Author Archives: Alexander Atkins

Reading Outrageously Bizarre Books on the Subway

alex atkins bookshelf booksWhat would people do if you were riding the subway and reading a really bizarre book? And I don’t mean books with a silly title, but rather a truly weird, in-your-face, politically-incorrect title like Mein Kampf for Kids or The Joy of Cooking Meth that would elicit a double-take, as in “did I really just see that?” Inquiring minds want to know. Enter Scott Rogowsky, creator and star of the hilarious internet series “Running Late with Scott Rogowsky.” Each week Rogowsky and his camera crew roam the streets — and subways — of New York to capture man-on-the-street segments that capture New Yorkers being… well, New Yorkers. For his segment “Fake Book Covers on the Subway” Rogowsky sat in a subway car, minding his own business, reading a fake book with an outrageously bizarre title — and keeping a straight face — while a colleague surreptitiously filmed the reaction of fellow subway riders. It’s hard to say which is funnier: the books titles or the reactions from fellow New Yorkers, ranging from shock and and disgust to chuckles and hearty laughter. And naturally, since we live in the social media generation, many people had to take a photo of Rogowsky immersed in his book to post on Facebook or Instagram with the “can you believe this shit?” emoji. Here are some of the bizarre fake book titles that Rogowsky featured in the videos:

How to Hold a Fart In: The New Rules for Career Success by Don Henderson
The Joy of Cooking Meth by Walter White
101 Penis-Lengthening Tips You Can Do at Home, the Office, or on the Go by Scott Rogowsky
Slut-Shaming Your Baby: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacker
Definitely Not Porn: So What Are You Looking At? Mind Your Own Business by Regular Guy
Gone Girl 2: Even Goner by Lillian Flynn
1,000 Place to See Before You’re Executed by Isis
Getting Away with Murder for Dummies
Mein Kampf for Kids by Adolf Hitler
Ass Easting Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for New Boyfriends by Nancy Mohrbacker
If I Did It: How I Would Have Done 9/11 by George Bush

Why Women Deserve Less by Porter Brandelle
How to Fake Your Own Death by Prince
Hiding Your Erection From God by Deepak Chopra
Math for Non-Asians: A Skill-Builder and Reference Guide for the Genetically Challenged
Great Vaginas Through History: An Encyclopedia

Read related posts: Literary One-Hit Wonders
Best-Selling Books of All Time
Holiday Book Gift Guide 2014

Read related posts: The 1001 Book Series
Best Books for History Buffs
The World’s Most Expensive Book
The World’s Strangest Book

Weird Books

For further reading:

The Best Movies with Twist Endings

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThere’s nothing better than watching a movie with a great plot twists — and M. Night Shyamalan is the O. Henry in the world of cinema, known for his surprise twist endings. We don’t need to discuss any spoilers to make a compelling case — you know the ones: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village. asked its reader to rank the best movies with twist endings — not surprisingly M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (“I see dead people”) was voted number one. Here is the list:

The Sixth Sense (1999)
Fight Club (1999)
The Usual Suspects (1994)
Seven (1995)
Primal Fear (1996)
Psycho (1960)
The Others (2001)
The Presitige (2006)
Memento (2000)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Saw (2004)
12 Monkeys (1995)
Unbreakable (2000)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
The Game (1997)
American Psycho (2000)
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Friday the 13th (1980)
The Village (2004)
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
The Crying Game (1992)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Chinatown (1974)
April Fool’s Day (1986)

Read related posts: The Most Expensive Movie Props
Most Famous Movie Quotations

Famous Love Quotes from Movies
Best Academy Award Quotes
Best Books for Movie Lovers

For further reading:

How Did O. Henry Get His Pen Name?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAmerican short story writer O. Henry was born William Sidney Porter (1862-1910). Incidentally, in 1898, Porter changed the spelling of his middle name from Sidney to Sydney. His short stories feature colorful characters, skillful unfolding of plot, realistic and witty dialogue, and often with a distinctive surprise plot twist ending (often referred to as the “O. Henry twist”). He was a prolific writer, having written more than 600 short stories, published in 13 separate collections of short stories. In the early 1900s, Porter was one of the most widely read and admired storytellers in the country. Two of his best-known short stories are the “The Last Leaf” and the holiday classic “The Gift of the Magi.”

Many people often wonder how Porter came up with the pen name “O. Henry” that seems to have no connection with his birth name, his place of birth (Greensboro, North Carolina), or his professions (pharmacist, bank teller, bookkeeper, and journalist). During his writing career, Porter used many pen names, including James L. Bliss, T.B. Down, Howard Clark, Olivier Henry, O. Henry, and S.H. Peters. Porter used the pseudonym for the first time in December 1899 for the short story entitled “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking.” There are several accounts on the internet that attribute the pen name to individuals he met during his prison term in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. (He was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling funds from a bank where he worked as a bank teller and bookkeeper; he served only three, being released early for good behavior — and writing really great short stories). Another common fallacy is that he was named after a candy bar (read below). Yet another story claims that he derived the pen name from the name of a girlfriend’s cat. There is no evidence for any of these explanations.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1909 ( entitled “O. Henry on Himself, Life, and Other Things”), Porter gave this definitive account:
It was during these New Orleans days that I adopted my pen name of O. Henry. I said to a friend: “I’m going to send out some stuff. I don’t know if it amounts to much, so I want to get a literary alias. Help me pick out a good one.” He suggested that we get a newspaper and pick a name from the first list of notables that we found in it. In the society columns we found the account of a fashionable ball. “Here we have our notables,” said he. We looked down the list and my eye lighted on the name Henry, “That’ll do for a last name,” said I. “Now for a first name. I want something short. None of your three-syllable names for me.” “Why don’t you use a plain initial letter, then?” asked my friend. “Good,” said I, “O is about the easiest letter written, and O it is.”…. “A newspaper once wrote and asked me what the O stands for. I replied, ‘O stands for Olivier, the French for Oliver.’ And several of my stories accordingly appeared in that paper under the name Olivier Henry.”

Despite some accounts on the internet, O. Henry was not named after the Oh Henry! candy bar introduced by the Williamson Candy Company of Chicago in 1920. Nor was the Oh Henry! candy bar named after the author. According to Nestle, this is the official story of the naming of the chocolate candy bar: “Way back when, there was a little candy shop owned by George Williamson. A young fellow by the name of Henry who visited this shop on a regular basis became friendly with the young girls working there. They were soon asking favors of him, clamoring Oh Henry, will you do this?, and Oh Henry, will you do that? So often did Mr. Williamson hear the girls beseeching poor young Henry for help, that when he needed a name for a new candy bar, he called it OH HENRY! and filed a trademark application the following year.” Now that would have made a wonderful O. Henry short story, don’t you think?

The O. Henry Award, established in 1918, is an annual American award given to short stories of exceptional merit was named after the author. The award, presented by the Society of Arts and Sciences, promotes the art of the short story. His love of language and wordplay was the inspiration for the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships established in 1978 that celebrates the often-maligned but wickedly funny pun. Punsters from around the globe travel to the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas each May to compete in the Punniest of Show, PunSlingers, and Most Viable Punster competitions.

One of the most common questions that librarians and booksellers hear is: “where can I find O. Henry? Is it organized under O or H?” The proper alphabetization of O. Henry is under “H” not “O” — remember the name is not spelled “O’Henry” but rather “O. Henry” as in Olivier Henry. Still, many bookstores stock O. Henry’s books in the “O” section of fiction. Oh Henry!

Read related posts: The Best of Puns, the Worst of Puns
Top Ten Puns
Random Fascinating Facts About Authors 2

Random Fascinating Facts About Authors
Who Were Barnes and Noble?
Sleeping Habits of Famous Authors
How Many Words Does the Average Person Speak in a Lifetime?
First Typewritten Book

For further reading:

A Mashup of Minds: Kim Kardashian and Soren Kierkegaard

alex atkins bookshelf cultureWhat happens when you mashup the thoughts of Kim Kardashian, the poster girl of superficiality, narcissism, banality, self-promotion, and consumerism, with Soren Kierkegaard, the poster boy of existentialism, Christian ethics, and Christian love? You get the humorous and insightful tweets of KimKierkegaardashian, a parody account. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition on so many levels: Kardashian the iconic beautify gracing countless magazine covers, with an insatiable thirst for publicity (and more than 51 million Twitter followers!); as opposed to Kierkegaard the pensive, withdrawn hunchback, who preferred being alone with his thoughts. Despite these dramatic differences, they both have something to say about the human condition. However, in the twitter universe the beauty or value of those ruminations is with the beholder. Here are some sample tweets that make the Danish philosopher relevant again and add a hint of intelligence to Kim’s vacuous tweets:

When I was very young, a barb of sorrow was lodged in my heart. I wanted everything short and low-cut. My look’s a little sleeker now.

New merch available now. Because you are like children, Christianity permits you for the time being to enjoy these early things.

What our age lacks is not reflection, but passion. And so my leather legging addiction continues.

Glamour, menswear, top hat… I stick my finger into existence and it smells of nothing.

Each individual fights for himself, with himself, within himself, in order to free himself before God. I’m gonna be sooo sore tomorrow!

God grant me peace from my foolish earthly desires, my wild longings, the anxious hungers of my heart. I’m craving fro yo so badly.

Just got the best spray tan! There is indescribable joy which glows through us unaccountably.

I scarcely recognize myself. My mind is  like a turbulent sea. I was testing new mascara!

The unhappy person is one for whom the content of life lies outside the self. Can’t wait to go to Miami this weekend!

Why bother detoxing? You bring to your asceticism the same passion for minute trivialities that guided your addiction to pleasure.

Read related posts: Words Related to Trump
How Do We Spend Our Time During a Lifetime?
The Difference Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life
The Paradox of the American Dream
The Wisdom of George Carlin

For further reading:


What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?

alex atkins bookshelf music“What would you think, if I sang out of tune?…” Remember the words of that classic Beatles tune? If you’re the type of music listener that pays attention to the lyrics of songs, ever wonder what are the most commonly used words in all popular songs? Music lover Sam Moreton decided to find out. He wrote an algorithm that analyzed one million pop songs. Presumably if you used all of these words in a song, you might have a top-40 hit. Here is the list of the most commonly used words in songs:


Read related posts: Top Ten Movie Songs
Top Ten Most Relaxing Songs
How Famous Singers Got Their Names
How Rock Bands Got Their Names

Origins of the Beatles Name
The Dark Side of the Moon Turns 40
Best Books for Music Lovers
How Many Music Genres Exist?
Greatest Songs of All Time
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Song Titles That are Not Part of the Lyrics
What is the Longest Song Title?

For further reading:

Doublets: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

atkins-bookshelf-quotations“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”

From the collection of essays titled Letters and Social Aims (1876) by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American essayist, poet and leader of the transcendentalist and American romantic movements. The quotation is a condensed version of the original longer quotation: “What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”

“Actions speak louder than words”

Although the roots of this idiom date back to the 1400 BC (the writing of the Bible), it was Abraham Lincoln who popularized it in 1856: “‘Actions speak louder than words’ is the maxim; and, if true, the South now distinctly says to the North, ‘Give us the measures, you take the men.'” (From The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II).

Read related posts: Doublets: Genius
Doublets: Youth and Maturity
Doublets: You Cannot Run Away From Yourself
Doublets: The Lessons of History
Doublets: Reading a Great Book
Doublets: Tolerance
Doublets: The Role of Religion
Doublets: Things Left Unsaid

For further reading:

Words Invented by Famous Authors: 2

atkins-bookshelf-wordsEvery writer has experienced the frustration of knowing what they want to say but not being able to come up with just the precise word; there is even a word for that: lethologica. For writers, finding the right word is immensely rewarding; Michael Mackenzie, a Canadian playwright, explains: “People often forget the sheer joy of finding the right word which expresses a thought is extraordinary, an emotional rush of an intense kind.” So what happens when you turn to a dictionary, and among the hundreds of thousands of words you can’t find what you are looking for? Then do what these famous authors did, and simply invent a new word or term. Lexicographer and lifelong word collector, Paul Dickson, has coined a new term for words invented by authors — authorisms. Here are some clever words invented by famous writers:

anchovy (William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I)

aviator (Jules Verne, The Clipper of the Clouds)

bedazzled (William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew)

blabbermouth (John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle)

blatant (Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene)

blurb (Gelett Burgess, Burgess Unabridged)

cyberspace (William Gibson, Burning Chrome)

doublethink (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four)

dreck (James Joyce, Ulysses)

eucatastrophe (J.R.R. Tolkien, in a private letter)

sensuous (John Milton, Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in England)

serendipity (Horace Walpole, private letter to Horace Mann)

superman (George Bernard Shaw translation of “Ubermensch” that first appeared in Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche)

svengali (George du Maurier, Trilby)

tattarrattat (James Joyce, Ulysses)

twitter (Henry Fielding, Tom Jones)

witticism (John Dryden, The State of Innocence)



Read related posts: Words Invented by Famous Authors
Words Invented by Dickens

Words Invented by Disney

For further reading: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition edited by John Simpson and Edmund Weiner, Oxford University Press (1991)
Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers by Paul Dickson, Bloomsbury (2014)
Brewers Dictionary of Phrase & Fable edited by John Ayto, Collins Reference (2006)
Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File (2008)



%d bloggers like this: