good at it? Rowling had confided in Rickman about the reasons of Snape’s bitterness. Rickman kept his secret for the entire filming process, with him and the author being the only people who knew about this.

The best books for people who love animals

Today is a special day. We celebrate our little friends, our trusted pets, the best companions humans could ever wish for. In honor of this day, I gathered some of the wonderful books that exist out there about our lovely pets (wild animals as well):

Black-Beauty-Anna-SewellBlack Beauty

Anyone remember reading this as a child? This is one of the first book that depicted animal feelings so well. A story that teaches us that animals also deserve love, care and respect.

Marley & Me

A story to make you cry. Seriously, you will love Marley the Labrador, and yes, you will definitely cry. But you will als laugh through this book and you will certainly enjoy it.

 

 

 

Bunnicula

A hilarious story that is mostly about children, but who says adults can’t enjoy it? A story with not one, not two, but three domestic animals. A cat, a dog and a bunny, that try to solve mysteries. Absolutely adorable!

 

fantastic-fox-book113Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Roald Dahl. Need I say more? You need to read this to your children, people. You won’t regret it!

 

The call of the wild

And now about a not-so-domestic animal… The majestic wolf and the bond with a human.

 

 

 

Charlotte’s web

Another adorable story for children, where the little spider Charlotte saves the life of a wonderful pig.

Howl’s Moving Castle: There’s no fairytale like this fairytale

Howl-s-Moving-Castle-howls-moving-castle-4919316-853-480Sophie Hatter, living in magical Victorian era,  is the eldest of three daughters, and a girl resigned in the fate of doing a job she doesn’t love . When an evil witch curses her to look like an eighty year old woman, she decides to leave her town forever and becomes the maid of notorious wizard Howl in his magical, constant- moving castle. However, she soon finds out that Howl’s bad reputation might not me justified.

A lovely story that entertains and at the same time teaches really well the concept of stereotypes and how wrong they can be. If I had to summarize the book in two phrases, those would be “things are not always what they seem to be” and “believe in yourself”. The story certainly boosts your confidence, an inner voice in you saying you are worth much more than you think you do. It also  reminds you that sometimes you need to give people more time to reveal themselves to you, and that you might need to value less others’ opinions of people and more your own.

imagesHowl’s moving castle, written by  Diana Wynne Jones, was first published in 1986 and is the first of a series of books about the wizard Howl. In 2004 an animated adaptation of the story was released, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by the famous  Studio Ghibli. Although the film broke box office records in Japan, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, I highly recommend you read the book before watching the film. There are many aspects of the story, especially about the character of Howl, that were not fully depicted in the film, therefore making it more difficult for the viewers to understand the story in depth.

So should you read this? Well, do you like books about magic? If so, definitely! Do you like stories with deeper meanings? Absolutely. This is a book you will not regret reading. Trust a fellow reader’s opinion!

Banned Books Week: A great way to celebrate freedom of literature

BBW-logo
www.bannedbooksweek.org

Throughout the centuries, ever since the first books were published, there has, sadly, been censorship in many instances. A lot of explanations, or excuses if you will, have been presented for banning books all over the world; from  violent scenes to political views, and from religious affiliations to “Encouragement of “Damaging” Lifestyles”, a lot of excuses can be made. The sad truth is censorship still exists in the 21st century, banning books in one country that are considered perfectly normal and safe in another.

 

What is Banned Books Week?

If you ask me, it is something all countries should have, but few actually do. Banned Books Week is an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read and  draws attention to banned  books, and highlights persecuted individuals. It is a United States campaign that was founded in 1982 by prominent First Amendment and library activist Judith Krug and  has been held during the last week of September since 1982.

According to its official site, http://www.bannedbooksweek.org, more than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 311 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2014, and many more go unreported. Amnesty International also celebrates Banned Books Week by directing attention to individuals “persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read.” According to Butler university, the most common excuses for banning books are Racial Issues,Encouragement of “Damaging” Lifestyles,Blasphemous Dialog , Sexual Situations or Dialog ,Violence or Negativity ,Presence of Witchcraft ,Religious Affiliations (unpopular religions) , Political Bias or Age Inappropriate.

It is important, however, to remember that some of these books were banned on dictatorships, in the Middle Ages, or are simply misjudged, so it is important for the reader to form their own opinion about them.

If you want to celebrate banned books week, I believe the best way to do it is to read a book that is or has , in the past, been banned by a country.  You can find a wide list of books banned by various governments on a global level on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_banned_by_governments) and on http://www.bannedbooksweek.org, or you can do your own research. Good luck, and Happy Banned Books Week!

The quotes we love from the books we adore.

pizap.com14422301282511There are thousands of wonderful books out there, some of which stay with you for the rest of your life. But do you remember your favourite quotes from them? Here are some of mine, I’d love to here some of yours, too!

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
― Neil Gaiman, Coraline

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

“The marks humans leave are too often scars.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“One must always be careful of books,” said Tessa, “and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”
― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

“We are all monsters and bastards, and we are all beautiful”

― Rachel Hartman, Seraphina