The Literary Treasures at an Antiquarian Book Fair 2020

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe 2020 San Francisco Antiquarian Book Print and Paper Fair was recently held in South San Francisco. More than 100 booksellers from across the country and around the world gathered to exhibit and sell one of the most endangered species of the modern world — the printed book. Although the number of exhibitors has dwindled slightly through the decades, the level of passion for books and bookcollecting has not waned. 

For a dedicated bibliophile, the feeling of attending an antiquarian book fair is like a child stepping into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and being dazzled by every candy you could imagine. Amid neat rows of booksellers’ booths, creating mini-bookstores with their neatly arranged bookcases, are great literary and historical wonders that you can actually touch and hold in your hands. Unlike a museum’s priggish, stern docents that admonish you to “look with your eyes and not your hands,” the book fair’s exhibitors encourage you to touch and feel the treasures that sit on the bookshelves — even ones worth more than $100,000! And then there are remarkable signed first editions. Imagine holding a first edition of Collected Poems of Robert Frost signed by Robert Frost ($1,000), or a first edition of any of the past Pulitzer Prize-winning novels signed by their respective authors ($150-1,500). You run your finger gently across the signature, touching the book that the great author once held in his hand — magically you are connected across time. You may not be able to afford the books, but the experience is absolutely priceless.

The antiquarian book fair is also a sprawling time machine, transporting the attendee back in time, a half century — or several centuries — to behold rare books, collectible books (eg, first editions of literary masterpieces, some even signed by the author), manuscripts, historical documents, maps, incunabula (pamphlets printed in the 15th century), photographs, and artifacts. Books cover a wide range of topics: literature, children’s literature, arts, architecture, religion, science, medicine, history, law, commerce, travel and exploration.

There is a misconception that the books and items sold at an antiquarian book fair require the deep pockets of a vested employee of Google or Facebook, but booksellers know that there is a broad range of collectors, and a large portion of the inventory is within the budget of most mortals with a moderate income. Here are some of the treasures at the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair:

Sense and Sensibility (1899); first edition: $1,250

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1866), second edition: $50,000

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952); first edition: $2,500

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973); first edition: $750

The Catcher in the Rye (1955); first edition: $6,000; another copy for $1,500; Modern Library edition (1958): $250

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957); first edition: $2,500

Moby Dick (1930); Random House edition illustrated by Kent Rockwell: $750

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The Value of Self-Education: Following in the Footsteps of the Ancient Greeks

alex atkins bookshelf educationOne of the most pervasive myths of modern culture is that in order to succeed you need to attend an exclusive private college where an undergraduate degree can cost up to $350,000 — and in some cases, close to $500,000. The fact is, most families cannot afford that. More than 54% of students in the U.S. take on debt to pay for college education. As of 2019, outstanding student loan debt in America has reached an all-time high of $1.41 trillion dollars!

The truth of the matter, as many education experts have pointed out over the last decade, is that there are many fine, outstanding colleges — public and private — that are not brand-names that can provide students an exceptional education. There are many books on the subject, including Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni and Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope — to name just a few. But today’s post focuses on where you can go to get a free college education. That’s right — I said “free.” For inspiration, let us turn to one of the countries greatest statesmen, but moreover, greatest intellectuals: Thomas Jefferson. Over his lifetime, Jefferson built a personal library of close to 6,500 books, which he eventually sold to the Library of Congress. Jefferson was a lifelong learner and greatly enjoyed the company of books and the pursuit of knowledge by reading books on every subject.

“Well, books cost money,” you say. True. But realize that Jefferson was only following in the footsteps of the Ancient Greeks. One of the most learned and famous philosophers was Heraclitus of Ephesus who was self-educated. Heraclitus famously said: “I am what libraries and librarians have made me, with little assistance from a professor of Greek and poets.” Amen. So  if you cannot afford to build your own library, you can always visit your local library or read some of the classics that are available online for free (eg, Gutenberg Project, Digital Book Index, Bartleby, and to name a few).

One of the most passionate advocates of self-education is historian and classics professor Susan Wise Bauer, who wrote The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. In an early chapter she discusses some of her frustrations and the limitations of graduate school. What emerges from her reflections on graduate school is the importance of self-education following Jefferson’s example. She writes:

“Here is the good news: You don’t have to suffer through the graduate school wringer in order to train your mind — unless you plan to get a job in university teaching (not a particularly strong employment prospect anyway). For centuries, women and men undertook this sort of learning-reading, taking notes, discussing books and ideas with friends — without subjecting themselves to graduate-school stipends and university health-insurance policies. 

Indeed, university lectures were seen by Thomas Jefferson as unnecessary for the serious pursuit of historical reading. In 1786, Jefferson wrote to his college-age nephew Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., advising him to pursue the larger part of his education independently. Go ahead and attend a course of lectures in science, Jefferson recommended. But he then added, “While you are attending these courses, you can proceed by yourself in a regular series of historical reading. It would be a waste of time to attend a professor of this. It is to be acquired from books, and if you pursue it by yourself, you can accommodate it to your other reading so as to fill up those chasms of time not otherwise appropriated.”

Professional historians might take umbrage at their apparent superfluity, but Jefferson’s letter reflects a common understanding of the times: Any literate man ( or woman, we would add) can rely on self-education to train and fill the mind. All you need are a shelf full of books, a congenial friend or two who can talk to you about your reading, and a few “chasms of time not otherwise appropriated.” (Contemporary critics of university education might add that a Ph.D. doesn’t necessarily train and fill the mind in any case; this, sniffs Harold Bloom, is a “largely forgotten function of a university education,” since universities now “disdain to fulfill” our yearning for the classics.)

Young Randolph was able to build on the foundation of a privileged education. But his home course in self-improvement was followed by many Americans who were less well schooled-including thousands of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women, who were usually given much less classroom education than their male counterparts. Limited to the learning they could acquire for themselves once a brief period of formal education had ended, American women of the last two centuries kept journals and commonplace books chronicling their reading, met with each other, and took responsibility for developing their own minds. The etiquette author Eliza Farrar advised her young female readers not only on manners and dress, but also on intellectual cultivation: “Self-education begins where school education ends,” she wrote sternly.”

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For further reading: The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer
The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

What is the Meaning of “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesYou’ve probably heard this little chestnut a million times: “a stitch in time saves nine.” WTF? Nine what? And who the heck stitches time? Does this assume you are some sort of seamstress/theoretical physicist (a cross between Martha Stewart and Albert Einstein) who can gather up the time continuum, feed it through a sewing machine, and place a neat hem stitching to hold it together? Or this something that requires “Back to the Future” gear, like the DeLorian DMC-12, C6 2.9L with built-in Flux Capacitor? This is some pretty trippy stuff. One can imagine counterculture psychedelic guru Timothy Leary discussing this proverb: “I can explain it to you — but it will blow your mind, man! Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Before we head to outer space, let’s begin our journey of discovery on terra firma. Many proverbs originated in the Enlightenment, a time when people were less focused on psychedelic trips and more focused on intellectual and spiritual growth, not to mention practical improvements in everyday life — hence the proliferation of wisdom via memorable proverbs. Proverbs from those times often use rather dated diction, sentence structure, as well as refer to antiquated practices and contexts. This particular proverb checks two of those boxes: it has an odd sentence structure and refers to sewing (not obsolete, of course, but who sews these days?). So to answer the first question posed at the outset, nine refers to stitches: a stitch in time saves nine stitches. The unusual structure is that the sentence is truncated (the removal of key words) and missing punctuation that would help to clarify it: so re-written in modern English, it would appear as: “A stitch, completed in time (i.e., now), saves having to complete nine stitches later.” Much clearer, right? And that re-written form of this metaphorical epigram (the technical rhetorical term for this type of proverb) gets to its true meaning: don’t procrastinate! That is to say, fix it now, while the problem is small and manageable before it gets to be a real cluster fuck! See — those early Europeans knew a thing or two about life!

Now that we understand the meaning, let’s trace its origins as best we can, thanks to two old proverb reference books. The proverb first appears in England in 1732 as noted in Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern Foreign and British: “a stitch in time may save nine.” The proverb next appears in print over a half century later in Bartlett Whiting’s his seminal work, Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, published in 1797. Time and travel across the pond have modified the proverb a tiny bit: “a stitch in time saves nine” as it is recorded in an early American journal. It is in the formal journal, that we get some insight into the diction. Fuller enlightens us: “Because verses are easier got by heart, and stick faster in the memory than prose; and because ordinary people use to be much taken with the clinking of syllables; many of our proverbs are so formed, and very often put into false rhymes; as, a stitch in time, may save nine; many a little will make a mickle. This little artiface, I imagine, was contrived purposely to make the sense abide the longer in the memory, by reason of its oddness and archness.” To be more specific, the proverb uses a half, or imperfect rhyme (rhyming “nine” with “time”) in order to make it more memorable.

There are several other proverbs that address procrastination, for example: “There’s no time like the present” and “An ounce of presentation is worth a pound of cure.”

Sewing class is now dismissed.

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For further reading: Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases by Bartlett Whiting
Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs by Thomas Fuller

Things That Annoy Book Lovers

alex atkins bookshelf booksDedicated book lovers have a profound respect for books. On one level, they appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship that has gone into producing a beautifully designed book. In this respect, it is no different than any piece of art. It can be seen and held. On another level, it represents an intellectual or fantastic journey; the book is a portal to a realm of new ideas and inspires wonder, reflection, and even the opportunity for transformation or a personal awakening. A true bibliophile considers himself or herself a steward of knowledge or great stories that must be preserved for a future generation. Like an overprotective parent, the bibliophile attempts to guard his or her children, as it were, from the dangers of the world, the barbarians who cannot see the value of a book beyond a commodity composed of ink, paper, and glue. Every book lover has witnessed individuals who do not handle books properly — evoking annoyance, or in some cases, horror. So what are some of the things that people do that really annoy booklovers? Here is a list of some book lover pet peeves:

Licking a finger to turn the page of a book.

Crack the spine of a book as soon as they get it so that “it will be easier to read.”

Writing one’s name on the text block (or fore edges) of a book.

Throwing away the dust jacket of a book because it is regarded as nonessential or the belief that “it’s going to get damaged anyway.”

Eating while reading a book, oblivious to the crumbs and spills that end up in the pages of the book.

Using a book as a doorstop.

Tearing a page out of a book because it is needed for easy reference.

Purchasing random books (known as purchasing books by the feet) to decorate a room.

Handling a book with dirty hands.

Using regular tape to mend a torn dust jacket. (Purists know that you should only use a product like Filmoplast).

Using a book as a coaster.

Highlighting a book with markers — especially when passages are highlighted indiscriminately.

Writing long gift inscriptions on the end papers or flyleafs, especially if pen uses ink that soaks bleeds through the paper.

Borrowing a book and losing it — or worse returning it completely dirty, with the insufficient excuse “Oh yeah, I spilled my lunch on the book one day, but I wiped it off for you.”

Clipping the price off the dust jacket.

Reading a book on the toilet.

Using a book to level a piece of furniture.

Writing notes in the margins.

Dog-earring pages of a book; even worse, folding an entire page over.

Leaving books in a bathroom for guests to enjoy.

Using a book as a plant coaster.

Reading a paperback by folding the cover all the way back to touch the back cover.

Write your name on the cover or back cover of a book (or both).

Reading a book while taking a bath.

Decorating a book with stickers.

Using books to raise the height of a computer.

What are some other things that book lover find annoying?

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A General’s Retirement that Launched a Thousand Snowclones

alex atkins bookshelf words“Say what? — What in the world is a snowclone?” you ask. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s begin our story with an American general and a very famous speech. One of the most famous generals in American history, of course, is five-star General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) who played a very important role in the Pacific theater during World War II that led to the Surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945. From 1945 to 1951, MacArthur oversaw the occupation of Japan — a period of dramatic political, economic and social change for that defeated country. After that period, MacArthur led the United Nations Command and the South Korean forces in the Korean War. Due to a number of military defeats, and the distrust of other military and political leaders, President Harry Truman decided to relieve MacArthur of his command in 1951. Truman stated: “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President.” Unfortunately for Truman, MacArthur was enormously popular with the public, and Truman’s approval rating sank to one of the lowest ever seen by a U.S. president.

MacArthur made his last official appearance at the U.S. capital in Washington, D.C. to deliver his farewell address. It took a while to deliver because it was punctuated by enthusiastic ovations every few minutes. MacArthur finally ended his farewell address with these eloquent thoughts: “I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade away.’ And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good Bye.” Fittingly, the speech is often referred to as the “Old Soldiers Never Die” speech.

Despite the fact that MacArthur mentions a “popular barrack ballad,” many people think that MacArthur came up with that famous catchphrases on his own, “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” However, as he stated, MacArthur was just quoting a well-known soldier’s ballad from the 1930s titled “Old Soldiers Never Die” which, in turn, is a British parody of the gospel song “Kind Thoughts Can Never Die.” The lyrics to the song are: “Old soldiers never die, / Never die, never die, / Old soldiers never die, / They simply fade away.”

Not only did the line become famous and is forever linked to General MacArthur’s retirement, it also inspired an entirely new genre of jokes, known as “never say die” jokes. Lexicographers classify these types of jokes as “snowclones.” The word snowclone was coined by linguist Geoffrey Pullum in 2003. He defined a snowclone as a “a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants.” (The term is derived from the concept of multiple words for snow in Eskimo and a pun on snow cones. Linguists can be so clever!) For example, a common snowclone is the phrasal template “X is the new Y” — you can say “orange is the new black” or “50 is the new 40” or “blue is the new black” and so forth. But what makes “never say die” jokes unique is that they often involve clever puns. In short, they are punny snowclones. Here are some of the punniest.

Old academics never die, they just lose their faculties.

Old accountants never die, they just lose their balance.

Old actors never die, they just drop apart.

Old anthropologists never die, they just become history.

Old archers never die, they just bow and quiver.

Old architects never die, they just lose their structures.

Old bankers never die, they just lose interest.

Old basketball players never die, they just go on dribbling.

Old beekeepers never die, they just buzz off.

Old books never die, they just go out of print.

Old bookkeepers never die, they just lose their figures.

Old bosses never die, much as you want them to.

Old canners never die, they just get preserved.

Old cashiers never die, they just check out.

Old chauffeurs never die, they just lose their drive.

Old chemists never die, they just fail to react.

Old classicists never die, they conjugate, then decline.

Old cleaning people never die, they just kick the bucket.

Old composer never die, they just decompose.

Old cooks never die, they just get deranged.

Old daredevils never die, they just get discouraged.

Old deans never die, they just lose their faculties.

Old dieters never die, they just waist away.

Old doctors never die, they just lose their patience.

Old electricians never die, they just lose contact.

Old farmers never die, they just spade away.

Old garagemen never die, they just retire.

Old hackers never die, they just go to bits.

Old hardware engineers never die, they just cache in their chips.

Old hippies never die, they just smell that way.

Old horticulturists never die, they just go to pot.

Old hypochondriacs never die, they just lose their grippe.

Old investors never die, they just roll over.

Old journalists never die, they just get de-pressed.

Old knights in chain mail never die, they just shuffle off their metal coils.

Old laser physicists never die, they just become incoherent.

Old lawyers never die, they just lose their appeal.

Old librarians never die, they just check out.

Old limbo dancers never die, they just go under.

Old magicians never die, they just disappear.

Old mathematicians never die, they just disintegrate.

Old milkmaids never die, they just lose their whey.

Old ministers never die, they just get put out to pastor…

Old musicians never die, they just get played out.

Old number theorists never die, they just get past their prime.

Old numerical analysts never die, they just get disarrayed.

Old owls never die, they just don’t give a hoot.

Old pacifists never die, they just go to peaces.

Old photographers never die, they just stop developing.

Old pilots never die, they just go to a higher plane.

Old plumbers never die, they just go down the drain.

Old policemen never die, they just cop out.

Old printers never die, they’re just not the type.

Old programmers never die, they just move to a new address.

Old programmers never die, they just decompile.

Old programming wizards never die, they just recurse.

Old prostitutes never die, they just fake away.

Old quarterbacks never die, they just pass away.

Old sailors never die, they just get a little dinghy.

Old schools never die, they just lose their principals.

Old scots never die, but they can be kilt.

Old sculptors never die, they just lose their marbles.

Old seers never die, they just lose their vision.

Old sewage workers never die, they just waste away.

Old skateboarders never die, they just lose their bearings.

Old sailors never die, they just get a little dingy.

Old statisticians never die, they just get broken down by age and sex.

Old steelmakers never die, they just lose their temper.

Old students never die, they just get degraded.

Old swimmers never die, they just have a stroke.

Old tanners never die, they just go into hiding.

Old teachers never die, they just lose their class.

Old trombonists never die, they just slide away.

Old truckers never die, they just get a new Peterbilt.

Old typists never die, they just lose their justification.

Old white water rafters never die, they just get disgorged.

Old wrestlers never die, they just lose their grip.

Old writers never die, they just change their punctuation.

Old yachtsmen never die, they just keel over.

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For further reading: The Cunning Linguist by Richard Lederer
Soldiers’ Song and Slang of the Great War by Martin Pegler!topic/rec.humor/h9nqCCO20QQ

The Wisdom of Cornel West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For further reading: The Cornel West Reader by Cornel West

Words That Form Other Words by Taking Letters Away

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAlthough the English language has more than one million words, only about thirty words possess a very unique quality: you can successively take a letter away — while leaving the other letters in the exact same order — and they form a different word. This is called a successive letter subtraction word puzzle. Here is an example:


Subtract the “t” and you get “starling”

Subtract the “l” and you get “staring”

Subtract the “a” and you get “string”

Subtract the “r” and you get “sting”

Subtract the “s” and you get “ting”

Subtract the “g” and you get “tin”

Subtract the “t” and you get “in”

Finally, subtract the “n” and you get “i” [the pronoun, “I”]

Fun isn’t it? OK, so now that you understand this form of word puzzle, what are some other words that can do this? And please, no cheating — what’s the fun if you let Google do all the puzzle solving.

Answers appear below.




Here is a list of words that form a unique words, when you successively remove one letter at a time.

cleansers: cleanses, cleanse, cleans, leans, leas, las, as, a

discusses: discuses, discuss, discus, discs, diss, dis, is, i

drownings: drowning, downing, owning, owing, wing, win, in, i

grandeurs: grandeur, grander, grader, grade, grad, rad, ad, a

groupings: grouping, groping, roping, oping, ping, pig, pi, i

paintings: painting, paining, pining, piing, ping, pig, pi, i

piercings: piercing, piecing, pieing, piing, ping, pig, pi, i

prattlers: rattlers, ratters, raters, rates, rats, rat, at, a

prickling: pickling, picking, piking, piing, ping, pig, pi, i

restarted: restated, restate, estate, state, sate, ate, at, a

scrapping: crapping, rapping, raping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

shoppings: shopping, hopping, hoping, oping, ping, pig, pi, i

sparkling: sparking, sparing, spring, sprig, prig, pig, pi, i

spinnings: spinning, pinning, pining, piing, ping, pig, pi, i

splatters: platters, latters, lattes, latte, late, ate, at, a

splitting: slitting, sitting, siting, sting, ting, tin, in, i

spritzers: spritzes, sprites, spites, sites, sits, its, is, i

stampeded: stampede, stamped, tamped, tamed, tame, tam, am, a

stampedes: stampede, stamped, tamped, tamed, tame, tam, am, a

starlings: starling, staring, string, sting, ting, tin, in, i

startling: starling, staring, string, sting, ting, tin, in, i

strapping: trapping, rapping, raping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

stringers: stingers, singers, singes, sines, sins, ins, is, i

stringier: stingier, stinger, singer, singe, sine, sin, in, i

switchers: switches, witches, withes, withe, wite, wit, it, i

tramplers: trampers, tampers, tamers, tames, tams, tam, am, a

trampling: tramping, tamping, taping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

trappings: trapping, rapping, raping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

wrappings: wrapping, rapping, raping, aping, ping, pig, pi, i

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

For further reading: Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities by Chris Cole

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