Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2017

Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works edited by Michael Collins

Plotted: A Literary Atlas by Andrew DeGraff

The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization by Martin Puchner

Meeting with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World by Christopher de Hamel

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston

A History of the Book in 100 Books by Roderick Cave

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures

Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History by Rebecca Romney

The Book: A Global History by Michael Suarez

Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book by Emma Smith

A Christmas Carol : The Original Manuscript Edition by Charles Dickens and Colm Toibin

Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein

Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover by Paul Buckley

The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marsahll McLuhan

The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History by Alice Crawford

You Could Look it Up: The Reference Shelf form Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia by Jack Lynch

Everything Explained That is Explainable: On the Creation of the Encyclopedia Britannica by Denis Boyles

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

Browsing: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books by Michael Dirda

Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond by Richard Jenkyns

Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt

Bibliomyisteries: Stories of Crime in the World of Books and Bookstores edited by Otto Penzler

The Book Theives: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance by Anders Rydell

Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky

The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible by Chanan Tigay

Read related posts: Best Gifts for Book Lovers: 2015
The Art of Giving Good Gifts
Holiday Book Gift Guide 2014
Best Books for Movie Lovers
Best Books About Jane Austen
Best Gifts for Book Lovers
Best Books for Movie Lovers

For further reading:


Life is To Be Fortified By Many Friendships

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsLife is to be fortified by many friendships. To love, and to be loved, is the greatest happiness. If I lived under the burning sun of the equator, it would be pleasure for me to think that there were many human beings on the other side of the world who regarded and respected me; I could not live if I were alone upon the earth, and cut off from the remem­brance of my fellow-creatures. It is not that a man has occasion often to fall back upon the kindness of his friends; perhaps he may never exper­ience the necessity of doing so; but we are governed by our imaginations, and they stand there as a solid and im­pregnable bulwark against all the evils of life.

From Lady Holland’s Memoir, published in 1855, by Sydney Smith (1771-1845), British clergyman, philosopher, and humorist. Margaret Sullivan, a Jane Austen expert, believes that the character Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey is based on Smith.

Bizarre Things That People Collect

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAlthough television shows about hoarding are fascinating and horrifying at the same time, they do open the door to the intriguing world of collecting. Of course, hoarders give collectors a bad name. Whereas the hoarder literally creates a rubbish pile, the collector carefully acquires, organizes, classifies, catalogs, maintains, and shows off his or her orderly prized acquisitions. And why do people collect things? Psychologists believe that collecting helps healthy people (i.e., people without brain trauma) ease their insecurity or anxiety about life or perhaps more specifically, losing their identity (or part of their identity). Collecting allows them to either relive their childhood or make a connection to a happier period in their life (nostalgia). At bottom, collecting allows the collector to keep the past forever in the present.

Just as fascinating about why people collect is what they collect. Just visit Ebay and browse the extensive website: if you can think of it, there is a seller somewhere in the world that is selling that item — proof of the age-old adage that states that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Another way to get a glimpse of the things that people collect, is to take a look at a book catalog. You will find some common collectibles, like postcards and vinyl records, as well as some bizarre ones, like condoms and oyster cans. Here is a sampling of books for sale — running eight pages long — in a recent catalog for Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller, a discount bookstore based in Connecticut:

Record Album Price Guide: 8th Edition

A Very Vintage Christmas

Antique Pocket Mirrors

Candy Containers for Collectors

Antique Mining Equipment and Collectibles

Rag Darlings: Dolls from the Feedsack Era

Collecting Black Memorabilia: A Picture Price Guide

Paris Postcards: The Golden Age

Peep-Machine Pin-Ups: 1940-1950s Mutoscope Art

Remember Your Rubbers: Collecting Condom Containers

Collectible Rabbit [Figures]

Catholic Collectibles

The Art of the Decal

Door to Door Collectibles: Salves, Lotions, Pills & Potions from W. R. Rawleigh

Purrrrfection: The Cat [Art Objects Depicting Cats]

Sea Glass Seeker

Barbie All Dolled Up: Celebrating 50 Years of Barbie

Doll Kitchens: 1800-1980

Pepsi Memorabilia: Then and Now

Hopalong Cassidy: King of the Cowboy Merchandise

An Unauthorized Guide to Pillsbury Doughboy Collectibibles

The Pocket Guide to Coin-op Vending Machines

Everything Elephants: A Collector’s Pictorial Encyclopedia

Antique Advertising: Country Store Signs and Products

Collectible California Raisins

Oyster Cans

Collectible Aunt Jemim Handbook & Value Guide

Canes from the 17th to 20th Century

McDonald’s Pre-Happy Meal Toys from the 50s, 60s and 70s

The Encyclopedia of Coca-Cola Trays

Star Trek Collectibles: Classic Series, Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager

Photographica: The Fascination with Classic Cameras

Complete Price Guide to Watches 2017

Elsie the Cow and Borden’s Collectibles

The Collector’s World of M&M’s

Cracker Jack: The Unauthorized Guide to Advertising Collectibles

Raggedy Ann & Andy Collectibles

Pez Collectibles

The Shirley Temple Collector’s Guide

Peanuts Gang Collectibles

The Official Casino Chip Price Guide, 3rd Edition

Glass Bells From Around the World

Christmas Revisited [Christmas Collectibles]

Read related post: Why Do People Collect Things?
What Do Celebrities
Words for Collectors
Words for Collectors 2

For further reading:
This Day in Collecting History: A Year of Art, Memorabilia & Other Treasures Sold by Michael and Marla McLeod
The World’s Most Expensive Watches by Ariel Adams
Foundations of Coin Collecting by Alan Herbert
The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World by James Barron
Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Barry



What is the Purpose of Education?

alex atkins bookshelf educationNoam Chomsky, known as “the father of modern linguistics” and the “man without a pause” (for his social and political activism), has written over 100 books about linguistics, philosophy, history, politics, education, cognitive science, and modern culture. Remarkably, he taught at MIT for more than 60 years, but what really makes him stand out from other famous college professors was his generosity in sharing his insights with anyone who asked. If you emailed Chomsky, whether or not you were a colleague or student at MIT, he would respond to your email; and many times he made time to meet for an interview. He considered it his obligation as a teacher, although he felt that “obligation” was “too august” a word. In several interviews, Chomsky has discussed one of the most enduring questions in pedagogy: what is the purpose of education? The question is even more critical today, because as many critics of higher education note, a college degree burdens students with overwhelming financial debt that will impact them negatively for decades. Furthermore, the Trump administration is attempting to remove some of the safeguards that protect students or that make paying back that debt manageable. Here are excerpts from two interviews that Chomsky gave on the subject of education:

“We can ask ourselves what the purpose of an educational system is and of course there are sharp differences on this matter. There’s the traditional and interpretation that comes from the Enlightenment which holds that the highest goal in life is to inquire and create, to search the riches of the past, [to] try to internalize the parts of them that are significant to you [to] carry that quest for understanding further in your own way. The purpose of education from that point of view is just to help people determine how to learn on their own. It’s you the learner who is going to achieve in the course of education and it’s really up to you what you’ll master, where you go, how you use it, how you’ll go on to produce something new and exciting for yourself, maybe for others. That’s one concept of education.

The other concept is essentially indoctrination. People have the idea that from childhood, young people have to be placed into a framework in which they’ll follow orders, accept existing frameworks, and not challenge, and so on. And this is often quite explicit. So for example after the activism of the 1960s, there was great concern across much of the educated spectrum that young people were just getting too free and independent, that the country was becoming too democratic and so on, and in fact there’s an important study on what’s called the crisis of too much democracy, arguing that… certain institutions [that are] responsible for the indoctrination of the young… are not doing their job properly — so that’s schools, universities, churches. We have to change [these institutions] so that they carry out the job of indoctrination control more effectively. That’s actually coming from the liberal internationalist end of the spectrum of… the educated opinion. In fact since that time, there have been many measures taken to try to turn the educational system towards more control, more indoctrination, or vocational training — imposing a debt which traps students, young people into a life of conformity and so on. That’s the exact opposite of what I referred to as the tradition that comes out of the Enlightenment.

And there’s a constant struggle between those in the colleges and schools… Do you train for passing tests or do you train for creative inquiry pursuing interests that are aroused by a material that’s presented [that] you want to pursue either on your own or [in] cooperation with others.


There are two competing images about education during the Enlightenment. One of the them is like pouring water into a vessel, which happens to be a very leaky vessel. The other image comes from the founder of the modern educational system, Wilhelm von Humboldt [a German humanist and friend of Goethe and Schiller]; he said that education is like laying out a string, along which the student progresses in their own ways. There’s a structure to what the student is being introduced to, it’s not any random thing — and the students explore it and create in their own way… Humboldt argued, I think, very plausibly, that the core principle and requirement of a fulfilled human being is the ability to inquire and create constructively, independently, without external controls.”

There is a famous physicist at MIT [Water Lewin] who, when asked by students what is being covered in his class, responds: “It’s not important what we cover in the class; it’s important what you discover.”

Read related posts: What Books Should You Read to be Well-Read?
The Books That Shaped America
The Books that Influence Us
What to Read Next
30 Books Everyone Should Read
50 Books That Will Change Your Life

The Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms

For further reading:

There’s A German Word for That

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBen Schott begins his fascinating word book, Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition, with this quotation from Charles Follen: “The German language is sufficiently copious and productive, to furnish native words for any idea that can be expressed at all.” German, like English, can create long compound words from many parts of speech; however, the difference is that English words tend to be short and hyphenated (eg, “fact-check”) while German words tend to long and combined without any hyphens or spaces (eg, “Trittbrettunsterblichkeit”, which translated means “immortality achieved by riding on someone’s coattails.”) But it is German’s basic structure that encourages words to be formed by combining several words together without any connectors. A German reader simply  breaks down each part to derive its figurative or literal meaning. For example, in English you would write, “the card from the automat of the steam-powered ship traveling on the Rhine.” However, in German, you would simply write “Rheindampfschiffautomatenkarte.” Here are some of the wonderful German words that do not have any single-word translations in English:

brillenbrillianz: the sudden clarity when you put glasses on

ludwigssyndrom: finding an indecipherable note in your own handwriting

inteimbereichsverkrampfung: reluctance to enter cold water, felt progressively at each erogenous zone

deppenfabrerbeaugung: the urge to turn back and glare at the bad driver you just passed

saukopfsulzensehnsucht: shameful love of bad food

leetretung: stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there

tageslcihtspealschock: being startled when walking into broad daylight after leaving a dark movie theatre

schlussselszenenadlerauge: knowing from memory where a specific passage is located in a book

buchadlerauge: knowing from memory where a specific book can be found on a shelf

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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: Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition by Ben Schott

The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2017


Back in 1984, the PNC Bank (a bank based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania) developed the Christmas Price Index that totals the cost of all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a flippant economic indicator. In 1984, the Christmas Price Index was $12,623.10; more than three decades later, in 2017, it has reached $34,558.65.

Despite their symbolism, the twelve gifts of Christmas are not only extremely random, they are more of a nuisance than carefully-selected gifts that you would actually cherish. Imagine all those animals running and flying about helter-skelter, defecating all over your recently shampooed carpets, not to mention the ceaseless sound of drummers drumming and pipers piping pushing you toward the brink of a mental breakdown. The holidays are stressful enough. Truly, no booklover would be happy with these gifts. Bah humbug! Therefore, Bookshelf introduced the Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index in 2014 that would be far more interesting to bibliophiles. The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index replaces all those unwanted mess-making animals and clamorous performers with first editions of cherished classic Christmas books. The cost of current first editions are determined by the latest data available from Abe Books, the leading online antiquarian bookseller.

For 2017, the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index is $95,683 (shipping and tax are not included), a generous increase of 125% over the price index of 2016 ($76,414) — something that would be sure to bring a smile to that old curmudgeon Scrooge. The biggest hit to your wallet — by a very large margin — is Charles Dickens’ very coveted and valuable first edition of one of the most well-known literary classics — A Christmas Carol ($40,000, an increase of $5,000 from last year). The second most expensive Christmas book, coming in at $15,000 — doubling its value from last year — is Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (more commonly known at “The Night Before Christmas”) that has largely influenced how Santa Claus is depicted. The poem was included in a collection of Moore’s poems in 1844, a year after the publication of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The biggest change in value was L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus that shot up to $12,151 from $5,156 last year — an increase of 236%. Below are the individual costs of the books that make up the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index.

A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens: $40,000
A Visit from St. Nicholas (included in Poems, 1844) by Clement C. Moore: $15,000
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) by Dr. Seuss: $10,415
A Christmas Memory (1966) by Truman Capote: $4,500
The Polar Express (1985) by Chris Van Allsburg: $2,500
The Nutcracker (1984 edition) by E. T. A. Hoffman: $950
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) by Valentine Davies: $875
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) by L. Frank Baum: $12,151
The Greatest Gift (1944) by Philip Van Doren Stern: $8,800
Christmas at Thompson Hall (included in Novellas, 1883) by Anthony Trollope: $150
Old Christmas from the Sketchbook of Washington Irving (1886) by Washington Irving: $92
The Gift of the Magi (included in The Four Million, 1905) by O. Henry: $250 (1919 ed.)

Total $95,683

Read related posts: The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”

Words invented by Dickens
Why Read Dickens?

For further reading:

Levidrome: The Word That Launched a Thousand Erroneous Stories

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhat is the word for a word, that when spelled backwards, is a different word? For example, “stop” spelled backwards is an entirely different word, “pots”, or “pool” and “loop, or “tar” and “rat”, or perhaps the most thought-provoking, “god” and dog.” And no, it isn’t a palindrome, because a palindrome is a word or phrase that has the same meaning whether you read it forward or backwards, for example “redder,” “redivider” or “level.”

Recently, a six-year-old Canadian boy, Levi Budd, proposed a new word, levidrome, to describe these types of words. The inspiration came when Budd was riding in the car with his mother. The car came to a stop sign, and Budd looked at the word, noting that “stop” spelled backwards was “pots.” Budd asked his mother, “What do you call a word that becomes another word when you spell it backwards?” Most likely they googled the question and, for whatever reason, there were no relevant results. Naturally, they surmised that there was no word for this, so Budd decided to coin a word of his own: levidrome, pronounced “leh VEE drome.” Interestingly, by using his name, levidrome is simultaneously an eponym (a word named after a person), and a portmanteau (the combination of two words): “levi”, his name, and “drome,” derived from the Greek palindrome, meaning “a running back” (palin means “back”; dromos means “a running”).

But we digress — as is often the case with many stories in the digital age, the story of a young boy who was inspired to coin a new word for a form of wordplay that supposedly did not have a name, captivated the click-hungry media. The story, without appropriate fact-checking that should occur before any article is published or broadcast, was picked up by newspapers, blogs, and television stations around the globe, even gaining the enthusiastic support of teachers, librarians, and even celebrities like William Shatner and Patricia Arquette. The media frenzy around this story also prompted the family to launch a well-intentioned online campaign on YouTube (“Levidrome — Let’s get this word in the dictionary”) to convince the editors of American and British dictionaries to include Budd’s neologism in their respective dictionaries immediately. The only research presented in that video was a single post from Snopes discussing the word emordnilap, introduced in 2014 on a Tumblr blog, that is not really an official word (lexicographers would call it a nonce word). The editors of Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionaries, acknowledged that Budd’s word was “new,” implying that there was no existing word for this form of wordplay, and agreed to monitor the usage of levidrome to see if it should be included in a future update of their respective dictionaries.

But here is what is truly surprising: there actually is a word for this type of wordplay — and it is more than 56 years old. Oops! Had the editors, librarians, teachers, and fact-checkers done their work, they would have realized famous writers, like Lewis Carroll and James Joyce were fascinated by this clever wordplay, and it led two writers, who specialize in word puzzles, to coin the term in the 1960s. And perhaps even curioser is that this word has the most synonyms of any type of wordplay. Double Oops! Or as Shatner’s colleague, Leonard Nimoy (playing Spock) would say, “Fascinating!”

Before we get to the word, let’s state an important fact in the digital era: you can never assume that Google’s search capability does not have limitations. Not every relevant book has been digitized; or if it has, some key information has not been properly indexed. As most researchers know, the key to finding the best answers is knowing where to look — the needle in the haystack conundrum. The more exact the search, the more exact the results. And in this case, the answer is not easily found online, but it is definitely there — you just need to know where to look, focusing in on a particular part of the haystack, as it were. However the answer is easily found in books, particularly books on wordplay  or word puzzles. Why the writers and fact-checkers didn’t simply consult any wordplay reference book or consult any logophile or lexicographer who would be very familiar with these books is, well… puzzling. So it definitely helps to own more than 1,000 dictionaries and books about words — because the answer is in a several of them. The editors of the Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries should have turned this into a teachable moment and explained to Budd that the word he was looking for was “semordnilap” and that his newly coined word could be added to the list of existing synonyms for that word. In this manner, they could have underscored the importance of critical analytical skills and research as well as creativity and initiative.

Faithful readers of Bookshelf may recall the blog post titled “What is a Semordnilap?” (March 29, 2017) that defines the word (“A semordnilap is a word, phrase, or sentence that can be read in reverse with a different meaning.”), its etymology (“The word is a reverse spelling of palindromes”) and lists many examples. The word was coined by the brilliant mathematician and epeolatrist (a worshipper of words) Martin Gardner and C. C. Bombaugh in 1961. That definition can be found on page 345 of Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature (1961, Dover Publications), written by Gardner: “The term ‘semordnilap’ (palindromes spelled backwards) has been proposed for words that spell different words in reverse. An example pointed out by Lewis Carroll in his novel Sylvie and Bruno is the word evil, which is live backward. Other examples are straw, stop, maps, bard, strap, reknits, lamina, deliver, son (see James Joyce’s Ulysses, Random House edition, page 584), dessert, devil, mood, repaid.”

Any word-lover will be familiar with Willard Espy who wrote several books on wordplay. One of his most popular works, The Game of Words (published in 1971, and republished in a new edition in 1980) lists the definition of semordnilap on page 185: “Semordnilap is ‘palindromes’ spelled backwards, and stands for words that spell different words in reverse. Some examples: devil, repaid, stressed, rewarder, straw, maps, strap, reknits, deliver, bard, and doom.” More recently, Anu Garg, creator of the Word A Day website and author of A Word A Day (2003), has an entire chapter on semordnilaps. On page 66, Garg writes: ” Desserts is an example of a reversible word, which when read from the right yields another word… Another word for reversible words is semordnilap, a self-referential word coined by reversing the word palindromes.” Garg then presents five examples with detailed notes: avid, ogre, debut, nonet, and rebus.

For any major topic, you can be sure there is a specialized dictionary for it. For word puzzle and word-lovers, there are two respected dictionaries: Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities by Chris Cole (1999) and The Dictionary of Wordplay by Dave Morice (2001). The second dictionary is considered the most, um… definitive. When you turn to the “S’ section, on page 185 you will find the following definition: “semordnilap: a synonym for REVERSAL. The term is the word palindromes spelled in reverse.” Now if you look up REVERSAL, this gets really curioser — not only do you get the definition, you also get the 18 synonyms. Yes, you read that correctly: eighteen. Here is Morice’s entry for reversal: “a word or phrase that spells another word or phrase in reverse… This wordplay form has had more names that any other. ‘Anagram’ oddly enough, was the original term. Other terms include: ananym, antigram, drow, half-palindrome, heterodrome, inversion, palinode, recurrent palindrome, retronym, reversagram, reversal pair, reversible, reversible anagram, reversion, semordnilap, sotadic palindrome, and word reversal.”

Finally, for those who truly love wordplay like semordnilaps, you can even find a semordnilap generator tool online. The website for word puzzle lovers, dCode, based in France, presents many tools to generate anagrams, palindromes, etc. The semordnilap generator tool can be found here.

The wonderful thing about the English language is that it is always evolving, adding new words and discarding old ones. And as lexicographer Peter Mark Roget discovered more than a 150 years ago, you can never have enough synonyms for words. Through current and future usage, levidrome can be added to the list of 18 synonyms for a semordnilap. Even better, Budd’s word sheds new light on a form of wordplay that has long fascinated word lovers, like Carroll and Joyce. The story also emphasizes the importance of thorough research using online information as well as actual books.

Read related posts: What is a Semordnilap?
What is a Phantonym?

What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order

For further reading: The Game of Words by Willard Espy
Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature by C. C. Tombaugh edited and annotated by Martin Gardner
A Word of Day by Anu Garg
Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities by Chris Cole
The Dictionary of Wordplay by Dave Morice

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