The expansion of nerds: how HP made me realize I am one

A couple of months ago I got into a heated discussion with some friends about what qualifies someone as a “nerd” This is something I’ve debated with other friends as well, mostly ones who would either be classified nerds but would also proudly claim the title as their own. The difference about this particular conversation, however, was that I greatly disagreed with one of my friends on what she said made a “nerd.” In sum, she described a nerd as someone who is socially awkward, gets uncommon references, is good with math and computers or things like that. I admit that there are specks of truth to what she was saying, but after debating it for a few hours, we still ended agreeing to disagree.

Kirk

Well last night I downloaded Travis Prinzi’s Harry Potter for Nerds: Essays for Fans, Academics, and Lit Geeks. I was particularly excited about reading it because I’d used one of his other books as a reference for my thesis on language and perspective for the Harry Potter series and found it enlightening and incredibly applicable to what I was writing about. So after finishing the most recent Dave Sedaris novel, I clicked on Prinzi’s book, starting with (as collections do) the introduction. And it was here that I stumbled upon this quote:

“But I’m noticing, with many others, a cultural shift in the perception of nerds, geeks, and dorks. J.K. Rowling followed up her comment about ‘obsessives’ with this:

And I did think if people like [Harry Potter] they would probably like it obsessively. I just never…but I thought that it would be am obsessive few—I never guessed it would be an obsessive many, as has happened.

The ‘obsessive many.’ What a great phrase. Notice the set-up: ‘It would be an obsessive few’; in other words, a small gathering of nerds. It turns out there are a lot of us. And much like Harry discovered wizard status from Hagrid, many of us have discovered our nerd status from Harry.”

27425And I know that, at least for me, this is true. I started reading Harry Potter at the age of 12 and became one of the obsessed. In addition to writing a Master’s thesis about it, I presented on it at multiple conferences—one of which was in Orlando  at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Of course it wasn’t just Harry that did this to me. Growing up, I’d watched Star Wars and Monty Python with my family; when I was grounded, my books were the first to go since I was usually grounded because I’d been reading instead of doing chores or homework; I knew the combos to Mortal Kombat and where to find a whistle for Super Mario 3; I would play Legos forever or I would set up my stuffed animals in a mock classroom and play “school” on the chalkboard easel my stepdad made me.

But it wasn’t until I started relating to other Potter fans that I realized I could classify myself as a nerd. And though I proudly identify with this title, many would still disagree with me. Many of my friends might say that I am simply not deep enough into this subculture to be able to identify with it.  Yes, okay,  there are thousands of references I will never get. Any day I don’t spend on Reddit will prove that. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t fall somewhere on the spectrum between nerdy and non (notice I don’t say nerdy and cool, because I don’t believe that those are always opposites).Dr. Who snickers

I agree with Prinzi. There is a cultural shift in the perception of nerds and nerdy doesn’t necessarily mean uncool. The stereotypes that you see on Big Bang Theory do not accurately reflect all nerd culture. It has, in fact, become a spectrum, on which many can fall. And despite the efforts of those who have claimed this title for decades (I’m talking to you Firefly fans), it’s almost insulting to not only say that a nerd has to be antisocial, but that anyone can be nerd. These are the elitists, the purists of the nerds, if you will. But thanks to folks like J.J. Abrams, things like Star Trek are reaching a much wider audience. (We’re going to ignore his involvement with Disney’s takeover of Star Wars  for now.) For example, my brother, Kirk, now gets why I’ve been calling him Captain his whole life.

And what about the internet? Yes, just all of it. Memes and LOL cats and Buzzfeed and an infinite amount of horribly amazing puns. It’s almost impossible to not be a nerd. So I want you to be careful before you dismiss the idea that the definition of “nerd” is expanding. I know plenty of nerds who are social and horrible at math. We’re simply outgrowing these clichés.To me, it just means that you are passionate about something that you can gush and talk about it for hours—whether the person you’re talking to shares that enthusiasm or not. So if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go finish my leisure book with analytical essays about my favorite series of all time.

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Don’t mind if I do…

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9 Books that defined my childhood

Today in class I caught one of my students reading a book under the table. I had to ask him twice to put the book away since we were learning about say versus tell (obviously way more interesting than a book about the history of guillotines). I hated having to tell him to put the book away, because it is, after all, educational and we were just studying for things that will be on a test (and I hate testing). Not to mention that I was once that kid and I hated having my books confiscated, but I could never put the books away when the teachers asked me to. The student today wasn’t the first I’ve had to do that with. He’s the third this year and to be honest, I alm   ost wished it happened more often. What a wonderful world we’d live in where my main problem as a teacher would be asking my students to put away their library books. If only.

It made me think back to the days I’d hide my books under the desk or cleverly (I thought) behind another book. This happened often, because as I said, I was one of those kids and I read a lot. But of all the books I read, a few stand out as important to my childhood. So I decided to compile a list of these books. There are many others I also enjoyed reading as a child, but these hold special meaning for one reason or another. I have read all of these books at least twice.

1. Purple, Green, and Yellow by Robert Munsch purple-green-yellow My mom got me this book when I was in elementary school. It’s by the same author who wrote Love You Forever, which she used to read to me when I was very little. The book tells a story of a girl who wants the newest and coolest markers. The markers that are bright and vibrant, the markers that smell, the markers that never wash off. Each time her mother agrees to buy them as long as the girl colors on paper. Well we all know how tempting that deal is, and the girl eventually gets bored with the paper and turns body into a personal canvass. Problem is that she ends up coloring herself invisible. I think my mom may have been trying to teach me a lesson.

2. Thief of Always  by Clive Barker

The first sentence reads: “The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.” What more do you need? This books is one of few, if not the only, children’s book by Clive Barker, who is more commonly known for his adult horror fiction. A boy who is bored with life runs away to a magical, perfect land that turns out not to be so perfect after all. I read this book in 5th grade and it’s a bit dark for a 5th grader, but the story stuck with me for many years, despite the fact that I could not remember the title. And when I tried to tell this story to other people, they had no idea what I was talking about. Then one day in college, ten years later, I was telling my friend the story before class and he stated quite simply, “Oh, that’s Clive Barker’s Thief of Always. I love that book.” I immediately went home and ordered it and reread it again. It was just as good ten years later. movie_5620_poster 3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I didn’t want to read this book at all, but my mom had read an article about it and wanted me to try it, so she used the 15 rule of our house. “You have to read 15 pages of a book you don’t want to read before you can say you won’t read it.” So I read 15 pages and by the next day I’d finished the second book and by graduate school I’d decided to base my thesis on the series. So obviously, it had an impact.

4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Like any normal child, I read this book thinking it was the first in the Narnia series and later went back to read The Magician’s Nephew and others in the series, but wasn’t as impressed. The Lionthe Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of those books that made me want to believe in magic. It made me want to believe that whenever I opened my closet, I could go on an adventure. What kid doesn’t want that? Which brings me to my next book.

5. Matilda by Raold Dahl

Matilda appealed to me because I felt I could, or at least wanted to, relate to her. I wasn’t neglected like she was; I had a great childhood. But I was quiet and introverted and read a lot and I wanted to be able to control things with my mind because I was so smart. Turns out that I only thought I was smart, but a small hope always remains within me that one day I’ll be able to have powers like Matilda, because obviously that’s more realistic that Harry Potter (although I’d be ok with a letter from Hogwarts as well).

6. East of the Sun & West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer

Apparently this story was adapted from a Norwegian folktale of the same name, but I am only really familiar with the Mercer Mayer book. My aunt, who is an art professor, bought this book for me when I was about 10. And yes the story was interesting, but not really anything spectacular or original. Was really captivated me with this book was the illustrations. I would spend hours and hours quickly reading the text and then devouring the drawings.  I don’t know why the images were so appealing, but I still remember them 15 years later.

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7. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Where to even begin. It’s an absolute classic. It made me realize that poetry could be cool and fun and that everything Shel Silverstein did was genius. I would gladly reread it again today. In fact, it’s sitting in my bookcase at home.

8. James and the Giant Peach by Raold Dahl When I was nine, my neighbor came to stay with us for a couple weeks because his mom was visiting family in Korea and his dad was stationed abroad somewhere. A few days after he came to stay with us, Hurricane Fran hit. That night, my neighbor, my little sister, and I were wrapped up in blankets on the floor of my parents bedroom and waiting for the storm to hit. We were incredibly scared and so my mom decided to read to us. She picked James and the Giant Peach up of the my bookshelf and just started reading. It was a welcome distraction because we needed something else to concentrate on and I was fully willing to concentrate on Jame’s problems rather than my own. Fran hit hard that night and we were without power for a while. But my mom continue to read the book to us and the story stuck.

9. Oh, Say Can You Say? by Dr. Seuss  

When I would go stay with my dad, he would often read me a story before bed, as dads tend to do. But I constantly requested this book. It was a book of ridiculous tongue twisters and I would make my dad read it again and again as fast as he could, because it was hilarious. Then he would make me read it and after a while, I just had them memorized. Now I use this book in my ESL classes because my students feel less intimidated to try something that’s meant to be nonsense, but it’s great for fluency practice. Not to mention that it’s still fun to read really fast.

One of the many reasons I love David Sedaris

Before I moved to Turkey I broke down and bought a Nook. My aversion to E-Readers didn’t outweigh my desire to constantly have books with me and since bringing my library of several hundreds books to Turkey was nixed by my limitation of suitcase space, a Nook seemed the second best option. (I ended up actually only bringing 15 physical books, which is impressive for me.) Of course I picked the simplest, cheapest one I could find and even that one (the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight, in case you were wondering) is fancier than I really need it to be. If only they would sell them with that used book smell…

I’m still on my kick of reading 30 books this year, though I’ve only just reached the halfway point nine months in. I’m in love with David Sedaris and one of the books I downloaded to my fancy new digital, black magic library was Me Talk Pretty One Day. Somehow I’d managed to overlook this classic when going through my Sedaris binge a few years ago. But I’m glad of it, because it fits perfectly with my current situation.

The book is essentially a collection of short stories based on various events in Sedaris’ life. Quite a few of the stories are based on his life in Paris and that’s where our situations connect. He moved to Paris with his partner, but knew only two words of French when he first moved there: “bottleneck” and “ashtray.” When I moved to Turkey, I knew maybe eight Turkish words, granted a bit more helpful than “bottleneck” and “ashtray.” But the point is that as he lived there longer, he began to write words on note cards and expand his vocabulary. He went from two to 200 to 600 to 1000. I cannot tell you how many words I know in English or German, but I can literally count up the words and phrases I know in Turkish and as Sedaris says, “It was an odd sensation to hold my entire vocabulary in my hands.” Imagine that your day to day life is based off of less than 30 words!

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Aslan the Aslan

My thesis focused on language and perspective in the Harry Potter series and essentially looked at how neologisms, or made up words, and the way they are used can influence the stories and the reader experience. (This is the Sparknotes version.) So, in short, I am a nerd for words and languages.

The other day I saw a mug with a lion on it and underneath it read, Aslan. I immediately assumed this was a Narnia reference, but as I saw the word again in various situations, I asked my roommate and found out that Aslan in Turkish actually means lion. No way! This may be a small, insignificant fact to most normal people, but I am simply in love with the idea. I’ve unlocked a clever trick to one of my favorite childhood series.

And now I wonder how exactly that can affect the reading of the series. For example, when I think Aslan, I immediately associate it with the very specific lion of Narnia. However, when Turkish kids think Aslanthat could simply be any old lion. And when they are reading the series, do they just read it as Lion? Does that not demote Aslan in some way? 

Just some food for thought.

2012 Book #10

As usual, when I finally find a good study table at Barnes and Nobles, it’s littered with leftover books from the lazy people who sat there before. But this time, I needed to thank those lazy people, because they offered me something much better than the PRAXIS II study books I’d brought with me. They gave me my tenth book of the year: Dads are the Original Hipsters by Brad Getty.

I won’t lie–a good majority of my friends are hipsters. I would say that I am too, but my record collection is far too small, my jeans too flared, and my love for PBR basically nonexistent. Plus, I don’t think most hipsters admit to being one, so that would also defeat the purpose.

Check out that awesome stache! And those glasses!

And I love them. I have a slight hipster addiction. So let me give you a disclaimer: if you do not share in my hipster addiction (whether genuine or mocking), then this book is not for you, my friend.

That being said, I can’t even begin to describe how awesome each section of this book is. Though the writing is fantastically sarcastic (each section offering how fathers did it before us and did it better), the pictures are really what make this book the masterpiece that it is.

