The Most Influential Novels of the 20th Century

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIn 1998 the Library Journal asked its members: what is the most influential novel of the 20th century? And by influence, they meant impact on the larger world or on their own lives. Librarians love lists, just as much as they love books. They came up with a list of 150 titles. Here are the first 25 of the most influential novels:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
4. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
5. Beloved by Toni Morrison
6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
7. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
8. Animal Farm by George Orwell
9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
10. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
11. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
12. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
14. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
15. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
16. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
17. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
18. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
19. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
20. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
21. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
22. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
24. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
25. My Antonia by Willa Cather

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The Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms

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How Do We Spend Our Time During a Lifetime?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaTo paraphrase John Lennon’s famous lyric from “Beautiful Boy”: Life is what happens to you while you are busy doing routine or mundane tasks. Considering that the average lifespan of a person is 78 years, ever wonder how many of those years are devoted to real living — pursuing your dreams? Using statistics from the World Bank and the Bureau of Statistics, the clever folks at Daily Infographic have created an infographic showing us exactly how we spend our time during a lifetime — and it isn’t pretty. One could argue that most of our time is squandered — we spend most of our time sleeping (about one third of one’s life!), working, and watching television and playing video games. Ultimately, the “life” that Lennon is referring to accounts for only 9 years out of 78 years (11.5%) — not much time to find true fulfillment and happiness. To borrow from Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, one of protagonists from the popular film The Shawshank Redemption: you better “get busy living or get busy dying.”

Here is the breakdown of how much the average American spends on various activities during his or her lifetime of 78 years:

Sleeping: 28.3 years
Working: 10.5 years
Television, video games, social networking: 9 years
Doing chores: 6 years
Eating and drinking: 4 years
Education: 3.5 years
Grooming: 2.5 years
Shopping: 2.5 years
Child care: 1.5 years
Commuting: 1.3 years
Living to accomplish personal goals: 9 years

Read related posts: How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words Does the Average Person Speak in a Lifetime?

How Many Words in the English Language?
How Many Books Does the Average American Read?
The Highest Rated Movie in IMDb: The Shawshank Redemption

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The Most Controversial Books of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf booksNothing increases a book’s popularity and its sales like the controversy that arises when it becomes banned. Tell a person, especially an adolescent, that you can’t read something — and chances are high that they will find a copy — by hook or by crook — and read it. “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t read — Goddamnit!” Call it an act of defiance, insatiable curiosity, or intellectual freedom; it’s inevitable. But that sheer force of will demonstrated by readers young and old has not stopped narrow-minded, dogmatic librarians, teachers, and school administrators to remove books from the shelves due a wide range of issues — like, sex, racism, profanity, sex (again), blasphemy, obscenity, drugs, cruelty, violence, sex (did we mention it?), and religious views — throughout the decades. Here are 25 of the most controversial books of all time (controversial issues in parenthesis). Most have been banned at one time or another. Go out and read one of these books today!

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (sex with a minor)
2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (rape, drug abuse, racism, profanity)
3. American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis (brutal, graphic murder, sadism)
4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (sex, profanity, communism)
5. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (homosexuality)
6. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (slavery)
7. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (sex, profanity, sex, drugs, sex)
8. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (religion)
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky (homosexuality, drugs)
10. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (ironically, banned by Soviet and Nazi regimes for being “decadent and despairing”)
11. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (dystopia)
12. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck (animal cruelty)
13. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (witchcraft)
14. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (sex, profanity)
15. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (violence, racism)
16. Ulysses by James Joyce (sex, obscenity)
17. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (rape, sex, homosexuality)
18. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (denounced by Oprah Winfrey because author fabricated parts of his memoir)
19. Origins of the Species by Charles Darwin (blasphemy, anti-Christian)
20. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell (terrorism)
21. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (racism, profanity)
22. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Egles (communism)
23. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (profanity)
24. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (racism, banned by Malaysian and Nigerian government for negative portrayal of colonialism)
25. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland (sex)

Read related posts: Best-Selling Banned Books
Banned Books that Shaped America
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For further reading: Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds by Dawn Sova

What is the Longest Tongue Twister?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsJust about every child learns the classic tongue twisters about Peter and that seashell-selling girl. You know the ones. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers?” “She sells seashells by the seashore.” But now, it’s time to introduce you to Simon Short from “The Saga of Shrewd Simon Short” — the world’s longest tongue twister containing 466 tongue-tripping words. Certainly, it’s length makes it one of the most difficult tongue twisters of all time. See if you can read it all the way through without tripping up your tongue:

Shrewd Simon Short sewed shoes. Seventeen summers, speeding storms, spreading sunshine successively, saw Simon’s small, shabby shop, still standing staunch, saw Simon’s selfsame squeaking sign still swinging silently specifying: Simon Short, Smithfield’s sole surviving shoemaker. Shoes sewed soled super finely.

Simon’s spry, sedulous spouse, Sally Short, sewed shirts, stitched sheets, stuffed sofas. Simon’s six stout sons — Seth, Samuel, Stephen, Saul, Silas, Shadrach – sold sundries. Sober Seth sold sugar, spices; simple Sam sold saddles, stirrups, screws; sagacious Stephen sold silks, satins, shawls; sceptical Saul sold silver salvers; selfish Shadrach sold salves, shoestrings, stops, saws, skates; slack Silas sold Sally Short’s stuffed sofas.

Some seven summers since, Simon’s second son Samuel saw Sophia Sophronia Spriggs somewhere. Sweet, smart, sensible Sophia Sophronia Spriggs. Sam soon showed strong symptoms. Sam seldom stayed storing, selling saddles. Sam sighed sorrowfully, sought Sophia Sophronia’s society, sang several serenades slyly. Simon stormed, scolded severely, said Sam seemed so silly singing such shameful, senseless songs. ‘Strange Sam should slight such splendid sales! Strutting spendthrift! Shattered-brained simpleton.’

‘Softly, softly, sire,’ said Sally. ‘Sam’s smitten; Sam’s spied some sweetheart.’

‘Sentimental schoolboy!’ snarled Simon. ‘Smitten! Stop such stuff.’ Simon sent Sally’s snuffbox spinning, seized Sally’s scissors, smashed Sally’s spectacles, scattering several spools. ‘Sneaking scoundrel! Sam’s shocking silliness shall surcease!’ Scowling, Simon stopped speaking, started swiftly shopward.

Sally sighed sadly. Summoning Sam, she spoke sweet sympathy. ‘Sam,’ said she, ‘Sire seems singularly snappy; so, solicit, sue, secure Sophronia speedily, Sam.’

‘So soon? So soon?’ said Sam, standing stock-still.

‘So soon, surely,’ said Sally, smiling, ‘specially since Sire shows such spirits.’

So Sam, somewhat scared, sauntered slowly. Shaking stupendously, Sam soliloquised: ‘Sophia Sophronia Spriggs, Spriggs — Short — Sophia Sophronia Short-Samuel Short’s spouse — sounds splendid! Suppose she should say — she shan’t — she shan’t!’

Soon Sam spied Sophia starching shirts, singing softly. Seeing Sam she stopped starching, saluting Sam smilingly. Sam stammered shockingly. ‘Spl-spl-splendid summer season, Sophia.’

‘Selling saddles still, Sam?’

‘Sar-sar-tin,’ said Sam, starting suddenly. ‘Season’s somewhat sudoriflc,’ said Sam, steadily, staunching streaming sweat, shaking sensibly.

‘Sartin,’ said Sophia, smiling significantly. ‘Sip some sweet sherbet, Sam.’ (Silence: sixty seconds.) ‘Sire shot sixty sheldrakes, Saturday,’ said Sophia.

‘Sixty? Sho t!’ said Sam. (Silence: seventy-seven seconds.)

‘See sister Susan’s sunflowers,’ said Sophia, socially, silencing such stiff silence.

Sophia’s sprightly sauciness stimulated Sam strangely; so Sam suddenly spoke sentimentally: ‘Sophia, Susan’s sunflowers seem saying Samuel Short, Sophia Sophronia Spriggs stroll serenely, seek some sequestered spot, some sylvan shade. Sparkling springs shall sing soul stirring strains; sweet songsters shall silence secret sighings; super-angelic sylphs shall —’

Sophia snickered; so Sam stopped. ‘Sophia,’ said Sam, solemnly. ‘Sam,’ said Sophia.

‘Sophia, stop smiling; Sam Short’s sincere. Sam’s seeking some sweet spouse, Sophia.’

Sophia stood silent.

‘Speak, Sophia, speak; such suspense speculates sorrow.’ ‘Seek, sire, Sam, seek sire.’

So Sam sought sire Spriggs. Sire Spriggs said, ‘Sartin.’

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For further reading: The Joy of Lex by Gyles Brandreth
The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson

Be Grateful for What You Have; Don’t Focus on What You Don’t Have

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

Oprah Gail Winfrey (born 1954), former host to the highly-rated The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986-2011), currently chairwoman and CEO of Harpo Productions and the Oprah Winfrey Network, major owner of Weight Watchers, is considered one of the wealthiest and greatest African-American philanthropists. Forbes has estimated her net worth at $3.0 billion. Winfrey transformed the talk show genre by focusing the discussions around literature (she introduced the Oprah’s Book Club which revolutionized the book industry), self-improvement, and spirituality. Winfrey consistently appears on lists of the “most powerful or influential women in the world.” She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 and has honorary doctorate degrees from Harvard University and Duke University.

What Do You Call a Word with Capitals in the Middle?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBack in elementary school, we all learned the basics rules of orthography — the conventions of writing English that deal with spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, and capitalization. One of the first lessons is the difference between uppercase (the formal term is majuscules) and lowercase letters (minuscules). Incidentally, these terms come to us from the world of metal movable type used by letterpress printing introduced by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid 1400s. When setting movable type, typographers stored the majuscules in a shallow wooden case that was located above the wooden case that held the minuscules. But returning to the subject of capitalization, we also learned about the types of capitalization or case styles, such as sentence case, title case, all caps (or all uppercase), small caps, all lowercase, and mixed case (discussed below).

At some point, corporate America realized that tinkering around with capitalization — moving capitalized letters inside the word — created some memorable company and trademark product names. The audacity! Some of the earliest of these type of unconventionally capitalized words were introduced by pioneering companies in the early to mid 1900s: DryIce Corporation (1925); CinemaScope (1953); AstroTurf (1967). It took several decades for the geniuses in the advertising industry to realize the power of the clever capitalization of words — especially since they were running out of traditional names plucked out of dictionaries. Beginning in the 1980s and culminating in the 20o0s, high-tech companies began introducing unusual company and trademarked product names at a rapid pace (i.e., QuarkXPress, iMac, iPhone, eBay, FedEx, NeXT, PlayStation, YouTube). They certainly didn’t teach us about this use of capitals in grammar school — inviting the question: “so what do you call a word that has capitals in the middle?”

Capital question. The formal orthographical term is medial capital (or plural, medial capitals) or bicapitalization — defined as a capital letter occurring in the middle or inside of the word. Interestingly, medial capitals have many synonyms, considered informal terms: bicaps (shortened form bicapitalization), CamelCase, embedded caps, InterCaps (shortened form of internal capitalization, introduced in 1990s by Ave Rappoport), midcaps (shortened form of middle capitals). In 2005, lexicographer Charles Harrington Elster proposed the term CorpoNym for company or brand names with medial capitals (eg, ExxonMobil, HarperCollins, ConAgra).

CamelCase comes from the world of programming. In his book, The Wikipedia Revolution, Andrew Lih describes how early programmers struggled with CamelCase in the early days of developing pages for Wikipedia. The term, named after the humps of capital letters similar to those of a Bactrian camel, was introduced by Newton Love in 1995. He wrote on USENET: “With the advent of programming languages having these sorts of constructs, the humpiness of the style made me call it HumpyCase at first, before I settled on CamelCase.” And you can bet that programmers, with a penchant for developing clever jargon have MANY synonyms for CamelCase, including: BumpyCaps, BumpyCase, NerdCaps, CapWords, compoundNames, Embedded Caps, HumpintheMiddle word, HumpBack notation, InterCapping, mixedCase, Pascal case, Smalltalk case, WikiWord, WikiCase, and ProperCase.

Mixed case or mixed capitalization (also known as StUdLyCaPs or just studlycaps) is distinct from intermediate capitals because capitalization is completely random or follows a simple rule (eg, only vowels are capitalized; every other letter is capitalized). Passwords that contain random uppercase and lowercase letters are example of mixed case words.


For further reading: The Wikipedia Revolution by Andre Lih
What in the Word?: Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to the Peskiest Questions About Language by Charles Harrington Elster

Best Quotes from The Wonder Years

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Once upon a time there was a girl I knew that lived across the street. Brown hair, brown eyes. When she smiled, I smiled. Every single thing that happened to me that mattered, in some way, had to do with her. That day we promised each other that we’d always be together. It was the kind of promise that could only come from the hearts of the very young.” Boy meets girls; boy learns about himself, friendship, love, life, and loss– that was the premise of the brilliant award-winning show, The Wonder Years (1988-1993). The narrative, that spanned six seasons, was told in hindsight by Kevin Arnold as an adult, looking back on his adolescence, growing up in the tumultuous 1960s in suburban America. With each heartfelt, insightful, and witty episode, the writers took us on a nostalgic journey back to our teenage years, the wonder years. Oh to be young again — to experience the innocence, the naiveté, the joyfulness, the eagerness, and that endearing awkwardness of youth — before life got really hectic and complicated. Here are some of the best quotes from the six seasons of The Wonder Year, considered one of the 100 greatest TV shows of all time. Be sure to share them with a dear, old friend.

Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house like other houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is — after all these years — I still look back, with wonder.

Love is never simple. Not for fathers and sons. We spend our lives full of hope and expectations. And most of the time we are bound to fail. But that afternoon as I watched my father sheltering his son against a future that was so unsure, all I knew was they didn’t want to let each other down anymore.

Teachers never die. They live in your memory forever. They were there when you arrived, they were there when you left. Like fixtures. Once in a while they taught you something. But not that often. And, you never really knew them, any more than they knew you. Still, for awhile, you believed in them. And — if you were lucky — maybe there was one who believed in you.

Over the course of the average lifetime you meet a lot of people. Some of them stick with you through thick and thin. Some weave their way through your life and disappear forever. But once in a while someone comes along who earns a permanent place in your heart.

In 7th grade, who you are is what other 7th graders say you are. The funny thing is it’s hard to remember the names of the kids you spent so much time trying to impress.

And so Winnie and I had our one slow dance after all. But things wouldn’t be the same between us. We were getting older. All we could do was close our eyes and wish that the slow song would never end.

I knew at that moment, that life was not fair. Sure, I’d write to Teri, and maybe she’d write me-then what? Could we really wait for each other for the next 10 or 12 years? It was hopeless. I’d never felt pain like this before in my entire life. It felt, wonderful.

Don’t accept all this death and then justify it. It is wrong! Your friends should be alive, they should be enjoying dinner, and arguing with their kids, just like you are. This is my draft notice. In two weeks, I can go to jail, I can go to Canada or I can go get shot full of holes like your friend Brian Cooper. You keep thinking the way you do, Mr. Arnold, and these two will be next.

They say men are children, but sometimes children are men; maybe that’s where the confusion lies… All I knew was that night the world suddenly seemed very big and I felt very small; so I did what I could… 1972 was a crazy time. Kids played football, drove cars, went to school, celebrated life; while soldiers, heroes, their brothers struggled to find their way home from war; and young boys watched and grew wiser in their dreams.

There was a time when the world was enormous: spanning the vast, almost infinite boundaries of your neighborhood. The place where you grew up, where you didn’t think twice about playing on someone else’s lawn. The street was your territory that occasionally got invaded by a passing car. It was where you didn’t get called home until after it was dark. And all the people, and all the houses that surrounded you were as familiar as the things in your own room.

1968. I was 12 years old. A lot happened that year. There’s no pretty way to put this, I grew up in the suburbs. I guess most people think of the suburb as a place with all the disadvantages of the city, and none of the advantages of the country. And vice versa. But, in a way, those really were the wonder years for us. It was kind of a golden age for kids.

All our young lives we search for someone to love. Someone who makes us complete. We dance to a song of heartbreak and hope. All the while wondering if somewhere, somehow, there’s someone perfect, who might be searching for us.

[A wedding] was a testament to romance at its finest and most pure. It was a declaration of virtue. Simple, and gracious, and real. And after a day of infidelities… some proposed and planned, some more subtle… I felt for the first time… that someone believed in something a little different. In love. In commitment. In each other. It almost made me glad to be there. I guess you could say that weddings mean a lot of things to a lot of people. We might cry at the romance unfulfilled in our own lives. And shrink at the unseen compromises our lives have held for us. But weddings also bring out hope. And promise. And possibility. After all, as we choose our partners… some of us make our choices for life. And some of us dance with just one of many. And sometimes – for the lucky ones — we remember why we picked who we did. And after years of fighting over burnt toast…and bounced checks… we might, for a brief moment… look at each other as we once did — before kids, and mortgages and routine conspired against us. And others are content to postpone their choices… knowing somehow, that the future, like that Saturday afternoon, will tempt us with dances – both slow, and fast.

They say you can live a lifetime and never find love. So I guess I was lucky. Because true love crossed my path the first time I met the girl next door — Winnie Cooper. Winnie and I’d been together longer than any couple I knew. Still, history only goes so far. Kinda like Winnie. Unfortunately, the mathematics of the situation were open to interpretation. To me, they led forward, to that great unknown. But to Winnie, they led… back! See, the great thing about us was that we had this past together. The bad thing about us was that we had this past together. Not that I minded being part of Winnie’s past. It’s just, when it came to who I was… she seemed to regard me as a known quantity.

Read related posts: What Parenthood Taught Us About Parenthood
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

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