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Results 1 - 25 of 13,310
1. Where Do You Draw a Line?

So here’s a question for you. How much leeway do you allow books, especially those from earlier times, when they are sexist, racist, classist, condescendingly colonial, etc? It’s been rattling around my brain a bit since I finished Foundation. Given Asimov wrote the stories in the 1940s, I can forgive him a little for his lack of inclusiveness when it comes to women. But only a little because part of me thinks he should have known better. And when I read H. Rider Haggard’s She, the whole thing was so absurd and the book so terrible on so many fronts that I could only laugh. But the misogyny and anti-immigrant sentiments in Dracula horrified me in a way that I could not find funny. I could laugh off Haggard, get away with being annoyed at Asimov, but Stoker made me angry. I could probably pinpoint why if I sat and thought about it for awhile but my brain is tired and doesn’t want to expend that much effort at the moment.

Instead, it just knows that there are some books I can forgive their moral transgressions and some I cannot. Do you find that to be the case too? And if so, do you know why you can forgive some but not others?

I’m not talking about the authors themselves. If I had to like the authors in order to enjoy the books then there would be a lot fewer books on my TBR pile. I try to keep an author’s personal leanings, whether they be grade-A jerk or heavenly angel, out of my opinions of their books. Of course if an author whose books I like turns out to be a really nice person that makes me happy, but it is not a requirement.

I like to think when it comes to books I can be generous and understanding, but truth be told, I sometimes can’t make the effort. I’d like to say there is a definite line and if the book crosses it then it’s all over between us. But it’s actually a line in the sand that keeps shifting. Where the line ends up depends on my mood, what kind of story it is (adventure, romance, mystery, drama), when it was written, whether the issues (sexism, racism, etc) appear to be deliberate or unconscious (don’t ask me how to tell, I don’t know, but I still make the judgment), how much a part of the story it is (a page, a scene, a chapter, the whole book), and probably a few other things that aren’t coming to me at the moment. It’s probably not entirely fair to change the standards all the time but I also don’t think it’s fair to have one blanket standard either. It’s case-by-case.

My brain is running out of gas so I will leave my thoughts there for now. I’d really love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


Filed under: Books, Reading

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2. No Boys Allowed: School visits as a woman writer

I've been doing school visits as part of my tour for PRINCESS ACADEMY: The Forgotten Sisters. All have been terrific--great kids, great librarians. But something happened at one I want to talk about. I'm not going to name the school or location because I don't think it's a problem with just one school; it's just one example of a much wider problem.

This was a small-ish school, and I spoke to the 3-8 grades. It wasn't until I was partway into my presentation that I realized that the back rows of the older grades were all girls.

Later a teacher told me, "The administration only gave permission to the middle school girls to leave class for your assembly. I have a boy student who is a huge fan of SPIRIT ANIMALS. I got special permission for him to come, but he was too embarrassed."

"Because the administration had already shown that they believed my presentation would only be for girls?"

"Yes," she said.

I tried not to explode in front of the children.

Let's be clear: I do not talk about "girl" stuff. I do not talk about body parts. I do not do a "Your Menstrual Cycle and You!" presentation. I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I'm a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have "princess" in the title, I'm stamped as "for girls only." However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.

This has happened a few times before. I don't believe it's ever happened in an elementary school--just middle school or high school.

I remember one middle school 2-3 years ago that I was going to visit while on tour. I heard in advance that they planned to pull the girls out of class for my assembly but not the boys. I'd dealt with that in the past and didn't want to be a part of perpetuating the myth that women only have things of interest to say to girls while men's voices are universally important.  I told the publicist that this was something I wasn't comfortable with and to please ask them to invite the boys as well as girls. I thought it was taken care of. When I got there, the administration told me with shrugs that they'd heard I didn't want a segregated audience but that's just how it was going to be. Should I have refused? Embarrassed the bookstore, let down the girls who had been looking forward to my visit? I did the presentation. But I felt sick to my stomach. Later I asked what other authors had visited. They'd had a male writer. For his assembly, both boys and girls had been invited.

I think most people reading this will agree that leaving the boys behind is wrong. And yet--when giving books to boys, how often do we offer ones that have girls as protagonists? (Princesses even!) And if we do, do we qualify it: "Even though it's about a girl, I think you'll like it." Even though. We're telling them subtly, if not explicitly, that books about girls aren't for them. Even if a boy would never, ever like any book about any girl (highly unlikely) if we don't at least offer some, we're reinforcing the ideology.

I heard it a hundred times with Hunger Games: "Boys, even though this is about a girl, you'll like it!" Even though. I never heard a single time, "Girls, even though Harry Potter is about a boy, you'll like it!"

The belief that boys won't like books with female protagonists, that they will refuse to read them, the shaming that happens (from peers, parents, teachers, often right in front of me) when they do, the idea that girls should read about and understand boys but that boys don't have to read about girls, that boys aren't expected to understand and empathize with the female population of the world....this belief directly leads to rape culture. To a culture that tells boys and men, it doesn't matter how the girl feels, what she wants. You don't have to wonder. She is here to please you. She is here to do what you want. No one expects you to have to empathize with girls and women. As far as you need be concerned, they have no interior life.

At this recent school visit, near the end I left time for questions. Not one student had a question. In 12 years and 200-300 presentations, I've never had that happen. So I filled in the last 5 minutes reading them the first few chapters of The Princess in Black, showing them slides of the illustrations. BTW I've never met a boy who didn't like this book.

After the presentation, I signed books for the students who had pre-ordered my books (all girls), but one 3rd grade boy hung around.

"Did you want to ask her a question?" a teacher asked.

"Yes," he said nervously, "but not now. I'll wait till everyone is gone."

Once the other students were gone, three adults still remained. He was still clearly uncomfortable that we weren't alone but his question was also clearly important to him. So he leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "Do you have a copy of the black princess book?"

It broke my heart that he felt he had to whisper the question.

He wanted to read the rest of the book so badly and yet was so afraid what others would think of him. If he read a "girl" book. A book about a princess. Even a monster-fighting superhero ninja princess. He wasn't born ashamed. We made him ashamed. Ashamed to be interested in a book about a girl. About a princess--the most "girlie" of girls.

I wish I'd had a copy of The Princess in Black to give him right then. The bookstore told him they were going to donate a copy to his library. I hope he's brave enough to check it out. I hope he keeps reading. I hope he changes his own story. I hope all of us can change this story. I'm really rooting for a happy ending.

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3. Female Characters are Human Too

After reading Foundation and the absurdity of having only one woman in it and that only very briefly, it was serendipitous that I came across not just a great article at Tor deconstructing the strong female character in science fiction, but also a most excellent link from the always wonderful Ana to an article about why we need more unlikeable female characters (careful, this article has links to other articles discussing similar topics, you might fall down the rabbit hole like I did).

All these articles basically come down to saying the same thing: women characters should be allowed the full spectrum of humanness and not be pigeon-holed into a few types. And I bet you know what those types are so I’m not even going to bother listing them. It’s so bad that when Claire Messud dared to write a book with an unlikeable woman protagonist she got all kinds of grief about it. If Messud were a man and the protagonist male, I doubt there would have even been much discussion about it.

That this whole conversation about female characters has been going on for so long and continues to go on because it is still a problem is disheartening. Freud famously asked once what women want. My answer to his question: to be human beings. Because that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? Far too often female characters are defined solely by their being female. It sure would be nice to have characters who are human beings, and, oh yeah, also happen to be female. Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. We are all from Earth; we are all human; we all want to be treated as such in real life and in fiction.

So give me female characters who kick ass, who runaway in fear, who rule the universe, who are afraid to walk out the front door, who are lovable, who are hatable, who I want to hug, who I want to punch in the face, who are mothers, who have no children and aren’t sad about that, who are old, who are young, who are beautiful, who are ugly, who like men, who like women, who don’t know who they like, who are all the colors of the rainbow, who are smart, who are dumb, who are — you get the picture — human.


Filed under: Books

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4. Monthly etymology gleanings for February 2015

One month is unlike another. Sometimes I receive many letters and many comments; then lean months may follow. February produced a good harvest (“February fill the dyke,” as they used to say), and I can glean a bagful. Perhaps I should choose a special title for my gleanings: “I Am All Ears” or something like it.

The post Monthly etymology gleanings for February 2015 appeared first on OUPblog.

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5. The important role of palatable food in eating disorders

When we hear the term “eating disorder,” we often think of the woman at our gym who looks unhealthily thin or maybe a friend who meticulously monitors each calorie he or she consumes. Though anorexia nervosa (marked by low weight and a strong fear of weight gain) is a serious and harmful mental illness with one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric illness, the reality is that the most common eating disorders are bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, both of which involve (and in fact, require for their diagnosis) binge eating.

The post The important role of palatable food in eating disorders appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. Inequality in democracies: interest groups and redistribution

We are by now more or less aware that income inequality in the US and in most of the rich OECD world is higher today than it was some 30 to 40 years ago. Despite varying interpretations of what led to this increase, the fact remains that inequality is exhibiting a persistent increase, which is robust to both expansionary and contractionary economic times. One might even say that it became a stylized fact of the developed world (amid some worthy exceptions). The question on everyone's lips is how can a democracy result in rising inequality?

The post Inequality in democracies: interest groups and redistribution appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. Questions about India’s environment and economic growth

Must economic growth be privileged over ecological security? Jairam Ramesh argues that this is the wrong question to ask; the two work in concert, not in opposition, and a bright economic and political future requires a safe, protected environment. As India grows as a global power, the nation has become a leader in progressive environmental policies.

The post Questions about India’s environment and economic growth appeared first on OUPblog.

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8. Lecture at the Art Academy: Storytelling in Books and Comics

I will be doing a lunchtime lecture at the Art Academy tomorrow at 11:30 am as part of the Slam Bam Comic Jam.

It is called Storytelling in Books and Comics.

Here is the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1638524756380216

Hope to see you there!

From Why the Possum has a Large Grin by Johnette Downing

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9. Review: Maya Saves the Day, Trouble with Magic, and The Vampire Boy – 3 Early Reader ‘Hole Books’ from Duckbill

3 'hOle Book' early readers from Duckbill (India) - The Vampire Boy; Maya Saves the Day; and Trouble with Magic

Maya Saves the Day
written by Meera Nair, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan

Trouble with Magic
written by Asha … Continue reading ...

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10. Andrew Johnson: a little man in a big job

If it were not for his impeachment on 24 February 1868, and the subsequent trial in the Senate that led to his acquittal, Andrew Johnson would probably reside among the faded nineteenth century presidents that only historical specialists now remember. Succeeding to the White House after the murder of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, Johnson proved to be a presidential failure [...]

The post Andrew Johnson: a little man in a big job appeared first on OUPblog.

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11. Mississippi hurting: lynching, murder, and the judge

Last week marked two important events in the unfinished story of southern racial violence. On February 10, the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative released Lynching in America, an unflinching report that documents 3,959 black victims of mob violence in twelve southern states between 1877 and 1950.

The post Mississippi hurting: lynching, murder, and the judge appeared first on OUPblog.

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12. International copyright: What the public doesn’t know

Copyright these days is very high up on the agenda of politicians and the public at large. Some see copyright as a stumbling stone for the development of digital services and think it is outdated. They want to make consumers believe that copyright protection is to be blamed, when music or other ‘content’ is not available online, preferably for free. From Brussels we hear that ‘national copyright silos’ should be broken up, that the EU Internal Market is fragmented when it comes to copyright.

The post International copyright: What the public doesn’t know appeared first on OUPblog.

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13. Foundation has a Woman in It!

Well, I soldiered on to the end of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and around page 135 (of 172) a woman appears! She is the young and beautiful wife of a petty tyrant with big aspirations who married her only because her father has money and power in the Empire. She, of course, is an unhappy woman with a sharp tongue, always pestering her husband with how dumb he is and threats of telling her father. She suggests she will leave her husband and he threatens her with violence:

‘Well, now, I’ll tell you what my lady. Perhaps you would enjoy returning to your native world. Except that, to retain as a souvenir that portion of you with which I am best acquainted, I could have your tongue cut out first. And,’ he rolled his head, calculatingly, to one side, ‘as a final improving touch to your beauty, your ears and the tip of your nose as well.’

But don’t worry, it all comes right when he gives her some fancy jewelry like no other that any woman at the big party will have that night. She immediately shuts up and starts admiring herself in the mirror, then goes away happy.

And very late in the book almost at the end, we are told that war with another planet will be avoided in part because the small, nuclear powered household appliances they have been buying from the Foundation for several years will begin running out of power (the appliances all have tiny individual nuclear power generators like a fancy battery). This other world will not go to war with the Foundation because they won’t be able to get any more of the things they have come to rely on. The women will start complaining when their nuclear knives no longer work, when their stoves begin to fail and when their washers stop doing a good job at cleaning.

Oy.

Foundation is made up of a collection of five short stories that appeared between 1942 and 1944 in Astounding Magazine. They were collected together into a book and published in 1951. This became the first book in the Foundation Trilogy which later expanded with prequels and sequels and is now known as the Foundation Series.

The prose is fairly pedestrian and the plots aren’t all that interesting. Even though the stories deal with a series of crises, there isn’t really any threat of failure because, as we are told over and over, it was all already predicted by Hari Seldon, the great psychohistorian and cruncher of numbers. Where’s the tension when predestination is at play?

One of the more interesting things about the stories is how the Foundation, made up of a bunch of scientists, in order to survive and conquer, has turned science into a religion with priests and rituals and all the trappings. The priests and acolytes are trained in science enough to be able to maintain things like power grids and perform minor “miracles” but not know enough to actually “do” science on their own. They pretty much believe the whole religion scenario. The high ranking muckity-mucks are actual scientists who are in on the scam, constantly working to perpetuate it and to spread the Foundation’s dominance across their little corner of the galaxy through it. Domination by science through the vehicle of religion.

My main amusement while reading the book, however, was the invented slang and swearing. How can things like “son-of-a-spacer” and “I don’t care an electron” not arouse a giggle or at least a smirk? And exclamations like “space knows!” and “by space!” pepper conversations and is intended to sound so futuristic and scientific. It was almost worth it just for that. Almost.

Still, though I found it all a giant dud, I am glad to have read it. At least I know what it is about now even if I don’t understand why it’s so popular and considered a classic. Maybe the other books sort it out better but I have no interest in reading them so I guess my understanding will remain incomplete. I’m okay with that.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Isaac Asimov

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14. Review: Touch by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August announced the arrival of a very special talent. Claire North maybe the pseudonym for Catherine Webb (and Kate Griffin), who has already published a number of books, but Harry August was something else entirely. It was bold, intelligent, gripping and mind-blowing. Before the real identity of the pseudonym […]

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15. Trains of thought: Sarah

Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Sarah's perspective.

The post Trains of thought: Sarah appeared first on OUPblog.

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16. Review: Resistance by John Birmingham

John Birmingham takes up where he left off at the end of Emergence. Dave is enjoying a well-earned rest after the battle of New Orleans while the rest of the world is coming to terms with the fact that monsters (Orcs, dragons, super-sized bugs, you name it) are now among us and wanting to re-subjugate their […]

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17. The audience screams; people duck

Millions of Americans are eagerly anticipating this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. For over a century, motion pictures have been a dominant cultural and leisure medium. There are, however, two aspects worth highlighting: the sheer novelty of motion pictures and the medium’s initial democratic nature. Twenty-first century Americans have difficulty imagining the wonder and awe motion pictures inspired in the early 1900s.

The post The audience screams; people duck appeared first on OUPblog.

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18. The neuroscience of cinema

Why do we flinch when Rocky takes a punch in Sylvester Stallone's movies, duck when the jet careens towards the tower in Airplane, and tap our toes to the dance numbers in Chicago or Moulin Rouge? With this year’s Academy Awards upon us, we want to know what happens between your ears when you sit down in the theatre and the lights go out. Take a look at some of the ways our brains work when watching a movie—you may just find some of them to be all too familiar.

The post The neuroscience of cinema appeared first on OUPblog.

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19. Review: The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

The Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin (Little, Brown & Co., 2006)

The Year of the Dog
by Grace Lin
(Little, Brown & Co., 2006)

 
This is Grace Lin’s first novel and she wrote it because ‘this was the … Continue reading ...

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20. Happy Chinese New Year! Gung Hay Fat Choi! Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Happy Chinese New Year 2015 from Mirrors Windows Doors

Gung Hay Fat Choi! Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy Year of the Sheep/Ram/Goat!

So how are you celebrating? Here are some of my favourite children’s books for Chinese New Year:

The Year of … Continue reading ...

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21. On Immunity

Between the measles outbreak that began at Disneyland a few weeks ago and it recently being entered into my medical records that I am moderately allergic to the tetanus vaccine (fever, body aches, fatigue and injection site pain far above and beyond a mere sore arm), I was primed to On Immunity by Eula Biss. I fully believe in the importance of vaccinations and have a hard time understanding the whole anti-vaccination movement. I mean, small pox no longer exists because of vaccination and polio is nonexistent in the United States and very close to being wiped out in the rest of the world. Yes, there is always a small risk — allergy, severe illness, death — but the risk is so small in comparison to the benefit that it seems more than worth it. Yet, so many are eager to believe that the measles vaccine causes autism (it doesn’t), or that the government and/or pharmaceutical companies are purposely poisoning children (they aren’t), or any other number of strange reasons having to do with government control, conspiracies, science experiments and invasion of privacy.

Biss is pro-vaccination. She is well-educated and her father is a doctor. Yet, when she became a mother even she had qualms about vaccinating her son. It is through this lens that she examines the fears and beliefs of those who refuse to have their children vaccinated. Along the way we get a cultural and scientific history of vaccination.

We fear a good many things these days and if you have children, the fear is intensified because it is your job to keep them safe. What do you do when you hear about all the chemicals in food and BPA in plastics? Or toxins in the air and water? It is hard to enough to protect a child from the threats you can see, how can you keep them safe from the ones you can’t see, and worse, don’t even know about? We hear that a particular vaccine might have mercury in it used as a preservative. We know mercury is poisonous, therefore the vaccine is poisonous too. We blow the tiny risk factors far out of proportion because here is something we can do to protect our children.

The thing is, the human body is already “contaminated.” We are porous creatures and our defenses from outside organisms were breached long ago. We have pieces of virus DNA in our genes. And here is a fascinating bit of information:

The cells that form the outer layer of the placenta for a human fetus bind to each other using a gene that originated, long ago, from a virus. Though many viruses could not reproduce without us, we ourselves could not reproduce without what we have taken from them.

Some might wonder then what the big deal about not vaccinating is if viruses are so important to our very being. Besides being useful in some circumstances, viruses also kill and disable and it is those viruses we vaccinate against.

Those who do not vaccinate rely on the protection of all the people who do. You can only have children who are not vaccinated against measles never get the disease because the child is surrounded by people who have been vaccinated. Biss points out over and over that we think vaccination is an individual choice that has no effects on anyone else, but we are wrong. Because in order for vaccinations to be most effective, most people in the population need to be vaccinated. Immunity to disease is a communal undertaking.

Here I have to admit that in spite of believing whole-heartedly in vaccines, I have never gotten a flu vaccination. My reasoning has always been that I don’t get the flu. And truly, it has been so long since I have had the flu I can’t remember when it was — fifteen years at least. But Bookman dutifully gets a flu shot every year. He has to because he has multiple sclerosis and therefore his immune system is compromised. Now after reading Biss’s argument about vaccination being a communal thing I realize that perhaps one reason I have not gotten the flu is because nearly everyone I know gets a flu shot. In addition, it is possible for me to get the flu and then give it to someone who, for whatever reason, could not be vaccinated and then they could get really sick or possibly die. Because people do die from the flu. Did I ever get a big dose of guilt realizing that. So now next year when the email goes out at the University where I work that free flu shots are being given, I will go an roll up my sleeve.

It was easy to get me to change my mind about flu vaccination, but what about all those people who refuse more important vaccinations for their children? Studies show that forcing science down the throats of anti-vaxxers does no good whatsoever. Biss is unable to offer any suggestions other than insisting on the communal nature of vaccination. It worked for me but it won’t work for all those parents who still believe vaccines cause autism or that the HPV vaccine will make girls more likely to have sex. Clearly for those parents there are many factors that need to be addressed. It is a complex issue and sadly, government is not very good at solving those sorts of things.

On Immunity is a well-written, non-judgmental look at the issues in the vaccination debates. It could not have been more timely if it tried. If you’d like a little insight into the anti-vaccination movement, then I highly recommend this book.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science

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22. Psychotherapy now and in the future

The 20th century has been called ‘the century of psychiatry’, and in many ways one could read that as ‘the century of psychotherapy’. A hundred years ago, at the onset of World War I, psychotherapy had touched the lives of only a tiny number of people, and most of the population had simply never heard of it. Since then it has reached into almost every aspect of our lives—how we treat the mentally ill, how we understand our relationships, our appreciation of art and artists, and even how we manage our schools, prisons, and workplaces.

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23. Does the MOOC spell the end for universities?

The seemingly unassailable rise of the MOOC – the Massive Open On-Line Course – has many universities worried. Offering access to millions of potential students, it seems like the solution to so many of the problems that beset higher education. Fees are low, or even non-existent; anyone can sign up; staff time is strictly limited as even grading is done by peers or automated multiple-choice questionnaires. In an era of ever-rising tuition fees and of concerns about the barriers that stop the less well-off from applying to good universities, the MOOC can seem like a panacea.

The post Does the MOOC spell the end for universities? appeared first on OUPblog.

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24. Mood food: a brief look at addictive eating

Researchers have noted that some addictive behaviours may partly depend upon gender. For instance, men are more likely to be addicted to drugs, gambling, and sex whereas women are more likely to suffer from ‘mall disorders’ such as eating and shopping. Food is – of course – a primary reward as it is necessary for our survival.

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25. What Pakistan’s history means for its future

The story of Pakistan is the story of missed opportunity. As I began to write about the history of this land, I could not help feeling a sense of an intertwining of personal and national destiny in what was necessarily an account of my own missed opportunities [...]

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