Born in Oakland, California, to Chinese immigrants, Tan is an award-winning author whose novels focus on the lives of Asian-Americans and the complexities of intergenerational relationships, particularly those of mothers and daughters. Her best-selling novel The Joy Luck Club was based on the tragic experiences of her mother, who had years earlier fled an abusive marriage, though it meant leaving her three daughters behind in Shanghai. When did Tan finally meet her half-sisters? …read more
Though his formal schooling was limited to just three months of instruction before he was ten years old, Edison was one of the most prolific inventors of his time. His work in improving telegraph technology—particularly his discovery of a method for recording telegraph messages—led Edison to suspect he could do similar things with sound. Within months, the first working model of his phonograph was ready. Why, according to Edison, was he “taken aback” when his invention worked on the first try? Discuss …read more
Definition: (noun) One engaged in a dispute.
Synonyms: eristic, controversialist.
Usage: Other tribes of the new federation took sides with the original disputants or set up petty revolutions of their own. Discuss …read more
A star cluster is a group of related stars usually held together by gravity. Globular clusters are densely packed groups of hundreds of thousands of very old stars. Open clusters are smaller, scattered groups of younger stars. Until recently, astronomers wrestled with a great cosmological mystery: according to theories of stellar evolution, it appeared that some globular clusters were actually older than the universe itself. How was this paradox resolved? Discuss …read more
Hadaka Matsuri means, literally, “naked festival”. The young men who participate are naked except for traditional white loincloths known as fundoshi. Sometimes the participants in Hadaka Matsuri immerse themselves in a river beforehand to purify themselves. Occasionally several semi-naked young men will carry a mikoshi, or portable shrine, in the form of a horse, rice bale, or sake barrel into the river with them. Discuss …read more
In 1866, a small, white pebble, which turned out to be a 21-carat diamond, was found on the banks of the Orange River in South Africa. When a second, larger diamond was found in 1871, a diamond rush brought miners to the area by the thousands. Eventually, five big holes were dug, and the largest, known as the “Big Hole,” yielded three tons of diamonds before it was closed in 1914. What company, founded during the rush, is now responsible for about 40 percent of the world’s diamond production? Discuss …read more
Born in London, Rendell became an author of murder mysteries and psychological thrillers in the 1960s. She has since published dozens of award-winning novels—many featuring her Chief Inspector Wexford—and has been recognized for her sharp prose and psychological insight by both critics and audiences. Originally a journalist, Rendell was fired after writing about a society dinner she did not attend. What notable misfortune, which was absent from Rendell’s article, befell the speaker of the event? Discuss …read more
The deep sea has its fair share of quirky creatures equipped with odd features, and the “cockeyed” squid, sporting two different sized eyes, likely doesn’t stand out too much among other bottom ocean dwellers. But scientists have never before been able to … Discuss …read more
Originally News-Week, the magazine debuted 10 years after Time, for which Newsweek founder Thomas J.C. Martyn had been an editor. It evolved into a full spectrum of news material, from breaking news and analysis to reviews and commentary. In 1961, it was purchased by Philip Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. In 2010, it was sold for $1 to American businessman Sidney Harman. Today, Newsweek is the second largest newsweekly in the US. What is the largest? Discuss …read more
n. a feature
of modern society that suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from zoos
and milk-drinking to organ transplants, life insurance, and fiction—part of the
faint background noise of absurdity that reverberates from the moment our
ancestors first crawled out of the slime but could not for the life of them
remember what they got up to do.
n. a state of exhaustion inspired by an act of senseless violence, which forces you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface—before propping yourself up in the middle of it like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do anything but stand there and watch.
“When you were born they put you in a little box and slapped a label on it. But if we begin to notice these categories no longer fit us, maybe it’ll mean that we’ve finally arrived—just unpacking the boxes, making ourselves at home.”
From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Chapter 2 begins now.
n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.
avenoir – n. the desire that memory could flow backward
We take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards: you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way…