Little Books, Big Ideas: Life Stinks

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you visit a used bookstore, you might stumble upon an often neglected section: miniature or compact books. A miniature book generally measures 3 by 4 inches; some are even smaller: 1.5 inches by 2 inches. A compact book, also known as an octodecimo in American Library Association lingo, generally measures 4 x 6 inches. Unfortunately, these types of books are often dismissed due to their small size. “If they are so small, how can they possibly matter?” you think to yourself. Astute book lovers, however, know that even little books can contain ideas that are worth pondering.

In my periodic visits to used bookstores, I recently came across such a little book: Life Stinks: A Wry Look at Hopelessness, Despair, & Disaster by Armand Eisen published by Andrews and McMeel in 1995. In the introduction, Eisen writes: “It’s sad but true that fate stays in the background most of our lives, showing up only to hand us the fuzzy end of a lollipop. The overwhelming weight of evidence proves that life stinks: If there’s a fifty-fifty chance of toast falling on the floor buttered side down, why does it do so 99% of the time? There’s no rhyme, no reason, and absolutely no justice. It seems there’s only on certainty in life — it’s unfair… Only blind optimism could doubt the facts… The truth is that we’re all bound by Murphy’s Law, which states that anything can go wrong, especially when you least expect it.”

Below are some wry and pithy quotations (Ever look up the word “pithy” in a dictionary? It’s one of those useless definitions where the editors, for whatever reason, were just too lazy to finish the definition: “containing much pith.” You don’t say?), collected by the book’s author, to build the case that life stinks. You be the judge — does life really stink?

Optimism is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell. (Voltaire)

Hell is other people. (Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit)

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. (William Shakespeare, The Tempest)

The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. (H. L. Mencken)

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. (Marchus Aurelius)

Meditate upon exile, torture, wars, diseases, shipwreck so that you may not be a novice to any misfortune. (Seneca)

In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow men, with a few exceptions, are worthless. (Sigmund Freud, Private Letter to Lou Andreas-Salome, 1929)

It is not true that life is one damn thing after another — it’s one damn thing over and over. (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Success is merely one achievement that covers up a multitude of blunders. (George Bernard Shaw)

A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain. (Robert Frost, [attributed])

Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand. (George Eliot)

I have the true feeling of myself only when I am unbearably unhappy. (Franz Kafka, The Diaries of Franz Kafka: 1914-1923)

The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. (George Bernard Shaw)

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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The Wisdom of Yoda
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We Will Remember Not the Words of Our Enemies, But the Silence of Our Friends

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

This quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. can be found all over the internet, especially in posts and books about justice, civil rights, bullying, domestic violence, and mourning. What makes the quotation so popular is that everyone can relate to it to its meaning: what hurts the most are not malicious remarks from enemies — people we really don’t care about (“sticks and stones…”); but rather, what hurts the most is when friends, people you truly care about, say nothing to support you, to protect you, to speak up for you, or to provide comfort during difficult times in your life. King’s quotation, of course, is a variation on a familiar theme — recall that age-old adage, “Hard times will always reveal true friends.”

Like many quotations that abound on the internet, you will rarely find a full attribution for this quotation. We know Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and said this, but where can it be found. The source for this famous quotation is drawn from the “Steeler Lecture,” one of five lectures that King delivered in November 1967 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama for the Massey Lecture Series of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The lectures were soon published in a collection titled Conscience for Change. A year later, the book was republished under a new title, The Trumpet of Conscience.

The conflict, highlighted in King’s quotation, between speaking out (action) vs. not speaking out (inaction) goes all the way back to the Bible, specifically the Parable of the Good Samaritan found in the New Testament. The well-known parable evokes a simple, but very important question: if we went on a walk, how would we respond to a lone traveler lying by the side of the road — beaten, stripped of his clothing, deprived of food and water, and left to die? The parable presents us with two contrasting individuals: the bystander and the Good Samaritan. The bystander represents inaction: he sees a human in crisis and simply walks by, averting his eyes of clear pain and suffering, and ignores his obligation to help his fellow man. On the other hand, the Good Samaritan, representing action, shows compassion and helps the injured man, regardless of the victim’s beliefs and circumstances.

King’s observation also has some relation to one of the most famous quotations of modern times: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The quotation is often attributed to Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and philosopher; however, scholars who have carefully reviewed all of his writings have determined that he never wrote that. Nevertheless, at the heart of that quotation is, once again, the conflict of action vs. inaction. Expressed another way it states: if good people choose to be bystanders and not speak out or take action, then bad people will commit acts of evil. Recall another old adage: silence implies consent.

Another reason that King’s quotations about friends is important is because in the Golden Age of Social Media, the concept of friendship, which is elastic to begin with, has been stretched to the breaking point. Not every follower, “Facebook friend, or “digital” friend is actually a true friend — not even close. So in a time of crisis, those “digital” friends will not show support in a meaningful way. In this respect, King is not introducing an original concept, but rather he is building on a well-traveled road of proverbial wisdom. Here, for example, are just a few very popular proverbs (lacking any specific attribution) that focus on true friendship:

You don’t need a lot of friends, just the right ones.

As we grow older, we don’t lose friends, we just learn who the real ones are.

Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave, and impossible to forget.

True friends are friends for life.

True friends don’t talk bad about you.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Words Invented by Bibliophiles: Book-Wrapt

alex atkins bookshelf booksIn the fascinating essay, “Why Read the Classics?” Italian writer and literary critic Italo Calvino described the ideal library: “All that can be done is for each of us to invent our own ideal library of our classics; and I would say that one half of it would consist of books we have read and that have meant something for us and the other half of books which we intend to read and which we suppose might mean something to us. We should also leave a section of empty spaces for surprises and chance discoveries.” There are many bibliophiles that would argue that the ideal library should actually be divided into three sections: books we have read, books we want to read, and books we want to re-read again and again.

No matter how books are organized in a home library, bibliophiles enjoy being surrounded by books. Journalist and bibliophile Reid Byers, author of The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom, has coined a term for this: book-wrapt. Book-wrapt, a clever pun on the words wrapped and rapped, as in rapt/rapture — means being simultaneously wrapped (surrounded) by books and being held rapt in a magical space, experiencing the rapture of exploring exciting new worlds or seeing the world through the eyes of another. Calvino would concur with Byers’ description of the private library: “The private library is the domestic bookroom: that quiet, book-wrapt space that guarantees its owner that there is at least one place in the world where it is possible to be happy… Entering our library should feel like easing into a hot tub, strolling into a magic store, emerging into the orchestra pit, or entering a chamber of curiosities, the club, the circus, our cabin on an outbound yacht, the house of an old friend. It is a setting forth, and it is a coming back to center.”

Naturally, the realization of a home library invites the question: how many books does it take to experience being book-wrapt? Although many bibliophiles believe that a true home library begins with at least 1,000 books, Byers believes that at least 500 books ensures that a room will begin to feel like a library. The key words Byers’ statement are “will begin to feel like.” Let’s do the math: an average bookcase (eg, Ikea’s bestselling bookcase model, Billy) holds up to 280 paperback books (or 210 hardcover books), so two full bookcases do make a very modest home library — but the real magic happens when you fill five, ten, or fifteen bookcases. I recall my journey as a book collector, beginning with a few hundred books in one bookcase, that slowly increased to 1,000 books, then 2,000, to 5,000, and a few decades later reached its current size of 10,000+ volumes, filling dozens of floor-to-ceiling bookcases in a space dedicated to the home library. Then you reach the point where you begin double stacking: there is a row of books in front of a back row of books on each shelf. At this size, the magic that you experience is timelessness: you enter a world of ideas, where one thought leads to another, one passage leads to another, and one book leads to another… and another, and so forth. As impressive as this library might be, it pales in comparison to the library of the late Professor Richard Maksey, of John Hopkins University, who had a home library of more than 70,000 books or the library of Gary Hoover, founder of Bookstop and a passionate advocate for reading lifelong learning, who bought a 6,600 square foot building to house his collection of more than 60,000 reference books. From an architectural standpoint, perhaps the most stunning home library is that of Jay Scott Walker, founder of Priceline. His private library (3,600 square feet), called “The Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination,” is more like a library/museum containing more than 25,000 books and fascinating historical artifacts. (You can read about these fascinating book collectors in the links below.)

In her essay “How Many Books Does It Take to Make a Place Feel Like a Home [Library]” for The New York Times Julie Lasky hones in on the home library’s greatest attribute: the sense of wonder it evokes: “[Byers’ The Private Library] goes to the heart of why physical books continue to beguile us. Individually, they are frequently useful or delightful, but it is when books are displayed en masse that they really work wonders. Covering the walls of a room, piled up to the ceiling and exuding the breath of generations, they nourish the senses, slay boredom and relieve distress.” Indeed, the home library is a homage to the great truths and topics pondered and explored by great writers and thinkers; it is a shrine to the accumulated knowledge of mankind as well as a portal to what scholars call the “unknown unknown”; and finally it is a temple to bibliophilism or biblioholism — depending on your perspective. True bibliophiles understand that a great home library not only evokes a profound sense of wonder, it also evokes a deep sense of humility: that you are standing among giants of history and the vast record of mankind filled with tales of achievement and failure; courage and fear; hope and despair; compassion and cruelty; endurance and capitulation. I am reminded of one of the greatest definitions of a library expressed by Vartan Gregorian, former president of the New York Public Library (NYPL), who stood in the middle of the glorious, seemingly infinite stacks of the NYPL and remarked, “This [gesturing at all the stacks] is the DNA of our civilization.” Amen.

The library as a depository of knowledge, as a research tool, is explored by essayist Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan. Taleb cites another great writer and scholar, Umberto Eco, who very much like Calvino, was passionate about books and learning: “The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing more than 30,000 books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market alow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary. We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.”

Naturally, the antilibrary gives rise to its dutiful steward, the antischolar. According to Taleb, the antischolar is “someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.” Perhaps the greatest antischolar was Socrates who said, “”The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This sentiment of intellectual humility is also expressed by a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” 

With all due respect to Taleb, the term “antilibrary” is terrible. Surely an individual with his level of erudition knows that anti- is the Greek prefix meaning “against.” Think of all these words: antihero, antigravity, anticlimax, antimatter, antiaircraft — all of which mean the opposite of something. So the anti-library is the opposite of a library (no books) or opposition to or suppression of a library (think censorship or book burning). There has to be a better term — and I believe there is. I submit for your consideration the term the “desired library” or the “aspirational library” — filled with the books that you desire or that you aspire to read one day. Sounds much more hopeful, doesn’t it?

READ THE BOOK: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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

Words for Book Lovers
The Most Amazing Private Library in the World
Profile of a Book Lover: Richard Macksey
Profile of a Book Lover: Gary Hoover
Profile of a Book Lover: William Gladstone
Profile of a Book Lover: Rebecca Goldstein
Profile of a Book Lover: Sylvester Stallone
Confessions of a Book Scout: Old Bookstore Have Been the Hunting Grounds of My Life
Confessions of a Bibliophile: J. Kevin Graffagnino
The Man Who Launched 75,000 Libraries
Most Expensive American Book
The World’s Most Expensive Book
Words Invented by Book Lovers
The Sections of a Bookstore
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

For further reading: The Private Library by Reid Byers
Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino
http://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/24/realestate/why-do-people-keep-books.html

The Sun Also Rises in the Public Domain

alex atkins bookshelf booksJust as Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley wake up after a long night of carousing with other members of the Lost Generation and a contingent of macho, hard-drinking bullfighters, the sun rises on a new year — 2022. As these disillusioned and drunk expatriates sober up, they face the harsh reality that Ernest Hemingway’s copyright for The Sun Also Rises has expired. My fellow expats — let’s celebrate with a round of Tequila Mockingbirds for everyone in the bar!

On January 1, 2022, Hemingway’s first published novel The Sun Also Rises originally published in 1926, entered the public domain, passing the 95-year term of its original copyright. So what does this mean to most readers?

Readers can expect to free access for the full text of the books on collaborative digital libraries like HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and Google Books. Moreover, those books can be freely quoted, copied, published, reimagined, or adapted as screenplays or stageplays. Readers can expect many affordable and collectible versions of cherished classics. Take a look at what happened last year, when F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby entered the public domain. Within months, publishers introduced more than a dozen editions: some absolutely beautifully illustrated hardback editions, editions with new illuminating essays, and several paperback editions with new cover art — all at different price points. On January 5, 2021, American writer Michael Farris Smith published the first pastiche based on the classic novel: Nick, a prequel to The Great Gatsby, that was criticized for not providing any deeper understanding of the novel’s protagonist.

Here are some other notable works that are in the public domain as of January 1, 2022:

Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten

Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker

My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather

Notes on Democracy by H. L. Mencken

Sand and Foam by Kahlil Gibran

Show Boat by Edna Ferber

Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Plumed Serpent by D. H. Lawrence

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (adapted into the film Lawrence of Arabia) by T. E. Lawrence

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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

Read related posts: What is a First Edition of The Great Gatsby Worth?
The Meaning of the Ending of The Great Gatsby
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For further reading:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Nick by Michael Farris Smith
https://publishers.org/news/aap-statshot-annual-report-book-publishing-revenues-up-slightly-to-25-93-billion-in-2019/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books
https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2021/
 http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/public-domain-books.html

There’s A Word for That: Foofaraw

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAt first glance, the word looks like it could be onomatopoeia — perhaps the sound a cat makes when coughing up a hairball (incidentally, the technical term for that ball of undigested hair is trichobezoar, from the Ancient Greek word forming prefix tricho-, meaning “related to hair,” and the Middle Persian word pad-zahr, meaning “antidote or counter-poison.” In ancient times, certain animals — bezoars — were ground up and injected as antidotes for poisons). A good guess, but that is not what a foofaraw is. A foofaraw is making a big fuss over a small matter; you are probably familiar with the synonymous idiom “don’t make a mountain over a molehill.” In etymology, as in nature, birds of a feather flock together: foofahraw attracts other strange sounding synonyms and related words, eg, ballyhoo, brouhaha, hullabaloo  kerfuffle, and williwaw. The secondary definition of foofaraw is adding unnecessary or excessive ornamentation to something (eg, a building, clothing item, or furniture). The word is pronounced “FOO fuh raw.”

Like many colorful words, foofaraw has its roots in American history. The word first appears in the writings of pioneers of the American West (about 1850-1910). The word appears with several variant spellings: froufraw, for farrow, and fofaraw. The word originally referred to baubles and frivolous trinkets, that pioneers used in trade, but sometime after 1930, the word took on a new meaning: making a big fuss over something. Although it is easy to romanticize about life as an intrepid pioneer under the spacious skies of the American West, working the land for food and shelter, life for the early pioneers was brutally difficult. Early settlers could only survive through sheer will and determination and unwavering adherence to the Protestant work ethic. You can see why they needed a word like foofaraw — there just wasn’t anytime for making a big fuss over anything. If you want proof, watch one of the most fascinating historical reality shows on PBS: Frontier House (2002), where the filmmakers selected three modern families to live life exactly like the pioneers who lived in Montana in the 1880s for five months. Each family had to establish a homestead and master the skills of that time: animal husbandry, carpentry, chopping wood, clothes washing, cooking, farming, gardening, harvesting skills, personal hygiene (realize there was no toilet paper), sewing, and soap making. There is no need to provide any spoilers, but let’s just say that all three families struggled to get through the five months.

Let us return to our discussion of the word: so how did the pioneers come up with this strange-sounding word in the first place? Etymologists believe the word is a a mishearing of the Spanish word fanfarron (“braggart”), making it sort of a linguistic mondegreen. Another possibility is that it is derived from the French word froufrou (the rustling sound made by a dress or showy ornamentation) or the French phrase for fou faraud (“a foolish dandy”). So the next time you hear a cat cough up a hairball, don’t make a foofaraw over it.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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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: pbs.org/show/frontier-house/

Word of the Year 2021

alex atkins bookshelf words

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language,” wrote the poet T. S. Eliot, “and next year’s words await another voice.” To that observation, we can add: this past year’s words also define the language, the conversations, or more accurately, the zeitgeist of the year. And let’s be frank — 2021 was a disappointing year. It was supposed to be a dramatic improvement over 2020, but instead turned out to be a slight improvement — it’s like lighting up a firework expecting it to shoot up into the sky to dazzle us with explosions of colorful light, only to see it sputter and nosedive, landing with a loud thud.

Across the pond, the editors of Oxford Dictionaries selected the word “vax” as Oxford Language’s 2021 Word of the Year, a selection that is meant to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the preceding year as well as having the potential to have lasting cultural significance. In an interview with the New York Times, Fiona McPherson, a senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “All these other vaccine words increased, but nothing like vax. It’s a short, punchy, attention-grabbing word. And speaking as a lexicographer, it’s also quite a productive one. You see it used in all sorts of combinations to make new words.” Thanks to social media, words can mutate as quickly as the coronavirus. Faster than you can say Dr. Fauci Ouchie or Dr. Fauci on a Couchie, vax spawned the following linguistic combinations: vax cards, vax sites, vaxxed, double-vaxxed, anti-vaxxer, vaxxie, vaxinista, vaxication, and vaxxident.

Not to be out-vaxxed, the editors of Merriam-Webster selected the word “vaccine” as its 2021 Word of the Year. A spokesperson for the venerable American dictionary explained, “For many, the word symbolized a possible return to the lives we led before the pandemic. But it was also at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more.” Lookups of the word increased dramatically in August, when news about the vaccination appeared on several fronts: mandated vaccines, FDA approvals, and the rollout of booster shots. The editors of Merriam-Webster noted: “This new higher rate of lookups since August has remained stable throughout the late fall, showing not just a very high interest in vaccine, but one that started high and grew during the course of 2021.” Runners up included: insurrection, perseverance, woke, infrastructure, Murraya, cisgender, and Meta.

For 2021 Word of the Year, the editors of Macquarie Dictionary (the Webster’s Dictionary of Australia) selected “strollout,” a colloquial noun that is defined as the slow rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination program in Australia. The word was coined by Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, who tweeted in May 2021: “We don’t have a vaccine rollout, we have a vaccine strollout.” Touche! Managing editor, Victoria Morgan, explained, “At one level it’s got a transparency and a play on words, but at that deeper level, when you think about the significance of it… it’s a really important marker for this time in Australia’s history. Strollout really just shows the people’s dissatisfaction with the vaccine rollout. Maybe this was a way for the public to have their say about it.” Runners up included: brain tickler, menty-b, dump cake, sober curious, wokescold, dry scooping, front-stab, range-anxiety, and hate-follow.

For 2021 Word of the Year, the editors of Dictionary.com selected “allyship,” defined as “the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.” The word allyship is a portmanteau of the noun ally (a person who advocates for or supports a marginalized or politicized group but is not a member of the group)” and –ship, a noun-forming suffix that denotes status or condition. The editors elaborate on their selection: “Allyship carries a special distinction this year: It marks the first time we’ve chosen a word that’s new to our dictionary as our Word of the Year. Our addition of the word allyship to our dictionary in 2021 — not to mention our decision to elevate it as our top word for the year — captures important ways the word continues to evolve in our language and reflects its increased prominence in our discourse. Allyship acts as a powerful prism through which to view the defining events and experiences of 2021 — and, crucially, how the public processed them. It also serves as a compelling throughline for much of our lexicographical, editorial, and educational work across Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com this year. And while we must acknowledge that efforts at allyship are all too often insufficient and imperfect, the word nonetheless stands out for its role in the path out of the continued crises of 2020 for a better 2022.” Runners up included: critical race theory, burnout, and vaccine.

Collins Dictionary, published in Glasgow, Scotland, selected NFT as its 2021 Word of the Year. NFT is an abbreviation for non-fungible token, defined as “a digital certificate of ownership of a unique asset such as an artwork or a collectible.” Editors saw massive spikes in lookups (11,000%) in 2021. Alex Beecroft, managing director of Collins Learning, explained, “NFTs seem to be everywhere, from the arts sections to the financial pages and in galleries and auction houses and across social media platforms.” Runners up included: climate anxiety, double-vaxxed, metaverse, pingdemic, cheugy, crypto, hybrid working, neopronoun, and regencycore.

For 2021 Word of the Year, Atkins Bookshelf has selected “post-truth,” an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” A related term is post-truth politics that is defined as “a political culture where true/false, honesty/lying have become a focal concern of public life and are viewed by popular commentators and academic researchers alike as having an important causal role in how politics operates at a particular point in history.” The concept of post-truth is very similar to a word coined by comedian Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report in 2005: truthiness, defined as “a truthful or seemingly truthful quality that is claimed for something not because of supporting facts or evidence but because of a feeling that it is true or a desire for it to be true.”

Keen language lovers will recall that post-truth was Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016. Five years ago, here is what editor Casper Grathwohl said in an interview with the BBC: “Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time. We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and again in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.”

Did you notice that last statement: “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words or our time”? Little did Grathwohl know that after enduring four years of Trump — when the public was bombarded with alternative facts, post-truthism, swiftboating, gaslighting, and big lies on a daily basis — the world would never be the same. Not only did post-truth find its linguistic footing, it found its footing in everyday life. In short, we were collectively shoved down the rabbit hole to the realm of the absurd — the land of anti-vaxxers, insurrection deniers, Trumpers, and QAnon believers. The days when discourse revolved around rational, critical, independent thinking and a shared reality — verifiable truth and facts — are long gone. As Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Guliani (the Mad Hatter in Trump’s Wonderland) remarked, “Truth isn’t truth.” You don’t say? And that’s the crux of the problem in the post-truth world: we have lost our grasp on the concept of the truth and replaced it with cultism and tribalism. The question we face now is: how long will it take us to find a way out? Perhaps that process might be a future word of the year.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts:
Word of the Year 2020
Word of the Year 2019
Word of the Year 2018
Word of the Year 2017
Word of the Year 2016

How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?

For further reading:
http://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/31/arts/vax-oxford-word-year.html

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/nov/30/strollout-chosen-as-macquarie-dictionarys-2021-word-of-the-year
http://www.newsweek.com/oxford-collins-dictionaries-pick-vax-nft-2021-words-year-1653104
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-37995600
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics
cc.com/video/the-colbert-report-the-word-truthiness

 

The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2021

alex atkins bookshelf books

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 2021, it reached $41,205.58 — a dramatic bounceback from $16,168.14 in 2020, an aberration caused by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-10 crisis (the significant decrease was due to the cancellations of live performances).

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. As if the holidays are not stressful enough, imagine all those animals running and flying about helter-skelter, defecating all over your clean carpets — not to mention the nonstop, grating sound of drummers drumming and pipers piping pushing you toward the brink of a mental breakdown. Truly, no book lover would be happy with these gifts. Bah humbug! Therefore, I introduced the Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index in 2014 that would be far more interesting and appreciated by 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 2021, the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index is $108,625 (shipping and tax are not included), a slight decrease of $3,520 (about 3%) from last year ($112,145). The biggest hit to your wallet remains — by a very large margin, Charles Dickens’ very coveted and valuable first edition of one of the most well-known literary classics, A Christmas Carol valued at $75,000 (a price unchanged from last year) — a valuation that would be sure to warm Scrooge’s heart. The second most expensive Christmas book, coming in at $15,000 (the price is also unchanged 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’ A Christmas Carol. Below are the individual costs of the books that make up the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index.

A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens: $75,000

A Visit from St. Nicholas (included in Poems, 1844) by Clement C. Moore: $15,000

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) by Dr. Seuss: $3,500

A Christmas Memory (1966) by Truman Capote: $3,500

The Polar Express (1985) by Chris Van Allsburg: $2,250

The Nutcracker (1984 edition) by E. T. A. Hoffman: $1,250

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) by Valentine Davies: $1,500

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) by L. Frank Baum: $1,250

The Greatest Gift (1944) by Philip Van Doren Stern: $5,000

Christmas at Thompson Hall (included in Novellas, 1883) by Anthony Trollope: $150

Old Christmas from the Sketchbook of Washington Irving (1886) by Washington Irving: $150

The Gift of the Magi (included in The Four Million, 1905) by O. Henry: $75

Happy Holidays!

