Famous Misquotations: Don’t Cry Because It’s Over; Smile Because It Happened

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIf you have attended any event that celebrates an important milestone, like a graduation or retirement, you have heard someone say: “And like Dr. Seuss said, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.'” And like many memorable quotations, this is found on all kinds of merchandise: posters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and so forth. But like many quotes found on the internet, there is absolutely no evidence that Dr. Seuss (the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel) wrote it. No, he did not write that. Nor did the Cat in the Hat. He did not say it here or there. He did not say it anywhere. Some websites attribute the quote to Gabriel Garcia Marques or Anonymous. So which is correct? Let me welcome you into the classroom of Famous Misquotations 101, where we will seek enlightenment.

Garson O’Toole, better known as the Quote Investigator and author of the fascinating book, Hemingway Didn’t Say That (2017) joins forces with another quote investigator, Barry Popik, to discover that the actual source of this quotation is a variant of two lines from a poem by German poet Ludwig Jacobowski (1868-1900). Jacobowski lived and worked for most of his life in Berlin. He edited a local newspaper and wrote several volumes of poetry and two novels. The poem that is the focus of our attention is titled “Bright Days” (or “Radiant Days”), published in the August 1899 edition of Das Magazine fur Litteratur, a literary journal. Two key lines from that poem read “Night weinen, weil she voruber! / Lacheln, weil sie gewesen!” Translated into English the lines read: “Don’t cry because it’s over! Smile because they have been!” The entire poem appears below:

Bright Days by Ludwig Jacobowski
Ah, our brilliant days
shine like eternal stars,
They glow past as consolation
for future sorrow.
Don’t cry because it’s over!
Smile because they have been!
And if the days get cloudier,
Our stars redeem!

Fast forward to 1996, when an anonymous contributor posted this line on a Usenet newsgroup under the heading rec.humor: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” The Wikiquotes page devoted to Dr. Seuss points out that this quotation has also been attributed to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who wrote: “No llores porque ya se terminó, sonríe porque sucedió.” Translated into English it reads, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” However, there is no source to confirm that Marquez ever wrote this.

The erroneous attribution to Dr. Seuss begins with one individual who was too lazy to do his research: Christopher Roche, the valedictorian at Albertus Magnus High School. In June 1998, The Rockland Journal-News (Rockland County, New York) quoted Roche’s valedictorian speech. Roche claimed that he was paraphrasing some lines from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go: “Like Dr. Seuss tells us, today is our day. We’re off to great places, so let’s be on our way. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Yikes. Even ChatGPT wouldn’t make a bonehead attribution like that. Realize how easy it would be to confirm: Oh, the Places You’ll Go is not some sprawling epic novel, like War and Peace — the book has only 56 pages with just a few sentences on each page with lots of large pictures. If Roche had even flipped through it, he would discovered that this sentence or anything with a similar sentiment simply isn’t there.

So the next time you hear someone quote from “Dr. Seuss,” please interrupt them politely and graciously enlighten them: “You mean the obscure German poet, Ludwig Jacobowski, don’t you? Please, don’t cry that you made a mistake; smile that I corrected you — so that you are spared the humiliation of looking like a fool.” Oh, the places you’ll go…

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

For further reading: Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Famous Misquotations: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats Its Weakest Members
Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
Famous Misquotations: The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting

For further reading:
Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, Garson O’Toole, Little A, 2017.

https://quoteinvestigator.com/2016/07/25/smile/
http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/dont_cry_because_its_over

To learn more about Alexander Atkins Design please visit www.alexatkinsdesign.com

The Most Beautiful People Are Those Who Have Known Defeat, Suffering, Struggle, and Loss

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.

From the book Death: The Final Stage of Growth, published in 1975, by  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004), a Swiss-American psychiatrist who was the leading authority in the field of death and dying. Kübler-Ross introduced her theory of the five stages of grief in her seminal work, On Death and Dying published in 1969.  The five stages of grief, known as the Kübler-Ross model, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In a work published after her death (Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” co-authored with David Kessler, 2019), Kübler-Ross adds a sixth stage: finding meaning. Interestingly, Kübler-Ross theory was based on people who were dying as opposed to actually grieving; therefore, perhaps it would be more accurate to call them the “five stages of accepting death by individuals with terminal illness.” More significantly, the theory is not supported by empirical research or evidence.

 ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

For further reading: www.ekrfoundation.org/elisabeth-kubler-ross/quotes/

To learn more about Alexander Atkins Design please visit www.alexatkinsdesign.com

You May Not Know It, But You Are Quoting Shakespeare

alex atkins bookshelf shakespeareAs many scholars have noted, Shakespeare had an enormous impact on the English language. In his book, The English Language (1929), British philologist Ernest Weekley (best known for his seminal work, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English) wrote: “Of Shakespeare it may be said without fear of exaggeration that his contribution to our phraseology is ten times greater than that of any writer to any language in the history of the world.” What is astonishing is that due to the influence of his writing, people don’t even need to read Shakespeare to quote it. As Michael Macrone notes in Brush Up Your Shakespeare: An Infectious Tour Through theMost famous and Quotable Words and Phrases from the Bard, “Whether they knew it or not, people had been quoting Shakespeare piecemeal for hundreds of years. Indeed, we have derived from Shakespeare’s works an almost “infinite variety [Antony and Cleopatra] of everyday words and phrases, many of which have become so common that we think of them as “household words [Henry the Fifth].”

Of course, the question of the size of Shakespeare’s vocabulary has fascinated scholars for centuries. To answer that question, all scholars turn to The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare by Martin Spevack (1968, 1974) based on the Riverside Shakespeare (G. Blakemore Evans, 1973). The concordance lists every word used in the published work of the Bard — a grand total of 884,647 words. Spevack also machine-counted 31,654 different words in 1968 and revised that to 29,066 different words in 1974. Using those numbers, different experts use different approaches to estimate the number or words that Shakespeare knew.

According to lexicographer and Shakespeare scholar David Crystal, the entire English vocabulary in the Elizabethan period consisted of about 150,000 words. Turning to the Harvard Concordance, Crystal notes that although Spevack machine-counted 29,066 unique words, that includes variant forms of words (eg, take, takes, taking, took, taken, takest) that are counted as different words. By removing those grammatical variants, the total of different words is reduced to 17,000 to 20,000. Therefore, Crystal believes that Shakespeare had a vocabulary of about 20,000 words (13.5% of the known lexicon). Compare that to the size of the vocabulary of the average modern person (high school-level education) that is 30,000 to 40,000 words (about 6% of the 600,000 words defined in the Oxford English Dictionary). Other lexicographers estimate that Shakespeare’s vocabulary ranged from 18,000 to 25,000 words.

But alas we digress — let us return to the original discussion of quoting Shakespeare even though we may not be aware of it. I was what recently exploring the maze of bookshelves at a quaint antiquarian bookstore and came across this poster, featuring the text of British journalist Bernard Levin [1928-2004], a fan of the Bard and one of the most famous journalists in England, that eloquently and succinctly makes this argument in a single sentence containing 369 words. The essay, titled “On Quoting Shakespeare,” appears in his book Enthusiasms, published in 1983.

ON QUOTING SHAKESPEARE

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare it’s Greek to me, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger; if your wish is father to the thought; if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise -why, be that as it may, the more fool you , for it is a foregone conclusion that you are,as good luck would have it, quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high timeand that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then – to give the devil his due – if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness’ sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! – it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair
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

To learn more about Alexander Atkins Design please visit www.alexatkinsdesign.com

Plato: If You Don’t Vote, You Will be Governed by Idiots

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsPlato (427-347 BC) is considered one of the most brilliant and influential philosophers in history. Plato (his given name was Aristocles; Plato is his nickname, from platos, meaning “broad” since he had a broad physique and forehead) was a student of Socrates and took what he learned to found the influential Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the West. Amidst a beautiful grove of olive trees, Plato taught some very fortunate and intelligent students (including Aristotle who later founded his own academy) philosophy, mathematics, politics, and astronomy. His most famous and influential work, that is still widely studied in universities, is the Republic, where Plato cover a broad (pun intended) range of significant topics: philosophy, ethics, moral psychology, epistemology, metaphysics, and of course, political philosophy. It is this last topic that concerns us today as we examine his views on political participation in the context of today’s critical mid-term elections that challenge the fundamental principles of a democracy.

The quote that serves as the title of this post is actually a tongue-in-cheek variation (underscoring the importance of voting in a critical election) of the quote most often attributed to Plato, ubiquitous on the internet: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” There are many other variants of this famous quotation. Among them is this one crafted by poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson that appears in Society and Solitude (1870): “Plato says that the punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is, to live under the government of worse men.”

The source of all these variants is The Republic, (Book 1, 346-347), where Plato makes the point that if good, honorable, intelligent men do not to wish to serve in government, then they will be punished by being ruled by those who are bad, dishonorable, and dumb. The actual sentence is: But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. For those who are curious to partake of the entire discussion of the issue among Socrates (Plato, of course, is speaking through Socrates), Glaucon (Plato’s older brother), and Thrasymachus (a sophist who believes essentially that it does not pay to be just), here is the relevant passage from The Republic

“Then, Thrasymachus, is not this immediately apparent, that no art or office provides what is beneficial for itself — but as we said long ago it provides and enjoins what is beneficial to its subject, considering the advantage of that, the weaker, and not the advantage the stronger? That was why… I was just now saying that no one of his own will chooses to hold rule and office and take other people’s troubles in hand to straighten them out, but everybody expects pay for that, because he who is to exercise the art rightly never does what is best for himself or enjoins it when he gives commands according to the art, but what is best for the subject. That is the reason, it seems, why pay must be provided for those who are to consent to rule, either in form of money or honor or a penalty if they refuse.” “What do you mean by that, Socrates?” said Glaucon. “The two wages I recognize, but the penalty you speak of and described as a form of wage I don’t understand.” “Then,” said I, “you don’t understand the wages of the best men for the sake of which the finest spirits hold office and rule when they consent to do so. Don’t you know that to be covetous of honor and covetous of money is said to be and is a reproach?” “I do,” he said. “Well, then,” said I, “that is why the good are not willing to rule either for the sake of money or of honor. They do not wish to collect pay openly for their service of rule and be styled hirelings nor to take it by stealth from their office and be called thieves, nor yet for the sake of honor, for they are not covetous of honor. So there must be imposed some compulsion and penalty to constrain them to rule if they are to consent to hold office. That is perhaps why to seek office oneself and not await compulsion is thought disgraceful. But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. It is from fear of this, as it appears to me, that the better sort hold office when they do, and then they go to it not in the expectation of enjoyment nor as to a good thing, but as to a necessary evil and because they are unable to turn it over to better men than themselves or to their like. For we may venture to say that, if there should be a city of good men only, immunity from office-holding would be as eagerly contended for as office is now, and there it would be made plain that in very truth the true ruler does not naturally seek his own advantage but that of the ruled; so that every man of understanding would rather choose to be benefited by another than to be bothered with benefiting him.”

Tomorrow will decide what kind of government America has. At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, legend has it that as Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall, he was asked this question: “What have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin responded, “A republic — if you can keep it.” In 1787 as in 2022, this republic is amazingly fragile. Dr. Richard Beeman, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, elaborates: “If there is a lesson in all of this it is that our Constitution is neither a self-actuating nor a self-correcting document. It requires the constant attention and devotion of all citizens… Democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Quotations Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Republic, If You Can Keep It
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?

For further reading: The Republic by Plato (translated by Christopher Ellyn-Jones)
Society and Solitude by Ralph Waldo Emerson
https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-platos-famous-academy-112520

https://www.iep.utm.edu/academy/
https://www.iep.utm.edu/plato/

To learn more about Alexander Atkins Design please visit www.alexatkinsdesign.com

Triplets: Castles in the Air

atkins bookshelf quotations

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

From Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) by Henry David Thoreau.

Everyone who hears my words and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. Everyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house, and it fell with a big crash.

From The New Testament, The Gospel of Matthew, 7:24-27 (written about 66-74 AD), New Century Version.

A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the man who lives in it. And a psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent.

From the Collected Papers of Lord Robert Webb-Johnstone quoted in the Oxford Book of Medical Quotations (2003) edited by Peter McDonald and Familiar Medical Quotations (1968) edited by Maurice Strass. There are many websites that erroneously attribute this quote to Jerome Lawrence, the American playwright, best known as the co-author of Inherit the Wind about the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. (Robert Edwin Lee was the other playwright. The play inspired the 1960 film of the same name directed by Stanley Kramer.)

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Doublets: Love
Doublets: Genius
Doublets: Youth and Maturity
Doublets: You Cannot Run Away From Yourself
Doublets: The Lessons of History
Doublets: Reading a Great Book
Doublets: Tolerance
Doublets: The Role of Religion
Doublets: Things Left Unsaid

Revisiting “Falling Man” on the 21th Anniversary of 9/11

alex atkins bookshelf cultureRichard Drew pressed the camera’s shutter button at 9:41:15 am on the morning of September 11, 2001, capturing an image of man leaping to his death that is paradoxically terrifying and peaceful at the same time. This iconic photograph — “The Falling Man” — depicted one of more than 200 innocent people who fell or jumped to their deaths that morning. It was printed on page 7 of the New York Times on the following day, that haunting image etched forever in the American consciousness as a reminder of that dreadful day. Twenty years later, most survivors and witnesses of 9/11 have noted that the sight of human beings falling to their deaths is the most haunting memory of that tragic day. People began jumping soon after the first jet hit the North Tower (8:46 am) and for the next 102 minutes before the building collapsed. They jumped alone, in pairs, or in groups — most from a height of more than 100 stories. At that height, the bodies reach a speed of 150 miles per hour, not enough to cause unconsciousness during the 10-second fall, but fast enough to ensure immediate death upon impact. One witness described this horrific scene as a woman fell: “The look on her face was shock. She wasn’t screaming. It was slow motion. When she hit, there was nothing left.” Equally powerful was the thought-provoking story that writer Tom Junod wrote about the identity of that lone figure in the September 2003 issue of Esquire magazine, titled “The Falling Man.” When you read the introduction to the story, it is easy to understand why the editors of Esquire consider it one of the greatest stories in the magazine’s 75-year history.

“In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity’s divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet… The man in the picture… is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else — something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man’s posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is… in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears.”

Almost 20 years later, reflecting on that photo, Richard Drew states: “I never regretted taking that photograph at all. It’s probably one of the only photographs that shows someone dying that day. We have a terrorist attack on our soil and we still don’t see pictures of our people dying — and this is a photograph of someone dying. “

The Falling Man’s true identity has never been established.  The photos reveal that he was dark-skinned, lanky, wore a goatee, dressed in black pants, and a bright-orange shirt under a white shirt. Some believe it was Jonathan Briley, an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant. Miraculously, the FBI found his body the next day. Juno concludes his article:

“Is Jonathan Briley the Falling Man? He might be. But maybe he didn’t jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn’t jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.

Oh, no. You have to fall.

Yes, Jonathan Briley might be the Falling Man. But the only certainty we have is the certainty we had at the start: At fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky — falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame — the Falling Man — became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: The Poetry of 9/11
Moving Quotes on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11
The Poem I Turn To
Unfathomable Grief
The Best Books on 9/11

For further reading:
September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets

http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0903-SEP_FALLINGMAN
http://www.esquire.com/features/page-75/greatest-stories?click=main_sr#slide-1
http://time.com/4453467/911-september-11-falling-man-photo/?utm_source=time.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the-brief&utm_content=2017091117pm&xid=newsletter-brief
https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/sept11/2002-09-02-jumper_x.htm

Doublets: Be Happy with What You Have

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach.”

Lin Yutang (1895-1976) was a Chinese novelist, philosopher, and linguist. He moved to America in 1935, where he popularized a Chinese way of life and philosophy. By translating classic Chinese texts into English, he became one of the most influential writers of his generation. In addition to his extensive writing and translation work, Lin was the inventor of the Chinese typewriter after decades of work on the project.

“Be happy with what you have and are, be generous with both, and you won’t have to hunt for happiness.”

William Gladstone (1809-1898), known as the “Grand Old Man,” is considered by historians as one of Britain’s greatest leaders. His public service lasted over 60 years, including 12 years as Prime Minister. Gladstone was a dedicated bibliophile, with a personal library of more than 32,000 books. He was known to walk in and buy entire sections of a bookshop.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Doublets: Your Future is More Important Than Your Past
Doublets: Love
Doublets: Genius
Doublets: Youth and Maturity
Doublets: You Cannot Run Away From Yourself
Doublets: The Lessons of History
Doublets: Reading a Great Book
Doublets: Tolerance
Doublets: The Role of Religion
Doublets: Things Left Unsaid

Signs at Indie Bookstores: Paris, France

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIf you happen to visit Paris, France, you might come across one of Europe’s most famous bookshops: Shakespeare and Company. The original Shakespeare and Company, located on the Left Bank, was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Beach’s bookshop closed in 1941. The existing Shakespeare and Company, also on the Left Bank (adjacent to Place Saint-Michel), was founded in 1951 by George Whitman, an ex-serviceman. Whitman’s bookshop, however, was initially named “Le Mistral.” In 1964, on the 40th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, Whitman changed the name to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to Beach’s store (before she had died, Beach agreed to allow Whitman to use that name). The bookshop became one of the favorite hangouts of bohemian culture, including Beat Generation writers like William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg as well as other famous authors like Bertolt Brecht, James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Peter Matthiessen, and William Saroyan.

As you wander among the tightly-packed bookshelves in the store, that was once a 16th-century monastery, you will come across several signs, including on above the reading library: “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise.” As you venture through the stacks you will come across a quote by American author Rebecca Solnit, a champion of women’s, human, and environmental rights. She famously coined the term “mansplaining” in her collection of essays titled Men Explain Things to Me, published in 2014. The quote that appears in the store is from the book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (2016): “Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

So Long as You Write What You Wish to Write, That is All That Matters

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

From the essay A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. The essay, published in 1929, is based on two lectures Woolf delivered at women’s colleges at the University of Cambridge a year earlier. The essay takes its title from the following sentence: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Woolf explores whether women, facing many social and economic challenges in a patriarchal society, are capable and free to produce great literature. During Woolf’s time, women were not encouraged to attend college and obtain a formal education. She cites Austen and Bronte who broke with societal norms: “Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue—write this, think that.”

In this passage, Woolf presents the chasm between how women are idealized in fiction written by men and how women are actually treated:

“Women have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time. Indeed if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some would say greater. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room. A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words and profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read; scarcely spell; and was the property of her husband.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Famous Misquotations: To Live is to Suffer, to Survive is to Find Meaning in Suffering
Quotations Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Meaning of Life by Peter Gay
The Meaning of Life by Joseph Campbell
The Meaning of Life by Mortimer Adler
The Meaning of Life by Norman Vincent Peale

Where to Find the Meaning of Life
Life’s Most Important Questions

The Beauty of Literature is that You Discover that You Belong

alex atkins bookshelf literature“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” 

From a letter written in 1938 by F. Scott Fitzgerald to his lover, Sheilah Graham. During the Great Depression, the popularity of his novels dramatically decreased. He needed to secure a steady income to pay for his wife’s (Zelda) psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia at an asylum, his estranged daughter’s (Scottie) college tuition (Vassar), and support his chronic drinking habit. Consequently, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood in the mid 1930s to be a screenwriter for MGM. In 1936, Fitzgerald met Graham at a cocktail party held at the Garden of Allah, playground for the Hollywood elite (like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe). For the next four years, Fitzgerald’s reputation continued to decline and his alcoholism got worse. He began work on his fifth novel, The Last Tycoon, where Graham served as his model for the character Kathleen. Graham tolerated Fitzgerald’s drunken binges and verbal abuse and encouraged him to embrace his talent and write. For her troubles, Fitzgerald provided Graham with a college education. Fitzgerald finally achieved sobriety in 1940, claiming that this time with Graham was one of the happiest times of their relationship; he died of a heart attack in December of that year. When he died, he was considered a failed alcoholic and his work was largely forgotten. Graham later wrote about her life and relationship with Fitzgerald in a book titled Beloved Infidel published in 1959. 

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Reading Teaches that the Things that Torment Us are the Things that Connect Us
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The Most Important Thing on a Tombstone is the Dash

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomLinda Ellis (72) started writing as a child. She left the corporate world after a long career to become a full-time poet. Although she was not well-known, in 1994, the host of a syndicated radio show read one of her early poems titled “The Dash.” The inspirational poem truly resonated with listeners and became an instant classic, shared around the world. The poem inspired several books, including The Dash: Making a Difference with Your Life (2017),” which has sold over a million copies, and Live Your Dash: Make Every Moment Matter (2014). The message of the poem is that what matters most in life is not how long you have lived (on a tombstone that is represented by the date of birth and date of death), but rather how you spent your life (represented by the dash, or hyphen, between the dates). Expressed another way: the most important thing on your tombstone is the dash, it’s what you did while you were here. In short, the poem asks us: did you make every moment and relationship count? 

The Dash by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

For further reading: Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

For further reading: hellopoetry.com/poem/1184764/the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis/
lifeism.co/the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis

After the Suffering, You Get to Keep the Lessons and the Pain Goes Away

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“I do have a love-hate relationship with this place [rainforest of Vancouver Island]. You get up in the morning and you confront the realities of your situation. Some days it’s great, some days it’s horrible. But suffering has value. We avoid it at all costs. We would never want to go back and repeat it, but it has value. It’s a part of life and nobody gets through life without suffering, nobody. [The] question is — what do you allow it to do in you? You can allow that suffering to make you bitter, angry, just a wretched person — you know? [Or] you can allow that suffering to eat away at your soul, turn it on itself, and just chew you apart. Or you can look for the deeper meaning it. My philosophy on suffering is that God is trying to teach me something and I know that in the end, I get to keep those lessons and the pain goes away.”

Post-apocalyptic fiction writer David McIntyre (50) reflecting on his experience surviving in the harsh, formidable remote wilderness of Vancouver Island, Canada — deep in black bear, cougar, and wolf territory — for 66 days without any food, water, shelter and without any contact with the outside world. McIntyre won the second season of Alone (History Channel, 2016) by outlasting nine other isolated survivalists who also tested their survival skills by living entirely off the land. The winner gets $500,000 and bragging rights.

The show Alone is billed as “the ultimate test of human will;” however, that is only part of the overall picture: it is also the ultimate test of courage, strength, sustainability, and adaptability. While half of the participants dropped off before day 30 due to a variety of factors, including fear, debilitating hunger, injury, hypothermia, overwhelming longing for companionship and home, and close encounters with deadly predators; the other half endured the torment of profound isolation — a brutal, unrelenting mixture of mental torment and loneliness. With each passing day, each participant moved closer to their own psychological breaking point. Only McIntyre persevered, escaping mental anguish, battling starvation and intense loneliness, by having a positive mental attitude, a healthy self-identity, and focusing on the present: “[I] stressed the importance of now. What you do with your now is the only time you get to do anything. What can you do right now to make tomorrow easier.”

The experience emphasizes that survival skills (ingenuity and resourcefulness), good health, and physical strength and endurance are not enough to survive alone in the wilderness. The greatest challenge for all participants, especially those that break the 30-day barrier, is the powerful effects of extended isolation, which is manifested in tortuous thinking and loneliness. Participants describe tortuous thinking as being tormented by your personal demons — revisiting over and over again every mistake and regret in your life; “every skeleton in your closet comes out and you can’t get away from them” — to paraphrase an old adage “The devil finds work for idle minds.” The loneliness is experienced as profound longing for companionship, for personal connection. Research has shown that protacted isolation and loneliness can negatively impact a person physical, mental, and cognitive health. Adverse health consequences include impaired cognitive function and decision-making, depression, increased anxiety, disrupted sleep, poor cardiovascular function, lower body strength, impaired immunity — and ultimately, increasing the risk of early death.

After their wilderness experience, all participants gain a new-found appreciation of their loved ones. McIntyre adds, “How many dads would run into a burning building for their children, but they don’t put down the [TV] remote. Use this time to take inventory on and invest in the people and relationships that truly matter to you and back away from the ones that are toxic. Learn the lessons that [being alone in the wilderness] has forced upon us.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Famous Misquotations: To Live is to Suffer, to Survive is to Find Meaning in Suffering
Quotations Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Meaning of Life by Peter Gay
The Meaning of Life by Joseph Campbell
The Meaning of Life by Mortimer Adler
The Meaning of Life by Norman Vincent Peale

Where to Find the Meaning of Life
Life’s Most Important Questions

For further reading: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation
http://www.history.com/shows/alone
http://www.wzzm13.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/david-mcintyre-alone-covid-survival-skills-tips/69-9ded7ccd-caf0-407a-b19c-d1fe1d131949

Fiction is A Compassion-Generating Machine

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Fiction is a kind of compassion-generating machine that saves us from sloth. Is life kind or cruel? Yes, literature answers. Are people good or bad? You bet, says literature. But unlike other systems of knowing, literature declines to eradicate one truth in favor of another; rather, it teaches us to abide with the fact that, in their own way, all things are true, and helps us, in the face of this terrifying knowledge, continually push ourselves in the direction of ‘Open the Hell Up.’”

American writer George Saunders, from a talk on the transformative power of the short story, sponsored by Seattle Arts & Lecture (March 24, 2014). Saunders is best known for his short stories and essays. His novel, Lincoln in the Bardo published in 2017, won the Man Booker Prize. Many literary critics consider it to be one of the best novels of that period. In an interview with The Guardian (March 4, 2017), Saunders explains the inspiration for the deeply poignant novel: “Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, my wife’s cousin pointed out to us a crypt on a hill and mentioned that, in 1862, while Abraham Lincoln was president, his beloved son, Willie, died, and was temporarily interred in that crypt, and that the grief-stricken Lincoln had, according to the newspapers of the day, entered the crypt ‘on several occasions’ to hold the boy’s body. An image spontaneously leapt into my mind – a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pietá. I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read ‘Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt,’ decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion — no commitments.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: World Literature Has the Power to Help Mankind in These Troubled Times
The Power of Literature
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The Wisdom of Yiddish Proverbs: 2022

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsYiddish, which originated in Central Europe in the 9th century, represents a mellifluous melting pot of many languages–Aramaic, Hebrew, Czechoslovakian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russion, to name a few. Moreover, the language gave rise to proverbs that passed on wisdom from one generation to the next via a rich oral tradition. And as Hanan Ayalti notes in his introduction to Yiddish Proverbs, “The proverb is the unwritten testimony of a people. It expresses its view, as the case may be, on life and how human beings of all sorts live it, on God, and the world, good fortune and bad, youth and old age; it reflects deep-rooted expectations and disappointments. The Yiddish proverb here thus reveals the soul of the Jewish people of the Eastern European world.” Bookshelf presents some pearls of Yiddish wisdom that are treasured and, of course, timeless:

A nasty tongue is worse than a wicked hand.

A friend is got for nothing, an enemy has to be paid for.

A word to the good is enough, but even a stick won’t help the bad.

A man should live if only to satisfy his curiosity.

A fool takes two steps where a wise man takes none.

Better a bad peace than a good war.

A lock is meant only for honest men.

Better one old friend than two new.

Talk too much and you talk about yourself.

A man is what he is, not what he used to be.

Life is the greatest bargain; we get it for nothing.

Money buys everything except sense.

If you have learning, you’ll never lose your way.

Learning cannot be bequeathed.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading: Yiddish Proverbs by Hanan Ayalti (Shocken Books, 1963)

We Will Remember Not the Words of Our Enemies, But the Silence of Our Friends

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

This quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. can be found all over the internet, especially in posts and books about justice, civil rights, bullying, domestic violence, and mourning. What makes the quotation so popular is that everyone can relate to it to its meaning: what hurts the most are not malicious remarks from enemies — people we really don’t care about (“sticks and stones…”); but rather, what hurts the most is when friends, people you truly care about, say nothing to support you, to protect you, to speak up for you, or to provide comfort during difficult times in your life. King’s quotation, of course, is a variation on a familiar theme — recall that age-old adage, “Hard times will always reveal true friends.”

Like many quotations that abound on the internet, you will rarely find a full attribution for this quotation. We know Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and said this, but where can it be found? The source for this famous quotation is drawn from the “Steeler Lecture,” one of five lectures that King delivered in November 1967 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama for the Massey Lecture Series of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The lectures were soon published in a collection titled Conscience for Change. A year later, the book was republished under a new title, The Trumpet of Conscience.

The conflict, highlighted in King’s quotation, between speaking out (action) vs. not speaking out (inaction) goes all the way back to the Bible, specifically the Parable of the Good Samaritan found in the New Testament. The well-known parable evokes a simple, but very important question: if we went on a walk, how would we respond to a lone traveler lying by the side of the road — beaten, stripped of his clothing, deprived of food and water, and left to die? The parable presents us with two contrasting individuals: the bystander and the Good Samaritan. The bystander represents inaction: he sees a human in crisis and simply walks by, averting his eyes of clear pain and suffering, and ignores his obligation to help his fellow man. On the other hand, the Good Samaritan, representing action, shows compassion and helps the injured man, regardless of the victim’s beliefs and circumstances.

King’s observation also has some relation to one of the most famous quotations of modern times: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The quotation is often attributed to Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and philosopher; however, scholars who have carefully reviewed all of his writings have determined that he never wrote that. Nevertheless, at the heart of that quotation is, once again, the conflict of action vs. inaction. Expressed another way it states: if good people choose to be bystanders and not speak out or take action, then bad people will commit acts of evil. Recall another old adage: silence implies consent.

Another reason that King’s quotations about friends is important is because in the Golden Age of Social Media, the concept of friendship, which is elastic to begin with, has been stretched to the breaking point. Not every follower, “Facebook friend, or “digital” friend is actually a true friend — not even close. So in a time of crisis, those “digital” friends will not show support in a meaningful way. In this respect, King is not introducing an original concept, but rather he is building on a well-traveled road of proverbial wisdom. Here, for example, are just a few very popular proverbs (lacking any specific attribution) that focus on true friendship:

You don’t need a lot of friends, just the right ones.

As we grow older, we don’t lose friends, we just learn who the real ones are.

Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave, and impossible to forget.

True friends are friends for life.

True friends don’t talk bad about you.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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The Wisdom of a Bookseller and Former Garbage Man

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

As a lifelong book collector, one of the greatest rewards of collecting books is the fantastic people you meet along the way. A subgroup of those people is the bookseller. Sadly, the bookseller is part of a dying breed of passionate and enlightened custodians of that often-overlooked commodity — the glorious printed book that passes wisdom and wondrous stories from one generation to the next. If you have traveled around the globe, you know that you will find these bookstores and their dedicated bibliophilic stewards in some of the most unlikely places, toiling away, silently, amid the stacks and bookshelves that inhabit their quaint shops, filled with that enchanting aroma of old books.

Bibliophiles will feel instant kinship with such a bookseller: John Scott, the owner and proprietor of New Morning Books, a small bookshop with an incredible inventory located in Adelaide, Australia. Thanks to filmmaker David Thorpe’s short documentary, titled “Turned Pages,” you don’t have to travel around the world to meet him. As soon as the interview begins, Scott captures your interest with his profound love of books and fascinating perspectives on book collecting and the book business.

One of the first questions that I ask booksellers is, “How did you get started in the bookselling business?” Thorpe must have asked that question off-camera because Scott addresses it early in the documentary. His answer will surprise many bibliophiles and booksellers because, at least initially, it so unorthodox (and perhaps paradoxical): “The real seed [to becoming a bookseller], I think, was sown when I was working as a garbage man in the north of England, when I was knocking around England in the 60s, and we would often get books that we would pick up. It was a very posh area [that] produced a lot of antiques and collectibles. I was living in a household full of university students and [in] every university there was a very good secondhand bookshop. I thought that this looked like a pretty nice way to spend one’s life and a nice way to meet one’s living. So it was there as a vague ambition in the back of my mind from my teens. I started working in the very early 70s for university coop bookshop in Sydney and before very long I was managing one of their shops and I had not been long in the bookselling environment when I realize this was for me — this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and indeed I have.”

One of the most memorable moments in the documentary occurs near the end, when Scott generously offers this timeless, sage advice: “If anybody happens to see this, [anybody] who is young and who has a consuming interest in life — my advice to them would be: identify what it is in life you love the most and then try to commercialize it, so you can spend your life doing just that…. I’ve had nearly 30 years doing [what I love]; [but] I wish I’d had 50. I wish I’d done it when I was in my late teens or early twenties. But, you know, [the old proverb] “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” And I have no right to complain; [I’ve] had a wonderful career and I’ve met the most fantastic people. You know that’s one of big emotional payoffs —  sort of — [in a] business like this — the people that you meet. But I have [known] people that have been corporate lawyers who are multimillionaires who are hooked on the money and hooked on the lifestyle but who, at the end of their lives, wish they devoted themselves to something that was more soul nurturing. It’s well said that nobody on their deathbed ever wishes they worked harder. Very few people on their deathbed wish they made more money — what they want is the idea that they live a life that has some spiritual content and value to it. And I can say that this [career as a bookseller] has had plenty.” Amen to that, brother — if an individual wants a fulfilling life, he or she should choose meaning over money.

Not only is Scott’s advice so valuable to people, particularly those graduating from high school or college, he also introduces us to that wonderful Scottish proverb that you do not hear that often: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” The proverb means that if wishing something would make it happen, then even the poorest individuals would have everything they wanted. Another defintion is that simply wishing for something does not yield anything or expressed another way: rather than wishing for things, one should work to get them. This proverb comes from a collection of proverbs, Proverbs in Scot by James Carmichael, published in 1628 which, in turn, is based on a rhyme included in Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine by William Camden, published in 1605. The original line was quite different than the one recorded by Carmichael: “If wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds.”

Watch the documentary on YouTube by searching “Turned Pages Second-hand Bookstore Documentary”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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Doublets: Words Can Be Used for Good or Evil

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Every word both separates and links: it depends on the writer whether it becomes wound or balm, curse or promise.”

From the essay “A Sacred Magic Can Elevate the Secular Storyteller” by Ellie Wiesel (1928-2016) included in Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times published in 2001.

“Words, so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

From the personal notebooks of American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864). His notes, titled Passages from the American Note-books, were published in two volumes in 1868.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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Words Enter the English Language Deviously

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsFor the most part our words come deviously, making their way by winding paths through the minds of generations of men, even burrowing like moles through the dark subconsciousness. Fancied likenesses, farfetched associations, ancient prejudices have acted upon them. Superstition, misapprehension, old fables, mythological taboos, the jests of simpletons and the vaunting imagination of poets have all played a part in shaping them. During their labyrinthine journeys in time and space they have often changed their form, spelling, pronunciation and, especially, their sense.

From You English Words (1962) by British author and naturalist John Moore (1907-1967). Published after WWII, his trilogy (Elmbury, Brensham Village, and The Blue Field) about the countryside was a best-seller for many years. Moore was a prolific author, having published more than 40 novels focused on mostly pastoral themes. Naturally, Moore was a passionate conservationist and warned of the negative impact of technology on rural societies. The John Moore Museum, located in his hometown of Tewkesbury, UK, was established to honor his life and work.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

What is the Fabric That Holds Humanity Together?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsMaria Ressa, CEO and co-founder of the news site Rappler, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. In their announcement, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote: “[We have] decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions. Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”

In 2018, Time Magazine named Ressa a “Person of the Year — a Guardian in the War on Truth.” Karl Vick of Time recently interviewed Ressa and discussed the impact and importance of journalism, especially today in the post-Trumpian world where truth is under assault on a daily basis. Commenting on the importance of the Nobel Peace Prize on her work, Ressa states, “It just shows the role that journalists play. Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. How can you have democracy without that? This is the fabric that holds us together: shared reality.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts:
Do Voters Actually Have a Free Choice?
Can Democracy in America Be Saved?
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?
Isaac Asimov: There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States
Plato on Idiots and Ignorance

For further reading:
https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/press-release/
Time Magazine, A Nobel for a Guardian by Karl Vick, Oct 25/November 1, 2021.

What Happens When We Die?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWhat happens when we die? Since the dawn of civilization, this question has mystified philosophers, theologians, doctors, scientists, writers, and poets. The poet who towers among all other, William Shakespeare offered the most eloquent and thought-provoking answer in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark published in 1602. In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet ponders death and whether he should take his own life in one of the greatest soliloquys in English literature:

To be, or not to be — that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more — and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep —
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Perhaps it is that pair of brilliant lines, “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,” that provided the inspiration for the writers of Netflix’s supernatural series, Midnight Mass, to address the age-old question of death. In a pivotal scene (Episode 4, Lamentations), Erin Greene, a teacher, asks her friend, Riley Flynn who is haunted by a death he caused while driving under the influence: “What happens when we die, Riley.” He pauses and slowly explains:

“I don’t know. And I don’t trust anyone who tells us they do; but I can speak for myself, I guess… When I die my body stops functioning. Shut down. All at once or gradually. My breathing stops, my heart stops breathing. Clinical death. And a bit later, five minutes later, my brain cells start dying. But in the meantime, in between, maybe my brain releases a flood of DMT [(N,N-Dimethyltryptamine]. It’s the psychedelic drug released when we dream — so I dream. I dream bigger than I have ever dreamed before, because it is all of it — just the last dump of DMT all at once and my neurons are firing and I’m seeing this firework display of memories and imagination and I am just… tripping. I mean, really tripping balls because my mind’s rifling through the memories. You know — long and short-term, and the dreams mix with the memories, and… it’s a curtain call. The dream to end all dreams — one last great dream as my mind empties the fuckin’ missile silos and then… I stop. My brain activity ceases and there is nothing left of me. No pain. No memory, no awareness that I ever was, no… that I ever hurt someone… that I ever killed someone. Everything is as it was before me. And the electricity disperses from my brain till it’s just dead tissue. Meat. Oblivion. And all of the other little things that make me up, they… the microbes and bacterium and the billion other little things that live on my eyelashes and in my hair and in my mouth and on my skin and in my gut and everywhere else, they just keep on living… and eating. And I’m serving a purpose: feeding life. And I’m broken apart and all the littlest pieces of me are just recycled, and I’m [in] billions of other places and my atoms are in plants and bugs and animals, and I am like the stars that are in the sky, there one moment and then just scattered across the goddamn cosmos.”

One can imagine the ghost of Hamlet, just off screen, smiling and nodding in agreement.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

 

Revisiting “Falling Man” on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

alex atkins bookshelf cultureRichard Drew pressed the camera’s shutter button at 9:41:15 am on the morning of September 11, 2001, capturing an image of man leaping to his death that is paradoxically terrifying and peaceful at the same time. This iconic photograph — “The Falling Man” — depicted one of more than 200 innocent people who fell or jumped to their deaths that morning. It was printed on page 7 of the New York Times on the following day, that haunting image etched forever in the American consciousness as a reminder of that dreadful day. Twenty years later, most survivors and witnesses of 9/11 have noted that the sight of human beings falling to their deaths is the most haunting memory of that tragic day. People began jumping soon after the first jet hit the North Tower (8:46 am) and for the next 102 minutes before the building collapsed. They jumped alone, in pairs, or in groups — most from a height of more than 100 stories. At that height, the bodies reach a speed of 150 miles per hour, not enough to cause unconsciousness during the 10-second fall, but fast enough to ensure immediate death upon impact. One witness described this horrific scene as a woman fell: “The look on her face was shock. She wasn’t screaming. It was slow motion. When she hit, there was nothing left.” Equally powerful was the thought-provoking story that writer Tom Junod wrote about the identity of that lone figure in the September 2003 issue of Esquire magazine, titled “The Falling Man.” When you read the introduction to the story, it is easy to understand why the editors of Esquire consider it one of the greatest stories in the magazine’s 75-year history.

“In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity’s divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet… The man in the picture… is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else — something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man’s posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is… in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears.”

Almost 20 years later, reflecting on that photo, Richard Drew states: “I never regretted taking that photograph at all. It’s probably one of the only photographs that shows someone dying that day. We have a terrorist attack on our soil and we still don’t see pictures of our people dying — and this is a photograph of someone dying. “

The Falling Man’s true identity has never been established.  The photos reveal that he was dark-skinned, lanky, wore a goatee, dressed in black pants, and a bright-orange shirt under a white shirt. Some believe it was Jonathan Briley, an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant. Miraculously, the FBI found his body the next day. Juno concludes his article:

“Is Jonathan Briley the Falling Man? He might be. But maybe he didn’t jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn’t jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.

Oh, no. You have to fall.

Yes, Jonathan Briley might be the Falling Man. But the only certainty we have is the certainty we had at the start: At fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky — falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame — the Falling Man — became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: The Poetry of 9/11
Moving Quotes on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11
The Poem I Turn To
Unfathomable Grief
The Best Books on 9/11

For further reading:
September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets

http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0903-SEP_FALLINGMAN
http://www.esquire.com/features/page-75/greatest-stories?click=main_sr#slide-1
http://time.com/4453467/911-september-11-falling-man-photo/?utm_source=time.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the-brief&utm_content=2017091117pm&xid=newsletter-brief
https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/sept11/2002-09-02-jumper_x.htm

My Soul Knows that I am Part of the Human Race

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“For man, the vast marvel is to be alive. For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive. Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human soul, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my own very self, I am part of my family. There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.”

