To Meme, or Not to Meme? Meet the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind SparkNotes' Genius Twitter Account
When people think of their high school English classes, a few things usually tend to come to mind: memorizing sonnets, slogging through long novels with arcane language, and — of course — cramming before tests using SparkNotes.
The company is known for providing summaries of classic literature and “translations” of old plays and books into plain English. However, SparkNotes has recently been translating classic lit into a language even more relevant to teenagers than English: The brand’s Twitter account is explaining the stories of Hamlet, Gatsby, and Odysseus in the universal internet language of memes.
The combination of funny memes and references to beloved stories has earned the account a following of adoring fans.
SparkNotes’ Twitter activity is the brainchild of Courtney Gorter, a 26-year-old writer who manages the account. “When I took over, we hadn’t really developed a set strategy yet, so the team was pretty much open to anything,” she says. “We’d done a meme or two previously and the response was positive, so when I started running the show, I decided to have some fun with it. My goal was to make it the kind of Twitter account that I personally would want to follow.”
Gorter admits that she laughs out loud at some of her favorite posts, like one which combines a John Mulaney joke with a reference to Romeo & Juliet. “I’m not humble enough to pretend I don’t sometimes get a kick out of my own stuff,” she says.
When Gorter took over the SparkNotes Twitter account a year and a half ago, it was hovering at around 15,000 followers, she says. Today, it has almost 110,000 followers and its tweets regularly get over 5,000 likes. There have been several posts that have exceeded those numbers, getting upwards of 20,000 likes. One post, about Romeo’s famously bad decision making, was liked over 115,000 times and retweeted over 35,000 times:
Gorter says her SparkNotes strategy works because the subject matter is so universal. “Every single one of us is using memes just to make it through the day,” she says. “Also, every single one of us is required to read certain books for school. So whether you loved Hamlet or hated it, there’s just something really affirming about seeing a meme and being able to say, ‘I see what you did there.'”
Still, Gorter says she is “constantly surprised that the account has become as popular as it is.” She has received positive feedback from students and teachers alike, with instructors telling her that they’ve incorporated the memes into their syllabi. There is, after all, an educational component to her work. “I tend to focus on books that teachers assign most frequently, like The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Flies, et cetera,” she says. “We’re constantly rolling out new content for those books on the site since we know students find them helpful.”
While Gorter runs the Twitter account by herself, she gets some help from Chelsea Aaron, who runs SparkNotes’ Instagram account. “We often share ideas and e-mail each other things like, ‘Is this even funny, or am I just sleep-deprived?’”
And while the memes may be new, Gorter sees them as a way to achieve SparkNotes’ longstanding goal: making classic literature easier for students to understand. “My hope is that our Twitter works in conjunction with the site to emphasize the idea that classic literature doesn’t have to be super intimidating,” she says.
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Introducing the SparkNotes app! Try it free for one month—once you’ve started your free trial, you’ll have instant access to all of our literature guides (nearly 600, with more coming soon) at your fingertips. To Kill a Mockingbird? Yep. Romeo and Juliet? Of course!
And there's more:
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* Quiz yourself: almost all titles have an interactive quiz
* Customize your text size and try out DARK MODE
The SparkNotes app requires an easy in-app subscription to get started. You’ll have the first month free to see why the SparkNotes app is the best way to study on your iPhone or iPod Touch. You can get all of our award-winning SparkNotes literature guides for either $.99 a month or $4.99 a year!
Subscriptions allow you to view the full study guide content found within the app, and are available on both a monthly and a yearly basis. Your subscription will automatically renew—and your account will be charged—unless auto-renew is turned off at least 24 hours before the end of the current period. You can manage your subscriptions, and turn off auto-renewal, by going to your account settings after purchase.
Your support enables us to bring you the fastest, least distracting way to study, and we can’t wait to show you what’s coming next! Let us know what you think, and share your ideas, by using the feedback link in the app’s Settings menu.
Contact the SparkNotes app team by writing to [email protected], or connect online:
The same SparkNotes app you love, with a few feature updates and bug fixes.
Ratings and Reviews
The website is way better
I don’t get why the website would allow us to access the notes and what they say for free while the app does not let us do anything unless we pay for it. I liked the website so I thought I should get the app but I could not do anything. The website is better than the app
Fantasy App for lazy unappreciated snobby students!!
This app is a FANTASTIC App for lazy unappreciated snobby students who take education for granted and fail to take advantage of the the English literature stories and become knowledgeable while helping them with passing the subject!!
Seriously!!! How is $5 a year expensive!!! So sad the gum chewed by the very students who commented so negativity on this app as being expensive and not affordable is much more expensive than the price of this well put together app. Yet paying $5/year for an educational app a pinch got them?!!! I mean seriously?!!!$5. How is that expensive? So sad and pathetic. Only if they could fathom the hard work and dedication of what it takes to design an app and the time it with all the valuable content it took to make it!!!
So sad. :-(
This app is a fabulous and informative educational value pack for all students and none students alike. Helping them catch up on the English literature while enjoying to tap into the English lit, becoming a learned educated person. Trust me try it. It won't hurt or bite you!
This is an amazing app that I wish I had when I was in HS and College. Instead if I wanted cliff notes I had to go to a book store and purchase actually cliff notes. Yes the app costs money. Boo hoo. Don’t want to pay? The developer is generous enough to offer the information on their website for free. Want the convience the app provides? It’s going to cost a little. Think about all the $$ you waste on useless stuff every year compared to a service that will help make you less stupid than you are. Worth it IMO.
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- SparkNotes LLC
- 88.8 MB
- Requires iOS 11.0 or later.
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- Requires macOS 11.0 or later and a Mac with Apple M1 chip.
- Age Rating
- 9+ Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes
- © SparkNotes LLC
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- SparkNotes Content Subscription$4.99
With Family Sharing set up, up to six family members can use this app.
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Study guide website
SparkNotes, originally part of a website called The Spark, is a company started by Harvard students Sam Yagan, Max Krohn, Chris Coyne, and Eli Bolotin in 1999 that originally provided study guides for literature, poetry, history, film, and philosophy. Later on, SparkNotes expanded to provide study guides for a number of other subjects, including biology, chemistry, economics, health, math, physics, and sociology. SparkNotes does not charge users to use its resources online, but instead earns revenue from advertising.
Barnes & Noble acquired SparkNotes.com in 2001 for approximately $3.5 million.
TheSpark.com was a literary website launched by four Harvard students on January 7, 1999. Most of TheSpark's users were high school and college students. To increase the site's popularity, the creators published the first six literature study guides (called "SparkNotes") on April 7, 1999.
In 2000, the creators sold the site to iTurf Inc. The following year, Barnes & Noble purchased SparkNotes and selected fifty literature study guides to publish in print format. When Barnes & Noble printed SparkNotes, they stopped selling their chief competitor, CliffsNotes.
In January 2003, SparkNotes developed a practice test service called SparkNotes Test Prep. This project was followed by the release of SparkCharts, reference sheets that summarize a topic; No Fear Shakespeare, transcriptions of Shakespeare's plays into modern language; and No Fear Literature, transcriptions of literary classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Scarlet Letter into modern language.
SparkNotes Test Prep provides content and services related to the ACT, and AP, GRE and PSAT/SAT I and II standardized tests. Barnes & Noble sells printed versions of the test prep study guides, as well as SparkCharts and other printed study materials, in the United States and at Chapters in Canada.
The SparkNotes.com website also includes a section for students to search for colleges.
SparkNotes has moved into educational publishing with books, such as Poetry Classics and FlashKids, a series of educational books for Kindergarten to grade 8 students. They also provide exercises for high school teachers.
The free SparkNotes mobile app for the iPhone/iPod and Android offers:
- 50 pre-installed study guides in the app library
- Hundreds of study guides available for viewing online
- The ability to download any study guide to the mobile device for offline use
- The ability to share what one is studying and one's status by checking in with a customized post to Facebook
Because SparkNotes provides study guides for literature that include chapter summaries, many teachers see the website as a cheating tool. These teachers argue that students can use SparkNotes as a replacement for actually completing reading assignments with the original material or to cheat during tests using cell phones with Internet access.
SparkNotes states that it does not support academic dishonesty or plagiarism. Instead, it suggests that students read the original material, and then check SparkNotes to compare their own interpretation of the text with the SparkNotes analysis.
In January 2019, site developers announced a complete redesign of the SparkLife section of the website in order to focus more on literature-related content. This announcement was met with a negative response from SparkLife users due to the removal of user-made accounts, blog posts, and comments.
- ^ abc"A Brief History of SparkNotes". SparkNotes. SparkNotes LLC. Archived from the original on February 12, 2008. Retrieved February 4, 2008.
- ^"Barnes & Noble inc, Form 10-Q, Quarterly Report, Filing Date Jun 18, 2001". secdatabase.com. Archived from the original on May 15, 2018. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
- ^Martin, Stacy (5 September 2004). "SITE SPECIFIC-www.sparknotes.com". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco: Hearst Communications Inc. Archived from the original on 31 January 2005. Retrieved 19 March 2006.
- ^ abBorja, Anais; Lester, Amelia (18 October 2001). "The Rise and Success of Sparknotes". The Harvard Crimson. Harvard: The Harvard Crims0n Inc. Archived from the original on 13 December 2008. Retrieved 19 March 2008.
- ^Bowman, James (8 August 2003). "Murder Most Foul". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Archived from the original on 12 August 2007. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
- ^"SparkNotes Mobile Apps". Archived from the original on 19 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- ^Simnauer, Lauren; Dumler, Christie (20 June 2007). "There's room for sparknotes, too". The View. Zip Publishing. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
- ^ abEger, Andrea (February 22, 2008). "Students love study guides". Tulsa World. World Publishing Co. Retrieved March 2, 2008.
- ^"Competition for CliffsNotes arrives on the scene. Later, a popular study supplement called "Kramnotes" were put into circulation. Today they serve as one of Sparknotes top competitors. – in print". The Christian Science Monitor. 25 June 2002. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
- ^Saltz, Molly (January 2, 2006). "No, it's a cheap shortcut that does no one any good". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon, United States. Retrieved March 25, 2008.[permanent dead link]
- ^"About SparkNotes". SparkNotes. SparkNotes LLC. Archived from the original on February 8, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2008.
- ^Kestler, Justin. "Help:The Plagiarism Plague". SparkNotes. SparkNotes LLC. Archived from the original on March 6, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2008.
- ^Miller, Erin (January 2, 2006). "Is SparkNotes worthwhile? Yes, used properly it can enhance our education". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon, United States. Retrieved March 24, 2008.[permanent dead link]
- ^Nguyen, Kim Ngan (2 October 2003). "SparkNotes A Hit With High School Crowd". The Denver Channel. Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
- ^Formato, Brynne (February 5, 2004). "A quick study: online sites speed up reading". The Mirror. Fairfield, Connecticut, United States. Retrieved March 25, 2008.[permanent dead link]
- ^"Coming Soon: The New SparkNotes Blog!". Sparknotes Blog. January 24, 2019. Archived from the original on January 31, 2019.
- ^"Sparkler Posts » A MESSAGE TO SPARKNOTES EDITORS - please take time to read if you see this". January 31, 2019. Archived from the original on January 31, 2019. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
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