San Francisco’s Spectacular Big Book Sale

alex atkins bookshelf booksEach year, the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library (FSFPL) holds one of the most spectacular book sales any mortal will see in this lifetime: the spectacular Big Book Sale. The 55th annual sale opened to the public on Wednesday, September 18 (running through September 22) at the Fort Mason Center’s 50,000 square-foot Festival Pavilion, with views of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. It’s a sight to behold. For a book lover, it is an entirely unique and exciting shopping experience. The best analogy one can use is that it is a cross between Costco and Barnes & Noble. In short, it is a book lover’s paradise.

When you first step into the pavilion, you are overwhelmed: row after row of large tables stacked with books as far as the eye can see. According to the FSFPL marketing materials, more than 500,000 items are offered for sale! Books are neatly organized, with their spines facing up, into more than 70 very discrete subject areas (eg, Americana, Ancient History, Anthropology, Antiques, etc.). Beneath each table are boxes filled with surplus books that will be used to replenish the tables. All of this work is done by an army of volunteers (paid by books!) that walk from table to table, tidying up books, replenishing, and helping shoppers find their way around the massive warehouse. Very few shoppers attempt shopping using a bag; most quickly realize the benefits of grabbing a shopping cart from the front of the warehouse and steering it to their favorite sections. Once there, they park it and dive into perusing the titles and start loading their carts as quickly as they can. Books are priced very simply: all hardbacks are $4, paperbacks are $3, children’s books are $2, and media (CDs, DVDs) are $2; on Sunday, all pricing drops to $1 per item. With pricing this low, it doesn’t take long for book lover to calculate the tremendous savings. In a matter of minutes they start loading their carts to the brim. While some shoppers attempt to build tall pyramids of books in their carts; others pursue an easier option and begin to fill a second cart… or a third.

Like in most used book stores, the quality of book ranges from brand new (some still shrink-wrapped) to acceptable or fair condition. Regardless of the condition, the breadth of the selection is incredible. You will find some extremely rare and valuable works that have long been out of print. Some of these are worth hundreds of dollars, and even more surprising, some of these cannot be found on Amazon or ABE Books. And yes, lurking in many of those piles and boxes are several first editions of notable works. One of the most interesting sections on the pavilion floor is the “Unusual & Collectible” section that holds many rare vintage books that are priced much higher than the sale prices to match their value.

Selling donated books is big business for FSFPL. Each year, the organization raises approximately $1.5 million to support the San Francisco Public Library. In fact, they take in so many donations that they run two fully-stocked stores year-round. One of the Friends Bookstore is located at Fort Mason in Building C, while the other is located at the Main Library, 100 Larkin Street. These stores are organized just like any used bookstore and their inventory changes depending on level of donations and sales. Prices at those stores is slightly higher than at the Big Book Sale.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

Read related posts: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores
Types of Book Readers
Signs at an Indie Bookstore: Why Not Try a Book?
Serendipitous Discoveries in Used Bookstores
How Indie Bookstores are Thriving
Bookstores are Full of Stories
Who Will Save Our Bookstores?
The Sections of a Bookstore

For further reading:

Discovering the Moral Truth About Human Existence is the Highest Truth of Art

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Telling the truth in fiction can mean one of three things: [1] saying that which is factually correct, a trivial kind of truth, though a kind central to works of verisimilitude; [2] saying that which, by virtue of tone and coherence, does not feel like lying, a more important kind of truth; and [3] discovering and affirming moral truth about human existence — the highest truth of art. This highest kind of truth, we’ve said, is never something the artist takes as a given. It’s not his point of departure but his goal. Though the artist has beliefs, like other people, he realizes that a salient characteristic of art is a radical openness to persuasion. Even those beliefs he’s surest of, the artist puts under pressure to see if they will stand. He may have a pretty clear idea where his experiment will lead, as Dostoevsky did when he sent Raskolnikov on his unholy mission; but in so far as he’s a true artist, he does not force the results. He knows to the depths of his soul that when an artist creates in the service of wrong beliefs — that is, out of wrong opinions he mistakes for knowledge — or when he creates in the service of doctrines that may or may not be true but cannot be tested — for instance, doctrinaire Marxism or belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead — the effect of his work, admirable or otherwise, is not the effect of true art but of something else: pedagogy, propaganda, or religion.”

From The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers (1983) by American novelist and literary critic John Gardner (1933-1982). Gardner wrote more than 20 books (fiction and nonfiction); however, his most popular novel was Grendel, published in 1971, that tells the story of Beowulf from the monster’s perspective. Gardner published several books on writing, two of which, On Becoming a Novelist and The Art of Fiction (both published posthumously in 1983), that are considered classics. Gardner is known for his succinct summary of all of literature: “There are only two plots in literature: a person goes on a journey, or the stranger comes to town.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

Read related posts: Best Writing Advice From Famous Writers
Best Advice for Writers: P.D. James
The Best Advice for Writers
Best Books for Writers
William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
The Responsibility of the Poet
The Power of Literature
Why Writers Write


Are We Living in an Orwellian World?

alex atkins bookshelf booksGeorge Orwell (born Eric Blair, 1903-1950) grew up at a time in history that exhibited mankind at its worst. He saw how totalitarian regimes (eg, Fascism in Italy; Nazism in Germany) set the stage for two World Wars that left unimaginable devastation, profoundly scarring several generations. Nevertheless, Orwell was as astute student of human nature and was able to view it through the lens of language. In his insightful essay, Politics and the English language (1946), which foreshadowed many of the themes of his timeless classic 1984, Orwell believed that language had become a powerful political tool used to conceal the truth in order to manipulate the masses. “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics,” he wrote, “All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia… Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind… [And] if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

It was in the shadow of the horrors of WWII and its aftermath that Orwell wrote his dystopian novel 1984 in 1949. The novel introduces us to Winston Smith living in a world where every individual is under surveilliance because the Party (a totalitarian government) wants to suppress individualism and independent, critical thinking. Smith’s job is to write the news so that it reflects what the Party wants people to believe — regardless of the truth. The novel also introduces several enduring concepts, such as the Thought Police, Newspeak, Big Brother, the Brotherhood, the Ministry of Truth, thoughtcrimes, and the Party that reflect the tremendous power and egregious abuses of a totalitarian government. The story is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Literary critic Lionel Trilling observed, “1984 is a profound, terrifying, and wholly fascinating book. It is a fantasy of the political future, and like any such fantasy, serves its author as a magnifying device for an examination of the present.” Now I know what you are thinking. You are asking yourself: is 1984 really a “fantasy of the political future?” When you read today’s headlines, particularly those that cover any of the totalitarian regimes around the globe — and consider the Trump administration’s assault on truth over the past three years — you will note an eerie coincidence between the world depicted in 1984 and the present day. No wonder many journalists have remarked over the past few years how Orwellian the world is becoming. And they are not trying to be flippant.

So the question we face today is: are we living in an Orwellian world? Ironically, Orwell wrote 1984 as a cautionary tale; however, many political leaders in the U.S. and around the globe have used it as a manual on how to lead. How Machiavellian! Let’s take a look at some of the notable quotes from 1984 and you be the judge:

“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.”

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

“One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”

“Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

“The best books… are those that tell you what you already knew.”

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

“We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing…The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.”

“What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?”

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth.”

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

“For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.”

“War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking into the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”

“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

“Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.”

“If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.”

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

“To die hating them, that was freedom.”

It’s amazing — isn’t it — how 2019 is a lot like 1984?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Big Lie?
Will We Ever Have Free and Fair Elections Again?
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

Book Title Mashups

alex atkins bookshelf booksTo honor National Read a Book Day, Bookshelf presents the first installment of book title mashups — taking two titles of classic literary works and combing them together to create a completely, um… novel reading experience. Happy reading.

The Grapes of Gatsby


Lord of the Animal Farm

One Flew Over the Catcher’s Rye

A Clockwork Purple

All the King’s Invisible Men

Gone with the Mockingbird

One Hundred Years of Possession

Much Ado About Portnoy’s Complaint

Taming of Lolita

A Tale of Two Utopias

Go Tell It on the Magic Mountain

What are some other possible titles?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What to Read Next?
Books that Shaped America
The Best Love Stories
Books that will Change Your Life
Why Read Moby Dick?
The Great Gatsby Coda
Great Literature Speaks

The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2019

catkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC), established in 1982 by English Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, recognizes the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 

Each year, contest receives more than 10,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $150 — presumably for writing lessons.

