Category Archives: Books

Confessions of a Bibliophile: Michael Dirda

alex atkins bookshelf books

“I’ve never counted how many books I own, but my attic is stuffed with genre fiction from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century–needed for a big project–and the basement is solidly packed with recent novels and non-fiction, some of it on industrial shelving but the bulk in boxes piled higgledy-piggledy. It’s really quite apalling. There’s also a rented storage unit, which has sucked a fortune out of me, probably more than its contents are worth. I’d estimate that I own between 15,000 and 20,000 books, conceivably more. From many quite reasonable points of view I have ‘too many books’, but to my mind I just need more bookshelves. Or a bigger house.

‘Yet am I, in fact, a collector?’ Somewhere I read that if you couldn’t lay your hands on any book you owned in five minutes, you were just an accumulator, a hoarder. I couldn’t lay my hands on some of my books if I had five days to search for me. The great bibliographical scholar G. Thomas Tanselle contends that any true collection requires an overarching theme, a plan, defined limits. My only plan is to keep books I might need in my work or that I hope to read some day for my own sweet pleasure. That means Tarzan and the insidious Fu Manchu as well as Dickens and Proust. The novelist and bookseller Larry McMurtry once observed that only those with basements or storage units like mine can enjoy the highly rarefied delight of scouting their own books: you never know what might be waiting at the bottom of the next box. Of course, McMurtry used to buy entire bookshops to stock the used and rare shelves of Archer City, Texas, his American version of Hay-on-Wye.”

From the essay “Snow Day” by Michael Dirda included in Browse: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings. Michael Dirda is an American columnist for The Washington Post. In 1993, Dirda won a Pulitzer Prize for his insightful book reviews. He has written several books, including An Open Book, a memoir, and of four collections of essays: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments; Bound to Please; Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life; Classics for Pleasure; and Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books.

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When You Don’t Have Time to Read the Classics: Crime and Punishment

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWe live in the Google Era, where information comes so fast, it’s like drinking water from a fire hose. That information overload combined with the prevalence of apps like Twitter and TikTok has dramatically decreased the reader’s attention span to 144 characters or 15 seconds — whichever comes first. With that kind of an attention span, who is ever going to take the time to read literary classics. And let’s face it — some of these classics run a little long; for example, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes  runs about 900 pages (containing more than 180,000 words), while Moby-Dick by Herman Melville runs about 700 pages (containing 135 chapters, and more than 209,117 words). If you read 250 words per minute, it would take about 19 hours to read Don Quixote and 14 hours to read Moby-Dick.  (Incidentally, at readinglength[dot]com you can enter any book title and see how long it takes to read it based on your own reading speed). Who has that kind of time?

That’s where Maurice Sagoff’s little book, ShrinkLits comes in. Sagoff has managed to shrink 70 of the world’s most famous literary classics down to size. If you have a minute, you can read a summary of one of the classics, like Don Quixote, Moby-Dick, King Lear, or The Great Gatsby. During these uncertain and turbulent times, what better time to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece Crime and Punishment that focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas faced by a poor former student (Rodion Raskkolnikov) who murders a devious, dishonest pawnbroker. It is quintessentially Russian: dark, brooding, and tragic. Like the work of Charles Dickens, Crime and Punishment was originally published serially in 1866 in 12 monthly issues of The Russian Messenger, a literary journal. Late that year, it was published as a single volume in Russian and translated into English. Coming in at 565 pages (and 203,145 words) it will take the average reader 13 hours and 33 minutes to read the novel. But hey, if you don’t have 13 hours, Atkins Bookshelf presents ShrinkLit’s version of Crime and Punishment.

Murderer feels bad.

Confesses. Goes to jail.

Feels better.

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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For further reading: ShrinkLits by Maurice Sagoff
http://www.readinglength.com


Fascinating Literary Memorabilia

alex atkins bookshelf literatureBibliophiles not only collect books, some also collect literary memorabilia — objects owned by famous writers. Occasionally you will come across literary memorabilia at antiquarian book fairs, but because they are so valuable, they usually find they way to auction houses. Here are some of the most fascinating literary memorabilia that have sold at auction in the past year (price of item in parentheses):

Bronze cross, 9 inches tall owned by Jack Kerouac: $750

Rolex Oyster Perpetual wristwatch owned by Jack Kerouac: $1,000

Pocket watch owned by P.G. Wodehouse: $4,375

Monogramed candlestick owned by Charles Dickens, sat on his writing desk in his library at Gad’s Hill: $8,750

Mahogany writing table with two frieze drawers owned by Charles Dickens: $13,750

Walking stick, made of hazel, silver, and ivory owned by Robert Burns: $2,200

Walking stick with engraved gold top owned by Frederick Douglass: $37,500

Pen owned by Rudyard Kipling: $3,347

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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For further reading: https://www.finebooksmagazine.com/blog/kerouacs-crucifix-dickens-candlestick-appealing-literary-memorabilia
https://www.finebooksmagazine.com/news/rare-books-manuscripts-relics-including-forbes-and-kerouac-auction

 


Essential Worldwide Laws of Life: Learning

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhat does it mean to live a good life? Indeed, it is an important question that has been pondered by philosophers, writers, and thinkers for thousands of years. One of those thinkers was Sir John Templeton (1912-2008), an American-born British investor, fund manager and philanthropist. Templeton had an impeccable education: he attended Yale University by paying part of his tuition by playing poker. He went on to study law at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Templeton was a brilliant stock trader and pioneered the use of globally diversified funds known as the Templeton Mutual Funds. Despite his enormous wealth, he remained humble, insisting on driving his own car and flying coach. Moreover, he was  a very generous philanthropist, having donated more than $1 billion to charities through the John Templeton Foundation.

Templeton was fascinated by the question: what does it mean to live a good life. He studied the major scriptures of the world, as well as the philosophers, historians, artists, writers, and scientists who studied this question. Templeton was looking for a way to connect the dots, and what he discovered were certain commonalities, threads that were woven into the tapestry of wisdom. He called these lessons the “laws of life.” In 1998, he published The Essential Worldwide Laws of Life so that readers of every age could discover the universal truths of life, the life lessons that are present in every society and religion, transcending time. Templeton elaborates: “Following in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin and others who have tried to pass on their learning to others, this book has been written from a lifetime of experience and diligent observation in the hope that it may help people in all parts of the world to make their lives not only happier but also more useful.”

One of the keys to living a good life is the importance of teaching and learning. Here are some excerpts from the chapter on learning:

There is a difference between acquiring knowledge and information and possessing wisdom. You may acquire knowledge from a university, your travels, your relationships, the books you read, and other activities in which you participate. But are you also gaining wisdom?

Wisdom is born of mistakes; confront error and learn. (J. Jelinek)

Defeat isn’t bitter if you don’t swallow it. (Ten Engstrom)

You can make opposition work for you. (Anonymous)

Everything and everyone around you is your teacher. (Ken Keyes)

We learn more by welcoming criticism than by rendering judgment. (J. Jelinek)

Only one thing is more important than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience. (John Templeton)

We can become bitter or better as a result of our experiences. (Eric Butterworth)

If you think you know it all, you are less likely to learn more. (John Templeton)

No one’s education is ever complete. (John Templeton)

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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Treasures of a Virtual Book Fair 2020

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you are a book lover and never had a chance to attend an antiquarian book fair, then this weekend is your chance to visit one in the comfort of your pajamas, while you lounge at home. This weekend, June 4-7, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) is hosting its annual book fair online. The online fair features more than 150 booksellers who specialize in books, maps, autographs, historical documents, and other printed materials. At a real book fair you can spend hours browsing through the bookshelves arranged in booths on the convention floor. It’s a real thrill to hold a book worth $50,000 or more. Online you can browse by virtual aisles, and although you can’t hold them, you can certainly behold them. Booksellers are organized into the following aisles according to region: mid-Atlantic, Midwest, New England, Northern California, Pacific Northwest, Southeast, Southern California, and Southwest. You can browse by region or product type: autographs, books, ephemera, manuscripts, maps, original art, pamphlets, periodicals, photographs, posters, and prints. The home page also features a search dialog box (search by author or title). If you find a literary treasure, you simply place the item in your shopping cart and purchase directly from the site. Virtual visitors can also watch a webinars on book collecting.

Some of the treasures at the virtual book fair are:

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, first edition: $75,000

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, first edition: $26,000

Carrie by Stephen King, signed first edition: $6,000

A Collection of Autographs by Abraham Lincoln: $65,000

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, inscribed first edition: $17,500

William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (fourth folio, 1685): $200,000

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, first edition: $19,000

You can visit the book fair here: https://www.abaa.org

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 Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhat if the opening lines to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse that has devastated the working class — and now, riots triggered by systemic racial oppression and police brutality with impunity? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.

Today we will reimagine the initial stanza of T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The poem is considered one of the first modernist poems, using no consistent rhyme scheme and utilizing mouth traditional and innovative poetic techniques. Eliot’s use of imagery and diction is absolutely masterful. And of course, since this is an Eliot poem, there are many literary allusions, including the works of Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible. The poem begins with a dramatic monologue by our narrator, J. Alfred Prufrock, a complex middle-aged modern man: neurotic, frustrated, emasculated, alienated, weary, and suffering from Hamlet’s analysis paralysis (I could go on!). He invites us to walk through seedy, half-deserted, confusing streets, representing the chaotic state of the world. This is juxtaposed by a short stanza where high society woman come and go, discussing the arts, indifferent to the decay around them. Although there are many important messages in this brilliant poem, the main theme highlights man’s fragile, tormented psychological state as he muddles through the destructive forces of the modern world  — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

Let us go then, you and I,
When tear gas and flash grenades are spread out against the sky
Like a zip-tied protestor pushed onto the pavement by bended knee
Let us go, through scorched streets littered with shattered glass
The angry mobs shouting in retreat
Of restless nights captives in homes, sheltered-in-place
And half-empty restaurants with their tables spaced apart
Streets that follow like a belligerent Trumpian tweet
Of insidious, despotic intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What the fuck is happening to America?”
Stop your whining, put on your coronavirus face mask, and let’s make a visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking about Covid-19 and Chauvin

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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What To Do When You Find a Typo in a Book

alex atkins bookshelf booksHave you ever been reading a book, perhaps a classic novel or a recently published book, and come across a typo? WTF? It’s annoying isn’t it? You just paid $18 to $30 for the book and the publisher clearly skimped on proofreaders (or should we say “poofreaders”?). Dedicated readers and book lovers have a few options. You can hurl the book across the room, sending it crashing into the wall. As it falls to the floor in a crumpled mess you curse the author and the publisher using an appropriate Shakespearean curse like “Thou paper-faced rampallians who have conceived of such wretched, weasel-like typos! Get thee to the blasted inferno of Hell!” Sure it feels good, but the sense of satisfaction is fleeting. The typo is still in there, taunting you, haunting you…

Another option is to photograph the page and email the jpeg file to the publisher along with a note pointing out the error. There is a deeper sense of satisfaction with this option because now, at least, you have the hope that it will be corrected in a future printing. And when you confirm that a later edition is corrected, you can take credit for it.

But there is a third option: you can visit the kindred souls at Book Errata (bookerrata.com) that keep a comprehensive list of book and their errors that really annoy readers and bibliophiles. Incidentally, errata (the plural of erratum, derived from the Latin word errare meaning “to err”) is defined as an error that occurs in printing or writing. In publishing an errata is a list of corrected errors that is appended to a book, either as an additional page or as an individual page that is slipped in (known as an errata slip). An erratum is also known as a typo, short for typographical error. The Book Errata community maintains the fascinating Corrigenda List, a list of every book that has been published with typos. Corrigenda, as you may have surmised is another Latin loanword: corrigendum (singular form) is derived from corrigere meaning “bring to order,” defined as something to be corrected, typically a typo in a printed book. When you click on the name of the book in the Corrigenda list, you can view every single typo listed by page number. Books are rated as: “single error, slightly sloppy, sloppy, very sloppy, and horrendous.” The best aspect of Book Errata is that book publishers actually pay attention to this website. Many books that are listed now have the rating of “no errors” because they have been corrected based on the eagle-eyed readers’ feedback.

Let’s take a closer look at a classic novel that is rated “very sloppy.” What’s truly surprising is that the novel is a classic that has been around for 400 years (in fact, since it was first published in 1620, 2020 is its 400th anniversary). The novel? Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes, specifically the edition published by Ecco in 2003 (translated by Edith Grossman). Here are some of the egregious typos:

Page 163, 170: “Accompanying them were two men on horseback and two on foot; the ones on horseback had flintlocks, and those on foot carried javelins and swords [versus] …for this was the man holding the flintlock…and those on horseback put their hands on their swords, and those on foot grasped their javelins” Correction: consistency

Page 172, 195: “…took the basin from his head and struck him three or four blows with it on his shoulders and smashed it an equal number of times on the ground until he had shattered it. [versus] I have the basin in the bag, all dented… they see it as only a barber’s basin, they do not attempt to obtain it, as was evident when that man tried to shatter it, then left it on the ground…” Correction: consistency

Page 281: “…even though he has no knowledge of [ ] wife’s adultery…” Correction: his wife’s

Page 824: “His large, dappled horse appeared to be a Frisian…” Correction: Friesian

Page 830: May may Barabbas go with you…” Correction: May appears twice

For crying out loud! Isn’t 400 years enough time to get a freaking proofreader to get this classic novel published correctly? Are we tilting at windmills, here?!

So why are there so many typos, especially in recently published books? The truth is, there are less proofreaders today in the digital world than in the good ol’ days when authors typed their manuscripts (with typewriters — remember those?). In short, books are published faster, skipping many steps in the traditional publishing process (manuscript, galley proofs, revised proofs, blue lines, etc.) As Virginia Heffernan explains in an article for The New York Times: “For readers who find humanity in orthographic quirks, these are great times. Book publishers used to struggle mightily to conceal an author’s errors; publishers existed to hide those mistakes, some might say. But lately the vigilance of even the great houses has flagged, and typos are everywhere…. Editors I spoke to confirmed my guesses. Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing, they explained, most publishers employed battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.”

We should note that dedicated book collectors actually look for and want printing errors in the books they collect because they often establish the first edition and first printing of a book. Paradoxically, the more errors the first edition contains, the more valuable the book. Take, for example, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that includes eight egregious printing mistakes. The value of a first edition?  As of this writing, there is one for sale on AbeBooks for $190,538!

So if you find a typo in a book, be an Errata Superhero: head over to the Corrections and Omissions page and type in the title, author, publisher, publication date, page number, error and submit the form. The website also includes the contact information for all the major book publishers and their many imprints in case you are really annoyed and want to give the publisher a piece of your mind. Either way, you can take great satisfaction of joining the ranks of the Book Errata warriors, dedicated to obliterating annoying typos from the pages of notable books. Onward!

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.

Read related posts: Why Study Literature?
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For further reading: http://bookerrata.com/index.html
rarebooksdigest.com/2016/07/05/mistaikes-in-books/
opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/the-price-of-typos/


Growing Up in A Home With Books is Good For You

alex atkins bookshelf booksI know. Book lovers, who most likely grew up surrounded by books, read the title of this post, roll their eyes and say “You don’t say!” However, since the coronavirus has made inspecting the bookcases of journalists, experts, and celebrities a fun parlor game, its a perfect time to examine the question: does growing up with books have an impact on children and adults?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Joanna Sikor and a team of researchers at the Australian National University surveyed participants between the ages of 25 and 65 from 31 different countries from 2011 to 2015. Respondents were initially asked to estimate how many books they had in their home when they were 16 years old. Then they completed a number of tests for reading comprehension, understanding mathematical concepts, and the ability to use digital technology for communication. For the purpose of the study, literacy was defined as “the ability to read effectively to participate in society and achieve personal goals.”

So what did study reveal? The study, published in the journal of Social Science Research, found that home library size is positively related to higher levels of literacy. Specifically, individuals who owned around 80 books at home tended to have average scores for literacy, while those who owned fewer than 80 books tended to have below-average scores for literacy. As number of books increased passed 80, scores for literacy increased, leveling off at about 350 books. That is to say, whether a person owned 350 books or 10,000 books, literacy rates remained steadily high. The researchers wrote: “A growing body of evidence supports the contention of scholarly culture theory that immersing children in book-oriented environments benefits their later educational achievement, attainment and occupational standing. These findings have been interpreted as suggesting that book-oriented socialization, indicated by home library size, equips youth with life-long tastes, skills and knowledge. However, to date, this has not been directly assessed. Here, we document advantageous effects of scholarly culture for adult literacy, adult numeracy, and adult technological problem solving.”

Another important study along these lines was conducted by Mariah Evans and her colleagues at the University of Nevada, Reno. Conducted over 20 years with more than 70,000 participants across 27 countries, the study by Evans is the most comprehensive study conducted on ascertaining what influences the level of education that a child will attain. Published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, the study found that regardless of parents’ level of education, occupation, level of wealth, or country of residence, having books in the home had a large impact on children’s educational attainment. Specifically, a child who is raised in a home with a home library containing 500 or more books gives a child 6.6 more years of schooling in China; in the United States, it increases education 2.4 years. The average increases in schooling across all 27 countries was 3.2 years.

One of the most interesting insights from the study was that having books in the home is twice as important as the level of education of the parents. This counters the commonly held notion that having parents who are highly educated is the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education. Evans writes: “What kinds of investments should we be making to help these kids get ahead? The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed. Even a little bit goes a long way,.” The study found that even having as few as 20 books in a home made a difference. Evans adds, “You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’. It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”

So bibliophiles can now look to science to justify their compulsion to buy books (known as bibliomania) without any guilt. And parents, if you are listening, take your children, head out to the nearest bookstore and get them started on an intellectual journey that will last a lifetime.

Note to readers: I was trying to research average number of books in home libraries in the United States, but could not find any reliable information. If you have some data (including sources, URLS, etc). Would appreciate any insights. Cheers.

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.

Read related posts: Why Study Literature?
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For further reading: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0049089X18300607
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0276562410000090


What Type of Book Lover Are You?

alex atkins bookshelf booksDo you carry a book or ereader wherever you go? Ever find yourself chugging coffee at work in an effort to stay awake after a late night with a book that captured your interest? Are there piles of books around your house? Are you lured to every bookstore you see like a siren’s call? If any of these sound familiar, then you are probably a bibliophile — or depending on your preference, a book addict, book lover, bookworm, bibliomaniac, or bibliolater. Those last two sound kind of creepy, and come to think of it, some book collectors can be. But we digress… So if you’re a book lover, what type of book lover are you?

According to Jo Hoare, author of So You Think You’re a Bookworm?, there are 20 types of book lovers. Here are some of the key types of bookworms that she identifies:

Binger: reads an entire series (eg, Harry Potter)

Clubber: read books promoted by book clubs (eg, Oprah’s Book Club)

Adulterer: cannot commit to reading one book at a time

Book thief: borrows books but never returns them

Cryer: reads books about profound sadness, hardships, cruelty, etc. that induce crying

Scholar: not only reads but really studies the book

Non-finisher: cannot commit to finishing a book

Faker: hasn’t read the book but tells others that he or she has read the book

What other types of book lovers should we add to this list?

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 Trial

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 Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. The novel begins by introducing us to K., the ambitious Chief of a bank who wakes one day to find himself arrested. But why and by whom? It is never clear. Ultimately K. is helpless against the Law and the elusive and powerful Court that is holding his trial. K. is living a nightmare — he experiences a wide range of emotions: confusion, frustration, hope, and despair — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

Someone must have been telling lies — fake news! — about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong since he had been sheltering in place for months; he hadn’t gone to the bank in all that time; but, one morning, he was arrested. WTF! Every day at eight in the morning he was brought his breakfast by Dr. Fauci’s cook — Dr. Fauci was his landlord — but today she didn’t come. That had never happened before — she was as reliable as an Uber Eats driver (before the pandemic, of course). K. waited a little while, looked from his pillow at the old woman who lived opposite. She was wearing an N95 face mask and disposable gloves — typical attire for the “new normal” — while she watched him with an inquisitiveness quite unusual for her, and finally, both hungry and disconcerted, he rang the bell. There was immediately a knock at the door and a man entered. He had never seen the man in this house before. Anyone who came into K’s room would have been tested for COVID-19. The man was slim but firmly built, his clothes were black and close-fitting, with many folds and pockets, buckles, buttons and a belt, along with the obligatory PPE — all of which gave the impression of being very practical but without making it very clear what they were actually for. “Who are you? Am I being punked?” asked K., sitting half upright in his bed, confused to be found in this rather um… Kafkaesque situation. The man, however, ignored the question just like Trump avoids questions at his self-aggrandizing coronavirus press  carnival shows. His eyes were obscured by the plastic face shield and his expression was inscrutable under the face mask; he merely replied, “You rang?” “Did you mean that sarcastically?” K. asked. “Anna isn’t here; and I know she wasn’t furloughed. She told me she had applied to that financial fiasco known as the PPP program administered by the incompetent bureaucrats at the SBA. So she should have brought me my breakfast,” said K. He tried to work out who the man actually was, first in silence, just through observation and by thinking about it, but the man didn’t stay still to be looked at for very long. Is that Mike Pence? he thought; the resemblance was uncanny — the neatly combed white hair, the deep-sunk beady eyes, the monotone robotic voice, and the uptight stick-up-his-ass posture. Instead the man went over to the door, opened it slightly, and said to his obsequious assistant from the feckless coronavirus task force who was clearly standing immediately behind it, “He wants Anna to bring him his breakfast.”

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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What Was the First Book Ever Ordered on Amazon?

alex atkins bookshelf booksIt’s hard to imagine how people survived in the BA (Before Amazon) Era. I suppose anyone who grew up in the late 1990s just assumed that Amazon had always existed. It’s like the Big Bang of retail: one moment there was the Void — then BANG! there it is was — a portal to the world’s largest store. You just log in, search, scroll, click, and a few days later, there’s your stuff on the doorstep. But no, Amazon had a humble beginning in the early 1990s. Taking a page from some of the most famous startups in Silicon Valley, Amazon was founded in the garage of the parents of Jeff Bezos’ home in Bellevue, Washington. Amazon began selling only books in early July 1995. Its first year, Amazon sales totaled $511,000. Naturally, that invites the question: what was the first book ever ordered on Amazon?

Before we get to the book, let’s meet the person who ordered it: John Wainwright. Wainwright is a computer scientist who was one of the key developers of object-based computer languages ScriptX and MaxScript. Back in early 1995, he was an employee of Kaledia Labs (1991-1996), a joint venture between once arch-rivals Apple and IBM, located in Mountain View, California. One of his friends, Shel Kaphan, was an early employee at a startup named Amazon, sent him an invitation to their beta site to purchase a book. He wrote: “Create an account and order some books.” The book that Wainwright ordered on April 3, 1995 (although Amazon dates the sale to July 1995 when it officially opened) was Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter and the Fluid Analogies Research Group published by BasicBooks in 1995. The price he paid for the 518-page hardcover book: $27.95. In an interview, Wainwright said that he still has the original packing slip (with the original Amazon logo inspired by the Amazon River and the note “Thanks for shopping at Amazon.com!”) and the book is still in his order history. Unfortunately, Amazon did not have the book in the inventory they had access to; Wainwright explains “… the story goes that Jeff Bezos didn’t want to delay the fulfillment and he went charging around [local brick-and-mortar] bookstores himself to find a copy to send it off in time. Whether that’s true or not, it’s a small testament to his energy and drive that he got it.”

So why did Wainwright order this particular book, especially since Hofstadter’s more popular work is Godel, Escher, Back. Wainwright explains in an interview with MarketWatch: “[Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies] was a work on artificial intelligence and human cognition modeling. It seemed like a reasonable way of catching up with what was going on around the 1990s. It’s a collection of articles and essays documenting research that Hofstadter and his students were doing at the time, modeling human form.” The Amazon review states: “Readers of earlier works by Douglas Hofstadter will find this book a natural extension of his style and his ideas about creativity and analogy; in addition, psychologists, philosophers, and artificial-intelligence researchers will find in this elaborate web of ingenious ideas a deep and challenging new view of mind. A lucid, highly readable exploration of the computer models of discovery, creation, and analogical thought developed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach and the Fluid Analogies Research Group. The book features anagram and number puzzles, analogy puzzles involving letter strings or tabletop objects, and fanciful alphabetic styles.”

For his contribution to Amazon’s amazing success story, Amazon named one of the buildings on its corporate campus the Wainwright building (535 Terry Avenue North). Pretty cool, huh? Incidentally, if you want to buy the Hofstadter book, it is still available. As of this writing, a used hardcover copy costs $4.56 and a new paperback costs $21.99.

Bonus question: what was the second book that Wainwright bought on Amazon? The First Thousand Words in Russian by Heather Amery  (current price for a used hardcover copy $2.33). Wainwright explains: “We were just in the throes of adopting a daughter from Russia and we thought we should learn some Russian. We adopted [a girl] in April 1995.”

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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For further reading: http://www.quora.com/What-was-the-first-book-ever-ordered-by-a-customer-on-Amazon
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/here-is-the-first-book-ever-ordered-on-amazon/264344/
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-was-the-first-book-ever-ordered-on-amazoncom-24406844/
http://www.triviagenius.com/answer-what-was-the-first-book-sold-on-amazon/
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/meet-amazons-first-ever-customer-2015-04-22


Judging Celebrities by the Books on Their Bookshelves

alex atkins bookshelf booksEver been invited to tour a house and at the first sight of a bookcase you are drawn to it like a moth to a flame? Then, chances are you a bibliophile and you are fascinated by the books that others place on a bookshelf because you know that it reveals something about that person — it is a snapshot of their inner mind, a map of their intellectual journey of discovery. Indeed, a bibliophile truly believes that you can judge a person by the books he or she reads and displays; moreover you can judge a bookshelf by its covers.

Thanks to sheltering in place orders across the country, books on the bookshelves are getting a lot of attention. Numerous newspapers and websites have been running stories about celebrities and the bookshelves they use as backdrops during their interviews. In fact, taking a photo or a video in front of a bookcase is now known as a “selfie.” For example, The Washington Post recently ran a story in their home and garden section titled “Social isolation (and video chat) is bringing renewed attention to the art of the bookshelf.” The New York Times contributed “The Credibility Bookcase Is the Quarantine’s Hottest Accessory. Not to be outdone, Vogue offered this article: “If You Can’t Stop Staring at TV Anchors’ Home Backgrounds, Your’re Not Alone.” Vox weighed in with “Quarantine is giving us the opportunity to judge celebrity bookshelves.” And finally, for a lighter approach, The Telegraph ran a story titled “Letter from Lockdown: Want to Be Taken Seriously? Sort our your bookshelf.” That’s right — during the coronavirus quarantined it’s cool to be a book nerd. You can just hear all the book lovers saying in unison: “Well it’s about time — and welcome to the club!”

As a book lover, one of the most fascinating aspect of all the interviews being conducted on television during the COVID-19 pandemic, is that you get a glimpse of the bookshelves that are selected as the backdrop for celebrities — anchors, correspondents, writers, actors, music artists, politicians, experts, etc. One can assume that the interviewee believes that the books help boost their credibility by conveying their level of erudition or commitment to reading and learning. From an art director’s point of view, it makes a nice backdrop because of the orderly bands of colors and rectangular shapes that are often punctuated with mementos, small photos, and small art pieces. Unfortunately due to the fixed- focus of the lens in a laptop or smartphone, sometimes it is difficult to read the titles of the books. However, eagle-eye bibliophiles can instantly recognize a book by its spine. It can become a fun game to identify some of the titles while the celebrity is on screen.

Here are some of the books that have been identified from the bookshelves of celebrities and experts who have been interviewed on television or online:

Cate Blanchett (Late Show with Stephen Colbert)
Moscow 1937 by Karl Schologel
The Oxford English Dictionary
Postcapitalism by Paul Mason
Several unidentified Modern Library classics

Prince Charles (Clarence House Instagram)
Kings in Grass Castles by Mary Durack
Shattered by Dick Francis
Stubbs by Basil Taylor

Andy Cohen (Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon)
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Live From New York by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales

Stephen Colbert (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert)
All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt by John Taliaferro
Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann
Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas
No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen
Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked by Chris Matthews

Jane Goodall (PBS NewsHour)
The End of Food by Thomas Pawlick
The Hidden Target by Helen MacInnes

Tom Hanks (Saturday Night Live)
The Oxford English Dictionary
The Encyclopedia Britannica

Seth Meyers (Late Night with Seth Meyers)
All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George Higgins and Dennis Lehane
The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall

Kate Middleton (Public Health England Initiative interview)
Penguin Clothbound Classics (designed by Corlie Bickford-Smith):
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
The Odyssey by Homer
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Trevor Noah (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah)
Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie Glaude, Jr.
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Amy Poehler (Late Night with Seth Meyers)
Blitzed by Norman Ohler
Peeves by Mike Can Waes
Time Zero by Carolyn Cohagan

Paul Rudd (Saturday Night Live)
Code of Conduct by Brad Thor
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Slave Day by Rob Thomas

Have you seen any interesting books on the bookshelves of a celebrity during an interview? Please send Bookshelf the name of the person, what show they appeared on, and the book titles you could identify.

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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For further reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/01/arts/quarantine-bookcase-coronavirus.html
http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2020/apr/07/our-new-lockdown-game-judging-famous-people-by-their-bookshelves
nationalpost.com/entertainment/late-night-hosts-used-to-come-into-our-living-rooms-during-covid-19-were-entering-theirs
http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/the-bookshelf-rediscovered/2020/05/04/d7a07fd8-8996-11ea-ac8a-fe9b8088e101_story.html
http://www.vox.com/culture/2020/4/11/21216298/quarantine-coronavirus-celebrity-bookshelves
http://www.vogue.com/article/news-anchors-broadcasting-from-home-bookshelves-flowers-coronavirus


Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: Lord of the Flies

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 William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. The novel begins by introducing us to Ralph who will clash with Jack over leadership of a young group of survivors of a plane crash that are stranded on a deserted island. Golding has created two characters that represent different approaches to living in society: while Ralph represents democracy and peace, Jack represents dictatorship and violence. Lord of the Flies is a powerful allegory about mankind’s dueling impulses: good vs evil, reason vs. impulse, law vs. anarchy, civilization vs. savagery, altruism vs. selfishness. In a short period of time, these young boys descend into the darkness of man’s heart, exposing the best and worst of humanity — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. After weeks of sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, he welcomed the fresh air in his lungs and the warm sun beating down on his fair skin.Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him, his hair was plastered to his forehead, and his face mask pressed uncomfortably hard on his nose and mouth, leaving a deep impression on his skin. All round him the long rock outcrop smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He thought to himself: didn’t that idiot Trump say that the heat was going to miraculously destroy all the coronavirus by April? What a moron! But thinking of this imbecile just made him angry — the boy had lost so many friends to coronavirus; for now he had to concentrate on his survival and the path directly ahead. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.

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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Reading is Love in Action

alex atkins bookshelf books“In a world that can get too much, a world where we are running out of min space, fictional worlds are essential. They can be an escape from reality, yes, but not an escape from truth… A truth that can keep you sane, or at least keep you you… So often, reading is seen as important because of its social value. It is tied to education and the economy and so on. But that misses the whole point of reading. Reading isn’t important because it helps you get a job. It’s important because it gives you too to exist beyond the reality you’re given. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Understanding. Escape. Reading is love in action.”

From the essay Fiction is Freedom from the book Notes on a Nervous Planet by English novelist and journalist Matt Haig. He has published 20 books, including the best-selling nonfiction book, Reasons to Stay Alive (2015). The inspiration for the book came about when Haig pondered how we live in a modern world that is so fast-paced, consumer-driven, and stressful, where our physical health and mental health are intertwined. A review of all the sensational headlines in the news prompted the question: how can we live in a mad world without going mad ourselves?

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Reading Enlarges the Range of Our Living and Deepens Our Emotions

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Reading can never be a substitute for living; but reading can enormously enlarge the range of our living by bringing us into contact with people, real and imaginary, we never could meet, by awakening and deepening our emotions, lending new meaning to our own experiences, and by giving us most of the facts and ideas without which we could not work or talk or think.”

From the essay “A Teacher Looks at Reading” by A. B. Herr, a senior instructor and textbook editor at The Reading Institute, New York University.

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Why You Should Start a Coronavirus Diary

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAs you read this, you are making history. That’s right — you are making history along with millions of other people around the globe who are sheltering in place to ensure that health professionals and essential workers are not endangered or overwhelmed. In short we are staying home to save someone’s life. In the absence of any vaccine or cure, we have to work together to get through this existential nightmare. Each day we must brace ourselves to endure the seemingly endless waves of fear, anxiety, frustration, depression, or uncertainty that wash over us. On good days, those waves are relatively low; but on bad days, the waves get so high that they drown you. And each day we must get up and renew our collective pledge: “Together we will get though this.” But it isn’t very easy. So how do we make sense of all the ceaseless “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?” How do we soldier on?

For a way out of this maw of misery, let us step back in time — specifically to June 12, 1942. We climb up the stairs to find a hidden attic apartment where a young girl, who just turned 13, has just received a special birthday gift: a red and white checkered diary. On that day, she opens it and writes her first entry: “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” The girl’s name? Annelies Marie Frank, better known as Anne Frank.

78 years later, Anne Frank’s personal writings, published as The Diary of a Young Girl (commonly referred to as The Diary of Anne Frank; it has sold more than 35 million copies), transcend time and place to speak to us today, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Her diary is both a testament to the endurance of the human spirit as well as a brilliant beacon that pierces the darkness to guide us to hope, encouragement, comfort, and courage. Indeed, one of the most significant contributions of Anne Frank’s diary is the enduring power of voice. Recall William Faulkner’s powerful and eloquent observation about the duty of the writer in his Nobel acceptance speech: “I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking… I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” Amen, brother.

Another significant contribution of Anne Frank’s diary is the therapeutic value of writing a diary. Keeping a diary serves as a lens to reflect on and help understand what is happening all around us. Writing provides the welcomed opportunity to contemporaneously process all of one’s thoughts and feelings. Today, many mental health experts are suggesting that we all take a page from Anne Frank’s diary and start keeping a coronavirus diary or journal. Over the last few weeks, several articles with titles like “Why You Should Start a Coronavirus Diary” are being published as a way to help people deal with the negative impact of the coronavirus (eg, anxiety, depression, loneliness, severe illness, and death). Many people who are infected report that reading how other patients are coping with the coronavirus has a very positive healing effect.

In an interview with The New York Times, Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, explained, “It’s incredibly useful both for us personally and on a historical level to keep a daily record of what goes on around us during difficult times.” Herbert Braun, a professor of history at the University of Virginia adds, “We have to convince ourselves that we’re writing something that perhaps other people want or need to read… When we write these words, they don’t have to be great. They don’t have to be perfect.” The critical thing is that years from now, future generations will want to know what people went through. One archivist said it best: “Some of the best stories we get are from ordinary people who are experiencing something extraordinary.”

Another article by the Los Angeles Times titled “Coronavirus Diaries are Helping People Cope — They’re Also a Research Gold Mine” highlights how infected individuals who post COVID-19 diaries are helping many others who cannot see a doctor or obtain tests. The diaries help readers self-diagnose or confirm symptoms. The coronavirus diaries also help guide others through the illness so they know what to expect and learn what remedies to explore. Sean Young, an associate professor at UCLA who studies digital behavior noted that people turn to social media doing a health crisis: “When the government is inconsistent in their messaging, then that creates confusion, fear and chaos. People want to share their symptoms because they’re looking for a community. They’re looking to find out how other people have recovered with similar symptoms. It’s a good resource to hear from others if it makes us feel better, if it doesn’t make us feel more anxious.” The information gleaned from diaries is also a big help to researchers who are studying the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, while turning to coronavirus diaries can help reduce anxiety, the flip side is that diaries can also spread misinformation that can be dangerous — or even lethal. So readers need to do some research on what they read.

So how do you get started on writing a coronavirus diary? Simple — start writing about today. You can take the old school approach and write in a specially bound journal or a spiral-bound notebook. Or you can take the digital route and create a Google document, a Word document, or start a daily blog. Begin with questions like: what did I do today? What did you read about or learn in the news that caught your attention? How did that news make you feel? What reflections did that news evoke? What did you learn about a colleague, friend, or relative today? What were your thoughts or feelings about that news? What is the saddest thing that happened today? What made you happy today? What did you read, hear, or watch that inspired you to get through the day?

If you need inspiration, read some of the current coronavirus diaries online, or curl up with The Diary of Anne Frank. Who knows — one day students will be reading from your diary and understanding what it was really like to live through America’s deadliest pandemic and most crippling financial recession. And like Anne Frank’s diary it will inspire them to endure whatever hardships they might be facing.

Are you writing a coronavirus journal? How is it helping you to cope?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please LIKE and FOLLOW (via email or WordPress Reader) or share with a friend. The coronavirus quarantine is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: Anne Frank: Her Life and Legacy by the editor of Life Magazine
http://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/smarter-living/why-you-should-start-a-coronavirus-diary.html

http://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-10/coronavirus-daily-covid-19-diaries-online-are-helping-people-cope
http://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/

http://www.livescience.com/59449-anne-frank-diary-75th-anniversary.html


Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: The Catcher in the Rye

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 J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye. The novel’s narrator,  Holden Caulfield, is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive voices in modern American literature. Just about every adolescent can relate to this memorable coming of age story: leaving behind the innocence of youth, stepping into young adulthood often characterize by superficiality and hypocrisy. Moreover, the period is marked with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

If you are bored out of your mind from self-sheltering and really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were incorrigible workaholics that barely made time for me, and all that pity-party, tell-all testimonial kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would take away my iPhone and internet access if I told anything pretty personal about them beyond their phony LinkedIn profiles. They’re quite prickly about anything like that, especially my father, a recent victim of identity fraud. I mean for Chrissakes he uses “password” as his password. It kills me. Any way, they’re nice and all ­— I’m not saying that — but they’re also thin-skinned as hell. Besides, I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything, especially since you’re glued to your smartphones watching stupid cat videos or watching the Tiger King’s cat fight with that creepy big cat activist. (BTW what really happened to her husband?) Watch enough of this crap and it will turn your brain to mush. But let me tell you about this batshit crazy stuff that happened to me during the coronavirus pandemic that made me pretty sick and had to come out and recover. All I have to show for my suffering is this “I took hydroxycholoquine and all I got was heart arrhythmia” t-shirt that I’m wearing. It totally sucks! I recently Facetimed A.J. about, and he’s my brother and all. He’s in New York City — of all places! — right at the epicenter of this COVID-19 cluster-fuck. That isn’t too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me practically every weekend to load up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and N95 face masks. He’s preppy but not a prepper — if you know what I mean. A real dope — I swear to God. Anyhoo… he’s going to drive me home when I complete my self-quarantine next month (assuming I can get my hands on one of those coronavirus tests) since flying in an airplane is like stepping into a giant phallic-shape petri dish swirling with coronavirus and the smell of a dozen stinky perfumes that phonies wear when they travel. It makes me wanna puke. A.J. just got a Tesla. One of those over-priced electric cars that crashes into all kinds of crap when it’s on autopilot. Artificial intelligence is really dumb, ya know? It cost him damn near sixty thousand bucks. A.J.’s got a lot of dough, now  — he finally got one of those PPP loans through the SBA. Ha! the SBA — what a bunch of phonies, thinking that they can prevent a deep recession by tossing out all that loot. A.J. didn’t use to seek out government help. He was a proud Republican and believed that the government shouldn’t help out the little guy. That’s socialism he said. Nobody likes losers. Boy, things changed pretty darn fast when he fell on his ass financially, though. He sure sounds like a whiny socialist now: why doesn’t the government help me now? It’s enough to make you puke. Any way, he used to be just a regular writer, when he was home before the coronavirus shit show. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Pandemic is a Deep State Hoax, in case you never heard of him. The best one in it was ‘The Smartest Man in the World.’ It was about this megalomaniac, self-aggrandizing buffoon (how do you like my SAT words?) who was the leader of a country. But he was a real phony — he barely read anything, he never listened to anyone. He really believed he was the smartest man in the world. I’m a real  stable genius he said. So when all the medical experts at WHO and elsewhere were ringing the alarm bells — a fucking pandemic is coming! — this bozo said there was nothing to worry about. What a bunch of B.S.! The delay in response meant that hundreds of thousands of poor saps suffered unnecessarily. And then — get this — the entire economy came crashing down. But all he cared about were his goddam poll numbers and being re-elected. Gosh, it really killed me. Now he’s itching to go campaigning and rewriting history by denying how badly he bungled the response to the pandemic. Hashtag DELUSIONAL! If there’s one thing I hate, it’s politics. Don’t even bring it up.

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: Notes from Underground

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 Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Notes from Underground. This novel was Dostoevsky’s response to the western influence on Russia which he felt was destructive and undermined traditional Russian values rooted in the lower classes. In the first paragraph, Dostoevsky introduces the reader to a well-educated but sick, self-loathing narrator, the Underground Man, who is disillusioned with the absurdity and predictability of modern society. He eschews utopian socialism and utilitarianism, believing instead that man truly desires to exercise free will — even when it runs contrary to society’s or their own best interests. Thus man engages in behavior that is unproductive or destructive, or takes pleasure in illness or misery to assert his free will. His contempt for himself is only exacerbated by his crippling lethargy — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:

I am a sick man…. I was diagnosed with the coronavirus last week. I am a resentful man… this pandemic could have been diminished back in January. I am an unattractive man (to give you an idea, just picture senior policy advisor Stephen Miller with long, filthy uncombed hair). I believe my lungs are compromised by COVID-19. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and the medical experts at WHO do not know for certain why the virus kills some patients and spares others. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have — I lost my medical plan last year thanks to the callous Republicans who are hellbent on repealing Obamacare — though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). I also believe in conspiracy theories, like the one that claims that Trump is Putin’s spineless, brainless puppet so that Russia can divide America and ultimately take over the world. Or the one that asserts that the coronavirus was China’s bioweapon to infect the world, topple the financial markets, then emerge as an economic powerhouse by making money off the pandemic and purchasing companies that recently lost value. But I digress… no, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand, especially if you are healthy and have a decent private medical plan. Well, I understand it, though. Despite a culture that has digressed to tribal, cult-like discourse and the manipulation of truth into fake news, I still retain the greatest benefits of my college education: independent, critical thinking. Of course, I can’t explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot “pay out” the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it is from spite. My lungs are bad, well — let it get worse!

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.

Read related posts: Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: A Tale of Two Cities
Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: The Old Man and the Sea
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The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels
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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.

Read related posts: Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus: A Tale of Two Cities
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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.

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