Some of my favorites are how dads rocked the stache, the v-neck shirts, obscure music, and managed to find girls way out of their leagues.

For more information about how dads did it better, you can visit http://dadsaretheoriginalhipster.tumblr.com/archive. Believe me, the pictures are priceless.

2012 Book # 11

Ok, I know I’m skipping around a bit, but I really have been keeping track of the books I’ve been reading. I haven’t quite gotten around to writing about the others yet, but I thought that this one was pertinent enough that it couldn’t want any longer.  About a week ago, I finished Dr. Meg Jay’s The Defining Decade: Why the 20s Matter and How to Make the Most of them Now.  To best sum up how I felt about it, I’ll just share my Amazon review:

I am a twenty five year old English teacher, living a life similar to many others of my generation–affected by the economic downturn and expectations to do great things, when so much seems to hold us back.

When I first picked up Dr. Jay’s book, I expected it to be cliché and full of “carpe diem” sentiments. I’m so glad to say that I was wrong. My copy of The Defining Decade is saturated in highlighter and ink, because there were very few pages that didn’t constitute notes. Everything in that book spoke to me in a way that no book, parent, friend, or advisor ever has. Though I’d been trying to get my life together, I started trying harder. I gained a new perspective. I made myself a timeline. I recommended it to all my twenty-something friends and even lent out my copy, scribbles and highlights included.

It has lit a new fire within me; I finished it feeling relieved and reassured that things will work out and that I just have to continue trying.

In her book, Dr. Jay speaks directly to a generation that is often spoken down to or dismissed. From one twenty-something to another, this book will relate to you and your situation in life. Dr. Jay gets us and she really wants to help us achieve great things, big and small.

Though I may not agree with every single detail of the book, I fully agree with the overall sentiment: make the most of your life.  If you are a twenty-something or a parent of a twenty-something, read this book immediately. Grade: A+

2012 Book #2

I have officially finished reading my second book for the year (only 28 more to go) and have to say that it has been my favorite so far. (It had a 50/50 shot.) Despite my days filled with teaching and writing and various activities, Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing caused me to pause what I was doing and pay direct attention to what she had to say. Though it isn’t too long (the pages aren’t numbered) and some pages have no words at all, it is by far one of the best books on writing that I have read.

The book is a mixture of encouraging and honest advice, clever prompts, quotes, tips and personal experiences from the author. And so I thought I would break down my review into those categories:

Advice

In her intro, Wood explains that she used to be a school counselor–a job which she loved and quit in order to pursue the writing life.  Like the rest of usm she has struggled and succeeded, and offers the lessons she’s learned from that. For example, she offers 7 Rules of Etiquette for a Reading, such as:

  1. Arrive on time, even if you’re famous
  2. If you’re reading poems, don’t explain them first. If you must add an intro, don’t make it longer than the poem.
  3. Slow down. Most people read too fast.

She also talks a lot about the writer lifestyle and things she has learned that come with the territory—such as the dreaded rejection. Wood offers a lot of advice on rejection.

Prompts

Wood’s prompts vary from fun and silly to serious and thought provoking. She uses some of her own words, words from others, single words, pictures and a plethora of other tricks to get that pen writing or keyboard typing. Open the page, pick a prompt, and start writing. You might end up with a prompt such as:

[insert picture of two hippos in front of what appears to be a brick building]

These hippos are called Dodger and Betsy. Your challenge is to figure out how they got into the parking lot of a Catholic school.

OR

Who were your parents at your age?

Quotes

Surrounding myself with writers has made me realize that we don’t only love words—we love words about words, words about writing, thoughts about words and writing, talking about words and writing. While some of the quotes she uses are for prompts, a lot of them work for general inspiration (about words and writing) as well.  For example, Wood includes the following quotes as part of her conglomeration:

“I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something terrible.”

–Roy Blount, Jr.

OR

“Let us write and let us dance—two amusements that will never do harm to the world.”

–Voltaire

…truth.

Tips and personal experiences

Wood shares one activity she enjoys where she goes to a café with someone, but does not listen to them. Instead, she listens to what’s going on around them.  Or she asks, “what is the subject you’re avoiding? Write it down.”

Another example is when she explains:

“Colors can be delivered as similes that suggest something about the character’s inner life. Your reader will receive a character in a red shirt a little differently if that shirt is described as the color of spilled wine or fresh liver or SpeghettiOs.”

The Pocket Muse  calls directly to my odd character traits and intense literary desires that often come with the gift and burden of being a writer. The only point on which I disagree with her is that I should get a cat.  However, the rest of the book is gold. And she so eloquently ends it with “don’t forget to be grateful that you love words.”

…As if I ever could.

Overall grade: A++

Post Script:

I found out that there is a sequal to this book. I plan to pick it up and review it for your reading pleasure in the near future. 🙂

2012 Book #1

Ok, I have already started on my goal of 30 books for this year. But before I start with book number one, I want to talk briefly about the last book I read for 2011.

Before the last year ended, a friend told me about one of his favorite childhood books, The Phantom Tollbooth.  And when I said that I’d not only never read it, but never heard of it, he went out and bought me a copy. When I walked around with my new copy, people would often tell me how they loved that book growing up.  Apparently I’d missed out on a well-known classic. Go figure.

But for those of you who are in the same boat as I was, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (and illustrated by Jules Feiffer) starts off in a similar manner to Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always.  Juster’s protagonist is a young boy who finds himself, well, uninterested in life and learning:

“There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself–not just sometimes, but always.”

Milo comes home one day to find a tollbooth (some assembly required), a couple coins, and a map waiting for him in his room. Despite the many other toys and gadgets in his room, he has nothing better to do and decides to build the tollbooth and take his little toy car to a random destination on the map: Dictionopolis.

As might be expected, once Milo passes through that tollbooth, he is in for quite an adventure. Along the way he is joined by friends, such as Tock, the literal watchdog (see picture), and the Humbug, a well dressed and well meaning, but rather cowardly and bumbling bug.

He visits lands such as Dictionopolis, the Duldrums, Digitopolis, the Isle of Conclusions, the Mountains of Ignorance, the Valley of Sound and many more. He is assigned the quest of rescuing the princesses Rhyme and Reason, who are the only ones who can bring peace back to a troubled land.

Needless to say, the book is full of colorful characters, thoughtful lessons, quirky adventures, and an impressive amount of play on words. For example, the first person Milo meets on his adventure is the whether man, who claims:

“I’m the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.”

Milo ends up at one point literally eating his words, jumping to conclusions, missing what’s in front of his nose, and hearing nothing in a valley of sound. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read. A bit quick-paced at times, especially for all the characters introduced and tasks assigned, but a fun adventure nonetheless. It is full of great lines and quotes and I am glad that I’m now caught up on another classic. Check.  (I would go on more, but I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.) Overall grade: A-

Now on to my first book of the year: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  This is yet another classic that I had not read before. Such are the troubles of an English major–they make the books faster than we can read all of them. Fortunately, one of my students specifically requested that we read this book, so the opportunity presented itself.

If it counts for anything, I have seen Muppet Treasure Island (who doesn’t love Tim Curry in that?), so I knew the basic plot going in. I also saw Treasure Planet, which I inconveniently keep calling the book every time I mention it.

The basic Sparknotes version is that the protagonist, Jim, and his family are visited by a stranger at their inn. They soon find out that their unruly tenant is a wanted pirate! And he is not just wanted by the law, but other pirates as well (especially the one-legged pirate–he’s the worst of them all) because he possesses something extremely valuable: a treasure map to the booty of old Cap’n Flint.

Pirates show up to get him one day and their tenant dies of a stroke–blast that rum! Before the pirates can get them, Jim opens the stranger’s chest and steals the treasure map. The pirates are run out of town by the village doctor and Jim shares his secret with the doctor and his friend, the squire. And so the adventure begins!

They acquire a ship and a crew and set sail. Their ship cook, Long John Silver, is a one-legged inn owner. Jim is suspicious of him, and eventually finds that his suspicions are right as mutiny takes place once they reach the island. Turns out half the crew were pirates! It is now a battle to the death and winner takes all.

Overall, it’s a great adventure story. Who doesn’t love a pirate or two and a hunt for treasure? Unfortunately I wish I’d read it when I was younger because a bit of the magic was gone. However, maybe that will change when I get to teach it next week. Grade: B+

But I could always watch this: