My Favorite Words – Cynthia Ozick


Cynthia Ozick is an American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. She has written six novels and several award-winning collections of short stories and essays, but is best known for Heir to the Glimmering World (2004) and Foreign Bodies (2010). Ozick discusses her favorite word:

“‘Pellucid,’ because of both the (limpid, lucent) sound and the nearly utopian slant of meaning. An intensity of clarity — of light, of openness, of truth, of person, of history. ‘Pelluid’ suggests — or promises — that nothing more than the thinnest, most transparent membrane lies between longing and enlightenment.”

Read related posts: My Favorite Words – Robert Ludlum
My Favorite Words – Simon Winchester
My Favorite Words – Steven Pinker

My Favorite Words – David Foster Wallace

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

How To Be A Better Listener

alex atkins bookshelf cultureThere was a time when people actually spoke to one another, face to face. It was a very natural give and take: one person talked, while another listened. Sadly, with the advent of digital devices and the internet, the norm, particularly those of Generation Y (Millennials) and Generation Z (Boomlets), is that people text or email one another. And if you see two young people talking, you will note that they are usually distracted, not maintaining eye contact, glancing down at their smartphones. Being a good listener, however, is an important skill to cultivate for one’s professional and personal life. As one researcher noted, “The effectiveness of the spoken word hinges not so much on how people talk as on how they listen.” Here are tips to becoming a better listener from communication experts:

Sunny Gold, in an article for Scientific American, shares these insights:
1. Check your assumptions: Cultivate genuine interest about the other person’s situation or perspective. Try asking “so you mean…” or “so you’re thinking that…”
2. Be curious: Try to learn more and get fuller context. Ask open-ended questions like “can you say more about…” or “Can you elaborate further to help me understand?”
3. Suspend judgment: Don’t become so entrenched in your own beliefs and opinions that you close down and do not listen. Let the other person talk, without interrupting or asserting your own beliefs or opinions. Even if you disagree on some points, try to find shared ground or goals, which makes it easier to empathize, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
4. Know when to reschedule: Good listening requires humility and curiosity, neither of which can be faked. If you are not in the right frame of mind, it is better to say “‘I understand that this is really important to you, and I want to give you my full, undivided attention. Can we talk later in the day/week?”

In a fascinating article titled “How One Simple Change Can Make You a Better Listener” for Fast Company, Art Markman highlights the research of Arie Kruglanski, a social psychologist at the University of Maryland.  Kruglanski found that there are two motivational mindsets in a conversation: a thinking mindset and a doing mindset. An individual is in the thinking mindset when he or she is listening. They are actively learning and taking in information. When an individual starts thinking about what to say or how to solve a problem, he or she enters the doing mindset. And herein lies the real problem of a bad listener: when you start focusing on what to say, you miss what the other person is saying, and more importantly, reading the subtle nonverbal cues that are also an important part of the message. Kruglanski believes the best way to become a better listener is to stop focusing on what you want to say next. He suggests adopting the habit of repeating back what someone has said, ensuring that you fully understand the message, before sharing your thoughts.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Sarah Carmichael shares the insights of Christine Riordan, a professor of management at the University of Kentucky. According to Riordan, good listening begins with actually caring about what other people have to say. Listening with empathy can be broken down into three distinct behaviors: (1) taking in the information, including the verbal and nonverbal cues; (2) processing the information, understanding what the other person is saying; and (3) responding to the information, by nodding, repeating, or a verbal acknowledgment. To become a better listener it is important to focus on the first two behaviors. One impediment to good listening is when the listener is distracted by his or her own emotions evoked by something that another person said. Harvard professors Ralph Nichols and Leonard Stevens elaborate: “If we make up our minds to seek out the ideas that might prove us wrong, as well as those that might prove us right, we are less in danger of missing what people have to say.” Nichols and Stevens note that the basic problem of listening is that we think (neurons firing 200 times per second) faster than we can talk (about 125 words per minute). In other words, it is easy for the brain to get distracted.

Read related posts: Best Job Interview Tips
Job Interview Questions at Apple
The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son

How Much Math Do We Really Need?
What is the Toughest Job in the World?
How to Make Ethical Decisions
Traits of Great Leaders

For further reading:

The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2016

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

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

The winner of the 2016 BLFC was William Brockett of Tallahassee, Florida:
Even from the hall, the overpowering stench told me the dingy caramel glow in his office would be from a ten-thousand-cigarette layer of nicotine baked on a naked bulb hanging from a frayed wire in the center of a likely cracked and water-stained ceiling, but I was broke, he was cheap, and I had to find her.

The runner up was submitted by David Nelson of Falls Creek, Virginia:
Her grandmother had mopped her brow with the same antique kerchief for twenty years whilst working in the barley fields, and now Anastasia was to wear it on her wedding night knotted into a baggy loose panty; while her lover Anatoly would wear his father’s ancient gray and tattered undershorts tied around his neck to honor the old village custom of marital odor-blending.

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Charles Caldwell of Leesville, Louisiana:
She walked toward me with her high heels clacking like an out-of-balance ceiling fan set on low, smiling as though about to spit pus from a dental abscess, and I knew right away that she was going to leave me feeling like I had used a wood rasp to cure my hemorrhoids.

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Henry Biggs of Sydney, Australia:
“See, Horse,” said Detective Sam Ohn, “the sting Ray pulled off has you dab in the place with a barb in your hand and the piano tuner filleted on the floor so don’t you carp on all coy like thinking to leave us to flounder in the dark; mull it over or you’ll be frying on a 20,000 volt perch and may God have mercy on your soul.”

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

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

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

Deke’s Poem from 11.22.63: We Did Not Ask for This Room or This Music

atkins bookshelf quotationsThe scene: the dimly-lit interior of a high school gym decorated for a formal dinner to honor the former librarian of Jodie High School, Sadie Dunhill (now 80 years old), who is being honored as “Texas Woman of the Year.” The room is packed with former students and colleagues. 

Former student: “Ms. Sadie, I’d just like to say that all of us here in this room… we’re all here because you have touched our lives in some special way, and, for all of us, I would just like to say thank you.”

Sadie Dunhill: “Well, we never know which lives we influence or when or why, but I am so very grateful to be part of yours. You older Jodie [High School] grads who are here tonight, you might remember [beloved principal] Deke Simmons. And some of you may recall that little poem that he loved, that he kept copies on his desk so that he could hand them out to troublesome students or students that were troubled. Well, this was the poem:

We did not ask for this room or this music; we were invited in. 
Therefore, because the dark surrounds us,
Let us turn our faces toward the light. 
Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. 
We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. 
We have been given life to deny death. 
We did not ask for this room or this music. 
But because we are here, let us dance.”

Written by Stephen King specifically for Hulu’s adaptation of his novel, 11.22.63, into an 8-part mini-series about an English teacher who travels back in time to the 1960s to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy. The screenplay was written by King and several other collaborators.

Best Job Interview Tips

atkins-bookshelf-educationHigh school students feel tremendous anxiety and apprehension as they approach the critical tests, SATs and ACTs, that will determine their academic future. These tests scores are essentially the keys that unlock the gates of respected colleges across the nation. But those feelings of anxiety and apprehension will pale in comparison to the even more critical job interview that will have to face after they graduate from college. The job interview, lasting from 15 to 60 minutes, could determine their entire career. In this context, a successful interview is the key that unlocks the gate of the ideal company or organization.

While mastering tests like the SAT require diligent review of subject material and taking practice tests, is there anything that a job-seeker can do to prepare for a job interview? Yes — in short, to paraphrase the famous French scientist, Louis Pasteur, “A successful job interview favors the prepared mind.” Be prepared. Several career advice experts have put together helpful lists of job interview tips. Bookshelf presents the best job interview tips.

Laszlo Bock, senior advisor at Goole and author of Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead, provides these helpful tips:
1. Predict the future: Try to anticipate the interview questions you are going to get. Research top interview questions and compile a list of the top 20 questions.
2. Plan your attack: Using your list of questions, write down the answer for each one.
3. Have a backup plan: For every question from your list, write down three answers. Bock elaborates: “Why three? You need to have a different, equally good answer for every question because the first interviewer might not like your story. You want the next interviewer to hear a different story. That way they can become your advocate.”
4. Prove yourself: Answer every question with a story that proves you can do what your are being asked about.
5. Read the room: Look around the room and look for cues that you can use as a connection with your interviewer. For example, a college banner, book, family photo, painting, etc.
6. Make it to Carnegie Hall: Bock asks “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Simple — lots of practice. Practice your interview answers out loud until they flow smoothly and without any hesitations.

The editors of U.S. News & World Report offer these tips:
1. Show up at least five minutes early.
2. Do not bring a coffee or beverage to the interview.
3. Dress appropriately and respectfully.
4. Bring a pen, notebook, copies of resume, list of references. Take notes during interview if necessary.
5. Have a conversation. The interview should not be one-sided. The editors elaborate: “The ability to have fluid conversation conveys preparation, intelligence, people skills, active listening and a commitment to your career. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to display these traits in the meeting.”

Steve Fogarty, a staffing partner at Waggener Edstrom writing for, shares this list:
1. Be concise: “You really have to listen to the question, and answer the question, and answer it concisely.” In other words, do not ramble and do not go off on a tangent.
2. Provide examples: Provide specific examples of things you have done that showcase your uniqueness and achievements
3. Be honest: Fogarty writes “If you don’t have a skill, just state it. Don’t try to cover it up by talking and giving examples that aren’t relevant. You’re much better off saying you don’t have that skill but perhaps you do have some related skills, and you’re happy to tell them about that if they like.”
4. Keep your guard up: Listen carefully and always maintain a level of professionalism. Even though you might feel at ease with an interviewer, don’t tell them everything, especially something questionable that will knock them out of contention.
5. Ask great questions. Fogarty notes that nothing impresses him more than a really good question that not only shows that a candidate has researched the company in general, but also the specific job they are hoping to land.

Read related posts: Job Interview Questions at Apple
How Much Math Do We Really Need?
What is the Toughest Job in the World?
How to Make Ethical Decisions
Traits of Great Leaders


For further reading:

What do You Call a Collector of Names?

atkins bookshelf wordsThe English language has dozens of interesting words to describe people who collect just about anything. For example, most people know that a person who collects baseball cards is a cartophile and a person who collects stamps is a philatelist. And there are some really obscure terms, like a pannapictagraphist (person who collects comic books) and paroemiographer (person who collects proverbs). So, is there a specific word for a person who collects interesting or strange names of people? Officially there is no term, but that’s what is so great about the English language — if there isn’t a word, one will be coined. Bookshelf offers the word appellationist — defined as a person who collects names, for the OED’s consideration.

John Train, a former editor of the Harvard Lampoon, is the quintessential appellationist. He has been collecting funny and unusual names since 1949 when he happened to come across a list of women’s funniest first names in the now defunct Colliers magazine. The list included the following names: Blooma, Chlorine, Dewdrop, Larceny, Faucet, Twitty, and Zippa. “I thought this was all very useful information,” Train noted. Inspired by the list, he began seeking out funny and unusual names. In the late 1970s, he finally published his list of funny names in two books: Remarkable Names of Real People, and its companion volume, Even More Remarkable Names. He only included names that he could verify in writing or by phone with the actual people. (Remember folks, this was before the days of the Internet.) Here are some remarkable names of real people from Train’s wonderful collection.

Aida Quattlebaum
Al Dente
A. Moron
Anne Aass
Arystotle Tottle
A. Toxen Worm
Bambang Winneboso
Bambina Broccoli
Basil Smallpiece
B. Brooklyn Bridge
Blecher Wack Wack
Betty Burp
Bumpus McPhumbus Angeledes
Cashmere Tango Obedience
Chief C. Crook
Charity Ball
Cherri Pancake

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

For further reading: John Train’s Most Remarkable Names by John Train (1985)


Find Your Passion

atkins-bookshelf-movies“If you really want something you gotta work for it. Greed doesn’t take you anywhere good…

Do you love [what you are doing now]? Be honest with yourself. [If not, ask youself] what do you love so much that you would do it for free?”

Spoken by Edward Collins, an avuncular short-order cook in the film Waffle Street (2015). The film, based on the memoir Waffle Street (2010) by James Adams, chronicles the life of a successful hedge fund manager who is fired for doing exactly what his bosses wanted him to do: maximize profits. Adams feels guilty for selling junk bonds to a client; the client would lose millions of dollars, but the firm would reap millions. Although the transaction was legal, deep down he knew that it was unethical. Adams looks for redemption by doing honest work, working as a server at a busy 24-hour diner. It is humbling, hard work but at the end of the day, he respects himself. Collins, played by Danny Glover, is an affable ex-con who loves to grill waffles; over time he becomes a mentor and friend, helping Adams to find his true passion.

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