From the essay titled “Apocalypse” appearing in Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation by D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), author of more well-known works like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers, and Women in Love. Apocalypse was Lawrence’s last major work, written between 1929 and 1930. The Penguin edition, published in 1995, provides this insightful synopsis: “[Apocalypse] is Lawrence’s radical criticism of the political, religious and social structures that have shaped Western civilization. In his view the perpetual conflict within man, in which emotion, instinct and the senses vie with the intellect and reason, has resulted in society’s increasing alienation from the natural world. Yet Lawrence’s belief in humanity’s power to regain the imaginative and spiritual values which alone can revitalize our world also makes Apocalypse a powerful statement of hope. Presenting his thoughts on psychology, science, politics, art, God and man, and including a fierce protest against Christianity, Apocalypse is Lawrence’s last testament, his final attempt to convey his vision of man and of the cosmos.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

The Wisdom of the Epigraph

alex atkins bookshelf literatureAn epigraph is a short motto or quotation that appears at the beginning of a book that suggests the book’s theme or tome. The word is derived from the Greek word epigraphe from epigraphein which means “write on.” In the captivating little tome, The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin, Rosemary Ahern notes: “For many book lovers, there is no more pleasing start to a book than a well-chosen epigraph. These intriguing quotations, sayings, and snippets of songs and poems do more than set the tone for the experience ahead: the epigraph informs us about the author’s sensibility… The epigraph hints at hidden stories and frequently comes with one of its own.” In addition, as you read the more than 250 epigraphs that Ahern has collected, you quickly realize that authors are also readers — just like you. And while most authors preface their literary works with one or two epigraphs, Herman Melville clearly went overboard (pun intended) by including nearly 80 in the American edition of his magnum opus Moby Dick; however the editor of the British edition included only one. Below are some notable epigraphs that not only set the tone for a literary work but stand alone as a timeless pearl of wisdom.

“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” [Essay titled “The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple” found in Essays of Elia (1823) by Charles Lamb]
Appears in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

“There is no present of future — only the past, happening over and over again—now.” [A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neill]
Appears in Trinity (1976) by Leon Uris

“It is certain my Conviction gains infinitely, the moment another soul will believe it.” [Novalis]
Appears in Lord Jim (1900) by Joseph Conrad

“Taking it slowly fixes everything.” [Ennuis]
Appears in The Red and the Black (1830) by Stendahl

“Life treads on life, and heart on heart;
We press too close in church and mart
To keep a dream of grave apart.”  [“A Vision of the Poet” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning]
Appears in The Souls of Black Folk (1903) by W.E.B. Du Bois

“O my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but
exhaust the limits of the possible” [Pythian II by Pindar]
Appears in The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) by Albert Camus

“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mold me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?” [Paradise Lost, Book X, 743-45, by John Milton]
Appears in Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley

“As long as hope maintains thread of green.” [The Divine Comedy, Purgatory, III by Dante]
Appears in All the King’s Men (1946) by Robert Penn Warren

“There Leviathan,
Hugest of living creatures, in the deep
Stretch’d like a promontory sleeps or swims,
And seems a moving land; and at his gills
Draws in, and at this breath spouts out a sea.” [Paradise Lost, Book VII, 412-416 by John Milton]
Appears in The Whale, the three-volume British edition of Moby-Dick (1851)

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related posts: The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels
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Famous Novels with Numbers in Their Titles
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For further reading: The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin by Rosemary Ahern (2012)
http://www.angelfire.com/nv/mf/elia1/benchers.htm
https://www.paradiselost.org/8-Search-All.html

Bookstores are Places of Curiosity

alex atkins bookshelf books“The wonderful thing about bookstores is that there’s not a single country in the world in which they’re simply there to sell books. Their function is not restricted to merely serving the market — you won’t find any booksellers who have geared their business solely toward economic success. They’re not driven by money, but by their own attitude. In the process, they make a real contribution towards preserving cultural diversity, actively committed as they are to freedom of expression, which comes coupled with a concern for equal opportunities and tolerance, rather than catering to elitist circles. There are few other places that offer visitors a similar atmosphere in such abundance… Bookstores are places of communication, curiosity, and the new, but they never lose sight of the past.”

From the introduction to Do You Read Me?: Bookstores Around the World by Juergen Boos, Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair. The book features 60 of the most beautiful and innovative indie bookstores around the world. Moreove, the book celebrates the bookstore as a modern temple of knowledge, curiosity, and inspiration that connects people and ideas.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

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What to Bookmark in Moby Dick (Part 2)

alex atkins bookshelf literatureFine books are often bound with a ribbon bookmark. Bookmarks in books were introduced as early as 1 A.D., bound into some of the earliest codices found in libraries and monasteries of that period. The primary function of the bookmark, of course, is to the mark the reader’s place in the book as he or she reads it. However, once the book is read, the bookmark has a secondary and very important function: it can be placed in the location of a favorite or beautiful passage that you want to return to again and again.

Herman Melville’s magnum opus, Moby Dick,  is considered “The Great American Novel” however its themes and meaning transcend the shores of America. The novel is literally teeming with meaning and brilliant insights. One wishes the book were bound with two dozen ribbon bookmarks. If you have read and studied the novel you know what I mean. Recently, I reached for one of my copies of Moby Dick, a beautiful deluxe leather-bound edition with gilded fore-edges published by Easton Press. The silk ribbon marked a passage in the book from Chapter 60, “The Line.” In this chapter, Ishmael, the novel’s pensive narrator, discusses the importance of the whale-line, a rope made of hemp that is attached to a large harpoon at one end and at the other end, tied to the whale boat or to the lines of other whale boats:

“Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies of the storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself; for, indeed, the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm; and contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought into actual play — this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.”

What we learn from this passage is how dangerous the whale-line is: as the rope unwinds from its coil, it can quickly wrap around a limb and sever it. Even worse, the whale-line can wrap around a seaman’s torso and fling him into the ocean (where he will most likely drown) or the rope can wind around his neck and strangle him. Ishmael observes that “all men live enveloped in whale-lines.” Therefore, the whale-line not only represents the real dangers of whaling but also, metaphorically, the perils of life that all men must face. In other words, we must navigate life’s path, carefully stepping over and avoiding these inescapable, ever-present whale-lines that threaten to trip us up or lead us to our doom. As we learn in Chapter 135, Captain Ahab meets his poetic demise at the end of a such a rope: “The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the grooves; — ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone. Next instant, the heavy eye-splice in the rope’s final end flew out of the stark-empty tub, knocked down an oarsman, and smiting the sea, disappeared in its depths.”

A reader recommended a very relevant video titled, Down to the Sea Sea in Ships (1922) by Elmer Clifton. If you forward to the 1:00 mark, you can watch a whaler throw a harpoon and see how the whale-line unwinds as the whale pulls it forward. The film, inspired by Moby-Dick, was filmed in New Beford, Massachusetts. Go to YouTube and search “Down to the Sea in Ships.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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

Read related post: Why Read Moby
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For further reading: Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville
Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco