What is the Shortest Book Title in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost people are familiar with some of the most famous book titles in literature, for example, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. And then there are some books with longer titles, like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain or The Strange Case of Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. But few readers are familiar with the shortest book titles in the world, consisting of only one letter:

?, a novel by Sir Walter Newman Flower (1925)

&, a collection of verse by e.e. cummings (1925)

C, a novel by Maurice Baring (1924)

G, a novel by John Berger (1972)

V, a novel by Thomas Pynchon (1963)

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For further reading: Brewer’s Cabinet of Curiosities by Ian Crofton


If Shakespearean Characters Had Tinder Profiles

alex atkins bookshelf literatureAh, romance during the glorious Elizabethan times… Young men and women could marry as early as 14 years old (with parental permission); however the age of consent was 21, when most young people would marry. Following the wedding customs of the nobility, most marriages were arranged to increase the wealth or bring prestige to a family. Consequently, the soon-to-be star-crossed lovers met for the first time at the wedding altar, avoiding the foolishness and frivolity (not to mention the expense) of a long-drawn-out courtship. Get thee to the altar!

O brave new world — the Age of Google… Well, a lot has changed in 400 years. Today, young people throw caution and parental advice out the window and meet one another via Tinder, a location-based social app that allows singles (and sometimes married people masquerading as singles) to be matched and chat with one another. What happens after that introductory chat is left to fate… perhaps all’s well that ends well. Of course, many parents are clueless about Tinder — they think it is some sort of reading app (perhaps because it sounds like Kindle). 

However, if you are literary-minded, it prompts the question: what if Shakespearean characters had Tinder profiles. Over in the SparkNotes community, Klara Steeves and Chelsea Aaron, channeled the Swan of Avon to come up with Tinder profiles for some of his most enduring characters:

Hamlet, 30
I spend a lot of time thinking about the unknowable void of death and how it makes cowards of us all; Chipotle burritos, murdering my stepdad.

Iago, 28
Turn-ons: plotting, scheming, general villainy. Turn-offs: honesty, loyalty, a moral compass.

Lady Macbeth, 30
My style: moto jackers, crop tops, dresses stained with the blood of my enemies; if you’re not down with some casual regicide, swipe left.

Puck, 21
Outdoor sleepovers are my jam. Classic blunder: challenging me to a prank war. If you end up with a donkey head, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Romeo, 16
Trying to find my ride-or-die, not here for hookups. My ideal woman is down to get married within 24 hours of meeting me. Bonus points if your family is currently in a blood feud with mine.

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For further reading: http://community.sparknotes.com/2017/06/30/if-shakespeare-characters-had-tinder/?src=study


Wisdom From the Journey of Discovery

alex atkins bookshelf quotations[The] best of truths is of no use — as history has shown a thousand times — unless it has become the individual’s most personal inner experience. Every equivocal, so-called “clear” answer mostly remains in the head and only finds its way down to the heart in the very rarest cases. Our need is not to “know” the truth, but to experience it. The great problem is not to have an intellectual view of things, but to find the way to the inner, perhaps inexpressible, irrational experience… It is the duty of everyone who takes a solitary path to share with society what he finds on the journey of discovery.

Swiss psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) who founded analytical psychology. One of the main principles of analytical psychology is individuation — the lifelong process of self-realization (specifically, the discovery and experience of one’s meaning and purpose in life), that results from the distillation of the personal and collective unconscious (the unconscious experienced by every human being). Many of the concepts of analytical psychology extend well beyond the field of psychology to other fields: anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, and theology.


Best Poems for Funerals: When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIn his eulogy for Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson observed, “We are always saying farewell in this world — always standing at the edge of loss attempting to retrieve some memory; some human meaning, from the silence — something which is precious and gone.” Eventually, in the course of our lives, we will be standing at that precipice — paralyzed by the agony of heartbreak and the crushing sense of loss. During that initial shock of grief, we are at a loss for words, but paradoxically, we turn to words for solace, for healing, for meaning, and ultimately for some glimmer of hope. The hope, of course, is that the memory of a loved one ushers in a profound gratitude of having had that person touch our lives to bring out the best in us; and by remembering them as we continue on in life, we honor them. Maya Angelou’s beautiful and touching poem, When Great Trees Fall, strikes the perfect balance between recognizing the despair and pain of grieving and the hope and joy that blooms after mourning.

When Great Trees Fall
by Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

For further reading: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou by Maya Angelou (1994)


The Library as Open Door to Wonder and Achievement

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsI received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.

From I. Asimov: A Memoir by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), prolific science fiction writer (he wrote more than 506 books and more than 90,000 letters during his lifetime), best known for his Foundation, Galactic Empire, and Robot series of novels.


Ten Tips for Writing Clearly

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIn his recently published book, Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters, legendary British author and editor Sir Harold Evans argues that clarity and concision are the greatest virtues of a writer. And he should know — he has impeccable credentials. Not only did he write two best-selling history books, The American Century and They Made America, Evans was also the editor of many highly respected publications, like the Sunday Times, US News and World Report, The Week, Conde Nast Traveler, the New York Daily News, The Atlantic Monthly, and Reuters. And if that wasn’t enough, he was also president and publisher of Random House for several years. Based on seven decades of experience, Evans presents a chapter entitled “Ten Shortcuts to Making Yourself Clear.” “[Keep] ten shortcuts [with all due respect, perhaps “tips” or “rules” would be more appropriate here] in mind when you write and edit,” Evans advises, “[the ten tips] are mainly intended to help a writer convert meaning, and stages of meaning; help an editor engage with piles of dross to produce concise, direct English any reasonably literate person can understand; and help a reader unravel spaghetti… I weighted the ten injections for conciseness and clarity, rather than literary effect, because windiness is the prevailing affliction.” Here are the first seven tips or rules:

1. Get moving: avoid passive voice; cast sentences in the active voice.

2. Be specific: eschew abstract words in favor of specific words.

3. Ration adjectives, raze adverbs: ask yourself: is the adjective really necessary to define the subject of the sentence? Does the adverb really enhance the verb or adjective?

4. Cut the fat, check the figures: avoid verbosity; write as concisely as possible.

5. Organize for clarity: use parallel structure to put things that belong together.

6. Be positive: write assertive sentences; even a negative should be expressed in a positive form.

7. Don’t be a bore: eschew monotony by implementing different sentence structures.

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For further reading: Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters, by Harold Evans 


What is a First Edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Worth?

alex atkins bookshelf booksAll 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 muggle (the book was retitled as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in US). Only 500 were published, if you can believe that (talk about having faith in a new author!), and of those 300 were shipped to libraries. Interestingly, the author is indicated as Joanne [Kathleen] Rowling. So how valuable is the book? Would you believe $37,000! Really! She should shove that number in the face of the reps of 12 publishing houses that rejected her first manuscript.

In August 2005, a book collector who wishes to remain anonymous, lacking an actual invisibility cloak, purchased the first edition Harry Potter book on AbeBooks. The sale broke a record that remains today — it is the highest price paid for a single Harry Potter book on the AbeBooks website. In a fascinating interview with the editors of AbeBooks, Mr. X, as he is called, shares his passion for books: “I have a background in writing and I would not have read the Harry Potter books if they were not well done. I find it very hard to read fiction nowadays… I own over 600 books,” he said. “The first editions I own are those by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs was a great read for me as a nine-year-old. I have all of the books in his Mars and Venus series, as well as a complete Pellucidar collection. My Tarzan collection is by no means complete, however.” Asked why he was willing to pay so much for a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Mr. X replied, “That’s difficult to say. I had read it and I had looked at the prices on the Internet and I thought it would be a good thing to have. I had thought about buying a US first edition but I finally thought I’d do it because it would be such a good investment. There was an element of fun involved. It’s very hard to explain the feeling of elation when you realize you own this particular book. Naturally, I did my research before buying the book. I researched the numbers of the first edition and identified that only 500 were printed and most were sent to libraries where they were more than likely trashed. I also researched the bookseller thoroughly and discovered that they were a member of certain rare bookselling associations and realized they were bound by codes of conduct. They were totally legitimate. There was an element of the unknown because they were on the other side of the world… I believe the value will keep growing. I don’t think that we will realize a profit from the book in my lifetime but I feel a certain joy in seeing its value increase. In the meantime, the book is well protected and very well insured.”

Mr. X believes that the Harry Potter series not only encouraged reading, but launched a new generation of book collectors; he adds “The children who have read the books will grow up and some of them will become book collectors — in 50 years time, it will be these people who will want to own rare copies of the books and they will be looking to buy them.” So for book loving muggles who are reading this, start saving up your allowance, wages, and cash gifts to buy these really sought-after and pricey Harry Potter first editions.

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For further reading: https://www.abebooks.com/books/harry-potter/valuable-harry-potter.shtml?cm_mmc=nl-_-nl-_-C170626-MRC-harrypAMRARE-_-b41cta&abersp=1
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/24/jk-rowling-tells-fans-twitter-loads-rejections-before-harry-potter-success


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