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Top Websites For Revision

Revision can be incredibly tough at times, but here are 4 great ideas for internet sites that might just aid you in your study! Check them out to transform the way you revise.

Wordleword map from Wordle

Wordle is a fabulous tool that allows you to create a stunning and impressive graphic from words. If you have an essay, for example, or a long word document full of notes on an assignment, simply copy and paste either the entire thing or a selected portion into the Wordle system, and it will automagically transform it into a beautiful image. It calculates the frequency of a particular keyword and the size of this word in the scattered image is proportional to this rate of recurrence. Each one is eye-catching and bold, and it would be great to print one of these off to put on the wall as a constant reminder of some key phrases or vocabulary you need to learn. I printed one off as a notebook cover design for my English literature revision, and many people who have seen it comment on its awesomeness.

Get Revising

I found GetRevising completely by mistake during my GCSE year, but I found it immensely useful when attempting to plan my revision. It contains an extensive range of resources for many subjects at all levels, and these are written and prepared by teachers or students. It has a welcoming interface and is well organised, allowing you to find exactly what you want without too much hassle. Often so-called ‘revision’ sites can be rather poor, and their content simply pitiable, but this is a pleasing exception. Their timetable planner is also a brilliant tool, and its colourful layout will aid you considerably in your endeavour to compose a study schedule. Rather than just Word documents, it also contains videos, PowerPoint presentations, wordsearches, and quizzes. Something for everyone!


YouTube is a bit hit and miss, as there will be some videos that are not useful in the slightest. But it is definitely worth persevering because the odd clip will have information and ideas that may well inspire you. It is particularly great, in my opinion, for a quick and clear summary of a topic that you might be studying. It is brilliant to vary the medium of your study, so a YouTube video (which will rarely take up much time at all) could be the perfect way to enhance your learning. Lectures are sometimes available free of charge (there are some by YaleCourses, on literary theory, for example, that were fantastic for me during my first year of university.


Many people think that podcasts are quite hard to find, but their popularity is increasing with such speed that they are almost ubiquitous. Many universities upload their own podcasts of recorded talks and lectures, so it fou have missed any of those throughout the year, it would be a great idea to catch up by making use of this resource. Listen to these while running or while lying down in your room, just to ingrain the main points into your memory. If you like to edit media, you could even download the file and cut out the bits you don’t need in order to keep solely those parts that are most important.


Image source: 1

Essay Crisis

Ever since a young age, studying English at primary school, my superiors in the academic world – be they teachers, tutors, or lecturers – have constantly aggrandised the term ‘essay’. It is accepted fact in many departments and faculties across the globe that an essay is the optimum medium through which to express intellectual thought as literary criticism. And with this convention comes a wide variety of academic clichés and figures of speech prevalent in certain fields of discourse. But is an essay always the best way of structuring and expressing ideas on a work of literature?
cartoonified image of a hand with a pencil

The backbone of an essay is surely its content, but too often I see this lacking in essays written either in published collections or on electronic journals. I question whether the best way of engaging with a poem is really to write an essay about it, or whether a Powerpoint presentation, or a visually impactful, expansive reproduction of the work, written out with detailed annotations, is more powerful. When studying Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ for A Level, my teacher printed out the entirety of Faustus’s final speech on A3 paper, and we discussed it and annotated it in great detail. This was infinitely more enjoyable, appealing, and helpful at the time of revision than any essay I had written.

Throughout my teenage years I have written countless essays, predominantly for English and modern languages, that did not aid my understanding when I came to the exam at the end of the year any more than spending an hour or so making notes on the text itself. I used to spend days and days planning what I would write, desperately trying to organise my thoughts into some form of coherent arrangement, when I could have been devoting that time to reading the text itself.

There are some essays, without a doubt, that are exemplary in terms of what literary criticism should ultimately constitute. However, too often I read what amount to vacuous musings on the text, void of any real purchase onto its linguistic make-up and too afraid of Wimsatt’s ‘affective fallacy’ to demonstrate any real, intriguing engagement. Impersonality, objectivity, and academic convention have tarnished much positive interaction with the text, as young writers feel that they cannot express themselves for fear that their style and rhetoric is decidedly inadequate in comparison with established literary critics.

A common observation, pointed out numerous times but over and again with apparent originality, is that literary criticism uses the same medium as its subject, a luxury not afforded to any of the other arts. And yet, why does this have to be so? Why can’t a YouTube video engaging rigorously and tenaciously with a text be considered as ‘worthwhile’ as something too bogged down in rhetoric to be of any value? I myself have often learnt much more from watching an introductory clip on the Internet about a particular aspect of literary theory than I have from reading a dense and periphrastic essay.

I am not saying: ‘get rid of all essays’. I am not saying ‘YouTube is the way forward for literary criticism’. But what I am saying is that the essay should not have pride of place without having continually to justify itself. There are too many essays I read in English, Spanish or French that are useful for nothing more than the odd quotation when a critic has invested all their mental capacities into producing some pleasant turn of phrase. Often I have been more impressed with close analysis -of poetry, in particular – on websites such as Sparknotes than I have with general, overview-type essays written by critics and scholars who attempt to adopt this ‘objective’ stance. The demands on young writers to make their essays logically consistent, with clear lines of argument, sometimes detracts from what they originally think when reading a text. I say we let bullet points, visual media, colour, colloquialisms, and fun back into literary criticism.


Image credits: 1

Twenty Twelve began as a late night show that did not arouse too much critical attention, but in some corners it was loved and admired to such an extent that it was moved to BBC2. It’s new home has given it the vantage point from which to launch into super popularity, and it is now a regular ‘featured’ show on this network’s iPlayer. Avid fans of the show (myself included) will find themselves somewhat disoriented with the realisation that Twenty Twelve has this week come to an end, at least until the next time (!) that London, England, manages to host the Olympics. But why has Twenty Twelve achieved such success, and is it really worth setting up in front of the laptop to re-visit the past series whilst the real London 2012 Olympics get underway?


Cast of BBC2 Show Twenty Twelve

Twenty Twelve establishes itself as a mockumentary with a sharp note of wit, but it is never biting or overly critical. Its quality comes in the often light-hearted portrayal of mishaps that reach a level at once hilarious and calamitous. The humour, likewise, arises not from slapstick or coarse swearing (a technique to which too many comedians in our present age have reverted), but rather from side-splitting verbal malapropisms from Siobhan Sharpe and the ridiculous positivity (even in the face of catastrophic disaster) from Head of Deliverance, Ian Fletcher. These two, played by Jessica Hynes and Hugh Bonneville respectively, are the stars of the show, and the jokes come thick and fast when they are communicating. The show portrays the possibility of exchanging several words without ever attaining a productive answer to a debate, and the scenes are made so amusing predominantly because of the different wavelengths that the characters are on. Siobhan’s repeated defence of ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do here’, and ‘You know’, two filler phrases that mean absolutely nothing at all, emphasises the possibilities of language to hide, rather than reveal, meaning. Indeed, when, in the penultimate episode of Series 2, when the acorn required to plant a tree that will grow into a symbol of London 2012’s commitment to sustainability, Siobhan turns to the first of these phrases for a comical 10 times in a row, the futility of her ‘fillers’ is illustrated perfectly. This is because the acorn is missing, and Siobhan is forced to use a chocolate instead. This is the kind of clever, astute humour you can expect throughout the series.

The characters are, in general, very well developed. Sara Pascoe, who plays a mock-creative-alternative employee in Siobhan’s PR enterprise, Perfect Curve, could have been better, however. Her stand-up on Channel 4’s ‘Stand Up For The Week’ is infinitely better than what can be found in Twenty Twelve, and it appears that this is not the role for her. Whereas in Channel’s 4’s show, she is strong and powerful and often outshines her male companions on stage, in the BBC’s mockumentary her jokes are very hit and miss. By contrast, Jessica Hynes incorporates the pointlessness of these creative-types perfectly. She is scripted beautifully, a mocking manipulation of creative’s use of language (starting every single answer to a question with a long ‘So…’), and her hilarious ‘advice’ to the others (to Kay Hope: ‘You’ve got to be cool… you’ve got to be out there… and if that’s not in your head… maybe you’re in the wrong head…’) embodies the often disastrous Olympic preparations in the real world.

Hugh Bonneville has been criticised in some corners for not being funny enough, but these commentators are probably just too fond of him in his role in ‘Downton Abbey’. Bonneville plays his role excellently, and both his board meetings and his interactions with Siobhan are entertaining beyond measure. He sticks to a positive outlook (‘That’s all good, then’, ‘moving forward’, ‘going forward’), which ridicules those books on managerial tips and tricks that always talk about motion and advancement to keep optimistic. The Yorkshire tones of Nick Jowett (played by Vincent Franklin) provide a voice of reason in the board room, a voice that stands out amidst a sea of truisms and pleonasms that help no-one. In the penultimate episode of Series 2, Nick even stops Ian just after he has talked about ‘moving forward’, reminding him that if things continue in the same vein, the only direction they will be going is backwards.

This is a fantastic comedy show that is full of laughs, and the relationships built up between the characters are simply wonderful. Check it out if you get the chance, and make sure to watch some of it during the actual 2012 Olympics. It has already predicted some of the hilarious mistakes that have been made during the preparation period, so perhaps it will have foreseen other calamities! 5 out of 5, without a doubt.

What do you think, and who is your favourite character?

Image source: 1

Here is a list of my top 5 most evil Disney villains (taken from animation, only). Do you agree?

Stromboli – Pinocchio (1940)Image of Stromboli from Disney film

Stromboli is fat, angry, evil, and horrid. His manipulation of small boys in order to perform on stage, before burning them for firewood when they are no longer fit for his purpose, is particularly heart-rending for viewers of this well-known tale. He is loud and large and his booming laughs shock Pinocchio and children watching at home. I can remember watching the scenes in his caravan and getting very scared when he would frequently throw his weight around in such a compact space. When he observes Pinocchio’s ability as a talking, moving puppet who doesn’t require strings for his movements, he seizes him and uses him for personal monetary gain. He keeps Pinocchio in a wooden cage from which he cannot escape, and the juxtaposition between this corpulent bully and Pinocchio’s wiry frame accentuates his evil nature. The large earring and great big bushy beard (source: Hot Fuzz) do nothing to alter this perception.

