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Published: Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:00:35 -0500


Open Thread for December 5!

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:00:35 -0500

QUIZ: Are You a Phony, According to Holden Caulfield?

Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:00:05 -0500

Look, if you don't understand the title of this quiz, I can't explain it. And even if I could, I'm not sure I'd feel like it. [viralQuiz id=197]

Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Get to Know This Person?

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:36:58 -0500

Dear Auntie SparkNotes, As school has begun I've begun to notice a certain new boy in my class... (cue the thumping of hearts, fluttering of butterflies.) He's an international student and there's something about his dedication to his studies and his quiet nature that draws me in (you know, me being a nerd and all). And who could forget his beautiful smile? I want to become his friend so that I can see if this has a chance of getting anywhere. I've tried talking to him a few times but it's tough because we only have two classes together and both of the classes leave no time for chatting. We also are in completely different friend groups so you can see how difficult it can be. When I ask him questions he gives me detailed answers but he doesn't ask me anything back. I haven't given up because the fact that he answers with interest shows that at least he doesn't think that I'm some kind of a nuisance. That's why I'm emailing you, Auntie. Could you give me some advice on how I can get to know this person and potentially become friends with them? Sure can, Sparkler! But I must warn you: The advice I'm about to give you is kinda the worst. Not because it's not useful, or because it won't work—it is, and it will!—but because the hard part isn't figuring out what to do. It's having the courage to do it. And by "it," of course, I mean "opening your mouth and using your words to flirt your ding-dang face off." Which is terrifying, I know. But it is unequivocally your best option, and not just because your relationship will need a more fertile (read: flirty) foundation if it's going to blossom beyond small talk about the latest chemistry lecture. The fact is, you're interested in getting to know this guy not because you want to be his friend, but because you see it as a potential gateway to something more than friendly. And to that end, a little courage will take you a long way toward figuring out if romance is in the cards, and without having to go all the way through the process of becoming friends under false pretenses (which is a notorious recipe for disappointment, anyway.) Unfortunately, in your case, I think that means you've gotta take the scary step of just asking the guy out—since you swim in such different social circles and aren't being thrown together in, say, a club or sport or party environment that might let you take things to a more intimate level. The next time you have an opportunity to talk, ask him if he's ever gone to [insert local, adorable cafe here], and whether he'd be interested in grabbing a coffee with you after school one day. Again: Terrifying. Yes. It is. And if you really, truly can't bring yourself to say it, then there is always the alternative of befriending him online and trying to strike up the kind of conversations over, say, Facebook messenger that you don't have the time to have in person. But the thing about the big, scary overture is that you only have to make it once. One uncertain step, one moment of fear, and you'll get all the information you need as to whether this guy is interested in spending time with you or not. And if he says no? Then that's a bummer, for sure, but at least you won't have wasted your time trying to incrementally finesse your way into a relationship that was never going to happen—and on the other hand, if he says yes, then think how fun that will be! So, here is my advice: Gird your loins, ask the question, and hope for the best (albeit while preparing yourself to be gracious if the answer is no.) We'll keep our fingers crossed for you. And for the love of everything, write back and let us know what happened! Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.

QUIZ: How Perfect Is Your Grammar?

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:55:46 -0500

Basically, are you a Hermione or a Ron when it comes to the nuances of the English language? [viralQuiz id=194]

How to Ask for an Extension on Your Paper

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 12:30:37 -0500

You may think that SparkNotes is run by a bunch of quasi-sentient robots living inside your computer, but the truth is that the SparkNotes editors are regular people just like you and me. This is why, sometimes, it becomes necessary to appeal to their better natures—like, say, if you agreed to write an article called "How to Ask for an Extension on a Paper" and forgot about it for two weeks, at which point you found yourself ironically asking for an extension. I got my extension, and you can, too. Here’s how: Step 1: Come to terms with the fact that it’s not getting done on time. Realize and accept that you dropped the ball, and that there’s no way that you’ll be able to get all your projects turned in by the deadline. You can’t change the facts, so focus on what you can do. You can either a) turn everything in late, b) turn in poorly done work, or c) choose an item on your to-do list to push back. Perhaps this assignment isn’t as urgent as the others, or perhaps a potential low grade in this class won’t be as detrimental to your GPA, or perhaps the teacher likes you and will likely empathize. Whatever the reason, this is the project for which you’ll be needing an extension. The earlier you make this decision, the better, because asking for an extension on the actual due date just makes it look like you procrastinated or forgot about the assignment altogether (which may be true, but you don't want them to know that). Step 2: Write it out. The ideal way to ask for an extension is in person, but writing out your explanation ahead of time can help make your request sound more reasonable and mature. Sometimes—like when your editors live hundreds of miles away—a written request is the only way to go. Step 3: Explain, but don’t give too many excuses. Your life has been crazy stressful lately, and you want your teacher or boss to know every detail. Maybe you’re even tempted to exaggerate your circumstances a little bit for sympathy. Your assignment is late because you overextended yourself, sure, but maybe you should just say your aunt died. Better yet—say FIVE of your aunts died, on the same day. That sounds plausible. Remember, however, that the person you’re asking doesn’t want to read a ten-paragraph e-mail filled with flimsy excuses or listen to you apologize for an hour, so explain your situation briefly. Keep in mind that the point is to highlight what you’re doing differently so that you won’t be late again. Step 4: Set (or negotiate) a new due date. Let your teacher or boss know when you can have the project ready. Make it clear that you have a plan for getting the assignment done in that time. If they think you’re asking for an unreasonable amount of time, be willing to accept a shorter extension. Also be willing to do extra work of some sort to make up for the lateness. For instance, here’s the e-mail I sent to my lovely editors: I agreed to take the pitch "How to Ask for an Extension" several weeks ago. I overextended myself due to poor planning on my part, and so when unforeseen circumstances arose, I found myself unable to deliver my post on time. I would greatly appreciate an extra week to hone this post and make it worthy of SparkNotes. If granted the extension, I guarantee I will have the post to you by next Monday. I understand that SparkNotes counts on its writers to deliver funny and insightful content in a timely manner, and that the amazing editors have a tougher job when we don't meet our deadlines. In the future, I will manage my commitments better so that I won't have to ask for an extension again. In the meantime, please let me know if there's anything I can do to make up for the lateness. Best, Maura I received a response granting my request (it was this picture of a hamster giving a thumbs-up, but still). Best of luck to all of you as finals loom ever nearer, and make sure to do a better job than I do of staying on top of your commitments!

QUIZ: Would You Last As a Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor?

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 11:00:51 -0500

Defense Against the Dark Arts professors at Hogwarts have worse job security than the cast of Game of Thrones. If you take up the post, there’s a very real chance you’ll wind up dead or locked in a trunk or carried away by a herd of centaurs. There’s also a slim (we’re talking minuscule) chance you’ll be completely fine. So, would you stand the test of time? Or would you wind up being the yearly Hogwarts sacrifice to the wizard gods? [viralQuiz id=195]

Open Thread for the Weekend of December 2!

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 08:00:25 -0500

What Greek God Should You Date?

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:00:32 -0500

Don't ghost on Apollo unless becoming a laurel tree is in your five-year plan. [viralQuiz id=193]

Here's Everything You Need to Know About Dumbledore & Grindelwald

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 11:00:51 -0500

Disclaimer: There will be Fantastic Beasts spoilers GALORE.  Second disclaimer: I'm not kidding about this. Seriously, you've been warned.  (If you haven't seen the movie and you're still here, I can only assume you're sussing out spoilers deliberately, and that's fine. You know what you're about. I can respect that.) At the end of Fantastic Beasts, it's revealed that head Auror Percival Graves is actually the Dark wizard Grindelwald running around New York City in a Colin Farrell man suit. This brings up questions such as "Who is Grindelwald?" and "What's his deal?" and "Where is the real Percival Graves? Does he even exist?" In roughly 700 years we'll be getting the next Fantastic Beasts installment, so let's talk about Grindelwald and everything you need to know about his character going forward. GRINDELWALD IS LIKE THE OG DARK WIZARD In Fantastic Beasts, we're already elbows-deep in Grindelwald's rise to power. But before he became this sort of proto-Voldemort figure, Grindelwald was just some troubled James Dean-looking interloper who'd gotten himself kicked out of Durmstrang for performing one too many twisted experiments. He was shipped off to live with his great-aunt Bathilda in Godric's Hollow, which is where he became close friends with none other than Albus Dumbledore, the wizarding world's resident Gandalf. DUMBLEDORE WAS 100% IN LOVE WITH GRINDELWALD There was a Fantastic Beasts press conference a few months ago where someone asked if Dumbledore’s feelings for Grindelwald would be explored or simply glossed over in the coming films, and J.K. Rowling said she didn’t want to give too much away. Dumbledore is such an iconic character, and Grindelwald is such a significant part of his tragedy, that I can’t imagine it won’t come up. The two were close friends until they parted ways in 1899; Dumbledore didn’t confront Grindelwald, who went on to become the evil dictator he was always meant to be, until 1945. I imagine at some point during the next four movies, someone’s going to have the presence of mind to ask, "Hey, Dumbledore, you’re the most powerful wizard in the whole entire world—why haven’t you gone after that Grindelwald guy yet?" And Dumbledore’s going to have to say, "Well, you see, I was in love with him once, so it’s complicated. Also, he might have killed my sister. It’s a whole thing." People made a big fuss when J.K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay. Personally, I feel like his being in love with Grindelwald is the only way this whole deal makes sense. People do stupid things when they’re in love. I once sat through a Charlie Sheen movie marathon for eight hours straight just because I sort of liked the guy who invited me. It’s certainly no "ignoring the increasingly obvious signs that the boy you’re crushing on the wizarding equivalent of Hitler," but still, I get where he’s coming from. GRINDELWALD WAS ON A HUNT FOR THE HALLOWS In the film, Grindelwald gives a Deathly Hallows necklace to Credence Barebone. We know, then, that he was looking for the Hallows in 1926. The question is: did he already have the Elder Wand when he went up against Newt Scamander? It would seem so. By then, Grindelwald would have been in his early 40s. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he’s described as having been a young man when he stole the wand from Gregorovitch. Percival Graves’ wand in the film, however, bore virtually no resemblance to the distinct, knotted shape of the Deathstick with which we’re all familiar. Either he had the wand hidden away somewhere, OR the filmmakers just aren’t concerned with consistency. Whatever the case may be, keep an eye out for it in the coming movies—it’ll be interesting to see how Dumbledore beats the unbeatable wand. GRINDELWALD HAD [...]

Is the Wife of Bath Feminist?

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 10:00:18 -0500

I’ve come to believe that "Wife of Bath: feminist or no?" is an essay question every English teacher must ask at least once, lest they invoke the ancient magic that swallows our world in darkness. I was an English major with a focus on medieval literature (I'm fun at parties, I swear), so I think I wrote this exact essay upwards of four times. For the uninitiated, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales about a ragtag group of misfit pilgrim people swapping stories on their journey to see the shrine of Thomas Beckett. One such storyteller was the Wife of Bath. She opened with a rollicking prologue chock full of explicit personal anecdotes (as well as some of the filthiest Middle English euphemisms you’ve ever heard in your LIFE) before launching into a tale about a pillaging knight. 600 years later, sleep-deprived students were forced to write essays about her. I’m guessing you’re one of those students. Maybe that’s why you’re here. Maybe you’re writing your essay right now. Look, I don’t blame you for Googling it instead of actually doing the work yourself. We’ve all been there. God knows I have. This is why I have technically taken two whole astronomy classes but still know nothing about Kepler’s third law, and I live in fear of the day this comes back to bite me. But back to the Wife of Bath and her feminism, or lack thereof. It’s a tough, multifaceted question, and you can't write a decent essay without taking those facets into account. So let's consider: IRONIC ANTI-FEMINISM Some scholars claim the Wife of Bath perpetuates negative portrayals of women instead of dismantling them; thus, they say, she is an anti-feminist figure. But it's also true that her particular brand of colorful humor closely aligns with the modern concept of ironic anti-feminism. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, take a look at this parody Twitter account. To better understand how this relates to the Wife of Bath, consider comedian Ali Wong. She has a stand-up comedy special called "Baby Cobra" that relies on a recurring joke about her desire to be a housewife. She doesn’t want to work, she says; she wants to stay home all day and watch Netflix and eat snacks. Because of twenty-first-century female empowerment, however, she’s expected to be constantly doing things like EARNING A LIVING and BEING INDEPENDENT. Ugh. Thanks a bunch, Beyonce. (I’m reminded of this joke every time I see something like "Remember the good old days when a woman could just marry a man for his money?" and I reblog it with #me. Of course I don’t actually want to marry a man for his money, but the sentiment speaks to a pervasive Internet subculture of postmodern irony that resonates with me, and I need those tumblr notes.) Ali Wong’s stand-up routine really sings because she’s actively reveling in a stereotypical fear. We’re told that men are afraid of being tricked into marriage, as per Kanye West’s iconic hit Gold Digger and also every sitcom in the history of cable TV. The Wife of Bath capitalizes on a similar phobia. She embodies everything medieval men are said to dislike about women—she’s overtly sexual, she’s not particularly attractive, she’s bawdy, and she weaponizes her sexuality to assert dominance over her many husbands. She goes to great lengths to describe the way she acquires, and enjoys, power (and she even does so in what’s essentially the medieval version of stand-up comedy). The other characters are so put off by this that the Pardoner interrupts her to say that he’s now afraid of getting married. It's like he just came out of the theater after seeing Gone Girl. Look, I’m not saying the Wife of Bath is a clear expression of ironic antifeminism or that Chaucer was ahead of his time (I'm definitely not saying that[...]