Improving at Literature

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Improving at Literature

Post by Coldblueberry » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:39 pm

Lists aren't the best way to study, right?

...then what should I do to study?

All I do is read lists, memorize authors, and read books that are high frequency on the list. Where can I find questions with stock clues for literature? Also, reading the wiki synopsis for books....i just can't really remember key details.

Help please, Thanks.
Last edited by Coldblueberry on Tue Nov 23, 2010 2:42 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Coldblueberry » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:53 pm

Also, (i don't know what sets are, are they packets of questions from tournaments?) are there any purely literature sets of questions? (from a lit tournament?)
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Important Bird Area » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:59 pm

Coldblueberry wrote:Also, (i don't know what sets are, are they packets of questions from tournaments?) are there any purely literature sets of questions? (from a lit tournament?)
Welcome to the forum! You will likely enjoy either (or both!) of these fine archives: quizbowlpackets.com, Stanford packet archive
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Auroni » Wed Jun 23, 2010 12:23 am

Coldblueberry wrote:Now, Lists ain't the best way to study.

However, what else should I do to study Lit?

All I do all day e'ry day is read lists, memorize authors, and read books that are high frequency on the list. Where can I find questions with stock clues for literature? Also, reading the wiki synopsis for books....i just can't really remember key details.

Help please, Thanks.
Welcome to the forums! I used to play for Torrey Pines and I went from being in your position to the person that answered the most lit questions on my team. Essentially what I did was to go online to the archives that Jeff linked for you and read a lot of questions. The sorts of questions that you might have been exposed to at this point (terrible Academic League questions, I'm guessing) don't foster an appreciation or an interest in literature. Once I began reading real questions, I was curious to read short stories, novels, and poems and to write questions on the ones that I didn't know as much about. Now, it's a slower process than you probably want, but it's one that will allow you to get very good at literature. Lists are not the way to go if you want to become a good literature player. I used to pore them over when studying for my very first NAQT tournaments. That got me a few questions at the giveaway. But follow the pattern I described and you'll soon note a rapid improvement in your game as far as literature is concerned.

Also, what might be useful to you is to come to our summer practices at UCSD every Wednesday (starting tomorrow) from 7-10 PM. Leave me a message and I'll give you further details if you are interested.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by jdeliverer » Wed Jun 23, 2010 12:53 am

Coldblueberry wrote:Now, Lists ain't the best way to study.

However, what else should I do to study Lit?

All I do all day e'ry day is read lists, memorize authors, and read books that are high frequency on the list. Where can I find questions with HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRED clues for literature? Also, reading the wiki synopsis for books....i just can't really remember key details.

Help please, Thanks.
Lists in their traditional form and usage are probably not the best way to study, no. But if you are willing to take the time, they are very valuable when used as a base for study.

Instead of just going through lists and memorizing authors or whatever, just go through them and look up each work; wikipedia them or something like that, and go to http://gyaankosh.com/ or another database of questions. Search for the work, and usually there are at least 2 or 3 questions about it that will give you a sense of what mid-to-late clues are like, as well as any stock clues that may exist.

It's not the fastest method in the world, but it helps a lot for getting most lit tossups by the middle clues and on occasion on a stock or repeat leadin.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Tanay » Wed Jun 23, 2010 1:18 am

Once you start reading packets, pay attention to how the questions are written and how clues are placed. Then go ahead and start writing questions of your own. Writing a question on a topic is, by far, the best way of ensuring that you'll remember it within a round.

Here's another thread that could help you improve at literature:
http://hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=7732
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Cheynem » Wed Jun 23, 2010 2:26 am

One way to retain some information is to write short tossups on a work after reading a Masterplots/other summary of it. This is helpful because, above all, you write a clear giveaway that lets you understand, okay, "Character X is in ____, which primarily deals with _____." Also, if you are searching for lead-ins, you are probably finding some lead-ins that will be used by people who actually write on the question. So to sum up, don't worry about making these into pristine questions, write it and then review it later just as way of retaining information and helping you process it.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Dan-Don » Wed Jun 23, 2010 4:28 am

Once I get around to cleaning it up a little bit, I'm going to post my literature set called VIOLATEDD. If you want i can email it to you.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Deviant Insider » Wed Jun 23, 2010 9:18 am

Another good resource is ACFDB. Start with recent Fall Lit questions and eventually expand from there.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Coldblueberry » Thu Jun 24, 2010 2:00 am

Westwon there's only like 16??
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Down and out in Quintana Roo » Thu Jun 24, 2010 11:06 pm

Coldblueberry wrote:Westwon there's only like 16??
Actually there are 71 from just last year's ACF Fall: http://www.carloangiuli.com/acfdb/searc ... erature_=1
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by magin » Fri Jun 25, 2010 11:45 pm

Coldblueberry wrote:Now, Lists ain't the best way to study.

However, what else should I do to study Lit?

All I do all day e'ry day is read lists, memorize authors, and read books that are high frequency on the list. Where can I find questions with stock clues for literature? Also, reading the wiki synopsis for books....i just can't really remember key details.

Help please, Thanks.
I don't know how much this will help you in the short run, but here are some things I do to learn about literature that tend to be effective for me, especially in allowing me to consistently buzz on lit questions without forgetting details/information over time (I suspect, but can't prove, that attempting lots of surface-level memorization of titles and plots will not be that effective since it's easy for the brain to forget that information).

First: reading books/plays/poems/essays is pretty key. Not just because those books tend to be entertaining and interesting, but because I find I'm much more likely to remember some detail or bit of information if I can place it in a meaningful context. And by reading them, I don't just mean passing my eyes over the words and then calling it a day; I mean trying to understand what happens in the novel, figuring out the central thread of a poem, or the motivations of the characters in a play. For an example, take Richard Brautigan's poem "The Day They Busted the Grateful Dead":

The day they busted the Grateful Dead
rain stormed against San Francisco
like hot swampy scissors cutting Justice
into the evil clothes that alligators wear.

The day they busted the Grateful Dead
was like a flight of winged alligators
carefully measuring marble with black
rubber telescopes.

The day they busted the Grateful Dead
turned like the wet breath of alligators
blowing up balloons the size of the
Hall of Justice.

To understand this poem, you can't just read the words and be done, because then it's hard to get a feel for its meaning, especially if you don't get some of the references or understand what some of the words or images mean. So I'd start by trying to figure out what's really going on in the poem; apparently, "they" have busted the Grateful Dead on a rainy day the speaker compares to aspects of alligators. But who are "they"? It helps to know that the Grateful Dead is an American rock group formed in the late sixties, and that being "busted" generally means prosecuted or broken up, so you could begin to form some hypotheses (the band is being broken up by its members, the band is being prosecuted for opposing the Vietnam War, the band is being prosecuted for possession of hard drugs). If you didn't know the Grateful Dead is a band, looking up the Grateful Dead is close to a must before you can figure out this poem. This holds true for other poems; if there's a reference you don't understand that you can't really figure out from context, look it up.

So, now we have a few possible hypotheses about this poem, are there other clues to who "they" are? On a first reading, you might think "they" refers to the alligators, but on reading more closely, the alligators are a simile for the weather/sinister aspects of the day. In my opinion, the clues to "they" come from the references to "Justice," "measured marble," and "the Hall of Justice," which denote some official body (especially since the speaker mentions San Francisco, so we're probably in that city, and marble is commonly used in government buildings and courts across the United States). Therefore, I'd guess that "they" are some police or government officials.

As it turns out, the poem is about the police's arrest of the Grateful Dead on charges of marijuana possession on October 2nd, 1967. Without knowing that, I came to a similar conclusion upon reading the poem (although I wasn't sure whether it was a drug-related arrest or caused by something else). But through a close reading of the poem, you can develop reasonable hypotheses about what the poem is about and develop a personal understanding of it that's hard to casually forget. This Richard Brautigan poem never comes up in quizbowl, and probably shouldn't; it's a fairly minor Brautigan poem and he's not especially prominent as a poet. However, if it did come up for some reason, I'd be able to answer a question on it because I've read it and taken the time to try to understand it. This works for much more canonical works as well. (To identify those canonical works, I might look at ACF Fall/NAQT IS/HSAPQ sets from the last couple of years if you're unsure.)

Moreover, it's helpful to read a work of literature more than once. Vladimir Nabokov argued that all good reading is re-reading; the first time you read a book, your eyes have to do the work of scanning the lines and figuring out the plot, while the second time, you don't have to perform most of that work and can instead concentrate on really reading the book. I'll second that advice. Furthermore, reading critical essays tends to help me clarify parts of a book I'm not sure about (although in high school, I'm not sure how many critical essays will really help you get points, if that is your main concern). Also, just being curious about literature helps. I like to read the New York Times Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement, and they have a lot of well-written, in-depth articles about authors I don't know well, recent books, literary movements, and generally interesting information. I also like to put an anthology in my bathroom and read it when I'm there, but I suppose that won't work if you don't read on the toilet. That kind of stuff really helps familiarize me with authors, literary movements, and works of literature I hadn't heard of or only in passing.

In summary, read books to understand what's going on, and then re-read (if not all of it, then parts of it). Read about authors and literary movements you're curious about or don't know much about; there's interesting information out there just waiting to be read. The best literature players really don't have much memorized knowledge (I bet plenty of high school players would beat me to tossups on books I've never read). The thing is, in my experience, the only surefire way to beat another player to a tossup on a work is to have read it yourself (and done your best to understand it). Question writing helps a lot too...but only if you're making an effort to write good tossups on literature you don't know much or anything about (I might post about that in the future, if there's interest). Moreover, reading a lot of literature also helps you in other categories (if you learn about Milton, for example, you're probably also going to learn something about 17th century English history). Does that help answer your question?
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by jdeliverer » Sat Jun 26, 2010 12:29 am

magin wrote:
Coldblueberry wrote:Now, Lists ain't the best way to study.

However, what else should I do to study Lit?

All I do all day e'ry day is read lists, memorize authors, and read books that are high frequency on the list. Where can I find questions with stock clues for literature? Also, reading the wiki synopsis for books....i just can't really remember key details.

Help please, Thanks.
I don't know how much this will help you in the short run, but here are some things I do to learn about literature that tend to be effective for me, especially in allowing me to consistently buzz on lit questions without forgetting details/information over time (I suspect, but can't prove, that attempting lots of surface-level memorization of titles and plots will not be that effective since it's easy for the brain to forget that information).

First: reading books/plays/poems/essays is pretty key. Not just because those books tend to be entertaining and interesting, but because I find I'm much more likely to remember some detail or bit of information if I can place it in a meaningful context. And by reading them, I don't just mean passing my eyes over the words and then calling it a day; I mean trying to understand what happens in the novel, figuring out the central thread of a poem, or the motivations of the characters in a play. For an example, take Richard Brautigan's poem "The Day They Busted the Grateful Dead":

The day they busted the Grateful Dead
rain stormed against San Francisco
like hot swampy scissors cutting Justice
into the evil clothes that alligators wear.

The day they busted the Grateful Dead
was like a flight of winged alligators
carefully measuring marble with black
rubber telescopes.

The day they busted the Grateful Dead
turned like the wet breath of alligators
blowing up balloons the size of the
Hall of Justice.

To understand this poem, you can't just read the words and be done, because then it's hard to get a feel for its meaning, especially if you don't get some of the references or understand what some of the words or images mean. So I'd start by trying to figure out what's really going on in the poem; apparently, "they" have busted the Grateful Dead on a rainy day the speaker compares to aspects of alligators. But who are "they"? It helps to know that the Grateful Dead is an American rock group formed in the late sixties, and that being "busted" generally means prosecuted or broken up, so you could begin to form some hypotheses (the band is being broken up by its members, the band is being prosecuted for opposing the Vietnam War, the band is being prosecuted for possession of hard drugs). If you didn't know the Grateful Dead is a band, looking up the Grateful Dead is close to a must before you can figure out this poem. This holds true for other poems; if there's a reference you don't understand that you can't really figure out from context, look it up.

So, now we have a few possible hypotheses about this poem, are there other clues to who "they" are? On a first reading, you might think "they" refers to the alligators, but on reading more closely, the alligators are a simile for the weather/sinister aspects of the day. In my opinion, the clues to "they" come from the references to "Justice," "measured marble," and "the Hall of Justice," which denote some official body (especially since the speaker mentions San Francisco, so we're probably in that city, and marble is commonly used in government buildings and courts across the United States). Therefore, I'd guess that "they" are some police or government officials.

As it turns out, the poem is about the police's arrest of the Grateful Dead on charges of marijuana possession on October 2nd, 1967. Without knowing that, I came to a similar conclusion upon reading the poem (although I wasn't sure whether it was a drug-related arrest or caused by something else). But through a close reading of the poem, you can develop reasonable hypotheses about what the poem is about and develop a personal understanding of it that's hard to casually forget. This Richard Brautigan poem never comes up in quizbowl, and probably shouldn't; it's a fairly minor Brautigan poem and he's not especially prominent as a poet. However, if it did come up for some reason, I'd be able to answer a question on it because I've read it and taken the time to try to understand it. This works for much more canonical works as well. (To identify those canonical works, I might look at ACF Fall/NAQT IS/HSAPQ sets from the last couple of years if you're unsure.)

Moreover, it's helpful to read a work of literature more than once. Vladimir Nabokov argued that all good reading is re-reading; the first time you read a book, your eyes have to do the work of scanning the lines and figuring out the plot, while the second time, you don't have to perform most of that work and can instead concentrate on really reading the book. I'll second that advice. Furthermore, reading critical essays tends to help me clarify parts of a book I'm not sure about (although in high school, I'm not sure how many critical essays will really help you get points, if that is your main concern). Also, just being curious about literature helps. I like to read the New York Times Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement, and they have a lot of well-written, in-depth articles about authors I don't know well, recent books, literary movements, and generally interesting information. I also like to put an anthology in my bathroom and read it when I'm there, but I suppose that won't work if you don't read on the toilet. That kind of stuff really helps familiarize me with authors, literary movements, and works of literature I hadn't heard of or only in passing.

In summary, read books to understand what's going on, and then re-read (if not all of it, then parts of it). Read about authors and literary movements you're curious about or don't know much about; there's interesting information out there just waiting to be read. The best literature players really don't have much memorized knowledge (I bet plenty of high school players would beat me to tossups on books I've never read). The thing is, in my experience, the only surefire way to beat another player to a tossup on a work is to have read it yourself (and done your best to understand it). Question writing helps a lot too...but only if you're making an effort to write good tossups on literature you don't know much or anything about (I might post about that in the future, if there's interest). Moreover, reading a lot of literature also helps you in other categories (if you learn about Milton, for example, you're probably also going to learn something about 17th century English history). Does that help answer your question?
tl;dr

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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Kwang the Ninja » Sat Jun 26, 2010 10:38 am

magin wrote:Question writing helps a lot too...but only if you're making an effort to write good tossups on literature you don't know much or anything about (I might post about that in the future, if there's interest).
I'm pretty interested in this: I've always had trouble writing tossups on works that I haven't read and that aren't super-canonical, and this is something that really bugs me. Do you have any advice?
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by DrCongo » Sat Jun 26, 2010 11:00 am

Now, I'm not a lit player, but I might be able to help you with your list problem. Have you tried notecarding the lists with the author on one side and work on the other? You can do this with plots and characters, too. I find this a more fun way to study stuff that memorizing and so have a lot of my teammates.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Bananaquit » Sat Jun 26, 2010 11:52 am

I second the statement that reading the actual books/poems/plays is the best.

I've noticed that if I don't reread a book, I forget a lot of the plot incidents within a year or two. However, writing a question a week or two upon reading the book helps cement it in my mind so I retain the memory of the book longer. Writing down buzzable clues after reading would probably do the same thing.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by ryandillon » Sat Jun 26, 2010 3:16 pm

Bananaquit wrote:I second the statement that reading the actual books/poems/plays is the best..
I agree with this as well, but you're not going to be able to read everything. I mean stuff that comes up over and over, especially poems and short stories, you should try to read so you can consistently get those early. But as far as longer novels go, what I've found has worked for me is just reading questions off of quizbowlpackets.com and notecarding characters from the questions. Since there's a limited amount of content in books, if you go through the characters/plot stuff in a few questions, you will be able to get those early. Notecarding has helped me a lot in retaining the stuff because whenever I have 15 minutes I can just go through a couple hundred easily.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Auroni » Sat Jun 26, 2010 3:38 pm

Similarly, not all literature will interest you. I still can't get myself to enjoy Restoration comedy, to use one example. But I find that it is enriching to use the approach described in Magin's excellent post as frequently as I can when reading literature.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by magin » Sun Jun 27, 2010 2:21 am

ryandillon wrote:
Bananaquit wrote:I second the statement that reading the actual books/poems/plays is the best..
I agree with this as well, but you're not going to be able to read everything. I mean stuff that comes up over and over, especially poems and short stories, you should try to read so you can consistently get those early. But as far as longer novels go, what I've found has worked for me is just reading questions off of quizbowlpackets.com and notecarding characters from the questions. Since there's a limited amount of content in books, if you go through the characters/plot stuff in a few questions, you will be able to get those early. Notecarding has helped me a lot in retaining the stuff because whenever I have 15 minutes I can just go through a couple hundred easily.
It's definitely true that you can't read everything, but I feel like you can read more than this post implicitly argues you can. Sure, the kind of reading I'm talking about won't dramatically improve your literature play in the short term, but if you read a book at least once, think about it, maybe do a little outside reading about it, maybe write a question about it, you're a lot more likely to answer any possible question on that book at every future tournament you ever play. Memorizing a few characters for a book, on the other hand, is both devoid of context (associating a lot of words with other words, without knowing what they mean, just for quizbowl, would probably cause a bunch of interference with your brain confusing names and words, I tend to think) and dependent on that clue showing up; if you memorize two clues for a tossup on Emma and those clues don't come up, you're sunk, but if you've read the book (or done some reading about it), you can buzz on a much larger percentage of clues.

Also, I understand the impulse to memorize a bunch of clues using lists and flashcards, but besides being less effective to me than doing some reading or writing questions, it seems a bit weird to me. I think of quizbowl as a measure of what you know about a subject; the clues in a question should ideally correspond with what people studying or interested in that topic would learn. But no one interested in literature just memorizes character names, and no one interested in science just memorizes eponymous effects, and no one interested in philosophy just memorizes the names of books...to me, that sort of memorization runs against the intent of quizbowl. I don't think people are acting badly if they memorize clues that way, since it's an effective method for some people, and winning and scoring points is fun, but again, it seems pretty strange to me (at least if we want quizbowl to be more than a self-contained system).
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by DrCongo » Sun Jun 27, 2010 2:51 am

On the contrary, I think that the only way to write (good) notecards is to love what the notecard is about. Notecarding is monotonous and not fun unless you find the topic interesting. And if you're interested in a topic, you will better retain the information being written. I love history, which makes writing history notecards fun because I like to read the about the topic, jot down notes, and tell the person/event/thing's story using the notes. Notecarding shouldn't be looked at as anti-quizbowl, but as an alternative to lists or other methods.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by dtaylor4 » Sun Jun 27, 2010 11:52 am

DrCongo wrote:On the contrary, I think that the only way to write (good) notecards is to love what the notecard is about. Notecarding is monotonous and not fun unless you find the topic interesting. And if you're interested in a topic, you will better retain the information being written. I love history, which makes writing history notecards fun because I like to read the about the topic, jot down notes, and tell the person/event/thing's story using the notes. Notecarding shouldn't be looked at as anti-quizbowl, but as an alternative to lists or other methods.
An alternative, yes. But notecarding is vastly inferior to actually reading things, and remembering what you read (by writing questions, for example.) Reflexing via notecards may get you a middle or late buzz on a particular work, but those players will get beat by people who read works, and write questions on what they read.

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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by grapesmoker » Sun Jun 27, 2010 12:23 pm

The difference between notecards and reading something is simple: short term recall versus long term learning. The reason guys like Jonathan and Andrew Yaphe are so good at literature isn't because they wrote down a lot of notecards, it's because they read stuff and remember what they read.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by DrCongo » Sun Jun 27, 2010 5:49 pm

No I totally agree that reading helps a lot and that it in many ways can be better than using notecards. The only reasons I ever power lit questions early is if I have read the work. I'm not a lit guy, I was just suggesting to the person who started this thread another way of studying related to lists. There's also the problem of some high schoolers not having enough time to read a ton of lit, but that's another topic.
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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by Windmill Tump » Sun Jun 27, 2010 7:57 pm

I understand and agree that reading actual works is the best way to get really good at literature, but I have trouble with longer poems that don't have characters and are reflections/conversations, etc. For example, consider Tintern Abbey; I've read the poem but I probably wouldn't be able to get a tossup on it until a line comes up that I've written about in a question of my own, or a common clue like Dorothy or the Wye. Even if you wanted to study it by listing or flashcards, what could you write down besides some lines or basic clues? I have no problem recalling poems that are more like epics or have distinguishable characters like Christabel, but I don't know what to do about other poems.

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Re: Improving at Literature

Post by magin » Mon Jun 28, 2010 1:44 am

DrCongo wrote:No I totally agree that reading helps a lot and that it in many ways can be better than using notecards. The only reasons I ever power lit questions early is if I have read the work. I'm not a lit guy, I was just suggesting to the person who started this thread another way of studying related to lists. There's also the problem of some high schoolers not having enough time to read a ton of lit, but that's another topic.
Let me clarify: I don't really have a big issue with using notecards to write down contextualized clues about a book or author to help a player remember stuff; I have a much bigger problem with a player using notecards just to list words and phrases associated with an answer and memorize them without making any effort to learn about the answer. Also, I suspect players have more time to read than you're letting on; I'm a pretty slow reader, but I always carry a book with me, and read it when I have a little down time (as in, on a bus, or waiting for an appointment, or before a class). I also tend to read in the bathroom and before falling asleep; that time adds up. You don't have to have a huge block of free time to do a little reading (although most people probably have more time than they think), and it adds up over time.
xpmath wrote:I understand and agree that reading actual works is the best way to get really good at literature, but I have trouble with longer poems that don't have characters and are reflections/conversations, etc. For example, consider Tintern Abbey; I've read the poem but I probably wouldn't be able to get a tossup on it until a line comes up that I've written about in a question of my own, or a common clue like Dorothy or the Wye. Even if you wanted to study it by listing or flashcards, what could you write down besides some lines or basic clues? I have no problem recalling poems that are more like epics or have distinguishable characters like Christabel, but I don't know what to do about other poems.
That's a good question. When reading a poem, I think it's key to try and understand the basic thread of the poem, or what its argument is. If you can't remember its argument (or important lines that stuck out to you), or describe it to someone else after reading it, you probably won't be able to buzz on anything but those basic clues. There are a bunch of ways to learn the argument and lines of a poem. You could read it out loud (which is fun to do and tends to make the poem more understandable to you and its lines more memorable). You could read an essay about the poem (there are a lot of good essays online and in literature databases that you may be able to access through your school). You could print out a copy of the poem, reread it, and underline/make notes on it. You could find an anthology that contains details about the poem. You could talk about it with someone else (teachers and fellow quizbowlers seem like good people to bounce ideas off of). All those things will help you remember not just lines of the poem, but what they mean, and that's what will really reward you in the long run (and not just at quizbowl tournaments).
Kwang the Ninja wrote:
magin wrote:Question writing helps a lot too...but only if you're making an effort to write good tossups on literature you don't know much or anything about (I might post about that in the future, if there's interest).
I'm pretty interested in this: I've always had trouble writing tossups on works that I haven't read and that aren't super-canonical, and this is something that really bugs me. Do you have any advice?
Sure. You might want to check out this thread: viewtopic.php?f=21&t=6968, which contains a bunch of advice on finding good clues. The first thing you want to do when writing a tossup on a work or author you don't know well (or at all) is probably to learn some basic information about the answer. Wikipedia can sometimes be an okay source, but it's extremely erratic and often not useful. Masterplots is definitely better than Wikipedia, but I don't like it because you have no way of knowing what plot elements are important and why and which ones are minor from just a plot summary. Some sources that tend to be good: book reviews from reputable newspapers and magazines, especially literary magazines such as the New York Review of Books. There are public domain sites like Bartleby.com that have a lot of good sources to find information. Print encyclopedias and books like the Harold Bloom critical discussions of works of literature tend to be excellent sources; you can find them at most libraries. If your school has access to databases such as JSTOR, critical essays can give you really good overviews of important/memorable details and scenes. Searching Google books usually turns up at least a few excellent sources (especially when you select "limited and full preview" on the left). Even sites like SparkNotes and their ilk contain some good information, but you really have to know what you're doing to mine those sites well.

As for selecting clues from those sources, I'd recommend that you understand the clues you're using as well as possible (that's why I tend to recommend more in-depth sources, since they'll usually explain the significance of the clue you want to use. The important question, to me, is "Will this clue reward knowledge of this book/author before rewarding knowledge memorized for quizbowl?" For instance, if every player you know buzzes on "Norwegian playwright" with "Ibsen," then any clue calling him Norwegian should be later in the tossup than clues about his plays. There's no clear-cut guide, so just try to put clues that people know just for answering tossups after clues that people are likely to be known from reading/primary interest. Does that help?
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