A Good Book Is a Necessary Commodity

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity.”

From The Bookshop, published in 2008, by British novelist, essayist, and biographer Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000). The British Daily, The Times, ranked her as “one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.” Fitzgerald did not begin writing until she turned 58; nevertheless, she published nine novels and three biographies, winning several literary awards, including the Booker Prize and the Golden PEN Award.

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The Pros and Cons of Remote Learning

alex atkins bookshelf educationAs we observed in a recent post, almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic required most of the U.S. workforce to make the transition from working in an office location to working remotely from home. Students and teachers — from pre-K to college — had to make that same transition. Teachers had to quickly adapt: mastering online platforms for assigning homework and conducting remote classes (most often, using Zoom) and utilizing email to connect with students. Students learned to transform their bedrooms, or common rooms like a kitchen or family room, into makeshift mini classrooms of one. So how are students and teachers doing with the normal of remote learning (aka distance learning)? Although no official survey has been published to date (several are in the works by educational organizations and schools), there are some smaller surveys conducted by teachers available. Bookshelf also reached out to some teachers and students to determine the pros and cons of remote learning. Anecdotal evidence suggests that remote learning, like working remotely, is not a universal solution: it is fraught with major and minor challenges. Here are some observations: 

Pros of remote learning:
More time to sleep
No need to commute to and from school
Can do school work in comfort of my own home (comfortable furniture, access to snacks and food, privacy of own bathroom)
Increased flexibility to complete assignments
More time to spend with family members
More freedom and independence

Cons of remote learning:
Not everyone has access to laptop and reliable wifi
Children with learning disabilities struggle with remote learning

Loss of social time with friends
Loss of human interaction (teacher and friends) leads to anxiety, depression, and isolation
Being at home offers too many distractions
Without instant teacher or peer feedback, easy to get discouraged
Loss of motivation to do study and do homework
Remote learning is not as effective as in-person learning
No separation from home life and school life
Feel trapped/stuck at home

Increased stress trying to stay on track and keep up with all assignments
Difficult to get personal help from teacher
Homework and workload has increased
No access to school library which has great resources and offers a quiet place to do homework
Feeling overwhelmed by drastic transition
With online classes in college, don’t feel I am getting my money’s worth

If you are a teacher or student, what else should be added to these lists?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: https://notesfromthechalkboard.com/2020/05/25/my-seventh-grade-students-weigh-in-on-the-pros-and-cons-of-remote-learning
edsource.org/2020/student-perspectives-the-pros-and-cons-of-distance-learning/632498


The Pros and Cons of Working From Home

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAlmost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic required more than half of the U.S. workforce to make the transition from working in an office location to working remotely from home. Most businesses have embraced the new normal — remote working punctuated with dreaded zoom meetings — for the short term; however, some major companies, like Twitter and Facebook, have committed to making remote work permanent, albeit with some caveats. Nevertheless, the new reality of working from home, which at first glance seems so attractive, is actually fraught with some subtle as well as significant challenges. To find out just how challenging this transition was, SellCell conducted a survey in June of this year that included 2,000 American remote employees (23 years and older). As the results indicate, not everyone is suited for telecommuting. Fascinating highlights from the study appear below:

Levels of stress since working from home:
Feel more stressed: 51.4%
Feel less stressed: 21.5%
No change: 27%

Level of productivity of working from home:
Feel more productive: 45%
Feel less productive: 34.5%
No change: 20.6%

Major distractions while working at home:
Social media: 61%
Smartphones: 53.7%
Binge watching: 42.1%
Children: 33.8%
Gaming: 30.4%
News media; 24.3%
Pets: 18.1%
Partner: 16%
Online shopping: 12.3%

The biggest cons to working from home:
Lack of social interaction: 55.8%
No distinction between work and home life: 43.5%
Poor eating habits: 33.2%
Loss of self-discipline: 25.6%
Absence of IT department: 23.5%
Longer work hours: 17.9%
Frequent video meetings: 15.1%

The pros to working from home:
Flexible work schedule: 61%
No more long commutes: 52.5%
No need to dress up: 44.8%
Saving money: 35.7%
No more missed deliveries: 28.4%
Increased family time: 19.6%
Don’t have to deal with annoying colleagues: 10.1%

Activities employees engage in while on the clock:
Browsing the internet: 83.2%
Scrolling through social media: 53.5%
Multitask while binge watching: 44%
Visiting adult websites: 43.2%
Making love with their partners: 19.8%
Online shopping: 17%

Issues to blame for keeping irregular work hours:
Phone usage: 72.4%
Tech and security issues: 67.7%
Household chores; 49.4%
Sleeping in: 46.2%
Looking after children: 34.4%
Lack of motivation: 30.2%
Hungover: 26.3%
Distractions from family and friends: 23.7%
Long lunches: 16.1%

Adverse impacts on telecommuters:
Change in exercise routines: 75.4%
Change in dietary patterns: 70.3%
Change in sleep patterns: 62.8%
No need to shower in the morning: 48.3%
Stay in pajamas all day: 66.4%
Increased alcohol drinking: 39.3%
Overeating: 28.2%
Inconsistent meals: 35%
Skipped meals: 24%
Feel that workload has increased: 55%

Preference for working from home vs. the office:
Prefer splitting time between home and office: 45%
Prefer going back to the office: 32%
Prefer working from home: 23%

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Animal Idioms in the Workplace
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For further reading: www.sellcell.com/blog/survey-eight-in-10-remote-workers-admit-to-slacking-off-at-work/


Reading Teaches that the Things that Torment Us Are the Things that Connect Us

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people. An artist is a sort of emotional or spiritual historian. His role is to make you realize the doom and glory of knowing who you are and what you are. He has to tell, because nobody else can tell, what it is like to be alive.”

Excerpt from an interview with James Baldwin, titled “Doom and Glory of Knowing Who You Are” by Jane Howard, that appeared in LIFE magazine on May 24, 1963. Baldwin’s quotation is often paraphrased as “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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What is the Symbolism of the Fly on Mike Pence’s Head?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIf you watched the vice-presidential debate you couldn’t help notice that rather brave fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head at what seems to be a very critical moment in the debate. Pence was on the defensive when Kamala Harris criticized President Trump for refusing to directly condemn white supremacy. Pence, with the characteristic composure of a cadaver or a zombie (depending on your perspective), began by attacking the liberal media and noting that Trump has Jewish grandchildren. He added, “This is a president who respects and cherishes all of the American people.” Viewers at home gagged at this ridiculous statement; but it was precisely at this moment that a housefly, which had been buzzing around the studio, had enough of the blatant evasiveness, obfuscation, diversion, deflection, and deception on the part this obsequious sycophant, that it landed on his head to make a bold statement: Mike Pence — Lord of the Flies. The black fly stood out starkly on Pence’s helmet-like snowy white hair and it sat there for an astounding two minutes and nine seconds, while Pence’s head swiveled from side to side in a robotic manner as he spoke. After all, black flies matter! Of course, it didn’t take long for viewers to turn to social media to unleash a torrent of snarky commentary. Viewers wanted to hear from the fly. Republicans feared that the bug was placed by the Democrats. Democrats feared that the fly was feeding Pence the answers. Viewers were concerned that the fly was exposed to coronavirus and needed to quarantine. Trump was furious and wanted the fly deported. And so on…

Since the fly was the most memorable character and moment of the debate, it invites the question: what is the symbolism of the fly? Since I alluded to William Golding’s chilling 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies, an enduring staple of high school English literature curriculum, let’s begin our discussion there. The title is extremely critical to the meaning of the novel. “Lord of the Flies” of course, is what one of the characters (Simon, the shy, sensitive boy, who represents goodness) names the severed pig head that is impaled on a stake by Jake (who represents savagery and evil). It is a memorable scene in the novel: a pig head, oozing in blood, surrounded by a cloud of buzzing flies, feasting on the pig’s flesh and blood. Thus, the flies symbolize death and decay. By coupling this term with “lord” that conveys unbridled power, Golding is creating a compelling and prescient metaphor: power and corruption lead to decay and death. A perfect metaphor for the Trump administration, wouldn’t you say? But further, Golding is keenly aware that “Lord of Flies” is a literal translation of the Hebrew word Beelzebub (or Beelzebul), found in the Old Testament (Books of Kings; 2 Kings 1:2-3,6). In the Old Testament, Beelzebub is a demonic deity worshipped by the Philistines. This paints quite a distasteful picture: a Philistine deity is that is the lord of flies — disgusting pests that feast on excrement. Moreover, in the noncanonical Testament of Solomon, ascribed to King Solomon, Beezlebul is synonymous with Lucifer (meaning “morning star”; shining one, light bearer”). Solomon describes Beelzebul as the prince of demons, a former heavenly angel gone rogue. Beezlebul’s goal is to encourage worship of demons, empower tyrants, incite wars, and instigate murder and mayhem throughout the world. Thus, “lord of the flies” is synonymous with “lord of demons.”

More generally, the fly is a symbol of evil and pestilence. In the landmark work A Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier writes: “Their ceaseless buzzing, whirling around and stinging make flies unbearable. They breed from corruption and decay, carry the germs of the foulest diseases and breach all defenses against them.” In the Dictionary of Symbolism, Hans Biedermann notes: “Flies of all species are creatures with negative symbolic associations… In ancient Persian mythology the enemy of light, Ahriman, slips into the world in the form of a fly.” Biedermann adds that in several cultures, swarms of flies represent satanic beings or demonic powers.

In A Dictionary of Literary Symbols, Micheal Ferber describes the symbolism of the flies in the context of great literature. Ferber points to the plague of flies that Moses unleashes on the Egyptians (Exodus 8.21-31). “Flies, not surprisingly, are usually considered unpleasant, disease-ridden, and evil.” He turns to Homer who emphasizes the boldness of the fly (Iliad 17.570-72): “the boldness of the fly / which, even though driven away from a man’s skin, / persists in biting out of relish for human blood.” In literature the fly can also mean anything that is insignificance. Recall the famous line from Gloucester in Shakespeare’s King Lear (Lear 4.136-37): “As flies to wanton boys, are we to th’ Gods. / They kill us for their sport.” 

The website History of Painters has a fascinating article on the hidden symbolism of insects in western painting: “Renaissance paintings are rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism regarding insects. From the of time of the Roman persecution Christians used signs and symbols to secretly identify each other. The Church commissioned sacred images that acted as moral instruction to illiterate serfs who clamored for spiritual enlightenment of the holy scriptures. The religious images, carvings and stone work served as a constant reminder of the hellish suffering that awaited heretics and sinners if they strayed from Gods word and church law. Byzantine, Gothic, Northern Renaissance and  Italian Renaissance paintings are rich in philosophical Christian symbolism regarding Insects.” In particular, the fly symbolizes “rot, wasting away, decay, death, and melancholia.” But it gets even more specific, and perhaps more germane to Pence’s fly: “A fly hovering over a church official or nobleman indicates disfavor with the  king or corruption and dereliction of duty.” Bingo!

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
A Dictionary of Literary Symbols (3rd Edition) by Michael Ferber
A Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier
Dictionary of Symbolism by Hans Biedermann (Translated by James Hulbert)
http://www.historyofpainters.com

http://www.historyofpainters.com/symbols.htm


The Search for Happiness is Within

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“He who has little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he purposes to remove.”

Excerpt from The Rambler, No. 6 (Saturday, April 7, 1750), by Samuel Johnson. The Rambler was a periodic, published every Tuesday and Saturday from 1750 to 1753, that targeted the middle-class that was climbing the social ladder by marrying into aristocratic families. Johnson believed that since these individuals did not possess the education required to integrate into higher social circles, The Rambler would provide reflective, didactic essays written in elevated prose on important topics such as morality, society, religion, literature, and politics. Johnson, a man of great erudition, often drew on the ideas of the giants of the Renaissance humanism, like Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), Rene Descartes, and Desiderius Erasmus.

In The Rambler, No. 6, Johnson introduces a quotation from his close friend James Elphinston, who was an educator and linguistics expert:

Active in indolence, abroad we roam
In quest of happiness which dwells at home:
With vain pursuits fatigu’d, at length you’ll find,
No place excludes it from an equal mind. 

Johnson comments, “That man should never suffer his happiness to depend upon external circumstances, is one of the chief precepts of the Stoical philosophy; a precept, indeed, which that lofty sect has extended beyond the condition of human life, and in which some of them seem to have comprised an utter exclusion of all corporal pain and pleasure from the regard or attention of a wise man.” In a later passage, he remarks on the plight of the British poet Abraham Cowley (1618-1667):

“If [Cowley] had proceeded in his project [to travel abroad to find an obscure retreat], and fixed his habitation in the most delightful part of the new world, it may be doubted, whether his distance from the vanities of life, would have enabled him to keep away the vexations. It is common for a man, who feels pain, to fancy that he could bear it better in any other part. Cowley having known the troubles and perplexities of a particular condition, readily persuaded himself that nothing worse was to be found, and that every alteration would bring some improvement: he never suspected that the cause of his unhappiness was within, that his own passions were not sufficiently regulated, and that he was harassed by his own impatience, which could never be without something to awaken it, would accompany him over the sea, and find its way to his American elysium. He would, upon the trial, have been soon convinced, that the fountain of content must spring up in the mind: and that he who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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The Comfort of Reading During Difficult Times

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIt’s not easy living in the age of coronavirus. These are the best of times. These are the worst of times. How do we get through it? My thoughts drift to a young boy, dirty, destitute, and tired from working in a miserable factory job because his father was imprisoned in a debtor’s prison. That period of desperation and poverty motivated him to eventually achieve great artistic and financial success as a world-renown author. His name? Charles Dickens. However, the memories that misery and humiliation haunted him his entire life. At the peak of his success, Dickens confessed, “My whole nature was so penetrated with grief and humiliation of such considerations, that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and wander desolately back to that time in my life.” In David Copperfield, his favorite and most autobiographical novel, we get a glimpse of how a young boy survived that dark period — he found comfort and escape in literature:

“I believe I should have been almost stupefied but for one circumstance. It was this. My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time, — they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii, — and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read those books as I did. It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favourite characters in them — as I did — and by putting Mr. and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones – which I did too. I have been Tom Jones (a child’s Tom Jones, a harmless creature) for a week together. I have sustained my own idea of Roderick Random for a month at a stretch, I verily believe. I had a greedy relish for a few volumes of Voyages and Travels — I forget what, now — that were on those shelves; and for days and days I can remember to have gone about my region of our house, armed with the centre-piece out of an old set of boot-trees – the perfect realization of Captain Somebody, of the Royal British Navy, in danger of being beset by savages, and resolved to sell his life at a great price. The Captain never lost dignity, from having his ears boxed with the Latin Grammar. I did; but the Captain was a Captain and a hero, in despite of all the grammars of all the languages in the world, dead or alive.

This was my only and my constant comfort. When I think of it, the picture always rises in my mind, of a summer evening, the boys at play in the churchyard, and I sitting on my bed, reading as if for life. Every barn in the neighbourhood, every stone in the church, and every foot of the churchyard, had some association of its own, in my mind, connected with these books, and stood for some locality made famous in them. I have seen Tom Pipes go climbing up the church-steeple; I have watched Strap, with the knapsack on his back, stopping to rest himself upon the wicket-gate; and I know that Commodore Trunnion held that club with Mr. Pickle, in the parlour of our little village alehouse.” (Excerpt from chapter 4 of David Copperfield.)

Let us hope that the image of a scruffy young boy, huddled in the corner, reading a book inspires us to find the comfort of reading during the worst of times. Let us seek the wisdom of literature that reaffirms our shared humanity — however fragile and imperfect — and inspires empathy and understanding that will eventually lead to the best of times.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Choosing the Exact Word (Le Mot Juste)

alex atkins bookshelf wordsI had the incredible opportunity to meet the great British writer and intellectual John Fowles many years ago. We discussed our shared fascination with the English language and the writer’s search for the exact word — le mot juste, as the French express it (incidentally, the phrase is pronounced “luh moh ZHYST”). You don’t have to read very far into a Fowles novel to quickly recognize he possesses an expansive vocabulary — far beyond the average vocabulary of 50,000, common to a high-school/college educated speaker. So if you read Fowles, you will want a dictionary by your side; by the end of the novel, you will have learned several dozen fascinating and fancy words (some, from different languages, since Fowles readily draws from all the romance languages). No doubt, Gustave Flaubert, a very precise writer who introduced the term “le mot juste,” would be suitably impressed.

I love words. As proof of this profound lexicological affection, I own over a 1,500 word reference books (adding several each month; the more obscure, the more treasured). One of my favorite thesauri is the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (now in its third edition) which happens to contain one of my favorite essays on choosing the exact word. The essay, titled “In Search of the Exact Word” is written by Richard Goodman, an assistant editor at Random House and teaches creative nonfiction writing. The essay is also found in his book The Soul of Creative Writing, published in 2008. With a bit of sleuthing in the Flaubert corpus, Goodman finds that Flaubert first introduced the term le mot juste in a letter to Sainte-Beuve, a critic, that can be found in a collection of his letters, La Correspondance de Flaubert; Etude Et Repertoire Critique (1968), edited by Charles Carlut. Goodman writes:

“I found Flaubert uses the expression just twice. He writes the critic Sainte-Beuve, “If I put ‘blue’ after ‘stones,’it’s because ‘blue’ is le mot juste, believe me.” In the other instance, he says there has to be a rapport between le mot juste and le mot musical, that is, between the meaning and the music of a word…

Flaubert does say, though, that, “all talent for writing consists after all of nothing more than choosing words. It’s precision that gives writing power.” He also says that, “perfection has everywhere the same characteristic: that’s precision, exactness.” He says he spends hours looking for a word. He expressed the struggle this way: “I am the obscure and patient pearl-fisher, who dives deep and comes up empty-handed and blue in the face.” And at another point, he writes a friend that he spent three days making two corrections and five days writing one page. Practically anything Flaubert says about writing and art is interesting, even if you disagree with him, though you are constantly reminded, as Henry James points out, that “he felt of his vocation almost nothing but the difficulty.”

Mark Twain was memorably good at seizing the exact word, too. Most humourists are… Their humour often depends on a choice of word; in fact the whole laugh can rest on a single word choice. When someone interviewed Evelyn Waugh for the Paris Review, they asked him about the process of creating a character. He said, “I regard writing not as an investigation of character, but as an exercise in the use of language.” If you read the books of the comic writers just with this idea in mind — S.J. Perelman, Thurber, Twain, Waugh, even Woody Allen — you’ll see how often the laugh comes from a single, well-chosen word placed exactly where it’s liable to generate the loudest laugh. Of course, Twain wrote perhaps the most famous line about this particular topic ever written, “The difference between any word and the ‘right’ word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

What is the exact word? I think what we usually mean by that is a word that not only conveys precisely what you, the writer, want to say, but also does it in an unforgettable way, a dramatic way, either because of its juxtaposition to its surrounding words or because it’s employed in a fresh way, or both. Something else, too, I think: when it surprises, it’s usually a surprise that doesn’t come out of a vacuum. It communicates resoundingly, because somewhere the reader understands the word well enough to appreciate its use.”

If you have an opportunity, you should read Goodman’s entire essay (it runs about seven full pages). It is full of wonderful and pithy insights that are sure to delight any logophile.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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What Are the Most Beautiful Words in the English Language?
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For further reading: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus compiled by Christine Lindberg
The Soul of Creative Writing by Richard Goodman 


What If Shakespeare Wrote Trump’s Tweets?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureEarly in one of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Hamlet, we hear Polonius (the chief counsellor to Claudius, Hamlet’s evil stepfather), remark, “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit/ And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief…” But a review of President Trump’s brief, but bumbling tweets quickly disproves Polonius’ observation. Enter AJ Smith, a school teacher and author of the devilish little tome, By the Thumbings of a Prick: The Tweets of Donald Trump as Shakespearean Sonnets. In the introduction to this cheeky book, Smith writes: “[I] come to bury Trump, not to praise him. But not necessarily for his politics. I struggle to grasp a true understanding, and thus opinion, of how tariffs work. I recognize that border security is a complex problem. On foreign policy, I am no Fortinbras. The primary source of my particular brand of what some may call “Trump Derangement Syndrome” is, first and foremost, his Tweeting… I teach high school English, and I’ve spent years preaching on what I consider to be my central ethos for an education focused on written words, words, words: if you cannot form a coherent thought, write down that thought, write it well, and write it convincingly, you will not be taken seriously regardless of your chosen pursuit. What chance do I have of persuading my pupils of this if the president has all the rhetorical sophistication of a Falstaff?” 

To inspire good writing and presenting “[Trump’s] ideas with some semblance of sophistication,” Smith has rolled up his sleeves, inked his trusty quill, and rewritten 154 notable Trump Tweets as Shakespearean sonnets, borrowing some of the phrasing from the first line of Shakespeare’s original 154 sonnets. Fortunately, Smith has renamed them “Donnets” so as not to offend the ageless spirit of Shakespeare and diminish the true beauty of the original sonnets. In the dedication, Smith writes: “To my students. See, writing sonnets is not that hard.” Amen, brother. When you read Smith’s clever sonnet interpretations, following each of the original tweets, you realize what a difference good diction and iambic pentameter makes on Trump’s tortured and tangled writing. Here are examples of Smith’s brilliant craftsmanship:

Original Tweet from December 28, 2017: “In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

Donnet II
When coldest winter shall besiege thy brow,
If thou residest in an Eastern state,
Perhaps heat’s omen thou wilt wish for now,
To warm thee on this celebrated date.
As thou the ball o bservest in descent,
With numbers counted down from ten to one,
In winds Boreas blown, wilt thou lament
The prudeness of a promised slutty sun.
This guarantee, which made a fool of thee,
Is, worse yet, but a drain upon our purse,
While foreign lands spend not their currency
To sickly globe with legislation nurse.
As thou to lips thy frozen bev’rage sup,
Do careful be to thyself bundle up!

Original Tweet from March 3, 2018: “The United States has an $800 Billion Dollar Yearly Trade Deficit because of our “very stupid” trade deals and policies. Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years. They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!”

Donnet IV
Unthrift America, why dost thou spend
So much in trade, by other nations duped;
Such deals do our economy upend,
Such policies are truly “very stupid.”
We are but beauty’s queens in changing room,
With jobs and wealth we wish to with care manage;
But other nations outside wicked loom,
Imprudence lets them in to take advantage.
So we are left to foot the hefty bill,
A bushels worth of debt, our wealth awry;
A leader must on them imposeth will.
And forcibly their privates grab them by.
They laughed at fools that led in days of yore,
But under Trump we will be mocked no more!

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: By the Thumbings of a Prick: The Tweets of Donald Trump as Shakespearean Sonnets by AJ Smith


Adventures in Grandiloquence: Laurence Urdang

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you are an avid reader, you have probably come across a few writers who possess a very large vocabulary and pepper their writing with big or fancy words when perhaps simpler words would suffice. So what do you call this use of big words (or what people call “SAT words”)? The best term is lexiphanicism, defined as the use of pretentious phraseology. Another term that word lovers like to use is “sesquipedalian loquaciousness.” That term is made up of two really big, fancy words: sesquipedalian (meaning “having many syllables, or use of long words”) and loquaciousness (meaning “excessive talking”). Of course these terms are technically archaic and, um, sesquipedalian. There are three other words that exists in most dictionaries: grandiloquence (or its adjectival form, grandiloquent), meaning “a lofty, extravagantly colorful, pompous, or bombastic style, manner, or quality especially in language.” The second is magniloquence, defined as the use of ornate, flowery language to convey simple things. Finally, the word fustian is defined as pompous or pretentious writing or speech.

Whether it reflects a genuine high level of erudition or simply showing off (let’s call it verbal pretentiousness), the effect is the same — it has you reaching for the nearest dictionary (which is not necessarily a bad thing — after all, that’s how you expand your vocabulary). Consider that the English language has more than one million words. The average high-school educated English speaker knows about 45,000 words (as high as 60,000 when including proper names and foreign words). David Crystal, a linguist and world-renown expert on the English language, provides these estimates of how many words people know: a person starting school: 500-6,000; a person without a formal education: 35,000; a high-school educated person: 50,000; a college-educated person 50,000 to 75,000. Thus, the grandiloquent speaker or writer is typically using words outside the more commonly used 75,000 words.

Case in point: Laurence Urdang (1927-2008), American lexicographer, editor and author of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966). Over the course of his career, Urdand wrote and edited more than 100 dictionaries. Consequently, he developed an extraordinarily large vocabulary. In the introduction to The New York Times Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused & Mispronounced words, Urdang wrote a paragraph to summarize the book, to display (in a tongue-and-cheek fashion) his impressive vocabulary:

This is not a succedaneum for satisfying the nympholepsy of nullifidians. Rather it is hoped that the haecceity of this enchiridion of arcane and recondite sesquipedalian items will appeal to the oniomania of an eximious Gemeinschaftwhose legerity and sophrosyne, whose Sprachgefühl and orexis will find more than fugacious fulfillment among its felicific pages.

Can you translate this passage to simple English? What is your favorite grandiloquent author and specific passage?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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What Are the Most Beautiful Words in the English Language?
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Learning Is a Spiral Where Important Themes Are Visited Again and Again

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“For many, learning is a spiral, where important themes are visited again and again throughout life, each time at a deeper, more penetrating level.”

From Teaching From the Heart by Jerold Apps, an American teacher and Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has written more than 35 books on education as well as rural history and country life. Teaching From the Heart, published in 1996, was written for teachers and students; it promotes learning for the whole person — not only the intellectual aspect, but also the spiritual, emotional, and biological aspects. Apps observation also applies perfectly to reading literature because when we reread the text, we view it through the lens of broader life experience. In a fascinating lecture, Argentine poet and short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges noted, “And even for the same reader the same book changes, for the change; we are the river of Heraclitus, who said that the man of yesterday is not the man of today, who will not be the man of tomorrow. We change incessantly, and each reading of a book, each rereading, each memory of that rereading, reinvents the text. The text too is the changing river of Heraclitus.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.


How Long is Eternity?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureEnduring the coronavirus seems like an eternity, doesn’t it? That recent impression certainly invites the question: how long is eternity? That is to say, if you could measure it using current concepts of time as we know it, how long would eternity be? While philosophers like Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, and Boethius have addressed eternity, it turns out several authors have also provided answers to this fascinating question.

The first to address the length of eternity were two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (better known as the Brothers Grimm), German cultural researchers, philologists, and lexicographers, who collected traditional folktales written by other writers or passed down through oral tradition and published them as Children’s and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen) in 1812; a second volume was published in 1815. All 200 or so stories are found in a collection we recognize today as The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. You are probably familiar with the stories of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty, to name just a few (all of which have been translated into more than 100 languages and have been adapted countless times in literature and cinema — imagine the royalties the Grimm family could have collected!). But what interests us today, in discerning the length of eternity, is a lesser known story — the insightful, charming tale of the Shepherd Boy, originally written by Ludwig Aurbacher (1784-1847), a German teacher and writer, in 1819 titled Das Hirtenbüblein. In this timeless tale, a king summons a precocious shepherd and challenges him to answer three difficult questions. The third question is: “how many seconds of time are there in eternity?” He answers: “In Lower Pomerania [northern Poland, at the southern tip of the Baltic Sea] is the Diamond Mountain, which is two miles and a half high, two miles and a half wide, and two miles and a half in depth; every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first second of eternity will be over.” Brilliant answer! Here is the complete story:

There was once on a time a shepherd boy whose fame spread far and wide because of the wise answers which he gave to every question. The King of the country heard of it likewise, but did not believe it, and sent for the boy. Then he said to him: “If thou canst give me an answer to three questions which I will ask thee, I will look on thee as my own child, and thou shall dwell with me in my royal palace.” The boy said: “What are the three questions?” The King said: “The first is, how many drops of water are there in the ocean?” The shepherd boy answered: “Lord King, if you will have all the rivers on earth dammed up so that not a single drop runs from them into the sea until I have counted it, I will tell you how many drops there are in the sea.” The King said: “The next question is, how many stars are there in the sky?” The shepherd boy said: “Give me a great sheet of white paper,” and then he made so many fine points on it with a pen that they could scarcely be seen, and it was all but impossible to count them; any one who looked at them would have lost his sight. Then he said: “There are as many stars in the sky as there are points on the paper; just count them.” But no one was able to do it. The King said: “The third question is, how many seconds of time are there in eternity.” Then said the shepherd boy: “In Lower Pomerania is the Diamond Mountain, which is two miles and a half high, two miles and a half wide, and two miles and a half in depth; every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first second of eternity will be over.” The King said: “Thou hast answered the three questions like a wise man, and shalt henceforth dwell with me in my royal palace, and I will regard thee as my own child.”

A century later, Irish writer James Joyce tackles the same question in his autobiographical novel, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, published in serialized form in Ezra Pound’s literary magazine, The Egoist, in 1914 and 1915. In the novel, we meet the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, a sensitive, reflective young man, raised as a Catholic in Dublin, Ireland and, naturally, attends Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school. Dedalus begins to question long-established Catholic beliefs and eventually rebels against them. Early in the novel, soon after his first sexual encounter, Dedalus feels guilt over this “first violent sin.” Consequently, he attends a three day spiritual retreat hoping to cleanse his soul. On the second day of the retreat, Fr. Arnall delivers one of his well-known fire-and-brimstone sermons on the consequences of sinning. If you grew up in Catholic schools in the mid-20th century, you know the drill: you will burn in the inferno of Hell — for an eternity. It is here, that speaking through Fr. Arnall, Joyce presents his metaphor, also employing a bird, to describe how long eternity is (you can imagine the impact this searing sermon had on impressionable, insecure young lads):

“What must it be, then, to bear the manifold tortures of hell forever? Forever! For all eternity! Not for a year or an age but forever. Try to imagine the awful meaning of this. You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness, and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of air. And imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all. Yet at the end of that immense stretch time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been carried all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals — at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not even one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time, the mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would have scarcely begun.”

Nearly a century later, American author Lois Duncan, best known for her young adult novels, returns to this the metaphor of the bird in describing eternity in her horror novel titled Stranger with My Face, published in 1981. Duncan writes:

“If there were a mile-high mountain of granite, and once every ten thousand years a bird flew past and brushed it with a feather, by the time that the mountain was worn away, a fraction of a second would have passed on the context of Eternity.”

The Irish-Norwegian band, Secret Garden, was also inspired by this image of a dove’s feather marking time. In their song, Dawn of a New Century, from the album of the same name released in 1999, songwriters Petter Skavlan and Rolf Lovland focus on the flight of a white dove:

Imagine
Our planet floating silently in space
Around it, a white dove flies—
Forever circling
Every one hundred years, the dove’s wing
Gently touches the surface of the earth
The time it would take for the feathered wing
To wear this planet down to nothing
Is eternity
Within eternity, time passes
Within time, there is change
Soon, the wing of the white dove
Will touch our world again
The dawn of a new Century
Time for a new beginning
Now is eternity
At the break of
Dawn of a century
A thousand years
Of joy and tears
We leave behind
Love is our destiny
Celebrate the
Dawn of a century
Let voices ring
Rejoice and sing
Now is the time
Now is eternity
Love is our destiny

So the next time you look up in the sky, and see a bird flying by with a feather in its beak, realize that at that very moment you are living an infinitesimal sliver of eternity. Tempus fugit… make the moment matter.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (3rd Edition)
A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan
http://www.grimmstories.com/en/grimm_fairy-tales/the_shepherd_boy


You Should Figure Out a Way to Get Off Facebook

alex atkins bookshelf culture“There are many different kinds of people, and [for] some, the benefits of Facebook are worth the loss of privacy. But to many, like myself, my recommendation is… you should figure out a way to get off Facebook. People think they have a level of privacy they don’t. Why don’t they give me a choice? Let me pay a certain amount, and you’ll keep my data more secure and private than everybody else [who is] handing it to advertisers…”

“Users provide every detail of their life to Facebook and Facebook makes a lot of advertising money off this. The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back… Apple [on the other hand] makes its money off of good products, not off of you. As they say, with Facebook, you are the product… I am in the process of leaving Facebook. It’s brought me more negatives than positives. Apple has more secure ways to share things about yourself. I can still deal with old school email and text messages.”

From two interviews that Steve Wozniak, American engineer and Apple co-founder, gave to TMZ (June 2019) and USA Today (April 2018). While Wozniak is criticism of Facebook is focused on privacy issues, there are many other experts warning about other more significant impacts of using Facebook: addiction to social apps (physical and psychological addiction), increased levels of anxiety and depression (that lead to declining mental and physical health, disruption of relationships, loss of sleep, and in severe cases even suicide), and the systemic corrosion of democratic elections (allowing foreign countries to launch hate and misinformation campaigns). Recall the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the focus of the alarming documentary The Great Hack (2019), where data from more than 70 million users was used to manipulate voter behavior. (If you haven’t watch this, it should be required viewing for every FB user: at its conclusions, you will be shocked and really pissed off.) Despite the chorus of criticism and warnings, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is utterly indifferent; in an interview with Vox (April 2018) he responded to the criticism of making money off of users’ personal data: “At Facebook, we are squarely in the camp of the companies that work hard to charge you less and provide a free service that everyone can use. I don’t think at all that that means that we don’t care about people.” [emphasis added] WTF? It would be curious to note how he regulates his children’s use of social media apps.

Are you ready to leave Facebook?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Will We Have Free and Fair Elections Ever Again?
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For further reading: https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/
http://www.zdnet.com/article/five-serious-symptoms-of-facebook-addiction/
https://www.healthline.com/health/facebook-addiction#treatment
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477910/
http://www.tmz.com/2019/06/28/steve-wozniak-facebook-eavesdrop-private-conversations-warning/
http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2018/04/08/apple-co-founder-steve-wozniak-says-hes-leaving-facebook/497392002/
http://www.vox.com/2018/4/2/17185052/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-interview-fake-news-bots-cambridge


Best Commencement Speeches: Chadwick Boseman

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

On May 12, 2018, a young actor delivered the 150th commencement speech to a capacity crowd of over 20,000 people at Howard University. There was tremendous excitement and anticipation surrounding his appearance since his recent film was one of the highest grossing films that year, earning over $1 billion worldwide at the box office. Little did the graduates know that the actor was not just a hero in films, he was a hero in real life as he courageously and silently was battling colon cancer since 2016. After his death in August 2020, his words of wisdom on that summer day would be even more meaningful to that graduating class — and now the world. Who is this actor? The then 42-year-old American actor Chadwick Boseman, star of Black Panther, two Avengers films, Get On Up, and Marshall. Variety film critic Owne Gleiberman observed, “Boseman was a virtuoso actor who had the rare ability to create a character from the outside in and the inside out [and he] knew how to fuse with a role, etching it in three dimensions… That’s what made him an artist, and a movie star, too. Yet in Black Panther, he also became that rare thing, a culture hero.” Michele and Barack Obama added, “To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.” Dr. Wayne Frederick, president of Howard University, expressed his conflicting emotions: “I feel strange. I am overjoyed — not that I got to know him — but that he lived and in doing so, he taught us how to live fully and how to embrace life through all its opportunities, flaws, and weaknesses. I don’t think he hid from any of those things. He wore them gracefully. His ability to set that example is so touching and that, to me, is what is resonating now. He lived fully. His time wasn’t short. He maximized what he had.”

One of the most quoted passages from the speech is this: “Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” Here is the full text of Chadwick Boseman’s inspiring commencement speech to the graduates at Howard University:

“It is a great privilege, graduates to address you on your day, a day marking one of the most important accomplishments of your life to date. This is a magical place, a place where the dynamics of positive and negative seem to exist in extremes. I remember walking across this yard on what seemed to be a random day, my head down lost in my own world of issues like many of you do daily. I’m almost at the center of the yard. I raised my head and Muhammad Ali was walking towards me. Time seemed to slow down as his eyes locked on mine and opened wide. He raised his fist to a quintessential guard.

I was game to play along with him, to act as if I was a worthy opponent. What an honor to be challenged by the GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time, for a brief moment. His face was as serious as if I was Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila. His movements were flashes of a past greater than I can imagine. His security let the joke play along for a second before they ushered him away, and I walked away floating like a butterfly. I walked away amused at him, amused at myself, amused at life for this moment that almost no one would ever believe. I walked away light and ready to take on the world. That is the magic of this place. Almost anything can happen here. HU! You know!

Howard University, I was riding here and I heard on the radio, somebody called it Wakanda University. But it has many names, the Mecca, the Hilltop. It only takes one hour, one tour of the physical campus to understand why we call it the Hilltop. Every day is leg day here. That’s why some of you have cars. During my junior and senior years, I lived in a house off campus at Bryant Street. For those of you… That’s right, Bryant Street. For those of you who don’t know what that means, that’s at the bottom of the hill where the incline gets real. Almost every day I would walk the full length of the hill to Fine Arts, where most of my classes were, carrying all of my books, because once you walked that far on foot, you are not walking back home until it’s time to go home for good.

But beyond the physical campus, the Hilltop represents the culmination of the intellectual and spiritual journey you have undergone while you were here. You have been climbing this academic slope for at least three or four years. For some of you, maybe even a little bit more. Throughout ancient times, institutions of learning have been built on top of hills to convey that great struggle is required to achieve degrees of enlightenment. Each of you had your own unique difficulties with the hill. For some of you, the challenge was actually academics. When you hear the words magna cum laude, cum laude, you know that’s not you. That’s not you. You worked hard. You did your best, but you didn’t make A’s or B’s, sometimes C’s. You never made the dean’s list, but that’s okay. You are here on top of the hill.

I want to say something to that. You know, sometimes your grades don’t give a real indication of what your greatness might be. So, it really is okay. For others it was financial. You and your family struggled to make ends meet. Every semester of your matriculation you had to stand in one line to get to another line, to get to another line for somebody that might help you. You had to work an extra job, or two, but you are here.

For a lot of you, not all, but a lot of you, your hardest struggle was social. Some of you never fit in. You were never as cool and as popular as you wanted to be, and it bothers you. So, your social struggles here became psychological. Even though you made it up to hill, you carried the baggage of rejection with you, but you are here.

Some of you went through something traumatic. You made it to the top of the hill but not without scars and bruises. Some of you fit in too much. You were on the yard rapping on your frat block when you were supposed to be in class. Or you got caught up into DC party life. I know how that is. I mean, we are right here in the midst of the city. Sometimes you forgot you were in school. You probably could have graduated with honors, but instead you are getting an “Oh yeah” degree today. Oh yeah, I have class. Oh yeah, I have that paper due. Oh yeah, I have a final. You were literally too cool for school. You waited until the last minute to do your best work and it’s a wonder that you made it up the hill at all because you carry the baggage of too much acceptance.

Most of you graduating here today struggled against one or more of the impediments or obstacles I’ve mentioned in order to reach this hilltop. When completing a long climb, one first experiences dizziness, disorientation and shortness of breath due to the high altitude, but once you become accustomed to the climb, your mind opens up to the tranquility of the triumph.

Oftentimes, the mind is flooded with realizations that were, for some reason, harder to come to when you were at a lower elevation. At this moment, most of you need some realizations because right now you have some big decisions to make. Right now, I urge you in your breath, in your eyes, in your consciousness — invest in the importance of this moment and cherish it. I know some of you might’ve partied last night. You should, you should celebrate, but this moment is also a part of that celebration. So, savor the taste of your triumphs today. Don’t just swallow the moment whole without digesting what has actually happened here. Look down over what you conquered and appreciate what God has brought you through.

Some of you here struggled against the university itself. This year, students protested and took over the A building, formulated a list of demands and negotiated with our president and administration to determine the direction of our institution. It’s impressive. Similarly, during my years here at Howard, we also protested and took over the A building in order to preserve Howard’s alum, in order to preserve Howard’s annual appropriations from Congress. President H. Patrick Swygert decided to reduce the number of colleges at the university. By his plan, engineering would need to merge with architecture. Nursing would merge with allied health and the fine arts, my school, will be absorbed by arts and sciences. That’s how we saw it, absorbed.

For many of us in fine arts, this signaled to us that our curriculums, all the curriculums of students following us, might become watered-down concentrations. This undermined the very legacy we were proud to be a part of and aimed to continue. The fine arts program had produced Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Isaiah Washington, Richard Wesley, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, just to name a few. We felt that… Yes, yes. You could go on and on. You can go on and on. You can go on and on. We felt that we could compete with students from Juilliard, NYU and Carroll Arts as long as we continued to have a concentrated dosage that rivaled a conservatory experience, but without it…

Although we took over the A building for several days and presented our arguments to President Swygert and the administration, the schools were still merged. Thus, the current collection or formation of schools exists. That’s why I view your recent protest as such an accomplishment for both sides of the debate, student and administration. I didn’t come here to take sides. My interest is what’s best for the school.

A Howard University education is not just about what happens in the classroom, students. In some ways, what you were able to do exemplifies some of the skills you learned in the classroom. It takes the education out of the realm of theory and into utility and practice. Obviously, your organizational skills were unprecedented. I’m told that you organized shifts so that you could at least continue some of your classes. We missed all our classes. We were in the A building. I’m told that through donations, there was always an ample helping of food. I probably ate a slice of pizza during the entirety of our three-day protest.

Your organization and planning was impeccable. You received the majority of your demands, making a significant impact on those who came after you. As is often the case, those that follow most often enjoy the results of the progress you gained. You love the university enough to struggle with it. Now, I have to ask you that you have to continue to do that even now that you received your demands. Even if you are walking today, you have to continue to do that. Everything that you fought for was not for yourself. It was for those that come after. You could have been disgruntled and transferred, but you fought to be participants in making this institution the best that it can be. But I must also applaud President Wayne Frederick and the administration for listening to the students.

Your freedom of speech was exercised in a way where you can contribute to this place. It also shows that you can contribute to the democracy. The administration and the campus police at the time when I was protesting were not nearly as open-minded as this current one. I know this was a difficult time, but because of both of you, I believe Howard is a few steps closer to the actualization of its potential, the potential that many of us have dreamed for it. Students, your protests are also promising because many of you will leave Howard and enter systems and institutions that have a history of discrimination and marginalization. The fact that you have struggled with this university that you love is a sign that you can use your education to improve the world that you are entering.

I was on a roll when I entered the system of entertainment, theater, television and film. In my first New York audition for a professional play I landed the lead role. From that play, I got my first agent. From that agent, I got an on-screen audition. It was a soap opera. It wasn’t Third Watch. It was a soap opera on a major network. I scored that role, too. I felt like Mike Tyson when he first came on the scene knocking out opponents in the first round. With this soap opera gig, I was already promised to make six figures, more money than I had ever seen. I was feeling myself. But once I got the first script, with soap operas you very often get the script the night before and then you shoot the whole episode in one day with little to no time to prepare.

Once I saw the role I was playing, I found myself conflicted. The role wasn’t necessarily stereotypical. A young man in his formative years with a violent streak pulled into the allure of gang involvement. That’s somebody’s real story. Never judge the characters you play. That’s what we were always taught. That’s the first rule of acting. Any role played honestly can be empowering, but I was conflicted because this role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as Black folk. The writing failed to search for specificity. Plus, there was barely a glimpse of positivity or talent in the character, barely a glimpse of hope. I would have to make something out of nothing. I was conflicted. Howard had instilled in me a certain amount of pride and for my taste this role didn’t live up to those standards.

It was just my luck that after filming the first two episodes, execs of the show called me into their offices and told me how happy they were with my performance. They wanted me to be around for a long time. They said if there was anything that I needed, just let them know. That was my opening. I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character, questions that I felt were pertinent to the plot. Question number one: Where is my father? The exec answered, “Well, he left when you were younger.” Of course. Okay. Okay. Question number two: In this script, it alluded to my mother not being equipped to operate as a good parent, so why exactly did my little brother and I have to go into foster care? Matter-of-factly, he said, “Well, of course she is on heroin.”

That could be real, I guess, but I didn’t want to assume that’s what it was. If we are around here assuming that the Black characters in the show are criminals, on drugs and deadbeat parents, then that would probably be stereotypical, wouldn’t it? That word stereotypical lingered. One of the execs pulled out my resume and began studying it. The other exec wore a smile and was now trying to live up to what they had promised me only a few moments before — “If there is anything you need, just let us know.” She said, “As you have seen, things move really fast around here, but we are more than happy to connect you with the writers if you have suggestions.”

“Yeah,” I said, “that would be great.” I said, “because I’m just trying to do my homework on this. I didn’t know if you guys have decided on all the facts, but maybe there are some things we could come up with, some talent or gift that we can build. Maybe he is really good at math or something. He has to be active. I’m doing my best not to play this character like a victim.”

“So, you went to Howard University, huh?” the exec holding my resume interrupted, peeking over the pages. “Yes,” I said proudly. He slid my resume back in his desk and said, “Thank you for your concerns. We will be watching you.”

I left the office. I shot the episode I had come in to shoot on that day. Probably the best one I did out of the three because I got one that was bothering me off my chest. I was let go from that job on the next day. I got a phone call from my agent. They decided to go another way. The questions that I asked set the producers on guard and perhaps paved the way for less stereotypical portrayal for the Black actor that stepped into the role after me.

As the Scripture says, “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God kept it growing.” God kept it growing. Yet and still, when you invest in a seed, watching it grow without you, that is a bitter pill to swallow, a bitter pill. Anybody that has ever been fired knows what I’m talking about. Even if you really don’t want the job, when they let you go, it’s like any break-up, you act like you don’t care. I didn’t need that damn job anyway. I didn’t need them.

But when you have those moments alone, you start to wonder if there was a better way to handle it. If you could have handled it better maybe you could help your family. Then before you know it, you are broke. You find yourself scraping together change just so you can ride the subway, so that you could get the next job. Maybe if you could book something else that would eclipse the feeling of doubt that’s building, but it seems like you can’t pay them to hire you now.

My agents at the time told me it might be a while before I got a job acting on screen again. Well, that was fine because I never wanted to act in the first place. And I definitely didn’t want to be caught dead going after a fake Hollywood pipe dream. I’m more of a writer, director anyway, so forget their stories. I can tell my own stories. But am I actually blackballed? “We are hesitant about sending you out to some people right now because there is a stigma that you are difficult.” As conflicted as I was before I lost the job, as adamant as I was about the need to speak truth to power, I found myself even more conflicted afterwards. I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa.

But what do you do when the principle and the standards that were instilled in you here at Howard closed the doors in front of you? Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is and how need to fight it. At some point, my mind reverted back to my experiences here, to the professors that challenged me and struggled against me, Professor Robert Williams, Doctor Singleton, George Epstein, to name a few, the ones that will fail you out of the goodness of their hearts.

This may be hard to grasp for some of you right now, but I even considered President Swygert and how negotiating with him was practice for a world that was considerably more cruel and unforgiving than any debate here, one that had no interest in my ideals and beliefs. How would I maneuver through all of this?

Finally, I thought of Ali in the middle of the yard in his elder years, drawing from his victories and his losses. At that moment I realized something new about the greatness of Ali and how he carried his crown. I realized that he was transferring something to me on that day. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter in me. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter to me. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter to me. Sometimes you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined inside of you. God says in Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Graduating class, hear me well on this day. This day, when you have reached the hilltop and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.

When God has something for you, it doesn’t matter who stands against it. God will move someone that’s holding you back away from the door and put someone there who will open it for you if it’s meant for you. I don’t know what your future is, but if you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that has ultimately proven to have more meaning, more victory, more glory then you will not regret it.

Now, this is your time. The light of new realizations shines on you today. Howard’s legacy is not wrapped up in the money that you will make but the challenges that you choose to confront. As you commence to your paths, press on with pride and press on with purpose. God bless you. I love you, Howard. Howard forever!”

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For further reading: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/howard-university-president-reflects-on-chadwick-bosemans-commencement-speech-it-shows-his-grace
cnn.com/2020/08/29/us/howard-university-commencement-speech-chadwick-boseman-trnd/index.html

 


What are the Most Beautiful Words in the English Language?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe English language is vast, containing more than a million words and growing at a rate of several thousand words each year. However, most English speakers have a vocabulary that is substantially smaller: generally between 20,000 to 35,000. Every once in a while, through reading or conversation, you come across a word that stands out; you think to yourself “that is such a beautiful word.” Many logophiles keep lists of what they consider to be beautiful words. For example, in 1932, to publicize the publication of one of Funk & Wagnalls new dictionaries, founder Wilfred Funk published a list of what he considered, after a “thorough sifting of thousands of words” the ten most beautiful words (in his words, “beautiful in meaning and in the musical arrangement of their letter”) in the English language. (Incidentally, there is a word for that: euphonious — a euphonious word is a beautifully-sounding word; interestingly, euphonious is itself… euphonious.) Here is Funk’s list of the top ten most beautiful words in the English language:

chimes
dawn
golden
hush
lullaby
luminous
melody
mist
murmuring
tranquil

More recently, the editors of BuzzFeed cast their net into the vast ocean of the Twitterverse to find out what people considered the most beautiful words in the English words. They came up with a great list of “32 of the most beautiful words in the English language.” The list should be published with some caveats. One of the words, hiraeth, is actually Welsh. A few are actually neologisms (relatively new words that are in the process of entering common use) and will not be found in traditional dictionaries. Nevertheless, read the list and see how many you know (the definitions will be added in a few days). The challenge is to start using them in conversation and in your writing. If you want a greater challenge: try writing a clever sentence using all 32 words.

aquiver
mellifluous
ineffable
hiraeth
nefarious
somnambulist
epoch
sonorous
serendipity
limerence
bombinate
ethereal
illicit
petrichor
iridescent
epiphany
supine
luminescence
solitude
aurora
syzygy
phosphenes
oblivion
ephemeral
incandescence
denouement
vellichor
eloquence
defenestration
sonder
effervescence
cromulent

What do you consider to be the most beautiful words in the English language?

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For further reading: https://englishlive.ef.com/blog/language-lab/many-words-english-language/
https://www.buzzfeed.com/danieldalton/bob-ombinate


The Song Every Parent Should Dedicate to Their Children

alex atkins bookshelf musicWe live in such troubling and tempest-tossed times. Young children, bewildered and scared, look up to their parents, searching for security and solace. As a parent, what can you possibly say? At times like this, there are four magic words that a parent can utter: “I’ll Keep You Safe.”

“I’ll Keep You Safe” is the title of a song written by Ryan O’Neal, founder of the band Sleeping at Last. The song appears on their debut album, Ghosts, released in 2003. The song really touches your heart: it’s beautiful melody and tender lyrics convey the profound feelings and intentions of every parent who wants to instinctively protect his or her child: “I’ll keep you safe… Don’t be afraid/ Our mistakes they were bound to be made/ But I promise you I’ll keep you safe.” The song resonates with parents deeply on its own, but certainly in the context of the coronavirus crisis, its reassuring message takes on deeper meaning. 

Take a moment today and gather your children around you and listen to this song as a family. Say to them: “If I were a songwriter/musician this is the song that I would write for you, to sustain you during dark, difficult times. When you hear it, think of me and know that you are never alone. My love will keep you safe.” The link for the song appears at the end of the lyrics.

“I’ll Keep You Safe” by Ryan O’Neal

I’ll keep you safe
Try hard to concentrate
Hold out your hand
Can you feel the weight of it
The whole world at your fingertips
Don’t be, don’t be afraid
Our mistakes they were bound to be made
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe

You’ll be an architect
So pull up your sleeves
And build a new silhouette
In the skylines up ahead
Don’t be, don’t be afraid
Our mistakes they were bound to be made
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe
I’ll keep you safe

And darkness will be rewritten
Into a work of fiction, you’ll see
As you pull on every ribbon
You’ll find every secret it keeps
The sound of the branches breaking under your feet
The smell of the falling and burning leaves
The bitterness of winter or the sweetness of spring
You are an artist
And your heart is your masterpiece
And I’ll keep it safe

Dismiss the invisible
By giving it shape
Like a clockmaker fixes time
By keeping the gears in line
Don’t be, don’t be afraid
God knows that mistakes will be made
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe

As you build up your collection
Of pearls that you pulled from the deep
A landscape more beautiful
Than anything that I’ve ever seen
The sound of the branches breaking under your feet
The smell of the falling and burning leaves
The bitterness of winter or the sweetness of spring
You are an artist
And your heart is your masterpiece
And I’ll keep it safe

Listen to it here.

Let me know what you think of the song.

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What Can Literature Teach Us About Illness?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureThe coronavirus pandemic has shaken people of all ages out of their complacency to confront human frailty and the inevitability of mortality. It’s a lot to handle — the physical and emotional toll is overwhelming, especially when you’re isolated. No wonder psychologists have seen a dramatic increases in cases of depression and anxiety. Naturally, people have turned to many places to seek help in coping with such widespread illness and death. In a fascinating essay for Oxford University Press Blog, Lisa Mendelman, an assistant professor of English at Menlo College, suggests we turn to literature. In her essay, titled “What literature can tach us about living with illness,” Mendelman observes that some twentieth-century writers, like Willa Cather and Edith Wharton, focus on the challenges of being ill; she writes “These authors express a self-conscious skepticism about what we learn from being sick and highlight how readily we embrace the advantages of wellness, even when we judge ourselves harshly for doing so… [These] writers’ snapshots of illness capture the ambivalence inspired by physical vulnerability and offer some lessons in how psychic strategies for confronting disease at once protect and restrict our senses of self.” Mendelman shares six specific lessons that literature can teach us about illness.

The first lesson that literature teaches us about illness is that illness proves our vulnerability. Authors dismiss sentimentality in favor or rigorous objectivity to highlight the fact that illness is a function of biology and not a psychological weakness.

The second lesson is that illness, even in its disorientation and self-alienation, can be instructive. For example, Cather’s The Song of the Lark presents us with Thea who is suffering from pneumonia: “Thea had been moaning with every breath since the doctor came back, but she did not know it. She did not realize that she was suffering pain. When she was conscious at all, she seemed to be separated from her body; to be perched on top of the piano, or on the hanging lamp, watching the doctor sew her up. It was perplexing and unsatisfactory, like dreaming.” Mendelman notes: “Thea’s enigmatic distance from everyone, including herself, persists long after her feverish dissociation abates—and has valuable consequences. Her capacity for detached self-witness fuels her creative development and enables her success as an international opera star.”

The third lesson is that it is difficult to witness someone else’s pain. In the same novel, Thea sits next to a sick young woman and she feels empathetic toward her, but her thoughts turn to her own suffering: “[Thea] smiled—though she was ashamed of it—with the natural contempt of strength for weakness.” Mendelman adds “Cather’s point, I think, is that we have a tendency to deny our own mortality. This defense mechanism allows us to keep moving through the world, even as it can undermine intimate connection.”

The fourth lesson is that psychological suffering can be more isolating than physical illness, especially for people living in marginalized communities. We meet Angela, a Black-passing-as-white character in Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun: A Novel Without A Moral, who suffers from mumps and the additional anguish that is brought about by racism (i.e., the illness is not understood outside her community.

The fifth lesson is that we should not be afraid of pain. A grandmotherly character in Edith Wharton’s The Gods Arrive declares “Maybe we haven’t made enough of pain—been too afraid of it. Don’t be afraid of it.” Mendelman states “This line encapsulates Wharton’s career-long interest in modernity’s problematic attempts to obviate human suffering. From drugs and dancing to science and self-care, Wharton suggests that cultural innovations are often driven by the short-sighted desire to find a panacea for the human condition.”

The sixth lesson is that melancholic uncertainty can impact psychic wisdom and health. In Edith Wharton’s Twilight Sleep we see the impact that several life events have on the Nona Wyant. Nona finds that “the business of living [is] a tortured tangle.” Later while recovering from a gunshot wound, she experiences her father’s proximity to her as “[fleeting] comfort… as if the living warmth he imparted were something they shared indissolubly.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: https://blog.oup.com/2020/06/what-literature-can-teach-us-about-living-with-illness/


There’s A Word for That: Throttlebottom

alex atkins bookshelf words“What is a throttlebottom?,” you ask. No, it is not a type of fish — although you are close, since it is a type of bottom feeder. A throttlebottom is a wonderful-sounding (rich in consonance) derogatory term for a harmless incompetent person in public office. Think President Trump or just about anyone in his shit-show administration. Where should we begin to review the incompetence: the spectacular bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a sustained shutdown, bringing about the country’s worst recession, double-digit unemployment, the closing of thousands of businesses, nationwide protests over systemic racial injustice and police brutality, suppression of voting, allowing foreign powers to influence the Presidential election, the corruption of the news industry, obstruction of justice, the disregard and dismantling the Constitution’s system of checks and balances, the debasement of the presidency, disdain for immigrants and the poor, the general corrosive effect on democracy… we could go on. Come to think of, when you consider the 170,000+ deaths due to COVID-19 pandemic, one would have to disregard the adjective “harmless” in the definition of throttlebottom.

The word throttlebottom is an eponym, named after a literary character. It sure sounds Dickensian, doesn’t it? But nope, surprisingly, the character is an entirely 20th-century creation: Vice-President Alexander Throttlebottom from the musical comedy Of Thee I Sing by George Kaufman and Morrie Risking; score and lyrics by George Gershwin. Of Thee I Sing, opened on Broadway in 1931 and was the first musical comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In this political satire, a presidential candidate, John Wintergreen, runs for office on the theme of love. As a publicity stunt, his political party sponsors a beauty contest wherein Wintergreen will marry the winner. However, Wintergreen falls in love with a staffer, Mary Turner, and marries her. The contest winner, Diana Devereaux, sues the president for breach of promise. The French ambassador declares that Devereaux is a related to Napoleon and that her jilting is an offense against France. Congress impeaches the president but then learns that Mary is pregnant. The Senate refuses to impeach an expectant father; however the French ambassador demands that President give up his baby or France will sever ties to the U.S. Mary delivers twins which compounds the offense against France. The ambassador is ready to declare war, when the President remembers Article 12 of the Constitution: if the President is unable to fulfill his duties, his obligations are assumed by the Vice-President. Consequently, VP Throttlebottom agrees to marry Devereaux. The chorus sings “Of Thee I Sing” and they all live happily ever after.

Commenting on the merit of Of Thee I Sing, the 1932 Pulitzer Prize Committee noted, “[The play] is not only coherent and well-knit enough to class as a play, but it is a biting and true satire on American politics and the public attitude towards them.” Fast forward seven decades when the drama critic of The New York Times wrote the following about the 2006 musical revival: “[It is] a trenchant little musical satire… the laughter that greets the show today is tinged with surprise at how eerily some of its jokes seem to take precise aim, from decades back, at current affairs.” You don’t say?!

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What is the Longest Place Name in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you happen to live in the Village of Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan or Truth or Consequences, New Mexico — you are fully aware of the annoyance of having to write out these really long city names. But these names with about 20 letters are merely child’s play when you consider the longest place names in the world that have more than twice that number.

So what is the longest place name in the world? That distinction goes to a hill located near the tiny township of Porangahau, New Zealand: Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu — containing 85 letters! Imagine filling out an address form online. Translated from Maori, an Eastern Polynesian language (it originated as early as 1280), into English it means: “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.” How romantic. Understandably, this mouthful of a name is often shortened to a name with only seven letters: Taumata. So how do you pronounce the township’s long name? Take a deep breath; here we go: “Toe-mah-tah-fah-kah-tah-ngi-hah-nga-kaw-oh-oh-aw-ta-ma-te-a-too-ri-poo-ka-ka-pee-kee-mow-nga-haw-raw-noo-koo-paw-kai-feh-noo-ah-kee-tah-nah-tah-hoo.”

The second longest place name in the world belongs to a small town (population: 3,107) located in in the Isle of Anglesey, Wales, United Kingdom: Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch — containing 58 letters. Try fitting that address on a business card. Translated from the Welsh into English it means: “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the rapid whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.” How religious. For practical reasons, the locals have shortened the long name to Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG. The 58-letter name is a real challenge to pronounce; but if you want to give it a shot, here is the official pronunciation: “Lan-vire-pool-guin-gil-go-get-u-queern-drop-ool-lan-dus-ilio-go-go-goke.” The name was initially coined by a resident (a tailor, by trade) in 1869 as a publicity stunt so that the town would have the longest name of any British railway station. Clearly, he succeeded and much to his surprise, the name stuck.

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You Will Always Define Events Which Will Validate Your Agreement with Reality

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“You will always define events in a manner which will validate your agreement with reality.”

From Life, the Truth, and Being Free by Steve Maraboli, an American behavioral scientist that specializes in motivational psychology, peak performance mindset, and leadership dynamics. He is the author of three books: Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience; Life, the Truth, and Being Free; and The Power of One.

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Confessions of a Bibliophile: Michael Dirda

alex atkins bookshelf books

“I’ve never counted how many books I own, but my attic is stuffed with genre fiction from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century–needed for a big project–and the basement is solidly packed with recent novels and non-fiction, some of it on industrial shelving but the bulk in boxes piled higgledy-piggledy. It’s really quite apalling. There’s also a rented storage unit, which has sucked a fortune out of me, probably more than its contents are worth. I’d estimate that I own between 15,000 and 20,000 books, conceivably more. From many quite reasonable points of view I have ‘too many books’, but to my mind I just need more bookshelves. Or a bigger house.

‘Yet am I, in fact, a collector?’ Somewhere I read that if you couldn’t lay your hands on any book you owned in five minutes, you were just an accumulator, a hoarder. I couldn’t lay my hands on some of my books if I had five days to search for me. The great bibliographical scholar G. Thomas Tanselle contends that any true collection requires an overarching theme, a plan, defined limits. My only plan is to keep books I might need in my work or that I hope to read some day for my own sweet pleasure. That means Tarzan and the insidious Fu Manchu as well as Dickens and Proust. The novelist and bookseller Larry McMurtry once observed that only those with basements or storage units like mine can enjoy the highly rarefied delight of scouting their own books: you never know what might be waiting at the bottom of the next box. Of course, McMurtry used to buy entire bookshops to stock the used and rare shelves of Archer City, Texas, his American version of Hay-on-Wye.”

From the essay “Snow Day” by Michael Dirda included in Browse: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings. Michael Dirda is an American columnist for The Washington Post. In 1993, Dirda won a Pulitzer Prize for his insightful book reviews. He has written several books, including An Open Book, a memoir, and of four collections of essays: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments; Bound to Please; Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life; Classics for Pleasure; and Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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When You Don’t Have Time to Read the Classics: Crime and Punishment

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWe live in the Google Era, where information comes so fast, it’s like drinking water from a fire hose. That information overload combined with the prevalence of apps like Twitter and TikTok has dramatically decreased the reader’s attention span to 144 characters or 15 seconds — whichever comes first. With that kind of an attention span, who is ever going to take the time to read literary classics. And let’s face it — some of these classics run a little long; for example, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes  runs about 900 pages (containing more than 180,000 words), while Moby-Dick by Herman Melville runs about 700 pages (containing 135 chapters, and more than 209,117 words). If you read 250 words per minute, it would take about 19 hours to read Don Quixote and 14 hours to read Moby-Dick.  (Incidentally, at readinglength[dot]com you can enter any book title and see how long it takes to read it based on your own reading speed). Who has that kind of time?

That’s where Maurice Sagoff’s little book, ShrinkLits comes in. Sagoff has managed to shrink 70 of the world’s most famous literary classics down to size. If you have a minute, you can read a summary of one of the classics, like Don Quixote, Moby-Dick, King Lear, or The Great Gatsby. During these uncertain and turbulent times, what better time to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece Crime and Punishment that focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas faced by a poor former student (Rodion Raskkolnikov) who murders a devious, dishonest pawnbroker. It is quintessentially Russian: dark, brooding, and tragic. Like the work of Charles Dickens, Crime and Punishment was originally published serially in 1866 in 12 monthly issues of The Russian Messenger, a literary journal. Late that year, it was published as a single volume in Russian and translated into English. Coming in at 565 pages (and 203,145 words) it will take the average reader 13 hours and 33 minutes to read the novel. But hey, if you don’t have 13 hours, Atkins Bookshelf presents ShrinkLit’s version of Crime and Punishment.

Murderer feels bad.

Confesses. Goes to jail.

Feels better.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: ShrinkLits by Maurice Sagoff
http://www.readinglength.com


Lost in Translation: Untranslatable Words 3

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAt the heart of clear communication is diction: choosing the right word. Many times we stumble in a conversation because we cannot find just the right word. We think or say out loud: “I wish there were a word for that.” Of course, the English language is always growing, a magpie that borrows a word from this language or that. But sometimes, foreign language words and phrases do not get absorbed into the English language for whatever reason. Bookshelf looks at some fascinating words and phrases from around the globe that express ideas in a very unique way or cannot be translated with one English word. Here is a tasty sampling of the global lexical smorgasbord.

flaneur: French – “a person of excruciating idleness who doesn’t know where to parade his burden and ennui” (from a dictionary of low language published in 1808); also, a man who saunters around examining society

Him il-utaat kullu firaan: Arabic – literally: “the dream of all cats is all about mice” which means that someone has a one-track mind.

Denizen dues yilanasarilir: Turkish – literally: “if you fall into the sea, hold onto a snake” meaning that if you are in a difficult situation, you will accept help from anyone.

Gonul: Turkish – literally: “heart” but it has a deeper meaning: it refers to the energy of your inner self, a part of which is shared with every human being that evokes concern for the welfare of others.

Shibui: Japanese – the aesthetic of a person or thing that is only revealed over time.

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Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
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There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia
There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: In Other Words by Christopher Moore

 


Adventures in Rhetoric: Hypozeuxis

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou are probably familiar with the hypozeuxis but just don’t know it. Don’t worry — it is not a medical condition. A hypozeuxis (pronounced “hi PUH zook sis”) is a rhetorical term for a series of brief parallel clauses, where each clause has its own subject and predicate. The word is derived from the Greek word hypozeugnynai that means “to subjugate or to put under the yoke.” Perhaps the most famous hypozeuxis is Julius Caesar’s proclamation to the Roman Senate, reporting his victory at the Battle of Zela (47 BC): “I came; I saw; I conquered.” If you studied Latin, you will recall that early lesson: “veni, vidi, victi.” In Ecclesiastical Latin, that phrase is pronounced “vee-nee, vee-dee, vee-kee”; however, in Classical Late Latin, the “v” is pronounced as a “w”, so Caesar would have pronounced it “wee-nee, wee-dee, wee-kee.”

Another well-known hypozeuxis is from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons (often referred to as “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech) on June 4, 1940 regarding the successful evacuation of more than 300,000 soldiers during the Battle of Dunkirk in France (May 26 to June 4, 1940): “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills.”

If you’re curious, the opposite of the hypozeuxis is the zeugma, also referred to an a syllepsis. In a zeugma (pronounced “ZOOG muh”), a single word is used with two other parts of a sentence that are understand differently in relation to each. An example of a zeugma is: “He took his hat and his leave.” The verb “take” is understood in two different contexts: “he took his hat” and “he took his leave.” Another example of a zeugma is: “He held his breath and the door for me.” Here the operative verb is hold and understood in two different ways: holding one’s breath, and holding a door open.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Adventures in Rhetoric: Adianoeta
What is a Pleonasm?
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The Wisdom of Cornel West
Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
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The Singer Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech
Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King

For further reading: https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1940-the-finest-hour/we-shall-fight-on-the-beaches/


The Racist Origins of the Phrase “Social Distancing”

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesThe COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed human behavior, it has introduced a number of new words and phrases into the English lexicon. Perhaps the most prevalent phrases is “social distancing.” Unfortunately that phrase implies the wrong message because interpreted literally, it means separating socially from people — practiced in the extreme, it prescribes social isolation — something that is very harmful to human beings. A more appropriate and accurate term would be “physical distancing” that refers to the distance (at least six feet) people need to maintain from one another to reduce the risk of passing or getting infected with the highly contagious coronavirus. And as millions of people around the globe have discovered, you can be perfectly social standing six feet apart, or thanks to the internet, being thousands of miles apart. But the most insidious aspect of this phrase is that it is steeped in racism. Let’s take a closer look at the history of this insidious phrase.

This rather odd phrase captured the interest of Lily Scherlis, an English doctoral student at the University of Chicago, who wrote a fascinating article, titled “Distantiated Communitie: A Social History of Social Distancing” for Cabinet magazine (April 30, 2020). As she traced the phrase in its proper historical context, Scherlis discovered that not only is the phrase not accurate for its current usage — it is, disturbingly, based on racism. Scherlis elaborates: “[Social distancing] materialized as if from nowhere: a scientific coinage, a spontaneous naming of a systematized set of behaviors miraculously devised by presumed experts. ‘Social distancing’ has actually lived several lives. It and its precursor, ‘social distance,’ had long been used in a variety of colloquial and academic contexts, both as prescriptions and descriptions, before being taken up by epidemiologists in this century. In the nineteenth century, ‘social distance’ was a polite euphemism used by the British to talk about class and by Americans to talk about race. It was then formally adopted in the 1920s by sociologists as a term to facilitate the quantitative codification that was then being introduced into the nascent study of race relations. In the second half of the twentieth century, psychiatry, anthropology, and zoology all adapted it for various purposes. And it was used in the 1990s [during the AIDS crisis] in the United States to analyze what happened to the gay community when faced with straight fears of contagion. It was only in 2004 in a CDC publication on controlling the recent SARS outbreak that the term ‘social distance’ was finally deployed for the first time by the medical community.”

The earliest use of the phrase appears in the 1831 translation of Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne’s memoirs of his friendship with the famous French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte. Bourrienne describes how when Napoleon entered the room after a successful military campaign that he could no longer address Napoleon in an informal manner: “His position placed too great a social distance [distance sociale] between him and me not to make me feel the necessity of fashioning my demeanor accordingly.” Scherlis adds, “This use, referring to the social rank of individuals and thus the etiquette demanded between persons, was common in anglophone culture throughout the nineteenth century, especially with regard to class.” This concept of social inequality becomes woven into the fabric of culture in the 19th century in Great Britain as well as the United States, where slavery was an entrenched part of society. Scherlis continues: “[In the U.S.] social distance was a palatable way for whites to describe how to continue practices of white supremacy after abolition. The term’s softness glossed over the realities of slavery and later anti-black violence, as well as the challenges formerly enslaved people faced in making a livelihood. In 1850, an abolitionist British Baptist church condemned US whites for ‘keeping your most injured brethren in Christ at so great a social distance.’ A pro-secession article that appeared in the Richmond Enquirer in 1856 describes the anxiety of poor working whites who might soon be competing with formerly enslaved farmers, while ‘the rich, owning the lands, might keep the negroes at a greater social distance.’ An 1869 article accuses Frederick Douglass, among other black emissaries appointed to represent the United States abroad, of aspiring to ‘increase their social distance from the African.’”

Perhaps the most egregious form of racism with respect to this phrase occurs in the wake of the Chicago race riots of 1919. Scherlis explains: “Following the 1919 Chicago race riot, the nascent sociology department at the University of Chicago convinced a ‘wealthy Chicago heiress’ to fund research into the budding field of “race relations.” Faculty member Robert Park had studied with Simmel in Berlin, and hoped to apply the figure of the stranger and its associated concepts to racial dynamics in the United States. It was in this new incarnation as a sociological concept, then, that social distance found its ‘first notable empirical application’ in the codification and quantification of how people belonging to one race felt about those of another. For Park, this project represented ‘an attempt to reduce to something like measurable terms the grades and degrees of understanding and intimacy which characterize personal and social relations generally.’ Importing Simmel’s term in order to describe this measurement, Park used ‘social distance’ as a structuring concept in his large-scale survey of Asian Americans living on the Pacific coast. Park asked Emory S. Bogardus… to assist him in the project. It was for this occasion that Bogardus devised a ‘quantitative indicator of social distance.’ His statistical measure would go on to have a “profound impact” on US sociology, becoming “one of the most celebrated historical social psychological tools in American intellectual history.” It is called the Social Distance Scale, and is still in use today. The scale equates ‘distance’ with prejudice, which it calculates based on a group of given respondents’ agreements or disagreements with five to seven statements. The statements are designed to gauge the willingness of each member of that particular social grouping to ‘share certain situations’ with members of other social groupings.”

The Social Distance Scale, published in 1925, lists seven degrees of intimacy as representative of the spectrum of possible human relations, in essence quantifying an individual’s level of racism:
To close kinship by marriage
To my club as personal chums
To my street as neighbors
To employment in my occupation in my country
To citizenship in my country
As visitors only to my country
Would exclude from my country

During the late 20th century, the Social Distance Scale was applied to map just about any context by mental health experts, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, housing experts, law enforcement experts, zoologists, and finally epidemiologists. Scherlis points to the AIDS crisis in 1990 as a critical turning point for the phrase “social distancing.” Schelis elaborates: “This moment becomes a hinge between the term’s sociological legacy and its reincarnation as a public health protocol. ‘Social distance,’ as it pertained to the AIDS crisis, was often used to analyze the phenomenon of stigmatization, as it had been in psychiatry. At the same time, the notion of ‘distance’ took on a new physical literalness, as well as an unprecedented association with public health. With the AIDS epidemic, stigma palpably attached to (false) anxieties about contagion: an HIV-negative public suddenly became wary of even casual touching of those profiled as likely to be HIV-positive, fearing that the virus could leap simply from epidermis to epidermis… Suddenly, social distance was not only a way to distinguish degrees of prejudice against populations, but also a description of the physical distance to be kept from other individuals for one’s own protection… Two incompatible discourses collide here: social scientists aspiring to close the gaps of animosity between populations, and those trying to increase the space between people’s bodies from fear of what toxicity might pass between them.”

In an interview with Time magazine, Scherlis discusses how shocked she was to learn of its history and impact on American culture. When asked about what surprised her the most, Scherlis responded: “I think the Social Distance Scale undergirds our way of subconsciously thinking through issues of identity and inequity. It makes it seem like people obviously fit very neatly into these groups that obviously hate each other and that that hatred is simple enough that it can be turned into a number and counted and averaged across a population. It’s just this huge reduction…” Scherlis   felt it was important for people to really understand the dark history of this phrase that is used so casually today: “I just think it’s really important to remember how much institutionalized government-sanctioned language is weighed down with racism. When you use the term and see the term used, it’s good to hold in our heads how much the term has been used to justify elites sequestering themselves from pretty much most marginalized or disenfranchised folks in the U.S. across 200 years.”

As of July 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement has already made several reforms; it stands to make many more in the months and years ahead. Thanks to Schelis’ brilliant research, educating Americans about the racist roots of the phrase “social distancing” immediately and replacing it with “physical distancing” or some other more generic term should be one of those reforms.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related post: Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and the Suicide Letter
The Singer Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech

Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King

For further reading: http://cabinetmagazine.org/kiosk/scherlis_lily_30_april_2020.php
https://time.com/5856800/social-distancing-history/


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