The Beauty of Literature is that You Discover that You Belong

alex atkins bookshelf literature“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” 

From a letter written in 1938 by F. Scott Fitzgerald to his lover, Sheilah Graham. During the Great Depression, the popularity of his novels dramatically decreased. He needed to secure a steady income to pay for his wife’s (Zelda) psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia at an asylum, his estranged daughter’s (Scottie) college tuition (Vassar), and support his chronic drinking habit. Consequently, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood in the mid 1930s to be a screenwriter for MGM. In 1936, Fitzgerald met Graham at a cocktail party held at the Garden of Allah, playground for the Hollywood elite (like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe). For the next four years, Fitzgerald’s reputation continued to decline and his alcoholism got worse. He began work on his fifth novel, The Last Tycoon, where Graham served as his model for the character Kathleen. Graham tolerated Fitzgerald’s drunken binges and verbal abuse and encouraged him to embrace his talent and write. For her troubles, Fitzgerald provided Graham with a college education. Fitzgerald finally achieved sobriety in 1940, claiming that this time with Graham was one of the happiest times of their relationship; he died of a heart attack in December of that year. When he died, he was considered a failed alcoholic and his work was largely forgotten. Graham later wrote about her life and relationship with Fitzgerald in a book titled Beloved Infidel published in 1959. 

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: Reading Teaches that the Things that Torment Us are the Things that Connect Us
The Comfort of Reading During Difficult Times
World Literature Has the Power to Help Mankind in These Troubled Times
The Power of Literature
The Poems We Turn To
The Parable of the Farmer and His Fate

A Deceased Father Speaks to His Son Through a Special Book

alex atkins bookshelf booksHe couldn’t quite reach it at first — it was almost beyond the reach of his young hands. It didn’t help that it was tucked snugly between several other books — as if they were soldiers protecting one of their ranks. But, at last, the book slid forward. The boy sat down at the base of the towering bookcase and opened the book. A slip of paper, neatly folded, suddenly fell to the floor. His father, who had passed away from cancer years ago, had the habit of placing inside his books related essays and reviews clipped from magazines or printed from the internet. He viewed books not just as static documents to be read but also as  portable, dynamic filing systems — like a commonplace book, a place to collect related ideas and inspirations for new intellectual reflections and explorations. Perhaps this was one of those intriguing essays. He carefully unfolded the paper and immediately recognized his father’s neat handwriting; he could clearly hear his father’s voice as he began to read:

My dear boy,
If you are reading this letter it is because you have reached a point in your personal development that this book’s title finally interested you. The book you hold in your hand is one of the great treasures of my life; and just like you, I discovered it rather serendipitously. And that is a part of the intrinsic value of this wonderful book: you must discover it on your own, in your own time. During my lifetime I could not have given it to you because it would have robbed you of this precious, propitious moment — a bibliophilic eureka moment, if you will — one that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

When I was about your age, I recall reading Stephen Crane’s poem, “A Man Said to the Universe.” Despite the poem’s brevity, its meaning is far-reaching and profound: “A man said the universe: / “Sir, I exist!” / “However,” replied the universe, / “The fact has not created in me / A sense of obligation.” I never forgot that poem. Indeed, the world can be indifferent and unfair. Sadly, over my lifetime, I have witnessed a world that has increasingly moved beyond indifference to being intolerant, belligerent, and cruel. Moreover, it troubles me greatly that the nation is so bitterly divided and that the search for Truth has been so maligned — and in many cases, abandoned. There will be times — because you are so perceptive, so sensitive, so reflective — that you will feel that oppressive force on your soul, your thoughts, and being. And then there are times when the tribulations of life wash upon your shores, one after the other, sometimes pushing you to the breaking point. All of this can cause you to doubt your goodness, your purpose, and you can lose sight of what is critical to your life: your values, your dreams, and the unwavering love of your parents that have sustained you since that memorable day you were born. The book you hold in your hands was my salvation during the darkest days of my life when those inevitable sea of troubles caused me to stumble, caused me to stop believing in myself, and diminished my hope for a better world. The reassuring, transformative words in the book’s pages, written by another human being — a complete stranger to me, but a fellow traveler, a kindred soul — brought me back to my self and gently nudged me back onto the journey of my deliberate choices to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life of contribution and purpose.

This particular book and all the books in my library, thoughtfully collected during my lifetime, are yours; however, they are imbued with special meaning. To paraphrase St. Exupery’s wise Little Prince: “All men have books, but they are not the same things for different people… But all these books are silent. You — you alone — will have the books as no else has them — in one of the books I shall be living.” When you read this book,I hope you hear my voice and know that I have never left you. I am right here, living among its pages. May this book provide you with guidance and solace all the days of your life; and know, my dear son, that my love for you is eternal.

Love, Dad

The boy held the note tenderly and sat silently for what seemed an eternity, not wanting the moment to pass, pondering its meaning. With one hand he wiped away his tearstained cheeks, then gently put the note down. He picked up the book and opened it carefully, as if it were a rare museum relic; he began to read. Suddenly, he felt he was no longer alone. The boy could hear his father’s voice as he read each sentence. In that moment, the boy felt the book magically transform in his soft, gentle hands — it was now truly his and it was alive with the spirit of his beloved father.

Excerpt from the forthcoming book Stories from the Bookshelves by Alexander Atkins.

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: Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

The Monumental Book that the Brothers Grimm Never Completed

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost readers are familiar with the Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm) most famous book, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, originally published in 1812. The first edition was originally titled Kinder- und Hausmarchan (Children’s and Household Tales) and contained 86 fairy tales; almost a half century later, the book’s seventh edition contained 210 fairy tales. Although the book was very popular, the book that made the Grimm name really famous was Jacob’s German Grammar, published in 1819. But it was their last writing project for a monumental book that overwhelmed the brothers and thus, was never completed.

By the 1830s, following the success of their previous books, both Jacob and Wilhelm became professors at the University of Gottingen. In 1837, King Ernst August II who ruled the Kingdom of Hanover demanded that all academics swear an oath of loyalty to him. Because they refused, the Grimm Brothers were banished from the university and had to seek employment elsewhere. They accepted an offer from a Frankfurt publisher to create a comprehensive dictionary of the German language to be titled Deutsches Worterbuch (The German Dictionary). The two brothers began the work in 1838 and estimated that the dictionary would fill four volumes and take about ten years. They hired readers to read texts from German literature, from Luther to Goethe, from the 16th to 18th centuries, to identify words to include in the dictionary. The brothers underestimated the complexity of the project. The first volume (A to Biermolke) was not published until 1854, the second volume (Biermolke to E) was published in 1860. Sadly, the brothers never completed the dictionary: Wilhelm died in 1859 having completed “D”words, and Jacob died in 1863 midway through the “F” words (the last word he defined was “frucht” (fruit).

In 1867 the project received funding from the government and a team headed by Rudolf Hildebrand (a former proofread for the book) began work on completing the comprehensive dictionary. He worked diligently for years but only reached the letter K. The project stalled for some time and was resumed by two teams, one from Gottingen and another working from Berlin.  The German Dictionary was finally completed in 1961 containing more than 330,000 headwords in 32 volumes, weighing 84 kg. The dictionary, referred to as the DWB, is the German equivalent of the OED for English. The volumes that the Brothers Grimm wrote, A through F, were completely rewritten and published in 2016 — more than two centuries after the monumental book project was conceived. As of this writing, a first edition is worth about $2,000.

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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What Would You Name Your Bookstore?

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost booklovers have at some point — if even for a fleeting moment — dreamed about opening their own bookstore. What’s there not to love: surrounded by bookcases full of books, enjoying that wonderful aroma of paper and ink, sharing your passion for reading and learning, and helping customers find that special book.

I will let you in on a little secret — you can actually indulge in the bibliophilic fantasy of running a bookstore without all the hassles and commitment (financial, legal, management, etc.). That’s right: you can actually run a bookstore for a fortnight — all for the cost of a typical hotel stay. Let me introduce you to The Open Book, a bookstore that you can rent on Airbnb (currently, for about $120 per night); however you will have to cross the Atlantic, because it is located in Wigtown in the southern part of Scotland. This charming small town with a population of less than 1,000 is home to almost a dozen bookshops.

The idea for a bookstore-for-rental came to American Jessica Fox when she quit her job at NASA and traveled to Scotland and fell in love with the small town of Wigtown. Wigtown is known as Scotland’s National Book Town and each year in September, hosts the annual Wigtown Book Festival. In an interview with CNN Travel, Fox explained, “I thought I couldn’t be the only crazy American who dreams of working in a bookshop by the sea in Scotland, there has to be more of us.” Lucky for her, as she was pondering this career change around 2010, a local bookshop announced it was closing, providing her with the perfect opportunity to buy it and create an entirely novel (pun intended) experience; she elaborated, “Finn McCreath, who is on the board of the [book] festival, and I decided to take it over and try out my idea of having a bookshop holiday.” Fox’s idea was a hit — The Open Book has been steadily, um… booked on Airbnb; moreover, there is a long waiting list for those who wish to fulfill their dream of running a bookstore. The Airbnb rental description reads, “Nestled into the pristine lowlands, The Open Book is a charming bookshop with apartment above in the heart of Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town. Live your dream of having your very own bookshop by the sea in Scotland… for a week or two.” Lovely.

But let’s return to that initial dream of running your own bookstore, assuming you do bit scuttle off to Scotland. What would you call your bookstore? If you scan the list of existing independent bookstores in the United States, you will see that booksellers use different strategies: a pun on books or reading, a literary or historical allusion, location of bookstore, or a their name. So, what would you name your bookstore?

Partial List of Independent Bookstores in United States by State

Alaska
Fireside Books

Arizona
Bookmans
Changing Hands Bookstore

California
Amicus Books
Bart’s Books
Bell’s Books
The Book Shop
Book Soup
Booksmith
Borderlands Books
Bound Together Anarchist Collective Bookstore
City Lights Bookstore
Computer Literacy Bookshops
Green Apple Books
Kepler’s Books
The Last Bookstore
Marcus Books
Mysterious Galaxy
Recycled Books
Verbatim Books
Vroman’s Bookstore

Colorado
Tattered Cover

Connecticut
R.J. Julia Booksellers

District of Columbia
Busboys and Poets
Kramerbooks & Afterwords
MahoganyBooks
Politics and Prose
World Bank Infoshop

Florida
Haslam’s Bookstore

Georgia
For Keeps

Illinois
New World Resource Center
Powell’s Books Chicago
Quimby’s Bookstore
Seminary Co-op
Unabridged Bookstore
Women & Children First

Indiana
Better World Books
Boxcar Books

Iowa
Prairie Lights

Kansas
Eighth Day Books
Rainy Day Books

Kentucky
Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Louisiana
Iron Rail Book Collective

Maine
Weiser Antiquarian Books

Maryland
Daedalus Books
Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse

Massachusetts
The Bookmill
Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Harvard Book Store
Lucy Parsons Center
The Odyssey Bookshop
Schoenhof’s Foreign Books
That’s Entertainment

Michigan
John K. King Books
Schuler Books & Music

Minnesota
Birchbark Books
Common Good Books
Mayday Books
SubText
Mager’s & Quinn

Mississippi
Square Books

Missouri
Left Bank Books

Nevada
Gambler’s Book Shop
The Writer’s Block

New York
Albertine Books
Bluestockings
Community Bookstore
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
J. Levine Books and Judaica
The Mysterious Bookshop
Pomander Book Shop
Printed Matter, Inc
St. Mark’s Bookshop
The Strand Bookstore
Unnameable Books

North Carolina
Firestorm Cafe & Books
Internationalist Books

Ohio
Book Loft of German Village
Gramercy Books

Oregon
The Duck Store
Paper Moon Books
Powell’s Books

Pennsylvania
Giovanni’s Room Bookstore
Midtown Scholar Bookstore
Moravian Book Shop

South Carolina
Hub City Bookshop

Texas
BookPeople

Washington
Elliott Bay Book Company
Third Place Books
Left Bank Books
Magus Books
Mercer Street Books
Twice Sold Tales

Wisconsin
Renaissance Books
A Room of One’s Own
Woodland Pattern Book Center

What bookstore names are missing from this list?

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:
Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets by Jessica Fox
http://www.wigtown-booktown.co.uk/the-open-book/

http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/wigtown-bookshop-vacation/index.html
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_independent_bookstores_in_the_United_States

Reading Makes Immigrants of Us All

alex atkins bookshelf booksTo celebrate National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association, Atkins Bookshelf shares this timeless reflection on reading — and ultimately inclusion and acceptance — by American author and editor Hazel Rochman, who grew up in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid (emphasis added to last lines):

“Apartheid has tried to make us bury our books. The Inquisition and the Nazis burned books. Slaves in the United States were forbidden to read books. From Latin America to Eastern Europe, they’ve trashed books. But the stories are still here.

I believe that the best books can make a difference in building community….

As an immigrant, I’m still unable to take for granted the freedoms of the First Amendment. In Johannesburg I worked as a journalist, and over many years I saw freedom of thought and expression whittled away until it was forbidden to criticize the government or even to ask questions about children detained and tortured without trial. The result of that kind of censorship is that most people can shut out, can not know, what is happening all around them.

Walls were what apartheid was about. Walls and borders…

Borders shut us in, in Johannesburg, in Los Angeles, in Eastern Europe, in our own imaginations. The best books can help break down that apartheid. They surprise us — whether they are set close to home or abroad. They change how we see ourselves; they extend that phrase ‘like me’ to include what we thought was strange and foreign.

Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but, most importantly, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

From the essay “Against Borders” that appeared in The Horn Book Magazine, March/April 1995 issue, by Hazel Rochman. Rochman is an assistant editor at ALA Booklist and author of several books, including Somehow Tenderness Survives: Stories of Southern Africa (1988) and Bearing Witness: Stories of the Holocaust (1995).

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: Reading Teaches that the Things that Torment Us are the Things that Connect Us
The Comfort of Reading During Difficult Times
World Literature Has the Power to Help Mankind in These Troubled Times
The Power of Literature
The Poems We Turn To
The Parable of the Farmer and His Fate

A Heroine’s Self-Education in a Hidden Library

alex atkins bookshelf books“Books, books, books!
I had found the secret of a garret-room
Pile high with cases in my father’s name,
Piled high, packed large, —where, creeping in
and out
Among the giant fossils of my past,

Like some small nimble mouse between the
ribs
Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there
At this or that box, pulling through the gap,
In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,
The first book first. And how I felt it beat
Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,

An hour before the sun would let me read!
My books! At last because the time was ripe,
I chanced upon the poets.”

From Aurora Leigh (1857), an epic poem/novel written in blank verse by American poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The novel, broken up into nine chapters, is narrated by the heroine, Aurora Leigh, who describes her childhood, growing up in Florence, London, and Paris. Since her mother died when she was young, Aurora’s father raised her. He was a scholar and shared his passion for Greek and Latin and inspired her love of learning. When she was thirteen, her father died and she moved to London to be raised by her aunt. At the aunt’s home, Aurora discovers her father’s hidden library where she begins her self-education through the works of Shakespeare and all the great writers. She pursues a literary career as a poet and eventually marries Romney Leigh, a philanthropist. Aurora reflects on the significance of poetry as well as the individual’s responsibility to society. English art critic and writer John Ruskin believed that Aurora Leigh was the greatest poem of the 19th century.

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 Comfort of Reading During Difficult Times
World Literature Has the Power to Help Mankind in These Troubled Times
The Power of Literature
The Poems We Turn To
Reading Teaches Us that the Things that Torment Us Are the Things that Connect Us

What was the Most Checked Out Book at a Library in 2021?

alex atkins bookshelf booksA measure of a community can be measured, to some extent, by the books that patrons of the local library check out the most. It gives you a sense of what they are concerned about, what they are curious about, and age range of reader. Last year, the New York Public Library began keeping track of the most checked out books of the year. For 2021, the librarians looked at the circulation data from all three branches (Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island) to develop their list of the most checked out books (including printed and e-books) for 2021:

1. The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Brit Bennett

2. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

3. Klara and the Sun: A Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

4. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

5. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

6. The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

7. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

8. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

9. The Other Black Girl: A Novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris

10. Malibu Rising: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The editors of Quartz, an online business magazine, conducted a survey to find out the most checked out book among all U.S. public libraries. Although there are 9,057 public libraries in the U.S. (116,867 total if you included special, armed forces, and government libraries), they focused on public libraries in major cities. Based on the data from 14 libraries that responeded, here are the most popular U.S. library books of 2021:

1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

2. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

3. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End by Jeff Kinney

5. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

6. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

7. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

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 Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms
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The Library without Books
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
A Beautiful, Inspiring Letter to Borges, the Patron of the Great Library

For further reading: http://www.nypl.org/spotlight/top-checkouts-2021
qz.com/2102283/the-most-popular-us-library-books-of-2021/

 

Little Books, Big Ideas: Life Stinks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Home Library: Being Wrapped in Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sun Also Rises in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten

Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker

My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather

Notes on Democracy by H. L. Mencken

Sand and Foam by Kahlil Gibran

Show Boat by Edna Ferber

Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Plumed Serpent by D. H. Lawrence

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

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

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

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

Read related posts: What is a First Edition of The Great Gatsby Worth?
The Meaning of the Ending of The Great Gatsby
The Most Beautiful Cover Designs of The Great Gatsby
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The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels

For further reading:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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

The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2021

alex atkins bookshelf books

Back in 1984, the PNC Bank (a bank based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania) developed the Christmas Price Index that totals the cost of all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a flippant economic indicator. In 1984, the Christmas Price Index was $12,623.10; more than three decades later, in 2021, it reached $41,205.58 — a dramatic bounceback from $16,168.14 in 2020, an aberration caused by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-10 crisis (the significant decrease was due to the cancellations of live performances).

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

For 2021, the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index is $108,625 (shipping and tax are not included), a slight decrease of $3,520 (about 3%) from last year ($112,145). The biggest hit to your wallet remains — by a very large margin, Charles Dickens’ very coveted and valuable first edition of one of the most well-known literary classics, A Christmas Carol valued at $75,000 (a price unchanged from last year) — a valuation that would be sure to warm Scrooge’s heart. The second most expensive Christmas book, coming in at $15,000 (the price is also unchanged from last year), is Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (more commonly known at “The Night Before Christmas”) that has largely influenced how Santa Claus is depicted. The poem was included in a collection of Moore’s poems in 1844, a year after the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Below are the individual costs of the books that make up the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays!

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

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

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

Words invented by Dickens
Why Read Dickens?

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

Best Gifts that Book Lovers Can Wear

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

My workout is reading in bed until my arms hurt

It’s not hoarding if its books

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following t-shirts are for word lovers:

Team Oxford comma

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

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

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

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

What is the Value of a Harry Potter First Edition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read related posts: Most Expensive American Book
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For further reading:
http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/news/harry-potter-first-edition-sells-471000-sets-modern-literature-world-record

The Best Gifts for Book Lovers: 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read related posts: Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2018
Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2017
Best Gifts for Book Lovers: 2015

The Art of Giving Good Gifts
Holiday Book Gift Guide 2014
Best Books for Movie Lovers
Best Books About Jane Austen
Best Gifts for Book Lovers
Best Books for Movie Lovers

For further reading:https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/despite-pandemic-2020-u-s-book-sales-on-par-with-past-five-years/
https://www.spbooks.com/en/
https://www.miniboox.de
https://www.foliosociety.com
https://www.eastonpress.com
https://www.taschen.com
https://www.dk.com/us/
https://www.loa.org

The Wisdom of a Bookseller and Former Garbage Man

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

Books are Keys to Wisdom’s Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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Why We Don’t Say “Happy Franksgiving”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flying on the Wings of Books

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

Personal Talk and Books

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

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

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

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

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

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/

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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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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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