The Dog that Ate the Manuscript of a Famous American Novel

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIt’s one thing when you’re dog eats your homework and you have to face your skeptical teacher — but what if your dog eats a manuscript considered one of the most famous American novels set in the Great Depression? Now that’s a tragedy! American writer John Steinbeck experienced that exact situation and imagine the reaction from his publisher when he had to explain that his dog ate his manuscript Of Mice and Men. The dog of this sad tale was a setter puppy named Toby that in Steinbeck’s words “[was] a very serious dog who doesn’t care much for jokes.” Apparently, he didn’t care too much for his regular dog food and switched to something with a bit more fiber. In his journal entry for May 27, 1937, Steinbeck wrote: “Minor tragedy stalked. My setter pup [Toby], left alone one night, made confetti of about half of my manuscript book. Two months work to do over again. It set me back. There was no other draft. I was pretty mad, but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically. I didn’t want to ruin a good dog for a manuscript I’m not sure is good at all. He only got an ordinary spanking… I’m not sure Toby didn’t know what he was doing when he ate the first draft. I have promoted Toby-dog to be a lieutenant-colonel in charge of literature. But as from he unpredictable literary enthusiasms of this country, I have little faith in them.”

The title Of Mice and Men was inspired by two of the lines from the poem “To A Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Lough, November, 1785” by Scottish poet Robert Burns. The poem is written in a light Scots dialect which is foreign to modern readers. The specific lines from the seventh stanza are: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley. (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)” Steinbeck completed his work on his manuscript for Of Mice and Men and the book was published later that year in 1937. Toby eventually recovered from his spanking and never ate another manuscript again.

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

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

Read related posts:
The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair
Which Author has the Most Film Adaptations?

For further reading: Conversations with John Steinbeck by Thomas Fensch

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

Twas The Night Before Christmas History and Trivia

atkins-bookshelf-literatureTwo literary works that have had the greatest impact on how we celebrate Christmas today are A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (also known as “The Night Before Christmas,” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) by Clement Clarke Moore. Like A Christmas Carol, Twas the Night Before Christmas has never been out of print for over 150 years. The poem endures as a cherished tradition as parents read the poem to the entertainment and delight of their children on Christmas eve as they anxiously await the magical visit of St. Nicholas.

Who Really Wrote Twas the Night Before Christmas?
Although the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was originally published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel (New York) on December 23, 1823 (under the title “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”), it was eventually attributed to Moore (1779-1863), a professor of Theology and Oriental and Greek Literature at the General Theological Seminary in New York, who had written the poem a year earlier. Moore eventually included the poem in an anthology titled Poems published in 1844.

Because Moore had not taken credit for the poem much earlier, relatives of Henry Livingston, Jr. (a distant relative of Moore’s wife, Catherine), began promoting a story that Livingston, an aspiring poet, had actually written “A Visit” in the early 1800s. The main evidence was their recollection (Elizabeth Clement Brewer Livingston recalled in 1848 or 1861 after reading Moore’s poem, that her father had actually written the poem in 1808); the only manuscript, they claimed, had been destroyed by fire. The claim gained traction when Don Foster, an English literature professor and expert on textual analysis (he worked on the Unabom case), examined writings by Moore and Livingston and concluded (based on the metrical scheme, phraseology, and Dutch references) that it was indeed Livingston who wrote the poem.

The evidence supporting Moore is overwhelming. First there is contemporaneous testimony from colleagues that Moore wrote the original poem (they physically handled and read a handwritten copy). Seth Kaller, a leading expert in American historic documents, who once owned one of the four handwritten copies of the poem, did extensive research and disputed Foster’s analysis point by point. Kaller’s research also turned up earlier writings and poems by Moore that are consistent with the meter and phraseology of “A Visit.” Moreover, Kaller could not find any written evidence to support the Livingston claim; he writes: “By the time [Moore] included it in his own book of poems in 1844, the original publisher and at least seven others had already acknowledged his authorship. Four manuscripts penned by Moore… survive: in The Strong Museum, The Huntington Library, The New-York Historical Society, and one in private hands.”

Why is the Poem Twas the Night Before Christmas so Important?
The poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is significant because it directly influenced the mythology of Santa Claus in the 19th century: the red suit, the bundle of toys, the eight flying reindeer (and their names) pulling a sleigh, filling the stockings with gifts, the smoking pipe, and entering and exiting the house through the chimney. Prior to Moore’s colorful depiction, Christians were familiar with the legend of the original St. Nicholas (Saint Nicholas of Myra), a Greek bishop who lived in the 4th century (270-343). He was the patron saint of sailors, merchants, children, brewers, unmarried people, students [take a breath here] — and a partridge in a pear tree. Depicted as a tall, slender man, St. Nicholas was known for his charity work — during the evening he would secretly bestow gifts to his parishioners. Moore was also influenced by the depiction of Santa Claus in Washington Irving’s famous work, A History of New York (also known as Knickerbocker’s History of New York) published in 1809. Irving, of course, drew from the Dutch and German lore of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus). Unlike St. Nicholas who was an actual person, Sinterklaas is a fictitious character who is based on St. Nicholas. Sinterklaas was depicted as a willowy bishop who rode a white horse. He carried a large red book that contained children’s names and whether they behaved good or bad the previous year.

From a literary and linguistic point of view, the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is significant on two fronts: first, it is one of the best known verses composed by an American poet. Just about everyone knows the line even if they have never read the poem. Second, it is one of the most well-known uses of a clitic — a morpheme that functions like a word but is not spelled or pronounced completely: “twas” is a contraction of the two words “it was.” Because the morpheme is attached before the host word, it is known as a proclitic. Two other common proclitics are the words “c’mon” (a contraction of “come on”) and “y’all (a contraction of “you all”).

What is the Origin of the Poem Twas the Night Before Christmas?
The actual origin of the poem is a fascinating story. The staff of Heritage Auctions, which sold a handwritten and signed copy of Moore’s famous poem for $255,000 on December 9, 1994 summaries the origin of the poem in the manuscript’s listing: “Eliza [Moore’s wife], was roasting turkeys to be given to the less fortunate parishioners from their church, and she found that one additional turkey was needed. Being a good husband and a compassionate man, he set out on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1822 to make the requested purchase. Calling for his coachman and sleigh, he set out for the market, which was then in the Bowery section of town. It was cold and snowy in Manhattan and Moore sat back and composed a poem for his children, the meter of which was probably inspired by the sleigh bells… Later that evening, after dinner, he read the quickly composed poem to his family as a surprise present… Written only for the entertainment of his family, Moore probably put his original manuscript in a desk and forgot about it.. [The] next year, a family visitor to the Moore home by the name of Miss Harriet Butler (daughter of the Reverend David Butler of St. Paul’s Church in Troy, New York) was told about it by the Moore children. She copied the poem into her album and later gave a handwritten copy of it to the editor of the local newspaper, The Troy Sentinel where it was printed anonymously on December 23, 1823, with the editor-assigned title “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” The response to the poem was overwhelmingly positive and he reprinted it every year thereafter. Soon it was being printed and reprinted in almanacs, books, and school primers. It was not until 1837 that Moore allowed his name to be published as author and, in 1844, he included it in a published collection of his poetry.”

The Value of the Poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas”
Heritage Auctions sold a handwritten and signed copy of Moore’s famous poem for $255,000 on December 9, 1994. The buyer was Ralph Gadiel, founder of International Resourcing Services Company (Northbrook, IL) that marketed miniature Christmas village houses (Liberty Falls Collection) from 1990 to 1998. Gadiel died of cancer in 1998 and sold his company to another businessman. The Liberty Falls Collection, never regained its popularity and success and was eventually discontinued in 2008. The poem went up for auction again through Heritage Auctions on December 20, 2006. The auction house identified the buyer as a CEO of a media company who wanted to read it to friends and business associates at his holiday party held in his Manhattan apartment.

Twas the Night Before Christmas By the Numbers
Number of lines: 56
Number of words: 500
Meter: two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable (anapestic meter)
Number of reindeer: 8

First written: December 24, 1822
First published in newspaper: 1823

First published in a book: 1844
Poem is first illustrated: 1863
Number of hand-written copies of poem: 4 (3 are owned by museums; one is privately owned)
Value of a hand-written copy: $280,000
Value of a first edition of Poems: $15,000
Number of editions of “The Night Before Christmas” owned by the Carnegie Mellon Hunt Library: 400
Number of results for “The Night Before Christmas” on Amazon: over 6,000
Number of results for “The Night Before Christmas” on Google: 1.86 billion
Number of results for “The Night Before Christmas” on Google Books: 5.7 million

“Account of A Visit From St. Nicholas” as originally published in the Troy Sentinel (New York), on Tuesday, December 23, 1823
The poem, under the title “Account of A From St. Nicholas,” was printed with the following introduction, most likely written by the newspaper’s editor, Oroville Holley. Careful readers may note that in line 22 of the poem, two of the reindeer are named Dunder and Blixem. There are two explanations for this mistake: either the newspaper’s typesetter misread Harriet Butler’s handwriting or perhaps Butler transcribed Moore’s poem incorrectly; Moore used the names “Donner” and “Blitzen.”

“We know not to whom we are indebted for the following description of that unwearied patron of children—that homely, but delightful it personification of parental kindness—Sante Claus, his costume and his equipage, as he goes about visiting the fire-sides of this happy land, laden with Christmas bounties; but, from whomsoever it may have come, we give thanks for it. There is, to our apprehension, a spirit of cordial goodness in it, a playfulness of fancy, and a benevolent alacrity to enter into the feelings and promote the simple pleasures of children, which are altogether charming. We hope our little patrons, both lads and lasses, will accept it as proof of our unfeigned good will toward them —as a token of our warmest wish that they may have many a merry Christmas; that they may long retain their beautiful relish for those unbought, homebred joys, which derive their flavor from filial piety and fraternal love, and which they may be assured are the least alloyed that time can furnish them; and that they may never part with that simplicity of character, which is their own fairest ornament, and for the sake of which they have been pronounced, by authority which none can gainsay, the types of such as shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.”

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
And Mama in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprung from the bed to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they-meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys—and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jirk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.—

The Night After Christmas by Clement C. Moore
The Library at the General Theological Seminary in New York City owns several copies of the poem, including a first edition of Poems (1844) that is signed by Moore to the the Reverend Samuel Seabury; it reads: “To the Reverend Dr. Seabury, with the respect of his friend the author, July 1844.” The library also owns a copy of “The Night after Christmas” that is a follow-up to the original poem. The “Night after Christmas” was published anonymously after Moore’s death in 1863. The poem appears below:

Twas the night after Christmas, when all through the house
Every soul was in bed, and as still as a mouse;
Those stockings, so lately St. Nicholas’s care;
Were emptied of all that was eatable there;
The darlings had duly been tucked in their beds,
With very dull stomachs and pain in their heads;
I was dozing away in my new cotton cap,
And Fancy was rather far gone in a nap,
When out in the nursery arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my sleep, crying “What is the matter?”

I flew to each bedside, still half in a doze,
Tore open the curtains and threw off the clothes,
While the light of the taper served clearly to show
The piteous plight of those objects below;
But what to the fond father’s eyes should appear
But the little pale face of each little sick dear,
For each pet had crammed itself full as a tick,
And I knew in a moment now felt like old Nick.

Their pulses were rapid, their breathings the same;
What their stomachs rejected I’ll mention by name;
Now turkey, now stuffing, plum pudding of course,
And custards and crullers and cranberry sauce,
Before outraged nature all went to the wall;
Yes — lolypops, flapdoodle, dinner and all;
Like pellets that urchins from pop-guns let fly,
Went figs, nuts and raisins, jam, jelly and pie,
Till each error of diet was brought to my view-
To the shame of mamma, and of Santa Claus too.

I turned from the sight, to my bed room stepped back,
And brought out a phial marked “Pulv. Ipecac,”
When my Nancy exclaimed, for their sufferings shocked her,
“Don’t you think you had better, love, run for the doctor?”
I ran — and was scarcely back under my roof,
When I heard the sharp clatter of old Jalap’s hoof;
I might say that I had hardly turned myself around,
When the doctor came into the room with a bound.

He was covered with mud from his head to his foot,
And the suit he had on was his very worst suit;
He had hardly had time to put that on his back,
And he looked like a Falstaff half muddled with sack.
His eyes how they twinkled! Had the doctor got merry?
His cheeks looked like port and his breath smelt of sherry.
He hadn’t been shaved for a fortnight or so,
And his short chin wasn’t as white as the snow;
But inspecting their tongues in spite of their teeth,
And drawing his watch from his waistcoat beneath,
He felt of each pulse, saying “Each little belly
Must get rid” — here they laughed — “of the rest of that jelly.”

I gazed on each chubby, plump, sick little elf,
And groaned when he said so in spite of myself;
But a wink of his eye when he physicked our Fred,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He didn’t prescribe, but went straightway to work
And dosed all the rest; — gave his trousers a jerk,
And added directions while blowing his nose,
He buttoned his coat, from his chair he arose,
Then jumped in his gig, gave old Jalap a whistle,
And Jalap jumped off as if pricked by a thistle;
But the doctor exclaimed, ere he drove out of sight.
“They’ll be well by to-morrow; good night Jones, good night.”

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 Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”
The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “Twas The Night Before Christmas”
Adventures in Linguistics: Clitic

Words invented by Dickens

For further reading: Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous by Don Foster, Henry Holt (2000)
The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler, McClelland & Stewart (2000).
Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of New York by Washington Irving, Easton Press (1980).
http://iment.com/maida//familytree/henry/xmas/poemvariants/troysentinel1823.htm
http://www.cmu.edu/cmnews/031217/031217_nitebefore.html
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17382/17382-h/17382-h.htm
theconversation.com/twas-the-night-before-christmas-helped-make-the-modern-santa-and-led-to-a-literary-whodunit-171637
http://www.americanantiquarian.org/Exhibitions/Christmas/nightafter.htm
http://www.sethkaller.com/about/educational/tnbc/
historical.ha.com/itm/autographs/authors/handwritten-and-signed-fair-copy-of-clement-clarke-moore-s-twas-the-night-before-christmas-the-only-one-in-private-hands-/a/629-25885.s
https://apnews.com/article/efdeb698d67ff9dbf0074e7410f1665e
https://www.telegram.com/story/news/local/north/2006/12/21/1860-christmas-poem-twas-sold/52998978007/
https://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/xmas/vsn/vsn01.htm

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

The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2022

alex atkins bookshelf books

Back in 1984, the PNC Bank (a bank based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania) developed the Christmas Price Index that totals the cost of all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a flippant economic indicator. In 1984, the Christmas Price Index was $12,623.10; more than three decades later, in 2022, it reached $45,523.27 — an increase of $4,317.69 (10.5%) from 2021 (CPI was $41,205.58). In 2022, the most expensive gift is the ten lords-a-leaping that costs $13,980. On the other hand, the cheapest gift is the eight maids-a-milking that costs $58 (due to the low federal minimum wage).

Despite their symbolism, the twelve gifts of Christmas are not only extremely random, they are more of a nuisance than carefully-selected gifts that you would actually cherish. As if the holidays are not stressful enough, imagine all those animals running and flying about helter-skelter, defecating all over your clean carpets — not to mention the nonstop, grating sound of drummers drumming and pipers piping pushing you toward the brink of a mental breakdown. Truly, no book lover would be happy with these gifts. Bah humbug! Therefore, I introduced the Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index in 2014 that would be far more interesting and appreciated by bibliophiles. The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index replaces all those unwanted mess-making animals and clamorous performers with first editions of cherished classic Christmas books. The cost of current first editions are determined by the latest data available from Abe Books, the leading online antiquarian bookseller.

For 2022, the Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index is $150,485 (shipping and tax are not included), a whopping increase of $41,860 (about 39%) from last year ($108,625). The biggest hit to your wallet remains — by a very large margin, Charles Dickens’ very coveted and valuable first edition of one of the most well-known literary classics, A Christmas Carol valued at $75,000 (a price unchanged from last year) — a valuation that would be sure to warm Scrooge’s heart. The second most expensive Christmas book, coming in at $15,000 (the price is also unchanged from last year), is Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (more commonly known at “The Night Before Christmas”) that has largely influenced how Santa Claus is depicted. The poem was included in a collection of Moore’s poems in 1844, a year after the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Below are the individual costs of the books that make up the

A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens: $75,000

A Visit from St. Nicholas (included in Poems, 1844) by Clement C. Moore: $15,000

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) by Dr. Seuss: $8,800

A Christmas Memory (1966) by Truman Capote: $35,000

The Polar Express (1985) by Chris Van Allsburg: $2,250

The Nutcracker (1984 edition) by E. T. A. Hoffman: $1,250

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) by Valentine Davies: $1,800

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) by L. Frank Baum: $5,635

The Greatest Gift (1944) by Philip Van Doren Stern: $3,000

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (A Christmas Story) by Jean Shepherd: $250

Old Christmas: from the Sketchbook of Washington Irving (1876) by Washington Irving: $1,250

The Gift of the Magi (included in The Four Million, 1905) by O. Henry: $1,250

Happy Holidays!

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

Words invented by Dickens
Why Read Dickens?

For further reading: https://www.pnc.com/en/about-pnc/topics/pnc-christmas-price-index.html

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

 

World Records in Books and Publishing

alex atkins bookshelf booksGuinness World Records, the best-selling authoritative guide to the world records of extremes of the natural world and human feats, was hatched from a disagreement at a pub. Sir Hugh Beaver (18090-1967), managing director of the Guinness Brewery, had attended a hunting trip in County Wexford, located in the southeast region of Ireland, on November 1951. Beaver missed a shot at a golden plover which led to a spirited debate at the pub that evening: what was the fastest game bird in Europe — the golden plover or the red grouse? Because the Internet and Siri had not been invented, they had to go old school and consult reference books; however, with great frustration, they realized that a book with this specific type of information simply did not exist. Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention — Beaver realized that a book that contained information about the superlatives (the fastest, the largest, the tallest, etc.) could be quite useful. Subsequently, Beaver was introduced to twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter who ran the London-based Fact and Figure Agency that provided statistics and facts to newspapers. The Guinness Book of Records was published in August 1954. Originally, the 198-page book was given to pub patrons (at the time, there were more than 81,400 pubs in Britain and Ireland) as a way to promote the Guinness brand and serve as a really thick coaster; however, the book was so popular, it was republished as The Guinness Book of Records in October 1955 and sold more than 100,000 copies. To date (the 2023 edition is now in its 69th year of publication) the reference book has sold more than 100 million copies in 100 countries in over 35 languages. 

Incidentally it took the editors 35 years to answer the question that was the catalyst for the book of records. The 36th edition, published in 1989, noted: “Britain’s fastest game bird is the Red Grouse (Lagopus l. scoticus) which, in still air, has recorded burst speeds up to 92.8-100.8 km/h 58-63 mph over very short distances. Air speeds up to 112 km/h 70 mph have been claimed for the Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) when flushed, but it is extremely doubtful whether this rapid-flying bird can exceed 80-88 km/h 50-55 mph – even in an emergency.”

The Guinness World Records is updated each year and published in October to capture holiday sales. Each edition contains new world records (and crtieria for inclusion which may change from year to year) and a selection of records from the Guinness World Records database that contains over 53,00 verified records. For the recently published 2023 edition, the editors presented the following world records in the realm of publishing and books. Here are some highlights:

Best-selling book
The Holy Bible: 5 to 7 billion copies (according to the British and Foreign Bible Society, 2021). According to Wordsrated, a non-commercial international research data group, there are about 6 million copies of the Bible. Each year, there are more than 100 million Bibles printed worldwide. In the U.S. alone, 20 million Bibles are sold each year, generating annual sales revenue of more about $430 million. Internationally, there are more than 80,000 different versions of the Bible sold,

First Library
The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh (now northern Iraq, near Mosul) was established between 668 and 631 BC. The library was named after the last great king of the Assyrian Empire, Ashurbanipal, who was a great martial commander, but also an intellectual and passionate collector of texts. Not surprisingly, he stocked his library by looting the cities that his armies conquered. The library contained 30,000 clay tablets and fragments inscribed with cuneiform writing from the 7th century BC. One of its most famous texts was the Epic of Gilgamesh, a masterpiece of ancient Babylonian poetry. One of the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh is on display at the British Museum, in London, England.

Oldest Continuously Operating Library
The library of St. Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai, Egypt, established between 527 and 565 AD.

Largest Library
The U.S. Library of Congress, located in Washington, D.C., contains more than 173 million items, including 41 million books and print materials. The collection is spread across more than 838 miles of shelves. The second largest library is the British Library, located in Lodon, England, with more than 170 million items.

Most Successful Book Thief
American Stephen Carrie Blumberg (born 1948), known as the Book Bandit, stole more than 23,600 rare books worth more than $5.3 million (about $11 million in today’s dollars) from 268 different libraries from U.S. and Canada between 1970 and 1990. Unlike most thieves who steal to sell for a profit, Blumberg stole books to build his own reference library. After he was finally apprehended (thanks to a tip from a former accomplice who wanted to collect a $56,000 bounty), Blumberg was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 71 months in prison and a $200,000 fine.

Oldest Book Printed Using Movable Metal Type
The Buljo jikji simche yojeol, simply known as Jikji, is a Korean collection of Zen Buddhist teachings. The book, consisting of two volumes, was printed during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1377 with movable metal type — 78 years before the Johannes Gutenberg printed the 42-Line Bible from 1452 to 1455. Today, only the last volume survives and is kept at the National Library of France, located in Paris France.

First Audiobook
Typhoon by Joseph Conrad, sold as a set of four LP records in 1935.

First ebook
The U.S. Declaration of Independence as a plain-text file uploaded to the ARPAnet by Michael Hart on July 4, 1971. It became the foundation of the Project Gutenberg public domain ebook service.

Most Expensive Printed Book Sold at Auction
The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book, was the first book ever printed in British North America by the residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640 — 20 years after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The book, coveted by bibliophiles, was purchased by David Rubenstein for $14.16 million. It is extremely rare — of the 1,700 of the books of hymns printed, only 11 copies survive today; however only five of those are complete.

Most Expensive Book Sold Privately
The Sherbone Missal, a beautifully illuminated medieval manuscript purchased for $24.88 million in 1998 by the British Library.

Largest Trade Publisher
Penguin Random House posted revenues of $3.78 billion for the 2019 fiscal year. It publishes more than 70,000 digital and 15,000 print titles each year.

Best-Selling Fiction Book
Verified sales data has not been available for books before the early 2000s. The books that have sold more than 100 million copies include: The Hobbitt (1937) by J R R Tolkien, The Little Prince (1943) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) by J. K. Rowling.
The best-selling fiction book with verified sales data is Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) by E L James with global sales of more than 16.9 million copies (as of November 2021).

Most Downloaded Digital Classic Book from Project Gutenberg
Frankesntein; Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley: 86,000 downloads per month

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: 57,000 downloads per month

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: 39,000 downloads per month

Largest Collection of Comic Books
Bob Bretall (Mission Viejo, CA) owns more than 101,822 unique comics.

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.

Words for Book Lovers
The Most Amazing Private Library in the World
Profile of a Book Lover: Richard Macksey
Profile of a Book Lover: Gary Hoover
Profile of a Book Lover: William Gladstone
Profile of a Book Lover: Rebecca Goldstein
Profile of a Book Lover: Sylvester Stallone
Confessions of a Book Scout: Old Bookstore Have Been the Hunting Grounds of My Life
Confessions of a Bibliophile: J. Kevin Graffagnino
The Man Who Launched 75,000 Libraries
Most Expensive American Book
The World’s Most Expensive Book
Words Invented by Book Lovers
The Sections of a Bookstore
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

For further reading: Guinness World Records: 2023
guinnessworldrecords.com/about-us/our-story
guinness.book-of-records.info/history.html
wordsrated.com/bible-sales-statistics/

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

The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2022

catkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC or affectionately known as the “Lytonniad”), established in 1982 by English Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, recognizes the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 

Each year, contest receives more than 5,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $150 — presumably for writing lessons.

Below are the winners of the 40th Annual Lyttoniad:

The Grand Prize winner was John Farmer of Aurora, Colorado:
“I knew she was trouble the second she walked into my 24-hour deli, laundromat, and detective agency, and after dropping a load of unmentionables in one of the heavy-duty machines (a mistake that would soon turn deadly) she turned to me, asking for two things: find her missing husband and make her a salami on rye with spicy mustard, breaking into tears when I told her I couldn’t help—I was fresh out of salami.”

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Jim Anderson of Flushing, Michigan:
“The detectives wore booties, body suits, hair nets, masks and gloves and longed for the good old days when they could poke a corpse with the toes of their wingtips if they damn well felt like it.”

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Peter Bjorkman of Rocklin, California:
“Prior to his CNN career, Wolf Blitzer slummed the gossip magazines, once inquiring of Hugh Grant’s then-wife, Liz Hurley, why he had never been in a film with Virginia Madsen, to which she replied, “Hugh’s afraid of Virginia, Wolf.”

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 Worst Sentence Ever Written
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2014
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2015
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2016
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2017
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2018
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2019
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2020
The Best Sentences in English Literature

Best Books for Word Lovers
Best Books for Writers
Most Famous Quotations in British Literature

For futher reading: https://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2022
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)

Fascinating Factoids that Fell Out of an Old Book

alex atkins bookshelf booksA common observation that you will find among book collectors is the eureka moment when something fascinating falls from a used book that was orphaned at a used book shop or library donation drop box. Quite often, booksellers glance at a book, price it, and shelve it for sale, unaware of the treasures that its former owner placed inside the book — perhaps a forgotten bookmark, a postcard, letter, or a clipped newspaper article. Depending on the age of the newspaper, specifically the type of ink and paper that was used at that time, the folded article can leave a ghostly imprint on the pages of the book, leaving behind a permanent watermark, as it were, proudly stating: “A cherished memento once lived here!”

Recently, I was reviewing a reference book that I had purchased at a library sale — I should really say, I rescued it, since it sat there dusty and forlorn at the end of a long row of tables. In any event, as I opened the book to a random chapter, out fell a neatly folded newspaper clipping. The book was titled Whose What? A Reference Book for All the Strange Expressions that Have Entered the American Language by Dorothy Blumberg. Although the book was published in 1969, the newspaper clipping was dated a few years later: March 6, 1972. Although the clipping was darkened considerably by age — the paper had turned from cream to brown — remarkably, it did not leave an imprint in the book’s pages. In my experience, most newspaper clippings relate directly to the book or its author; however, this article from the feature page of the Detroit Free Press contained a rather curious collection of fascinating factoids beneath the title “You Can Look It Up and Learn That…” with the subtitle “Things I Never Knew Until I Looked Them Up” by Sydney Harris. Since this was decades before the advent of the Internet, presumably curious fellow looked it up the old-fashioned way — by visiting a library and looking up various topics in actual books. Imagine that!

Even more fascinating — from a provenance point of view — is the book’s incredible journey. First, think about who was the original owner of this book? There was no name or bookplate; therefore, given the topic of the book and newspaper article, one could surmise that it was an educated person — curious, most likely with an interest in the English language and trivia. Second, consider that the book had traveled from Detroit to California, a distance of over 2,500 miles. Did it travel in a box, a suitcase, or a backpack? Finally, ponder that the book’s journey has taken a half century! And how the world has changed from 1969 to today! But I digress…

This serendipitous encounter with random facts — learning that goes beyond the scope of a specific book — is one of the wonderful byproducts of book collecting. Sadly, most books on bookcollecting don’t even address that incredible aspect. Nevertheless, without further ado, here are the fascinating facts that I learned when a newspaper clipping fell out of an old book:

Things I Never Knew Until I Looked Them Up

Baseball is an older sport than tennis; it goes back to at least 1840, whereas modern tennis began only 100 years ago, in 1872, when the first outdoor courts were built in England.

Florence Nightingale was the first woman ever to be named “Florence”; she was born in that city, and until her subsequent fame, the feminine name “Florence” was unknown in the English-speaking world.

Speaking of cities, both London and Paris were named by the Romans during the Caesarean period: the former was the Roman fort, Londinium, and the latter was a fishing village called Lutetia Parisiorum.

Sicilians wave “goodbye” with the same beckoning gesture that almost all other people employ to mean  “come here.”

The Oriental “rickshaw,” a mode of travel identified with the ancient East, was actually invented by an American missionary in Japan.

The military title, “Marshal,” which in many countries designates the officer of the highest rank, originally comes from the name of the lowly stable-boy, or keeper of the horses.

The custom of throwing rice at a wedding comes, oddly enough, from India.

The term “cowboy” did not originate in the West at all, but was a name adopted by a group of guerillas operating in New York State during the Revolutionary War. (It was then taken up by a gang of wild riders headed by one Ewen Cameron, who specialized in assaulting Mexicans soon after Texas became an independent state, in 1835, and only later came to mean the cow-punchers of the West.)

Speaking of the Revolutionary War, Paul Revere is a national hero only because of [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow’s poem [“Paul Revere’s Ride” published in 1860], which celebrated the wrong man. Revere was captured by the British on the famous “midnight ride,” and only Samuel Prescott got through to Concord with the message. Revere’s military career was mediocre at best: once he was arrested and court-martialed for disobeying orders.

All the Old Testament was originally written like this: “Gd crtd th hvns nd th rth,” with consonants only, and it was not until a thousand years later that Hebrew scholars supplied vowel points which indicated the proper vocalization and followed the traditional pronunciation.

The Germans have never called themselves “Germans,” and the origin of the name is totally unknown.

The first U.S. flag, raised by George Washington, had no stars on it at all, but the British crosses of St. George and St. Andrew.

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: Forgotten Bookmarks
Words Invented by Book Lovers
Words for Book Lovers
Profile of a Book Lover: William Gladstone
Profile of a Book Lover: Sylvester Stallone
Most Expensive American Book
The World’s Most Expensive Book
Words Invented by Book Lovers
The Sections of a Bookstore
Profile of a Book Lover: Rebecca Goldstein

Intriguing Connections: Elvis and the Gerber Baby

alex atkins bookshelf cultureWhen it comes to reading obituaries, people fall into two camps: those who believe they are morbid and those who believe they are fascinating, revealing facts lost to time or as fragments of recent history. Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, shares this perspective: “The New York Times comes each morning in a blue plastic wrapper, and never fails to deliver news of the important dead. Every day is new; every day is fraught with significance. I open the not-yet-smudged pages of newsprint. Obituaries are history as it is happening… Whose time am I living in? Was he a success or a failure, lucky or doomed? I shake out the pages. Tell me the secret of a good life! Other people, it seems, also read the obits faithfully, snip and save them, stand in the back of the old theater, feeling that warm and special glow that comes from contemplating and appreciating [who] has left the building forever.”

Notice the phrase she just used: “who has left the building” a variation of the well-known idiom “Elvis has left the building.” Were it not for the obituary of country music promoter Horace Lee Logan, Jr. (1916-2002) on October 13, 2002, most people — especially the writers of English idiom and phrase reference books — would not have remembered or known who had originated the phrase “Elvis has left the building.” In this case, Logan’s obituary served a very important purpose in the realm of the English lexicon: it brought to the forefront a long forgotten fact: that on December 15, 1956 at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport, Louisiana, Elvis Presley had performed for a very enthusiastic and adoring audience. Since Elvis had performed in the middle of the evening’s line-up, Logan had to calm down the audience so that the other performers could get on stage and perform. He had to announce that Elvis had left the coliseum so he announced, “All right, all right, Elvis has left the building. I’ve told you absolutely straight up to this point. You know that. He has left the building. He left the stage and went out the back with the policemen and he is now gone from the building.” That phrase became a catchphrase associated with Elvis which was repeated at the end of some of his shows, radio interviews, and captured on some of his albums. The catchphrase, included in most idiom reference books published after 2002, is used more generally to refer to any person who has either left a location or has passed away.

Let us turn the page to another obituary… A recent obituary on June 4, 2022 would not capture most people’s attention: it featured the name of a 95-year-old former teacher and writer that few would recognize: Ann Turner Cook. Although she lived in relative obscurity, she has one of the most recognized place on this planet seen and known by billions of people. If you saw the face you would recognize instantly. You see, Ann Turner Cook is the face of the iconic Gerber baby that appears on all baby food packaging. Her identity was a secret for more than a half century. Gerber finally revealed her identity at the drawing’s 50th anniversary in 1978 — a detail lost to time. At the time of her death, the staff at Gerber wrote the following tribute: “Gerber is deeply saddened by the passing of Ann Turner Cook, the original Gerber baby, whose face was sketched to become the iconic Gerber logo more than 90 years ago. Many years before becoming an extraordinary mother, teacher and writer, her smile and expressive curiosity captured hearts everywhere and will continue to live on as a symbol for all babies.”

It’s a remarkable story. When Cook was merely five months old, a neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith, who was a commercial artist who specialized in children, drew a simple charcoal sketch of her face with an unfinished body. She submitted it to the Gerber Products Company, founded by Dorothy Gerber in Fremont, Michigan in 1927 (Gerber joined the Nestle family in 2007), that was running a contest to find the face for their baby food advertising campaign. The executives had pored over thousands of entries, some that were very detailed oil paintings; however, they were delighted with the rendering’s simplicity, innocence, and universality. Consequently, they they accepted exactly as Smith had rendered it. Cook explained in a 1992 interview, “I have to credit Dorothy with everything. I was really no cuter than any other baby, but she had wonderful artistic talent and was able to draw a very appealing likeness.” Indeed, the appealing wide-eyed, cherubic face with pursed lips was used for the next 90 years on billions of baby food products. In 1931, Gerber trademarked the iconic baby face. Naturally, since Gerber kept the baby’s identity a secret, there was much speculation in the press and the public about the model’s true identity, including Shirley Temple, Elizabeth Taylor, Brooke Shields, and even Humphrey Bogart. Sadly, Elvis never made that list. One family even sued the Gerber company, claiming that their baby was the one on the label; however, once Smith testified, the family lost the case. In 1951, Smith sought a settlement for her original drawing and received $5,000 from Gerber. Back then, that amount was “enough to make a down payment on a modest house and to buy a first car,” she said in an interview. (For comparison, note that the Pepsi logo cost $1 million in 2008; the BBC logo cost $1.8 million in 1997; and the BP logo cost $211 million in 2008.)

Cook married, had four children, moved to Orlando, Florida and earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in English. She taught English in junior high and high school. After she retired she began writing crime novels that she published independently.

Through most of her life, Cook’s secret was in plain sight and she took pride in being a global symbol for babies. In an interview with CBS in 2013 she noted “I can’t think of anything nicer than to be a symbol for babies. And that’s what I think I became.”

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: Unlikely Connections: John Steinbeck, Route 66, and Sirup
Lego by the Numbers
Test Your Creativity
The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair
What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?
What is the Word for Two Bad Choices?
Why is it Called the Golden Gate? 

For further reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/04/business/ann-turner-cook-gerber-baby-dead.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-much-the-worlds-most-iconic-logos-cost-companies-2013-3#bp-211-million-13

July 4: The Day Three Presidents Died

alex atkins bookshelf triviaWhile July 4th is a day of celebration marking the day that the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, it is also a solemn day. In one of the most fascinating coincidences in U.S. history, three Presidents, who were  Founding Fathers, died on July 4th: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe.

Jefferson, who served as the third President, died of illness on July 4, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — at the age of 83 in Monticello, Virginia. He had been suffering from rheumatism and intestinal and urinary disorders. He was also enormously troubled that he was deeply in debt. His last words were “No, doctor, nothing more” as he refused medicine (laudanum) from his doctor.

Just five hours later, Adams, who served as the second President, died of illness at the age of 90 in Quincy, Massachusetts. At 90 years old, he was old, frail, and ill and suddenly collapsed in his reading chair. For the next few hours in was in and out of consciousness until he finally passed away. Unaware that Jefferson had died hours earlier, Adams’ last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” President John Quincy Adams (John’s son), observed that the timing of the death of these two former presidents, who had become close friends over the years, was “visible and palpable remarks of divine favor.” American statesman and lawyer Daniel Webster’s eulogy for these two revered men underscored the role of divine intervention: “The concurrence of their death on the anniversary of Independence has naturally awakened stronger emotions. It cannot but seem striking and extraordinary, that these two should live to see the fiftieth year from the date of that act, that they should complete that year, and that then, on the day which had fast linked forever their own fame with their country’s glory, the heavens should open to receive them both at once. As their lives themselves were the gifts of Providence, who is not willing to recognize in their happy termination, as well as in their long continuance, proofs that our country and its benefactors are objects of His care?” (Incidentally, it was Webster’s son, Noah, who published the first American dictionary in 1806 and the comprehensive American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828.) The editors of the New-York American (1895-1937) write an equally eloquent eulogy of this coincidence: “By a coincidence marvellous and enviable, Thomas Jefferson, in like manner with his great compeer, John Adams, breathed his last on the 4th of July. Emphatically may we say, with a Boston paper, had the horses and the chariot of fire descended to take up the patriarchs, it might have been more wonderful, but not more glorious. We remember nothing in the annals of man so striking, so beautiful, as the death of these two ‘time-honoured’ patriots, on the jubilee of that freedom, which they devoted themselves and all that was dear to them, to proclaim and establish. It cannot all be chance.”

Monroe, who served as the fifth President, died of tuberculosis, five years later on July 4, 1831 at the age of 73 in New York City. The following day, this remarkable coincidence was called a “coincidence that has no parallel” by a reporter from the New York Evening Post, the newspaper founded by Alexander Hamilton; he wrote: “Three of the four presidents who have left the scene of their usefulness and glory expired on the anniversary of the national birthday, a day which of all others, had it been permitted them to choose [they] would probably had selected for the termination of their careers.”

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 People Who Died on the Same Day
Jefferson and Adams die on July 4, 1826
Most Common Myths About Shakespeare
When Was Shakespeare Born?

For further reading: John Adams by David McCullough, Simon & Schuster (2001)
Marilyn Johnson: The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries (2006)
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~dwebster/speeches/adams-jefferson.html
constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/blog/three-presidents-die-on-july-4th-just-a-coincidence
http://www.bu.edu/historic/battin.htm

What is an Antigram?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou are probably familiar with an anagram, one of the most popular forms of word play that recombines all the letters of a word or phrase to create a new word or phrase. For example, “inch” is an anagram of “chin.” The anagram, of course, is at the heart of board games like Scrabble, Clabbers, Boggle, and Bananagrams and puzzles like Jumble and Cryptic Crosswords. An antigram is a type of anagram that is the antonym of the original word or phrase. A classic example of an antigram is “Santa = Satan.” Another one is “funeral = real fun” — which always lightens the mood at a gloomy funeral. Below are examples of antigrams:

adultery = true lady

adversaries = are advisers

butchers = cut herbs

customers = store scum

earliest = arrise late

evangelist = evil’s agent

filled = ill-fed

fluster = restful

funeral = real fun

honestly = on the sly

infection = fine tonic

militarism = I limit arms

misfortune = it’s more fun

protectionism = nice to imports

Santa = Satan

silent = listen

united = untied

violence = nice love

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.

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: Levidrome: The Word That Launched a Thousand Erroneous Stories
What is a Semordnilap?
What is a Phantonym?
What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order

For further reading: The Game of Words by Willard Espy
Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature by C. C. Tombaugh edited and annotated by Martin Gardner
A Word of Day by Anu Garg
Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities by Chris Cole
The Dictionary of Wordplay by Dave Morice
A Treasury of Words & Wordplay by Richard Whiteley

The Symbolism of Twosday — 2.22.22

alex atkins bookshelf triviaToday is a very special day: 2-22-22 that falls on Tuesday, the second day of the week — also referred to as Twosday. Because the date is a palindrome (it can be read the same way forward of backward), it is considered a sign of good luck. This has inspired hundreds of weddings to take place on this day, all around the globe. Several cities, like Las Vegas and Singapore report record-breaking number of weddings on that day, especially when couples can tie the knot at exactly 2:22 pm. In an interview with The Washington Post, Aliza Kelly, a celebrity astrologer believes that Twosday has a metaphysical meaning: “When we have a repeating number such as two two-two two-two, we have this sort of metaphysical thought which says that this evokes a feeling within us because it is connected to these higher esoteric metaphysical frequencies that align us.”

In numerology, because Twosday is a series of repeating numbers it is considered an Angel Number. An Angel Number has spiritual significance. Specifically it conveys the need for balance, harmony, and equilibrium in one’s life. Celebrity spirit guide Megan Firester explains, “Angels speak to us in synchronistic ways, which basically means that we will see something over and over again, so much so that it goes beyond mere coincidence.”

According to Jean Chevalier, author of the authoritative A Dictionary of Symbols, two represents several meanings: “[Two] is the symbol of confrontation, conflict, and recoil and denotes either balance achieved, or hidden threat. It is the figure which epitomizes all ambivalence and split personality. It is the first to separate and it separates most radically — creator and creature, black and white, male and female, matter and spirit, and so on — and it is the source of all other divisions… The number two symbolizes dualism, the basis of all dialectic, endeavor, struggle, movement, and progress.”

In his seminal work, A Dictionary of Symbols, Juan Cirlot writes: “Two  stands for echo, reflection, conflict and counterpoise or contraposition; or the momentary stillness of focus in equilibrium.”

Speaking of two, ever wonder how many two-letter words exist in the English language? If you are a aficionado of Scrabble or crosswords puzzles, you may be familiar with the common ones (like be, go, he, and it) as well as the more esoteric ones (like ba, et, oe, za). According to the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (6th Edition) there are 107 two-letter words in the English language. Of those, about 80 are fairly common and used often.

The number two is very popular in English idioms. The Free Dictionary lists more than 300 idioms containing the word two. Here are some common idioms:

to be of two minds about something

like two peas in a pod

choose the lesser of two evils

a game that two can play

to kill two birds with one stone

not have two pennies to rub together

two steps ahead of someone

give ones two cents

a thing or two

two strikes against

your number two

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 Books with Numbers in Their Titles
The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels
Famous Epic Novels by the Numbers

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/02/21/2-22-22-meaning/
http://www.wellandgood.com/what-are-angel-numbers/
en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Scrabble/Two_Letter_Words
idioms.thefreedictionary.com/two

The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2021

alex atkins bookshelf books

Back in 1984, the PNC Bank (a bank based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania) developed the Christmas Price Index that totals the cost of all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a flippant economic indicator. In 1984, the Christmas Price Index was $12,623.10; more than three decades later, in 2021, it reached $41,205.58 — a dramatic bounceback from $16,168.14 in 2020, an aberration caused by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-10 crisis (the significant decrease was due to the cancellations of live performances).

Despite their symbolism, the twelve gifts of Christmas are not only extremely random, they are more of a nuisance than carefully-selected gifts that you would actually cherish. As if the holidays are not stressful enough, imagine all those animals running and flying about helter-skelter, defecating all over your clean carpets — not to mention the nonstop, grating sound of drummers drumming and pipers piping pushing you toward the brink of a mental breakdown. Truly, no book lover would be happy with these gifts. Bah humbug! Therefore, I introduced the Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index in 2014 that would be far more interesting and appreciated by bibliophiles. The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index replaces all those unwanted mess-making animals and clamorous performers with first editions of cherished classic Christmas books. The cost of current first editions are determined by the latest data available from Abe Books, the leading online antiquarian bookseller.

For 2021, the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index is $108,625 (shipping and tax are not included), a slight decrease of $3,520 (about 3%) from last year ($112,145). The biggest hit to your wallet remains — by a very large margin, Charles Dickens’ very coveted and valuable first edition of one of the most well-known literary classics, A Christmas Carol valued at $75,000 (a price unchanged from last year) — a valuation that would be sure to warm Scrooge’s heart. The second most expensive Christmas book, coming in at $15,000 (the price is also unchanged from last year), is Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (more commonly known at “The Night Before Christmas”) that has largely influenced how Santa Claus is depicted. The poem was included in a collection of Moore’s poems in 1844, a year after the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Below are the individual costs of the books that make up the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index.

A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens: $75,000

A Visit from St. Nicholas (included in Poems, 1844) by Clement C. Moore: $15,000

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) by Dr. Seuss: $3,500

A Christmas Memory (1966) by Truman Capote: $3,500

The Polar Express (1985) by Chris Van Allsburg: $2,250

The Nutcracker (1984 edition) by E. T. A. Hoffman: $1,250

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) by Valentine Davies: $1,500

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) by L. Frank Baum: $1,250

The Greatest Gift (1944) by Philip Van Doren Stern: $5,000

Christmas at Thompson Hall (included in Novellas, 1883) by Anthony Trollope: $150

Old Christmas from the Sketchbook of Washington Irving (1886) by Washington Irving: $150

The Gift of the Magi (included in The Four Million, 1905) by O. Henry: $75

Happy Holidays!

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

Words invented by Dickens
Why Read Dickens?

For further reading: https://www.pnc.com/en/about-pnc/topics/pnc-christmas-price-index.html

What is the Largest Lego Set?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaOle Christiansen began making wooden toys in 1932 and expanded his line of toys to include plastic interlocking bricks that evolved to the colorful bricks now known as Lego (from the Danish leg godt, meaning “play well”) bricks. Almost 90 years later the Lego brand is ubiquitous  — seen in department stores, branded stores, movies, theme parks, video games, and commercials. Indeed, Lego is a financial powerhouse — in 2020, the Lego Group had revenues of more than $6.8 billion. And each year, Lego enthusiasts  eagerly await the release of about 130 new sets. Naturally, that begs the question: which is the largest Lego set? And by large we mean most number of pieces and biggest dimensions of the finished set. The set with the most number of pieces is Lego Art World Map (11,695 pieces with a building instruction manual that is 159 pages long!). This set also has the longest building time of any set: 33 hours. But the set that has the largest dimensions, once the model is completed, is the newly-announced Lego Titanic (53 inches long), based on a 1:200 scale model of the famous doomed ocean liner. Some of these sets can appreciate considerably, creating an entire Lego economy: some Lego builders and collectors buy them for investment. For example, the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, mint in a sealed box, can fetch up to $2,000 on the secondary market.

Here is the top ten list of the largest Lego sets (model number in brackets, release date in parentheses), along with estimated building times:

1. Lego Art World Map [31203] (2021), $250
Number of pieces: 11,695
Dimensions: 25.8 x 40.9 inches (H x W)
Building time: 33 hours

2. Lego Titanic [10294] (2021), $630
Number of pieces: 9,090
Dimensions: 17.5x53x6 inches (H x W x D)
Building time: 26 hours
Iceberg not included

3. Lego Colosseum [10276] (2021), $550
Number of pieces: 9,036
Dimensions: 11x21x24
Building time: 26 hours

4. UCS Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon [75192] (2017), $800
Number of pieces: 7,541
Dimensions: 8x33x22
Building time: 21 hours

5. Lego Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle [71043] (2018), $400
Number of pieces: 6,020
Dimensions: 22x27x16
Building time: 17 hours

6. Lego Creator Expert Taj Mahal [10256] (2008 and 2017), $370
Number of pieces: 5,923
Dimensions: 22x19x7.2
Building time: 17 hours

7. Lego Harry Potter Diagon Alley [75978] (2020), $400
Number of pieces: 5,544
Dimensions: 16×10.6×10
Building time: 16 hours

8. Ultimate Collector’s Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon [10179] (2007), $500
Number of pieces: 5,197
Dimensions: 25.3 x 18.7 x 7.7 cm
Building time: 15 hours 

9. Lego Ninjago City [70620] (2017), $300
Number of pieces: 4,867
Dimensions: 19.3x23x7.3
Building time: 14 hours

10. UCS Lego Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer [75252] (2019), $700
Number of pieces: 4,784
Dimensions: 17x43x26
Building time: 14 hours

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: Lego by the Numbers
Test Your Creativity
The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair
What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?
What is the Word for Two Bad Choices?
Why is it Called the Golden Gate? 
Jefferson and Adams Die on Same Day
How Fast is the Earth Moving?
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?

Famous People Who Died on the Same Day

For further reading: https://www.brickfanatics.com/the-lego-groups-full-2020-annual-financial-results-by-the-numbers/
https://www.lego.com/en-us/categories/adults-welcome/article/biggest-lego-sets-ever-made
http://www.brickeconomy.com
http://www.mybrick.net

Who are the Best and Worst Presidents in U.S. History: 2021

alex atkins bookshelf triviaJust in time for the country’s July 4th celebration, C-SPAN published its Presidential Historian Survey 2021 that reveals the best and worst presidents in U.S. History. C-SPAN has been publishing this survey since 2000. On their website they explain their methodology: “Surveys are distributed to historians, professors and other professional observers of the presidency who are drawn from databases of C-SPAN programming, research in the field and suggestions from our academic advisers.” The advisory team for 2021 included: Douglas Brinkley (Professor of History, Rice University); Edna Medford (Professor of History, Howard University); Richard Smith (Presidential biographer); and Amity Shlaes (Chariman of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation).

It is important to note that this is not a political survey (sorry GOP and Democratic Party!), nor is it a popularity contest. The participants, who are historians and presidential scholars, do not rank the presidents themselves, but rather make assessments of ten leadership qualities (each quality is ranked on a scale of 1, “not effective” to 10 “very effective”): (1) public persuasion, (2) crisis leadership, (3) economic management, (4) moral authority, (5) international relations, (6) administrative skills, (7) relations with Congress, (8) vision/setting an agenda, (9) pursuit of equal justice for all and (10) performance within the context of the times. Each of the ten categories is given equal weighting to arrive at the total score for each president. The participants’ responses are tabulated by averaging all responses for each category for each president.

According to historians and presidential experts, the top ten presidents are:

1. Abraham Lincoln

2. George Washington

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

4. Theodore Roosevelt

5. Dwight D. Eisenhower

6. Harry S. Truman

7. Thomas Jefferson

8. John F. Kennedy

9. Ronald Reagan

10. Barack Obama

According to historians and presidential experts, the worst presidents (the five listed at the bottom of the list) are:

40. William Henry Harrison

41. Donald J. Trump

42. Franklin Pierce

43. Andrew Johnson

44. James Buchanan

Interestingly, since 2009, the ranking of the top four presidents has not changed, suggesting that historians and presidential experts, regardless of different perspectives or changing public attitudes, strongly believe that Lincoln, Washington, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt were the country’s best presidents.

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: What Are the Perks of Being President of the U.S.?
The Letters that Presidents Leave to Each Other

For further reading: http://www.c-span.org/presidentsurvey2021/?page=overall

What is the Longest Street Name in the U.S.?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaThe U.S. Census tracks information about roads and street names in the country. As of the last census in 2020, there are are over a million roads in the United States. The most common street name? “Park” (about 9,640) and in second place, “Second” (about 8,232). However, the longest street name in the U.S. is 38 characters long: “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive” located in Chicago, Illinois.

This long street name just entered the record books on June 25, 2021 (as of this writing, even Google Maps has not been updated) when the Chicago city council voted to change the city’s iconic lakeside roadway from “Lake Shore Drive” to “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive,” to honor Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (1745-1818), a trader of African descent who is considered the first non-Indigenous settler of Chicago. (Incidentally, Pointe de Sable is French for “sand point.”) It wasn’t until the 1850s when Point du Sable was finally recognized as the true “Founder of Chicago,” displacing a Scots-Irish trader named John Kenzie who had purchased Point du Sable’s home and was mistakenly recognized as the founder of Chicago. However, it took almost a century before Point du Sable would be officially honored via tangible memorials — there are now various locations in the city named after him, including a park, harbor, museum, high school, and bridge, in addition to the aforementioned road. Little is known about his early life, but historians have found primary sources that describe Point Du Sable as “handsome” and “well-educated.” In 1788 he married a Potawatomi woman, named Kitihawa, and had two children: a daughter (Susanne) and son (Jean). In 1913, he sold his home and moved to St. Charles, Missouri and operated a ferry business until his death in 1818.

Although it doesn’t have a fascinating historical story behind it, the second longest street name is 34 characters long: “Northeast Kentucky Industrial Parkway” located in Greenup, Kentucky.

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:
Towns Named after Authors
Unusual Town Names in America

For further reading: All Facts Considered: The Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge by Kee Malesky, Wiley (2010).
http://www.kentuckyroads.com/ky_67/
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/who-was-jean-baptiste-point-dusable-new-namesake-chicagos-lake-shore-drive-180978087/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/03/06/these-are-the-most-popular-street-names-in-every-state/

The Ironic History of Mother’s Day

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIronically, the person who conceived of the modern version of Mother’s Day — a national celebration for children to honor their mothers — never married and never had children, and became well-known as a staunch opponent of Mother’s Day.

The history of Mother’s Day begins with Julia Ward Howe (born 1819), a poet and social activist who promoted women’s suffrage and pacifism. She is remembered mostly as the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In 1861, the Howes met with Abraham Lincoln at the White House. During that trip, a friend suggested that she write new lyrics for a marching song about abolitionist John Brown (the song was known as “John Brown’s Body) that was very popular with the Union during the Civil War. Howe’s stirring words were published in the Atlantic Monthly a few months later in 1862 and became the rallying song for the Union soldiers. Several years later in 1870, she conceived of “Mother’s Day for Peace” to be observed on June 2 — calling women throughout the world to support disarmament and peace. Unfortunately for her, this version of Mother’s Day never took root.

Fast forward to 1907. Anna Marie Jarvis, of Philadelphia, wanted to fulfill her mother’s dream of a holiday that would honor mothers. The first “Mother’s Day” was a memorial service to her mother, held two years after her death, on May 12, 1907. The original idea for the celebration of “Mother’s Day” was a special church service, held on the second Sunday in May, where members of the congregation wore white carnations. With the help of a wealthy local merchant, she promoted the concept until Woodrow Wilson, who clearly loved his mother, declared it a national holiday in 1914.

It didn’t take long for American business to see the potential gold in mining this new national holiday. Within a few years, whether out of genuine love or guilt, sales of candy, flowers, greeting cards, and long-distance phone calls raked in billions for American companies. Anna Jarvis was horrified at the excessive commercialization of the pure celebration and tribute she originally envisioned, and in the early 1920s became a very vocal opponent of the holiday. Almost as if following Julia Howe’s footsteps she became an activist against Mother’s Day, staging protests — even to the point of being arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace. She had deep regrets: “[I wish I ] would never have started the day because it became so out of control.” Jarvis was no fan of Hallmark — she considered that children who would send a card (letting Hallmark’s wordsmiths do all the heavy lifting) were simply too lazy and uncaring to write a personal letter to their dear mothers. You can only imagine what Jarvis would say about texting and email.

And just how much do Americans love their mothers? According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend as much as $28.1 billion saying “I love you Mom.” The average consumer will spend an average $220 this year, primarily on greeting cards, flowers, and meals. This average is $16 more than last year — call it a Covid-19 pandemic tax. Many consider motherhood one of the toughest jobs in the world, but let’s face it — that job got much tougher during the pandemic. So this year in particular, mothers have really earned effusive praise for their Herculean work. As mothers around the globe know well, it came with a price —  mothers’ mental and physical wellbeing were pushed to the breaking point as they cared for their families for over a year with many simultaneous challenges, including long periods of sustained lockdowns and shortages of certain food and household items. This was even more dramatic for mothers who were juggling remote work, raising young children who were home-schooling, and increased housework. As the World Economic Forum recognized in its story “Covid-19 is Damaging the Mental Health of Mothers,” extensive research has indicated that the well-being of mothers is absolutely critical for children to flourish. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic had a deleterious effect on the health of mothers. Medical health experts reported that mothers experienced higher levels of stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, and obesity — not to mention that there were many times over the past year that many mothers felt like throttling their spouse or kids — or both (but, of course, didn’t).

In the context of holiday expenditures in the U.S., Mother’s Day ranks fourth in the list below Christmas (1st place, with over $729 billion in spending), Thanksgiving (2) and Valentines (3).

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:
Experience is the Mother of Wisdom and Other Idioms About Mothers
Let It Be: A Musical Tribute to Mothers
The Wisdom of Mothers
What is the Toughest Job in the World?
The Legacy of Mothers
Best Quotes About Mothers
Favorite TV Moms of All Time
The Wisdom of a Grandmother

For further reading: The Folklore of World Holidays by Robert Griffin, Gale (1998). www.wikipedia.com.
nrf.com/insights/holiday-and-seasonal-trends/mothers-day
nbcnewyork.com/lx/mothers-day-spending-expected-to-skyrocket-following-a-year-of-pandemic-hell/3040818/
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/03/17/the-pandemic-has-highlighted-many-challenges-for-mothers-but-they-arent-necessarily-new/
http://www.npr.org/2020/09/29/918127776/this-is-too-much-working-moms-are-reaching-the-breaking-point-during-the-pandemi
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/06/992401123/if-your-brain-feels-foggy-and-youre-tired-all-the-time-youre-not-alone?
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/06/992401123/if-your-brain-feels-foggy-and-youre-tired-all-the-time-youre-not-alone
http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/mental-health-4-ways-that-mothers-can-be-supported-throughout-covid-19/
mint.intuit.com/blog/money-etiquette/holiday-spending-statistics/

The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2020

alex atkins bookshelf books

Back in 1984, the PNC Bank (a bank based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania) developed the Christmas Price Index that totals the cost of all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a flippant economic indicator. In 1984, the Christmas Price Index was $12,623.10; more than three decades later, in 2019, it reached $38,993.59, but due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-10 crisis, the amount tumbled down a dramatic 58.5% to $16,168.14. The team that calculates the index attributes the significant decrease to the cancellations of live performances.

Despite their symbolism, the twelve gifts of Christmas are not only extremely random, they are more of a nuisance than carefully-selected gifts that you would actually cherish. As if the holidays are not stressful enough, imagine all those animals running and flying about helter-skelter, defecating all over your clean carpets — not to mention the nonstop, grating sound of drummers drumming and pipers piping pushing you toward the brink of a mental breakdown. Truly, no book lover would be happy with these gifts. Bah humbug! Therefore, I introduced the Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index in 2014 that would be far more interesting and appreciated by bibliophiles. The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index replaces all those unwanted mess-making animals and clamorous performers with first editions of cherished classic Christmas books. The cost of current first editions are determined by the latest data available from Abe Books, the leading online antiquarian bookseller.

For 2020, the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index is $112,145 (shipping and tax are not included), an impressive increase of about 24% from last year ($88,263) — something that would surely bring a smile to that old greedy curmudgeon Scrooge. The biggest hit to your wallet remains — by a very large margin — Charles Dickens’ very coveted and valuable first edition of one of the most well-known literary classics — A Christmas Carol ($75,000, an increase of $30,000 from last year!). The second most expensive Christmas book, coming in at $15,000 (price unchanged from last year), is Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (more commonly known at “The Night Before Christmas”) that has largely influenced how Santa Claus is depicted. The poem was included in a collection of Moore’s poems in 1844, a year after the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Below are the individual costs of the books that make up the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index.

A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens: $75,000
A Visit from St. Nicholas (included in Poems, 1844) by Clement C. Moore: $15,000
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) by Dr. Seuss: $5,500
A Christmas Memory (1966) by Truman Capote: $3,500
The Polar Express (1985) by Chris Van Allsburg: $2,250
The Nutcracker (1984 edition) by E. T. A. Hoffman: $950
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) by Valentine Davies: $1,500
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) by L. Frank Baum: $5,495
The Greatest Gift (1944) by Philip Van Doren Stern: $2,450
Christmas at Thompson Hall (included in Novellas, 1883) by Anthony Trollope: $150
Old Christmas from the Sketchbook of Washington Irving (1886) by Washington Irving: $125
The Gift of the Magi (included in The Four Million, 1905) by O. Henry: $225

Total $112,145

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

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

Words invented by Dickens
Why Read Dickens?
Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2019

For further reading: https://www.pnc.com/en/about-pnc/topics/pnc-christmas-price-index.html

The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2020

catkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC or affectionately known as the “Lytonniad”), established in 1982 by English Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, recognizes the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 

Each year, contest receives more than 10,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $150 — presumably for writing lessons.

The winner of the 2020 BLFC was Lisa Kluber of San Francisco, California:
Her Dear John missive flapped unambiguously in the windy breeze, hanging like a pizza menu on the doorknob of my mind.

The runner up was submitted by Lisa Hanks or Euless, Texas:
As hard-nosed P.I. Dan McKinnon stepped out into the gray gritty dawn, a bone chilling gust of filth-strewn wind wrapped the loose ends of his open trench coat around him like a day-old flour tortilla around a breakfast burrito with hash browns, sausage, and scrambled eggs, hold the pico.

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Yale Abrams of Santa Rosa, California:
When she walked into my office on that bleak December day, she was like a breath of fresh air in a coal mine; she made my canary sing.

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Aaron Cabe of Hillsboro, Oregon:
As the passing of Keith Richards was announced on the evening news, just as had been done with Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood before him, Jorge gazed at the television in his Tijuana home and felt a sickening knot form in his stomach, for he realized that finally, after all the albums, concert tours, and era-defining cultural impact, the Rolling Stones would gather no más.

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 Worst Sentence Ever Written
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2014
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2015
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2016
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2017
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2018
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2019
The Best Sentences in English Literature

Best Books for Word Lovers
Best Books for Writers
Most Famous Quotations in British Literature

For futher reading: https://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2020
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)

What is the Gruen Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesEver find yourself completely lost at an Ikea store wishing you had brought a bag of breadcrumbs so you could retrace your steps to find a way out of the retail labyrinth? It’s enough to drive you to madness (just like those novel-length, wordless furniture assembly guides they produce, where you end up with extra hardware and you wonder: did I build this correctly?). It is not uncommon to see people of every age wandering aimlessly among the aisles with a glazed look in their eyes. Where’s the freaking exit?

This abomination of retail design, that exasperates millions of consumers each year, has a name. It is known at the Gruen effect of Gruen transfer. The Gruen effect is defined as the feeling of confusion and distraction experienced by a consumer when placed in a shopping center or store that is confusing and maze-like, forcing the consumer to be exposed to more products (displayed in an enticing manner or in large quantities) and thus be more susceptible to make impulse buys. This form of psychological manipulation is named after the Victor Gruen, the Austrian architect who designed the very first open-air shopping mall (Northland Mall in Southfield, Michigan in 1954) and the first enclosed shopping mall (Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota in 1956). Ironically, Gruen was very much opposed to this type of behavior manipulation. Gruen designed some of the first window shops filled with beautiful, dazzling displays designed to lure customers into the store. But Gruen stopped there. Retailers like Ikea, department stores, and grocery chains took the Gruen effect to an entirely different level. He believed that his ideas were “bastardized.”

According to research, 50% of purchases are unplanned. Journalist Carlos Waters investigated how Ikea mastered the Gruen effect for Vox. He writes: “Ikea has mastered the Gruen effect using story layout to influence customer behavior. From the moment you enter an Ikea, layout designers nudge you onto a specific path through a maze of products. That path is the least direct route to the register. By the time you’ve finally picked up a shopping cart and selected your first item, you’ve considered the possibilities of purchasing many of the items on display. Researchers have found that increased exposure leads to impulse buys.” Vox presents a video developed by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh to show the path of a typical consumer in an Ikea store. When you see the path, you cannot help of thinking of a hungry lab rat desperately finding its way through a maze to find the desired piece of cheese.

So the next time you find yourself in a retail maze and feel exasperated you can focus your anger and curse “that damned Gruen effect!”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Barnum Effect?
What is the Pinocchio Effect?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

For further reading: https://www.vox.com/2018/10/17/17989684/ikea-gruen-effect-unplanned-purchases
https://psmag.com/magazine/gruen-transfer
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/03/15/the-terrazzo-jungle

Are You a Hypochondriac?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaIt’s tough enough muddling through the sustained sheltering in place necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic — but imagine what hypochondriacs are going through. So what is hypochondria? Hypochondria is the chronic and abnormal concern for one’s health. For a hypochondriac some physical symptoms are imagined, while others are real but are exaggerated. Fun fact: about 5% of the human population are severe hypochondriacs. You probably know one. Famous hypochondriacs include: Charlotte Bronte, Charles Darwin, and Marcel Proust.

The word hypochondria was introduced in the 4th century BC by the famous Greek physician Hippocrates of Kos, known as the “Father of Medicine” (he is attributed with the Hippocratic Oath, although it is very likely that it was written after his death). The word is derived from the Greek word hypo (meaning “under”) and chords (meaning cartilage); so literally it means “under the rib cage.” Initially the term referred to digestive disorders of the liver, gallbladder, and spleen. Two centuries later, the Roman physician Galen of Pergamon linked digestive illness to melancholy. The term “hypochondriacal melancholy” was popularized by Robert Burton in his seminal work The Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621. However it was Marcel Proust, in his magnum opus In Search of Lost Time (published in seven parts between 1913 to 1927), who assigned hypochondria with the meaning that we recognize today. The term was finally formalized in 1980, in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd Edition (DSM-III). In the DSM-III hypochondria is listed under somatoform disorders.

The writers of Knock Knock, an independent maker of clever books and gifts, published the tongue-in-cheek but very insightful book The Complete Manual of Things that Might Kill You: A Guide to Self-Diagnosis for Hypochondriacs in 2007. In a fascinating introduction to the “noble hypochondriac” they break down the identifying behaviors of a hypochondriac:
Constant fear of illness
Preoccupation with the body
Interest in self-diagnosis
Either seek out medical treatment or avoid it
Distrust or disbelief in diagnosis
Continuously shopping for new doctors
Need for reassurance

Right now during the coronavirus everyone is exhibiting some of these previously mentioned concerns. But I know what you are asking: “Am I a hypochondriac?” Let’s find out. Let us turn to one of the simplest and earliest test, developed by Dr. Issy Pilowsky, known as the Whiteley Index. Answer the 14 questions below. Score according to the following:

1 = Not at all
2 = A little bit
3 = Moderately
4 = Quite a bit
5 = A great deal.

Total the numbers. A score of 14-28 indicates a healthy person without health anxiety. A score of 32-55 indicate high probability of a health-anxiety disorder and you should consult a healthcare professional. Caveat: as with all simple tests, the scores should be interpreted cautiously.

The Whiteley Index

1: Do you worry a lot about your health?
2: Do you think there is something seriously wrong with your body?
3: Is it hard for you to forget about yourself and think about all sorts of other things?
4: If you feel ill and someone tells you that you are looking better, do you become annoyed?
5: Do you find that you are often aware of various things happening in your body?
6: Are you bothered by many aches and pains?
7: Are you afraid of illness?
8: Do you worry about your health more than most people?
9: Do you get the feeling that people are not taking your illnesses seriously enough?
10: Is it hard for you to believe the doctor when he/she tells you there is nothing for you to worry about?
11: Do you often worry about the possibility that you have a serious illness?
12: If a disease is brought to your attention (through the radio, TV, newspaper, website, or someone you know), do you worry about getting it yourself?
13: Do you find that you are bothered by many different symptoms?
14: Do you often have the symptoms of a very serious disease?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words for Superior Persons
Rare Anatomy Words

Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What Rhymes with Orange

Words that Sound Naughty But Are Not
An Alphabet of Rare Words

For further reading: DSM by the APA
https://www.salon.com/2010/02/01/hypochondriacs/
The Complete Manual of Things that Might Kill You by Knock Knock
https://za.toluna.com/opinions/4180774/The-Whiteley-Hypochondria-Test

Test Your Creativity with This Clever Thinking Puzzle

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAfter weeks of sheltering in place you may have exhausted all the ways of killing time — binge eating, binge watching Netflix shows, binge watching silly pet videos on Youtube, scrolling through mind-numbing social media posts, and so on. You can practically count the cells in your brain dying by the hour. Would you like to kick-start your brain and test your creative thinking? Let me introduce you a really fun brain-building word game you can play and share with your friends. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the obscure and overlooked ditloid. A ditloid is a curious and clever puzzle — something that would have greatly amused Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. Specifically, a ditloid is a word game in which a phrase, term, title, quotation, proverb, or fact must be deduced from numbers and abbreviations in the clue. Here are some examples (answers in parenthesis):
60 = S. in a M. (60 seconds in a minute)
99 = B. of B. on the W. (99 bottles of beer on the wall)
7 = A. of M. (7 Ages of Man).
You get the idea. 
The word game was named after the following puzzle: 1=D. it L. o I. D. (1 Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), by the Daily Express, a London newspaper. This word game is also referred to as a “linguistic equation” or “numerical phrase.” 

The most famous ditloids — indeed, the ditloids that launched a thousand ditloids — were created by puzzle master extraordinaire Will Shortz, former editor of Games magazine and current crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, puzzle master on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and author of more than 100 books on puzzles. (Incidentally, he is an avid puzzle book collector, owning more than  20,000 puzzle books and magazines). Shortz introduced the word game, which he initially called an “Equation Analysis Test” , in the May-June 1981 issue of Game magazine. Since this was the time before the birth of the Internet, the puzzle was circulated the old fashioned way; Shortz elaborates: “Some anonymous person had retyped the puzzle from Games (word for word, except for my byline), photocopied it, and passed it along. This page was then rephotocopied ad infinitum, like a chain letter, and circulated around the country. Games readers who hadn’t seen the original even started sending it back to Games as something the magazine ought to consider publishing!” Interestingly, this “photocopied” list still gets forwarded, albeit as an image file in chain emails.

Shortz’s inspiration for the word puzzle came from Morgan Worthy’s AHA! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking, published in 1975. Worthy introduced the Formula Analysis Test that had a slightly different construction: M. + M. + N.H. + V. + C. + R.I. = N.E. (Maine + Massachusetts + New Hampshire + Vermont + Connecticut + Rhode Island = New England) and 1 B. in the H. = 2 in the B. (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush). Worthy, in turn, was inspired by obscene graffiti in a college bathroom; Worthy explains in his book, “I first became interested in aha! thinking ten years ago while a graduate student at the University of Florida. Part of the graffiti in the men’s room of the psychology building was a cryptic formula someone had written in large letters on the wall. I was intrigued by this little puzzle and, of course, had occasion to be reminded of it from time to time. Finally, one day, the answer (yes, obscene) suddenly came to me. It happened that I was studying creativity at the time and I realized that my response to solving the graffiti puzzle was very like the ‘aha! effect’ about which I had been reading… I constructed a test of times similar in principle to the one I found on the rest room wall.” In order to develop his Formula Analysis Test, Worthy followed this criteria: the puzzles do not require special information or a large vocabulary, the puzzles cannot be solved by step-by-step process, and each puzzle is relatively easy in that it is short and contains few items. Based on research by Worth, scores on solving these type of tests are not correlated significantly with I.Q. scores, but rather validated tests that measure creative thinking.

Without further ado, here are the original 24 word puzzles, the Equation Analysis Test, created by Shortz. Give it a shot, and see how many you can solve. The answers are presented below. And no cheating (i.e., using Google to solve the equations). Remember, solving the puzzles is not about being smart — it is about being creative. So clear your mind, put some music on, chill, and let the letters and numbers speak to you… and be sure to share this with your friends, to see how they do.

1 = W. on a U.
3 = B.M. (S.H.T.R.!)
4 = Q. in a G.
5 = D. in a Z.C.
7 = W. of the A.W.
8 = S. on a S.S.
9 = P. in the S.S.
11 = P. on a F.T.
12 = S. of the Z.
13 = S. on the A.F.
18 = H. on a G.C.
24 = H. in a D.
26 = L. of the A.
29 = D. in F. in a L.Y.
32 = D.F. at which W.F.
40 = D. and N. of the G.F.
54 = C. in a D. (with the J.)
57 = H.V.
64 = S. on a C.
88 = P.K.
90 = D. in a R.A.
200 = D. for P.G. in M.
1,000 = W. that a P. is W.
1,001 = A.N.

Let me know if you enjoyed these word puzzles and if you would like to see more of them.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words for Superior Persons
Rare Anatomy Words

Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What Rhymes with Orange

Words that Sound Naughty But Are Not
An Alphabet of Rare Words

For further reading: Aha! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking by Morgan Worthy
Will Shortz’s Best Brain Busters by Will Shortz

http://thebiggamehunter.com/main-menu-bar/mechanical-puzzles/mechanical-puzzle-collectors/shortz-will/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditloid
https://www.braingle.com/news/hallfame.php?path=language/english/meaning/equations.p&sol=1

http://www.greenleecds.com/rgbest/NumAKey.pdf
https://www.puzzlemuseum.com/singma/singma5/LANGUAGE/NUMPHRAS.DOC

Answers here.

When Was William Shakespeare Born?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureFor Shakespeare scholars, Shakespeare’s actual birthdate is still a bit of a mystery. To paraphrase King Lear’s famous lament, “When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools — especially when they forget to record the date of your actual birth.” Coincidentally, his birth is tied to a deadly pandemic, very similar to what we are experiencing now with coronavirus.

So when was Shakespeare born? The short answer is — no one really knows. Shakespearean scholars and biographers have simply settled on a date, a best guess, on which to honor the world’s most famous and gifted poet and playwright: April 23, 1564. What is known for certain is when he was baptized — April 26, 1564 — and when he died — April 23, 1616 at the age of 52. For all we know, Shakespeare’s birthday jumped around the calendar, much like modern-day Easter, frustrating poor little Will: “When do I get to blow out my birthday candles this year, Mum?”

So why did biographers settle on April 23? Bill Bryson, drawing on the work of many respected Shakespearean biographers explains: “Much ingenuity has been expended on deducing from one or two certainties and some slender probabilities on the date on which he came into the world. By tradition, it is agreed to be 23 April, St. George’s Day. This is the national day of England, and coincidentally also the date on which Shakespeare died 52 years later, giving it a certain irresistible symmetry.”

Similar to the coronavirus pandemic of the present day, Shakespeare was also born during a frightening, deadly pandemic. The bubonic plague (known as the Black Death) was sweeping through Europe. The Black Death was painful and lethal: people who were infected suffered headaches, vomiting, fever, delirium, coughing up blood, and painful enlarged lymph nodes (known as buboes). The mortality rate was 50%; and 65% for infants. Thus, given the high rates of mortality during the 16th century (about 20% of the entire population), it was customary to baptise an infant soon after birth — but exactly how many days later is simply conjecture. As S. Schoenbaum notes in his landmark biography, Shakespeare’s Lives, “It would be frequently be assumed that [Shakespeare] was born on  the 23rd on the unwarranted assumption that baptism customarily took place three days after birth. The Prayer Book of 1559 merely prescribed baptism not later than the next Sunday or other holy day following birth. In 1564, 23 April fell on Sunday; if Shakespeare was born then, he should have been baptized by the 25th, St. Mark’s Day.” Bryson adds: “Some people thought St. Mark’s Day was unlucky and so, it is argued — perhaps just a touch hopefully — that the christening was postponed an additional day, to 26 April.”

Understanding the impact of the bubonic plague when William Shakespeare was born leads to the realization of one of the most remarkable strokes of good fortune in the world of literature — it was a miracle that Shakespeare escaped the lethal clutches of the bubonic plague. Realize that just a few houses over, a neighbor of the Shakespeares lost four children to the plague that year. Bryson summarizes it this way: “In a sense William Shakespeare ‘s greatest achievement in life wasn’t writing Hamlet or the sonnets but just surviving his first year.” Evidently, where there’s a Will, there’s a way…

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please LIKE and FOLLOW (via email or WordPress Reader) or share with a friend. The coronavirus quarantine is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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

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

Support Bookshelf via Amazon Associate Program

 

 

For further reading: Shakespeare’s Lives by S. Schoenbaum
Shakespeare: The Illustrated and Updated Edition by Bill Bryson
The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 by James Shapiro
http://www.biography.com/news/shakespeare-tragedies-macbeth-king-lear-antony-cleopatra-plague
thwww.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/24/shakespeares-great-escape-plague-1606–james-shapiro
http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/application/files/5014/5434/6066/london-plagues-1348-1665.pdf
http://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever
/www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/pestilence-and-playwright/

Places You Shouldn’t Visit: North Sentinel Island

alex atkins bookshelf trivia

If you value your life you will stay far away from North Sentinel Island inhabited by the Sentinelese, a pre-Neolithic people, that have inhabited the island for more than 55,000 years without any contact with the outside world. There is no way to sugar coat it: if you dare approach and land on their island there is a 100% chance that they will kill you with their primitive weapons: spears, arrows, and stones. And get this — because they are a protected Aboriginal tribe, they will not be prosecuted for killing you. Since the Sentinelese have rejected all contact with the outside world, and have killed anyone who has tried to land there, the Indian Navy patrols the area and keeps all vessels and people away. Individuals who wander into the exclusion zone, which extends five nautical miles from the island’s perimeter, will be arrested.

The tiny island, covering roughly 23 square miles (about the size of Manhattan), may look inviting because it is completely forested and surrounded by pristine narrow white-sand beaches; however it is not easy to land there because it is surrounded by coral reef; moreover it lacks any natural harbors. North Sentinel Island is a part of the Andaman Islands that neighbors Nicobar Islands, an archipelagic island chain, located about 415 miles west from the Myanmar coast and more than 800 miles southeast of the Indian subcontinent. North Sentinel Island is not as remote as it should be — it lies just 31 miles west of Port Blair, the largest city on South Andaman Island. Using aerial photography taken in 2012, the population of North Sentinel Island is estimated between 50 and 400 natives. In contrast, the neighboring Nicobar Islands has a population of 36,844 according to a 2011 census. Both of these islands located in the Bay of Bengal (the northern part of the Indian Ocean) are territories of India. The Indian government considers North Sentinel Island completely autonomous and independent, allowing the inhabitants to eschew the impact of modern civilization, including any diseases to which they have no immunity. For example, the current coronavirus that is spreading all around the globe would wipe them out in a matter of weeks.

North Sentinel island and its inhabitants were first noted by British surveyor John Ritchie in 1771. Despite the natives’ aggression over the past century, there was a time when individuals did land on the island and survived to tell the tale. Most notable, was British naval officer Maurice Portman who led a small group of intrepid explorers to land on the island in 1880 to study the natives and their culture. They found a network of pathways that led to a few small abandoned villages. Eventually they encountered and captured six natives, an old couple and their four children. They were taken to Port Blair (talk about invasive and unethical research tactics!) where the couple quickly succumbed to illness and died. Soon after, the children were returned back to their island along with consolation gifts (“So sorry we killed your parents, but here is a food basket with our compliments — good luck with everything!). Despite the disastrous results of his research, Portman returned to the island several times between 1883 and 1887 and survived.

One fellow who was not so fortunate was American John Chau, a 26-year-old missionary that traveled to North Sentinel Island, on behalf of All Nations, to bring Christianity to the tribespeople and translate the Bible into Sentinelese. Based in Kansas City, the vision of All Nations is “to see Jesus worshipped by all the peoples of the earth. Our mission is to make disciples and train leaders to ignite church planting movements among the neglected peoples on earth.” According to one of their executive leaders, Chau was uniquely suited for this mission: “A seasoned traveler, John had previously taken part in mission projects in Iraq, Kurdistan and South Africa. He joined All Nations in 2017 and trained at our North American Hub in Kansas City. John was one of the most well-equipped young missionaries we’ve ever seen. He read books on cultural anthropology and missiology at the rate of one every three days. He was also trained in linguistics so he could learn the language of the Sentinelese people. He was a certified wilderness EMT, so that he could serve the Sentinelese in practical ways. He was also delightful, kind, and funny. Small children felt at ease with him, and everyone who met him felt his warmth.” Fellow missionary, Mat Stavers, shares that introducing Jesus to the Sentinelese was one of Chau’s lifelong dreams: “John loved people, and he loved Jesus. He was willing to give his life to share Jesus with the people on North Sentinel island. Ever since high school, John wanted to go to North Sentinel to share Jesus with this indigenous people.”

Chau made an initial try on the evening of November 15, 2018 and was greeted with an onslaught of arrows, one which hit the Bible he was carrying. In his journal he wrote, “Why did a little kid have to shoot me today.” He returned the following night, but the natives got a hold of canoe and destroyed it, forcing Chau to swim back to the boat. Those incidents did not deter the well-intentioned missionary. In his journal he wrote to his parents: “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people. God, I don’t want to die. Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed — rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever He has called you to and I will see you again when you pass through the veil.” On November 17, Chau finally succeeded in landing on the island. Apparently, the Sentinelese were perfectly happy with their religion and therefore not very receptive to the story of Jesus. Tragically, the hostile natives proceeded to kill Chau; the natives dragged his along the beach and buried his body there. Subsequently, the Indian police arrested seven individuals who used a wooden boat with motors to get Chau on the restricted island (Chau used a canoe to reach the shore from the boat. In the canoe he carried gifts, including fish and a football.) Days later, the police marine unit attempted to retrieve the body, but faced a very fierce and heavily armed group of tribesmen that were protecting their beach. Faced with insurmountable obstacles, Chau’s family made the difficult decision to leave their son’s body on the island; they stated that they forgave the tribe for their actions and were not insisting for his remains to be returned to the U.S.

The Sentinelese are not the only isolated tribes in the world  — there are about 100 others around the globe, with most found in the Amazon and New Guinea rainforests. Many of them are hostile to outsiders, explains Jonathan Mazower of Survival International, that protects these isolated tribes: “Often, they are very fearful of outsiders — with very good reason. Sometimes they will have in their collective memory a massacre, a violent incident, or a disease or epidemic — so very often, there are well-founded reasons for these tribes to not want to have anything to do with the outside world.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Deadliest Pandemics in History
The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair

What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?
What is the Word for Two Bad Choices?
Why is it Called the Golden Gate? 
Jefferson and Adams Die on Same Day
How Fast is the Earth Moving?
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?

Famous People Who Died on the Same Day

For further information: Contemporary Society Tribal Studies by Georg Preffer and Deepak Behera
https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/north-sentinel-island-andaman-nicobar-tribe-american-killed-5460144/
https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/25/asia/missionary-john-chau-north-sentinel-island-sentinelese/index.html

Home


https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/incidents/police-faceoff-with-sentinelese-tribe-as-they-struggle-to-recover-slain-missionarys-body/news-story/a88d3780059939a5e11ebcfb556327ac

 

The Deadliest Pandemics in History

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAs of this writing, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has claimed 7,100 lives around the globe (80 of those have been in the U.S.). There is an estimated 181,000 people who have contracted the virus (4,300 of those are Americans). Unfortunately, COVID-19 is just getting started. As many experts have stated, it is going to get worse before it gets better. So that invites the question, how does COVID-19 stack up against some of the deadliest pandemics in human history?

Before we get to that, let’s clarify the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. An epidemic is the rapid spread of a disease across a specific region or regions. Once that disease spreads from country to country around the globe, it is classified as a pandemic. Thus, all pandemics begin as epidemics; however — and fortunately — not all epidemics become pandemics. In general, pandemics result in more fatalities than epidemics. One notable exception is the Cocoliztli epidemic (also known as “The Great Pestilence”) that occurred in 1545 resulting in 12-15 million deaths in Mexico. The native Aztecs succumbed to the lethal disease brought by the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernan Cortes. The Aztecs were particularly vulnerable due to a variety of factors: weakened immunity, exacerbated by years of disease after a long drought, on top of a deadly outbreak of smallpox in 1520, also introduced by the Spanish, that resulted in more than 8 million deaths. 

When you review the list of the deadliest pandemics in human history, you realize that the mortality rate of the COVID-19 is relatively low so far — but that can change as quickly as a virus can mutate. Here are the deadliest pandemics in human history, in descending order:

The Black Death (Bubonic Plague; in the Middle Ages it was referred to as “The Great Mortality”) pandemic: 1346-1353
Origin: Central or East Asia
Death toll: 75-200 million

Plague of Justinian: 541-542
Origin: Byzantine Empire (the capital was Constantinople, what is now Istanbul, Turkey) and port cities around the Mediterranean Sea
Death toll: 25-50 million

HIV/AIDS pandemic: 2005-2012
Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo
Death toll: 36 million

Antonine Plague (also known as the Plague of Galen): 165-180
Origin: Aisa Minor
Death Toll: 5 million

Asian flu pandemic: 1956-58
Origin: Guizhou, China
Death toll: 2 million

Russian or Asiatic flu pandemic: 1889-1890
Origin: Bukhara, Turkestan (what is now Uzbekistan)
Death toll: 1 million

Hong Kong flu pandemic: 1968
Origin: Hong Kong
Death toll: 1 million

Third cholera pandemic: 1852-1860
Origin: India
Death toll: 1 million

Sixth cholera pandemic: 1910-11
Origin: India
Death toll: 800,000

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: Euphemisms for Death
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?
Famous People Who Died on the Same Day

For further reading: The Black Death, The Great Mortality of 1348-1350 by John Aberth
Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla
https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever
https://www.cbsnews.com/live-updates/coronavirus-updates-cases-fears-deaths-us-latest-2020-03-16/

https://www.mphonline.org/worst-pandemics-in-history/

 

Places You Shouldn’t Visit: Runit Dome

alex atkins bookshelf triviaScattered like pebbles in a massive pond, the Marshall Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean about 2,500 east of Hawaii, consists of 29 atolls (for those who slept through Geography 101, an atoll is a ring-shaped chain of islands formed of coral), containing 1,156 small islands and islets. (The official name of this island country, with a population of 59,000 people, is the Republic of the Marshall Islands; it was never formally adopted as a state, and is therefore considered a “United States associated state.”) One of these coral atolls, is the Enewetak Atoll, consisting of 40 tiny islands and a population of 664 people (known as the Marshallese). As you fly above the atoll, one witnesses some of the bluest seas, punctuated with tiny islands outlined by beautiful white sand beaches; and as you head toward the northern part of the atoll, one comes across something incredibly surreal — what appears to be a massive perfectly round beached alien space ship straight out of some apocalyptic sci-fi movie. WTF is this thing and why is it there? To answer these questions, let us go back in time 70 years to learn about the island that time has largely forgotten.

The Enewetak Atoll has to be one of the most unfortunate places on the planet. First, between 1948 to 1958, the United States conducted 43 nuclear tests on the atoll. In one of the tests, the bomb did not explode properly, scattering small chunks of radioactive plutonium all over the islands. Second, the Enewetak Atoll is located just 215 miles east from the Bikini Atoll, where the United States conducted 23 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958 at seven test sites — underwater, on the reef, inside the atoll, and in the air — the combined release of energy equivalent of 30 million tons of TNT! Holy crap! (For comparison, the blast from Little Boy, dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, released energy equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT. Fat Man produced an explosion equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT.) You can imagine what happened to the island. It is extremely radioactive and is uninhabitable for more than 24,000 years — it makes the Chernobyl nuclear disaster looks like a small grassfire. And guess what else happened? During some of the tests, weather forecasts that predicted that the winds would be blowing away from Enewetak were wrong. Surprise! — all that nuclear fallout blew right into those inhabited islands causing an epidemic of radiation sickness.

So what did the U.S. government do? In typical government fashion, military leaders decided to spend $100 million to do a half-assed job. Of course, the military leaders vastly underestimated the costs of the clean-up: in the end, it cost taxpayers more than $239 million! Over a three year period (1977-1979), the government sent thousands of unsuspecting military members (they were told that they were serving on “an island paradise”) to scrape off top soil and debris from nearby islands and bury all of this material in one of the blast craters on Runit Island. In addition, the soldiers had to bag over 400 radioactive chunks of plutonium without wearing any protective or safety gear. (Recall the horrifying scene in HBO’s Chernobyl when the military sends those unsuspecting cleanup workers to the reactor site where radiation exposure was equivalent to 80,000 to 160,000 chest x-rays.) It is estimated that the crater contains up to 95,000 cubic yards of radioactive debris. The crater was then capped with a massive dome of concrete, known as the Runit Dome (locals call it “The Tomb”) — the alien space ship mentioned earlier in this post. Visually, it is spectacular. Imagine this large, round concrete structure, 377 feet in diameter, made up of 358 concrete panels of slightly different shades of gray, each 18 inches thick. People are forbidden to visit Runit Island, but surprisingly, there are no warning signs or barriers of any kind to discourage trespassing.

The geniuses who designed the contamination container in a “cost-saving” move, did not line the bottom of the crater, which is made of porous coral and sand. So even though the crater was capped with a massive dome of concrete, it has been leaking radioactive debris for decades. Studies have shown that the sediments in the lagoon are more radioactive that the debris contained in the dome. If that isn’t bad enough, the dome has been deteriorating as rising sea levels, due to climate change, are causing radioactive elements to seep into the ocean. Furthermore, experts are concerned that the dome can no longer withstand a typhoon. A typhoon would completely destroy the concrete dome, releasing tons of radioactive elements that will contaminate the Pacific Ocean for thousands of years.

Sadly, many of the soldiers who worked on the Runit Dome have come down with illnesses (cancer, tumors, brittle bones, skin lesions, birth defects, etc.) related to their exposure to radioactive contamination, and consequently facing crippling medical bills. Moreover, many of these soldiers have died at a young age, suffering terrible pain, as a result of radiation poisoning. A declassified cable (1972) from the U.S. government states: “Radiological conditions Runit island… the number of nuclear devices exploded on Runit and subsequent earth and debris moving activities have resulted in a complex radiological situation in which each unit division of island is unique from adjacent islands… Actual surveys have been superficial but have identified the presence of a plutonium bearing sand layer outcropping on the ocean side of the midisland area and the existence of apparently solid plutonium bearing chunks, grains and other particulate on the island surface.”  The government’s response has been to deny the problem by denying that the soldiers’ illnesses are not linked to the work on the island (they deny that it was a nuclear clean up project) and refusing them healthcare and refusing them the medical help they need. Decades later, the soldiers continue to battle for justice.

In the documentary, “This Concrete Dome Holds A Leaking Toxic Time Bomb” Enewetak veteran Ken Kasik, now restricted to a hospital bed due to declining health, makes a powerful statement that evokes the same lessons of the Chernobyl disaster: “There’s nobody trained [for] the [removal of] atomic waste. There’s people trained in the actual making of bombs, testing the bombs, and all like that, but not [for] picking [up the waste from the bomb.] You cannot get rid of this. The island should just be destroyed… America dumped all of their worst rubbish to the Marshallese and abandoned them with it — and we don’t want to hear about it. It’s a disgusting shame and it it makes us look bad.” In many ways, it seems that Runit Dome is America’s Chernobyl, a cold, concrete tomb that continues to haunt its victims psychologically and physically.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair
What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?
What is the Word for Two Bad Choices?
Why is it Called the Golden Gate? 
Jefferson and Adams Die on Same Day
How Fast is the Earth Moving?
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?

Famous People Who Died on the Same Day

For further information: “This Concrete Dome Holds a Leaking Toxic Time Bomb” on YouTube
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runit_Island
https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a23306/nuclear-bombs-powerful-today/
https://www.livescience.com/65673-is-visiting-chernobyl-safe.html

The Person Behind the Word: Maverick

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBeing branded (pun intended) a maverick can either be a compliment or denigration, depending upon your perspective. The primary definition of a maverick is an independently-minded person; one who bucks the status quo, as it were (sorry, could’t resist). Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable uses the term “masterless man” — leave to the Brits to be so dramatic. The secondary meaning of a maverick is an unbranded calf or yearling. Because of this, some people mistakenly believe that the word is derived from the horse; however, the word is actually an eponym, based on a real American — you certainly wouldn’t recognize him if you saw his photo in a history book, but you certainly know his surname: Samuel Maverick.

Maverick was well-known in Texas during the mid 1800s (he was born in 1803 and died 1870), where he was a respected Yale-educated attorney, politician, landowner, and rancher. Maverick, was of course, the original maverick because he refused to brand his cattle, much to the consternation of nearby ranchers. Language maven, William Safire shares one explanation provided by J. David Stern who wrote Maverick Publisher: “Old man Maverick… refused to brand his cattle because it was cruelty to animals. His neighbors said he was a hypocrite, liar, and thief, because Maverick’s policy allowed him to claim all unbranded cattle on the range. Lawsuits were followed by bloody battles, and brought a new word to our language.” As early at 1867, ranchers called any unbranded cattle “mavericks.”

The term eventually drifted into the realm of politics. Safire continues: “Maverick drifted into the political vocabulary around the turn of the century; McClure’s magazine mentioned the occasional appearance of a ‘maverick legislator.” The simplicity and aptness of the metaphor made it both durable and universally understood.” In this context, it means a person who is unorthodox in his or her political views and is disdainful of party loyalty. The maverick is truly a man without a brand. Safire notes that being a maverick in the world of politics can either be a virtue or a vice — and many notable politicians have been mavericks at some point during their notable careers.

Reviewing the troubling state of partisan politics in America today, one would hope that there were more mavericks serving in Congress today.

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: The Person Behind the Word: Chauvinism
The Person Behind the Word: Sandwich

For further reading: Safire’s New Political Dictionary by William Safire