Fiction is A Compassion-Generating Machine

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

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

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

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

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What Do You Call Someone Who Loves Words?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThey are out there, numbering in the millions. You know the type — they love working on crossword puzzles, word scrambles (known as anagrams or logogriphs), word searches; or they love playing Scrabble, Wordle, Words with Friends, and so forth. Others who love words collect dictionaries or books about words. All of these individuals embrace epeolatry, the worship of words. The word was coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the famous American physician, professor, author and poet, in his thought-provoking book, The Professor of the Breakfast Table, published in 1860. Holmes writes: “Time, time only, can gradually wean us from our Epeolatry, or word-worship, by spiritualizing our ideas of the thing signified.” The word epeolatry is derived from the Greek words epos, meaning “word”, and -latry from latreia, meaning “worship.” The word is pronounced “ep-i-OL-ah-tree.” Therefore, a person who loves words is an epeolatrist; however there are many other terms for word lovers: armchair linguist, lexicomane, logolept, logophile, logophiliac, onomatomaniac, verbomaniac, verbivore (a word coined by linguist Richard Lederer in the early 1980s), wordaholic, word fanatic, word maven, and word nut. Paradoxically, most of these terms for word lovers are rare and do not appear in most conventional dictionaries. Go figure.

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: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia
There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

The Monumental Book that the Brothers Grimm Never Completed

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost readers are familiar with the Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm) most famous book, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, originally published in 1812. The first edition was originally titled Kinder- und Hausmarchan (Children’s and Household Tales) and contained 86 fairy tales; almost a half century later, the book’s seventh edition contained 210 fairy tales. Although the book was very popular, the book that made the Grimm name really famous was Jacob’s German Grammar, published in 1819. But it was their last writing project for a monumental book that overwhelmed the brothers and thus, was never completed.

By the 1830s, following the success of their previous books, both Jacob and Wilhelm became professors at the University of Gottingen. In 1837, King Ernst August II who ruled the Kingdom of Hanover demanded that all academics swear an oath of loyalty to him. Because they refused, the Grimm Brothers were banished from the university and had to seek employment elsewhere. They accepted an offer from a Frankfurt publisher to create a comprehensive dictionary of the German language to be titled Deutsches Worterbuch (The German Dictionary). The two brothers began the work in 1838 and estimated that the dictionary would fill four volumes and take about ten years. They hired readers to read texts from German literature, from Luther to Goethe, from the 16th to 18th centuries, to identify words to include in the dictionary. The brothers underestimated the complexity of the project. The first volume (A to Biermolke) was not published until 1854, the second volume (Biermolke to E) was published in 1860. Sadly, the brothers never completed the dictionary: Wilhelm died in 1859 having completed “D”words, and Jacob died in 1863 midway through the “F” words (the last word he defined was “frucht” (fruit).

In 1867 the project received funding from the government and a team headed by Rudolf Hildebrand (a former proofread for the book) began work on completing the comprehensive dictionary. He worked diligently for years but only reached the letter K. The project stalled for some time and was resumed by two teams, one from Gottingen and another working from Berlin.  The German Dictionary was finally completed in 1961 containing more than 330,000 headwords in 32 volumes, weighing 84 kg. The dictionary, referred to as the DWB, is the German equivalent of the OED for English. The volumes that the Brothers Grimm wrote, A through F, were completely rewritten and published in 2016 — more than two centuries after the monumental book project was conceived. As of this writing, a first edition is worth about $2,000.

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: How Long Does It Take To Read Every Word in the Dictionary?
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Kim Kardashian’s Business Advice to Women Ignores An Essential Factor — Luck

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIn March 2022, Elizabeth Wagmeister of Variety sat down with the Kardashians for an interview (“Money Alway Matters: The Kardashians Tell All About Their New Reality TV Reign”) to discuss their ubiquitous presence on television and social media and their forthcoming series on Hulu. The Kardashians became a cultural phenomenon when their show, pretentiously titled Keeping Up With the Kardashians, premiered on E! in 2007, which coincidentally, was the same year that her famous (or infamous) sex tape leaked. Over 15 years, the mother and her five daughters adroitly leveraged that fame into individual lucrative business empires worth in excess of $5 billion combined.

In the interview, Wagmeister touches a raw nerve when she brings up a criticism that has nagged Kim (41) for over a decade — being famous for being famous; the journalist writes: “The Kardashians have been the subjects of harsh criticism over the years, but they’ve never been accused of not hustling. Kim bristles at the characterization that’s followed her for years — that she’s just famous for being famous. ‘Who gives a fuck,’ she says. ‘We focus on the positive. We work our asses off. If that’s what you think, then sorry. We just don’t have the energy for that. We don’t have to sing or dance or act; we get to live our lives — and hey, we made it. I don’t know what to tell you.’ But it is Kim’s unsolicited advice — given in a very condescending tone — to women that has generated the most controversy recently. Kim stated: “I have the best advice for women in business: get your fucking ass up and work! It seems like nobody wants to work these days. You have to surround yourself with people that want to work — no toxic work environments and show up and do the work.”

Within minutes her tone-deaf and insulting comments unleashed a tsunami of outrage and harsh criticism across social media. How dare she! Journalist Soledad O’Brien was prompted to tweet: “Also: be born rich. Really helps.” Many other tweets followed: “[To] ignore the pre-career privilege — a famous, uber rich father & vast LA network that included Paris Hilton at her peak of fame — is tone deaf at best, offensive at worst.”    “It’s easy to work hard when you work for pleasure rather than survival, when you’re free to take a vacation… whenever you like, without the worry of losing your home, or going hungry, or using your children because you can’t provide for them.”    “Kim K is one of the hardest working people out there but hard work is not a very good predictor of success in business. For every success story there are 100 other people working 2 jobs and living paycheck to paycheck.”   “I don’t doubt that Kim Kardashian works hard, but let’s not diminish the struggles of many women in the world. Her success and the struggles of others are not solely related to work ethic and more successful individuals need to acknowledge that.”

Some experts believe that not only are Kim Kardashian’s comments are not only outrageous, they are actually harmful, creating a sense of “toxic positivity” — the belief that no matter how difficult a situation is, a person should always maintain a positive mindset; it is toxic because it rejects the full range of human emotions (eg sadness, worry, pain, grieving) and replaces it with a cheerful, falsely positive facade. In an interview with CNBC, Emma Harrison, a senior lecturer in careers at Canterbury Christ Church University (UK) explained, “[Influencers like Kim Kardashian have] demonstrated ignorance of lived experience of the 99% and their messages pose real danger to their followers, especially those who are younger and more easily influenced. This idea that a person’s mindset can change everything or is the only thing holding them back is toxic and unhelpful in the same way that Kim Kardashian, Molly-Mae [Hague] and countless other influencer messages are.”

Not one to miss the opportunity to shove Kim Kardashian off her high horse, Trevor Noah used his platform on the Daily Show to add his perspective to the controversy:

“I know a lot of people are pissed off at Kim. I know. But if I’m perfectly honest, I can see this thing from both sides. I honestly can. Like, I can see it from Kim’s side… She’s like “You guys think I just take a few pictures and I go to a few events, and then suddenly I’m rich and famous, and you think it’s easy — but it’s not easy.” I understand that. Kim does a lot of work… But part of this idea that people have of Kim is Kim’s fault. I mean — think about it — for decades, the thing that she’s sold is “not work.” Yeah, in fact, she works really hard to look like she’s not working hard. Every photo on Instragram, she’s either on a beach or in a pool or in a hot tub — basically, any relaxing body of water, she’s there, you know? So I get why people have the idea that she doesn’t work, because you [just] don’t see it. Maybe Kim should put that stuff on Instragram, you know? Put up photos of late-night meetings, constant calls on product design. I mean, you can still do it in a bikini if you want, but the point is, you know, people should see more of the work. They’d understand…

But here’s the thing that maybe Kim Kardashian doesn’t understand: it can come off as extremely condescending to tell women that the reason they’re not successful is because they’re ‘too lazy to get off their asses and actually work’ because, yes, Kim Kardashian works hard, but you know who else works hard? Most women. But what their asses don’t have is Kim’s luck to be born into a rich family with a famous lawyer parent, and an even more famous Olympian step-parent, and all the access and the connections that that brings you. Think about it — if you’re lucky to have that, then yeah there’s a good chance that your hard work is gonna make you successful. But don’t forget how much luck has got to do with that success. Anyone who says “just work hard and thing will work out,” those people are forgetting a major component, known as luck. A lot of people work hard, and they’re still broke. In fact, a lot of the time, the broker you are, the harder you probably work.”

Noah’s response underscores the notion that you cannot succeed without luck and shatters the myth that hard work alone leads to success. If you read enough biographies of successful people you will find that most every single one benefited from some luck — the family they were born to, where they grew up, the schools they attended, the jobs they had, the mentors they had, and so forth. Most are familiar with the famous remark attributed to General Douglas MacArthur: “The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself” or its variants like “I don’t believe in luck. I make my own luck.” Although these quotes are masquerading as inspirational words, they actually do harm, perpetuating the myth of the Protestant Ethic — that hard work leads to success. Moreover, these quotes completely miscontrue the fundamental concept of luck: the defintion of luck is chance — the possibility of something happening. You cannot make luck — it is something that happens (or doesn’t happen) in your life; you have no control over it. (The English language even has a word for beneficial luck: serendipity — the occurrence of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.) As Noah alluded to his remarks, a person cannot choose their parents and moreover, their parents’ professions, level of wealth, and their social and business connections. If we could make our own luck, we would all be buying winning lotto tickets, investing in the most valuable stocks, finding dream jobs early in our careers, and attending the most prestigious schools. But life doesn’t work that way — you need luck to succeed. Noah is absolutely correct: luck is often a major component of success and it should be openly recognized; it should not be considered taboo in the discussion of success or careers.

Acting, for example, is one of those professions where luck is absolutely critical for success. Many comedians quip that Los Angeles restaurants have the most over-qualified staffs — everyone is an actor, screenwriter, or producer, etc. But there are two notable actors who recognize the role of luck in their successful careers. The first is Bryan Cranston. In an interview with Brett Martin (“The Last Stand of Walter White, GQ Magazine, July 2013, Cranston explained, “It doesn’t matter if you’re good. If you’re just good you won’t succeed. If you have patience and persistence and talent and that’s it — you will not have a successful career as an actor. The elusive thing you need is luck.” The second is Harrison Ford who was interviewed by Glenn Plaskin (“The Real Harrison Ford,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 13, 1990) and said, “Hard work and a proper frame of mind prepare you for the lucky breaks that come along — or don’t.” Ford’s comment is right on: you have to put in the work to be prepared to recognize and capitalize on the lucky breaks (the opportunities) that come your way.

Let us end this discussion about luck with Clint Eastwood’s famous line from Dirty Harry (1971): “You have to ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?”

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

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

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The Parable of the Farmer and His Fate

For further reading:
https://variety.com/2022/tv/features/kardashians-hulu-kris-kim-khloe-1235198939
buzzfeednews.com/article/ellendurney/kim-kardashian-backlash-over-business-advice
https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/11/kim-kardashians-advice-to-women-in-business-is-getting-major-backlash.htm
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/toxic-positivity#risks

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?
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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

What Would You Name Your Bookstore?

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost booklovers have at some point — if even for a fleeting moment — dreamed about opening their own bookstore. What’s there not to love: surrounded by bookcases full of books, enjoying that wonderful aroma of paper and ink, sharing your passion for reading and learning, and helping customers find that special book.

I will let you in on a little secret — you can actually indulge in the bibliophilic fantasy of running a bookstore without all the hassles and commitment (financial, legal, management, etc.). That’s right: you can actually run a bookstore for a fortnight — all for the cost of a typical hotel stay. Let me introduce you to The Open Book, a bookstore that you can rent on Airbnb (currently, for about $120 per night); however you will have to cross the Atlantic, because it is located in Wigtown in the southern part of Scotland. This charming small town with a population of less than 1,000 is home to almost a dozen bookshops.

The idea for a bookstore-for-rental came to American Jessica Fox when she quit her job at NASA and traveled to Scotland and fell in love with the small town of Wigtown. Wigtown is known as Scotland’s National Book Town and each year in September, hosts the annual Wigtown Book Festival. In an interview with CNN Travel, Fox explained, “I thought I couldn’t be the only crazy American who dreams of working in a bookshop by the sea in Scotland, there has to be more of us.” Lucky for her, as she was pondering this career change around 2010, a local bookshop announced it was closing, providing her with the perfect opportunity to buy it and create an entirely novel (pun intended) experience; she elaborated, “Finn McCreath, who is on the board of the [book] festival, and I decided to take it over and try out my idea of having a bookshop holiday.” Fox’s idea was a hit — The Open Book has been steadily, um… booked on Airbnb; moreover, there is a long waiting list for those who wish to fulfill their dream of running a bookstore. The Airbnb rental description reads, “Nestled into the pristine lowlands, The Open Book is a charming bookshop with apartment above in the heart of Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town. Live your dream of having your very own bookshop by the sea in Scotland… for a week or two.” Lovely.

But let’s return to that initial dream of running your own bookstore, assuming you do bit scuttle off to Scotland. What would you call your bookstore? If you scan the list of existing independent bookstores in the United States, you will see that booksellers use different strategies: a pun on books or reading, a literary or historical allusion, location of bookstore, or a their name. So, what would you name your bookstore?

Partial List of Independent Bookstores in United States by State

Alaska
Fireside Books

Arizona
Bookmans
Changing Hands Bookstore

California
Amicus Books
Bart’s Books
Bell’s Books
The Book Shop
Book Soup
Booksmith
Borderlands Books
Bound Together Anarchist Collective Bookstore
City Lights Bookstore
Computer Literacy Bookshops
Green Apple Books
Kepler’s Books
The Last Bookstore
Marcus Books
Mysterious Galaxy
Recycled Books
Verbatim Books
Vroman’s Bookstore

Colorado
Tattered Cover

Connecticut
R.J. Julia Booksellers

District of Columbia
Busboys and Poets
Kramerbooks & Afterwords
MahoganyBooks
Politics and Prose
World Bank Infoshop

Florida
Haslam’s Bookstore

Georgia
For Keeps

Illinois
New World Resource Center
Powell’s Books Chicago
Quimby’s Bookstore
Seminary Co-op
Unabridged Bookstore
Women & Children First

Indiana
Better World Books
Boxcar Books

Iowa
Prairie Lights

Kansas
Eighth Day Books
Rainy Day Books

Kentucky
Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Louisiana
Iron Rail Book Collective

Maine
Weiser Antiquarian Books

Maryland
Daedalus Books
Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse

Massachusetts
The Bookmill
Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Harvard Book Store
Lucy Parsons Center
The Odyssey Bookshop
Schoenhof’s Foreign Books
That’s Entertainment

Michigan
John K. King Books
Schuler Books & Music

Minnesota
Birchbark Books
Common Good Books
Mayday Books
SubText
Mager’s & Quinn

Mississippi
Square Books

Missouri
Left Bank Books

Nevada
Gambler’s Book Shop
The Writer’s Block

New York
Albertine Books
Bluestockings
Community Bookstore
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
J. Levine Books and Judaica
The Mysterious Bookshop
Pomander Book Shop
Printed Matter, Inc
St. Mark’s Bookshop
The Strand Bookstore
Unnameable Books

North Carolina
Firestorm Cafe & Books
Internationalist Books

Ohio
Book Loft of German Village
Gramercy Books

Oregon
The Duck Store
Paper Moon Books
Powell’s Books

Pennsylvania
Giovanni’s Room Bookstore
Midtown Scholar Bookstore
Moravian Book Shop

South Carolina
Hub City Bookshop

Texas
BookPeople

Washington
Elliott Bay Book Company
Third Place Books
Left Bank Books
Magus Books
Mercer Street Books
Twice Sold Tales

Wisconsin
Renaissance Books
A Room of One’s Own
Woodland Pattern Book Center

What bookstore names are missing from this list?

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

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

For further reading:
Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets by Jessica Fox
http://www.wigtown-booktown.co.uk/the-open-book/

http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/wigtown-bookshop-vacation/index.html
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_independent_bookstores_in_the_United_States

Reading Makes Immigrants of Us All

alex atkins bookshelf booksTo celebrate National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association, Atkins Bookshelf shares this timeless reflection on reading — and ultimately inclusion and acceptance — by American author and editor Hazel Rochman, who grew up in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid (emphasis added to last lines):

“Apartheid has tried to make us bury our books. The Inquisition and the Nazis burned books. Slaves in the United States were forbidden to read books. From Latin America to Eastern Europe, they’ve trashed books. But the stories are still here.

I believe that the best books can make a difference in building community….

As an immigrant, I’m still unable to take for granted the freedoms of the First Amendment. In Johannesburg I worked as a journalist, and over many years I saw freedom of thought and expression whittled away until it was forbidden to criticize the government or even to ask questions about children detained and tortured without trial. The result of that kind of censorship is that most people can shut out, can not know, what is happening all around them.

Walls were what apartheid was about. Walls and borders…

Borders shut us in, in Johannesburg, in Los Angeles, in Eastern Europe, in our own imaginations. The best books can help break down that apartheid. They surprise us — whether they are set close to home or abroad. They change how we see ourselves; they extend that phrase ‘like me’ to include what we thought was strange and foreign.

Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but, most importantly, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

From the essay “Against Borders” that appeared in The Horn Book Magazine, March/April 1995 issue, by Hazel Rochman. Rochman is an assistant editor at ALA Booklist and author of several books, including Somehow Tenderness Survives: Stories of Southern Africa (1988) and Bearing Witness: Stories of the Holocaust (1995).

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

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

Read related posts: Reading Teaches that the Things that Torment Us are the Things that Connect Us
The Comfort of Reading During Difficult Times
World Literature Has the Power to Help Mankind in These Troubled Times
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The Parable of the Farmer and His Fate

Why Is So Little Known About Shakespeare’s Life?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureAlthough he is considered the greatest dramatist in English literature, little is truly known about William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Like some of the most famous characters in his plays, he remains “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” — to borrow Winston Churchill phrase [Churchill was actually referring to Russia in 1939, after they had signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact, at the beginning of WWI]. The scholars at the Folger Shakespeare Library describe the challenges that biographers and scholars face when writing about Shakespeare: “Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don’t know everything about his life… We do know that Shakespeare’s life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes.” In his seminal work, The Facts About Shakespeare (1913), William Neilson adds this context: “In the time of Shakespeare, the fashion of writing lives of men of letters had not yet arisen. The art of biography could hardly be said to be even in its infancy, for the most notable early examples [Wolsey; Sir Thomas More]… are far from what the present age regards as scientific biography. The preservation of official records makes it possible for the modern scholar to reconstruct with considerable fullness the careers of public men; but in the case of Shakespeare, as of others of his profession, we must needs be content with a few scrappy documents, supplemented by oral traditions of varying degrees of authenticity.”

Despite this lack of biographical information, hundreds of biographies have been written about Shakespeare which are based on inferences gleaned from his body of work (“decoding” his plays), contemporary images (illustrations, maps, portraits), and his actual history (limited to about 60-70 actual facts that can be verified by documentary evidence, such as church records, parish records, court cases, wills, memoirs, letters, written accounts and anecdotes). It is from these “scrappy documents” that allows biographers to reimagine the Swan of Avon.

One of those reimagined biographies is by British novelist Anthony Burgess, best known for his violent dystopian novel Clockwork Orange, who published his speculative biography (or biographical novel) of Shakespeare in 1970. In the book’s foreward, Burgess writes: “I know that, as the materials available for a Shakespeare biography are very scanty, it is customary to make up the weight with what Dr Johnson would have termed encomiastic rhapsodies, but we are all tired of being asked to admire Shakespeare’s way with vowels or run-on lines or to thrill at the modernity of his philosophy or the profundity of his knowledge of the human heart… What I claim here is the right of every Shakespeare-lover who has ever lived to paint his own portrait of the man… Given the choice between two discoveries — that of an unknown play by Shakespeare and that of one of Will’s laundry lists — we would all plump for the dirty washing every time. That Shakespeare persists in presenting so shadowy a figure… is one of our reasons for pursuing him.”

Like Burgess, Isaac Asimov, the American writer best known for his popular science-fiction novels, was fascinated by the life and works of Shakespeare. Asimov was an amazingly prolific writer, having published more than 500 books during his career. One of those was Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, published in 1978 (and republished several times thereafter) that explores Shakespeare’s 38 plays scene-by-scene including their historical, geographical, and mythological contexts; it also provides insights into the two narrative poems. In a later reference work, Asimov addressed the dearth of information about Shakespeare’s life: “It wasn’t until the Restoration [the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy, when King Charles II returned from an exile in continental Europe in 1660], which began nearly half a century after Shakespeare’s death, that anyone began to write about the bard. Biographically, it was too late; Shakespeare’s colleagues and acquaintances were dead, and the conditions under which he had worked were completely different. In addition, the world’s most distinguished playwright left no words about himself.” And that is perhaps the greatest irony in English literature: that the greatest writer who left the world such timeless and influential dramas, using language with such beauty, power, and eloquence, never left a single word about himself.

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

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

Read related posts: The Founding Father that Vandalized Shakespeare’s Chair
What if Shakespeare Wrote the Hits: Don’t Stop Believin
Were Shakespeare’s Sonnets Written to a Young Man?
When Was Shakespeare Born?
The Legacy of Shakespeare
Shakespeare the Pop Song Writer
The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio
Who Are the Greatest Characters in Shakespeare?
The Most Common Myths About Shakespeare
Shakespeare and Uranus
Best Editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

For further reading:
Shakespeare by Anthony Burgess
The Facts About Shakespeare by William Neilson
Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare by J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps
William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (Volume 1-2) by E. K. Chambers
Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts by Isaac Asimov
The Truth About William Shakespeare: Fact, Fiction and Modern Biographies by David Ellis

Nine Lives of William Shakespeare by Graham Hoderness
Shakespeare Survey (Volume 70): Creating Shakespeare edited by Peter Holland

shakespearedocumented.folger.edu
anthonyburgess.org/anthony-burgess-and-shakespeare/

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
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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

A Heroine’s Self-Education in a Hidden Library

alex atkins bookshelf books“Books, books, books!
I had found the secret of a garret-room
Pile high with cases in my father’s name,
Piled high, packed large, —where, creeping in
and out
Among the giant fossils of my past,

Like some small nimble mouse between the
ribs
Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there
At this or that box, pulling through the gap,
In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,
The first book first. And how I felt it beat
Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,

An hour before the sun would let me read!
My books! At last because the time was ripe,
I chanced upon the poets.”

From Aurora Leigh (1857), an epic poem/novel written in blank verse by American poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The novel, broken up into nine chapters, is narrated by the heroine, Aurora Leigh, who describes her childhood, growing up in Florence, London, and Paris. Since her mother died when she was young, Aurora’s father raised her. He was a scholar and shared his passion for Greek and Latin and inspired her love of learning. When she was thirteen, her father died and she moved to London to be raised by her aunt. At the aunt’s home, Aurora discovers her father’s hidden library where she begins her self-education through the works of Shakespeare and all the great writers. She pursues a literary career as a poet and eventually marries Romney Leigh, a philanthropist. Aurora reflects on the significance of poetry as well as the individual’s responsibility to society. English art critic and writer John Ruskin believed that Aurora Leigh was the greatest poem of the 19th century.

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 Comfort of Reading During Difficult Times
World Literature Has the Power to Help Mankind in These Troubled Times
The Power of Literature
The Poems We Turn To
Reading Teaches Us that the Things that Torment Us Are the Things that Connect Us

The Wisdom of Yiddish Proverbs: 2022

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

A nasty tongue is worse than a wicked hand.

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

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

A man should live if only to satisfy his curiosity.

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

Better a bad peace than a good war.

A lock is meant only for honest men.

Better one old friend than two new.

Talk too much and you talk about yourself.

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

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

Money buys everything except sense.

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

Learning cannot be bequeathed.

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

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

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

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

Fractured English From Around the World

alex atkins bookshelf wordsFractured English is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a facetious term for inadequate and amusing English as used by non-native speakers.” I suppose you could call them English bloopers. The amusement, of course, is elicited by the incongruity by what the non-native speaker intends their sentence to mean and what it actually means. Generally, the incongruity is caused by incorrect word usage, awkward sentence structure, mixed metaphor, mangled idiom, or malapropism. 

Recently, while browsing the shelves of a used bookstore, I came across a small book titled English Well Speeched Here and Other Fractured Phrases from Around the World (1988) by American journalist Nino Lo Bello. Bello shares some of the actual fractured English signs that he has seen in his travels around the globe. Here are some amusing examples of non-natives struggling with the English language:

Norway (bar): Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.

Tokyo (bar): Special cocktails for ladies with nuts.

Copenhagen (airline ticket office): We take your bags and send them in all directions.

Bangkok (temple): It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man.

Brussels (clothing store): Come inside and have a fit.

Madrid (hotel): If you wish disinfections enacted in your presence, please cry out for the chambermaid.

Rumania (hotel): The life is being fixes for the next few days. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

Sweden (clothing store): Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin.

Lisbon (hotel): If you wish for breakfast, lift the telephone and ask for room service. This will be enough for you to bring your food up.

Geneva (business district): The parade will take place in the morning if it rains in the afternoon.

Budapest (zoo): Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food give it to the guard on duty.

Seville (tailor shop): Order now your summer suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.

France (hotel): A sports jacket may be worn to dinner but no trousers.

Finland (bathroom, sign by faucet): To stop the drip turn cock to right.

Athens (hotel, sign at concierge’s desk): If you consider our help impolite, you should see the manager.

England (restaurant): Our establishment serves tea in a bag like mother.

Czechoslovakia (carriage rides): Take one of our horse-driven city tours. We guarantee no miscarriages.

London (sign on restaurant window): Wanted: man to wash dishes and two waitresses.

Majorca (sign outside a shop): Here speeching American.

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 is a Barbarism?
The History of the World According to Student Bloopers
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
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?

Political Parties Focus on the Professional Class and Ignore Facts Outside Their Class

alex atkins bookshelf culture“It may be that my entire theory is wrong and maybe experts shouldn’t be in charge of government… I study history when I am faced with a problem like that. Turns out that there is a great book on this subject about another example of government by experts. It’s The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam… It’s a book about the Vietnam War and how we got into that war and how it kept going against [enormous opposition]; when everyone was telling the administration back in Washington this is a stupid war you need to stop it. And the answer is the exact same thing that I said tonight: the professional class refusing to acknowledge evidence from outside their class barriers. The people advising him [President Lyndon Johnson] were these Harvard guys — [the] chairman of the political science department at Harvard advising Lyndon Johnson and running the war with the computer. And people come to him [and said] ‘this war is stupid, this war is a disaster’; he’s like ‘where’s your PhD?’… After I read that I think to myself, damn — maybe government by experts never works.”

Excerpt from the lecture “What to Make of the Age of Trump” by Thomas Frank, author of Rendezvous with Oblivion; People Without Power; What’s the Matter with Kansas? The lecture, presented on April 6, 2017, was sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library. The book that Frank mentions, The Best and the Brightest, earned Halberstam the Pulitzer Prize in 1964. Of course, Halberstam used those terms “best” and “brightest” ironically, because some of the smartest people in the country (including John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, along with dozens of ivy-league educated experts) consistently ignored the facts and advice from individuals outside their professional class and got the country entangled in one of the deadliest, costliest wars in American modern history. Then, thanks to the release of the Pentagon Papers, Americans learned that these experts lied to the public about it for years. Frank argues that this rejection of facts outside one’s social class was taken to an entirely new level by Trump, and is now a hallmark of Republican politics (eg, the stolen election, anti-vax movement, rewriting history of the January attack on the Capitol, fake news, etc.).

Another argument Frank makes in his lecture is that both American political parties are essentially class parties — representing the elite, well-educated, affluent professional parties as opposed to the working class. And it is only this professional class that prospers from the growth in the economy at the expense of the working class. To emphasize this point, Frank shares this sobering statistic: from 1930 to 1980, the lower 90% of the country’s population took home 70% of the growth in the country’s income; from 1997 to 2016, that same group shared NONE of this country’s income growth at all. The upper 10% of the population of the professional class consumed the entire thing. He adds, “To be a young person in America these days is to understand instinctively the downward slope that so many of us are on these days.”

One of the trends that fascinates Frank is how in the 1970s, the Democratic party turned away from the working class people and instead embraced the “winners” of the post-industrial economy. In this case, the winners were “the highly-educated, well-credentialed professional class who populate our innovative knowledge industries.” Note the irony of this evolution: in the 1950s, this demographic was one of the most Republican groups in society; by the 1990s they were the most Democratic. Franks adds, “The Democratic Party is a class party — but not the party of the working class. Although the Democratic Party represents many constituent groups, highly-educated professionals are the ones who come first — they’re the ones who sit in the front row with their hands on the steering wheel; the rest of us ride in back.”

If you want to join the professional class, it comes at an enormous price. Frank discussed how college costs in America are out of control; students are graduating with enormous debt — from $50,000 to $250,000. He states: college students are going out into our modern economy with the equivalent of a mortgage without a house to show for it.

To view the lecture search “What to Make of the Age of Trump by Thomas Frank” on YouTube.

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

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

For further reading: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
What is the Declaration of Independence Worth?
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?
There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States
Are We Living in an Orwellian World?

The Importance of Music in Film

alex atkins bookshelf musicMost moviegoers consider cinema a visual medium; however, it is undoubtedly also an aural experience. Talk to any director and they will tell you that music is just as important as the look of a movie. In film study, the term “film aesthetic” refers to a movie’s visual and aural features that are used to create its non-narrative aspects — specifically, a film’s tone, style, mood, or look.

In a film, music serves several important functions: it can influence a viewer’s interpretation of a scene, evoke a specific emotion, foreshadow certain events, identify a specific character, or link together certain scenes or themes of a film. In some cases, a movie’s soundtrack becomes as iconic as the film — think of the themes of the following movies: Star Wars, The Godfather, Titanic, Chariots of Fire, Saturday Night Fever, The Bodyguard, and The Lion King.

If you search “Importance of Music in Film” you will find a few examples of a film sequence with and without music as well as a specific film sequence that is accompanied by different types of music. The juxtapositions are clear and striking — in this manner, you can appreciate the added layers of meaning that music brings to film and how those layers subtly change your perception. That nuanced meaning is exactly what writers of captions (also referred to as “closed captions”) attempt to convey for viewers who cannot hear the audio track of a film. (Incidentally, a subtitle is not the same thing as a caption. A subtitle is simply a translation of the spoken dialogue into another language, while a caption includes dialogue and non-speech elements, like music and sound effects). The next time you watch a movie on a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime, turn on the captioning feature and see how descriptive captions for music can get. Here is a sampling from several recent films and documentaries that were featured on these streaming platforms:

atmospheric music

brooding music

dark music

dramatic music

dreamy, ethereal melody

eerie music

eerie, discordant music

emotional music

epic music

foreboding music

frightening music

gentle music

inquisitive music

intense music

intense musical buildup

majestic music

majestic orchestration

melancholy music

mellow music

music decreases in tempo

music ends

music increases in tempo

Muzak-style music

ominous music

pensive music

propulsive music

reflecting music

rousing music

sinister music

soft dissonant soundtrack

soft dramatic music

soft music

soft music playing

soft pensive music

soft rousing music

soft tense music

solemn music

somber instrumental

somber music

somber orchestration

suspenseful music

sweeping orchestration

tense music

tense dramatic music

upbeat music intensifies

uplifting music

uplifting orchestration

whimsical music

What music description captions caught your attention?

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: How Many Music Genres Exist?
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What Are the Most Popular Music Genres? 

What was the Most Checked Out Book at a Library in 2021?

alex atkins bookshelf booksA measure of a community can be measured, to some extent, by the books that patrons of the local library check out the most. It gives you a sense of what they are concerned about, what they are curious about, and age range of reader. Last year, the New York Public Library began keeping track of the most checked out books of the year. For 2021, the librarians looked at the circulation data from all three branches (Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island) to develop their list of the most checked out books (including printed and e-books) for 2021:

1. The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Brit Bennett

2. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

3. Klara and the Sun: A Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

4. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

5. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

6. The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

7. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

8. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

9. The Other Black Girl: A Novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris

10. Malibu Rising: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The editors of Quartz, an online business magazine, conducted a survey to find out the most checked out book among all U.S. public libraries. Although there are 9,057 public libraries in the U.S. (116,867 total if you included special, armed forces, and government libraries), they focused on public libraries in major cities. Based on the data from 14 libraries that responeded, here are the most popular U.S. library books of 2021:

1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

2. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

3. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End by Jeff Kinney

5. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

6. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

7. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

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

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

For further reading: http://www.nypl.org/spotlight/top-checkouts-2021
qz.com/2102283/the-most-popular-us-library-books-of-2021/

 

Little Books, Big Ideas: Life Stinks

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you visit a used bookstore, you might stumble upon an often neglected section: miniature or compact books. A miniature book generally measures 3 by 4 inches; some are even smaller: 1.5 inches by 2 inches. A compact book, also known as an octodecimo in American Library Association lingo, generally measures 4 x 6 inches. Unfortunately, these types of books are often dismissed due to their small size. “If they are so small, how can they possibly matter?” you think to yourself. Astute book lovers, however, know that even little books can contain ideas that are worth pondering.

In my periodic visits to used bookstores, I recently came across such a little book: Life Stinks: A Wry Look at Hopelessness, Despair, & Disaster by Armand Eisen published by Andrews and McMeel in 1995. In the introduction, Eisen writes: “It’s sad but true that fate stays in the background most of our lives, showing up only to hand us the fuzzy end of a lollipop. The overwhelming weight of evidence proves that life stinks: If there’s a fifty-fifty chance of toast falling on the floor buttered side down, why does it do so 99% of the time? There’s no rhyme, no reason, and absolutely no justice. It seems there’s only on certainty in life — it’s unfair… Only blind optimism could doubt the facts… The truth is that we’re all bound by Murphy’s Law, which states that anything can go wrong, especially when you least expect it.”

Below are some wry and pithy quotations (Ever look up the word “pithy” in a dictionary? It’s one of those useless definitions where the editors, for whatever reason, were just too lazy to finish the definition: “containing much pith.” You don’t say?), collected by the book’s author, to build the case that life stinks. You be the judge — does life really stink?

Optimism is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell. (Voltaire)

Hell is other people. (Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit)

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. (William Shakespeare, The Tempest)

The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. (H. L. Mencken)

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. (Marchus Aurelius)

Meditate upon exile, torture, wars, diseases, shipwreck so that you may not be a novice to any misfortune. (Seneca)

In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow men, with a few exceptions, are worthless. (Sigmund Freud, Private Letter to Lou Andreas-Salome, 1929)

It is not true that life is one damn thing after another — it’s one damn thing over and over. (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Success is merely one achievement that covers up a multitude of blunders. (George Bernard Shaw)

A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain. (Robert Frost, [attributed])

Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand. (George Eliot)

I have the true feeling of myself only when I am unbearably unhappy. (Franz Kafka, The Diaries of Franz Kafka: 1914-1923)

The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. (George Bernard Shaw)

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

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

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The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
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We Will Remember Not the Words of Our Enemies, But the Silence of Our Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True friends are friends for life.

True friends don’t talk bad about you.

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

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

Read related posts: Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
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The Home Library: Being Wrapped in Books

alex atkins bookshelf booksIn the fascinating essay, “Why Read the Classics?” Italian writer and literary critic Italo Calvino described the ideal library: “All that can be done is for each of us to invent our own ideal library of our classics; and I would say that one half of it would consist of books we have read and that have meant something for us and the other half of books which we intend to read and which we suppose might mean something to us. We should also leave a section of empty spaces for surprises and chance discoveries.” There are many bibliophiles that would argue that the ideal library should actually be divided into three sections: books we have read, books we want to read, and books we want to re-read again and again.

No matter how books are organized in a home library, bibliophiles enjoy being surrounded by books. Journalist and bibliophile Reid Byers, author of The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom, has coined a term for this: book-wrapt. Book-wrapt, a clever pun on the words wrapped and rapped, as in rapt/rapture — means being simultaneously wrapped (surrounded) by books and being held rapt in a magical space, experiencing the rapture of exploring exciting new worlds or seeing the world through the eyes of another. Calvino would concur with Byers’ description of the private library: “The private library is the domestic bookroom: that quiet, book-wrapt space that guarantees its owner that there is at least one place in the world where it is possible to be happy… Entering our library should feel like easing into a hot tub, strolling into a magic store, emerging into the orchestra pit, or entering a chamber of curiosities, the club, the circus, our cabin on an outbound yacht, the house of an old friend. It is a setting forth, and it is a coming back to center.”

Naturally, the realization of a home library invites the question: how many books does it take to experience being book-wrapt? Although many bibliophiles believe that a true home library begins with at least 1,000 books, Byers believes that at least 500 books ensures that a room will begin to feel like a library. The key words Byers’ statement are “will begin to feel like.” Let’s do the math: an average bookcase (eg, Ikea’s bestselling bookcase model, Billy) holds up to 280 paperback books (or 210 hardcover books), so two full bookcases do make a very modest home library — but the real magic happens when you fill five, ten, or fifteen bookcases. I recall my journey as a book collector, beginning with a few hundred books in one bookcase, that slowly increased to 1,000 books, then 2,000, to 5,000, and a few decades later reached its current size of 10,000+ volumes, filling dozens of floor-to-ceiling bookcases in a space dedicated to the home library. Then you reach the point where you begin double stacking: there is a row of books in front of a back row of books on each shelf. At this size, the magic that you experience is timelessness: you enter a world of ideas, where one thought leads to another, one passage leads to another, and one book leads to another… and another, and so forth. As impressive as this library might be, it pales in comparison to the library of the late Professor Richard Maksey, of John Hopkins University, who had a home library of more than 70,000 books or the library of Gary Hoover, founder of Bookstop and a passionate advocate for reading lifelong learning, who bought a 6,600 square foot building to house his collection of more than 60,000 reference books. From an architectural standpoint, perhaps the most stunning home library is that of Jay Scott Walker, founder of Priceline. His private library (3,600 square feet), called “The Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination,” is more like a library/museum containing more than 25,000 books and fascinating historical artifacts. (You can read about these fascinating book collectors in the links below.)

In her essay “How Many Books Does It Take to Make a Place Feel Like a Home [Library]” for The New York Times Julie Lasky hones in on the home library’s greatest attribute: the sense of wonder it evokes: “[Byers’ The Private Library] goes to the heart of why physical books continue to beguile us. Individually, they are frequently useful or delightful, but it is when books are displayed en masse that they really work wonders. Covering the walls of a room, piled up to the ceiling and exuding the breath of generations, they nourish the senses, slay boredom and relieve distress.” Indeed, the home library is a homage to the great truths and topics pondered and explored by great writers and thinkers; it is a shrine to the accumulated knowledge of mankind as well as a portal to what scholars call the “unknown unknown”; and finally it is a temple to bibliophilism or biblioholism — depending on your perspective. True bibliophiles understand that a great home library not only evokes a profound sense of wonder, it also evokes a deep sense of humility: that you are standing among giants of history and the vast record of mankind filled with tales of achievement and failure; courage and fear; hope and despair; compassion and cruelty; endurance and capitulation. I am reminded of one of the greatest definitions of a library expressed by Vartan Gregorian, former president of the New York Public Library (NYPL), who stood in the middle of the glorious, seemingly infinite stacks of the NYPL and remarked, “This [gesturing at all the stacks] is the DNA of our civilization.” Amen.

The library as a depository of knowledge, as a research tool, is explored by essayist Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan. Taleb cites another great writer and scholar, Umberto Eco, who very much like Calvino, was passionate about books and learning: “The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing more than 30,000 books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market alow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary. We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.”

Naturally, the antilibrary gives rise to its dutiful steward, the antischolar. According to Taleb, the antischolar is “someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.” Perhaps the greatest antischolar was Socrates who said, “”The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This sentiment of intellectual humility is also expressed by a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” 

With all due respect to Taleb, the term “antilibrary” is terrible. Surely an individual with his level of erudition knows that anti- is the Greek prefix meaning “against.” Think of all these words: antihero, antigravity, anticlimax, antimatter, antiaircraft — all of which mean the opposite of something. So the anti-library is the opposite of a library (no books) or opposition to or suppression of a library (think censorship or book burning). There has to be a better term — and I believe there is. I submit for your consideration the term the “desired library” or the “aspirational library” — filled with the books that you desire or that you aspire to read one day. Sounds much more hopeful, doesn’t it?

READ THE BOOK: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

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: The Private Library by Reid Byers
Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino
http://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/24/realestate/why-do-people-keep-books.html

The Sun Also Rises in the Public Domain

alex atkins bookshelf booksJust as Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley wake up after a long night of carousing with other members of the Lost Generation and a contingent of macho, hard-drinking bullfighters, the sun rises on a new year — 2022. As these disillusioned and drunk expatriates sober up, they face the harsh reality that Ernest Hemingway’s copyright for The Sun Also Rises has expired. My fellow expats — let’s celebrate with a round of Tequila Mockingbirds for everyone in the bar!

On January 1, 2022, Hemingway’s first published novel The Sun Also Rises originally published in 1926, entered the public domain, passing the 95-year term of its original copyright. So what does this mean to most readers?

Readers can expect to free access for the full text of the books on collaborative digital libraries like HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and Google Books. Moreover, those books can be freely quoted, copied, published, reimagined, or adapted as screenplays or stageplays. Readers can expect many affordable and collectible versions of cherished classics. Take a look at what happened last year, when F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby entered the public domain. Within months, publishers introduced more than a dozen editions: some absolutely beautifully illustrated hardback editions, editions with new illuminating essays, and several paperback editions with new cover art — all at different price points. On January 5, 2021, American writer Michael Farris Smith published the first pastiche based on the classic novel: Nick, a prequel to The Great Gatsby, that was criticized for not providing any deeper understanding of the novel’s protagonist.

Here are some other notable works that are in the public domain as of January 1, 2022:

Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten

Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker

My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather

Notes on Democracy by H. L. Mencken

Sand and Foam by Kahlil Gibran

Show Boat by Edna Ferber

Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Plumed Serpent by D. H. Lawrence

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (adapted into the film Lawrence of Arabia) by T. E. Lawrence

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

Read related posts: What is a First Edition of The Great Gatsby Worth?
The Meaning of the Ending of The Great Gatsby
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For further reading:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Nick by Michael Farris Smith
https://publishers.org/news/aap-statshot-annual-report-book-publishing-revenues-up-slightly-to-25-93-billion-in-2019/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books
https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2021/
 http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/public-domain-books.html

There’s A Word for That: Foofaraw

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAt first glance, the word looks like it could be onomatopoeia — perhaps the sound a cat makes when coughing up a hairball (incidentally, the technical term for that ball of undigested hair is trichobezoar, from the Ancient Greek word forming prefix tricho-, meaning “related to hair,” and the Middle Persian word pad-zahr, meaning “antidote or counter-poison.” In ancient times, certain animals — bezoars — were ground up and injected as antidotes for poisons). A good guess, but that is not what a foofaraw is. A foofaraw is making a big fuss over a small matter; you are probably familiar with the synonymous idiom “don’t make a mountain over a molehill.” In etymology, as in nature, birds of a feather flock together: foofahraw attracts other strange sounding synonyms and related words, eg, ballyhoo, brouhaha, hullabaloo  kerfuffle, and williwaw. The secondary definition of foofaraw is adding unnecessary or excessive ornamentation to something (eg, a building, clothing item, or furniture). The word is pronounced “FOO fuh raw.”

