Category Archives: Books

There’s A Word for That: Meretricious

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIn the modern, digital world we are bombarded by meretricious items day after day, week after week. That’s a good thing right? On the face of it, meretricious sounds nice — a blending of merit and delicious. Nope, not even close. Something that is meretricious is superficially attractive but lacks any real value or merit. Ouch!

Case in point: the Kardashians. Sure, they are all flash and style — but do the real question is: do they really matter? Or consider the Fyre Festival, the ultimate “luxury music festival,” that is the very definition of meretricious. According to the documentaries, Fyre Fraud and Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, the founders of the festival promoted videos of beautiful young models (also known as “social media influencers”) chilling on the shores of an exotic island, creating a massive wave of FOMO that motivated thousands of fans to open up their wallets and shell out millions of dollars to attend an event that was destined for absolute disaster. In short, there was no “there” there; launching a volley of lawsuits and indictments.

So how is it that the word meretricious is so counterintuitive? That is to say, why does it sound like a positive adjective when it is not? The key is in the etymology. And to arrive at the correct etymology we need to focus on the spelling. Note that the target word is spelled “meret” with a second “e” as opposed to “merit” with an “i.” While “merit” is derived from the Latin meritum, meaning “kindness, benefit, favor; worth, value,” “meret” is derived from the Latin meretricious, meaning “of or pertaining to prostitutes,” which is formed from meretrix, meaning “prostitute.” Now we’re getting somewhere!

Around 1630s, the word took on a more general meaning. The prostitute was dropped from the meaning, but her trademark seduction was not — wink, wink: something that was meretricious was gaudily alluring or alluring by false attraction. Over the centuries, this meaning morphed to the modern sense of being superficially attractive but lacking in merit or value. Interestingly, although the word “meretricious” is rarely encountered in the modern world, its existence is both ubiquitous and unavoidable. Perhaps now we know why some of the prostitutes from the 17th century were smiling so knowingly.

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Forgotten Bookmarks

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you’ve purchased used books at antiquarian bookstores and “friends of the library” book sales, you will know that from time to time, that treasured book you just purchased also contains its own treasure — something that was deliberately inserted into the book, but has been missed or forgotten. The range of the ephemera is broad — from handwritten notes, letters, photographs, greeting cards, postcards, bills, newspaper articles, to objects like feathers or dried flowers. While many have functioned as haphazardly selected bookmarks, others were very deliberately chosen. Despite their form or intentions all of these share one thing in common — they reveal a glimpse into the life story of the person who previously owned the book. And that is worth pondering for a moment. As dedicated book collectors know — and deeply cherish — every book of value has a story of how it became part of a personal library. But imagine now, that a particular newly acquired book has two stories — the one that brought it to you and the one that brought it to its original owner many years ago. What was going on in their lives at the time? Who gave it to them or how did they come across this book? Did the book provide some insight into whatever they were struggling with? Did they mean to retrieve this item from the book or did they forget about it? In some cases, the forgotten bookmarks provide a few clues to be able to answer some of these questions; in general, they remain a wonderful little mystery that will linger on with the book. Without further ado, here are some of the forgotten bookmarks that I have found in books over the past year:

Handwritten notes about the novel

An offer from the Columbia Music Collection (1400 N. Fruitridge, Terre Haute, IN 47811) for the Legends of Jazz recordings. $29.95 for 3 CDs or $19.95 for 3 cassettes. “If you decide to return the entire set, simply do so withing 14 days and owe nothing.”

Note card in book about when they bought the book, where, and who was with them; as well as the context of when they purchased the book (in this case, Ward’s Book Barn)

Slip of paper containing dates of when they began reading the book, and when they finished it

Articles related to Hamlet and Shakespeare from newspapers and magazines


Receipt from an estate sale

$650 check (void) from a teacher’s credit union

Small faded color photographs of a young girl wearing leg braces, sitting on a lawn chair

In book of rhymes, a condensed summary of most common rhyming words

Computer punch card

Flier from Book of the Month Club. (Key Ideas in Human Thought by Kenneth McLeish, 1993) Special selection; member’s price $34.95; publisher’s price: $45.00

Paycheck stub

Valentine heart: “From me to you”

Cursive penmanship homework

Bookmark from Shirley Cobb Book Store, long out of business in the SF Bay Area

A book plate resembling a library check-out sleeve and card: From the Library of __________. A good book is the best of friends the same today and forever. The card reads: Title:  On Loan To:  Name: and Date. In this case it was loaned to Professor Stanlye on October 19

Moon Landing July 20, 1969 Commemorative Book Mark: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Toledo Edison Employees Federal Credit Union pay stub

Bookmark from Little Professor Book Company, Columbus Ohio

A pricing slip from a Friend of the Library book sale. At the top it notes: “Section manager please discard after pricing.” List different pricing levels: Less than $1, $1-3, $3-5, and $5-10. Then it lists “Checklist Reasons: Loose pages, binding; scuffed, torn, chipped; writing/marks on pages; liquid damage, stains. At the bottom is a line for Researcher and Date.

Invitation to a reception to honor a donor of a music education program

Church bulletin from May 1972

Newspaper clipping: obituary of Lewis Mumford, A Visionary social Critic dies at 94 (Jan 28 1990)

Mid-term exam for English 44-A dated March 19, 1958

Handwritten poem “All that I want to hear/is that you like me”

Memo to allow a person to be excused so that he can be present for the delivery of his first child in April 1978

Car repair bill

Amazon receipt from October 15, 2011

Boarding pass from Virgin America, Flight from San Francisco to Orange County, Feb 2009

Computer punch card (1970s) for student registration; class: Mind of Jesus (100) 2 units, Stanford University

Book Review note: Books for young readers review copy, Doubleday & Company New York

Newspaper article “Hamlet is brief respite in migrant migrant camp” (undated) about a performance of Hamlet by the Globe Theatre company for refugees in Calais, France.

Thank you card: “Thank you for your hard work and contributions over the last year.”

Neatly typed notes on chronology of events in Light in August; parallels between Joe Christmas and Christ.

Self portrait drawn in black ink

Class syllabus with complete class roster and contact information for teacher and each student (Sociolinguistics Fall 1991, Stanford University) and assignment schedule

A small Christmas card, “Christmas Cheer”

Happy Sweet Sixteenth Birthday card and a recipe for an orange julius drink

Elegant Christmas Greetings bookmark from books printed in Italy from early 1900s

Bookmark from Crown Books (still the cheapest bookstore in town) announcing 45% off feature bestsellers and 40% off NYT hardcover bestsellers

List of 25 word reversals (mimeograph)

A poem, thanking for someone for always being there.

A bookmark from A Common Reader, a book club for intelligent, discerning readers.

Note: “To E_______ and A________, whom I am please to count as friends as well as family. May this book, in some small way, enrich your lives as you have enriched mine.”

To my three children: Enjoy the wonders of our language. With great love, Dad. (Christmas 2006) Inscribed in pencil in a word reference book

“Examination Copy” note from Harcourt Brace & World , Inc. “We are pleased to send you this book, with our compliments, so that you may have an opportunity to review it for possible class use. We hope you will enjoy examining it.” (King Lear: Text, Sources, Criticism). Blank note card. At the top: “Here are my comments.”

A handwritten letter from a mother reaching out to an estranged daughter. The letter begins: “Dear C____, I hope this letter finds you in the best of health.” The letter then discusses recent news of family members (illnesses, births, etc.) Suddenly, the letter turns to a difficult matter: “Now let’s talk about you and me. I don’t know why you resent me so much. We are like strangers. If I did something to you now or before, I would like to know. I’d give my life for you. I don’t know, did I bring you up wrong? Did I ever mistreat you? Did I ever begrudge you anything? I don’t know. But if you know, let me in on it so I can correct it. Before I get off this earth. Take care and please no hard feelings. God Bless you. All my love, Mom.” The most fascinating part of this rather haunting letter is that is was found in a very intellectual, philosophical work, Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, winner of the 1974 Pulitzer Prize. It’s a very complex work (Becker is a student of Kierkegaard, Freud, Rank, and Nietschzoe among many other notable thinkers) but if you could summarize it simply, it would be this: man is trapped by his symbolic, intellectual self and his primitive self and inescapable demise. Denial of, or fear of, death has become the main motivation for modern life, and paradoxically, the source of its many neuroses.

Letter from Reader’s Digest. Thanking you for purchasing one of their books and mentioning some highlights from the book. (The Lost Bible: Forgotten Scriptures Revealed)

Pressed leaves in between sheets of paper in a large dictionary (Random House Dictionary, 2nd ed)

Bookmark that promotes a loyalty program for Kepler’s Bookstore established in 1955 in Menlo Park.

Postcard from Sierra Club featuring two a mother polar bear and her cub.

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Regardless of Religion, Ideology, or Politics — Everyone Appreciates Kindness and Compassion

alex atkins bookshelf booksSome of the greatest treasures in a used bookstore are often found in the most unlikely places. These books are easy to miss because they have been misplaced or are tucked away behind a dusty stack of books — forlorn or forgotten for months, years, even decades. Recently, I came across a copy of The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness: An Anthology of Writings by and About the Dalai Lama in mint condition — something rare for paperback books of this age. According to the bookseller’s penciled notation, the book was acquired in 2012. This amazingly brilliant and insightful book had been lurking in the shadows for more than 7 years. Hard to believe. But now that book found a home, and with this post, a wider audience. Although the book was published in 1990, it as relevant today as it was almost two decades ago. In his speech titled “Kindness and Compassion, the Dalai Lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, challenges us to overlook our differences in religion, ideology, race, politics, economics, and embrace what we all share as human beings: the pursuit of happiness, and need for kindness, and compassion. He offers us hope in a new religion — one that doesn’t require temples and complex history, but simply the philosophy of kindness, straight from the heart. Here are some highlights of that memorable and inspiring speech.”

“I want to speak to you this evening about the importance of kindness and compassion. When I speak about this, I regard myself not as a Buddhist, not as the Dalai Lama, not as a Tibetan, but rather as one human being. And, I hope that you in the audience will, at this moment, think of yourselves as human beings rather than as Americans, or Westerners, or members of any particular group. These things are secondary. If from my side and from the listeners’ side we interact as human beings, we can reach this basic level. If I say, ‘I am a monk;’ or ‘I am a Buddhist;’ these are, in comparison to my nature as a human being, temporary. To be a human is basic. Once you are born as a human being, that cannot change until death. Other things — whether you are educated or uneducated, rich or poor — are secondary.

Today we face many problems. Some are created essentially by ourselves based on divisions due to ideology, religion, race, economic status, or other factors. Therefore, the time has come for us to think on a deeper level, onthe human level, and from that level we should appreciate and respect the sameness of others as human beings. We must build closer relationships of mutual trust, understanding, respect, and help, irrespective of differences of culture, philosophy, religion, or faith.

After all, all human beings are the same — made of human flesh, bones, and blood. We all want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Further, we all have an equal right to be happy. In other words, it is important to realize our sameness as human beings. We all belong to one human family. That we quarrel with each other is due to secondary reasons, and all of this arguing with each other, cheating each other, suppressing each other is of no use.

Unfortunately, for many centuries, human beings have used all sorts of methods to suppress and hurt one another. Many terrible things have been done. It has meant more problems, more suffering, and more mistrust,resulting in more feelings of hatred and more divisions…

All of us want happiness. In cities, on farms, even in remote places, people are busy and active. What is the main purpose of this activity? Everyone is trying to create happiness. To do so is right. However, it is very important to follow a correct method in seeking happiness. We must keep in mind that too much involvement on a superficial level will not solve the larger problems.

There are all about us many crises, many fears. Through highly developed science and technology, we have reached an advanced level of material progress that is both useful and necessary. Yet, if you compare the external progress with our internal progress, it is quite clear that our internal progress is inadequate. In many countries, crises — murders, wars and terrorism — are chronic. People complain about the decline in morality and the rise in criminal activity. Although in external matters we are highly developed and continue to progress, at the same time it is equally important to develop and progress in terms of inner development….

Anger cannot be overcome by anger. If a person shows anger to you, and you respond with anger, the result is disastrous. In contrast, if you control anger and show opposite attitudes — compassion, tolerance, and patience — then not only do you yourself remain in peace, but the other’s anger will gradually diminish.

World problems similarly cannot be challenged by anger or hatred. They must be faced with compassion, love, and true kindness. Look at all the terrible weapons there are. Yet, the weapons themselves cannot start a war. The button to trigger them is under a human finger, which moves by thought, not under its own power. The responsibility rests in our thought.

If you look deeply into such things, the blueprint is found within — in the mind — out of which actions come. Thus, first controlling the mind is very important. I am not talking here about controlling the mind in the sense of deep meditation, but just about cultivating less anger, more respect for others’ rights, more concern for other people, more clear realization of our sameness as human beings… Rather than just advertising to make money for ourselves, we need to use these media for something meaningful, something seriously directed towards the welfare of humankind. Not money alone. Money is necessary, but the actual purpose of money is for human beings. Sometimes we lose interest in the human and are just concerned about money. This is not sensible.

After all, we all want happiness, and no one will disagree with the fact that with anger, peace is impossible. With kindness and love, peace of mind can be achieved. No one wants anger, no one wants mental unrest, yet because of ignorance, they occur. Bad attitudes, such as depression, arise from the power of ignorance, not of their own accord.

Through anger we lose one of the best human qualities — the power of judgement. We have a good brain, which other mammals do not have, allowing us to judge what is right and what is wrong, not only in terms of today’s concerns, but considering ten, twenty, or even a hundred years in the future. Without any precognition, we can use our normal common sense to determine if something is a right or wrong method; we can decide that if we do such and such, it will lead to such and such — effect. However, once our mind is occupied by anger we lose this power of judgement, and once lost, it is very sad. Physically you are a human being, but mentally you are incomplete. Given that we have this physical human form, we must safeguard our mental capacity for judgement. For that, we cannot take out insurance; the insurance company is within: self-discipline, self-awareness, and a clear realization of the disadvantages of anger and the positive effects of kindness. Thinking about this again and again, we can become convinced of it, and then with self-awareness, we can control the mind.

For instance, at present you may be a person who gets quickly and easily irritated by small things. With clear understanding and awareness, this can be controlled. If you usually remain angry for ten minutes, try to reduce it to eight. Next week make it five minutes and the next month two. Then make it zero. That is how to develop and train our minds.

This is my feeling and also the sort of practice I myself do. It is quite clear that everyone needs peace of mind. The question, then, is how to achieve it. Through anger we cannot; through kindness, through love, through compassion, we can achieve one individual’s peace of mind. The result of this is a peaceful family — happiness between parents and children, fewer quarrels between husband and wife; no worry about divorce. Extended to the national level, this attitude can bring unity, harmony, and cooperation with genuine motivation. On the international level, we need mutual trust, mutual respect, frank and friendly discussion with sincere motivation, and joint effort to solve world problems. All these are possible.

But first we must change within ourselves. Our national leaders try their best to solve our problems, but when one problern is solved, another one crops up; trying to solve that, again there is another somewhere else. The time has come to try a different approach. Of course, it is very diffiicult to achieve such a worldwide movement for peace of mind, but it is the only alternative. If there were another method that was easier and more practical, it would be better, but there is none….

Therefore, although it is difficult to attempt to bring about peace through internal transformation, this is the only way to achieve lasting world peace. Even if during my own lifetime it is not achieved, it is all right. More human beings will come, the next generation and the one after that, and progress can continue. I feel that despite the practical difficulties and the sense that this is regarded as an unrealistic view, it is worthwhile to make the attempt. Therefore, wherever I go, I express these things. I am encouraged that peoplefrom different walks of life generally receive it well.

Each of us has a responsibility for all humankind. It is time for us to think of other people as true brothers and sisters and to be concerned with their welfare, with lessening their suffering. Even if you cannot sacrifice your own benefit entirely, you should not forget the concerns of others. We should think more about the future and benefit of all humanity.

Also, if you try to subdue your selfish motives — anger, and so forth — and develop more kindness and compassion for others, ultimately you yourself will benefit more than you would otherwise. So sometimes I say that the wise selfish person should practice this way. Foolish selfish people are always thinking of themselves, and the result is negative. Wise selfish people think of others, help others as much as they can, and the result is that they too receive benefit.

This is my simple religion — there is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

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Profile of a Book Lover: Bruce Kahn

alex atkins bookshelf booksBruce Kahn, an attorney in Michigan who specializes in mergers and acquisitions, began collecting books when he was a teenager in the 1950s. He began with collecting comic books and then focused on science fiction first editions. What makes his collection of modern first editions so remarkable is that be purchased books that were in great condition and had them signed or inscribed by their authors. And like many collectors, once he built a library of science fiction first editions that he felt was complete, he sold it in the mid-1980s, so that he could focus on building a new collection. Longtime bookseller Ken Lopez, who is selling a portion of Kahn’s library, continues his story:

“[Beginning in the 1980s, Kahn] started collecting ‘mainstream’ modern literature, along with modern mystery and detective fiction. It was a good time to begin such a collection: fine copies of some of the keynote titles of the postwar era were scarce but were nonetheless much more readily available than they are now, nearly a quarter century later. Beautiful copies of such books as To Kill a Mockingbird, On The Road, and The Catcher in the Rye could be had if one were patient and persistent, and Bruce Kahn was both.

He collected in the style of the old-time book collectors — that is, he collected authors in depth, pursuing all their published titles, variant editions such as proofs, advance copies, and broadsides, and in many cases U.K. editions as well as U.S. ones. As a result, the author collections themselves end up being bibliographically significant, especially for those authors for whom there is not yet an ‘official’ or definitive bibliography…

We are issuing this catalog (Catalog 150: The Bruce Kahn Collection, 2009) at a moment when our economy has experienced the most dramatic turmoil in decades. However, it may prove opportune to remember, as one of my colleagues recently wrote me, that the books and literature that ‘we deal in will endure, and contains the seeds of knowledge and spiritual nourishment.’ It is the understandingof this value — of what underlies monetary value — that can and should reassure us: these books are an important partof our cultural makeup and our intellectual and moral heritage. That is and will remain true. After economic hard times have passed, these will still be the books that have shaped our society’s evolution; in that respect their value will remain unchanged, and they will still be among the important works of literature of the 20th century. If books are still collected — and there is little doubt they will be — the books of the Bruce Kahn collection will still be among the most desirable copies of the most important titles of our time.”

Here are some of the highlights from the Bruce Kahn Collection:

The Hamlet by William Faulkner (1940): $13,500

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961): $12,500

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940): $12,500

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932): $15,000

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957): $25,000

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962): $25,000

The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (1948): $10,000

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951): $25,000

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck (1935): $15,000

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How Reading Makes You Smarter

atkins-bookshelf-booksA few years ago, the Pew Research Center published a report on the reading habits of Americans. The study focused on how often adults (aged 18 and older) read print books, audiobooks, and e-books. Unfortunately the results were not promising: the number of people who are not reading any books has tripled in the past three decades. Specifically in 1978, 8% of American did not read a book within the past year. In 2002 that number jumped up to 18%; and in 2014 that number increased to 23%. What those individuals don’t know, and dedicated readers do know (at least intuitively), is that reading makes you smarter and has several beneficial effects on the brain. Here are seven ways that reading makes you smarter:

1. Reading encourages empathy. Studies indicate that reading literary fiction increases empathy and sympathy as readers respond to the struggles of a protagonist. Reading allows the reader to step into the life of the protagonist and imagine what it would be like to have those experiences.

2. Reading poetry encourages deep self-reflection. Studies show that reading poetry activates areas of the brain that are associated with introspection and autobiographical memory.

3. Reading improves memory. Reading activates the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. In one study, readers read simple descriptive phrases (like “dark blue carpet”) while placed in an MRI machine. The MRI indicated that these simple phrases were enough to activate the hippocampus. Using fewer words encourages readers to use their imagination to “fill in the blanks” and create a virtual scene or world.

4. Reading improves decision-making and emotional processing. Researchers have found that reading activates key parts of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex, lateral temporal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal lobe. The medial prefrontal cortex is involved with decision-making and memory recall. The lateral temporal cortex is responsible for emotional association and visual memory. The posterior cingulate cortex is involved with episodic memory recall. And finally, the inferior parietal lobe is responsible for understanding emotions and interpreting sensory data.

5. Reading improves your verbal skills and vocabulary. Studies show that there is a direct correlation between verbal skills and reading. As most readers know, reading is a great way to expand your vocabulary by looking up new words you encounter. The more you read, the greater your working vocabulary will be. Reading also helps discover new ways of describing situations, feelings, and places as well as creating images in the mind’s eye.

6. Reading strengthens the mind. The brain is not a muscle, of course, but studies suggests that mind-building (mental exercise) is analogous to body-building. In another MRI study, researchers found that brain retains activity for as long as five days after reading a book. MRI of subjects revealed increased activity in the left angular and supra marginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri areas of the brain that are associated with comprehension.

7. Reading helps slow down mental aging. Studies show that reading improves memory and sentence processing in older adults. The steady exposure to literary ingredients that encourage imagination (eg, metaphors, imagery, abstract ideas, etc), the brain gets mental exercise, remaining active and healthy.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up a book and start getting smarter.

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

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Profile of a Book Lover: Karl Lagerfeld

atkins-bookshelf-booksWhen you walk into Karl Lagerfeld’s spectacular library of 300,000 books you are in book heaven — unless, of course, you are Marie Kondo and the overwhelming quantity of books leaves her head spinning: “You have to put all the books in one big pile,” she says, “and choose only the ones that spark joy.” Nonsense! Take a hike sister — for a bibliophile like Lagerfeld every single one of those books sparked joy: finding them, buying them, holding them, reading them, and just looking at them organized neatly in their custom bookshelves. To give you a sense of the scale of that size of a personal library: if you purchased one book a day, it would take you more than 821 years to complete a library of that size! You would also have to have really deep pockets. Assuming that the average art book costs $40, you are looking at an expenditure of more than $12 million (excluding tax and shipping fees)!

As you may have read, Lagerfeld, the world-renowned fashion designer, artist, creative director, and photographer, passed away on February 19, 2019 at the age of 85. For more than five decades, he was creative director at the Italian fashion house Fendi; and spent four decades in the same capacity for Chanel, as well as his own fashion label, Lagerfeld. And like acclaimed American author and journalist Tom Wolfe (not to be confused with another famous American author, Thomas Wolfe, who wrote You Can’t Go Home Again and Look Homeward Angel), Lagerfeld subscribed to the code of eccentrics that asserts that if you are an artist, you must really look the part. For Lagerfeld that meant dark sunglasses (day or night), fingerless gloves, and high, starched while collars that wrapped around his neck like a neck brace. He wore his shocking white hair pulled back tightly in a pony tail. You might say he dressed like a quintessential James Bond villain. (Compare that to Tom Wolfe’s signature look, that of the Southern gentleman: a white suit accessorized by a white homburg hat, white tie, and traditional two-tone shoes.) If his wardrobe didn’t put you off, many of his controversial fashion shows and personal views would. But we digress…

At heart, Lagerfeld was a passionate and consummate book collector — the bibliophile’s bibliophile, as it were. The first thing you will notice when you walk into his spectacular library is that the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are incredibly unique. Rather than lining books vertically (spines perpendicular to the shelves) like most people, Lagerfeld had custom shelves made so that the books are arranged horizontally, lying flat, with the spines parallel to the shelf. In other words, as you look across a layer of bookshelves, you see a neat arrangement of stacks of books, each about 10 to 12 books high. The second thing you will notice is that he collects large format art, design, architecture, and photography books. And nestled in between these stacks of large books, as if to plug in the holes, are smaller books that are placed vertically. Lagerfeld was immensely proud of his library (as he should be). You can imagine how many times he had to answer the question: “Have you read all these books?”

Now I know what you are thinking… what if you want to view a book at the bottom or near the bottom of a stack. There’s the rub. You would have to either use brute force to pull the book out (and risk damaging the book) or lift a group of books and place them somewhere, recreating a stack there, until you got to the book you wanted. A supreme hassle, for sure. But apparently this was one huge concession Lagerfeld was willing to make to have books displayed “his way,” that is, to have the spines reading left to right so that you don’t have to tilt your head.

Regardless of the orientation of the books on the shelves, the library is stunning. The rooms are minimalist in design — white walls, with understated, modern chrome chairs (gray or black), and glass tables sitting on beautiful parquet floors. One room is a two stories, with an iron catwalk that wraps around the room, reached by a sleek, modern spiral staircase. The catwalk is about 12 feet high, which means that the stacks below the catwalk extend more than 10 feet. To access the upper stacks, one has to use a custom ladder, that slides along the bottom, that has a leather chair at the top. You can see some of the photos at My Modern Met.

Not surprisingly, Lagerfeld also owned a bookstore: The 7L Bookshop in Paris, located at 7 rue de Lille, in the 7th district of Paris, not far from two of the most famous museums: the Louvre and the Orsay. And just like his personal collection, the bookshop focuses on fashion, photography, design, architecture, interior design, landscape design, as well as cookbooks (this is Paris, after all). Moreover, the bookshop features books written by or edited by Lagerfeld.

So what will become of Lagerfeld’s incredible library? The usual scenario is that the executor will donate some portion to universities, art or fashion schools; the rest will be inventoried and broken up into smaller lots and sold at auction; perhaps some will end up at his bookshop.  Most mortals will never own a collection like this, but what an inspiration… There is an old adage that says: “you can’t take it with you.” But the bibliophile’s response is always the same: “it doesn’t really matter — the joy is in the building of the library, building it one book at time; feeling that tremendous sense of elation when you find a special book that you connect with; and that book inevitably leads you to another one, and so forth.”

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

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For further reading:


30 Epigrams That Can Make You More Creative

alex atkins bookshelf educationThe wisdom of Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC), the ancient Greek philosopher who is considered one of the founders of ontology (the study of being) and greatly influenced the philosophy of the Stoics, particularly Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. Sadly most of his writings have been lost to the sands of time, save for about 125 fragments, epigrams, that appear in the writings of other Ancient Greeks. These early philosophers were very fond of epigrams, an idea expressed in a clever way. (The word epigram is derived from the Greek work epigramma, meaning “an inscription.”) Moreover, many of Heraclitus’ epigrams are paradoxical requiring contemplation and interpretation; therefore, in many cases, there is no one right answer. Those early philosophers were really onto something…

Despite being more than 2,500 years old, the epigrams of Heraclitus have been a tremendous wellspring for modern authors who have rediscovered and repurposed them in the last few decades. Authors like Ryan Holiday (The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living); William Irvine (A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy); and Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior), for example, have very successfully mined the wisdom of the stoics for valuable insights into how to live and have a meaningful life. In 2001, creativity expert Roger von Oech (author of A Whack on the Side of the Head), stumbled onto the wisdom of Heraclitus as a key to unlocking creativity. In his book, Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It), he writes: “I’ve selected thirty epigrams which I believe best express Heraclitus’ philosophy of the creative spirit. I call these his Creative Insights… Viewed as a whole… [they] provide us with a set of tools on how to be more creative… Indeed, Heraclitus’ enigmatic style in itself forces us to think differently. To understand his vivid metaphors and unusual paradoxes, we’ve had to tolerate ambiguity and probe for symbolic meanings. We’ve also had to be imaginative and think of multiple interpretations… [These epigrams are] a treasure box of creative inspiration.” The 30 Creative Insights of Heraclitus of Ephesus are listed below:

1. The cosmos speaks in patterns.
2. Expect the unexpected, or you won’t find it.
3. Everything flows.
4. You can’t step into the same river twice.
5. That which opposes produces a benefit.
6. A wonderful harmony is created when we join together the seemingly unconnected.
7. If all things turned to smoke, the nose would become the discerning organ.
8. The Sun will not exceed its limits, because the aven­ging Furies, ministers of Justice, would find out.
9. Lovers of wisdom must open their minds to very many things.
10. I searched into myself.
11. Knowing many things doesn’t teach insight.
12. Many fail to grasp what’s right in the palm of their hand.
13. When there is no sun, we can see the evening stars.
14. The most beautiful order is a heap of sweepings piled up at random.
15. Things love to conceal their true nature.
16. Those who approach life like a child playing a game, moving and pushing pieces, possess the power of kings.
17. Sea water is both pure and polluted: for fish it is drinkable and life-giving; for humans undrinkable and destructive.
18. On a circle, an end point can also be a beginning point.
19. It is disease that makes health pleasant, hunger that makes fullness good, and weariness that makes rest sweet.
20. The doctor inflicts pain to cure suffering.
21. The way up and the way down are one and the same.
22. A thing rests by changing.
23. The barley-wine drink falls apart unless it is stirred.
24. While we’re awake, we share one universe, but in sleep we each turn away to a world of our own.
25. Dogs bark at what they don’t understand.
26. Donkeys prefer garbage to gold.
27. Every walking animal is driven to its purpose with a whack.
28. There is a greater need to extinguish arrogance than a blazing fire.
29. Your character is your destiny.
30. The sun is new each day.

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

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For further reading: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Fragments by Heraclitus 
Whack on the Side of Your Head by Roger von Oech
Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It): A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus by Roger von Oech
The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
A Guide to the Good Life; The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine

Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Life by Dan Millman
The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose by Dan Millman

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