Staff Picks

Writing Center Staff Selections:

Danielle S. recommends:

Frankenstein

In 1818, Mary Shelley published what became one of the most well-known works of horror fiction. Today, the mastery of the work is often underestimated. For a long time I identified Frankenstein as the green monster with iron rods protruding from his neck. References to the novel in pop culture are often wildly inaccurate. In fact, many of us wrongly identify the character of Frankenstein as the creature and not the creator. I was surprised by the maturity that went against the cartoonish stereotypes that many of us associate with the story.
The story begins with a man who has been sailing through the icy northern seas in search of the Northwest Passage. One day, he encounters a figure traveling by foot across the ice and brings him aboard. The sailor learns that the man’s name is Victor Frankenstein, and that the reasoning for their encounter is tied to a strange story. He tells the sailor about of series of events involving a fascination with the darker side of biology, the limitless cruelty of human nature, and a carnal game of cat-and-mouse. The young sailor records the entire account in a series of eerie letters to his sister. I couldn’t help but cling to the suspense layered in each character’s point of view.
When I read this book, I became amazed by how easily the work kept me hooked. It was refreshing to read a text that isn’t research-related or scholarly, and one that contained refined language that is neither confusing nor difficult to read. The original and true version of this story was not at all what I expected. The combination of gothic horror, romance, humanity, and clever literary devices has locked Frankenstein onto a list of favorites for me. Frankenstein is not to be underestimated as a trivial horror story of amateur prose. It has complex themes and eloquent language. It is definitely worth the time to invest in this well-known classic.

Margaret C. recommends:

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson is a biography on Albert Einstein that transforms his image from an isolated genius with and advanced brain into an accessible and relatable human being. Instead of painting a portrait of an intellect that exceeds human capacity, he is portrayed as a quirky man with typical human experiences. From his personal letters that were released in recent years we find that Einstein struggled with making his way in the world just like the rest of us. He experienced failure, which left him in despair and feeling as though he had no purpose.

Eventually, he acquired a 9 to 5 job in order to survive, but he developed his theories in his spare time, as well as when his boss wasn’t looking. He made friends with like-minds who functioned as conductors to his postulations and he eventually established his career within the field of physics. Isaacson also emphasizes that Einstein’s genius stems from his imagination and creativity, rather than his mathematics. It is encouraging to know that some of the greatest contributions to science and humankind came from a brilliant imagination.

What I love about this book is that it encourages the reader to obtain greatness through the means of imagination, dedication, friends and relentlessness. There is no need for an advanced portion of the brain in order to succeed; we are all going to struggle in life with or without an anatomical anomaly. But it is through suffering and struggle that our talents and passions learn to survive and eventually flourish, which Einstein’s life effectively demonstrates. Historically, Einstein’s genius has been separated from the rest of the human race, but you will find that this biography puts it within our reach.

Isaacson, Walter. His Life and Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. Print

Kat S. recommends:

American Junkie

Tom Hansen’s memoir, American Junkie (2010) is a brutally honest look at the author’s journey to, and through, heroin addiction. This is no easy read; the story is sordid, graphic and unrepentant. Written in the post-James Frey (A Million Little Pieces, 2003) era, Hansen has included medical documents to support his story and reveal the devastating effects his drug abuse had on his body.  American Junkie has just enough rock-n-roll rebellion, candid introspection, and explicit detail to keep it from glamorizing drug use or becoming a pity party.

The story jumps seamlessly between Hansen’s hospital room, his childhood, and throughout his years of abuse and addiction. The use of flashbacks and foreshadowing are masterful, carrying the story along while never interrupting the narrative’s flow—that alone is enough to earn my recommendation. If you love the memoir genre, or are contemplating writing one of your own, American Junkie provides a template for the balance between emotional vulnerability, unapologetic honesty, and evidence based narrative.

Hansen, Tom. American Junkie. New York: Emergency Press, 2010.

http://american-junkie.com

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Cate F recommends:

Elements of Style

I love words and language. And even grammar. It’s true. I’m such a word nerd that I actually enjoy reading grammar books and style guides. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy reading other types of books, too. But there are a few style guides that hold a special place in my literary heart.

Without a doubt, one of my favorites is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. It is easy to read and easy to locate topics. And it’s short. At fewer than 100 pages, it is far less intimidating than another personal favorite, Garner’s Modern American Usage, which weighs in at 876 pages and just over three pounds.


Katie G. recommends:

Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

I was first introduced to the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED, during the spring semester of my freshman year in college. My English professors easily accepted the OED as the “definitive record of the English language,” as claimed on the OED’s website; I was taught to use the OED as the only source for reviewing my vocabulary.  Despite the requirement, I came to love the OED – in particular, the online version of the dictionary.

Not only does the OED provide standard definitions, it also has extensive cross-references.  Is the word you are looking for Germanic, Latin, or Old English in origin?  When using the online version of the OED simply click on the suffix of a word and you can see the etymology of a word and how that word came into being across different languages.  While this can be rather confusing, as it refers to the grammatical significance of why certain adjectives or nouns were formed and understood, I find it entertaining to see how some words represent either a loss or survival of certain grammatical perspectives.

The online version of the OED allows you to examine a timeline of when words and specific phrases began to appear in the English language.  For example, the phrase “New Year’s” started to circulate sometime between 1800 and 1849.  The entry of the definition itself also gives readers a history of the use of the word.  For the ultimate word nerd, there is no greater or more complete definition.  What other dictionary allows you to do this?

http://www.oed.com/

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Cora Thomas recommends:

Reading Games: Strategies for Reading Scholarly Sources, by Karen Rosenberg

As a new graduate student at the University of Washington Bothell campus I’ve been wondering if I should adopt more efficient reading strategies for highly dense scholarly articles. Serendipitously, as I walked past a display case in the UWB Library recently, the words “Reading Games” caught my eye. As I stopped to peer at the article more closely I saw the author was the Director of the UW- Bothell Writing Center, Karen Rosenberg!

Reading Games: Strategies for Reading Scholarly Sources, is a chapter in an online peer-reviewed textbook series called Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing. Rosenberg immediately captured my attention by sharing her own experience as a graduate student. As a graduate student I am asked to “join the conversation” more explicitly than in my undergraduate work, and I learned how to do that when I read this article. Actively engaging in the text and recognizing how the author is presenting their argument in relation to other articles is key in understanding how authors dialogue between each other through their writing.

Rosenberg reassures students that it’s okay if we don’t understand the academic jargon. Students shouldn’t stress over the fact that we may not have prior knowledge of the subject to fully understand the article. Most authors are writing to a specific audience and assume that particular group will understand the terminology discussed in the article.

We all too often overlook small but helpful sign posts. Rosenberg shows how to begin understanding the main point of an article by viewing the layout as a road map that guides you through the content and author’s discussion (p. 215). Before reading the article from start to finish the first time through, Rosenberg suggests we first look at the title, abstract, introduction, section headings, and conclusion (p. 215). These steps will help answer the key question: “what is the main argument or idea in this text?” (p. 218). She explains that finding the main idea is crucial in reading the text more efficiently (p. 218). She goes on to discuss understanding the author(s) research motivations; identifying the intended audience for the text (in many instances it’s not students, but other scholars); talking about the text with peers and professors; and asking your professor why s/he assigned a particular reading.

Rosenberg’s reading tips will help students get more out of overwhelming and voluminous theory-laden articles. I highly recommend this article if you’ve ever thought to yourself after reading an article, “What did I just read?!” Check out this link below: http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/rosenberg–reading-games.pdf

References

Rosenberg, K. (2011). Reading Games: strategies for reading scholarly sources.  In Lowe, C., & Zemliansky, P. (Eds). Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing (Vol. 2). Parlor Press. Retrieved from http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/rosenberg–reading-games.pdf.

One comment

  1. Carmen Werder

    Happy to know about what sounds like a very useful resource. Thanks for the helpful overview, Cora.

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