Category Archives: Quotations

The Wisdom of Cornel West

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhat better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day than to attend a lecture by Cornel West, discussing democracy, justice, and race. West, like Noam Chomsky, is a public intellectual, philosopher, social critic, and political activist. He graduated from Harvard College magna cum  laude with a degree in Near Eastern languages and civilization. He received his PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. West taught at Harvard, the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Paris. He is the recipient of 20 honorary degrees and has written over 20 books. Race Matters, published in 1994, and Democracy Matters, published in 2004, are two of his most notable and influential works. Filmgoers will recognize the famous philosopher as Councilor West in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) movies. If that isn’t impressive enough, he has also recorded several soul, hip-hop, and spoken word albums.

The excitement in the packed auditorium was palpable. Heads turned as he walked through the center aisle, wearing his trademarked black three piece suit with a gold pocket watch chain dangling from his waist. He marched on the stage and with his deep, booming voice proclaimed, “I am only scheduled for an hour, but I feel moved by the spirit!” What followed was a mesmerizing two-hour presentation that was one part college lecture (evoking the great names of philosophy, history, and literature), one part tribute to jazz and Motown (the man knows his music and lyrics!), and two parts Baptist sermon and gospel revival (with scattered shouts from the audience of “Amen!” “Preach it, Brother!” and an uplifting, foot-stomping sing-along of the timeless gospel song “This Little Light of Mine” that was popularized by the civil rights movement). You couldn’t help but think that this is what is must have been like to attend an event featuring  Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. The evening ending with a long, thunderous standing ovation that lifted everyone’s spirits.

Bookshelf honors Martin Luther King Jr. Day by sharing the wisdom of Cornel West drawn from his writings and his lecture of that memorable evening.

“Justice is what love looks like in public; tenderness is what love looks like in private.”

“I take my fundamental cue from John Coltrane that says there must be a priority of integrity, honesty, decency, and mastery of craft.”

“I have tried to be a man of letters in love with ideas in order to be a wiser and more loving person, hoping to leave the world just a little better than I found it.”

“I’ve never been tied to one party or one candidate or even one institution. And that’s true even with one church as a Christian. I’m committed to truth and justice.”

“I remind young people everywhere I go, one of the worst things the older generation did was to tell them for twenty-five years ‘Be successful, be successful, be successful!’ as opposed to ‘Be great, be great, be great.’ There’s a qualitative difference.

“King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.“

“There is a sense in which there has to be a poetic mode of expression that moves people — you have to communicate in the form of stories and narratives that carry with them certain kinds of values and virtues. When the values and virtues are cached in light of Christian stories of love and justice but connected to a whole host of non-Christian persons, so that you’re speaking to human beings and fellow citizens, you make an intervention as a Christian. But the stories and narratives that you put forward in a poetic form still are able to seize the hearts, minds, and souls of fellow citizens of all different traditions and viewpoints. That is precisely what Martin Luther King Jr. was able to do, and there was a real sense in which his example is something that we need to learn from in the early part of the twenty-first century as the American empire wafers and wobbles.”

“The country is in deep trouble. We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.”

“If you view life as a gold rush, you’re going to end up worshiping a golden calf. And when you call for help, and that golden calf can’t respond, you go under.”

“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

“Music at its best…is the grand archeology into and transfiguration of our guttural cry, the great human effort to grasp in time our deepest passions and yearnings as prisoners of time. Profound music leads us — beyond language — to the dark roots of our scream and the celestial
heights of our silence.”

“To accept your country without betraying it, you must love it for that which shows what it might become. America — this monument to the genius of ordinary men and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of ‘no’ into the ‘yes’ — needs citizens who love it enough to re-imagine and re-make it.”

“In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide and pernicious consequences of our maldistribution of wealth and power. We simply cannot enter the twenty-first century at each other’s throats, even as we acknowledge the weighty forces of racism, patriarchy, economic inequality, homophobia, and ecological abuse on our necks. We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”

“It is a beautiful thing to be on fire for justice… there is no greater joy than inspiring and empowering others –– especially the least of these, the precious and priceless wretched of the earth!”

“[My religious grounding] has everything to do with taking the Christian gospel seriously by trying to take love seriously, connecting love to justice, and recognizing what Martin Luther King Jr. rightly said, that justice is what love looks like in public. Therefore, looking at the world through the lens of the cross means putting a premium on the least of these; to echo the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, it means looking at the prisoners, the widow, the orphan, the workers, gay brothers, lesbian sisters, people of color, indigenous peoples, and so forth. Whatever kind of theology you want to call it, I’m just trying to be truthful to the gospel. If we take the cross seriously—which has so much to do with unarmed truth, and the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak, and the cross has so much to do with unconditional love—then we can’t love people simply by hating when they are treated unjustly. If we take the cross seriously, we must consider how we understand the world, think about the world, and act in the world. Then, certainly in that regard, my attempt to live the Christian life is at the center of what I think and do.”

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

Read related post: Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and the Suicide Letter
The Singer Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech

Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King

For further reading: The Cornel West Reader by Cornel West

Books Are the Treasured Wealth of the World

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind.”

From Walden; or, Life in the Woods, published in 1854, by essayist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). The book was written during the two years that Thoreau lived in a small cabin near Walden Pond (close to Concord, Massachusetts), owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both Emerson and Thoreau were transcendentalism, firm believers in individualism and the inherent goodness of people and nature. By living a simple life, surrounded by the beauty of nature, Thoreau, through deep introspection, evaluates his life, values, and society. He writes: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” What emerges from this incredible experiences is a profound journal of discovery, reflecting a spiritual and intellectual reawakening, and on another level — a timeless and eloquent manifesto of independence and self-reliance. Only 2,000 copies of Walden were printed, thus they are rare and valuable. A first edition of Walden is worth about $14,400.

Read related posts: The Most Expensive American Book
Rarest Book in American Literature
The Books That Shaped America
What Books Should You Read to Be Well-Read?

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

For further reading: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

The Serious Reader Expands His Awareness of Self and Prizes Knowledge

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“The serious reader expands his circle of acquaintances, but is not unhappy with his friends. He expands his knowledge of place, but is not dissatisfied with home. He expands his awareness of self, but is not confused about his identity, his responsibilities, or his beliefs. He believes that other media overemphasize the modern, undervalue the traditional, and barely acknowledge the timeless… And the serious reader defines knowledge in his own way. [To borrow from John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University,] knowledge is something the reader prizes for its own sake, as he would an object that is purely beautiful or a person whose standards are not subject to fluctuation by whim. The reader finds a piquancy to knowledge as it settles into the mind that is comparable to the last of a delicate food as it slowly melts onto the palate — a hedonistic view of learning to be sure, lush and impractical, but one he shares with countless other men and women over the centuries who, of impractical bent themselves, were nonetheless capable of great worldly achievement.”

From The Joy of Books: Confessions of a Lifelong Reader by Eric Burns, a writer, lecturer, and formerly a correspondent for NBC News. Burns also wrote Broadcast Blues: Dispatches from the Twenty-Year War between Television Reporter and His Medium.

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

Read related posts: The Power of Literature
Exploring Carl Sandburg’s Library of 11,000 Books
The Lord of the Books: Creating A Library From Discarded 
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
If You Love a Book, Set it Free
The Library without Books
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

Related posts: William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
A Beautiful, Inspiring Letter to Borges, the Patron of the Great Library


Best Inspirational New Year’s Quotes to Ring in 2020

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Ring out the old, ring in the new,” wrote the British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) in the poem title In Memoriam, “Ring, happy bells, across the snow: / The year is going, let him go; / “Ring our the false, ring in the true.” In a world filled with so many distortions and disinformation, ringing in the true sounds like a worthy goal. It is particularly fitting that the year is 2020 that implies seeing things clearly (you can hear your opthomologist asking softly: “better 1 or 2? [pause] 2 or 3?”

New Year’s Eve is such a bittersweet holiday — filled with the sadness of having to say goodbye to the past year, with all its memories — the tragic and the joyous. And the holiday is filled with the excitement of the year yet to come — full of hope and promise, as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke expresses it: “full of things that have never been.”

As one gets older, however, the “bitter” in bittersweet becomes more pronounced. The sadness becomes more poignant because advancing age comforts you with a blanket of nostalgia and sentimentality — it just becomes harder to say goodbye. Moreover, one looks back at the year to remember the people who have passed away, making the world a bit colder and emptier without those individuals. Thus, on a deeper, subconscious level, saying goodbye to the past year is a harbinger of the losses that are yet to come.

Whether more bitter or more sweet, New Year’s Eve always inspires wonderful celebrations as well as deep or mildly intoxicated superficial reflection. Here are some of the best inspirational quotes to help you ring in the new year:

Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

T.S. Eliot: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.”

Seneca: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Rainer Maria Rilke: ““And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.”

Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.”

Neil Gaiman: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

C.S. Lewis: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

William Shakespeare: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

Gilbert Chesterton: “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”

Mark Twain: “New Year’s Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Oscar Wilde: “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.”

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

Read related posts: What is the Meaning of Auld Lang Syne?
The Story Behind Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg

Famous Misquotations: Growing Old is Mandatory; Growing Up is Optional

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional” is one of those popular quotations you find all over the Internet, emblazoned on mugs, posters, t-shirts, journals, signs, pillows — you name it. Another variation is “Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.” It is attributed to either Walt Disney (1901-1966), the famous animator, or  Charles Theodore “Chili” Davis (born 1960), a Jamaican-American former baseball player who is now a coach with the New York Mets. Like so many other quotations that seem to endlessly multiply on the Internet, it is a quotation in search of an author.

Let’s take a closer look at the two most commonly attributed authors. It certainly makes sense that the quote is attributed to Walt Disney whose work and theme parks are focused on capturing (or recapturing) a child’s sense of wonder and delight. It certainly sounds like something he would say; however, there is no evidence that proves that Disney ever wrote or said this. On the other hand, there are numerous collections of quotations posted within the last decade that cite Chili Davis as the source of this famous quotation; however, once again, there is no article or interview where this phrase appears. One of the earliest sources for the quotation, but lacking any attribution, is in Keith Evan’s Internet Joke Book: Volume Two (page 131), under the heading “Growing Old.” Lacking any definitive, verifiable written source, one can only conclude that this is an apocryphal quotation, most likely written by some anonymous individual, that has been circulating on the Internet for at least 20 years.

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.

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

For further reading: (search Internet Joke Book, Volume Two)

Peer Into Your Books — Make a Voyage of Discovery

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

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

What is the World’s Dirty Secret?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThere is a point, months or years after graduation, that one longs to return to college. Nostalgia grabs you by the lapels and cries out: “remember the great camaraderie; the epic parties; the memorable meals; the thought-provoking, passionate discussions, young love, and the idle time for contemplation or getting lost in the world of ideas? Remember all that?” Of course, those years slip by so quickly, like sand through your fingers. And now, stuck in the routine of a boring, soul-crushing 9-to-5 job, you really begin to miss those years and those amazingly transformative experiences. But, year by year those memories recede before us and you stretch your arms farther, like Gatsby reaching out to recapture his past, and a younger version of his beloved Daisy.

It is exactly that paralyzing ennui that motivates Jesse Fisher to return to college and visit with his favorite college English professor, Peter Hoberg, in the 2012 enchanting film, Liberal Arts (written and directed by Josh Radnor). By visiting college and his favorite teachers, Fisher hopes to recapture his passion, his purpose in life. Hoberg dispenses a lot of wisdom, including this gem: “Any place you don’t leave is a prison.” However, during one memorable scene, while discussing aging, Professor Hoberg shares the world’s dirty secret with his former student:

Professor Peter Hoberg: You know how old I am?

Jesse Fisher: No, how old are you?

Hoberg: It’s none of your goddamn business. Do you know how old I feel like I am?

Fisher: [Shrugs]

Hoberg: 19. Since I was 19, I have never felt not 19. But I shave my face and I look in the mirror and I’m forced to say, “This is not a 19-year-old staring back at me.” [Sighs] Teaching here all these years, I’ve had to be very clear with myself, that even when I’m surrounded by 19-year-olds, and I may have felt 19, I’m not 19 anymore. You follow me?

Fisher: Yeah.

Hoberg: Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.

So if you are a young adult, now you know what most middle-aged adults know. But please be discreet, don’t tell anyone… remember it’s our little secret.

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

Read related posts: What Makes A Great Teacher?
Great Teachers Inspire
The Importance of Great Teachers
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses

%d bloggers like this: