Cliff’s Notes


Literature students were not supposed to read Cliff's (or Monarch) Notes. It violated the unwritten oath of office, running contrary to the very crux of that office and made a mockery of every single dead poet, novelist, and author of any repute. The rule wasn't formal; there was no blood oath you had to swear to the Canon when enlisting in the literature program, no legal document in triplicate to sign nor collateral to hand over to the exhalted faculty. You just knew.


Still, you could walk into any Half-Price Books a few days before the major lit exams and find fellow students "just sniffing around for an old Kerouac book" suspiciously close to the used Cliff's (and Monarch) notes. Purely coincidence. When no one else was within earshot, the honest ones would say things like "just kicking around ideas and curious about what was said about the textural theme in Heart of Darkness" or "hey, Milton is a complicated guy and I need all the help I can get". My favorite was "I was curious about what was being told to the non-lit majors" -- like Cliff (or Monarch) might be slipping in a few nuggets of wrong information so that the lit majors could correct them in witty conversation late in the fall at the faculty club.


Adopting an open philosophy, I ultimately decided that reviewing Cliff (or Monarch) Notes prior to reading the work in question made it easier to pick up major themes and think about how they are developed. And to consider the effect of drinking, drug use, violence, isolation, fraility, weakness, blindness, and the host of other flaws that plagued writers and their subjects. The professional notes also included well-researched bibliographies that could be exploited to find additional insight.


(As an aside, the bibliographies usually pointed to books that were published prior to 1950. This was a bonus as these books were found in the old part of the university library in "The Stacks". The Stacks were an almost sacred ground for lit students and other students who wanted to "get away from it all". They were located through a couple of narrow passageways off the main library and consisted of 8 floors of floor-to-ceiling shelves loaded with older books. Wandering the floors was like flipping through public access cable late at night...)


So why this talk of prepared notes?


I was reminded of Cliff's (and Monarch) Notes after I vistied the Jobs Blog at Microsoft. It is the Cliff's (or Monarch's) Notes for applying to Microsoft and preparing for the interview process. There are also video of the campus shuttle, a mock whiteboard excercise, and meeting your recruiter in Building 19. These are great crib notes to guide you through the application process at Microsoft and like Cliff's (and Monarch's) Notes, you'd be foolish not to review them as part of your preparation.


And if you have never read Monarch Notes, give them a shot. I hear tell you can get their entire collection on a single CD Rom. Technology...

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