Take Our Literature Test

In Big Think's series "How to Write Great Fiction," 12 celebrated authors give writing tips. Now see how well you know each writer's work and style.

In Big Think's series "How to Write Great Fiction," 12 celebrated authors give writing tips. Now see how well you know each writer's work and style. Try matching each author with a quotation from his or her novels. 


The authors are: (1) Sherman Alexie, (2) Jonathan Ames, (3) Margaret Atwood, (4) Bret Easton Ellis, (5) Jonathan Safran Foer, (6) John Irving, (7) Anne Lamott, (8) Jonathan Lethem, (9) Yann Martel, (10) Walter Mosely, (11) Richard Price, (12) Salmon Rushdie.

The quotations are:

A. She encircled his left forearm with both her hands, pulling him into the churning hot water with her.  They sat beside each other on the underwater ledge, her hands holding him an inch or two above where he's been dismembered.  Only the lion had held him more firmly.  Once again he had the sensation that the tips of his left middle and left index fingers were touching a woman's lower abdomen, although he knew those fingers were gone.

B. The trouble happened because I was bored. At the time, I was twenty-eight days sober. I was spending my nights playing Internet backgammon. I should have been going to AA meetings, but I wasn't.

C. Sometimes when he sleeps Gibreel becomes aware, without the dream, of himself sleeping, of himself dreaming his own awareness of his dream, and then a panic begins, O God, he cries out, O all-good allahgod, I've had my bloody chips, me.  Got bugs in the brain, full mad, a looney tune and a gone baboon.   

D. My suffering left me sad and gloomy.
Academic study and the steady, mindful practice of religion slowly brought me back to life.  I have kept up what some people would consider my strange religious practices.  After one year of high school, I attended the University of Toronto and took a double-major Bachelor's degree.  My majors were religious studies and zoology.

E. Strike was seated on the top slat of his bench, his customary perch, looming over a cluster of screaming kids, pregnant women and too many girls, drinking vanilla Yoo-Hoo to calm his gut, watching The Word try to think on his feet,

F. There are so many evils that pull on our children.  Even in the mellow town of Landsdale, where it is easy to see only beauty and decency, a teenager died nearly every year after a party and kids routinely went from high school to psych wards, halfway houses, or jail. Once a year a child from the county of Marin jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.

G.  A few years ago, after I returned from a trip to Los Angeles, I unpacked my bag and found a dead cockroach, shrouded by a dirty sock, in a bottom corner.  "Shit," I thought.  "We're being invaded."

H.  I wish this story were different.  I wish it were more civilized.  I wish it showed me in a better light, if not happier, then at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia.  I wish it had more shape.  I wish it were about love, or about sudden realizations important to one's life, or even about sunsets, birds, rainstorms, or snow.

I. My legal name is Alexander Perchov.  But all of my many friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name,  Mother dubs me Alexi-stop-spleening-me!, because I am always spleening her.

J. The houses here were sick.  The Dutch-style row houses had been chopped into pieces and misused as rooming houses for men with hot plates and ashtrays and racing forms, or floor-through apartments, where sprawling families of cousins were crammed into each level, their yards and stoops teeming with unaccountable children.

K. People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.  This is the first thing I hear when I come back to the city.  Blair picks me up from LAX and mutters this under her breath as her car drives up the onramp.

L. "Don't you like the food?" Katrina, my wife of twenty-three years, asked.
"It's delicious," I said, "Whatever you make is always great."

[Anyone who took the test would see a graph of where they stood versus the respondents:

[And now we'd show the user the answers and embed book cover images]

1A. John Irving. "She encircled his left forearm with both her hands, pulling him into the churning hot water with her.  They sat beside each other on the underwater ledge, her hands holding him an inch or two above where he's been dismembered.  Only the lion had held him more firmly.  Once again he had the sensation that the tips of his left middle and left index fingers were touching a woman's lower abdomen, although he knew those fingers were gone."

[We'd show the covers fro the rest of the answers too: 2B Jonathan Ames, Bored to Death. 12C Salmon Rushdie, The Satanic Verses. 9D Yann Martel, Life of Pi. 11E Richard Price, Clockers. 7F Anne Lamott, Imperfect Birds. 1G Sherman Alexie, War Dances. 3H Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale. 5I Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated. 8J Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude. 4K Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero. 10L Walter Mosley,  Known to Evil.]

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
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Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by global warming, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.

The bodies that remain in view are often used as waypoints for the living. Some of them are well-known markers that have earned nicknames.

For instance, the image above is of "Green Boots," the unidentified corpse named for its neon footwear. Widely believed to be the body of Tsewang Paljor, the remains are well known as a guide point for passing mountaineers. Perhaps it is too well known, as the climber David Sharp died next to Green Boots while dozens of people walked past him- many presuming he was the famous corpse.

A large area below the summit has earned the discordant nickname "rainbow valley" for being filled with the bright and colorfully dressed corpses of maintainers who never made it back down. The sight of a frozen hand or foot sticking out of the snow is so common that Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association claimed: "most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight."

Other bodies are famous for not having been found yet. Sandy Irvine, the partner of George Mallory, may have been one of the first two people to reach the summit of Everest a full thirty years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it. Since they never made it back down, nobody knows just how close to the top they made it.

Mallory's frozen body was found by chance in the nineties without the Kodak cameras he brought up to record the climb with. It has been speculated that Irvine might have them and Kodak says they could still develop the film if the cameras turn up. Circumstantial evidence suggests that they died on the way back down from the summit, Mallory had his goggles off and a photo of his wife he said he'd put at the peak wasn't in his coat. If Irving is found with that camera, history books might need rewriting.

As Everest's glaciers melt its morbid history comes into clearer view. Will the melting cause old bodies to become new landmarks? Will Sandy Irvine be found? Only time will tell.

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