Like many colorful words, foofaraw has its roots in American history. The word first appears in the writings of pioneers of the American West (about 1850-1910). The word appears with several variant spellings: froufraw, for farrow, and fofaraw. The word originally referred to baubles and frivolous trinkets, that pioneers used in trade, but sometime after 1930, the word took on a new meaning: making a big fuss over something. Although it is easy to romanticize about life as an intrepid pioneer under the spacious skies of the American West, working the land for food and shelter, life for the early pioneers was brutally difficult. Early settlers could only survive through sheer will and determination and unwavering adherence to the Protestant work ethic. You can see why they needed a word like foofaraw — there just wasn’t anytime for making a big fuss over anything. If you want proof, watch one of the most fascinating historical reality shows on PBS: Frontier House (2002), where the filmmakers selected three modern families to live life exactly like the pioneers who lived in Montana in the 1880s for five months. Each family had to establish a homestead and master the skills of that time: animal husbandry, carpentry, chopping wood, clothes washing, cooking, farming, gardening, harvesting skills, personal hygiene (realize there was no toilet paper), sewing, and soap making. There is no need to provide any spoilers, but let’s just say that all three families struggled to get through the five months.

Let us return to our discussion of the word: so how did the pioneers come up with this strange-sounding word in the first place? Etymologists believe the word is a a mishearing of the Spanish word fanfarron (“braggart”), making it sort of a linguistic mondegreen. Another possibility is that it is derived from the French word froufrou (the rustling sound made by a dress or showy ornamentation) or the French phrase for fou faraud (“a foolish dandy”). So the next time you hear a cat cough up a hairball, don’t make a foofaraw over it.

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

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

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What is the Sword of Damocles?
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There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia

There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: pbs.org/show/frontier-house/

Word of the Year 2021

alex atkins bookshelf words

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language,” wrote the poet T. S. Eliot, “and next year’s words await another voice.” To that observation, we can add: this past year’s words also define the language, the conversations, or more accurately, the zeitgeist of the year. And let’s be frank — 2021 was a disappointing year. It was supposed to be a dramatic improvement over 2020, but instead turned out to be a slight improvement — it’s like lighting up a firework expecting it to shoot up into the sky to dazzle us with explosions of colorful light, only to see it sputter and nosedive, landing with a loud thud.

Across the pond, the editors of Oxford Dictionaries selected the word “vax” as Oxford Language’s 2021 Word of the Year, a selection that is meant to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the preceding year as well as having the potential to have lasting cultural significance. In an interview with the New York Times, Fiona McPherson, a senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “All these other vaccine words increased, but nothing like vax. It’s a short, punchy, attention-grabbing word. And speaking as a lexicographer, it’s also quite a productive one. You see it used in all sorts of combinations to make new words.” Thanks to social media, words can mutate as quickly as the coronavirus. Faster than you can say Dr. Fauci Ouchie or Dr. Fauci on a Couchie, vax spawned the following linguistic combinations: vax cards, vax sites, vaxxed, double-vaxxed, anti-vaxxer, vaxxie, vaxinista, vaxication, and vaxxident.

Not to be out-vaxxed, the editors of Merriam-Webster selected the word “vaccine” as its 2021 Word of the Year. A spokesperson for the venerable American dictionary explained, “For many, the word symbolized a possible return to the lives we led before the pandemic. But it was also at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more.” Lookups of the word increased dramatically in August, when news about the vaccination appeared on several fronts: mandated vaccines, FDA approvals, and the rollout of booster shots. The editors of Merriam-Webster noted: “This new higher rate of lookups since August has remained stable throughout the late fall, showing not just a very high interest in vaccine, but one that started high and grew during the course of 2021.” Runners up included: insurrection, perseverance, woke, infrastructure, Murraya, cisgender, and Meta.

For 2021 Word of the Year, the editors of Macquarie Dictionary (the Webster’s Dictionary of Australia) selected “strollout,” a colloquial noun that is defined as the slow rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination program in Australia. The word was coined by Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, who tweeted in May 2021: “We don’t have a vaccine rollout, we have a vaccine strollout.” Touche! Managing editor, Victoria Morgan, explained, “At one level it’s got a transparency and a play on words, but at that deeper level, when you think about the significance of it… it’s a really important marker for this time in Australia’s history. Strollout really just shows the people’s dissatisfaction with the vaccine rollout. Maybe this was a way for the public to have their say about it.” Runners up included: brain tickler, menty-b, dump cake, sober curious, wokescold, dry scooping, front-stab, range-anxiety, and hate-follow.

For 2021 Word of the Year, the editors of Dictionary.com selected “allyship,” defined as “the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.” The word allyship is a portmanteau of the noun ally (a person who advocates for or supports a marginalized or politicized group but is not a member of the group)” and –ship, a noun-forming suffix that denotes status or condition. The editors elaborate on their selection: “Allyship carries a special distinction this year: It marks the first time we’ve chosen a word that’s new to our dictionary as our Word of the Year. Our addition of the word allyship to our dictionary in 2021 — not to mention our decision to elevate it as our top word for the year — captures important ways the word continues to evolve in our language and reflects its increased prominence in our discourse. Allyship acts as a powerful prism through which to view the defining events and experiences of 2021 — and, crucially, how the public processed them. It also serves as a compelling throughline for much of our lexicographical, editorial, and educational work across Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com this year. And while we must acknowledge that efforts at allyship are all too often insufficient and imperfect, the word nonetheless stands out for its role in the path out of the continued crises of 2020 for a better 2022.” Runners up included: critical race theory, burnout, and vaccine.

Collins Dictionary, published in Glasgow, Scotland, selected NFT as its 2021 Word of the Year. NFT is an abbreviation for non-fungible token, defined as “a digital certificate of ownership of a unique asset such as an artwork or a collectible.” Editors saw massive spikes in lookups (11,000%) in 2021. Alex Beecroft, managing director of Collins Learning, explained, “NFTs seem to be everywhere, from the arts sections to the financial pages and in galleries and auction houses and across social media platforms.” Runners up included: climate anxiety, double-vaxxed, metaverse, pingdemic, cheugy, crypto, hybrid working, neopronoun, and regencycore.

For 2021 Word of the Year, Atkins Bookshelf has selected “post-truth,” an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” A related term is post-truth politics that is defined as “a political culture where true/false, honesty/lying have become a focal concern of public life and are viewed by popular commentators and academic researchers alike as having an important causal role in how politics operates at a particular point in history.” The concept of post-truth is very similar to a word coined by comedian Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report in 2005: truthiness, defined as “a truthful or seemingly truthful quality that is claimed for something not because of supporting facts or evidence but because of a feeling that it is true or a desire for it to be true.”

Keen language lovers will recall that post-truth was Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016. Five years ago, here is what editor Casper Grathwohl said in an interview with the BBC: “Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time. We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and again in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.”

Did you notice that last statement: “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words or our time”? Little did Grathwohl know that after enduring four years of Trump — when the public was bombarded with alternative facts, post-truthism, swiftboating, gaslighting, and big lies on a daily basis — the world would never be the same. Not only did post-truth find its linguistic footing, it found its footing in everyday life. In short, we were collectively shoved down the rabbit hole to the realm of the absurd — the land of anti-vaxxers, insurrection deniers, Trumpers, and QAnon believers. The days when discourse revolved around rational, critical, independent thinking and a shared reality — verifiable truth and facts — are long gone. As Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Guliani (the Mad Hatter in Trump’s Wonderland) remarked, “Truth isn’t truth.” You don’t say? And that’s the crux of the problem in the post-truth world: we have lost our grasp on the concept of the truth and replaced it with cultism and tribalism. The question we face now is: how long will it take us to find a way out? Perhaps that process might be a future word of the year.

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:
Word of the Year 2020
Word of the Year 2019
Word of the Year 2018
Word of the Year 2017
Word of the Year 2016

How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?

For further reading:
http://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/31/arts/vax-oxford-word-year.html

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/nov/30/strollout-chosen-as-macquarie-dictionarys-2021-word-of-the-year
http://www.newsweek.com/oxford-collins-dictionaries-pick-vax-nft-2021-words-year-1653104
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-37995600
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics
cc.com/video/the-colbert-report-the-word-truthiness

 

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

Best Gifts that Book Lovers Can Wear

alex atkins bookshelf booksDaedalus Books, located in Hudson, Ohio, was founded in 1980. The company sells remaindered books, music, and video via catalogs (typically 68 pages long) and website. Since 2018, Daedalus has expanded its retail division that focuses on book related products that now brings in 60% of its revenues. During the holidays, the catalogs feature clever t-shirts promoting books, reading, and book collecting that any book lover would love. Here are some of the slogans, often accompanied by stylized artwork, that are printed on cotton t-shirts of various colors:

My workout is reading in bed until my arms hurt

It’s not hoarding if its books

Better to have a book and no time to read than time to read and no book

One does not stop buying books just because one has run out of space

Dinosaurs didn’t read books… and look what happened to them

I’ll stop buying books when they grow wings and fly

Better to have a book and no time to read than time to read and no book.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it is too dark to read. – Groucho Marx

The following t-shirts are for word lovers:

Team Oxford comma

Synonym Rolls. [Image of cinnamon rolls] Same as Grammar used to make.

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: Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2018
Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2017
Best Gifts for Book Lovers: 2015
The Art of Giving Good Gifts
Holiday Book Gift Guide 2014
Best Books for Movie Lovers
Best Books About Jane Austen
Best Gifts for Book Lovers
Best Books for Movie Lovers

What is the Value of a Harry Potter First Edition?

alex atkins bookshelf booksChristmas came early for the owner of a pristine, rare first edition of J.K. Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone who sold it at auction on December 9, 2021. The auction was conducted by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, as part of a two-day “Firsts Into Film” auctions, that is to say, first editions of famous works that were adapted for film or television. The bidding for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opened at $75,000, but a fierce bidding war initiated by a gaggle of determined, competitive — and affluent — Muggles quickly drove the price past the previous record of $138,000 (set earlier this year) to reach the final astronomical sale price of $471,000 — almost half a million dollars! This is one book you will never find on the kitchen table or a nightstand; most likely it will find a new home inside a home safe or bank vault. The sale of this book breaks two world records: it is the highest price paid for a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and it is the highest amount paid for a commercially published 20th-century work of fiction. Both of these records are powerful testimony for the value of printed books and the importance of book collecting in the Digital Age.

All of the books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are highly collectible, but a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, initially published in the UK in 1997, is the Holy Grail for serious book-collecting muggles (the book was retitled as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in US). As the legend goes, 12 publishing houses rejected her first manuscript. Only one publisher had the courage and foresight to publish this first-time author and her boy wizard: Bloomsbury. However, Bloomsbury initially had very low expectations for a first novel by an unknown author (the dust jacket indicates Joanne [Kathleen] Rowling as the author) so the initial run was very small: only 500 hardback copies. 300 of those were shipped to libraries where they were vandalized — I mean, processed with the conventional library ink stamps, markings, and security stickers. So those fortunate 200 individuals that purchased the first edition were rewarded with an opportunity of a lifetime: a literary pot of gold, that is if they took very good care of the book and dust jacket over the years.

This particular book, and the books from 138 other lots, were all owned by a single book collector who fell in love with specific films and then made it his or her mission to track down the first edition, in the best condition that could be found, for each of those films. Talk about a wonderful lifelong hobby with an incredible return on investment! Curious to learn what else this book collector sold that day? Here are some other prized possessions that were sold during the “Firsts Into Film” auction:

Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-55): $103,125

Chronicles of Narnia set of 7 novels by C.S. Lewis (1950-56): $100,000

Pride and Prejudice in 3 volumes by Jane Austen (1813): $60,000

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930): $47,500

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953): $42,500

Sense and Sensibility in 3 volumes by Jane Austen (1811): $37,500

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960): $35,000

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964): $23,750

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: Most Expensive American Book
The World’s Most Expensive Book
The Most Expensive Books Sold in 2016

 Most Expensive Books Sold in 2015
The Most Expensive Books Sold in 2014
The Most Expensive Books Sold in 2012

For further reading:
http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/news/harry-potter-first-edition-sells-471000-sets-modern-literature-world-record

The Best Gifts for Book Lovers: 2021

The Madman’s Library: The Greatest Curiosities of Literature by Brooke-Hitching, published by Chronicle Books

Mental Floss: The Curious Reader: Facts About Famous Authors and Novels; Book Lovers and Literary Interest; A Literary Miscellany of Novels & Novelists by Erin McCarthy, published by Weldon Owen

Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf by Alexander Atkins, published by AAD Publishing (A book written by a book collector and graphic designer specifically for book lovers!)

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Katutani, published by Clarkson Potter

Guarded by Dragons: Encounters with Rare Books and Rare People by Rick Gekoski, published by Constable

Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Historic and Significant Works by DK Publishing

Do You Read Me? Bookstores Around the World by Marianne Strauss, published by Gestalten

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by James Mustich, published by Workman Publishing Company

The Bright Book of Life: Novels to Read and Reread by Harold Bloom, published by Knopf

Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers by Stuart Husband, published by Prestel

The Library: A Fragile History by Andrews Pettegree, published by Basic Books

Treasures of the New York Public Library by staff of NYPL, published by St. Martin’s Press

For the Love of Books: Designing and Curating a Home Library by Thatcher Wine, published by Gibbs Smith

The Writer’s Library: The Authors You Love on the Books that Changed Their Lives by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager, published by HarperOne

Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature by Angus Fletcher, published by Simon & Schuster

Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word by Alex Johnson, published by Frances Lincoln

The Look of the Book by David Alworth, published by Ten Speed Press

Any leather-bound book from Easton Press or the Folio Society

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: Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2018
Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2017
Best Gifts for Book Lovers: 2015

The Art of Giving Good Gifts
Holiday Book Gift Guide 2014
Best Books for Movie Lovers
Best Books About Jane Austen
Best Gifts for Book Lovers
Best Books for Movie Lovers

For further reading:https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/despite-pandemic-2020-u-s-book-sales-on-par-with-past-five-years/
https://www.spbooks.com/en/
https://www.miniboox.de
https://www.foliosociety.com
https://www.eastonpress.com
https://www.taschen.com
https://www.dk.com/us/
https://www.loa.org