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.

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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.

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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
The Most Influential People Who Never Lived
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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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Profile of a Book Lover: Rebecca Goldstein

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
The Books That Shaped America
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For further reading: Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville
Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco

What Will Be Your Last Words Before the Final Curtain Falls?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhy are we so fascinated by a person’s last words? Perhaps we believe that these final words somehow recount in just a few words the meaning of his or her entire life. Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt, from Richard II, observes that these few final words are profoundly meaningful: “O! but they say the tongues of dying men / Enforce attention like deep harmony: / When words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain, / For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.” Yet another reason is that a person’s last words reveal something about his or her character, particularly in the shadow of death. And finally, last words can sometimes provide some insight of what it is like to die.

There is this wonderfully poignant and thought-provoking scene in The Kominsky Method in season five, episode three, titled “Near, far, wherever you are.” Having just lost his closest friend and agent of many years, and now losing his ex-wife to leukemia, the protagonist, Sandy Kominsky, a famous acting coach in Hollywood in his twilight years, addresses his students about playing death scenes. With a mixture of deep sorrow and compassion, Kominsky reflects on those precious, fleeting moments, focusing on a person’s last thoughts and words before the final curtain falls:

“Let’s talk about the subject matter of the scene — dying, on camera or on stage, to play a heartbreaking and hopefully slow death, is the dream of every actor. I would wage there’s not an actor or actress who hasn’t fantasized about how they would play those final moments… as the life force slowly slips away and as we teeter on the edge of nonexistence — how would we gasp out those last words of wit and wisdom? But is that what happens as death draws close? Do the dying exact promises from those they leave behind? Do they confess their sins? Do they make a joke?… What I’m asking you to think about is what actually happens in those final moments. I’m not talking about a shocking, violent death. I’m talking about… when you know it’s coming. When you’ve fully surrendered to the ultimate magic trick — when we really and truly disappear. I’ve sat at the bedside and I’ve held the hands of friends and loved ones as they breathed their last breath… and I can tell you this: the dramatic soliloquy at the end of life is pure and utter nonsense. If anything is being said, it’s internal. You can almost hear it. They’re having an internal conversation filled with disbelief and wonder that their life has come to an end. They hardly notice you sitting there at all. For the dying, the living are irrelevant. So, if you should ever have the opportunity to play such a scene — approach it with reverence. Consider it holy. Make sure it receives your utmost care and respect.”

When circumstances permit and that final curtain begins to fall, what will you be thinking about? Who do you want to be near you? What will be your final words? What dreams may come in that sleep of death? (Recall those memorable lines from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “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…”)

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.

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We Are the Sum of All the Moments of Our Lives

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“But we are the sum of all the moments of our lives — all that is ours is in them: we cannot escape or conceal it. If the writer has used the clay of life to make his book, he has only used what all men must, what none can keep from using. Fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose. Dr. Johnson remarked that a man would turn over half a library to make a single book: in the same way, a novelist may turn over half the people in a town to make a single figure in his novel. This is not the whole method but the writer believes it illustrates the whole method in a book that is written from a middle distance and is without rancour or bitter intention.” 

From the preliminary note to the reader in Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life by Thomas Wolfe. Unlike his contemporaries (e.g., William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck), Wolfe remains one of the most overlooked 20th-century novelists. Nevertheless, Look Homeward, Angel, published in 1929, is a stunning literary achievement: a deeply felt and beautifully written Bildungsroman about a restless young man (Eugene Gant, a character based on the author) from North Carolina who yearns for a meaningful intellectual life. The novel covers the period from the protagonist’s birth to his leaving home in his late teens. Wolfe originally titled the novel The Building of a Wall, and then O Lost. Famed scribner editor Maxwell Perkins suggested a different title. For the final title, Wolfe was inspired by John Milton’s poem “Lycidas” which includes the lines: “Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth: / And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.”

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.

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Best Commencement Speeches: David Foster Wallace

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomDavid Foster Wallace was an American novelist, best known for Infinite Jest and The Pale King, and a professor of English at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College. Some literary critics consider Wallace one of the most innovative and influential writers in the last two decades. Sadly, after struggling with depression for many years, Wallace committed suicide in 2008, at the age of 46. His readers and the literary and academic communities experienced a great sense of loss; Wallace was acknowledged by many glowing tributes and four public memorial services.

In 2005, an English and Philosophy student from the commencement speaker committee from Kenyon College, a small prestigious liberal arts college located in Gambier, Ohio (with an enchanting Hogwarts School vibe), invited Wallace to deliver the commencement address to the school’s graduating class. He was told he could speak on any topic. His speech, delivered on May 21, 2005, is titled “This is Water” because Wallace uses water as a metaphor for the essential things in life that are hidden in plain sight, so easy to overlook. This mirrors one of the most famous lines in St. Exupery’s The Little Prince — “What is essential is invisible to the eye” (in the original French: “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”), spoken by the fox.

Wallace uses the opportunity of a college commencement speech to share the most important lessons he has learned in life. He addresses several important questions, including “How do we keep from going through adult life unconsciously, comfortably entrenched in habit (“the default setting”)? How do we remove ourselves from the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? How do we think about our world and separate the truth from the lies? Ultimately, Wallace believes that the goal of education is to create individuals who think freely and critically and act compassionately. It is no wonder that “This is Water” is considered to be one of the best commencement speeches of all time.

Wallace’s speech was published four years later in a small book titled This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. Inexplicably, however, Wallace’s speech was broken up into isolated paragraphs and sentences, each centered on their own page. Reading his eloquent and passionate speech this way is incredibly disjointed — not to mention, annoying. It’s like reading a long essay by piecing together dozens of tiny bits of paper from fortune cookies. It’s a good thing the editors of this small tome did not work on Infinite Jest — otherwise that lengthy novel, running 1,079 pages containing 577,608 words, would have been published in 60 volumes. Although Wallace committed suicide by hanging, the editors deleted the last two sentences of the original speech that refer to suicide by gunshot: “It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. They shoot the terrible master.”

Here are some key excerpts from “This is Water”:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”… The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water… This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.”

The full text of the speech can be read here.

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.

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Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
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For further reading:
The Legacy of David Foster Wallace by Samuel Cohen and Lee Konstantinou
Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy by Robert Bolger and Scott Korb
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/03/09/the-unfinished

 

What is the Most Important Meditation We Can Do Now?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsEvolution biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris shared a wonderful story about the time she met the Dalai Lama. Someone in the group asked the Dalai Lama what is the most important meditation we can do now? Without any hesitation he answered: “Critical thinking followed by action. Discern what your world is — know the plot, the scenario of this human drama, and then figure out where your talents might fit in to make a better world. And each of us must do something that will make our heart sing, because nobody will want to do it with us if we are not passionate and inspired.”

From the documentary “I Am” directed by Tom Shadyac. The documentary answers two important questions: (1) What’s wrong with the world? and (2) What can we do about it? The documentary features fascinating interviews with Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Lynne McTaggart, Coleman Barks, David Suzuki, Elisabet Sahtouris, and Thom Hartmann who share their brilliant insights. The title of the documentary comes from a letter written by the British author and theologian, G. K. Chesterton. In 1908 The Times of London asked notable authors to write an essay on the topic: “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s was the shortest essay received: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.”

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.

Adventures in Linguistics: Clitic

alex atkins bookshelf words

Every day in your writing and speech you use clitics. “Hold on there,” you respond indignantly, “that’s a word that sounds really lewd. I’m not sure what clitics are, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never used them.” I hate to sound accusatory, but you just used four of them. You see, a clitic is a morpheme that functions like a word but is not spelled or pronounced completely. The morpheme is always phonetically attached to a word, known as its host. If the morpheme is attached before its host, it is known as a proclitic; if it is attached after its host, it is known as a enclitic. The word clitic is derived from the Ancient Greek word klitikos meaning “inflectional” from enklitikos meaning “lean on.” For the purient-minded or linguistically curious, you might be asking: “Hmmn, is klitikos also the origin of the word clitoris?” That’s a very good question. The word clitoris is actually derived from another similar-sounding Ancient Greek word kleitoris, from klieo (“shut, to encase”) or from kleis (“a latch or hook” used to close a door). Those Ancient Greeks were so clever.

One of the most famous proclitics appears at the beginning of Clement C. Moore’s poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” published in 1823. The first line of the poem is considered the best known verse ever composed by an American poet: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house.” ‘Twas, of course, is a contraction —albeit archaic and rare — of “it was.” More common examples of proclitics are: c’mon (come on); d’you (do you); ’tis (it is); and y’all (you all). Enclitics are far more common because they occur in contractions that are used quite frequently; examples include: can’t (cannot); haven’t (have not); he’ll (he will);  I’m (I am); I’ve (I have); they’re (they are); and we’ve (we have).

So there you have it — this fascinating, arcane linguistic gremlin that is lurking in everyday speech and writing. Unlike you — now that you have been enlightened — people who use them are blissfully oblivious to its name, nuances, and etymology. So the next time you encounter a person using clitics, casually ask him or her “Are you aware you use a lot of clitics?” You will be pleasantly amused by the bewildered expression on their face. And if you are feeling devilish, you can add with a smirk, “Speaking of clitics, have I ever told you about the etymology of clitoris?”

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 Audre Lorde

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

Audre Lorde (born Audrey Geraldine Lorde; 1934-1992), was an American writer, poet, feminist, and civil rights activist. She began her career as a librarian at Hunter College and earned a master’s degree in library science at Columbia University, but she flourished as a writer. Lorde’s writing focused on racial and social injustice, black identity, and feminism. She was a passionate and eloquent advocate of civil rights, shining the light on the deep harm of racism, sexism, classism, and ageism. At an early age, she began reading and memorizing poetry. By the age of 12 she discovered that it was easier for her to express herself through poetry. She published her first volume of poetry, The First Cities, in 1968, followed by Cables to Rage in 1970. Lorde became an influential voice in the Black Arts Movement after the publication of her popular collection of poems titled Coal in 1976. Over the course of her career, she published 18 books, including poems, essays, and a biography. Shortly before she died of breast cancer, Lorde adopted the African name Gamba Adisa, meaning “Warrior: she who makes her meaning known.” Below are some of her insights and perspectives from this inspiring poetic warrior.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” 

“When we define ourselves, when I define myself, the place in which I am like you and the place in which I am not like you, I’m not excluding you from the joining — I’m broadening the joining.”

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

“Without community, there is no liberation… but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”

“Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”

“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” 

“If I do not bring all of who I am to whatever I do, then I bring nothing, or nothing of lasting worth, for I have withheld my essence.”

“When I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” 

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”

“I learned so much from listening to people. And all I knew was, the only thing I had was honesty and openness.”

“You cannot, you cannot use someone else’s fire. You can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe that you have it.”

“It does not pay to cherish symbols when the substance lies so close at hand.”

“There is an important difference between openness and naiveté. Not everyone has good intentions nor means me well. I remind myself I do not need to change these people, only recognize who they are.”

“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.”

“Each time you love, love as deeply as if it were forever.” 

“We are all more blind to what we have than to what we have not.”

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.” 

“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

“The speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” 

“Once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy.” 

“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” 

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” 

“I do not want to be tolerated, or misnamed. I want to be recognized.” 

“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” 

“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do.” 

“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” 

“If you do not learn to hate you will never be lonely enough to love easily nor will you always be brave, although it does not grow any easier. Do not pretend to convenient beliefs, even when they are righteous; you will never be able to defend your city while shouting.” 

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” 

“I am my best work — a series of road maps, reports, recipes, doodles, and prayers from the front lines.”

“Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people.” 

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 is Man’s Deepest Need?

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“The deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness. The full answer to the problem of existence lies in true and mature love. What is mature love? It is the union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man, a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others. Love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.”

From the Art of Loving (1956) by Eric Fromm (1900-1980), German psychologist, psychoanalyst, and humanistic philosopher. His seminal work, Escape From Freedom (1941), which articulated his theory of human nature and character, is considered one of the founding works of political psychology. Fromm believed that freedom was a critical aspect of human nature — individuals choose to embrace freedom or escape from it. In this earlier book, Fromm elaborates on the escape from freedom: “There is only one possible, productive solution for the relationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spontaneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a free and independent individual…. However, if the economic, social and political conditions… do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality in the sense just mentioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world which promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of his freedom.” Fromm believed that man has eight basic needs: transcendence, rootedness, sense of identity, frame of orientation, excitation and stimulation, unity, and effectiveness.

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.

Who Are the Seven Sages of Greece?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIn the dialogue Protagoras, Athenian philosopher Plato (428-424 BC), considered one of the most influential figures in Western philosophy, provided one of the earliest lists of the Seven Sages of Greece (also referred to as the Seven Wise Men). These seven men, who lived in the 6th century, were considered to be the wisest philosophers and statesmen of Ancient Greece. What is impressive and astonishing is that an entire nation could easily identify seven really wise individuals. Fast forward two centuries and we find ourselves living in a culture devoid of these types of preeminent wise philosophers. Could you imagine identifying the Seven Sages of America, or even the Seven Sages of the Modern World? Sadly, in their place we have “influencers” who promote consumerism and mindless thinking. But we digress… The Seven Sages of Greece dispensed their timeless, practical wisdom through short and memorable aphorisms which were inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Apollo, located in Delphi. In Protagoras (342-343), Plato writes:

Hence this very truth has been observed by certain persons both in our day and in former times — that the Spartan cult is much more the pursuit of wisdom than of athletics; for they know that a man’s ability to utter such remarks is to be ascribed to his perfect education. Such men were Thales of Miletus, Pittacus of Mytilene, Bias of Priene, Solon of our city, Cleobulus of Lindus, Myson of [Chenae], and, last of the traditional seven, Chilon of Sparta. All these were enthusiasts, lovers and disciples of the Spartan culture; and you can recognize that character in their wisdom by the short, memorable sayings that fell from each of them they assembled together and dedicated these as the first-fruits of their lore to Apollo in his Delphic temple, inscribing there those maxims which are on every tongue — “Know thyself” and “Nothing overmuch.” To what intent do I say this? To show how the ancient philosophy had this style of laconic brevity; and so it was that the saying of Pittacus was privately handed about with high approbation among the sages—that it is hard to be good.

While other Ancient Greek writers included in their lists of Seven Sages Cleobulus of Lindos or Periander of Corinthos, both of who were tyrants, Plato included Myson of Chanae, a farmer.

The walls of the Temple of Apollo were inscribed with a total of 147 maxims (known as the Delphic maxims), which were originally attributed to Apollo, but later writers, like historian Diogenes Laertius (3rd century) and Greek scholar Joannes Stobaeus (5th century) attributed to the Seven Sages of Greece. Stobaeus compiled the instructive sayings from early Greek authors into a compilation titled Eclogues (Extracts). Modern classical scholars now believe that the authorship of these maxims is uncertain and that these were popular maxims, some of which where attributed to certain sages. Below are the some notable aphorisms attributed to the Seven Sages of Greece: 

Bias of Priene: “Too many workers spoil the work”

Chilon of Sparta: “Know thyself”

Cleobulus of Lindos: “Moderation is the chief good”

Periander of Corinth – “Forethought in all things”

Pittacus of Mitylene: “Know thine opportunity”

Solon of Athens: “Nothing in excess”

Thales of Miletus: “To bring surety brings ruin”

The 147 Delphic maxims can be read here. Which is the maxim which resonates the most with 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 sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

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