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.

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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.

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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

There Should Be a Word for That: Bibliodisposophobia

alex atkins bookshelf words

If you are a serious book lover you have probably encountered this predicament: the bookshelves in your bookcases are sagging under the weight of so many books and you just came home with another stack of books from yet another book-buying binge. You have been in denial as book piles begin forming around the bookcases, spilling into other rooms, with every nook and cranny becoming a clever place to store books. You cannot put off the inevitable — it is time to do what many librarians are required to do: deaccession, the formal term for culling or weeding out books. While librarians can use certain metrics to make a decision about what books to weed out (the frequency that a book is checked out, last time the book was checked out, etc.), a bibliophile does not have metrics to fall on because he or she has an emotional and intellectual connection to each book. As any bibliophile fully knows, the KonMari Method of decluttering a bookshelf, introduced by Marie Kondo in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (2014), is absolutely useless: of course every book sparks joy! Books not only spark joy, they spark critical thinking, new ideas, connections with other books and ideas, deep feelings (like empathy), as well as serving as markers on an intellectual journey. When most bibliophiles attempt to weed their collection of books they encounter the ingrained unwillingness, no — the inability to get rid of a single precious book. Interestingly, there is no formal term for this; however, there should be! Atkins Bookshelf submits a new word for your thoughtful consideration: bibliodisposophobia — defined as the fear of losing books or the inability to discard books.

The word bibliodisposophobia is formed from the Greek word-forming element biblio- (meaning “related to books”), the Old French verb disposer (meaning “to arrange, to order) that is, in turn, from the Latin verb disponere (meaning “to arrange, to distribute”) and the Greek word-forming element -phobia (meaning “panic fear of”). If you happen to Google disposophobia you will find that it is considered a synonym for hoarding disorder. But it is important to note that book collecting (or collecting anything of value, actually) is not the same thing as hoarding. A book collector acquires books in a very intentional and organized way. Many careful considerations are made before a book collector actually purchases a book. Consequently, a book collector will typically organize and display the acquired books in a bookshelf, and then enjoy and admire the assembled collection. A hoarder, on the other hand, collects things impulsively — without any focus, and without any intention of displaying and organizing. The possessions of a hoarder are thrown into a cluttered pile that disrupts the ability to use the space for comfortable living, which leads to problems in relationships and social activities. There now… aren’t you feeling so much better about your book collecting and library?

Oh, and if you are wondering if there is an antidote or solution to bibliodisposophobia, you will be thrilled to learn that there is. Most psychologists (who happen to be bibliophiles) all agree: simply buy more bookcases or buy a larger house and keep building your library. Either solution is far easier than having to weed out books from your library. Happy shopping…

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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How Did the Pandemic Impact Reading Habits and the Book Industry?

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe deadly Covid-19 pandemic mandated lockdowns for millions of people around the globe beginning in March 2020. Confined in their own homes for months at a time, people turned to their televisions sets for entertainment and on some level, companionship. Streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, experienced dramatic increases in number of new subscriptions. But how did the pandemic impact people’s reading habits and the book industry in general? A year later, a review of the data by the folks at Global English Editing suggests that there was somewhat of a silver lining to the pandemic for the book industry: more than a third of the world’s population turned to books to read for entertainment and education. Along with that good news, was some bad news: in 2020, the American Bookseller’s Association reported that 70 independent bookstores closed last year due to the pandemic; as of May 2021, 14 bookstores have closed. Independent bookstores weathered the toughest financial storm in recent history by quickly adapting to the new online economy (e.g., holding virtual events and sales, curb-side pick-up, engaging social media campaigns, crowd-funding, etc.), financial support from Covid-19 economic relief grants and loans, as well as grants from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. Below is a summary of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on reading and the book industry by the numbers:

The global Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns caused:
35% of the world’s people to read more
14% of those read significantly more

Visits to book and literature ecommerce sites in March 2020:
1.51 billion (an increase of 8% from February)

Impact on physical book sales:
In France, physical book sales dropped by 57%
In United States, physical book sales dropped 38%
In United Kingdom, educational book sales increased 234%

Reading habits in America in 2020:
Americans read an average (mean) 12 books per year
The average American has read 4 books in past year
Percentage of Americans who did not read a book in past year: 27%
48% of Americans read the Bible at least 3 times per year
The likelihood of Americans reading was directly correlated with wealth and level of education:
17% of Americans who earn over $75K did not read books
36% of Americans who earn less than $30K did not read books
7% of Americans with a college degree did not read books
37% of Americans with a high school degree or less did not read books

Country that reads the most (number of hours spent in reading per person each week):
1. India: 10:42
2. Thailand: 9:24
3. China: 8:00
4. Philippines: 7:36

5. Egypt: 7:30

22. United States: 5:42

Generation that read more books during pandemic:
Millennials: 40%
GenZ: 34%
GenX: 31%
Baby Boomers: 28%

Size of the global book industry in 2020:
Market size: $119 billion
Number of businesses: 16,395
Number of employees: 315,579

Country that publishes the most books each year:
1. China: 440,000
2. United States: 304,912
3. United Kingdom: 184,000
4. Japan: 139,078
5. Russia: 101,981

Best-selling books of 2020 (Amazon.com):
1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
2. My First Learn to Write Workbook by Crystal Radke
3. The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton
4. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
5. Untamed by Glennon Doyle

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: apnews.com/article/amazoncom-inc-health-coronavirus-pandemic-business-arts-and-entertainment-ede783f276dae54ad4eb4f2c8a7d1138
http://www.kvue.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/adjusting-to-the-pandemic-how-bookstores-continue-to-stay-open/269-d4060f39-810f-487b-9a55-8cec6ec72ed5
http://www.bincfoundation.org
geediting.com/world-reading-habits-2020/

Revisiting “Falling Man” on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

alex atkins bookshelf cultureRichard Drew pressed the camera’s shutter button at 9:41:15 am on the morning of September 11, 2001, capturing an image of man leaping to his death that is paradoxically terrifying and peaceful at the same time. This iconic photograph — “The Falling Man” — depicted one of more than 200 innocent people who fell or jumped to their deaths that morning. It was printed on page 7 of the New York Times on the following day, that haunting image etched forever in the American consciousness as a reminder of that dreadful day. Twenty years later, most survivors and witnesses of 9/11 have noted that the sight of human beings falling to their deaths is the most haunting memory of that tragic day. People began jumping soon after the first jet hit the North Tower (8:46 am) and for the next 102 minutes before the building collapsed. They jumped alone, in pairs, or in groups — most from a height of more than 100 stories. At that height, the bodies reach a speed of 150 miles per hour, not enough to cause unconsciousness during the 10-second fall, but fast enough to ensure immediate death upon impact. One witness described this horrific scene as a woman fell: “The look on her face was shock. She wasn’t screaming. It was slow motion. When she hit, there was nothing left.” Equally powerful was the thought-provoking story that writer Tom Junod wrote about the identity of that lone figure in the September 2003 issue of Esquire magazine, titled “The Falling Man.” When you read the introduction to the story, it is easy to understand why the editors of Esquire consider it one of the greatest stories in the magazine’s 75-year history.

“In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity’s divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet… The man in the picture… is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else — something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man’s posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is… in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears.”

Almost 20 years later, reflecting on that photo, Richard Drew states: “I never regretted taking that photograph at all. It’s probably one of the only photographs that shows someone dying that day. We have a terrorist attack on our soil and we still don’t see pictures of our people dying — and this is a photograph of someone dying. “

The Falling Man’s true identity has never been established.  The photos reveal that he was dark-skinned, lanky, wore a goatee, dressed in black pants, and a bright-orange shirt under a white shirt. Some believe it was Jonathan Briley, an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant. Miraculously, the FBI found his body the next day. Juno concludes his article:

“Is Jonathan Briley the Falling Man? He might be. But maybe he didn’t jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn’t jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.

Oh, no. You have to fall.

Yes, Jonathan Briley might be the Falling Man. But the only certainty we have is the certainty we had at the start: At fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky — falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame — the Falling Man — became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”

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 Poetry of 9/11
Moving Quotes on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11
The Poem I Turn To
Unfathomable Grief
The Best Books on 9/11

For further reading:
September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets

http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0903-SEP_FALLINGMAN
http://www.esquire.com/features/page-75/greatest-stories?click=main_sr#slide-1
http://time.com/4453467/911-september-11-falling-man-photo/?utm_source=time.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the-brief&utm_content=2017091117pm&xid=newsletter-brief
https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/sept11/2002-09-02-jumper_x.htm

George Orwell: Why I Don’t Want to Be a Bookseller

alex atkins bookshelf booksAt the corner of Pond Street and South End Green in Hamstead, London, England you will be lured by the delightful aroma of fresh baked bread from Gail’s Bakery. As you face the entrance to the bakery, turn your gaze slightly to the left. Right about eye level you will find what seems to be an out-of-place architectural embellishment protruding from the building’s facade. It is small plaque dedicated to Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. The plaque reads: “GEORGE ORWELL, WRITER 1903-1950, LIVED AND WORKED IN A BOOKSHOP ON THIS SITE, 1934-1935.” Adjacent to the inscription is a bas relief of the famous author. British novelist and biographer Margaret Drabble was instrumental in helping erect this plaque; Orwell’s widow, Sonia, unveiled the plaque before she died in 1980.

Orwell worked at the Booklovers’ Corner, a used bookstore, early in his career when he was struggling to make a living as a writer. He worked in exchange for board and lodging in one of the three apartments located above the bookshop from October 1934 to March 1935. Nellie Limouzin, Orwell’s aunt, knew the owners of the bookshop (Francis and Myfanwy Westrope) who also owned the apartments and helped to arrange the housing and the job. Orwell worked at the bookshop in the afternoons, spending the mornings and evenings writing. In a letter to a friend he described his routine: “My time-table is as follows: 7am get up, dress etc., cook & eat breakfast. 8.45 go down & open up the shop, & I am usually kept there until about 9.45. Then come home, do out my room, light the fire etc. 10.30am – 1pm do some writing. 1pm get lunch & eat it. 2pm to 6.30pm I am at the shop. Then I come home, get my supper, do the washing up & after that sometimes do about an hour’s work.” It was there, that Orwell wrote the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, published in 1936. With respect to this novel, art imitates life: Gordon Comstock, the protagonist, happens to work in a bookshop as he pursues a career as a writer. A first edition of this early novel is now worth $35,000.

Like any successful, prolific writer, Orwell loved books and collected books — however, just don’t ask him to be a bookseller. Shortly after he completed his gig at the Booklovers’ Corner, Orwell reflected on his experience there that reflected his aversion to bookselling. Since Orwell was a clever satirist, one must keep in mind that some of his statements are an exaggeration to make a point. Clearly, Orwell did not care for a job he considered menial and mundane in order to support himself as a struggling writer. Here is an excerpt from his essay:

“When I worked in a second-hand bookshop — so easily pictured, if you don’t work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios — the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews were commonest of all…

Like most second-hand bookshops we had various sidelines. We sold second-hand typewriters, for instance, and also stamps — used stamps, I mean… But our principal sideline was a lending library — the usual ‘twopenny no-deposit’ library of five or six hundred volumes, all fiction… In a lending library you see people’s real tastes, not their pretended ones, and one thing that strikes you is how completely the ‘classical’ English novelists have dropped out of favour. It is simply useless to put Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Trollope, etc. into the ordinary lending library; nobody takes them out. At the mere sight of a nineteenth-century novel people say, ‘Oh, but that’s old!’ and shy away immediately. Yet it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are ‘always meaning to’ read, and, like the Bible, he is widely known at second hand.

Would I like to be a bookseller de métier? On the whole — in spite of my employer’s kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop — no. Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital, any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop. Unless one goes in for ‘rare’ books it is not a difficult trade to learn, and you start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of books. Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long — I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy-hour week, apart from constant expeditions out of hours to buy books — and it is an unhealthy life. As a rule a bookshop is horribly cold in winter, because if it is too warm the windows get misted over, and a bookseller lives on his windows. And books give off more and nastier dust than any other class of objects yet invented, and the top of a book is the place where every bluebottle [a large blow fly with shiny blue body] prefers to die.

But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro. There was a time when I really did love books — loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies’ magazines of the sixties. For casual reading — in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch — there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl’s Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can’t borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.”

From the essay, “Bookshop Memories” (1936) by George Orwell, included in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (1968).

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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The World’s Most Expensive Book
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Profile of a Book Lover: Rebecca Goldstein

For further reading: https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/orwell-pond-street
https://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/25/travel/on-the-streets-where-they-lived.html
https://orwellsociety.com/keep-the-aspidistra-flying-in-hampstead/
https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/articles/gordon-bowker-orwells-library/
https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/24114/lot/131/

Melville’s Obituary Misspelled Moby-Dick

alex atkins bookshelf literatureHerman Melville — American novelist, short-story writer, and poet — was born in New York City on August 1, 1819 and died, at the age of  72 on September 28, 1891. He is best known for his seafaring tales: Typee (1846), Omoo (1847), White Jacket (1850), Moby-Dick; or The Whale (1851), White Jacket, and Billy Budd, Sailor, published posthumously in 1891. Melville wrote many short stories, but his most famous one is “Bartleby, the Scrivener” published in 1853. But of course, the literary work that endures, because it is considered one of the Great American Novels, is Moby-Dick. Although millions of students have not read the novel from cover to cover (resorting to study guides — you know who you are), they know its first line: “Call me Ishmael.” — one of the most famous sentences in American literature.

The novel Moby-Dick was inspired by several nautical events and literary influences. The most direct influence on the novel was Melville’s 18 months of experience aboard the commercial whaling ship, Acushnet, where at the age of 21, he learned about whaling first-hand. Melville was fascinated with the stories of Mocha Dick, a giant albino sperm whale that swam the waters surrounding Mocha Island, near the central coast of Chile. Mocha Dick was extremely aggressive and sank nearly two dozen ships between 1810 and 1838, when he was killed while coming to the aid of a distressed a female whale (known as a cow) whose calf had been killed by whalers. Melville was also fascinated by the tragedy of the Essex, a whaling ship that was rammed and sunk by a large sperm whale on November 20, 1820. The crew of the Essex scrambled onto three whaleboats and drifted more than 3,000 miles, resorting to cannibalism to survive. One of the eight survivors wrote about this tragic event, publishing the Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex in 1821. The two major literary influences on the novel, on the other hand, were William Shakespeare and the Bible.

Unfortunately, Moby-Dick was a critical and commercial failure in its time: critics and readers did not know what to make of this lengthy (635 pages), complex, multi-layered theological, philosophical, and psychological work. As John Bryant and Haskell Springer noted in the Longman Critical Edition (2009), the language in Moby-Dick is allusive as the great white whale; the language is “nautical, biblical, Homeric, Shakespearean, Miltonic, cetological, alliterative, fanciful, colloquial, archaic and unceasingly allusive.” To quote Ahab’s own words: “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate.” In his lifetime, Melville only earned about $1,259 on the sale of 3,215 copies of the novel. Unable to support himself solely as an author, Melville had to take a job as a customs inspector. By the time Melville died, most of his novels had gone out of print. When Melville died on September 28, 1891, there was barely a notice of his death and little acknowledgment of the most famous American novel. Even worse, the extremely short obituary in the New York Times misspelled Moby-Dick — can you imagine that? The obituary reads “Herman Melville died yesterday at his residence, 104 East Twenty-sixth Street, this city, of heart failure, aged seventy-two. He was the author of ‘Typee,’ “Omoo,’ ‘Mobie Dick’ and other seafaring tales, written in earlier years.” Moreover, the obituary identified Melville as “one of the founders of Navesink, N.J.”; “a civil engineer”; “a special partner in the picture-importing firm of Reichard & Co.”; “the best known criminal lawyer in Connecticut”; and “the oldest resident of the Oranges” before identifying him as an author. On October 2, 1891, the editors, perhaps feeling remorse for not giving this talented author his due, wrote a subsequent piece: “There has died and been buried in this city, during the current week, at an advanced age, a man who is so little known, even by name, to the generation now in the vigor of life that only one newspaper contained an obituary account of him, and this was but of three or four lines. Yet forty years ago the appearance of a new book by Herman Melville was esteemed a literary event.”

It wasn’t until the centennial of Melville’s birth, 1919, when American biographer and critic Carl Van Doren (his biography of Benjamin Franklin won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for Biography) bought a copy of Moby-Dick at a used bookstore (probably for a few pennies, since the first edition cost $1.50; today, a first edition of Moby-Dick fetches up to $75,000!) and recognized his genius. Van Doren wrote: [Moby-Dick is] one of the greatest sea romances in the whole literature of the world.” This initiated the Melville revival, ushering renewed interest and in-depth study of the author and his works. The first full-length biography of Melville, titled Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic by Raymond Weaver, was published in 1921. Over the following decades, Melville’s Moby-Dick was widely recognized as one of the Great American Novels in the canon of American literature.

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 that Shaped America
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Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: Moby-Dick

For further reading: Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville
Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco
mobydick-hermanmelville.com/Media_Reviews_News_Archives_Latest_Publications/New_York_Times200Years_Of_Herman_Melville%27s_Obituary_Death.html
https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2011/11/14/herman-melville-a-voyage-into-history/
https://melville.electroniclibrary.org/moby-dick-side-by-side

My Soul Knows that I am Part of the Human Race

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“For man, the vast marvel is to be alive. For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive. Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human soul, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my own very self, I am part of my family. There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.”

From the essay titled “Apocalypse” appearing in Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation by D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), author of more well-known works like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers, and Women in Love. Apocalypse was Lawrence’s last major work, written between 1929 and 1930. The Penguin edition, published in 1995, provides this insightful synopsis: “[Apocalypse] is Lawrence’s radical criticism of the political, religious and social structures that have shaped Western civilization. In his view the perpetual conflict within man, in which emotion, instinct and the senses vie with the intellect and reason, has resulted in society’s increasing alienation from the natural world. Yet Lawrence’s belief in humanity’s power to regain the imaginative and spiritual values which alone can revitalize our world also makes Apocalypse a powerful statement of hope. Presenting his thoughts on psychology, science, politics, art, God and man, and including a fierce protest against Christianity, Apocalypse is Lawrence’s last testament, his final attempt to convey his vision of man and of the cosmos.”

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.

The Wisdom of the Epigraph

alex atkins bookshelf literatureAn epigraph is a short motto or quotation that appears at the beginning of a book that suggests the book’s theme or tome. The word is derived from the Greek word epigraphe from epigraphein which means “write on.” In the captivating little tome, The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin, Rosemary Ahern notes: “For many book lovers, there is no more pleasing start to a book than a well-chosen epigraph. These intriguing quotations, sayings, and snippets of songs and poems do more than set the tone for the experience ahead: the epigraph informs us about the author’s sensibility… The epigraph hints at hidden stories and frequently comes with one of its own.” In addition, as you read the more than 250 epigraphs that Ahern has collected, you quickly realize that authors are also readers — just like you. And while most authors preface their literary works with one or two epigraphs, Herman Melville clearly went overboard (pun intended) by including nearly 80 in the American edition of his magnum opus Moby Dick; however the editor of the British edition included only one. Below are some notable epigraphs that not only set the tone for a literary work but stand alone as a timeless pearl of wisdom.

“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” [Essay titled “The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple” found in Essays of Elia (1823) by Charles Lamb]
Appears in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

“There is no present of future — only the past, happening over and over again—now.” [A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neill]
Appears in Trinity (1976) by Leon Uris

“It is certain my Conviction gains infinitely, the moment another soul will believe it.” [Novalis]
Appears in Lord Jim (1900) by Joseph Conrad

“Taking it slowly fixes everything.” [Ennuis]
Appears in The Red and the Black (1830) by Stendahl

“Life treads on life, and heart on heart;
We press too close in church and mart
To keep a dream of grave apart.”  [“A Vision of the Poet” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning]
Appears in The Souls of Black Folk (1903) by W.E.B. Du Bois

“O my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but
exhaust the limits of the possible” [Pythian II by Pindar]
Appears in The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) by Albert Camus

“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mold me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?” [Paradise Lost, Book X, 743-45, by John Milton]
Appears in Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley

“As long as hope maintains thread of green.” [The Divine Comedy, Purgatory, III by Dante]
Appears in All the King’s Men (1946) by Robert Penn Warren

“There Leviathan,
Hugest of living creatures, in the deep
Stretch’d like a promontory sleeps or swims,
And seems a moving land; and at his gills
Draws in, and at this breath spouts out a sea.” [Paradise Lost, Book VII, 412-416 by John Milton]
Appears in The Whale, the three-volume British edition of Moby-Dick (1851)

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 Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels
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For further reading: The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin by Rosemary Ahern (2012)
http://www.angelfire.com/nv/mf/elia1/benchers.htm
https://www.paradiselost.org/8-Search-All.html

Elvis Presley: The Avid Reader and Truth Seeker

alex atkins bookshelf booksAugust 16 marks the 44th anniversary of the death of music legend Elvis Presley (1935-1977). But Presley, known as the “King of Rock and Roll” (or simply, “Elvis” or “the King”), is really much more than a music legend — he is a multi-generational cultural phenomenon. Although Elvis has permanently left the building, he is very much alive today — in music, film, art, pop culture, and tourism. Each year, more than half a million of the King’s faithful fans make the pilgrimage to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, which opened to the public in 1982. In 2020, the Elvis Presley estate earned more than $23 million from album sales, movie and concert royalties, and Graceland. And every year, hundreds of babies are named either Elvis or Presley (for example, in 2020, 2,835 American babies were named Elvis; 458 babies were named Presley; not surprisingly, none were named Elvis Presley). But what captures our interest today is the fact that Presley was an avid reader and seeker of Truth. Who knew? But perhaps Elvis is only fulfilling his destiny found in his name, which was came from his father’s middle name: Elvis is derived from the Alvis from Norse mythology that means “all wise.” 

According to the stewards of Graceland Museum, Presley was a voracious reader and enjoyed reading books while on tour. He was fascinated in a variety of topics, including sports, history, and religious/spiritual books. Presley was baptized as a Christian and possessed a deep and abiding faith since childhood. He regularly wore a cross, prayed, meditated, and read the Bible. In fact, Presley never traveled without his Bible. Late in life, according to biographer Gary Tillery, Presley confessed to a friend that he was a seeker of truth: “All I want is to know the truth, to know and experience God. I’m a searcher, that’s what I’m all about.” In his biography of the music legend, Inside Elvis, Ed Parker, a close friend, karate teacher, and occasional bodyguard, elaborated, “[Presley] used to frighten some of his Christian friends when he would talk about concepts like transcendental meditation, Zen Buddhism, reincarnation, numerology, and the occult… [Presley] was interested in all facets of life, death, resurrection, psychic healing, and other phenomena which, when put together, seemed to give many answers to the mysteries of the universe. He was keenly aware of his mortality, and felt impelled to learn how man and the universe interact.”

Like many dedicated readers, Presley liked to read when he was on the toilet. Nothing wrong with doing a little educatin’ while you are defecatin’ — you know what I mean? Of all the book-related trivia that I have serendipitously discovered over the years, perhaps one of the most fascinating factoids is that Presley was reading an interesting book when he was sitting on a toilet in the bathroom of Graceland just before he died on August 16, 1977 of cardiac arrest and drug overdose (and perhaps by Valsalva maneuver — straining so hard on the toilet that it leads to cardiac arrest — yup, there’s a word for that! While we are on this topic, if you are a boomer, you might recall the song “You’re Pushing Too Hard” by The Seeds released in 1966. Elvis should have heeded the warning). In her book, Elvis and Ginger, Ginger Alden, Presley’s fiancee at the time, was in the house that night and recalled, “Elvis looked as if his entire body had completely frozen in a seated position while using the toilet and then had fallen forward, in that fixed position, directly in front of it… It was clear that, from the time whatever hit him to the moment he had landed on the floor, Elvis hadn’t moved.” Perhaps he was leaning toward to touch the face of Jesus that was beckoning him toward the light.

“OK enough with the morbid details — so what was the title of the book?” you ask. The book that Elvis was reading was A Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus by Frank Adams. Published in 1972, the 80-page book presents scientific evidence that the Shroud of Turin is authentic — that it is indeed the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ and the faded bloodstains correspond to his wounds following his crucifixion. As you can imagine, the book is extremely rare and valuable. As of this writing, there are two for sale on Ebay: one is priced at $15,000 and the other is being sold via auction with an initial price of $5,000. If you want to see the face of Jesus, as Elvis saw it in his final moments, you need to dig deep, brother. Although the Shroud of Turin is revered by the faithful, since its discovery in 1354, it has been a source of controversy among theologians, historians, archaeologists, and scientists. Nevertheless, one exhibit you definitely will not see on the Graceland tour is “Elvis Studies Shroud on the Shitter.”

In addition to the Bible, Presley’s favorite religious/spiritual books included The Prophet, The Tao Te Ching, The Autobiography of a Yogi, The Book of Mormon (which he was reading months before his death). In particular, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran was one of Presley’s favorite books. He would annotate each book and give it to his friends as a special gift. In July 2021, one of those rare copies (this edition, printed in 1966, was owned by Ed Parker) is for sale in Peter Harrington’s Summer 2021 catalog for $26,670. Pom Harrington, owner of Peter Harrington, a leading dealer in rare books in the UK, commented: “The Prophet made a deep and lasting impression on Elvis, and he read it so often that he memorized it. [He] annotated a few copies of The Prophet over the course of his career which he presented to significant individuals in his life, so you do see copies come up for sale from time to time. It is a really wonderful association copy, extensively annotated and underlined by the King himself.”

By now you are probably wondering, “What sort of annotations did Elvis Presley make in The Prophet?” Fortunately, the catalog features some examples, including a photo of page 56 and 57 that reveals Presley’s ideas about teaching [italicized portion reflects sentences that Presley has underlined]: “Then said the teacher, speak to us of Teaching. And he said: No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind. The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding. The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that which echoes it. And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither. For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man. And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.” Underneath this passage, Presley printed his thoughts in all caps using a thick black ink marker: “A SINGER CAN SING HIS SONGS BUT THEY MUST HAVE A [sic] EAR TO RECEIVE THE SONG… YOU HAVE WITHIN YOURSELF ALL POSSIBILITIES TO UNLOCK ALL THE ANSWERS THAT PLAGUE ONES [sic] INNER HEART[.] GOD WILL GIVE YOU THE KNOWLEDGE IF YOU ONLY SEEK IT.”

There are two passages that, although not shown in the catalog, are described. On pages, 12 and 13 where Gibran is discussing love (“Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself, Love possesses not nor would it be possessed: For love is sufficient unto love…”). Presley wrote, “WHEN YOU’RE NOT IN LOVE, YOUR [sic] NOT ALIVE… GOD IS LOVE. THESE PATHS ARE NOT ALWAYS CLEAR TO US… BUT LIKE GOD HIMSELF, THESE THINGS WILL REVEAL THEMSELVES.” Then on the last page of the book, Presley added this note: “LESS THAN 1% OF THE POP[ULATION] OF THE EARTH HAS ANY KNOWLEDGE OF TRUE SPIRITUAL WISDOM OF WHAT WE ARE DISCUSSING! E.P.”

Wow, just reading Elvis Presley’s deep parting words — I’m all shook up…

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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Profile of a Book Lover: Rebecca Goldstein

For further reading: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/08/08/faith-america-elvis-presley-baptisms/548719001/
http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/blog/sale-elvis-presleys-annotated-copy-prophet?utm_source=fbnotes&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210805
http://www.peterharrington.co.uk/about-us
http://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/a26721749/elvis-presley-death-true-story/
http://www.britannica.com/topic/Shroud-of-Turin
http://www.history.com/news/shroud-turin-facts
http://www.celebritynetworth.com/articles/entertainment-articles/decades-after-his-death-the-estate-of-elvis-presley-is-still-making-a-ton-of-money/
http://www.babycenter.com/top-baby-names
http://www.thinkbabynames.com/meaning/1/Elvis

The Effects of the Pandemic on Relationships

alex atkins bookshelf cultureImagine if you could isolate couples for an entire year, or even 18 months, and study their behavior? What types of relationships could weather an extended storm? How would isolation impact a couple’s level of communication, emotional support, and outlook? Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, psychologists and sociologists got the once-in-a-lifetime experiment they always wanted — along with all the valuable data to analyze and discern lessons about how human relationships are impacted by extended isolation from friends, co-workers, and extended families. Here are a few studies:

The need for human connect is more important than health
A Utah State University found that people who didn’t like virtual meetings or felt they were inadequate ways to connect were willing to ignore the health risks and violate mandated social-distancing protocols and shelter-in-place orders to meet with friends and family. “Hey, I might be a Covid-19 spreader or I might get infected and die — but don’t separate me from my peeps!”

Celebrities became substitutes for real friends and families
A study conducted by the University of San Diego found that although people in social isolation did maintain stable relationships through phone and video calls and text, they felt much closer to celebrities they liked — including fictional characters (which might explain the popularity of those endless comic superhero movies). Researchers believed that this kinship with celebrities is largely a function of how much social media individuals consume on their digital devices. During the pandemic, celebrities, having not much to do like the rest of us, spent a lot more time posting about their daily lives and sharing their thoughts about the pandemic. “Hey, I love my friends and family, but I feel so much closer to my new, cooler pals Ariana Grande and Dwayne Johnson!”

Single people looking for partners did not lower their standards
A multinational survey by Cassandra Alexopoulus (University of Massachusetts) and her colleagues found that single people were more interested in finding a partner if they were more worried about Covid-19. The researchers expected single people living during a pandemic would perceive an increase in the significance of stability, family commitment, and social/physical attractiveness, as well as the fear of being single — and thus be less selective. Surprise! Despite greater concern for Covid-19 and fear of being single during the pandemic, most individuals were more selective about potential partners. “Hey, there is no sugarcoating this: it sucks to be single — but that doesn’t mean I am lowering my standards for some loser or getting catfished. I will wait this pandemic out single and without settling!”

Couples who mastered five habits faced the hardships of the pandemic more easily
A study by the University of Utah found that couples who focus on five resilience-building habits helped couples weather the pandemic storm with greater ease. The five habits are: (1) maintaining some semblance of normal routines; (2) talking to their spouse and sympathetic others about their concerns; (3) reinforcing their beliefs and sense of self; (4) reframing their situation in a positive light; and (5) focusing on the good that will occur when the crisis is over. The researchers also found that a sense of humor was also helpful. “Hey, these are tough and uncertain times, but just focusing on who and what is front of me, and taking each day at a time, and hoping for the light at the end of the tunnel is better than slipping into a funk and obsessing over gloom and doom!”

What other recent studies should we include with these?

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: time.com/6076596/relationship-lessons-during-covid-19/

Famous Letters: Ralph Waldo Emerson Praises Walt Whitman

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhen Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass in 1855, he lamented that his collection of twelve poems, celebrating nature and man, was completely ignored by critics and the public — until a famous American writer and philosopher, whom he had never met, wrote a letter of support and helped launch his career. That letter was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Harvard-educated essayist, philosopher, and father of Transcendentalism. In addition to writing many essays during his career, Emerson was a prolific letter writer — when he died, he left his executor more than 4,000 letters. The one that appears below, written on July 21, 1855, was one of the most famous. It was printed in the New York Tribune and included in Whitman’s second edition of Leaves of Grass published in 1856. In the letter, Emerson (then 52 years old) greets Whitman (36 years old) at the start of his career, praises Leaves of Grass, and expresses his wish to meet him in New York to pay his respects.

Concord, Massachusetts
July 21, 1855

Dear Sir,
I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of “Leaves of Grass.” I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit & wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile & stingy Nature, as if too much handiwork or too much lymph in the temperament were making our western wits fat & mean.

I give you the joy of your free & brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment, which so delights us, & which larger perception only can inspire.

I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which you must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illustration; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying & encouraging.

I did not know until I, last night, saw the book advertised in a newspaper, that I could trust the name as real & available for a Post-office. I wish to see my benefactor, & have felt much like striking my tasks, & visiting New York to pay you my respects.

R. W. Emerson.

Now that’s what you call a true fan letter. The letter touched Whitman deeply; he wrote: “I was simmering, simmering. Emerson brought me to a boil.” [The contemporary reader might think, “Wow, the letter made Whitman angry;” however, that’s not what Whitman meant; to paraphrase in more modern terms, Whitman was “brimming with excitement.”] Emerson’s letter certainly helped increase sales of Leaves of Grass, but did not completely quell the controversy about the poems explicit sexual imagery (considered “obscene”), which was way ahead of its time. In a postscript to the letter, Max Lincoln Schuster (one of the founders of Simon & Schuster and Pocket Books) elaborates: “The endorsement of so famous and respected a philosopher helped to sell the book but did not too greatly impress a public, outraged and rather vitriolic in its abuse of both the poems and the poet. Soon after writing this letter, Emerson met Whitman. Although the two men were separated by a world of culture and tradition… nevertheless their mutual admiration lasted all their lives.” Little did both men know, but Emerson’s instincts about Whitman’s work was spot on: over the centuries, Leaves of Grass entered the pantheon of great American poetry and has been studied in high schools and colleges around the world. Whitman would take great satisfaction in knowing that many generations found profound insights and inspiration in poems like “Song of Myself” and “I Sing the Body Electric.”

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: The World’s Great Letters by M. Lincoln Schuster

What is a Feghoot?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhat in the world is a feghoot? A type of owl? A musical instrument? Don’t try looking in a dictionary, because it is one of those wonderfully quirky words that is not found in any dictionary — not even the exhaustive Oxford English Dictionary. A feghoot is a humorous short story or vignetter that ends in a pun of a proverb or well-known phrase. In short, a feghoot is a punny story. The father of the reshoot is American science fiction writer Reginald Brenor (1911-1992), who wrote under the pseudonym “Grendel Briarton” (an anagram of his name). Brenor had developed the idea for the punny story but didn’t have a name for it. One day he was playing Scrabble with his wife and arranged his letter tiles alphabetically: EFGHOOT. His wife noted that if he transposed the first two letters he ended up with a silly word: FEGHOOT. Eureka! Brenor had the name for his punny stories.

Brenor (writing as Briarton) introduced the world to the feghoot in a series of stories titled “Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot” that appeared in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1956 to 1973. Over the years, Briarton wrote hundreds of feghoots which also appeared in other popular magazines, including Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Amazing Stories. Soon other famous authors, like Isaac Asimov, John Brunner, and Stephen King, caught the feghoot bug and began contributing punny stories. There have been two collections of Briarton’s feghoots — both are rare and very expensive.

Below is an example of a classic feghoot that ends with a clever pun on a well-known idiom from James Charlton’s shorter collection of feghoots, titled Bred Any Good Rooks Lately?

Flowers for Pachyderm by Mark Strand

As Franz Kafka awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a raging bull elephant. He charged around his room with his trunk sticking straight up and making loud trumpeting noises. The picture of the lady in furs came crashing down, the vase of anemones tipped over. Suddenly afraid that his family might discover him, Franz stuck his enormous head out of the window overlooking the courtyard. But it was too late. His parents and sisters had already been awakened by the racket, and rushed into his room. All of them gasped simultaneously as they stared at the great bulk of Franz’s rump. Then Franz pulled his head and turned toward them, looking sheepish. Finally, after an awkward couple of minutes in which no one spoke, Franz’s mother went over and rested her cheek against his trunk and said, “Are you ill, dear?” Franz let loose a bloodcurdling blast, and his mother slipped to the floor. Franz’s father was about to help her but noticed the anemones tipped over on the table. He picked them up and threw them out the window, saying, “With Franz like this, who needs anemones?

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: Bred Any Good Rooks Lately? by James Charlton, 1986.

Bookstores are Places of Curiosity

alex atkins bookshelf books“The wonderful thing about bookstores is that there’s not a single country in the world in which they’re simply there to sell books. Their function is not restricted to merely serving the market — you won’t find any booksellers who have geared their business solely toward economic success. They’re not driven by money, but by their own attitude. In the process, they make a real contribution towards preserving cultural diversity, actively committed as they are to freedom of expression, which comes coupled with a concern for equal opportunities and tolerance, rather than catering to elitist circles. There are few other places that offer visitors a similar atmosphere in such abundance… Bookstores are places of communication, curiosity, and the new, but they never lose sight of the past.”

From the introduction to Do You Read Me?: Bookstores Around the World by Juergen Boos, Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair. The book features 60 of the most beautiful and innovative indie bookstores around the world. Moreove, the book celebrates the bookstore as a modern temple of knowledge, curiosity, and inspiration that connects people and ideas.

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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Words from 2021 National Spelling Bee

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOn July 8, 2021, Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from New Orleans, Louisiana, won the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word “murraya”(defined by Merriam-Webster as “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals”). For her spelling brilliance, Avant-garde won a $50,000 in cash, a trophy, and — of course — bragging rights to being the best speller in America — not to mention the ability to ignore annoying spellcheckers on her favorite apps. Notably, she is the first Black American to win the competition in the Spelling Bee’s 96-year history; she is the second Black champion, following Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica who won the competition in 1998. Unlike most spelling competitors who begin training as early as kindergarten, Avant-garde began training two years ago, studying words for about seven hours each day, and competed in 18 spelling tournaments to get to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

A review of the words used in the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee shows that the judges don’t mess around when it comes to finding truly difficult and obscure words, venturing into the world of art, antiquity, medicine, zoology, and botany. In fact, most of them fall into the category of “I didn’t even know that there was a word for that!” A review of the winning words form the inaugural Spelling Bee in 1925 to now shows a steady evolution from simple words, like “albumen” or “fracas,” to amazingly difficult words like “feuilleton” and “scherenschnitte.” So why have the words become so difficult? Since ESPN started broadcasting the Spelling Bee in 1994, the competition has attracted more competitors, and more significantly, ones who possess truly remarkable spelling skills. This year the event featured 209 contestants ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old. As you can see from the list below, most of these words are ridiculously arcane — most can only be found in unabridged or specialized dictionaries. In order to spell a word correctly, contestants can ask clues about the word, such as what part of speech it is, language of origin, and alternate pronunciation.

Here is a list of some of the more difficult words of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, including their definitions:

murraya: a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees

retene: a crystalline hydrocarbon isolated from pine tar, rosin oil, and various fossil resins but usually prepared from abietic acid and related compounds by dehydrogenation

neroli oil: a fragrant pale yellow essential oil obtained from flowers chiefly of the sour orange and used as a flavoring and in cologne

Nepeta: a plant of a genus that includes catnip and several kinds, cultivated for their spikes of violet or blue flowers

fewtrils: things of little value; trifles

fidibus: a paper spill for lighting pipes

haltere: one of a pair of club-shaped organs in a dipteran fly that are the modified second pair of wings and function as sensory flight stabilizers

athanor: a self-feeding digesting furnace that maintained a uniform and durable heat and was used by alchemists

depreter: a finish for a plastered wall made by pressing small stones in the soft plaster

consertal: of an igneous rock, of a texture in which the irregularly shaped crystals interlock

psychagogic: attractive, persuasive, inspiring; of or relating to psychagogy

duchesse: a chaise lounge with arms that was popular in 18th century France

thanatophidia: venomous snakes

ambystoma: a genus (the type of the family Ambystomidae) of common salamanders found in America and characterized by amphicoelous vertebrae, short prevomers, and internal fertilization

theodolite: a surveyor’s instrument for measuring horizontal and usually also vertical angles

ancistroid: shaped like a hook; resembling a hook

chrysal: a transverse line of crushed fibers in the belly of an archery bow beginning as a pinch

cloxacillin: a semisynthetic oral penicillin used to treat bacterial infections.

regolith: unconsolidated residual or transported material that overlies the solid rock on the earth, moon, or a planet

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: http://www.merriam-webster.com
http://spellingbee.com
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/09/scripps-national-spelling-bee-2021-zaila-avant-garde-becomes-first-african-american-winner
http://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/us/zaila-avant-garde-spelling-bee-winner.html

The Top Ten Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

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

chimes
dawn
golden
hush
lullaby
luminous
melody
mist
murmuring
tranquil

More recently, the editors of BuzzFeed cast their net into the vast ocean of the Twitterverse to find out what people considered the most beautiful words in the English words. They came up with a great list of “32 of the most beautiful words in the English language.” The list should be published with some caveats. One of the words, hiraeth, is actually Welsh. A few are actually neologisms (relatively new words that are in the process of entering common use) and will not be found in traditional dictionaries. Here are the top ten most beautiful English words from that list:

aquiver
mellifluous
ineffable
hiraeth
nefarious
somnambulist
epoch
sonorous
serendipity
limerence

To celebrate United Nations English Language Day (April 23), the editors of KBLOG, the blog of Kaplan International Languages, published their own  list of the top 10 most beautiful English words:

sequoia
euphoria
pluviophile
clinomania
idyllic
aurora
solitude
supine
petrichor
serendipity

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

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://englishlive.ef.com/blog/language-lab/many-words-english-language/
www.buzzfeed.com/danieldalton/bob-ombinate
http://www.kaplaninternational.com/blog/learning-languages/eng/top-10-most-beautiful-english-words

Who are the Best and Worst Presidents in U.S. History: 2021

alex atkins bookshelf triviaJust in time for the country’s July 4th celebration, C-SPAN published its Presidential Historian Survey 2021 that reveals the best and worst presidents in U.S. History. C-SPAN has been publishing this survey since 2000. On their website they explain their methodology: “Surveys are distributed to historians, professors and other professional observers of the presidency who are drawn from databases of C-SPAN programming, research in the field and suggestions from our academic advisers.” The advisory team for 2021 included: Douglas Brinkley (Professor of History, Rice University); Edna Medford (Professor of History, Howard University); Richard Smith (Presidential biographer); and Amity Shlaes (Chariman of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation).

It is important to note that this is not a political survey (sorry GOP and Democratic Party!), nor is it a popularity contest. The participants, who are historians and presidential scholars, do not rank the presidents themselves, but rather make assessments of ten leadership qualities (each quality is ranked on a scale of 1, “not effective” to 10 “very effective”): (1) public persuasion, (2) crisis leadership, (3) economic management, (4) moral authority, (5) international relations, (6) administrative skills, (7) relations with Congress, (8) vision/setting an agenda, (9) pursuit of equal justice for all and (10) performance within the context of the times. Each of the ten categories is given equal weighting to arrive at the total score for each president. The participants’ responses are tabulated by averaging all responses for each category for each president.

According to historians and presidential experts, the top ten presidents are:

1. Abraham Lincoln

2. George Washington

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

4. Theodore Roosevelt

5. Dwight D. Eisenhower

6. Harry S. Truman

7. Thomas Jefferson

8. John F. Kennedy

9. Ronald Reagan

10. Barack Obama

According to historians and presidential experts, the worst presidents (the five listed at the bottom of the list) are:

40. William Henry Harrison

41. Donald J. Trump

42. Franklin Pierce

43. Andrew Johnson

44. James Buchanan

Interestingly, since 2009, the ranking of the top four presidents has not changed, suggesting that historians and presidential experts, regardless of different perspectives or changing public attitudes, strongly believe that Lincoln, Washington, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt were the country’s best presidents.

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: What Are the Perks of Being President of the U.S.?
The Letters that Presidents Leave to Each Other

For further reading: http://www.c-span.org/presidentsurvey2021/?page=overall

What is the Longest Street Name in the U.S.?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaThe U.S. Census tracks information about roads and street names in the country. As of the last census in 2020, there are are over a million roads in the United States. The most common street name? “Park” (about 9,640) and in second place, “Second” (about 8,232). However, the longest street name in the U.S. is 38 characters long: “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive” located in Chicago, Illinois.

This long street name just entered the record books on June 25, 2021 (as of this writing, even Google Maps has not been updated) when the Chicago city council voted to change the city’s iconic lakeside roadway from “Lake Shore Drive” to “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive,” to honor Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (1745-1818), a trader of African descent who is considered the first non-Indigenous settler of Chicago. (Incidentally, Pointe de Sable is French for “sand point.”) It wasn’t until the 1850s when Point du Sable was finally recognized as the true “Founder of Chicago,” displacing a Scots-Irish trader named John Kenzie who had purchased Point du Sable’s home and was mistakenly recognized as the founder of Chicago. However, it took almost a century before Point du Sable would be officially honored via tangible memorials — there are now various locations in the city named after him, including a park, harbor, museum, high school, and bridge, in addition to the aforementioned road. Little is known about his early life, but historians have found primary sources that describe Point Du Sable as “handsome” and “well-educated.” In 1788 he married a Potawatomi woman, named Kitihawa, and had two children: a daughter (Susanne) and son (Jean). In 1913, he sold his home and moved to St. Charles, Missouri and operated a ferry business until his death in 1818.

Although it doesn’t have a fascinating historical story behind it, the second longest street name is 34 characters long: “Northeast Kentucky Industrial Parkway” located in Greenup, Kentucky.

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:
Towns Named after Authors
Unusual Town Names in America

For further reading: All Facts Considered: The Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge by Kee Malesky, Wiley (2010).
http://www.kentuckyroads.com/ky_67/
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/who-was-jean-baptiste-point-dusable-new-namesake-chicagos-lake-shore-drive-180978087/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/03/06/these-are-the-most-popular-street-names-in-every-state/

What to Bookmark in Moby Dick (Part 2)

alex atkins bookshelf literatureFine books are often bound with a ribbon bookmark. Bookmarks in books were introduced as early as 1 A.D., bound into some of the earliest codices found in libraries and monasteries of that period. The primary function of the bookmark, of course, is to the mark the reader’s place in the book as he or she reads it. However, once the book is read, the bookmark has a secondary and very important function: it can be placed in the location of a favorite or beautiful passage that you want to return to again and again.

Herman Melville’s magnum opus, Moby Dick,  is considered “The Great American Novel” however its themes and meaning transcend the shores of America. The novel is literally teeming with meaning and brilliant insights. One wishes the book were bound with two dozen ribbon bookmarks. If you have read and studied the novel you know what I mean. Recently, I reached for one of my copies of Moby Dick, a beautiful deluxe leather-bound edition with gilded fore-edges published by Easton Press. The silk ribbon marked a passage in the book from Chapter 60, “The Line.” In this chapter, Ishmael, the novel’s pensive narrator, discusses the importance of the whale-line, a rope made of hemp that is attached to a large harpoon at one end and at the other end, tied to the whale boat or to the lines of other whale boats:

“Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies of the storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself; for, indeed, the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm; and contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought into actual play — this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.”

What we learn from this passage is how dangerous the whale-line is: as the rope unwinds from its coil, it can quickly wrap around a limb and sever it. Even worse, the whale-line can wrap around a seaman’s torso and fling him into the ocean (where he will most likely drown) or the rope can wind around his neck and strangle him. Ishmael observes that “all men live enveloped in whale-lines.” Therefore, the whale-line not only represents the real dangers of whaling but also, metaphorically, the perils of life that all men must face. In other words, we must navigate life’s path, carefully stepping over and avoiding these inescapable, ever-present whale-lines that threaten to trip us up or lead us to our doom. As we learn in Chapter 135, Captain Ahab meets his poetic demise at the end of a such a rope: “The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the grooves; — ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone. Next instant, the heavy eye-splice in the rope’s final end flew out of the stark-empty tub, knocked down an oarsman, and smiting the sea, disappeared in its depths.”

A reader recommended a very relevant video titled, Down to the Sea Sea in Ships (1922) by Elmer Clifton. If you forward to the 1:00 mark, you can watch a whaler throw a harpoon and see how the whale-line unwinds as the whale pulls it forward. The film, inspired by Moby-Dick, was filmed in New Beford, Massachusetts. Go to YouTube and search “Down to the Sea in Ships.”

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 post: Why Read Moby
The Books That Shaped America
The Books that Influence Us
What to Read Next
30 Books Everyone Should Read
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms

For further reading: Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville
Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco

Most Misspelled Words by State

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEach year, the experts at AT&T turn from surreptitiously finding ways to hike up your mobile phone bill and turn to examining data from Google Trends to determine the top searches for how to spell specific words by state. If you have read stories over the past few years about the dumbing down of America, then a review of this list will only confirm your worst fear — the same people (from 11 states, mind you) who do not know how to spell the word “every,” “which,” or “believe” are the same ones who go to the voting booths every few years to vote for President and their congressmen. (We are so doomed!) Naturally in the year of the coronavirus pandemic, the most misspelled word in America was “quarantine” (often misspelled as “corn teen”) and “coronavirus” (often misspelled as “caronavirus”). Below is the list of the most misspelled words by state from the past year. Which word surprises you the most?

Alabama: which

Alaska: eighty

Arizona: which

Arkansas: receive

California: separate

Colorado: quarantine

Connecticut: quarantine

Delaware: government

District of Columbia: succeed

Florida: pharaoh

Georgia: favorite

Hawaii: every

Idaho: piece

Illinois: coronavirus

Indiana: quarantine

Iowa: favorite

Kansas: multiplication

Kentucky: favorite

Louisiana: which

Maine: watch

Maryland: favorite

Massachusetts: quarantine

Michigan: coronavirus

Minnesota: quarantine

Mississippi: every

Missouri: quarantine

Montana: every

Nebraska: believe

Nevada: quarantine

New Hampshire: definitely

New Jersey: coronavirus

New Mexico: favorite

New York: definitely

North Carolina: exercise

North Dakota: believe

Ohio: favorite

Oklahoma: which

Oregon: quarantine

Pennsylvania: coronavirus

Rhode Island: separate

South Carolina: which

South Dakota: believe

Tennessee: quarantine

Texas: confident

Utah: definitely

Vermont: coronavirus

Virginia: favorite

Washington: quarantine

West Virginia: coronavirus

Wisconsin: quarantine

Wyoming: quarantine

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.

For further reading: http://www.attexperts.com/news/each-states-most-commonly-googled-misspelled-word

The Most Annoying Bookstore Customer in the World

alex atkins bookshelf booksBefore there was SNL, and even before there was Monty Python’s Flying Circus, there was a brilliant comedy sketch show titled “At Last the 1948 Show.” One of the funniest skits takes place in a bookstore that is appropriately titled “The Bookshop,” which was first broadcast on March 1, 1967 on ITV in the UK. The bookseller (played by John Cleese) encounters an annoying customer (played by Marty Feldman) who keeps on asking for extremely rare, rather peculiar titles that are next to impossible to find — gradually wearing out the bookseller’s patience to great comedic effect. Surely this is the type of customer that every bookstore owner dreads. Without further ado, let’s meet the most annoying bookstore customer in the world…

[Bookseller]: Good morning, sir.

[Customer]: Good morning, can you help me? Do you have a copy of “Thirty Days in the Samarkand Desert with a Spoon” by A. J. Elliot?

B: No, we haven’t got it in stock, sir.

C: How about “A Hundred-and-One Ways to Start a Monsoon”?

B: By…?

C: An Indian gentleman whose name eludes me for the moment.

B: Well, I don’t know the book, sir.

C: Not to worry, not to worry. Can you help me with “David Copperfield”?

B: Ah, yes, Dickens.

C: No.

B: I beg your pardon?

C: No, Edmund Wells..

B: I think you’ll find Charles Dickens wrote “David Copperfield.”

C: No, Charles Dickens wrote “David Copperfield” with two p’s — this is “David Coperfield” with one p by Edmund Wells.

B: Well in that case we don’t have it.

C: Um – funny, you’ve got a lot of books here.

B: Yes, we do have quite a lot of books here, but we don’t have “David Coperfield” with one p by Edmund Wells. We only have “David Copperfield” with two p’s by Charles Dickens.

C: Pity – it’s more thorough than Dickens.

B: More “thorough”?

C: Yes – I wonder if it’s worth having a look at all the “David Copperfields.”

B: No, no, I’m quite sure that all our “David Copperfields” have two p’s.

C: Probably, but the original by Edmund Wells also had two p’s — it was after that that they ran into copyright difficulties.

B: No, I’m quite sure that all our “David Copperfields” with two p’s are by Charles Dickens.

C: How about “Great Expectations”?

B: Ah yes, we have that.

C: That’s “G-r-a-t-e Expectations,” also by Edmund Wells.

B: “G-R-A-T-E” Well, in that case we don’t have it. We don’t have anything by Edmund Wells. Actually, he’s not very popular.

C: Not “Nicholas Nickleby? That’s K-n-i-c-k-e-r-b-y… Knickerless?

B: No.

C: Or “A Qristmas Qarol” with a q?

B: No, definitely not.

C: Sorry to trouble you. [Heading out the door.]

B: Not at all.

C: I wonder if you have “Rarnaby Budge”?

B: No, as I say, we’re right out of Edmund Wells.

C: No, not Edmund Wells — Charles Dickens.

B: Charles Dickens?

C: Yes.

B: You mean “Barnaby Rudge.”

C: No, “Rarnaby Budge” by Charles Dikkens. That’s Dikkens with two k’s, the well-known Dutch author.

B: No, no… we don’t have “Rarnaby Budge” by Charles Dikkens with two k’s, the well-known Dutch author, and perhaps to save time I should add right away that we don’t have “Carnaby Fudge” by Darles Tikkens, nor “Stickwick Stapers” by Miles Pikkens with four m’s and a silent q. Why don’t you try the chemist?

C: I have – they sent me here.

B: Did they?

C: I wonder if you have “The Amazing Adventures of Captain Gladys Stoat-Pamphlet and Her Intrepid Spaniel Stig Among the Giant Pygmies of Corsica, Volume Two”?

B: No, no, we don’t have that one. Funny, we’ve got quite a lot of books here.

C: Yes, haven’t you.

B: Well, I mustn’t keep you standing around all day…

C: I wonder…

B: No, no, we haven’t. I’m closing for lunch now…

C: But I thought I saw it over “there.”

B: Where?

C: Over there…

B: What?

C: Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds.”

B: Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds”?

C: Yes.

B: “O-l-s-e-n?”

C: Yes.

B: “B-i-r-d-s”?

C: Yes.

B: Yes, well we do have that one.

C: The expurgated version, of course.

B: I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.

C: The expurgated version.

B: The expurgated version of Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds”?

C: Yes. It’s the one without the gannet.

B: The one without the gannet? They’ve all got the gannet. It’s a standard bird, the gannet — it’s in all the books.

C: Well I don’t like them, long nasty beaks they’ve got.

B: Well you can’t expect them to produce a special edition for gannet-haters!

C: Well, I’m sorry, I specially want the one without the gannet.

B: All right! [tears out the page with the gannet] Anything else?

C: Well, I’m not too keen on robins.

B: Right! Robins – robins… [tears out pages with robins] No gannets, no robins – there’s your book!

C: I can’t buy that – it’s torn!

B: It’s torn! So it is! [throws the book away]

C: I wonder if you’ve got…

B: Go on, ask me another. We’ve got lots of books here. This is a bookshop you know!

C: How about “Biggles Combs His Hair”?

B: No, no, no, we don’t have that one, no, no… funny. Try me again.

C: Have you got “Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”?

B: No, no, we haven’t got… which one?

C: “Ethel The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”

B: “Ethel The Aardvark?” I’ve seen it! We’ve got it! Here! Here! Here! “Ethel The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying.” There! Now buy it!

C: I haven’t got enough money on me.

B: I’ll take a deposit!

C: I haven’t got any money on me.

B: I’ll take a cheque!

C: I haven’t got a cheque-book.

B: It’s all right, I’ve got a blank one!

C: I don’t have a bank account.

B: Right! I’ll buy it for you! [he rings up the book] There we are. There’s your change. That’s for the taxi on the way home.

C: Wait, wait, wait…

B: WHAT? WHAT?

C: I can’t read!

B: Right. SIT! [customer plops down on the bookseller’s lap and the bookseller begins to read]: “Ethel the Aardvark was trotting down the lane one lively Summer day, trottety-trottety-trot, when she saw a Quantity Surveyor…”

You can watch the video on Youtube. Search for “John Cleese’s Favourite Sketch: The Bookshop.”

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 Will Be Your Last Words Before the Final Curtain Falls?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhy are we so fascinated by a person’s last words? Perhaps we believe that these final words somehow recount in just a few words the meaning of his or her entire life. Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt, from Richard II, observes that these few final words are profoundly meaningful: “O! but they say the tongues of dying men / Enforce attention like deep harmony: / When words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain, / For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.” Yet another reason is that a person’s last words reveal something about his or her character, particularly in the shadow of death. And finally, last words can sometimes provide some insight of what it is like to die.

There is this wonderfully poignant and thought-provoking scene in The Kominsky Method in season five, episode three, titled “Near, far, wherever you are.” Having just lost his closest friend and agent of many years, and now losing his ex-wife to leukemia, the protagonist, Sandy Kominsky, a famous acting coach in Hollywood in his twilight years, addresses his students about playing death scenes. With a mixture of deep sorrow and compassion, Kominsky reflects on those precious, fleeting moments, focusing on a person’s last thoughts and words before the final curtain falls:

“Let’s talk about the subject matter of the scene — dying, on camera or on stage, to play a heartbreaking and hopefully slow death, is the dream of every actor. I would wage there’s not an actor or actress who hasn’t fantasized about how they would play those final moments… as the life force slowly slips away and as we teeter on the edge of nonexistence — how would we gasp out those last words of wit and wisdom? But is that what happens as death draws close? Do the dying exact promises from those they leave behind? Do they confess their sins? Do they make a joke?… What I’m asking you to think about is what actually happens in those final moments. I’m not talking about a shocking, violent death. I’m talking about… when you know it’s coming. When you’ve fully surrendered to the ultimate magic trick — when we really and truly disappear. I’ve sat at the bedside and I’ve held the hands of friends and loved ones as they breathed their last breath… and I can tell you this: the dramatic soliloquy at the end of life is pure and utter nonsense. If anything is being said, it’s internal. You can almost hear it. They’re having an internal conversation filled with disbelief and wonder that their life has come to an end. They hardly notice you sitting there at all. For the dying, the living are irrelevant. So, if you should ever have the opportunity to play such a scene — approach it with reverence. Consider it holy. Make sure it receives your utmost care and respect.”

When circumstances permit and that final curtain begins to fall, what will you be thinking about? Who do you want to be near you? What will be your final words? What dreams may come in that sleep of death? (Recall those memorable lines from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “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…”)

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.