Jafar – Aladdin (1992)

Jafar is the antithesis to the brave and honourable (at least in the end) Aladdin, and his constant desire for power and his anxious striving for authority make his actions cruel. His attire remains constant – that of a sorcerer in black and red – and his staff is shaped like a serpent. The cobra is a symbol commonly associated with wickedness and deceit, two qualities which are evidently practiced by this pretend adviser throughout the story. Visually his pointy beard and defined features contrast with the soft, handsome appearance of Aladdin. His ability to transform (into a Cobra and into a poor old cripple, to name but two) build up a sense of his evil characteristics, and he pretends to be faithful and lawful only in order that one day he might rule over Agrabah. The music that comes in when he is in the scenes suddenly changes to a darker and more sinister key, which confounds this view. He shows his true colours after finally usurping the Sultan, but his third wish, to become an omnipotent genie, leaves him locked inside the lamp for many, many years to come whilst the blue genie (befriended by Aladdin) gains his freedom.

Percival C. McLeach – The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Percival stars in a much less famous Disney film than the others I have mentioned in this list. ‘The Rescuers’ is a really top Disney movie that hasn’t received the attention it deserves, but there is absolutely no question that McLeach is an scary and evil character. His first appearance is on a Wanted poster in the Australian outback, which suggests that he has poached so often and with such devastating results that the authorities are out to catch him. At one point, he even sings to himself a chilling version of ‘Home on the Range’ about killing animals for enjoyment ( I’ll rip through their sides, and I’ll cut off their hides, and the next day I’ll do it again”). At times his face is not particularly ugly or freaky, but his intentions are clear as he tries to capture the giant golden eagle Marahute to sell her for money. Like so many Disney villains, his final flaw is his ambition for power and money. He meets his end when arrogantly believing that he has fought off some crocodiles at Croc Falls, only to disregard the massive waterfall behind him that is looming ever closer and from which the crocodiles have wisely attempted to flee.

Cruella de Vil – 101 Dalmations (1961)

Surely no list of evil Disney characters would be complete without a mention of Cruella. Her very name is a pun on the word ‘cruel’ and ‘devil’, and her elaborate coats made out of real fur are pretty disgusting (especially in our modern era that is even more against this practice than at the time when the film was made). She kills cute puppies, turning their coats into garments as a fashion statement. ‘I live for fur. I worship fur.’ Urgh – makes you cringe. She is evil! ‘Poison them, drown them, bash them on the head. Got any chloroform? I don’t care how you kill the little beasts. Just do it, and do it NOW!’ For Disney, which usually refrains from having absolutely malevolent characters, these are very harsh words! Although Horace and Jasper provide comic relief as her incompetent duo of workers, Cruella is one of the most evil of them all.

Scar – The Lion King (1994)Image of Scar the lion from The Lion King

Everything about this lion screams malfeasance. His desire to become King of the Pride engulfs him to such an extent that he sets up a rampage to kill his own brother. A real baddie, this one. Disney designed his face in such a way that he seemed slimy and suspicious from his very first entrance in the film. However, although he thinks he has broken any chance of Mufasa or his offspring ever regaining rule of the pride, Simba survives. His famous quote ‘Run far away, Simba, and never come back.’ His mocking tone and his employment of Zazu as his second in command makes him one of the most evil Disney characters ever to have been created. When, at a climactic moment in the film, he finds Simba and ridicules his helpless position (‘Simba, you’re in trouble again – but this time, Daddy isn’t here to save you’, he encourages spectators to loathe him with bitter hatred. The dramatic irony built up throughout the film, as we know he is evil from very near the beginning, sets him up as one of the most maleficent characters in animation history.

Updating the classics with an erotic twist

Pride and Prejudice rewritten with erotic, raunchy scenes in style of Fifty Shades of Grey

Reading classic literature may just have become sexy… literally. This is the news that, for better or worse, the erotic published Total E-Bound have decided to inject some erotic interest into classic fiction such as Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Jules Verne’s ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues

Under The Sea’. So, if you were left frustrated by the lack of a final chapter in which Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett’s sexual relations might have been described in great detail, then this new series of adorned Austen might just be for you.

The ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ effect?

Taking its cue, most probably, from the worldwide success of E.L. James’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, this remarkable idea has now become a reality after many years of critical speculation and discussion. The fantastic rise to fame of this modern trilogy (perhaps rather unjustly labelled ‘mummy porn’ by many commentators) has convinced the publishers that such titivated versions of well-known narratives might be a profitable venture.But such an effect raises many intriguing questions about the authority of literature itself. What right does any publisher have to take existing texts and refurbish them in any way they like? The person tasked with the job of rewriting these novels must be held accountable for each and every change. Ultimately, I fear, the hullabaloo that will undoubtedly surround this news for many months to come may well work in its favour, for controversy is a brilliant step towards exposure.

Issues that arise out of these releases

Martin Amis, amongst others, has expressed frustration at the – in his view, at least partially incomplete – endings of such novels as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and he postulates the idea of ‘a 20-page sex scene featuring the two principals’ that might supplement the present conclusion.

Fifty Shades of Grey erotic novel written by E. L. James

But surely this notion presupposes one essential (in my view, deeply flawed) belief: that readers would prefer to have the sexual tension that pervades these novels grasped and drawn out explicitly on the page. But perhaps the very fact that there is no obvious consummation of Darcy and Bennett’s relationship is somehow better than the alternative. Literature depends as much on reticence as on revelation, and if everything is publicised then it may well detract from the overall sense of mystery. A reader can decide and conjecture for themselves what happens beyond the end – an end that is not really an end, in other words.Classic fiction gets sexy

This publication will be considered a travesty by some die-hard, avid readers of classic fiction, and will be welcomed by others who have always wondered what might have happened. In the eBook era, where public transport is crammed full of people reading works of literature on hand-held devices, there is no longer any shame in reading a raunchy novel. The blank face on the back of a Kindle, for example, serves the function that the brown bags used to in the days immediatel
y after the release of D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Readers do not have to hide what they are reading, because the anonymity of the Kindle back cover does not give away what is being accessed at any given moment.

Some examples of the risqué additions

Let’s take a look at some of the changes that you can expect find:

In Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’, Catherine finds herself in ‘a whole new world of eroticism … where sex knows no boundaries’ when she encounters Henry and begins to engage with him. In Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, retitled ‘Jane Eyre Laid Bare’, Jane is informed that ‘My penis is hard. …That is what kissing you does to me. My body is filled with desire.’ Little is left to the imagination!

Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' given special treatment in new raunchy edition.But that’s just it: the imagination is hindered, and given everything explicitly. Literature does not have to be explicit (in its literal sense) and should not be rewritten just because someone is frustrated at an unexplored, or merely suggested, narrative tract.

The verdict on these erotic rewrites

So, read them if you want to, but don’t be disappointed if you find a clumsy break in the development of a paragraph where the second author has interrupted the original to inject some erotic interest. The prevalence of reader-response theories in critical readings of fiction nowadays has gone some way to making us more aware of an individual’s approach to a work of literature. This should alert us to the fact that many interpretations – some erotic, some not so – are not just possible, but resoundingly valid. If you think that Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship should have been more sexual, or at least more clearly so in the book, then use your imagination to envisage it! There is so much more to that eventual bond than sex, and it should not be reduced to that level simply to appease some minds.

Image sources: 1, 23

Here is a list of my favourite comedy shows (all of which were running in 2011 and 2012). If you love nothing more than relaxing in front of the TV watching a top comedy show, see whether you agree with my selections. The countdown starts here…

5. New Girl – Channel 4New Girl TV Show Cast with Zooey Deschanel

There is something about Zooey Deschanel that makes her look so adorable. Her quaint acting style allows her to be extremely pleasant on screen, no matter what stance she is adopting in this funny show. The first series was a real success, and Zooey manages to outshine her male peers despite being outnumbered by them. And the cast that acts with her is not poor in the slightest. Indeed, it is full of very talented actors all of whom do a very good job; Zooey just seems to light up the screen. The cringe-worthy jokes are absolutely hilarious, the awkward moments abound, and the show does not take itself too seriously. There are some drawbacks, because there is a lack of action at times, and occasionally the focus on the principal characters means that nothing actually happens in an episode barring a couple of jibes. Moreover, the actress who plays Cece, although she interacts with the others well, is outperformed by her friend Jess (Deschanel) and occasionally reverts to the ‘sex icon’ role  (for Schmidt, definitely, but also for male spectators – trust me, I’ve witnessed this first hand watching with friends!). Also – and this is a gripe I have about a wide variety of American sitcoms and tv shows about a group of friends – the apartment in which these low-earning companions abide is absolutely, ridiculously massive. Clearly, it needs to be bright and well-lit to create an upbeat tone for TV, but it’s quite unbelievable. However, all in all, the dynamic between the friends is absolutely top notch, and the boys will make you laugh out loud. Jess is still the star of this show, though, with such gems as “I was going for like a hot farmer’s daughter kind of thing, like, oh, I’m gonna go milk my cows” and “So head’s up, Paul’s coming tonight. And I just wanted to tell you that I’m gonna tap him like a maple tree. I’m gonna search him for some syrups. I’m gonna be having sex with him.” Pure genius. Each episode whizzes by (they are quite short) with such speed that one can easily watch 3 or 4 on the trot. A great show that is set only to get better with more episodes.
4. Twenty Twelve – BBC 2

Twenty Twelve BBC TV Show Cast

‘Twenty Twelve’ didn’t arouse too much interest from the press or from viewers when it first aired more than a year before the London 2012 Olympics were set to start. However, it has now risen to fame. This show satirises the largely shoddy preparations for the Olympics that start on July 27. It’s playful use of language (ridiculing the common and mostly meaningless expressions used by managers such as ‘So that’s all good’, ‘all good going forward’ that Ian Fletcher repeats time and again. Siobhan Sharpe, of PR company Perfect Curve, is a fantastically cast character who symbolises the vapid and vacuous ideas of such ‘creative’ enterprises! Her speech is once again delivered
to perfection, and the show demonstrates how words and talk can roll on for many hours without any kind of productive action ever occurring. And yet, in episode 5 of series 2, Siobham is tasked with the job of coming up with a name for the travel advice pack for the Olympics.

After a lot of stupid and utterly nonsensical chit-chat over the name, suddenly she and her team hit on something: Way To Go. It works – and the double meaning is perfect. So, the show also seems to imply, these types of people exist and prosper not because they are necessarily good at what they do but because they have a lucky imaginative spark that grabs something from nothing. Not the type of show that will make you laugh out loud at every second, but there are some absolutely brilliant moments. David Tenant provides the narration and it is spot on – his Scottish accent is the icing on the cake that really works with the mood of the programme. You might not believe it, but one of the disasters that was joked about in the show, that of the Olympic clock faltering, actually happened in real life – less than 24 hours after the brand new clock was unveiled in London!

3. The Big Bang Theory – E4

The Big Bang Theory tv show cast

The Big Bang Theory is a fabulous show and for a long, long time was my favourite out there. The jokes come thick and fast, and the dialogue is smooth and lively. The star is Dr. Sheldon Cooper, whose magnificent quips and satirical remarks are absolutely perfect. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this show is its revolutionising portrayal of nerds. Fan clubs have been set up around the world in support of the physics professors (and of Howard, who only has a Master’s Degree :D), and many fans wear shirts in the style of Sheldon or with quotes from the series. Some of Sheldon’s best include his response to Penny saying that she is crying because she is stupid: ‘Well that’s no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid and that makes me sad’, or ‘A neutron walks into a bar and asks how much for a drink.

The bartender replies “for you, no charge”’. This show has actually taught me a great deal that I didn’t previously know, such as the number 73 as the greatest number in existence (“The best number is 73. Why? 73 is the 21st prime number. Its mirror (37) is the 12th and its mirror (21) is the product of multiplying 7 and 3. … In binary, 73 is a palindrome, 1001001 which backwards is 1001001”). Yeah, that’s Sheldon for you. But isn’t that so cool? It’s so much better than Hollyoaks or other mindless soaps – The Big Bang Theory strikes the perfect balance between knowing that we watch TV to chill out – and thus it is peppered with jokes and awkward moments – and stimulating creative thought – hence the interesting conundrums and paradoxes. The characters are well-written and developed, but my favourite after Sheldon has to be Raj. He is unable to talk to women except when drunk (I know, it gets pretty hilarious), and tries desperately not to let his friends tease him. He comes out with some of the funniest lines in the entire show, so make sure you watch out for some of his best. Could definitely have been higher than 3rd on another day.

2. Modern Family – Sky 1

Modern Family cast holding up sign with name of tv show

Modern Family is one of the funniest shows on TV at the moment, and I can watch the same episode more than once without getting bored. This show is a mockumentary that follows 3 modern families (how did you guess?) and their daily ups and downs. The Dunfy family works best on screen as the social dynamics between Phil, the fun-loving dad, and Claire, his more dominant and controlling wife, is the perfect recipe for comedy. The children act their roles beautifully, too. Cam and Mitchell, the gay couple who have an adopted daughter, Lily, are also brilliant, and it is almost impossible to believe that the actor Eric Stonestreet, who plays Cam, is not gay in real life. Once again, the interaction between the two men in this family is wonderful, and the jokes are sharp and witty. Each episode has an overriding moral, which might sound a little crass, but in actual fact the show is very down-to-earth and it appears that everyone on set must have had a massive laugh during filming. There is genuine chemistry here, and the success of this programme is testament to its strong characterisation and faultless casting. A little snippet of the type of quips you will encounter:

Alex: “- So dumb guys go for dumb girls AND smart guys go for dumb girls. What do the smart girls get?”
Hayley: “- Cats, mostly.”

1. Friday Night Dinner – Channel 4

Friday Night Dinner family picture

This may come as a surprise to some, because Friday Night Dinner has not achieved anywhere near as much critical attention as its peers in this selection. However, this is without a doubt my favourite comedy show on TV at the moment. With Simon Bird (who you may remember from The Inbetweeners) and Tamsin Grieg, alongside Paul Ritter who plays the comical dad of the family, the relationships in this show are entertaining and vibrant. It follows one family (Tamsin the mother, and Adam (Bird) and Jonny (Tom Rosenthal) as the two brothers) on one friday night for each episode. The hilarity ensues because of various amusing events that unfold in each instalment, and the laughter (much like The Inbetweeners) arises as much from the quick jibes as from the unfortunate situations in which the characters periodically find themselves. But, in contrast to perhaps its most obvious precursor show, Friday Night Dinner rarely resorts to crude, sexual gags. There is occasional swearing, but the show does not need to be rude in order to be funny – which it is, without a shadow of a doubt. The jokes come at a rapid pace, so that one laugh moulds into the next and, at the climactic moments in each episode, you may well find yourself literally clutching at your sides as they are
about to split. The writing is first class, and the characters are interesting and compelling. Bird is excellent in the leading role, and Grieg similarly suits her role to a tee, but the stand-out performance is from Paul Ritter. The stereotypical absent-minded dad, who advises his son Adam about getting a girlfriend (or, as he puts it, discovering the ‘females’), is absolutely uproarious, and each episode may well leave you wanting more. Only 6 in the first series, but another set is due to arrive in October of this year. Mark my words, this show will be one hell of a success.

Image sources: New Girl, Twenty Twelve, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Friday Night Dinner

Book review of The Hunger Games

Ah, The Hunger Games. If you haven’t yet heard of the name Katniss, you will soon. She is set to become as famous as Hermione Granger and Bella Swan: the new female protagonist in a very successful series of books by the former children’s tv show writer Suzanne Collins. But what is all the fuss about? And is it all justified?

The Hunger Games has taken the world by storm. Its simple story line, a kind of cross between a simple love story/love triangle (very reminiscent of much of Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ novels) and dystopian fiction, allows it to tackle weighty subjects without getting too bogged down in a moralistic and political approach.

Photo of The Hunger Games original book cover

A simple synopsis

Katniss and Peeta, the boy-with-the-bread, are forced to compete in the terrifying Hunger Games, a reality tv programme that is streamed live to all citizens of the Capitol (the main ruling class of people who live in luxury and control the 12 districts that lie beneath them on the hierarchical ladder). This is no Big Brother, though. Each contestant must survive and kill the others so that the last man or woman standing is the sole victor.

The Good

1. One aspect on which Collins cannot be faulted is her ability to create a suspenseful and dramatic tale. The plot propels its readers forward at breakneck speed, and it is a classic page-turner. The ethical issues it raises are profound – not just for children or teenagers, but for adults, too. I will not elaborate lest I slip in some spoilers, but this is a moving novel about the struggle for identity and survival in conditions that scream worthlessness and the negligible value of human life.

2. In my opinion, this book has much more going for it than others in its genre, and it would be unfair (as many have) simply to categorise it under the same bracket as ‘Twilight’ because its themes reach more deeply into what it means to be a human being, and simultaneously force a reader to contemplate his or her own position as an interpreter of the events that unravel in each chapter. Anyone who enjoys certain aspects of the novel must question the pleasure felt whilst reading it, and an engagement with the text will definitely provoke careful and rigorous thinking upon the prejudices and preconceptions one held when one first encountered the novel.

2. As you are reading the text, look out for the names that are used. Peeta (pita, like the bread), Katniss, Prim (rose), President Snow and Coin – in the sequels – have very symbolic names that are interestingly deployed for dramatic effect. I also think that the name of the series, The Hunger Games, is particularly powerful, and the repeated ‘g’ sounds reflect a sense of harshness that typifies the subjects discussed within the works.

3. There are also examples of genuinely good writing from Collins, for example the moment when Katniss asks Peeta what his favourite colour is, and he replies that it is orange (‘Not bright orange. But soft. Like the sunset’), and she has some effective aphorisms about what it means to kill and what it means to be treated as savagely as the contestants with the brutal Hunger Games.Photo of Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy

The Bad

But too often the writing is forced – after all, Collins chooses a 1st person perspective and frequently tries to bend around this position in order to describe events in a more objective way. Katniss is used as a vehicle through which the plot can be narrated, and, in the heat of a battle or a climactic moment, the verisimilitude is somewhat lost due to lengthy descriptions of the surrounding flora of the environment or of the suspense felt by other characters.

Final thoughts

However, in general, one major plus in Collins’ work is the fact that the protagonist, Katniss, is strong, resilient, and believable. In contrast to Bella Swan, for example (who, even in the recent feminist documentary ‘Miss Representation’ was given as an example of a successful female protagonist despite the fact that she spends every single day waiting around for the love of her life to come and save her), Katniss is pro-active. The focus is not so much on the love, which is forced at the start and develops up until an ambiguous end (even at the culmination of the trilogy). Katniss is not even sure that she likes either of them in reality, and she is most firmly the centre of attention. She stands up for what she believes in, and, personally, I would much rather she were given as an example of a female role model than Miss Swan. In the movie, too, Katniss is portrayed as self-willed and confident, and is juxtaposed sharply with her mother who is weak and frail.


So, in conclusion, this is a great book that I would give 4/5 stars. Don’t be put off reading it if you are not a teenager any longer, for the writing is sharp and thought-provoking, the characters are well-defined and developed, and it will leave you pondering the way that entertainment and the class system work in the 21st century.

Source of both photos: 1

I’m reading English and Spanish at uni and I studied 3 languages (Spanish, French, and Latin) at A Level.

Here are some of my top tips that I have learned over the years -those that I wish I had adopted more often or more effectively when I was trying to learn!

1. Buy a small dictionary

I mean a very, very small one. Learn the words one page or one letter at a time. I still have my boring old dictionary that I bought in the hotel duty free when I went to Granada 4 years ago. Don’t – whatever you do – buy a big one, because it is just so chunky that even the mere consideration of studying it will turn your mood downbeat. Go for a small one – maybe even the smallest one you can find – and go through the words. If you have been studying the language for a few years, it is highly probable that you will know the majority of the words inside. Often these types of pocket dictionaries have useful idioms and set phrases that will make your speech or writing more colloquial, so this is a good place to start. Despite knowing the majority of the words in that old dictionary of mine, I still peruse its pages every now and again to refresh my mind. This is an inexpensive solution to vocab learning, and you can carry it with you to take out when you have a spare moment.

2. Use pictures

I cannot stress this one enough, because too often when we learn vocab we are faced with ream after ream of black words on white paper. It is uninspiring and incredibly dull, and the fact is that you will learn words much better if you actually use them in your own speech. If you learn a new word – for example, the Spanish word for tie (‘bufanda’) – in a vocab list, you may never actually use it in conversation or in writing. However, if you place a clip art or a cartoonified picture of a scarf right next to the word ‘bufanda’, your mind will create a connection. This is also a great tool for word groups: take an image of a kitchen from the internet and put a word next to all the main items. Blender, toaster, oven, knife, fork, spoon, drawer, fridge, washing machine. You will find gaps in your vocabulary that can be easily rectified – and it’s much more fun than the boring alternative.

3. Try to translate everything in your vicinity

Where are you right now? Can you translate the things you see into the language you are learning? What about the monitor or laptop on which you are reading these words? This leads on from the visual word groups, but this is highly important. Until 2 weeks ago, I didn’t know what the word for ‘keyboard’ was in Spanish (it’s ‘el teclado’), even though I use this piece of equipment multiple times every single day. And the computer mouse? Do you know what that is? Regardless of your level of proficiency in the language, these words are important as we use them frequently, and once they are ingrained in your memory you will probably never forget them due to repeated usage.

4. Vary the medium with which you are learning your vocabulary

I mentioned the visual element, which is highly important in any vocab learning, but another great trick is the audio format. This tool should never be underestimated, and you might like to combine them both by watching a YouTube video. YouTube has thousands of videos recorded by speakers in your language (in Spanish, for example, there are a wide range of great videos on false friends and verb tenses that I have found very useful over the years). Have a browse through and check out the channels of the main contributors – this is fun and can be done alongside regular YouTube clip streaming! Of course, there is a danger of procrastination on YouTube, but if you are disciplined then it could be a great way of learning vocab. You will remember the tone in which the word that you didn’t know was spoken, and this will help you to retain it in your memory.

5. Make it colourful

Once you have your list that your teacher has given you or one that you have found on the internet, use some colour to award yourself when you have learnt certain words. Go through once with two highlighters and highlight the vocab that you really don’t know in one colour, and those that you are slightly unsure of but think you probably do know in another. Spend some time (maybe 1/2 an hour or so, depending on the length of the list) going through the second colour (the ones over which you are a little uncertain) until you feel very strongly that you know them well. In two simple steps you will have cut that list down into a much more manageable selection. Now it contains only a few of the most difficult words. Now you might like to create a different list (or scrap lists altogether, cut them out, and stick them around your room together with the translation!) containing only those words. However, the disadvantage of this is that it can seem once again quite daunting. My own preference is to retain the original list, because I might end up with only 1 or 2 very hard words per page, and if I can learn them quickly, I will know that that page is done and covered. (Just a little confidence booster -because that’s what so much of effective revision is about, really!).

6. Use what you have learnt!

Go downstairs and talk to your family, and say something like “Ah, what’s for dinner? Chicken and peas? I know those words.” Yes – you do. Because you created a link between the word printed or written on the page in front of you and the actual image or smell of that item when you experienced it for yourself.

Please comment, rate, and share to any fellow friends and students!

Is This The End Of Books?

People often talk about digital texts offering their readers an objectively better reading experience in comparison to printed books. It is true that sometimes reading a printed book can be awkward whilst lying in bed or on the sofa, and in contrast eReaders also have backlights specifically designed to maximise the ease of the actvity, but many people just accept this contest as already won by digitalisation. My view is that the distinction is not so simple. The essence of a book – the printed words, the smell of the pages, the physical feeling of reading literally cover to cover – can be imitated but not matched by digital readers.

eBooks vs Paper Books

In the BBC documentary “Imagine… Books: The Final Chapter” which was aired recently, a point made frequently by many advocates of digital books was that the printed word will soon follow the pattern left by vinyl records. Yet this is simply not going to be the case. Vinyls have now entered a dirge in which a few select people swear by their better quality of sound and actually appreciate the grainy resonance, whilst the vast majority have moved on to CDs and now MP3s and MP4s – and maybe soon MP5s and 6s! Yet books will not become history because that’s what they already are. With a vinyl record, no matter how much personal and sentimental attachment you may swear by, you place it into the player and you listen. Beyond the moment of connecting the record to its player, the experience is a passive one.

eBooks vs paper books: the debate

With a book, however, the whole relation is much more active. A reader physically picks up the book, opens the page, and lets the words perform on them an effect which is seemingly indefinable and irreducibly complex. It is my belief that, whereas with music one can listen without imagining or visualizing something outside of the art form itself (when I listen to Elgar’s Cello Concerto I do not necessarily have to create an identifiable world in my mind), it is impossible to do this when reading words. It is impossible to read the following extract from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea without mentally engaging with what you are reading.

“He was a very big Mako shark, built to swim as fast as the fastest fish in the sea and everything about him was beautiful except his jaws. His back was as blue as a sword fish’s and his belly was silver and his hide was smooth and handsome. He was built as a swordfish except for his huge jaws which were tight shut now as he swam fast, just under the surface with his high dorsal fin knifing through the water without wavering.” (100)

And every single person reading this extract will have a slightly different image in their head of the Mako shark, even though they are reading the exact same words. Of course, everyone listening to music may similarly have a different reaction to the sound they hear, but the relationship between music and its listener does not have the same engagement and blend as text and its reader. All this is not to suggest that music is somehow inferior to literature – I don’t mean to say that at all. What I am saying is that whereas music is easily switched between different audio formats, this change is nowhere near as easy or as satisfactory with the written word.

My personal experience of eBooks vs paper books

I am a student at university studying English (and therefore I need to have access to a lot of books!). Many of them are available online because they are either out of print or printed by online journals and directories that charge a fee (paid by the institution) to use what they publish. Yet in the vast majority of cases I will physically go to the library, take out the book, and read it there and then, even though in theory it would be much simpler just to log on in my room and read it online. There is something about physically getting up to go a library that is both motivating and stimulating for me, and the reading experience is much superior. But maybe this is a naive point of view from an avid reader whose love affair with books should probably come to an end. Perhaps, deep down inside of me, I feel reluctant to read Paradise Lost or Don Quixote online through an HTML version because I believe that they somehow deserve to be read as a physical book. But doesn’t that mean I am falling into a trap – a trap that screams of ignorance and a stubborn refusal to change my ways? Am I simply assuming (unfoundedly, perhaps) that an eReader is by some means less honourable than the book?

With the dramatic rise to prominence of the Kindle, and with software such as iBooks and Stanza now close at hand in our digital age, are we to admit that we are turning over the page to the final chapter for books? Here are some very interesting ideas to consider regarding this topical debate.

Interesting ideas about the Kindle

I have tried to use a Kindle in the past and have found it immensely frustrating not to be able to write on what I am reading when I come to something particularly important or interesting. I like to write in my books and although it is possible with an eReader to highlight an area of text and save it to your profile, in my view this will never beat pencil on paper. Moreover, when I am reading a book, be it a novel, play or poem, I am constantly aware of how far through the work I am at a particular moment. This sense of progression is emulated to a certain extent with digital books, in that there is a percentage in the top right hand corner of the screen, but this once again does not live up to scratch. To say that I am 19% through a book does not have the sense of personal interaction with a text as a general feel of the printed pages and it makes it seem like a goal to finish – to get to 100%. I do not want to conquer the book; I want to engage with it.

eBooks vs the printed word

The Internet is full of uploads and downloads with these percentages, and the only thing on our mind when we see these numbers is to get it over and done with so that we can concentrate on the rest. I don’t need to know that I am 19% of the way through; just a rough and non-numerical indication of how far through the text I am. When reading a novel (say you’re on page 156, for instance), you know that before you (I envisage a picture of the words being contained further left than the left-hand page you are reading, always accessible), you can find the words you have just read. They are always there and you can flick back to them whenever you wish to clarify something or jog your memory. But with an eReader there is no sense of this continuous trail coming in from the left (outside of the page) and arriving at the sentence you are on. When I turn a page on an eReader I do not feel as though I am progressing and following the story. Every word is captured within this Kindle and I get the impression that each page is in effect a superposition of one onto the other, rather than an actual movement (although of course the book is not actually in motion) from left to right.

Do we read ‘better’ with eBook readers?

Whilst I appreciate that eReaders allow us to take a library of books with us on the go at once, I am critical of whether this is useful or helpful. Even on holiday, I only need to take a maximum of about 3 or 4 books with me at one time, which whilst taking up more space than one sole Kindle is not a great burden to bear. I would bet that the vast majority of Kindle readers right now on the go will read no more than one book between the time they leave their home and the time they return to it. Once again, we arrive at the issue of reading too quickly or too superficially. When we have a whole library of books in our hand, we want to get through as many as possible in the shortest space of time.

Interesting ideas about eReaders

If I go out with one book and I finish it whilst out, I will reread certain passages or I will reflect on what I have read before launching into another fictional world. In my opinion, many eReader users finish a book and then move on to the next one without much time for pensive contemplation or rigorous analysis. Of course, the experience of reading can be purely hedonistic, and I am not condemning those who read without being critical of the text before them, but it strikes me that the wealth of textual material available to devour on a Kindle leads readers to neglect their capacity for profound examination of a single one.

Observations on life: digital books vs printed books

On the other hand, we must accept that there are some major advantages of the Kindle over a physical book. Although it is not as easy as it could be right at the moment, given time it will become incredibly straightforward to look up a glossary or an index which will be fantastic for reference books and textbooks. Yet I simply cannot envisage a time, even in decades and decades, when there will be no books. Digital books have their uses, but I cannot imagine a new publication not being printed as a physical book. As Alan Bennett notes in The Uncommon Reader, writing from the mindset of the Queen who has stumbled into a library and discovered the joys of reading: “Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.” But digital books really do care. Books on Kindles are packed with ratings, percentages, figures, comments, reviews. In contrast, whilst might get a price tag on the back of a novel, but we soon scratch that off and we are on our way.

Conclusions to the debate

Many people may well prefer eReaders, but there will always be a large number who will stick to physical books. It is without a doubt a challenge to their authority, but this is not the death of books. It’s not even their final chapter. Books will prevail and will not be overcome. They may not actually care ‘who (is) reading them or whether one read(s) them or not”, but they will continue to be read, over and over again, by readers who, despite the advancements of the digital age, simply prefer the organic experience of meeting a printed book with whose experiences s/he can suffer, communicate, and interact.

This poll is not an ad – I created it! Please fill it out and give your view!

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