Category Archives: Literature

How Much is a Jane Austen First Edition Worth?

alex atkins bookshelf booksToday, July 18, 2017, marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) death. Like fellow British writers Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, Austen is a perennial literary sensation — her works have never been out of print over two centuries. Her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published anonymously (the title page simply stated “BY A LADY”), as a three-volume set in 1811, selling out just two years later. Following Sense and Sensibility, Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1817), and Persuasion (1817). Austen began a seventh novel, Sanction, in 1817 but died before it was completed. Austen’s popular six novels have inspired more than 70 TV and film adaptations and thousands of books. To get a sense of the impressive Austen canon, type in “Jane Austen” into the Amazon search field and you will find 14,594 books (compare this with 40,203 books about Dickens and 134,625 books about Shakespeare!). Naturally, a bibliophile (especially a Janeite bibliophile) wonders: what would a first edition of each of Jane Austen’s cost? Excellent question. According to current prices at AbeBooks, an entire set of first editions of Jane Austen six novels would set you back $190,000. Serious coin — about the cost of a college education in America. The most valuable books in the set are Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Interestingly, all the first editions were published as multiple volume sets. Here is the value of each first edition:

Sense and Sensibility: $30,000

Pride and Prejudice: $45,000

Mansfield Park: $20,000

Emma: $45,000

Northanger Abbey: $25,000

Persuasion: $25,000

Read related posts: The Best Books About Jane Austen
The Books that Influence Us
What to Read Next
Why Read Dickens?
Most Famous Quotations in British Literature
Famous Love Quotes from Movies

For further reading: Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence
The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen by Edward Copeland

What is the Shortest Book Title in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost people are familiar with some of the most famous book titles in literature, for example, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. And then there are some books with longer titles, like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain or The Strange Case of Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. But few readers are familiar with the shortest book titles in the world, consisting of only one letter:

?, a novel by Sir Walter Newman Flower (1925)

&, a collection of verse by e.e. cummings (1925)

C, a novel by Maurice Baring (1924)

G, a novel by John Berger (1972)

V, a novel by Thomas Pynchon (1963)

Read related posts: What is the Longest Book Title in the World?
How Many People Read the Harry Potter Books?
What is the Longest Novel Ever Written?
What is the Longest One Syllable Word in English?
What is the Longest Song Title?

For further reading: Brewer’s Cabinet of Curiosities by Ian Crofton

If Shakespearean Characters Had Tinder Profiles

alex atkins bookshelf literatureAh, romance during the glorious Elizabethan times… Young men and women could marry as early as 14 years old (with parental permission); however the age of consent was 21, when most young people would marry. Following the wedding customs of the nobility, most marriages were arranged to increase the wealth or bring prestige to a family. Consequently, the soon-to-be star-crossed lovers met for the first time at the wedding altar, avoiding the foolishness and frivolity (not to mention the expense) of a long-drawn-out courtship. Get thee to the altar!

O brave new world — the Age of Google… Well, a lot has changed in 400 years. Today, young people throw caution and parental advice out the window and meet one another via Tinder, a location-based social app that allows singles (and sometimes married people masquerading as singles) to be matched and chat with one another. What happens after that introductory chat is left to fate… perhaps all’s well that ends well. Of course, many parents are clueless about Tinder — they think it is some sort of reading app (perhaps because it sounds like Kindle). 

However, if you are literary-minded, it prompts the question: what if Shakespearean characters had Tinder profiles. Over in the SparkNotes community, Klara Steeves and Chelsea Aaron, channeled the Swan of Avon to come up with Tinder profiles for some of his most enduring characters:

Hamlet, 30
I spend a lot of time thinking about the unknowable void of death and how it makes cowards of us all; Chipotle burritos, murdering my stepdad.

Iago, 28
Turn-ons: plotting, scheming, general villainy. Turn-offs: honesty, loyalty, a moral compass.

Lady Macbeth, 30
My style: moto jackers, crop tops, dresses stained with the blood of my enemies; if you’re not down with some casual regicide, swipe left.

Puck, 21
Outdoor sleepovers are my jam. Classic blunder: challenging me to a prank war. If you end up with a donkey head, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Romeo, 16
Trying to find my ride-or-die, not here for hookups. My ideal woman is down to get married within 24 hours of meeting me. Bonus points if your family is currently in a blood feud with mine.

Read related posts: What if Shakespeare Wrote the Hits: Don’t Stop Believin
Were Shakespeare’s Sonnets Written to a Young Man?
When Was Shakespeare Born?
The Legacy of Shakespeare
Shakespeare the Pop Song Writer

The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio
Who Are the Greatest Characters in Shakespeare?
The Most Common Myths About Shakespeare
Shakespeare and Uranus
Best Editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

For further reading:

Best Poems for Funerals: When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIn his eulogy for Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson observed, “We are always saying farewell in this world — always standing at the edge of loss attempting to retrieve some memory; some human meaning, from the silence — something which is precious and gone.” Eventually, in the course of our lives, we will be standing at that precipice — paralyzed by the agony of heartbreak and the crushing sense of loss. During that initial shock of grief, we are at a loss for words, but paradoxically, we turn to words for solace, for healing, for meaning, and ultimately for some glimmer of hope. The hope, of course, is that the memory of a loved one ushers in a profound gratitude of having had that person touch our lives to bring out the best in us; and by remembering them as we continue on in life, we honor them. Maya Angelou’s beautiful and touching poem, When Great Trees Fall, strikes the perfect balance between recognizing the despair and pain of grieving and the hope and joy that blooms after mourning.

When Great Trees Fall
by Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

For further reading: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou by Maya Angelou (1994)

The Library as Open Door to Wonder and Achievement

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsI received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.

From I. Asimov: A Memoir by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), prolific science fiction writer (he wrote more than 506 books and more than 90,000 letters during his lifetime), best known for his Foundation, Galactic Empire, and Robot series of novels.

The Importance of Reading

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhen we read we get to step into the shoes of another human being. In that journey of a mile — or perhaps hundreds of miles if you consider the great epics — comes greater understanding, empathy, and the humility that comes from the realization that you don’t know everything (and you shouldn’t have to; besides no one likes a no-it-all). In short, we read to understand ourselves and our fellow man in the hope that we can become better human beings. But don’t take my word for it, here are some of the world’s greatest thinkers and writers on the importance of reading:

Socrates: Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writing so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.

Aldous Huxley: Every man who knows who to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant, and interesting.

T.S. Eliot: Someone once said, “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.

Henry David Thoreau: A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint… What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

William Ellery Channing: It is chiefly through books that we enjoy the intercourse with superior minds… In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their soul into ours. God be thanked for books.

William Faulkner: [Man] 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.

Emily Dickinson:
He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

Read related posts:
The Poem I Turn To
Great Literature Speaks

William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
What is Your Legacy?

The Power of Literature
Universal Human Values
The Poem I Turn To
Why Read Dickens?
The Benefits of Reading
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Books that Shaped America
Why Reading is Critical to the Writer
Is Reading Essential for Success?
The Books that Most People Begin Reading but Don’t Finish

For further reading: The Delights of Reading by Otto Bettmann

What if Shakespeare Wrote the Hits: Don’t Stop Believin

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWilliam Shakespeare is considered the world’s greatest writer — he was a brilliant playwright, but his genius really shines through in his glorious sonnets and poems. Although Shakespeare wrote plays to make a living, he wrote poetry to nourish his soul. Four centuries after they were published, the sonnets remain the most widely-read and recited poems in all of English literature. Stop and ponder for a moment: if Shakespeare were alive today, would he also be writing pop songs? According to Erik Didriksen, author of the very cheeky Pop Sonnets, the answer would be a resounding yes! Here is Shakespeare’s version of Journey’s famous rock hit Don’t Stop Believin:

A lonely maiden from a hamlet small;
a boy within a woeful city rear’d —
they both at midnight left their ports of call
t’ward any destination volunteer’d.
A public-house is where their journeys end,
where patrons’ pipes burn long and minstrels play.
The darken’d hours have made them more than friends,
the other’s smile inviting each to stay.
Look ye on those who wander through the streets
beneath the lamplight, searching for a soul —
they comb the darken’d night in hope to meet
the sweet companion that shall make them whole.
— Ensure thy heart won’t let their spirit leave;
’tis most important thou dost e’er believe.

Read related posts: Were Shakespeare’s Sonnets Written to a Young Man?
When Was Shakespeare Born?
The Legacy of Shakespeare
Shakespeare the Pop Song Writer

The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio
Who Are the Greatest Characters in Shakespeare?
The Most Common Myths About Shakespeare
Shakespeare and Uranus
Best Editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

For further reading: Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs by Erik Didriksen (2005)

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