Favorite Books of the Year

The rou­tine is always the same here in the Bay Area. Wake up, get in the car, lis­ten to Forum on KQED. Today, the host Michael Kras­ny invit­ed lis­ten­ers to call in and pick the best books of the year, or those they plan to give as gifts this hol­i­day sea­son. To get some good reading/gift tips, you can lis­ten here (iTunesFeedMP3) or sim­ply read the print­ed list here. (Forum can be found in our col­lec­tion of Ideas & Cul­ture Pod­casts.)

Also, in case you missed them, you may want to review these recent selec­tions by The New York Times: 100 Notable Books of 2007 and The 10 Best Books of 2007.

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Learning Foreign Languages the Mango Way

What’s an easy way to learn a new lan­guage at no cost, when­ev­er and wher­ev­er you want? One is to take advan­tage of our exten­sive col­lec­tion of Free For­eign Lan­guage Lessons. Anoth­er is to check out Man­go Lan­guages, a web site that offers free online lan­guage cours­es that will teach you the basics in French, Ger­man, Eng­lish, Ital­ian, Span­ish, Man­darin Chi­nese, Japan­ese and more.

We’d usu­al­ly out­line the pros and cons of learn­ing lan­guages the Man­go Way. But there’s no rea­son to rein­vent the wheel. So we’re direct­ing your atten­tion to Jon Gor­don, the host of Future Tense, whose recent broad­cast took a short look at Man­go’s offer­ing. You can lis­ten to it here (MP3RealAu­dioFeed) and read some more here. You can also access Future Tense on iTunes.

NOTE: To get start­ed with Man­go Lan­guages, you will need to reg­is­ter with the web­site.

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On Hanukkah

For the first night of Hanukkah, we bring you a clas­sic bit from Sat­ur­day Night Live (1989) star­ring Jon Lovitz called “Hanukkah Har­ry Saves Christ­mas.” You can watch the video direct­ly on NBC’s site along with oth­er vin­tage SNL videos. (Sor­ry, I could­n’t find an embed for this one.)

The 20 Best iPod Utilities

ipodclass3.jpgLife­hack­er has assem­bled a great list that will help you max­i­mize the use of your iPod. Here, they point you to free soft­ware that will let you 1) rip a DVD to your iPod, 2) copy music and videos to and from your iPod, and also from and to any com­put­er, 3) load videos (and par­tic­u­lar­ly YouTube videos) to you iPod, 4) put Wikipedia on your iPod, 5) free your­self from using iTunes, 6) back­up your iPod, etc.

Check out the full list here and learn to make your iPod a bet­ter learning/entertainment tool.

PS: A very sim­i­lar list of iPod tips was pub­lished a few days ago over at Pachecus.com, and they were kind of enough to include a link to one of our old fea­tures. Have a look here too.

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The Western Tradition by Eugen Weber: 52 Video Lectures

The West­ern Tra­di­tion is a free series of videos that traces the arc of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion. Start­ing in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the sur­vey pro­ceeds to cov­er the Byzan­tine Empire and Medieval Europe, then the Renais­sance, Enlight­en­ment, and Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, and final­ly ends up in 20th cen­tu­ry Europe and Amer­i­ca. Pre­sent­ed by UCLA pro­fes­sor Eugen Weber, an impres­sive Euro­pean his­to­ri­an, the video series includes over 2,700 images from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art that illus­trate some of the West’s great cul­tur­al achieve­ments. Each of the 52 videos runs about 30 min­utes. So you’re get­ting an amaz­ing 26 hours of con­tent for free.

You can stream all of the videos from this page.

You can find The West­ern Tra­di­tion list­ed in our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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The 50 Greatest Independent Films

Empire Online has pub­lished its list of the 50 best indie films. Skewed towards action/crime films, the list won’t appeal to all. But there are some indis­putably amaz­ing movies of the list. We’ve post­ed the top 10 below. But some­how I think the bet­ter ones are actu­al­ly low­er down on the list — for exam­ple, #17, City of God, the Brazil­ian film that mix­es Taran­ti­no aes­thet­ics & vio­lence with mean­ing­ful social com­men­tary. See trail­er below.

The top 10 movies in descend­ing order are: Mean Streets, Side­ways, The Usu­al Sus­pects, Sex, Lies and Video­tape, The Night of the Liv­ing Dead, Mon­ty Python’s Life of Bri­an, Clerks, The Ter­mi­na­tor, Don­nie Darko, and Reser­voir Dogs.

Look­ing for free movies? Dive into our col­lec­tion here.

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Online Writing Courses at Stanford

Quick fyi: Start­ing today, you can sign up for online writ­ing cours­es from Stan­ford. Offered by Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies and the Stan­ford Cre­ative Writ­ing Pro­gram (which is one of the most dis­tin­guished writ­ing pro­grams in the coun­try), these online cours­es give begin­ning and advanced writ­ers, no mat­ter where they live, the chance to refine their craft with gift­ed writ­ing instruc­tors and smart peers. Just to be clear, the cours­es are not free.

Reg­is­tra­tion starts today, and the cours­es (see the list below) will go from Jan­u­ary 14 — March 23. For more infor­ma­tion, click here, or sep­a­rate­ly check out the FAQ.

(Full dis­clo­sure: I helped set up these cours­es and think they’re a great edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty. But nonethe­less take my opin­ion with a grain of salt.)

Win­ter Cours­es:

By the way, if you live in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area and want to keep the mind engaged, give some thought to Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies. Our full win­ter cat­a­logue is here.

James Joyce’s Dubliners: Four Stories

jamesjoyce2.jpgBack in June, we high­light­ed the release of James Joyce’s Ulysses in free audio­book for­mat. Ulysses stands as Joyce’s most impor­tant work, and for some, it’s most the impor­tant work pub­lished in the Eng­lish lan­guage dur­ing the entire 20th cen­tu­ry. Despite Ulysses’ enor­mous stature, many read­ers still turn to Dublin­ers, a col­lec­tion of 15 short sto­ries that Joyce pub­lished in 1914, part­ly because it’s con­sid­ered his most acces­si­ble writ­ing. Over at Lib­rivox, you can find sev­er­al key sto­ries from this col­lec­tion — name­ly, The Sis­ters (mp3), Ara­by (mp3), Eve­line (mp3), and The Dead (mp3 in zip file). The Dead is the longest and last sto­ry in the col­lec­tion, and it’s a Christ­mas sto­ry, some say the “great­est of all Christ­mas sto­ries,” which makes it par­tic­u­lar­ly time­ly to men­tion here.

It’s worth not­ing that you can down­load the com­plete etext of Dublin­ers at Project Guten­berg or on Google Book Search. (The lat­ter ver­sion is clean­er.) And, if you can suf­fer through it, Guten­berg also offers a free audio ver­sion of Joyce’s text, which is read by a com­put­er, not a real per­son.

Last­ly, be sure to spend some time perus­ing Lib­rivox’s entire col­lec­tion of free audio­books. It’s the best on the web.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.