My Favorite Words – Julia Glass


Julia Glass is an American novelist and freelance journalist and editor. Glass is best known for Three Junes, her debut novel that won a National Book Award for Fiction (2002), and The Widower’s Tale (2010). Glass discusses her favorite word, widdershins, drawn from the world of folklore:

As a child, I was a robust consumer of folklore from every conceivable culture. One of my favorite books was a volume of Joseph Jacobs’ fairy tales, with commentary by W. H. Auden (though his name did not impress me then). The best and most haunting tale in the book was “Childe Rowland,” which begins when three boys are playing ball with their sister on a church lawn and she vanishes into thin air. The brothers­ — who will, this being a fairy tale, set out on serial quests to rescue their sister — discover that she’s been abducted by a sorcerer because she ran around the church widdershins: in the opposite direction to the sun (that is, counterclockwise).

From the moment I read that word aloud, I fell in love with it; I’ve used it more than once, though very selectively, in my fiction. To this day, it evokes mischief, superstition, and black magic, yet also the dire solemnity of saving a loved one from peril. (It also summons up a grisly illustration from the book: the youngest brother, the ultimate hero, in the necessary act of beheading an innocent horseherd.) During an extremely painful period of loss and grief in my midthirties, I remember thinking that it felt as if my life had gone widdershins. Just now, pulling that book off a shelf and paging through it for the first time in a few years, I dipped into Auden’s charming afterword and learned that a Scottish synonym for widdershins is wrang-gaites — and that the opposite of widdershins is deiseal. How many rich, delicious words the world contains, and how fortunate I am to be in the business of using them!

Read related posts: My Favorite Words – Robert Ludlum
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My Favorite Words – David Foster Wallace

For further reading: Favorite Words of Famous People by Lewis Frumkes, Marion Street Press (2011)

How Much is a Jane Austen First Edition Worth?

alex atkins bookshelf booksToday, July 18, 2017, marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) death. Like fellow British writers Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, Austen is a perennial literary sensation — her works have never been out of print over two centuries. Her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published anonymously (the title page simply stated “BY A LADY”), as a three-volume set in 1811, selling out just two years later. Following Sense and Sensibility, Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1817), and Persuasion (1817). Austen began a seventh novel, Sanction, in 1817 but died before it was completed. Austen’s popular six novels have inspired more than 70 TV and film adaptations and thousands of books. To get a sense of the impressive Austen canon, type in “Jane Austen” into the Amazon search field and you will find 14,594 books (compare this with 40,203 books about Dickens and 134,625 books about Shakespeare!). Naturally, a bibliophile (especially a Janeite bibliophile) wonders: what would a first edition of each of Jane Austen’s cost? Excellent question. According to current prices at AbeBooks, an entire set of first editions of Jane Austen six novels would set you back $190,000. Serious coin — about the cost of a college education in America. The most valuable books in the set are Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Interestingly, all the first editions were published as multiple volume sets. Here is the value of each first edition:

Sense and Sensibility: $30,000

Pride and Prejudice: $45,000

Mansfield Park: $20,000

Emma: $45,000

Northanger Abbey: $25,000

Persuasion: $25,000

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For further reading: Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence
The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen by Edward Copeland

What Makes Life Meaningful?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action… There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in numbers, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way… It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

From Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl (1905-1997), an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who founded logotherapy. Frankl was a survivor of the Holocaust, having been imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and later Kaufering and Durkheim (both affiliated with the Dachau concentration camp in Upper Bavaria) from October 1944 to April 1945. Having endured unspeakable suffering in the concentration camps, Frankl discovered meaning even in the most horrific, most dehumanizing situations. This belief, that there was meaning even in suffering, became one of the foundational concepts of logotherapy. According to Frankl, the striving to find meaning in life is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force for all humans.

The Lord of the Books: Creating A Library From Discarded Books

alex atkins bookshelf booksGarbage collector Jose Alberto Gutierrez took the adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, to heart when he rescued thousands of books from the trash bins over a period of 20 years to create a free library for his neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia. So how many books did Gutierrez rescue? He collected more than 20,000 books, earning the nickname “Lord of the Books.” Lordy! Two immediate take-aways: 1. people of Colombia throw away perfectly decent books? and 2. Gutierrez, who stores these books in his home (he lives there with his wife and three children), must have a very patient and understanding wife (Jose — when are you gonna start clearing out some of these books? — if I trip on Infinite Jest one more time!….).  

Gutierrez is passionate about reading even though he had to leave elementary school when he was young to earn money for his family. “I got my inspiration from my mom,” he explained in an interview. “When I was little she would read to us every night.” Then when he was 13, he read a book that changed his life: Homer’s great epic, The Odyssey. “After reading it,” Gutierrez recalled, “I became a traveler in my own odyssey. I will only reach Ithaca when I see libraries and books everywhere in my country.” This passion for reading and education is what fueled his goal to open a free public library, that he calls “La Fuerza de las Palabras” (The Strength of Words), in 2000. The first book he collected was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. He was shocked that someone would toss such an important literary work into the trash. I mean, if the book were 50 Shades of Grey — that would make sense, right?

Gutierrez’s generosity is not limited to his own neighborhood — over the years he has donated books to more than 235 organizations and schools in his native country to help disadvantaged students to discover the joy and benefits of reading; he explained, “The whole value of what we do lies in helping kids [to] start reading.” The library has also become a mecca for writers, poets, and education specialists who visit the library to browse, research, and to sip from this impressive literary monument.

So next time you finish a book, but don’t want to keep the book, think of the Lord of the Books. Donate the book to a library or a neighborhood lending library, so it can be passed on. Perhaps one day, it may end up thousands of miles away in La Fuerza de las Palabras. Now that would be quite a literary odyssey…

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The Power of Literature

For further reading:

What is an Isogram?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIt sounds like something you would encounter in geometry; however, an isogram is a word without any repeating letters. For example, the word isogram is well, an isogram. Word lovers and word puzzle enthusiasts challenge one another to find the longest isogram. The longest one contains 17 letters, subdermatoglyphic, meaning of or pertaining to the layer of skin beneath the fingertips. Below are some of the longest isograms that appear in dictionaries:

17 Letters:

16 Letters:

15 letters:

Read related posts: What is a Pangram?
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What Are the Most Dangerous Jobs in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureMost people enjoy their work, despite the fact that there are always some complaints — however minor or significant –regarding the workplace. But let’s look at the bright side — at least you don’t have to worry about risking your life to do your job. Or expressed another way: at least your job will not kill you.

Take a look at the list of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It’s sobering, isn’t it? Imagine leaving for work each day and having to ponder that this might be the last day of your life. And even worse — the salaries that you would earn in these jobs do not even factor in the level of danger that you would be exposed to on a daily basis. For example, in two most dangerous industries, logging and fishing, workers only earn an average salary of $32,870 and $25,590, respectively. And note, that to live comfortably in America, you need to earn around $39,000 to $50,000 (depending on what city you live in, and excluding the outliers) according to a recent cost-of-living survey conducted by GoBankingRates. Certainly, it prompts the question: is it really worth it to do this job? For many workers, due to a variety of circumstances, a job in a safer industry is not necessarily a viable option. So the next time you open your front door (made of wood) and step into your house (framed with lumber) or have fish for dinner, think for a moment of the brave souls who risked their lives to provide those elements of modern life. Or the next time you get frustrated at work for some minor annoyance, consider that you don’t have to carry a load of rivets on a narrow iron girder 840 feet above the city streets (recall the famous “Lunch atop a Skyscraper from the 1930s).

Here is the list of the most dangerous jobs in the world, the salaries, and the number of fatalities per 100 workers.

Logging Worker
Average annual salary: $32,870
Death per 100 workers: 127.8
Fast fact: Housing boom has forced industry to hire more inexperienced workers who are prone to more accidents

Average annual salary: $25,590
Death per 100 workers: 117
Fast fact: Most deaths are due to vessel disasters or falling overboard

Aircraft Pilots
Average annual salary: $76,050
Death per 100 workers: 53.4
Fast fact: Private planes have highest mortality rates because the planes are not well-maintained

Average annual salary: $34,220
Death per 100 workers: 40.5
Fast fact: Most deaths are due to falls

Mining Machine Operators
Average annual salary: $37,230 to $89,440
Death per 100 workers: 37
Fast fact: Most deaths are due to cave-ins, flooding, elevator problems, and lung and respiratory disease

Garbage Collectors
Average annual salary: $34,220
Death per 100 workers: 27.1
Fast fact: Most fatalities are due to traffic or machine accidents

Power-line Workers
Average annual salary: $62,300
Death per 100 workers: 23
Fast fact: Most deaths are due to exposure to harmful substances in environment

Truck Drivers
Average annual salary: $37,930
Death per 100 workers: 22.1
Fast fact: Drivers typically drive for 11 hours at a stretch

Agricultural Workers
Average annual salary: $73,700
Death per 100 workers: 21.3
Fast fact: 23% of injuries are due to machinery

Construction Workers
Average annual salary: $34,500
Death per 100 workers: 17.4
Fast fact: Most fatalities are due to falls

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For further reading:

What is the Shortest Book Title in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost people are familiar with some of the most famous book titles in literature, for example, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. And then there are some books with longer titles, like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain or The Strange Case of Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. But few readers are familiar with the shortest book titles in the world, consisting of only one letter:

?, a novel by Sir Walter Newman Flower (1925)

&, a collection of verse by e.e. cummings (1925)

C, a novel by Maurice Baring (1924)

G, a novel by John Berger (1972)

V, a novel by Thomas Pynchon (1963)

Read related posts: What is the Longest Book Title in the World?
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What is the Longest Song Title?

For further reading: Brewer’s Cabinet of Curiosities by Ian Crofton

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