Category Archives: Books

Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: 1984

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the opening paragraph of George Orwell’s eerily prescient dystopian novel 1984. Having witnessed the horrors of autocratic governments of Russia and Spain in the mid 20-century, Orwell wrote 1984 to warn readers about the dangers of autocracy — physical torture and execution of political foes or disloyal citizens, suppression of the press and critical voices, monitoring of citizens, promoting conformity, the propaganda of lies, manipulation of the truth, the use of language to control thought, and technology used for evil. In the first sentence, Orwell immediately introduces something highly unusual: a clock striking thirteen. How is that even possible? And not just one clock — all the clocks are striking thirteen. Welcome to the tightly controlled world of Oceana where things are not what they seem: it is the role of a totalitarian government to control what you believe, how you behave — in short, every every aspect of your life: “the clock has thirteen hours because the Party says it does. Accept it and don’t ever question it.” The protagonist, Winston Smith steps into a world that is vile and dusty — not just physically, but psychologically, politically, and philosophically. When you carefully analyze how mercurial President Trump and his administration works, you can’t help notice so many similarities with the Party portrayed in Orwell’s novel — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin, covered by a N95 face mask, nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind whipping past FEMA’s medical tent city that had sprung up almost overnight, slipped quickly through the glass doors of the Beresford though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him. 

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a color poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man of about seventy, with a ridiculous hairstyle: a sandy-reddish helmet of hair, where all the ends are drawn up, meeting in the center, then swept back and glued into place with hair spray. The hair accentuated a squarish head that was distinguished by an odd orangish complexion, except for pinkish circles surrounding each eye, creating the effect of a raccoon’s face. The expression was menacing — narrowed, beady eyes, beneath lowered bushy eyebrows and the mouth was firmly set. Winston made for the stairs using his iPhone as a flashlight. It was no use trying the elevator due to social distancing protocols. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electricity was cut off during daylight hours because the Party deemed that the electric company was not an essential business during the COVID-10 pandemic. Besides, most electricians were sheltering in place. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week — Congressmen’s way of spreading their dysfunctional hatred of one another to the citizens they were supposed to represent. The apartment was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had an untreated varicose ulcer above his right ankle since he couldn’t afford healthcare (the Party repealed the Affordable Care Act because citizens were expendable), went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the elevator shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. TRUMP IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the opening paragraph of Herman Melville’s magnum opus Moby-Dick or The Whale, a highly symbolic, profound allegory wrapped around a simple whaling story. In the first paragraph, Melville introduces us to one of the most famous, but most enigmatic, narrators in literature: Ishmael.  Ishmael, a highly intelligent, articulate, but humble, individual is the counter to the larger-than life captain of the Pequod, Ahab who represents the classic tragic hero. Recall Aristotle’s definition of the tragic hero: “a person who must evoke a sense of pity and fear in the audience. He is considered a man of misfortune that comes to him through error of judgment.” In this case, Ahab’s tragic flaw is hubris. Ahab obsessively pursues his nemesis: the mighty white whale known as Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick is a potent multi-faceted symbol in the novel, transcending time and space; the whale represents evil; purity; the inscrutable;  as well as the all-powerful, all-knowing God. Ishmael is our guide through this deeply spiritual, psychological, and philosophical journey highlighting man’s age-old struggle between good and evil, the reconciliation of the known and the unknown, and the comprehension of man’s relationship with God — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

Call me Ishmael, my pronoun is “he,” my Twitter handle is #ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my digital wallet due to the economic collapse following the coronavirus pandemic, and nothing particular to interest me on shore after months of sheltering in place at the Spouter-Inn, I thought I would sail about a little, avoiding the perpetually virus-stricken cruise ships, and see the watery part of the world which is expanding exponentially due to the catastrophic climate crisis. It is a way I have of driving off my foul mood and regulating the ole blood circulation without having to resort to smoking crack. Whenever I find myself unhappy (especially after watching blowhard Trump rant about his ratings on another coronavirus daily briefing); whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before the beleaguered FEMA warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral — burying the latest COVID-19 victims — I meet; and especially whenever my feelings of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and beating someone mercilessly over a roll of toilet paper — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can to escape this soul-numbing shit show. This is my substitute for repeatedly touching my face after touching highly infected surfaces. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all my Facebook friends in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me based on all their “likes.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: The Old Man and the Sea

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the opening paragraph of Ernest Hemingway’s timeless allegorical novella The Old Man and the Sea. In the first paragraph, Hemingway introduces the two key archetypal characters with subtle religious allusions: Santiago (Spanish for St. James, the apostle of Jesus), the fisherman who represents old age, the teacher, the spiritual mentor — full of life experience and wisdom. The other character is Manolin (diminutive of Manuel, Spanish for Emmanuel, the Redeemer) who represents youth, the son, the student — who has much to learn. In the opening scene sets the stage for what appears to be a simple story about an old man who teaches a young boy about fishing. Despite the simple storyline, the deeper universal theme of The Old Man and the Sea is that of an old man struggling with old age, loneliness, poverty, hunger, and mortality; ultimately, we witness his his last heroic attempt to retain his dignity and define his legacy, something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream, away from the coronavirus-stricken cruise ships desperately looking for a harbor that would allow them to dock, and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man, unable to eat for days, was now the worst form of risky for COVID-19 since his immune system was compromised. The boy had gone at their orders, as long as he practiced social distancing, to work on another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man, not wearing gloves or a face mask, come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry highly coveted bags of rice, canned goods, and bleach-based cleaning supplies and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with pieces of hoarded double-ply toilet paper, and furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat. Of course, the old man could sail once again if he applied for a small business loan through the recently passed $2 trillion Cares Act.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: A Tale of Two Cities

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening paragraphs to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

We’ll begin with one of the most well-known opening paragraphs of a novel: Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. What makes the opening paragraph so memorable is Dickens’ masterful use of anaphora, a rhetorical device that involves the repetition of an initial phrase (“It was the age… it was the age; it was the season… it was the season) to emphasize the paradoxical themes of the French Revolution, as well as foreshadow the themes of the novel. Those themes were so relevant then; they are eerily relevant to the world in the age of coronavirus:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of robust health and an age of the insidious coronavirus pandemic, it was the age of dedicated and knowledgeable medical professionals, it was the age of ignorant and irresponsible politicians, it was the age of complacency, it was the age of anxiety, it was the epoch of facts and the epoch of lies, it was the season of intimacy and the season of social distancing, it was a time of urgency and a time of delayed response, it was a time of economic prosperity and a time of economic hardship, it was the period of empathy, it was the period of indifference, it was the spring of hope before an election year, it was the winter of despair of an insufferable corrupt president’s four-year term, it was an age of transparency and an age of obfuscation, we had all the hospitals and ICUs, we did not have enough PPE or respirators, we were all going to work, we were all sheltering at home — in short, the period was so far unlike the previous year that only the idiots on Fox News, endorsing the rants of an narcissistic and irresponsible president, insisted that this pandemic and its impact was just a hoax and that it would disappear miraculously by Easter.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Books to Read When It Feels Like the World is Ending

alex atkins bookshelf booksThis is a very difficult time for many businesses, especially small businesses. About half of the average small businesses in America can survive about a month with cash reserves and not generating any income. One type of small business that has been severely impacted during the coronavirus pandemic is the neighborhood bookstore. Take, for example, Green Apple Books that is one of the most cherished bookstores, selling used and new books, in San Francisco. Co-owner Pete Mulvihill recently did an interview with SFGate, the sister website of the San Francisco Chronicle, where he discussed the many challenges that the bookstore faces during the shelter-in-place order: “Thanks to a wholesale partner, we can accept orders on our website that are fulfilled by their warehouses. It’s providing some income to keep some staff working, but the margins are awful. What we wish we could do is curbside pickup (like restaurants) so we can sell books we’ve already paid for, get more staff working, etc. On the other hand, we don’t want to risk staff or public health, so I’m a bit at sea.” Asked how he would weather the pandemic, Mulvihill responded, “Honestly, I have no idea. Our landlords want (and are legally entitled to) their rent; we want to keep as many staff paid and insured as long as possible; and we owe publishers our regular monthly payments. One of our [satellite] stores relies heavily on author events, and that concept seems dead in the water for 6 to 18 months… Our ‘normal’ practice of buying used books from individuals walking in seems like it may be a long way off, so we may need to rethink all we do.  We DO have TONS of good books that we think readers want; and we have TONS of goodwill in the community.  We hope some combination of government intervention and community support will get us through this, but right now, we’re just running out of money and aren’t even sure what we should do with money if we got some.”

Responding to the reporter’s question about why books are important now more than ever, Mulvihill said, “[For] so many reasons: accurate information, lessons from history, escape, distraction, community (like those book clubs staying in touch remotely through a shared love of books), education for all those kids (and adults) with no school right now. The list goes on and on.” To that end, Mulvihill and his staff have created several suggested reading lists on their website. One of them is a list of books to read when it feels like the world is ending:

Books for When it Feels Like the World is Ending

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14Th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman

Annihilation: A Novel by Jeff Vandermeer

Black Death at the Golden Gate: the Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague by David K. Randall

Black Wave by Michelle Tea

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Chaos Walking: The Complete Trilogy by Patrick Ness

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Doomsday Book: A Novel by Connie Willis

The End of Eternity: A Novel by Isaac Asimov

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Warm Bodies: A Novel by Isaac Marion

During the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, support your local businesses by purchasing locally and helping businesses, like Green Apple Books, weather the storm.

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What are Some of the Ugliest Words in English?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsPeople collect all sorts of things — coins, comic books, trading cards, dolls, etc. Then there are word lovers that collect certain types of words: long words, unusual words, unusual or funny names, or ugly words. Yes, ugly words! Perhaps there are some words that only a dictionary would love… or a true word nerd. Meet Tyler Vendetti, author of The Illustrated Compendium of Ugly English Words. Vendetti who decided to study a dead language that ignited a passion for words; she explains, “I continued to take Latin  throughout high school and into college… [I] began writing about words for any and all outlets that would let me. Cute words. Kooky words. Dirty words. Medical words… But out of all the words that I studied, there was one type of word that I kept returning to… ugly words. I became enamored by ugly words for the same reason that most people are drawn to beautiful ones: they’re universal.”

So what makes a word ugly? Vendetti discovered that a word’s ugliness is based on three factors:
1. The nature of the word’s meaning. There are some words that describe something really gross, like barf, maggot, or crap.
2. A pre-existing negative association with a word. Some words, like moist, may have a bad association because it leads to mold, fungus, or other gross conditions.
3. The sound or appearance of a word: Some words are ugly because of their harsh pronunciation, like grotesque or exoskeleton.

Here are some selections (A – C) from Vendetti’s book of ugly English words:

acrid
aitchbone
asinine
backwash
blergh
bladderwort
boil
booger
bric-a-brac
brine
buccula
bunion
burp
cataract
catawampus
catheter
caucus
chortle
crepuscular
curd
cyst

To this list I would like to add coronavirus and COVID-19. What other ugly words can we add that begin with the letter A, B or C?

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Who is the Most Translated Author?

alex atkins bookshelf booksSome used bookstores have a fascinating section called “Translated Authors” or “Translated Works” which include great works translated into foreign languages. Imagine picking up a copy of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Japanese, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick in Tagalog, William Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Russian. Some bibliophiles collect a great work in every foreign language, so these are fantastic finds. (Incidentally, as of this writing, there are 7,117 living languages in the world; although only 23 languages account for about half of the world’s population.) Naturally, these discoveries invite the question: who is the author that has been translated into the most languages? The United Nation’s Organization for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO) and surveyed the literature, for works published between 1979 and 2012, and published this list in their “Index Translationum” (number in parenthesis is number of works translated from original language):

1. Agatha Christie (7,236)
2. Jules Verne (4,751)
3. William Shakespeare (4,296)
4. Enid Blyton (3,924)
5. Barbara Cartland (3,652)
6. Danielle Steel (3,628)
7. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (3,593)
8. Hans Christian Andersen (3,520)
9. Stephen King (3,357)
10. Jacob Grimm (2,977)

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For further reading: http://www.unesco.org/xtrans/bsstatexp.aspx?crit1L=5&nTyp=min&topN=50
https://www.ethnologue.com/guides/how-many-languages


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