The winner of the 2018 BLFC was Maxwell Archer of Mt. Pleasant, Ontario:
Space Fleet Commander Brad Brad sat in silence, surrounded by a slowly dissipating cloud of smoke, maintaining the same forlorn frown that had been fixed upon his face since he’d accidentally destroyed the phenomenon known as time, thirteen inches ago.

The runner up was submitted by Robert Moore of North Falmouth, Massachusetts:
Emile Zola wondered the dank and soggy streets of a gloomy Parisian night, the injustice of the Dreyfus affair weighing on him like a thousand baguettes, dreaming of some massage or therapy to relieve the tension and pain in his aching shoulders and back, and then suddenly he thought of his Italian friends and their newly invented warm water bath with air jets and he rapturously exclaimed that oft misquoted declaration — “Jacuzzi!”

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Jeremy Das of Loughborough, England:
Realizing that his symptoms indicated a virtually undetectable, fast acting neurotoxin, CIA coroner Quinn Abner frantically wrote up the details, lay on the floor and, as a professional courtesy, did his best to draw a chalk outline of himself.

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Bart King of Portland, Oregon:
After purchasing an oval Chinese frying pan at the diminutive British aristocrat’s yard sale, Nigel realized that he’d just taken a long wok off a short Peer.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Worst Sentence Ever Written
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2014
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2015
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2016
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2017
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2018
The Best Sentences in English Literature

Best Books for Word Lovers
Best Books for Writers
Most Famous Quotations in British Literature

For futher reading:
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)

Rare Words to Describe People

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWord lovers take delight in using rare words to describe everyday things and people. The more arcane, the better. This was the inspiration for lexicographer David Grambs dictionary of rare and unusual words for people, titled Dimboxes, Edopts, and Other Quidams: Words to Describe Life’s Indescribable People. Grambs dusted off some old dictionaries and word books from the 1800s to find some fascinating specimens for his “bestiary of people words.” In chapter ten, Grambs list some very rare words for troublemakers (annoyers, meddler, intruders, upstarts, and bores):

agitprop: a vociferous propagandistic agitator, particularly now with leftist or Marxist sympathies.

ami de cour: (from the French, meaning “friend at court”) a fair-weather friend; an insincere friend.

bashi-bazouk: an out-of-control, undisciplined person who is oblivious to laws; a wild person.

bitter-ender: a very stubborn person who refuses to compromise or apologize.

blateroon: a chatterbox.

crosspatch: a person who is disagreeable and ill-natured.

Dogberry: (derived from a character from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing) a smug official who is dumb and inept.

marplot: a person who interferes, well-meaning or not, and ruins things.

mauvais sujet: (from the French, meaning “bad subject”) a thoroughly untrustworthy person

quidnunc: a gossip and newsmonger.

scattergood: a person who wastes time or money (or both).

smell-feast: a person who invites himself to a meal.

stormy petrel: a person who instigates a fight or an argument.

Once you learn them, you can start dropping these words into your conversations or texts and enjoy the reactions.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Rare Anatomy Words
Obscure Scrabble Words
An Alphabet of Rare Words
Words for Word Nerds
Words That Sound Naughty But Are Not
Rare Names of Baby Animals

When You Read an Excellent Book, You Gain a New Friend

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“The first time I read an excellent book, it is to me just as if I had gained a new friend. When I read a book over I have perused before, it resembles the meeting with an old one.”

From The Citizen of the World, a series of letters and essays by Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), Irish poet, playwright, and novelist. Goldsmith is best known for writing the novel The Vicar of Wakefield, published in 1766, and the play She Stoops to Conquer (first performed in 1773), and the famous children’s tale, The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765). Prior to his death, Goldsmith was working on writing and editing an encyclopedia with the working title Universal Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores
Types of Book Readers
Signs at an Indie Bookstore: Why Not Try a Book?
Serendipitous Discoveries in Used Bookstores
How Indie Bookstores are Thriving
Bookstores are Full of Stories
Who Will Save Our Bookstores?
The Sections of a Bookstore

%d bloggers like this: