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Published: Tue, 28 Mar 2017 11:00:48 -0400


Every Jane Austen Novel, Summed Up in a Single Sentence

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 11:00:48 -0400

I have a very specific idea in my head of people who have read every Jane Austen novel. They actually floss, and they know when to use a semicolon, and they can mentally calculate the tip without using the calculator on their phones. In short, they are simply a higher caliber of human being than the rest of us. But since people like you and I are too busy being worthless trash goblins to read anything other than Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and the Wikipedia entry for Mansfield Park, I’ve created a quick and easy guide to every completed novel that Jane Austen ever wrote.

The Wedding Test

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 10:00:44 -0400

"It's your day, and never let ANYONE tell you otherwise." —Friedrich Nietzsche This quiz was originally published in June 2016 [viralQuiz id=74]

QUIZ: How Well Do You Know Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows?

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 10:00:01 -0400

HULLO, and welcome to the long-awaited, much-anticipated finale to our Harry Potter quiz series! You should know that I expected exactly 0% of you to make it this far. But if, against all odds, you DID make it this far, then CONGRATULATIONS ARE IN ORDER! You've got an uncanny ability to navigate death traps and impossible quizzes, and I'd wager a goodly portion of Draco Malfoy's pocket money that you just might be the Chosen One. via GIPHY You outlived Cedric Diggory, Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, and all those chickens that Ginny killed in Chamber of Secrets. You survived the Triwizard Tournament, you got the Weasleys to adopt you (basically), you earned a heckload of points for Gryffindor by breaking all sorts of school rules/endangering the lives of your friends and fellow students, you only barfed twice while asking Cho Chang to the Yule Ball, and you outfoxed Voldemort at nearly every turn, except for when he tricked you into going to the Department of Mysteries and then killed your godfather, and that one time when he took your blood in a graveyard so that he could regain human form and become nearly indestructible. Suffice it to say, you should be very proud of yourself, and also gutted by sadness and loss and regret, feelings which will only be amplified throughout this book until you're yearning for the sweet release of death. But before that happens, let's take a minute to review the most excellent bits of Deathly Hallows! -There's this:   via GIPHY -And this: via GIPHY -And this: via GIPHY -There's McGonagall owning everybody's shit, and Bill and Fleur's wedding, and everything Dobby did, and Ron's adorable and moronic attempts to apologize for bailing, and Kreacher, who started off as the meanest Smeagol in Mordor, transforming into an adorable Top Chef contestant with a penchant for hitting criminals and Death Eaters on the shins (see here). There's also this scene, which doesn't appear in the book, but which I LOVE, even though it's quite polarizing in the Potterhead community (WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT IT I'M DESPERATE TO KNOW). One final thing before you begin: This quiz is Voldemort's seventh Horcrux. Conquer it, and you'll save the wizarding world, marry a dreamy redhead, and produce offspring to whom you will give inexplicably terrible names. Fail, and you bring on the end-times. But remember, even if you DO fail, Hogwarts will always be here to welcome you home. JK. Don't even think about coming back if you get less than a 15. (PS. If you're not caught up on quizzes, you can take 'em all below and then Apparate back over here for the FINAL SHOWDOWN. How Well Do You Know Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone? How Well Do You Know Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets? How Well Do You Know Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban? How Well Do You Know Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire?  How Well Do You Know Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix?  How Well Do You Know Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince? [viralQuiz id=222] This quiz was originally published in January 2017

Open Thread for March 28!

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:00:30 -0400

Auntie SparkNotes: Am I a Selfish Burden?

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 16:50:15 -0400

Dear Auntie, Some of my close friends have just told me that they are tired of hearing about my problems and that I don't listen enough. They have said that my own sadness is brought on by myself, and that I want other people to fix it. I won't deny this. I feel like a bomb, or a burden, or a parasite, and I have been told that people feel sad after talking to me. Is the solution to just hide all my problems? Be happy so people will like me? I hurt people by asking for their help. I am sure that I am selfish. Am I? Actually, Sparkler, I think the word you're looking for is "depressed." Because I don't know you, sweet pea, and I'm not a doctor, but depressed is how you sound. Every time I read your letter I find myself thinking afresh about David Foster Wallace's piece called The Depressed Person, which seems to echo your own experience right down to the part where you desperately want not to be consumed by your own suffering but are helpless to talk or think about anything else. Which is the awful irony of depression: in a way, it does make you selfish. Depression is a black freaking hole, and as much as it sucks to have one of those inside you, it also sucks to be standing next to one, pumping all your warm and supportive energy into it only to realize that it's still as dark and hungry and infinite as ever. That's why, of all the mental health struggles out there, this one is probably the hardest on friendships; even the most giving person eventually gets drained when giving (and giving, and giving) is all they do. So with that in mind, here is my advice: Rather than asking your friends for help that they're wholly unqualified to give, please put that energy into finding and talking to a professional therapist. If you have access to a counselor at school, start there. If not, you can reach out to (in no particular order) your religious leader, the NAMI helpline (1-800-950-NAMI, M-F; 10-6), or an online service like 7 Cups of Tea, and get the ball rolling on getting some help. And if you haven't been screened for depression—which I'm guessing you haven't—then a visit to your family doctor is a must, too. You can get referrals there to mental health professionals, including the kind who can prescribe medication to help you out, if appropriate. It's not that this will instantly and completely solve everything; that takes time, and work. But what it will do is give you an outlet dedicated entirely to discussing your problems, so that when you get next to your friends, you can do some listening—or at least talk about something else. It means that when someone asks how you're doing, you won't have to unload every last iota of your sadness onto them, because you have another, better place to do that. In short, it means feeling less like a burden and more like a person, one who is going through a tough time but doing what it takes to deal with it. I wish you the best of luck. 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.

20 Questions You Can Ask About Pretty Much Any Shakespeare Play

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 11:00:15 -0400

There's going to come a time where you will find yourself in class discussing a Shakespeare play you haven't actually read. Perhaps you didn't quite understand the syllabus, or perhaps you were up all night binge-watching The Great British Bake-Off, in which case who can blame you? The good news is that Shakespeare's works have plenty of overlapping themes and ideas, so if you pose one of the following questions in class, it'll have at least a 73% chance of being relevant to the discussion: 1. What dramatic function do the pirates serve? 2. Can you explain that double entendre? I’m pretty sure it’s sexual but I’m not sure how. 3. To what extent could you say that [character]’s cause of death was "poor communication"? 4. How does the Protestant Reformation factor into all of this? 5. What does the king’s fool reveal about society as a whole? 6. How could that disguise possibly work? 7. What’s the significance of this really abrupt ghost? 8. Why is [male character] constantly plagued by thoughts of female infidelity? Did he have any thoughts other than "MY WIFE BETTER NOT BE CHEATING ON ME"? 9. What does [hilarious comic relief character] reveal about humanity’s inexorable march into the void? 10. Can you explain that malapropism and why it was funny? Like, I definitely understand everything I’m reading here. I’m just saying if I DIDN’T understand, how would you explain it? 11. Why does [character] have a name that conflicts with their setting or background? 12. Why do I get the feeling that every character who possesses even a single ounce of hubris is clearly marked for death? 13. Was that an anachronism, or am I crazy? 14. Does at least one person have to be plotting the death of a king at any given time? Like is that a rule? 15. How do the themes in this play reflect widespread fears concerning the line of succession to the English throne? 16. What the actual hell is a “bed trick” and why was this an acceptable way to solve problems? 17. How does the wedding at the end speak to gender politics of the day? 18. To what extent is that bawdy joke actually a form of social and political commentary? 19. What are the chances that [character]’s prophetic dream will soon take on a grim sort of significance? 20. What does the play suggest about the Tudor dynasty (other than the fact that it’s clearly the best English dynasty, just in case Elizabeth I is watching)?

House Plants 101

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 11:00:07 -0400

Apologies to T.S. Eliot, but I think we can all agree that March is the cruelest month. "First day of spring," PAH! March is the eternal tease. But while plants in the wild are still buried under a layer of tricky March frost, plants in your house are the best way to brighten your living space! Read on for the quick and dirty on plant care.

We Would Read These Literary Spin-Offs

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 10:00:49 -0400

Publishers are always looking to squeeze some extra juice out of a successful book by cranking out a spin-off. Wherefore did Four: A Divergent Story Collection appear in our lives, if not for the nerve-wracked publishing executive sitting in their office screaming, "We are running out of Theo James!" Pretty much the second we got to the end of Deathly Hallows, we were all rattling our chairs and demanding a full literary history of Sirius Black. I mean, I get it. So which characters would we love to see become the star of their own spin-off? OH, JUST A FEW. Here's how I'd pitch it to publishers... The Romantic Endeavors of Mr Collins, Pride and Prejudice The man of the silver tongue didn’t just appear in a puff of sparkly smoke at the door of the Bennet house to douse Lizzie in a spray of superlative compliments. No, he had lived a whole life before his ungrateful cousin senselessly turned him down. Who was the lady who had the honor of being the first to experience the incredible courtship manners of Mr. Collins? What insights into his self-flattery might we find in the remnants of his days as a swinging single and aspiring clergyman? Just how did he develop such a level of self-assurance about his flirting skills in the face of such miserable failure? How many women were there before he sat down to that incredibly awkward dinner with the Bennet family? WE NEED TO KNOW. The Re-education of Rubeus, Harry Potter After the whole Battle of Hogwarts thing, sooner or later, everything had to just go back to normal. There was a lot of clean up, a flood of new students, some brand new gargoyles to replace the ones turned into soot in the wizarding war—it was about time for some calm book-learning, free of Voldemort-related drama. Do you know what else has been long time coming? WE ARE SORRY ABOUT KICKING YOU OUT OF SCHOOL FOR THE WRONG REASONS, HAGRID. OUR BAD. Imagine when, one sunny day in July, Rubeus Hagrid gets his very own special letter, informing him that he has been allowed to repeat his education at Hogwarts. What awaits him? The joy of exchanging his pink umbrella for a nice sturdy wand of oak and dragon’s heartstring, of getting on the boats to Hogwarts not as a supervisor, but as a student once again. Imagine Hagrid eagerly waiting for class and shushing talking students. Imagine him bringing a precariously wrapped box of home-made fudge for Neville on his first day as a Herbology teacher. Walking down Diagon Alley with Harry, getting all he needs for his new school year. JUST IMAGINE. Buttercup: A Memoir, The Hunger Games Let’s face it. At least once in your life you had the wild, crazy thought: What would it be like if my pet wrote a super-secret book in which they spill all the gruesome and frankly unflattering details of my life? Well imagine such a book about the life of the Everdeens, from the point of view of resident evil cat, Buttercup. Prim loved him, Katniss hated him, but he had unique insight into moments in their lives, even at the most intimate and personal moments. How cool would it be to read his point of view? Or maybe not, maybe it would be all "Hate Katniss. Hairball. Did I turn the stove off?" Detective Chronicles: The Owl Eyes that See All, The Great Gatsby Hey, remember that guy with googly eyes in The Great Gatsby who sat all drunk in Gatsby’s library, all fixated on the books around him? You probably didn’t until now. Well, being easily forgotten is one of many things that would come in handy while becoming the greatest investigator the world has ever known. He was the only guy who thought to check whether Gatsby’s books were real, later coming to a singular conclusion that though they were real, they were never read(!, but also none of us are so surprised). We catch such brief but intense glimpse of him (is he a [...]

From the Diaries of Minerva McGonagall: February 3, 1982

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 10:00:42 -0400

Dear Diary, Is it wrong to say that age has improved someone? I know that I am a stronger, kinder, and more compassionate person than I was in my youth—and, meeting Elphinstone for the first time in years, found him to be… it’s hard to say. Himself, of course. But different. His smile, for example. It’s softer and at the same time more real. Not the wicked smirk he used to use when he and I would laugh about some Ministry colleague’s mistake. He is also less quick to interrupt—which he used to do constantly—and I could feel him, as he looked at me from across the table, giving me the full benefit of his attention. Listening. Perhaps seeing me for the first time. I only say that because it feels like I am seeing Elphinstone for the first time. We’re peers now. When I was younger I thought we were peers because we were both adults—but he was also my supervisor, which in retrospect made it an imbalanced relationship. I used to look at him and see a person I needed to please. Now I look at him and see a man I want to know. The war has changed him, as it has changed us all. His hair is white to my grey, and the two of us made the usual jokes about getting older, aches and pains, as we sipped our tea and tried to decide whether we would talk about anything more serious. Which, in time, we did. It is strange to tell someone your real aches and pains, especially when you hadn't planned on it. I spoke about the Longbottoms, the sadness of going to visit them at St. Mungo's and not being sure if they knew I was there. I think Alice squeezed my hand, but Frank's mother, who is always present, said it didn't mean anything. "Alice squeezes everybody's hand." She wouldn't let me see the baby. Elphinstone has also lost friends. We all have, and yet when we find each other and talk about our experiences it is like a discovery: You feel the same way I do. I did not realize anyone else could. I loved them so much. He has asked if he can see me again. I had not thought I would say yes, but now I think I will. Yours faithfully, Minerva Previously in The Diaries of Minerva McGonagall

Open Thread for March 27!

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 08:00:15 -0400