Category Archives: Literature

What is the Most Checked-Out Book at a Library?

alex atkins bookshelf booksA measure of a community can be measured, to some extent, by the books that patrons of the local library check out the most. It gives you a sense of what they are concerned about, what they are curious about, and age range of reader (child or adult). Since the legendary New York Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, they focused their efforts to answer this question; specifically, in their entire history, which books have been checked out the most? In their post, titled “Top 10 Checkouts of All Time,” the librarians write: “Since The New York Public Library’s founding in 1895, millions of books have been checked out by patrons of all ages throughout the city. In honor of the 125th anniversary, a team of experts from the Library carefully evaluated a series of key factors to determine the most borrowed books, including historic checkout and circulation data (for all formats, including e-books), overall trends, current events, popularity, length of time in print, and presence in the Library catalog.”

Can you guess which books made the top ten? Six of the titles are children’s books, while four are adult titles. Interestingly, no book cracked the million or half million mark for checkouts. Without further ado, here is their list of the most checked out books (number of checkouts in parentheses):

1. “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, 1962 (485,583)

2. “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss, 1957 (469,650)

3. “1984” by George Orwell, 1949 (441,770)

4. “Where The Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, 1963 (436,016)

5. “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, 1960 (422,912)

6. “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, 1952 (337,948)

7. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, 1953 (316,404)

8. “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, 1936 (284,524)

9. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling, 1997 (231,022)

When You Don’t Have Time to Read the Classics: Moby Dick

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWe live in the Google Era, where information comes so fast, it’s like drinking out of 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. Here is the ShrinkLit version of Melville’s magnum opus, Moby Dick.

Whale chomped Ahab’s leg in two.
“Hunt that beast! he tells his crew.

First, a welter of whaling schmooze,
Then comes Moby and hell breaks loose.

Smashup! Ahab’s drowned in brine,
Lashed to the whale by a harpoon line.

Good (symbolic) with Evil vies,
If you’d fathom it, you must rise.

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

Read related posts: What to Read Next?
Books that Shaped America
The Best Love Stories
Books that will Change Your Life
Why Read Moby Dick?
The Great Gatsby Coda
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World of Allusions: Moby Dick
I Should Have Bookmarked That: Moby Dick
Moby Dick by the numbers

For further reading: ShrinkLits by Maurice Sagoff

The Best Books About Jane Austen: 2020

atkins-bookshelf-booksDuring Jane Austen’s lifetime (1775-1817), her novels were published anonymously and although they were generally well-received, they were not runaway bestsellers. It was only after her death that her popularity grew dramatically. Sigh — the stereotypical life of the struggling artist. Today, of course, her novels are considered classics and Austen remains one of the world’s most widely read writers in English literature, along with William Shakespeare (who preceded her by two centuries) and Charles Dickens (who was born five years before Austen died). Although not as prolific as her literary counterparts, her six romantic novels have been adapted into many films, plays, and television mini-series over the decades — proof that her insightful and biting commentary on society and championing of feminism are still very relevant today. Her novels have also inspired dozens of books about her life, her characters, her culture, and her writing. And each year, this is no shortage of books about Jane Austen. Bookshelf presents some of the best books about Jane Austen for Janeites, young and old. If you happen to own most of these books, which is an impressive achievement, please send me a note — would love to do an interview about your collection.

The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen by Carol Adams
Jane Austen’s England
by Roy Adkins

Walking Through Jane Austen’s London by Louise Allen
Jane Austen: In Her Own Words and the Words of Those Who Knew Her by Helen Amy
The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (Knickerbocker Classics) by Jane Austen

In Her Own Hand (Facsimilies of her early manuscripts) by Jane Austen
Emma: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen
Persuasion: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen
The Works of Jane Austen (6 Volume Set, Easton Press) by Jane Austen (illus. by C.E. and H.M. Brock)
A Memoir of Jane Austen by J. E. Austen-Leigh (Jane Austen’s nephew)
The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas
Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity by Janine Barchas

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black
Jane Austen’s Manuscript Works edited by Linda Bree
Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood by Paula Byrne
A Truth Universally Acknowledge: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen by Susannah Carson
The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen by Edward Copeland

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz
A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons, and Mistletoe by Carlo DeVito
Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places by Margaret Doody
Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen by Sarah-Jane Downing

The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen by Dominique Enright
Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the Rural Backdrop to her Life by Deirdre Le Faye
Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece by Susannah Fullerton
A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and Her Characters Went to the Ball by Susannah Fullerton
Performing Jane: A Cultural History of Jane Austen Fandom by Sarah Glosson
Dear Cassandra: The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen by Penelope Hallett
101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen by Patrice Hannon
Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman

Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Private Journal by Edith Hawe
The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen by Penelope Hughes-Hallett

Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James
A Fine Brush on Ivory: An Appreciation of Jane Austen by Richard Jenkyns
The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor
Jane Austen: The Complete Novels in One Sitting by Jennifer Kasius
Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
Jane Austen and Names by Maggie Lane
Jane Austen’s World: The Life and Times of England’s Most Popular Author by Maggie Lane
The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser
Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen by Gabrielle Malcolm
Jane Austen on Love and Romance edited by Constance Moore
What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan
The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love by Sinead Murphy
Jane Austen Obstinate Heart: A Biography by Valerie Myer
Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart by Laurel Ann Nattress
The Jane Austen Miscellany by Lauren Nixon
Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou and Massimo Mongiardo
The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love by Sinead Murphy
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England by Daniel Pool
The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh

What Would Jane Do?: Quips and Wisdom from Jane Austen by Potter Style
Jane Austen in Bath: Walking Tours of the Writer’s City by Katharine Reeve
Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross
The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy: A Novel by Maya Slater
The Jane Austen Writers’ Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-Loved Novelist by Rebecca Smith
The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers by Margaret Sullivan
The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret Sullivan
Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels by Janet Todd

The Jane Austen Treasury by Janet Todd
Jane Austen: A Life by Clair Tomalin
Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels of Jane Austen by Pen Vogler
A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England by Sue Wilkes
At Home with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson
Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson
The Hidden Jane Austen by John Wiltshire
Jane Austen at Home: A Biography by Lucy Worsley
Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe
Jane Austen: The Illustrated Library by Midpoint Press

Read related posts: How Much is a Jane Austen First Edition Worth?
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:

Life Lessons from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

atkins-bookshelf-xmasStudents of literature, indeed anyone who loves books and stories, can agree on one universal truth — that, in the words of C. S. Lewis “we read to know that we are not alone.” Novelist and essayist James Baldwin adds: “You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone.”

Another universal truth is that we read to learn, to heal, and to transform ourselves. As George Dawson, an English literature lecturer and founder of the Shakespeare Memorial Library in Birmingham, observed: “The great consulting room of a wise man is a library… the solemn chamber in which man can take counsel with all that have been wise and great and good and glorious amongst the men that have gone before him.”

On this Christmas day, we turn our attention to a ghostly little story that has much to teach: Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — a story of about redemption, forgiveness, and generosity. But Dickens did not write A Christmas Carol simply to amuse us; he wrote it to inspire self-reflection and change — to help us become better human beings. “Beyond entertaining us,” writes Bob Welch in 52 Little Life Lessons From A Christmas Carol, “Dickens wanted to make us uncomfortable, because it’s only after we get a touch uneasy with ourselves that we open ourselves to change… to create a spark that might lead to flames of action: changing how we look at the world, changing how we act in the world, and ultimately changing how we will be remembered in the world.” Indeed, if we are able to transform ourselves, in light of the lessons from Dickens’s classic story, this is the Christmas miracle.

Bookshelf presents some important life lessons from A Christmas Carol gleaned from Welch’s enlightening little book:

Don’t be selfish
Don’t let people steal your joy
See life as a child
Everyone has value
Life isn’t just about business
You make the chains that shackle you
Humility enhances vision
To heal you must feel
Your actions affect others
The love of money costs you in the end
Life is best lived when you are awake
Learning begins with listening
Attitude is everything

The past can be empowering
Don’t return evil for evil
Bitterness will poison you
Dying lonely is the result of living lonely
Pain is the privilege of losing someone you care deeply about
Amid tragedy, others still need you
Before honor comes humility
Give because you have been given to
Giving changes your perspective
Live with the end in mind
It is never too late to change
Be the change you want to see

And as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless us, everyone!”

SHARE THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Introduce them to the world of ideas. Best of all, a subscription by email is free. Happy Holidays.

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

Words invented by Dickens
The Power of Literature

For further reading: 52 Little Lessons From A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch (2015)

What is the Value of a First Edition of A Christmas Carol?

atkins-bookshelf-booksWhen Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol on December 19, 1843, he wanted to make sure the book was affordable. The first printing of 6,000 copies, each book priced at a mere 5 shillings (about $2 in 1800s currency; about $25 in today’s currency) was sold out by Christmas eve. Dickens received his allotment of presentation copies on December 17, and immediately sent inscribed copies to his close friends and colleagues; he ran out of his copies 5 days later. Dickens’s publisher, Chapman and Hall, quickly printed a second and third edition, bringing the total of books sold to 9,000 by the end of the year — a remarkable achievement in Victorian England. Over the next few years, the book went through a total of 24 printings of that particular edition. Unfortunately, due to its high production costs, A Christmas Carol was not as profitable as Dickens had hoped. Bah humbug!

For almost two centuries, Dickens’s “ghostly little story” about redemption and charity has grown in our hearts — and just as significant, has grown in value exponentially. As bibliophiles and antiquarian booksellers know, there are many factors that contribute to a book’s value — condition, uniqueness, beauty, quality of binding, history, and inscription and/or signature. The first edition of A Christmas Carol (or The Carol, as it is known to collectors of Dickens’s works) has benefited from all these factors, and hence has consistently risen in value. A true first edition (from the first printing) is generally worth from $18,000 to $45,000. Any edition that was masterfully bound in fine leather and jewels by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, the premier bookbinders in London since 1901, is sure to fetch more than $30,000. The value of The Carol skyrockets when you consider the very rare inscribed presentation editions (the ones that Dickens gave to his friends) that range from $50,000 to $280,000! Truly a staggering valuation that would certainly bring a smile to any Scrooge.

A review of auction prices within the last two decades shows how quickly the value of A Christmas Carol has appreciated in modern times. A presentation copy inscribed to poet Thomas Hood was sold at auction in 1997 for $50,000. Just one year later, another presentation copy, this one inscribed to writer and poet Walter Landor, sold for $160,000. The most valuable copy, however, was a presentation copy inscribed to William Macready, an actor and close friend of Dickens, dated January 1, 1844 that was sold by Sotheby’s auction house for $282,408 in 2010.

As of this writing there are several valuable editions of A Christmas Carol for sale. There is is an exceptionally rare “trial issue” edition published by Chapman and Hall in 1844, worth $45,000. The book has an inscription by H. D. Linton, the brother of W. J. Linton who contributed four wood-engraved illustrations for the book. There are several first editions, without any signatures, selling for about $25,000 and one selling for $11,000. Finally, there is a first American edition, published in 1844 by Carey & Hart of Philadelphia, selling for $30,000.

One of the most expensive editions of Dickens’ timeless holiday story for sale is the first authorized collection edition of Christmas Books, containing A Christmas Carol and four other Christmas novels, that was published by Chapman and Hall in 1852 that is selling for $81,195. This was the first time that all five of Dickens’ Christmas novels were published together and Dickens wrote a new preface for them. But what makes this volume so valuable is that it is inscribed by Charles Dickens to a young woman, Agnes Sarah Lawrence. The inscription reads: “Agnes Sarah Lawrence, from her affectionate friend Charles Dickens, Twenty Second November 1852.” Agnes was the daughter of John Towers Lawrence of Balsall Heath, an acquaintance of the author. This is a presentation copy of the book, which means that the printer replaced the standard tissue guard that appears at the front of the book with a heavy text leaf, allowing the author to write a personalized note. Furthermore, this book contains the book label belonging to Carrie Estelle Doheny, considered one of the greatest women book collectors in America. Over six auction sales from 1987 to 1989, Doheny’s extraordinary book collection fetched $37.4 million — setting the record for the most lucrative book auction in history.

Certainly, Dickens could never have imagined that his modestly-priced Christmas story would become of the most precious and sought-after books in literature — making him in the end, to use Scrooge’s phrase, “a good man of business.”

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

Read related posts: A Christmas Carol by the Numbers
The Most Expensive Book in the World
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The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2017
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?

For further reading: The Annotated Christmas Carol by Michael Patrick Hearn, Norton (2004)
The Cinderella of the Arts: A short History of Sangorski & Sutcliffe by Rob Shepherd

Peer Into Your Books — Make a Voyage of Discovery

alex atkins bookshelf books“‘What shall I do with all my books?’ was the question; and the answer, ‘Read them,’ sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.”

From Thoughts and Adventures (1932) by Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965). Churchill, in addition to being an accomplished statesman, was a voracious reader, an eloquent orator, and a prolific writer. During his career, Churchill wrote 58 books, 260 pamphlets, 840 articles, and thousands of speeches (filling more than 9,000 pages). Through his words, he comforted and inspired a nation during some of Great Britain’s darkest and finest hours. It was therefore fitting, that in 1953, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exited human values.” Interestingly, in the 1890s, many readers confused the British Churchill with another writer, living across the pond — a very successful American novelist, also named Winston Churchill (1871-1947). At that time, the American Churchill, who had written several bestselling novels, including Richard Carvel (1899), The Crisis (1901), and The Crossing (1904), was the more famous of the two. So in order to avoid confusion, the British Churchill began using “Winston S. Churchill” to differentiate himself from the well-known American novelist. The two of them met at least twice, but were never friends. In the end, the writings and legacy of the British Churchill eclipsed that of the American Churchill.

When We Blindly Adopt a Religion or Political System We Cease to Grow

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“When we blindly adopt a religion, or political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.”

From the April 1944 entry from The Diary of Anais Nin (1944-47) by French-Cuban American writer Anais Nin (born — get ready for it: Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell). Nin began writing her diary at the age of 11 in 1914 and kept writing until her death in 1977. Initially the diary was to be a letter to her father, who had left the family when she was young. Over time, even though she had a psychotherapist (Ott Rank), the diary turned out to be her best therapist. By the end of her life, the diary encompassed over 15,000 typewritten pages in 150 volumes — talk about dedication! It was her wish to have the diaries published. Due to its length, many publishers passed; however she eventually found a publisher who began with Volume 1 in 1966. The quotation that began this post is ubiquitous on the internet, largely because it is incredibly relevant to what is happening with respect to politics and religion in America and around the globe, yet there is rarely a precise source or context. So let’s learn a bit more about the specific context for Nin’s piercing observation and prescience.

In the 1944 letter, Nin describes her encounter with Olga, a political journalist who wants to return to writing poetry: “Olga felt she had deserted her poet self for a more altruistic occupation. Now her task was over. It was rendered futile by the turn of events… When the system failed (historically), there was never a question that it may have failed because it was composed of incompleted human beings, human beings who had ceased to work on their individual development. And it is this development which I believe will influence history from within, rather than systems. If enough individuals had worked at their own development, history would be formed as natural things are formed, organically, from the impulse of quality and maturity…. [Olga was] no longer the political journalist, no longer the woman of the world, but a woman in quest of her poetic self, trying to unlock the many doors she had closed upon this self. She had not only locked them, as she said, but she had lost the key.”

Nin ponders her friend’s situation and advocates focusing on inner reflection and growth. She writes: “Every time our hope for a better world is based on a system, this system collapses, due to the corruptibility and imperfection of human beings. I believe we have to go back and work at the growth of human beings, so they will not need systems, but will know how to rule themselves. Now you have suffered the shock of disillusion in an ideology which has betrayed its ideals. It is a good time to return to the creation of yourself, not as a blind number in a group, but as an individual. Poetry is merely the language of our night-self, in which are imbedded the seeds of all we do and are in the day. We can only control it by knowing it. Better to make this journey back to what you had intended, rather than to die of disillusion.”

Nic then gave her friend a copy of Nightwood by Njuna Barnes and Choix des Elues by Jean Giraudoux “to help her re-enter the world of myth which alone makes the monstrosities of history bearable. She had to return to an incomplete woman because the task she had undertaken had not matured her. When we blindly adopt a religion, or political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.”

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

Read related posts: Religion vs Spirituality
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The Truth of Religion
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Doublets: You Cannot Run Away From Yourself
Doublets: The Lessons of History
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Doublets: Tolerance

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