Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

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king_crimson
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Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

Post by king_crimson » Fri Nov 29, 2019 7:48 pm

Hello everyone!

I'm a rising sophomore at TJHSST. I recently joined the school's quizbowl club, and have been doing pretty well due to my summer grind. During the summer, I was able to gain a lot of literature knowledge from a combination of reading packets and carding literature along with the occasional reading of a novel or short story.

So I was curious... how does one get a lot of real knowledge in literature? Before my study grind, I was quite good at mythology and have still retained that knowledge however I see myself missing many early first-lines. Are there any good websites to learn a lot of literature or am I basically stuck with reading books to gain "real" knowledge?


Thanks.
Justin Chen
Langley HS 2018-2019
TJHSST 2022

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - John Steinbeck, East of Eden

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Re: Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

Post by Gae Bulg » Fri Nov 29, 2019 9:09 pm

You can't expect to have "Real" knowledge of the entire literature canon, but remember that literature doesn't just consist of long fiction; you can get a lot of good literature knowledge by reading a lot of short stories and poems you come across while reading packets.
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Re: Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

Post by sephirothrr » Sat Nov 30, 2019 1:03 pm

Well, don't think if it as being "stuck" reading a bunch of books - instead, perhaps, consider that you "get" to read a bunch of great works of literature.

Also, somehow I don't think paying for flashcards counts as real knowledge.
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the return of AHAN
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Re: Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

Post by the return of AHAN » Sat Nov 30, 2019 1:19 pm

Well, binomial list association of writers and titles can get you points when a question is otherwise about to go dead. But you're never taking the next step without going deeper.
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The King's Flight to the Scots
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Re: Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Sat Nov 30, 2019 2:09 pm

Hi Justin,

Welcome to the forums! It's always great to see high schoolers get excited about quizbowl. I think what you're asking is a natural question for someone entering the community and starting to take the game seriously. I think it also expresses a couple misconceptions I've noticed elsewhere, which I don't think have quite been cleared up explicitly. So, if you'll have some patience, I'd like to take the opportunity of this thread to expound a little on quizbowl theory. What I'd like to argue is that pursuing "real knowledge" with the underlying goal of answering quizbowl questions can cut against the purpose of distinguishing "real" from "fake" knowledge in the first place. At the end of that argument, I'll give what I think is a good answer to a slightly different question from the one posed here.

Now to the theory. Ideally, the purpose of quizbowl is to expose you to new topics in a way that sparks your interest in them, so that you learn more things about them and then answer more quizbowl questions. Therefore, we want to let people with intellectual interests in a topic answer questions on that topic before people who've carded questions on it; we use the "real" vs. "fake" knowledge dichotomy to help reach that goal. In the case of literature, that's meant putting clues you'll know from reading the book ahead of clues you can card from packets or absorb from qb at large. In general, I think this approach works pretty well to encourage learning.

However, I also think internalizing the emphasis on "real" knowledge too deeply, without learning the underlying lesson that this game is primarily for edification, can still lead to outcomes we don't want. For the sake of argument, I'm going to suggest the highly atypical edge case of a hypothetical player we'll call Player A. Player A tries to get a lot better at quizbowl by forcing themselves into reading a lot of books they fundamentally don't like. By every meaning of the phrase as we typically use it, they acquire "real" knowledge. In my opinion, though, Player A isn't cultivating the appreciation for literature that's the whole purpose of those questions. Most people who get the notion to take the Player A approach probably won't stick with it either - the literature canon is so large that the first time they attempt a book like Great Expectations and hate it, they'll get discouraged and go back to just carding titles and characters.

Now let's posit a contrasting, more typical example that we'll call Player B. Player B doesn't generally get many of their lit points from books they've read. They'll absorb stuff from playing QB, and they'll read online about books they hear about in quizbowl questions to learn a little more. Sometimes that means NYRB and LRB reviews, sometimes it just means Wikipedia articles on books and authors. But when a book they hear about sounds especially interesting, they'll read it and enjoy the experience. They often branch out from that book to find other, similar books that they like. They develop an interest. As positive as that development is, I don't want to set up Player B as the definitive exemplar for people to emulate. However, I do think that, even though Player A might have more of what we'd conventionally call "real knowledge," in many cases we might want to encourage Player B's approach more.

As I mentioned before, I wrote out the "Player A" example knowing that it's atypical; I know of nobody who fits the "Player A" mold exactly, and it's of course still the case that we want to write questions to reward reading books over reading plot summaries. It's also of course true and good that quizbowl can lead you to enjoyably read books that seem boring to you at first. However, I know of a few examples of "great" players, including myself, who, having adopted the "Player A" mindset at phases of their careers, have used somewhat silly methods to acquire "real" knowledge in bulk for points. I suspect more great players than I personally know of have had moments like that. It's a natural occurrence because the type of person highly concerned with proving themselves by winning at quizbowl will also want everyone to know that they're winning for "real." Again, the lesson to take away is not that "Player B" should be the new ideal, or that it's always bad to pursue knowledge with quizbowl somewhat in mind, or that we shouldn't privilege reading books over summaries. The point, instead, is primarily that having "points" or "victory" as your predominant goal will always get in the way of what you're supposed to get from the game. Secondarily, it's that often people bifurcate "real" and "fake" knowledge too absolutely.

That's all the theory I wanted to lay out, so I'll get to your question now. I think I might rephrase it as: "Since nobody can read every book in the canon, how can I learn more about literature in a way that goes beyond binary associations but still gets me quizbowl points?" People have already suggested reading short stories and poems, which is a great way to build a reading habit that's reinforced by rewards from quizbowl. Another method I would suggest would be to read survey books. There are lots of accessible books on what you might call "literary history" out there - basic examples would be Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, Terry Eagleton's The English Novel, and Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers. These books will help you contextualize, understand, and answer questions on works of literature in the same way that art history textbooks do with paintings and sculptures. On the occasions that I've read these "books about books" I've always learned cool new stuff about the works discussed, both when I've already read the works and when I haven't. So, I highly recommend this avenue.
Last edited by The King's Flight to the Scots on Sat Nov 30, 2019 4:32 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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A Very Long Math Tossup
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Re: Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

Post by A Very Long Math Tossup » Sat Nov 30, 2019 4:13 pm

bdavery wrote:
Sat Nov 30, 2019 12:31 pm
Use the Fact Mountain apps for American/British/Russian literature to get a really good start.
I'm sure it'll be deleted in due time, but new players: disregard this advice. Bryce Avery runs a shitty question writing company and keeps hawking his overpriced apps on this board.
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king_crimson
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Re: Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

Post by king_crimson » Sat Nov 30, 2019 9:03 pm

Thank you Matt for the headsup! also, it was really fun playing you at Penn Bowl Online, you did great!
Justin Chen
Langley HS 2018-2019
TJHSST 2022

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - John Steinbeck, East of Eden

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king_crimson
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Re: Getting "Real" Literature Knowledge

Post by king_crimson » Sat Nov 30, 2019 9:09 pm

The King's Flight to the Scots wrote:
Sat Nov 30, 2019 2:09 pm
Hi Justin,

Welcome to the forums! It's always great to see high schoolers get excited about quizbowl. I think what you're asking is a natural question for someone entering the community and starting to take the game seriously. I think it also expresses a couple misconceptions I've noticed elsewhere, which I don't think have quite been cleared up explicitly. So, if you'll have some patience, I'd like to take the opportunity of this thread to expound a little on quizbowl theory. What I'd like to argue is that pursuing "real knowledge" with the underlying goal of answering quizbowl questions can cut against the purpose of distinguishing "real" from "fake" knowledge in the first place. At the end of that argument, I'll give what I think is a good answer to a slightly different question from the one posed here.

Now to the theory. Ideally, the purpose of quizbowl is to expose you to new topics in a way that sparks your interest in them, so that you learn more things about them and then answer more quizbowl questions. Therefore, we want to let people with intellectual interests in a topic answer questions on that topic before people who've carded questions on it; we use the "real" vs. "fake" knowledge dichotomy to help reach that goal. In the case of literature, that's meant putting clues you'll know from reading the book ahead of clues you can card from packets or absorb from qb at large. In general, I think this approach works pretty well to encourage learning.

However, I also think internalizing the emphasis on "real" knowledge too deeply, without learning the underlying lesson that this game is primarily for edification, can still lead to outcomes we don't want. For the sake of argument, I'm going to suggest the highly atypical edge case of a hypothetical player we'll call Player A. Player A tries to get a lot better at quizbowl by forcing themselves into reading a lot of books they fundamentally don't like. By every meaning of the phrase as we typically use it, they acquire "real" knowledge. In my opinion, though, Player A isn't cultivating the appreciation for literature that's the whole purpose of those questions. Most people who get the notion to take the Player A approach probably won't stick with it either - the literature canon is so large that the first time they attempt a book like Great Expectations and hate it, they'll get discouraged and go back to just carding titles and characters.

Now let's posit a contrasting, more typical example that we'll call Player B. Player B doesn't generally get many of their lit points from books they've read. They'll absorb stuff from playing QB, and they'll read online about books they hear about in quizbowl questions to learn a little more. Sometimes that means NYRB and LRB reviews, sometimes it just means Wikipedia articles on books and authors. But when a book they hear about sounds especially interesting, they'll read it and enjoy the experience. They often branch out from that book to find other, similar books that they like. They develop an interest. As positive as that development is, I don't want to set up Player B as the definitive exemplar for people to emulate. However, I do think that, even though Player A might have more of what we'd conventionally call "real knowledge," in many cases we might want to encourage Player B's approach more.

As I mentioned before, I wrote out the "Player A" example knowing that it's atypical; I know of nobody who fits the "Player A" mold exactly, and it's of course still the case that we want to write questions to reward reading books over reading plot summaries. It's also of course true and good that quizbowl can lead you to enjoyably read books that seem boring to you at first. However, I know of a few examples of "great" players, including myself, who, having adopted the "Player A" mindset at phases of their careers, have used somewhat silly methods to acquire "real" knowledge in bulk for points. I suspect more great players than I personally know of have had moments like that. It's a natural occurrence because the type of person highly concerned with proving themselves by winning at quizbowl will also want everyone to know that they're winning for "real." Again, the lesson to take away is not that "Player B" should be the new ideal, or that it's always bad to pursue knowledge with quizbowl somewhat in mind, or that we shouldn't privilege reading books over summaries. The point, instead, is primarily that having "points" or "victory" as your predominant goal will always get in the way of what you're supposed to get from the game. Secondarily, it's that often people bifurcate "real" and "fake" knowledge too absolutely.

That's all the theory I wanted to lay out, so I'll get to your question now. I think I might rephrase it as: "Since nobody can read every book in the canon, how can I learn more about literature in a way that goes beyond binary associations but still gets me quizbowl points?" People have already suggested reading short stories and poems, which is a great way to build a reading habit that's reinforced by rewards from quizbowl. Another method I would suggest would be to read survey books. There are lots of accessible books on what you might call "literary history" out there - basic examples would be Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, Terry Eagleton's The English Novel, and Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers. These books will help you contextualize, understand, and answer questions on works of literature in the same way that art history textbooks do with paintings and sculptures. On the occasions that I've read these "books about books" I've always learned cool new stuff about the works discussed, both when I've already read the works and when I haven't. So, I highly recommend this avenue.
Thanks so much for the detailed explanation! I really like a bunch of Borges works so I'll read a couple of them and get more knowledge thru pks on the hsqb discord and reading wikipedia stubs and watching videos!
Justin Chen
Langley HS 2018-2019
TJHSST 2022

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - John Steinbeck, East of Eden

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