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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: https://www.pnc.com/en/about-pnc/topics/pnc-christmas-price-index.html

Best Gifts that Book Lovers Can Wear

alex atkins bookshelf booksDaedalus Books, located in Hudson, Ohio, was founded in 1980. The company sells remaindered books, music, and video via catalogs (typically 68 pages long) and website. Since 2018, Daedalus has expanded its retail division that focuses on book related products that now brings in 60% of its revenues. During the holidays, the catalogs feature clever t-shirts promoting books, reading, and book collecting that any book lover would love. Here are some of the slogans, often accompanied by stylized artwork, that are printed on cotton t-shirts of various colors:

My workout is reading in bed until my arms hurt

It’s not hoarding if its books

Better to have a book and no time to read than time to read and no book

One does not stop buying books just because one has run out of space

Dinosaurs didn’t read books… and look what happened to them

I’ll stop buying books when they grow wings and fly

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it is too dark to read. – Groucho Marx

The following t-shirts are for word lovers:

Team Oxford comma

Synonym Rolls. [Image of cinnamon rolls] Same as Grammar used to make.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2018
Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2017
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Best Gifts for Book Lovers
Best Books for Movie Lovers

What is the Value of a Harry Potter First Edition?

alex atkins bookshelf booksChristmas came early for the owner of a pristine, rare first edition of J.K. Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone who sold it at auction on December 9, 2021. The auction was conducted by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, as part of a two-day “Firsts Into Film” auctions, that is to say, first editions of famous works that were adapted for film or television. The bidding for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opened at $75,000, but a fierce bidding war initiated by a gaggle of determined, competitive — and affluent — Muggles quickly drove the price past the previous record of $138,000 (set earlier this year) to reach the final astronomical sale price of $471,000 — almost half a million dollars! This is one book you will never find on the kitchen table or a nightstand; most likely it will find a new home inside a home safe or bank vault. The sale of this book breaks two world records: it is the highest price paid for a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and it is the highest amount paid for a commercially published 20th-century work of fiction. Both of these records are powerful testimony for the value of printed books and the importance of book collecting in the Digital Age.

All of the books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are highly collectible, but a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, initially published in the UK in 1997, is the Holy Grail for serious book-collecting muggles (the book was retitled as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in US). As the legend goes, 12 publishing houses rejected her first manuscript. Only one publisher had the courage and foresight to publish this first-time author and her boy wizard: Bloomsbury. However, Bloomsbury initially had very low expectations for a first novel by an unknown author (the dust jacket indicates Joanne [Kathleen] Rowling as the author) so the initial run was very small: only 500 hardback copies. 300 of those were shipped to libraries where they were vandalized — I mean, processed with the conventional library ink stamps, markings, and security stickers. So those fortunate 200 individuals that purchased the first edition were rewarded with an opportunity of a lifetime: a literary pot of gold, that is if they took very good care of the book and dust jacket over the years.

This particular book, and the books from 138 other lots, were all owned by a single book collector who fell in love with specific films and then made it his or her mission to track down the first edition, in the best condition that could be found, for each of those films. Talk about a wonderful lifelong hobby with an incredible return on investment! Curious to learn what else this book collector sold that day? Here are some other prized possessions that were sold during the “Firsts Into Film” auction:

Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-55): $103,125

Chronicles of Narnia set of 7 novels by C.S. Lewis (1950-56): $100,000

Pride and Prejudice in 3 volumes by Jane Austen (1813): $60,000

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930): $47,500

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953): $42,500

Sense and Sensibility in 3 volumes by Jane Austen (1811): $37,500

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960): $35,000

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964): $23,750

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Most Expensive American Book
The World’s Most Expensive Book
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 Most Expensive Books Sold in 2015
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For further reading:
http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/news/harry-potter-first-edition-sells-471000-sets-modern-literature-world-record

The Best Gifts for Book Lovers: 2021

The Madman’s Library: The Greatest Curiosities of Literature by Brooke-Hitching, published by Chronicle Books

Mental Floss: The Curious Reader: Facts About Famous Authors and Novels; Book Lovers and Literary Interest; A Literary Miscellany of Novels & Novelists by Erin McCarthy, published by Weldon Owen

Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf by Alexander Atkins, published by AAD Publishing (A book written by a book collector and graphic designer specifically for book lovers!)

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Katutani, published by Clarkson Potter

Guarded by Dragons: Encounters with Rare Books and Rare People by Rick Gekoski, published by Constable

Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Historic and Significant Works by DK Publishing

Do You Read Me? Bookstores Around the World by Marianne Strauss, published by Gestalten

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by James Mustich, published by Workman Publishing Company

The Bright Book of Life: Novels to Read and Reread by Harold Bloom, published by Knopf

Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers by Stuart Husband, published by Prestel

The Library: A Fragile History by Andrews Pettegree, published by Basic Books

Treasures of the New York Public Library by staff of NYPL, published by St. Martin’s Press

For the Love of Books: Designing and Curating a Home Library by Thatcher Wine, published by Gibbs Smith

The Writer’s Library: The Authors You Love on the Books that Changed Their Lives by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager, published by HarperOne

Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature by Angus Fletcher, published by Simon & Schuster

Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word by Alex Johnson, published by Frances Lincoln

The Look of the Book by David Alworth, published by Ten Speed Press

Any leather-bound book from Easton Press or the Folio Society

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2018
Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2017
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:https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/despite-pandemic-2020-u-s-book-sales-on-par-with-past-five-years/
https://www.spbooks.com/en/
https://www.miniboox.de
https://www.foliosociety.com
https://www.eastonpress.com
https://www.taschen.com
https://www.dk.com/us/
https://www.loa.org

The Wisdom of a Bookseller and Former Garbage Man

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

As a lifelong book collector, one of the greatest rewards of collecting books is the fantastic people you meet along the way. A subgroup of those people is the bookseller. Sadly, the bookseller is part of a dying breed of passionate and enlightened custodians of that often-overlooked commodity — the glorious printed book that passes wisdom and wondrous stories from one generation to the next. If you have traveled around the globe, you know that you will find these bookstores and their dedicated bibliophilic stewards in some of the most unlikely places, toiling away, silently, amid the stacks and bookshelves that inhabit their quaint shops, filled with that enchanting aroma of old books.

Bibliophiles will feel instant kinship with such a bookseller: John Scott, the owner and proprietor of New Morning Books, a small bookshop with an incredible inventory located in Adelaide, Australia. Thanks to filmmaker David Thorpe’s short documentary, titled “Turned Pages,” you don’t have to travel around the world to meet him. As soon as the interview begins, Scott captures your interest with his profound love of books and fascinating perspectives on book collecting and the book business.

One of the first questions that I ask booksellers is, “How did you get started in the bookselling business?” Thorpe must have asked that question off-camera because Scott addresses it early in the documentary. His answer will surprise many bibliophiles and booksellers because, at least initially, it so unorthodox (and perhaps paradoxical): “The real seed [to becoming a bookseller], I think, was sown when I was working as a garbage man in the north of England, when I was knocking around England in the 60s, and we would often get books that we would pick up. It was a very posh area [that] produced a lot of antiques and collectibles. I was living in a household full of university students and [in] every university there was a very good secondhand bookshop. I thought that this looked like a pretty nice way to spend one’s life and a nice way to meet one’s living. So it was there as a vague ambition in the back of my mind from my teens. I started working in the very early 70s for university coop bookshop in Sydney and before very long I was managing one of their shops and I had not been long in the bookselling environment when I realize this was for me — this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and indeed I have.”

One of the most memorable moments in the documentary occurs near the end, when Scott generously offers this timeless, sage advice: “If anybody happens to see this, [anybody] who is young and who has a consuming interest in life — my advice to them would be: identify what it is in life you love the most and then try to commercialize it, so you can spend your life doing just that…. I’ve had nearly 30 years doing [what I love]; [but] I wish I’d had 50. I wish I’d done it when I was in my late teens or early twenties. But, you know, [the old proverb] “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” And I have no right to complain; [I’ve] had a wonderful career and I’ve met the most fantastic people. You know that’s one of big emotional payoffs —  sort of — [in a] business like this — the people that you meet. But I have [known] people that have been corporate lawyers who are multimillionaires who are hooked on the money and hooked on the lifestyle but who, at the end of their lives, wish they devoted themselves to something that was more soul nurturing. It’s well said that nobody on their deathbed ever wishes they worked harder. Very few people on their deathbed wish they made more money — what they want is the idea that they live a life that has some spiritual content and value to it. And I can say that this [career as a bookseller] has had plenty.” Amen to that, brother — if an individual wants a fulfilling life, he or she should choose meaning over money.

Not only is Scott’s advice so valuable to people, particularly those graduating from high school or college, he also introduces us to that wonderful Scottish proverb that you do not hear that often: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” The proverb means that if wishing something would make it happen, then even the poorest individuals would have everything they wanted. Another defintion is that simply wishing for something does not yield anything or expressed another way: rather than wishing for things, one should work to get them. This proverb comes from a collection of proverbs, Proverbs in Scot by James Carmichael, published in 1628 which, in turn, is based on a rhyme included in Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine by William Camden, published in 1605. The original line was quite different than the one recorded by Carmichael: “If wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds.”

Watch the documentary on YouTube by searching “Turned Pages Second-hand Bookstore Documentary”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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There’s A Word for That: Psithurism

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you search for a list of the most beautiful words in the English language, you will most likely discover several lists that include this lovely word — petrichor, defined as the smell that accompanies a first rain. What a magical word! You can close your eyes and breath in, imagining that wonderful smell. While in that state of lexicological bliss, let me introduce you to another beautiful, magical word: psithurism, pronounced “SITH ur iz uhm,” defined as the sound of rustling leaves or the sound of wind in trees. Lovely. Now if you just asked, “Why haven’t I heard that word before?” the answer is simple: sadly, it is a considered an obsolete word. What a shame. The word psithurism is derived from the Ancient Greek word psithurisma or psithurismos from psithurizo (“I whisper”) and psithuros (“whispering”).

The enchanting sound of wind whispering through the trees was captured beautifully in the poem “A Day of Sunshine” by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), one of the most beloved American poets of his day. Longfellow is best known for “Paul Revere’s Ride” and the epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” With Christmas around the corner, it is appropriate to acknowledge that his poem “Christmas Bells” (inspired by his son being injured during the American Civil War) is the inspiration for the the popular Christmas carol titled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The poem “A Day of Sunshine,” inspired by the stunning beauty of New England landscapes, was included in his collection of poems titled Birds of Passage published in 1863:

A Day of Sunshine

O gift of God!  O perfect day:
Whereon shall no man work, but play;
Whereon it is enough for me,
Not to be doing, but to be!
Through every fibre of my brain,
Through every nerve, through every vein,
I feel the electric thrill, the touch
Of life, that seems almost too much.
I hear the wind among the trees
Playing celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument.
And over me unrolls on high
The splendid scenery of the sky,
Where through a sapphire sea the sun
Sails like a golden galleon,
Towards yonder cloud-land in the West,
Towards yonder Islands of the Blest,
Whose steep sierra far uplifts
Its craggy summits white with drifts.
Blow, winds! and waft through all the rooms
The snow-flakes of the cherry-blooms!
Blow, winds! and bend within my reach
The fiery blossoms of the peach!
O Life and Love! O happy throng
Of thoughts, whose only speech is song!
O heart of man! canst thou not be
Blithe as the air is, and as free?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
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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: http://www.hwlongfellow.org
https://poets.org/poem/christmas-bells

Doublets: Words Can Be Used for Good or Evil

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Every word both separates and links: it depends on the writer whether it becomes wound or balm, curse or promise.”

From the essay “A Sacred Magic Can Elevate the Secular Storyteller” by Ellie Wiesel (1928-2016) included in Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times published in 2001.

“Words, so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

From the personal notebooks of American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864). His notes, titled Passages from the American Note-books, were published in two volumes in 1868.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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Books are Keys to Wisdom’s Treasure

alex atkins bookshelf booksOne of the most gratifying experiences as a book collector is finding a thought-provoking inscription or bookmark inside a used book that has sat forlorn on a bookshelf, silently collecting dust for years, perhaps decades. One feels a special kinship with the intrepid archaeologist toiling at an ancient site who gently brushes off centuries of dust and grime to reveal a glorious relic that has patiently waited to reveal its secrets to a world that has passed it by, a world that it no longer recognizes. And so I found such a relic — a book — a few days ago at a used bookstore. The title was No Idle Words by Ivor Brown (1891-1974, a prolific British journalist and author of books on literature and the English language (over 75 books!) and editor of The Observer for more than three decades. As I carefully blew off a thin blanket of dust and opened the cover, I was delighted to find this enchanting little poem, truly a serendipitous discovery, on the free endpaper written in neat cursive writing:

“Books are keys to wisdom’s treasure;
Books are gates to lands of pleasure;
Books are paths that upward lead;
Books are friends. Come, let us read.”

The poem was unattributed poem; however, it did not spring from the mind of the inscription’s author, but rather he or she was quoting Emilie Poulsson (1853-1939), an American author of children’s books and advocate for early childhood education. Soon after she was born, she lost her vision and learned to read braille. Her blindness did not diminish her passion for reading, pursuing a comprehensive education, and a life of contribution. She wrote several books for children, books on parenting, and translated the works of Norwegian authors. This particular poem is from Rhyme Time for Children published in 1929 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Company. The poem is often quoted to support libraries and literacy campaigns. You really can’t ask for a better invitation to read: “Books are friends. Come, let us read.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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

Why We Don’t Say “Happy Franksgiving”

alex atkins bookshelf wordsNo — that’s not a typo. If you lived in the United States during the Great Depression, people wished one another “Happy Franksgiving.” The word Franksgiving was coined by Charles White, mayor of Atlantic City, as a portmanteau (a term that linguists use to describe what is essentially a mash-up of words; the word portmanteau, as it refers to words, was introduced by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There published in 1871) of Franklin and Thanksgiving, meant to ridicule President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s well-intentioned but highly criticized decision to move Thanksgiving one week earlier than the last Thursday of November of 1939, a tradition introduced by President Abraham Lincoln over seven decades ago in 1863.

Back in the 1930s, the American public actually frowned upon retailers that displayed holiday decorations or merchandise before Thanksgiving (imagine that! What a difference a century makes — now the holiday retail season begins before Halloween — Black Friday seems to happen every week from Halloween to Christmas!), so in August 1939, several leading business leaders, including Lew Hahn (general manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association), Fred Lazarus, Jr. (founder of Federated Department Stores, now known as Macy’s), and Commerce Secretary Harry Hopkins warned FDR that the late celebration of Thanksgiving (November had five Thursdays in 1939) would adversely impact retail sales that year. Worried that inaction would hurt the economy, FDR decided to declare that Thanksgiving would be moved to November 23, the second-to-last Thursday of that month. Outside of retailers who embraced the date switch and the opportunity to cash in on Christmas sooner, most Americans opposed the switch — 62% to 38% according to a Gallup poll of that time. One constant in American history is political polarization: support for Franksgiving was divided along partisan lines: Democrats favored it 52% to 48% while Republicans opposed it 79% to 21%. So in 1939, it was not unusual for Democrats to celebrate November 23 as “Democratic Thanksgiving” while Republicans celebrated “Republican Thanksgiving” on November 30.

Many Republicans argued that FDR’s decision was disrespecting President Lincoln’s legacy. Republican Presidential candidate Alf Landon went so far as to compare FDR to Hitler: “[Franksgiving is] another illustration of the confusion which [FDR’s] impulsiveness has caused so frequently during his administration. If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken working it out… instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” Ouch. Landon’s comment also prefigures one of the most famous rules of the internet — Godwin’s Law (introduced in 1990) that states that given enough time in an online discussion on just about any topic, a person will inevitably make some comparison to the Nazis or Hitler.

In short, the date switch that occurred in 1939 and 1940 was an absolute fiasco. The decision was unpopular among the voters and the dramatic increase in holiday retail sales that retailers had predicted never materialized. Another constant in American history is Congress’ glacial speed in addressing a colossal screwup. It took Congress two years to fix this mess — in 1941 Congress finally declared that Thanksgiving would fall on the fourth Thursday of November — where it has remained to this day. 

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: How Politics Ruined Thanksgiving and What You Can Do About It
Best Thanksgiving Movies
Top Thanksgiving Myths
Best Books About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Lite
Best Poems for Thanksgiving Day
Funny Thanksgiving Jokes
Godwin’s Law

For further reading: http://www.realclearhistory.com/articles/2014/11/26/when_fdr_tried_to_move_thanksgiving.html
http://www.columbusunderground.com/history-lesson-how-lazarus-laid-the-foundation-for-black-friday/

Flying on the Wings of Books

alex atkins bookshelf booksWhen visitors enter my library of more than 10,000 books, they are almost always drawn to a particular section, as if seduced by a siren’s song. “Where do they go?” you ask. They stand before a tall, narrow bookcase that contains 124 volumes of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poem series — all neatly lined up, with their colorful but uniform design, shelf after shelf. Each of these volumes is a pocket-sized hardcover book with a beautifully designed jewel-toned dust jacket, a matching silk ribbon marker, and gold stamping. Each book highlights the work of one poet or a theme, for example, love, friendship, gratitude, home, healing, trees, and Christmas. And speaking of Christmas…. just in time for the holidays, when book lovers browse the bookshelves of bookstores, enjoying the rich aroma of ink and paper and the songs of the holiday — a great introduction to the series was just published: Books and Libraries: Poems, edited by Andrew Scrimgeour. The dust jacket aptly introduces this lovely little book: “An utterly enchanting book about books, this globe-spanning poetry anthology testifies to the passion books and libraries have inspired through the ages… A remarkably diverse treasury of literary celebrations, Books and Libraries is sure to take pride of place on the shelves of the book-obsessed.” The 272-page book includes poems by all the poets you would expect to find: Emily Dickenson, William Wordsworth, William Shakespeare, John Donne, Maya Angelou, Wallace Stevens, Andrew Marvell, and so forth. One of the poems is a sonnet by William Wordsworth (1770-1850) from The Book of Sonnet (1867) edited by Leigh Hunt and Samuel Adams Lee:

Personal Talk and Books

Wings have we, and as far as we can go
We may find pleasure: wilderness and wood,
Blank ocean and mere sky, support that mood
Which with the lofty sanctifies the low:
Dreams, books, are each a world; and books, we know,
Are a substantial world, both pure and good:
Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness will grow.
There find I personal themes, a plenteous store,
Matter wherein right voluble am I
To which I listen with a ready ear.
Two shall be named, pre-eminently dear:—
The gentle Lady married to the Moor,
And heavenly Una with her milk-white Lamb.

These books make great gifts; however, trust me when I tell you, from one book lover to another — once you own one or two, you get hooked and want to own the entire collection. The good news is that this is one of the most successful poetry series ever published (beginning in 1995) and has never gone out of print. You can find just about every volume online in new or used condition. Happy collecting!

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Poems to Inspire During the Coronavirus Pandemic: No Man Is an Island
Poems that Inspire: Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare
Best Poems for Funerals: When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou
What is a Spine Poem?

For further reading: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/series/PTO/everymans-library-pocket-poets-series

Flutternutter, Oobleck, Bit Rot, and Other Neologisms

alex atkins bookshelf wordsSadly, for dictionary publishers, there is no such thing as an up-to-date dictionary, especially in the Google era. As soon as a dictionary is published, overnight three new words have been coined. According to the Global Language Monitor, a new word is created every 98 minutes — adding about 1,000 words per year to the English lexicon. So what is a dictionary publisher to do? Since many dictionaries are now published online, the publisher adds the neologisms in large batches. In October 2021, Merriam-Webster (MW) added 455 new words. On their website, the editors listed some notable new entries under their respective categories. One can instantly note the great impact that the pandemic has had on the English language. There is even a neologism inspired by Dr. Seuss. Here are some of the 455 new English words and their definitions:

Coronavirus-related Words

breakthrough medical: infection occurring in someone who is fully vaccinated against an infectious agent — often used before another noun (as in “breakthrough cases” or “breakthrough infection”).

long COVID: a condition that is marked by the presence of symptoms (such as fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, headache, or brain fog) which persist for an extended period of time (such as weeks or months) following a person’s initial recovery from COVID-19 infection.

super-spreader: an event or location at which a significant number of people contract the same communicable disease — often used before another noun (as in a “super-spreader event”). The term super-spreader originally referred to a highly contagious person capable of passing on a disease to many others, and now can also refer to a single place or occasion where many others are infected.

vaccine passport: a physical or digital document providing proof of vaccination against one or more infectious diseases (such as COVID-19).

Words related to online culture

amirite: slang used in writing for “am I right” to represent or imitate the use of this phrase as a tag question in informal speech. An example: “English spelling is consistently inconsistent, amirite?”

because: by reason of: because of — often used in a humorous way to convey vagueness about the exact reasons for something. This preposition use of “because” is versatile; it can be used, for example, to avoid delving into the overly technical (“the process works because science”) or to dismiss explanation altogether (“they left because reasons”).

deplatform: to remove and ban (a registered user) from a mass communication medium (such as a social networking or blogging website) broadly : to prevent from having or providing a platform to communicate.

digital nomad: someone who performs their occupation entirely over the Internet while traveling; especially : such a person who has no permanent fixed home address.

FTW: an abbreviation for “for the win” —used especially to express approval or support. In social media, FTW is often used to acknowledge a clever or funny response to a question or meme.

TBH: an abbreviation for “to be honest.” TBH is frequently used in social media and text messaging.

Technology-related Words

bit rot: the tendency for digital information to degrade or become unusable over time. This kind of data degradation or corruption can make images and audio recordings distort and documents impossible to read or open.

copypasta: data (such as a block of text) that has been copied and spread widely online. Copypasta can be a lighthearted meme or it can have a more serious intent, with a political or cultural message.

CubeSat: an artificial satellite typically designed with inexpensive components that fit into a cube with a volume of 1 cubic meter. These small satellites are typically used for academic, commercial, or amateur research projects in orbit.

Oobleck: a mixture of corn starch and water that behaves like a liquid when at rest and like a solid when pressure is applied. Oobleck gets its name from the title of a story by Dr. Seuss, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, and is a favorite component in kids’ science experiments.

zero-day: of, relating to, or being a vulnerability (as in a computer or computer system) that is discovered and exploited (as by cybercriminals) before it is known to or addressed by the maker or vendor.

Political Words

astroturf: falsely made to appear grassroots. This figurative use of astroturf (in capitalized form it is a trademark for artificial turf) is used to describe political efforts, campaigns, or organizations that appear to be funded and run by ordinary people but are in fact backed by powerful groups.

vote-a-rama U.S. government: an unusually large number of debates and votes that happen in one day on a single piece of legislation to which an unlimited number of amendments can be introduced, debated, and voted on.

whataboutism: the act or practice of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offense committed by another is similar or worse also : the response itself. The synonymous term whataboutery is more common in British English.

Food-related Words

chicharron: a small piece of pork belly or pig skin that is fried and eaten usually as a snack : pork rind also : a piece of food that resembles a chicharron.

fluffernutter: a sandwich made with peanut butter and marshmallow crème between two slices of white sandwich bread.

ghost kitchen: a commercial cooking facility used for the preparation of food consumed off the premises — called also cloud kitchen, dark kitchen.

Goetta: meat (such as pork) mixed with oats, onions, and spices and fried in the form of a patty.

horchata: a cold sweetened beverage made from ground rice or almonds and usually flavorings such as cinnamon or vanilla.

Pop Culture Words

dad bod (informal): a physique regarded as typical of an average father; especially : one that is slightly overweight and not extremely muscular.

faux-hawk: a hairstyle resembling a Mohawk in having a central ridge of upright hair but with the sides gathered or slicked upward or back instead of shaved.

otaku: a person having an intense or obsessive interest especially in the fields of anime and manga —often used before another noun.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
Why Do Some New Words Last and Others Fade?

For further reading: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/new-words-in-the-dictionary

Words Enter the English Language Deviously

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsFor the most part our words come deviously, making their way by winding paths through the minds of generations of men, even burrowing like moles through the dark subconsciousness. Fancied likenesses, farfetched associations, ancient prejudices have acted upon them. Superstition, misapprehension, old fables, mythological taboos, the jests of simpletons and the vaunting imagination of poets have all played a part in shaping them. During their labyrinthine journeys in time and space they have often changed their form, spelling, pronunciation and, especially, their sense.

From You English Words (1962) by British author and naturalist John Moore (1907-1967). Published after WWII, his trilogy (Elmbury, Brensham Village, and The Blue Field) about the countryside was a best-seller for many years. Moore was a prolific author, having published more than 40 novels focused on mostly pastoral themes. Naturally, Moore was a passionate conservationist and warned of the negative impact of technology on rural societies. The John Moore Museum, located in his hometown of Tewkesbury, UK, was established to honor his life and work.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

What is the Fabric That Holds Humanity Together?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsMaria Ressa, CEO and co-founder of the news site Rappler, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. In their announcement, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote: “[We have] decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions. Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”

In 2018, Time Magazine named Ressa a “Person of the Year — a Guardian in the War on Truth.” Karl Vick of Time recently interviewed Ressa and discussed the impact and importance of journalism, especially today in the post-Trumpian world where truth is under assault on a daily basis. Commenting on the importance of the Nobel Peace Prize on her work, Ressa states, “It just shows the role that journalists play. Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. How can you have democracy without that? This is the fabric that holds us together: shared reality.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts:
Do Voters Actually Have a Free Choice?
Can Democracy in America Be Saved?
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?
Isaac Asimov: There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States
Plato on Idiots and Ignorance

For further reading:
https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/press-release/
Time Magazine, A Nobel for a Guardian by Karl Vick, Oct 25/November 1, 2021.

What Happens When We Die?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWhat happens when we die? Since the dawn of civilization, this question has mystified philosophers, theologians, doctors, scientists, writers, and poets. The poet who towers among all other, William Shakespeare offered the most eloquent and thought-provoking answer in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark published in 1602. In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet ponders death and whether he should take his own life in one of the greatest soliloquys in English literature:

To be, or not to be — that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more — and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep —
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Perhaps it is that pair of brilliant lines, “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,” that provided the inspiration for the writers of Netflix’s supernatural series, Midnight Mass, to address the age-old question of death. In a pivotal scene (Episode 4, Lamentations), Erin Greene, a teacher, asks her friend, Riley Flynn who is haunted by a death he caused while driving under the influence: “What happens when we die, Riley.” He pauses and slowly explains:

“I don’t know. And I don’t trust anyone who tells us they do; but I can speak for myself, I guess… When I die my body stops functioning. Shut down. All at once or gradually. My breathing stops, my heart stops breathing. Clinical death. And a bit later, five minutes later, my brain cells start dying. But in the meantime, in between, maybe my brain releases a flood of DMT [(N,N-Dimethyltryptamine]. It’s the psychedelic drug released when we dream — so I dream. I dream bigger than I have ever dreamed before, because it is all of it — just the last dump of DMT all at once and my neurons are firing and I’m seeing this firework display of memories and imagination and I am just… tripping. I mean, really tripping balls because my mind’s rifling through the memories. You know — long and short-term, and the dreams mix with the memories, and… it’s a curtain call. The dream to end all dreams — one last great dream as my mind empties the fuckin’ missile silos and then… I stop. My brain activity ceases and there is nothing left of me. No pain. No memory, no awareness that I ever was, no… that I ever hurt someone… that I ever killed someone. Everything is as it was before me. And the electricity disperses from my brain till it’s just dead tissue. Meat. Oblivion. And all of the other little things that make me up, they… the microbes and bacterium and the billion other little things that live on my eyelashes and in my hair and in my mouth and on my skin and in my gut and everywhere else, they just keep on living… and eating. And I’m serving a purpose: feeding life. And I’m broken apart and all the littlest pieces of me are just recycled, and I’m [in] billions of other places and my atoms are in plants and bugs and animals, and I am like the stars that are in the sky, there one moment and then just scattered across the goddamn cosmos.”

One can imagine the ghost of Hamlet, just off screen, smiling and nodding in agreement.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

 

There’s A Word for That: Sangfroid

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIt’s not a word you hear frequently, although if you saw the recent James Bond movie, No Time To Die, you saw many instances of it. When you first hear it, it sounds like a fancy French dish. If the word is mispronounced (eg, “sang freud”), you might perceive it as an abbreviated form of schadenfreude (that wonderful German word that means deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune). To pronounce sangfroid properly, think French — not German: “sahn FRWA or “sang FRWA.” Regardless of how you pronounce it, James Bond, for example, has plenty of it. The word means composure, presence of mind, or calmness in the face of danger of difficult circumstances. Let’s use it in a sentence: James Bond battled his wicked nemesis, employing his customary quick wit and sangfroid. The word is derived from the French word sang, from the Latin sanguis, meaning “blood” and the French word froid, from the Latin frigidus, meaning “cold.” Thus, translated literally, sangfroid means “cold blood.” This is the same concept behind the common idiom “ice water in one’s veins.” A variation of this skips the water altogether: “ice in one’s veins.” That has got to be painful!

Another quintessential example of sangfroid is found in the well-known story of the Miracle on the Hudson. On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1548, traveling from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina collided with a flock of Canadian geese within three minutes of the flight. Although a typical plane engine can survive a bird strike, they are not designed to ingest birds that way up to 14 pounds each. Within seconds both engines exploded, immediately losing thrust — placing the crew and 155 passengers in peril. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his copilot, Jeffrey Skiles, had little time to deal with the crises at an altitude of about 2,800 feet. Within seconds, Captain Sully had to evaluate a nightmare scenario: duel engine failure, low altitude over a densely populated area, slowing air speed, leaking fuel. Captain Sully immediately contacts the tower to alert them of an emergency situation: “Mayday mayday mayday. Uh this is uh Cactus 1539 hit birds, we’ve lost thrust (in/on) both engines we’re turning back towards LaGuardia.” Within seconds, he instructs his copilot to re-establish thrust from the engines (unsuccessful) and turn on the APU (the auxiliary power unit that powers the airplane). Moments later, the tower controllers from LaGuardia and nearby Tererboro (NJ) airport provide Captain Sully with runways as options. Employing complete sangfroid, Captain Sully has considered all the options and made all the calculations and there is only one option that can save the crew and passengers. His succinct response to the tower, which spoke volumes, has been immortalized in print and film for the ages: “We’re unable. We may end up in the Hudson.” He is offered another runway, and again he responds tersely: “Unable.” About a minute later, amid the cacophony of automated warnings from the plane’s cockpit computer, Captain Sully leveled the plane perfectly (if one engine had hit the water earlier than the other, it could have caused the plane to pivot and break up in pieces) and landed in the icy waters of the Hudson River. All members and passengers survived and were rescued, within minutes, by nearby ferries. A year later, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the main reason that a crash was averted was due to excellent decision-making (utilizing the 4-step recognition-primed decision making process which relies on experience, intuition, and best practices) and teamwork by the cockpit crew. So if you ever forget the meaning of sangfroid, simply think of Captain Sully and the extraordinary sangfroid it took to deliver the Miracle on the Hudson.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
What is the Sword of Damocles?
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: http://www.nj.com/news/2009/06/cockpit_radio_communication_tr.html
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/images/nytint/docs/documents-for-the-testimony-of-us-airways-flight-1549/original.pdf

What is the Largest Lego Set?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaOle Christiansen began making wooden toys in 1932 and expanded his line of toys to include plastic interlocking bricks that evolved to the colorful bricks now known as Lego (from the Danish leg godt, meaning “play well”) bricks. Almost 90 years later the Lego brand is ubiquitous  — seen in department stores, branded stores, movies, theme parks, video games, and commercials. Indeed, Lego is a financial powerhouse — in 2020, the Lego Group had revenues of more than $6.8 billion. And each year, Lego enthusiasts  eagerly await the release of about 130 new sets. Naturally, that begs the question: which is the largest Lego set? And by large we mean most number of pieces and biggest dimensions of the finished set. The set with the most number of pieces is Lego Art World Map (11,695 pieces with a building instruction manual that is 159 pages long!). This set also has the longest building time of any set: 33 hours. But the set that has the largest dimensions, once the model is completed, is the newly-announced Lego Titanic (53 inches long), based on a 1:200 scale model of the famous doomed ocean liner. Some of these sets can appreciate considerably, creating an entire Lego economy: some Lego builders and collectors buy them for investment. For example, the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, mint in a sealed box, can fetch up to $2,000 on the secondary market.

Here is the top ten list of the largest Lego sets (model number in brackets, release date in parentheses), along with estimated building times:

1. Lego Art World Map [31203] (2021), $250
Number of pieces: 11,695
Dimensions: 25.8 x 40.9 inches (H x W)
Building time: 33 hours

2. Lego Titanic [10294] (2021), $630
Number of pieces: 9,090
Dimensions: 17.5x53x6 inches (H x W x D)
Building time: 26 hours
Iceberg not included

3. Lego Colosseum [10276] (2021), $550
Number of pieces: 9,036
Dimensions: 11x21x24
Building time: 26 hours

4. UCS Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon [75192] (2017), $800
Number of pieces: 7,541
Dimensions: 8x33x22
Building time: 21 hours

5. Lego Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle [71043] (2018), $400
Number of pieces: 6,020
Dimensions: 22x27x16
Building time: 17 hours

6. Lego Creator Expert Taj Mahal [10256] (2008 and 2017), $370
Number of pieces: 5,923
Dimensions: 22x19x7.2
Building time: 17 hours

7. Lego Harry Potter Diagon Alley [75978] (2020), $400
Number of pieces: 5,544
Dimensions: 16×10.6×10
Building time: 16 hours

8. Ultimate Collector’s Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon [10179] (2007), $500
Number of pieces: 5,197
Dimensions: 25.3 x 18.7 x 7.7 cm
Building time: 15 hours 

9. Lego Ninjago City [70620] (2017), $300
Number of pieces: 4,867
Dimensions: 19.3x23x7.3
Building time: 14 hours

10. UCS Lego Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer [75252] (2019), $700
Number of pieces: 4,784
Dimensions: 17x43x26
Building time: 14 hours

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Lego by the Numbers
Test Your Creativity
The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair
What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?
What is the Word for Two Bad Choices?
Why is it Called the Golden Gate? 
Jefferson and Adams Die on Same Day
How Fast is the Earth Moving?
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?

Famous People Who Died on the Same Day

For further reading: https://www.brickfanatics.com/the-lego-groups-full-2020-annual-financial-results-by-the-numbers/
https://www.lego.com/en-us/categories/adults-welcome/article/biggest-lego-sets-ever-made
http://www.brickeconomy.com
http://www.mybrick.net

Little Books, Big Ideas: Greek Proverbs

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you visit a used bookstore, you might stumble upon an often neglected section: miniature or compact books. A miniature book generally measures 3 by 4 inches; some are even smaller: 1.5 inches by 2 inches. A compact book, also known as an octodecimo in American Library Association lingo, generally measures 4 x 6 inches. Unfortunately, these types of books are often dismissed due to their small size. “If they are so small, how can they possibly matter?” you think to yourself. Astute book lovers, however, know that even little books can contain big ideas — profound thoughts that can change your life.

In my periodic visits to used bookstores, I recently came across such a thought-provoking little book: Greek Proverbs by Vailiki Stathes published by Aeolos in Athens, Greece in 1998. In the introduction, Stathes, a language teacher, writes: “Proverbs are man’s insight into human nature. Handed down from generation to generation, they irony and wisdom are still on point in countless present-day situations. They strike so true that they are incorporated into our common speech. We allude to them without ever realizing our indebtedness to parents and grandparents.” Over the years, Stathes has collected over 500 proverbs. For this book, he selected the most popular ones, as well as those that originated in Greece: “popularity and familiarity were the main criteria for their inclusion.” Here are some notable Greek proverbs:

Those who are not dancing, sing many songs.

From the child and from the fool, one learns the truth.

A clear sky is not afraid of lightning

Little by little, one goes far.

Listen to all and believe what you want.

A small hole can sink a big ship.

You can knock all you want at a deaf man’s door.

One is the product of his teacher.

From the thorn comes a rose, and from the rose comes a thorn.

Where you are I’ve been, and where I am you’ll be.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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Remarkable Bookstores: Henry Miller Library

alex atkins bookshelf booksOne of the most scenic highways in America is California State Route 1 (designated as Coast Highway, Cabrillo Highway, or Pacific Coast Highway) that hugs the coastline for most of its 656 miles from Leggett (home of the Chandelier Tree, better known as the Drive-through Tree, located about 170 miles north of San Francisco) in the north to Dana Point (about 60 miles south of Los Angeles) in the south. Although its views of the Pacific Ocean are breathtaking, it’s a harrowing drive filled with a serpentine roadway that dips and rises, bordered by sheer jagged cliffs that disappear into the Pacific Ocean. But once you pass Carmel-by-the-Sea (about 75 miles south of San Jose), you are treated to one of the most beautiful and most photographed bridges in the world: the Bixby Bridge, a reinforced concrete open-spandrel arch bridge, that crosses over Big Sur Creek, spilling into the ocean. But the real treat for bibliophiles is just 16 miles to the south of that iconic bridge — but you have to pay attention because it is easy to miss. As you drive down Cabrillo Highway, passing Mule Canyon Road on your right, less than half a mile on your left you will see a sign for one of the most remote but remarkable small bookstores in the country. The wooden sign that reads “Henry Miller Memorial Library Books Music Art” leads you to an enchanting bookstore surrounded by beautiful, majestic redwood trees, with views of the shoreline of Big Sur.

By now you are asking, “You mean Henry Miller, the famous author of the banned book Tropic of Cancer and friend of Anasis Nin, Otto Rank, Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos?” Yes, that Henry Miller. After his famous travels in Europe, and time spent in New York, Miller moved to California in 1942, and settled in Big Sur in 1944. By then, he was famous for his Tropic of Cancer trilogy that was banned in the U.S. on the grounds of obscenity (the books had to be smuggled into America). He began writing The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945) there, and later Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch (1957). In the early 1960s, Emil White, a friend, confidant, and painter, built a small log cabin house for Miller in the forest. Miller once said of White: “One of the few friends who has never failed me.” Miller lived in the house for three years, and moved to Los Angeles in 1963. He died there in 1980 at the age of 88. A year later, White founded the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a nonprofit to house a collection of his works (the library houses the second largest collection of his work, manuscripts, and letters in the world; UCLA has the largest collection), promote his legacy and the arts, and sell books and artwork. The mission statement reads: “The Henry Miller Library is a public benefit, non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization championing the literary, artistic and cultural contributions of the late writer, artist, and Big Sur resident Henry Miller. The Library also serves as a cultural resource center, functioning as a public gallery/performance/workshop space for artists, writers, musicians and students. In addition, the Library supports education in the arts and the local environment. Finally, the Library serves as a social center for the community.” During the summer, the Library hosts lectures, musical performances, book signings, and film festivals. White was the director of the nonprofit until his death in 1989; he bequeathed the library to the Big Sur Land Trust. Interestingly, Miller disapproved of memorials; he once remarked: “Memorials defeated the purpose of a man’s life. Only by living your own life to the full can you honor the memory of someone.”

When you walk up the short ramp to the Henry Miller Library the first thing you notice is an expansive deck, adjacent to the rustic building. In the center of the deck is a beautiful tree; hanging from the branches of the trees are plastic bags that contain curated books. Along the exterior walls are several tables that are curated by theme: nature, Big Sur, spirituality, classic fiction, modern fiction, children’s fiction, the Beats, and of course: Anais Nin and Henry Miller. The exterior walls are also lined with bags of books. You will find obligatory signs about reading, including “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” (Ray Bradbury) and “A book lying on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation. Lend and borrow to the maximum — of both books and money!” (Henry Miller). Once inside you step inside the cabin, a visitor will find small wooden tables with neat stacks of books, walls with narrow bookcases, artwork, and more books hanging in plastic bags. The best part of buying a book here is that they will stamp emboss it with the Henry Miller Library logo that features a rendering of a crab (similar to the one that appeared on the first edition of Tropic of Cancer; in that illustration, by artist Maurice Kahane, the crab is gripping the body of a limp male body) holding a copy of Tropic of Cancer standing over a writer’s desk. Incidentally, a first edition of Tropic of Cancer published by Obelisk Press in September 1934 (only 1,000 copies were printed) and featuring a preface by Anais Nin (now known to be largely written by Miller), is worth over $6,600. Since it was banned for obscenity the cover features the line: “Not to be imported into Great Britain of U.S.A.” The first American edition, published by Grove Press of New York in 1961 is worth over $2,500. The typescript of the book was purchased by Yale University in 1986 for $165,000.

Of course, if you don’t have the nerve to navigate the long and winding road of the Coast Highway to get to the Henry Miller Library, you can also hop on the internet and order directly from their website. You will also find a fascinating timeline of Miller’s fascinating life. And yes, you can buy Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, raw and uncensored, considered to be a remarkable novel by George Orwell; he wrote: “I earnestly counsel anyone who has not done so to read at least Tropic of Cancer. With a little ingenuity, or by paying a little over the published price, you can get hold of it, and even if parts of it disgust you, it will stick in your memory… Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance.” [From the essay, “Inside the Whale” published in 1940.]

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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For further reading: https://henrymiller.org

The Antiquarian Bookseller’s Catalog: September 2021

alex atkins bookshelf booksAn antiquarian bookseller’s catalog is a bibliophile’s literary treasure trove between two covers. Open any catalog, and you will find beautiful, sought-after gems — rare first editions, inscribed copies, manuscripts, letters, screenplays, and author portraits — from some of the most famous authors in the world.

Ken Lopez has been an antiquarian bookseller since the early 1970s. Formerly the president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, Lopez focuses on first editions, literature of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, nature writing, and Native American literature. He is the quintessential bibliophile — as passionate about discovering rare books as he is about preserving literary history. Bibliophiles salivate as they browse through his comprehensive catalogs, filled with fascinating and valuable literary treasures. Here are some highlights from his most recent catalog, Modern Literature No. 172 (September 2021):

The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs (1959), in a custom clamshell: $3,500

The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac (1958), his novel after success of On the Road, limited edition (99 of 100): $3,500

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962), first edition inscribed by Kesey: “For Jason: It’s getting so I can’t install a single frigging component. By the way, this is an original print… I was sued by this woman who said she was the Red Cross Nurse so I had to change her to The Public Relations. I think there were less than 1000 of these sold before the recall.”: $15,000

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft (1936), 1 of only 400 printed during the author’s lifetime: $6,000

Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971), uncorrected proof copy of second book in Rabbit Angstrom series: $750

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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For further reading: lopezbooks.com