Category Archives: Literature

Charles Dickens and the Suspended Quotation

alex atkins bookshelf literatureOne of the distinct characteristics of Charles Dickens’ writing is the use of the suspended quotation. “What is a suspended quotation?” you ask suspensefully. A fine question, dear reader. A suspended quotation is an extended interruption (at least five words) by a narrator of a character’s speech. In the hands of a masterful storyteller, the suspended quotations can serve one of several purposes: (1) describe body language, like gestures and facial contortions; (2) describe demeanor or intonation; (3) describe a character’s physical features; (4) describe a character’s typical behaviors; or (5) reveal the narrator’s strong presence and compelling insights. Here are some examples of suspended quotations (in italic):

From Dombey and Son: “I am proud to see,” said Mr. Carker, with a servile stooping of his neck, which the revelations making by his eyes and teeth proclaim to be a lie, “I am proud to see that my humble offering is graced by Mrs. Dombey’s hand…’

From Our Mutual Friend: “Uncle,” he said daily, laying his hand upon the old man’s shoulder, “what shall I send you home from Barbados?”

From Hard Times: “I certainly, sir,” returned Mrs. Sparsit, with a dignity serenely mournful, “was familiar with the Italian Opera at a very early age.”

From Hard Times: “It is much to be regretted,” said Mrs. Sparsit, making her nose more Roman and her eyebrows more Coriolanian in the strength of her severity, “that the united masters allow of any such class-combinations.’

From Hard Times: “You will understand, Mr. Harthouse,” she returned, after some indecision: she had been more or less uncertain, and troubled throughout the conversation, and yet had in the main preserved her self-contained manner; “you will understand…” 

In his study of Dickens’ novels, Dickens and the Suspended Quotation (1981), Mark Lambert counted all the instances of suspended quotations in each of the novels. Lambert discovered that the number of suspended quotations Dickens used decrease over time in his later novels. Here are the number of suspended quotations in each novel:

Barnaby Rudge: 37.2

Old Curiosity Shop: 35.4

Oliver Twist: 31.2

Dombey and Son: 31

Martin Chuzzlewit: 30

Nicholas Nickleby: 28.8

David Copperfield: 25.6

Pickwick Papers: 24.4

Little Dorrit: 21.8

Great Expectations: 21.3

Bleak House: 21

Hard Times: 20

Our Mutual Friend: 19

Tale of Two Cities: 17.4

Edwin Drood: 13.8

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For further reading: Dickens and the Suspended Quotation by Mark Lambert
The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics by Michael Burke

Novels That Are Remakes of Classic Novels

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIf you have ever watched 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), a romantic comedy set at Padua High featuring a rebellious, bossy, snarky teenage girl (Kat Stratford) who intimidates most boys, you begin to recognize the plot. Hey, didn’t William Shakespeare write a play like this? And the answer is yes, since this film is a remake or modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, written four centuries earlier (1590-92). Adaptations also happen in the literary world. Here are some modern novels that are remakes of classic novels:

Going Bovine by Libba Bray – Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang – Ulysses by James Joyce

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi – Snow White by The Brothers Grimm

Dorian, An Imitation by Will SelfThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare

Brazil by John Updike – Tristan and Isolde, a Celtic legend from the 12th Century

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What Book Should Every Student Read in 2018?

alex atkins bookshelf booksEach year in the United States, there are 600,000 to 1 million books published each year. Of those, about 50% are self-published titles that sell less than 250 copies. So the book lover’s dilemma — what should I read? — is quite a challenge. But no need to pore over countless book reviews, book blogs, and best-seller lists — why not ask the smartest people on the planet: college professors. The bibliophiles at Business Insider (who knew?) recently asked the brilliant professors at Harvard University: what one book should every student read in 2018? Here are their recommendations.

EJ Corey, organic chemist: Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Joseph Aoun. Janet Napolitano, president of University of California writes: “[Aoun’s] book is a thought-provoking analysis of our technology –infused world and higher education’s place in it. Far from fearing the dislocation caused by the increased use of robots and the development of AI, Aoun offers an optimistic, practical view of what higher education can do to prepare the next generation. Anyone interested in higher-education policy will greatly benefit from this cogent, persuasively written work.”

Claudia Goldin, economic historian and labor economist: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: “There is no better novel I know about how women (and I don’t mean just Anna) – elite, intelligent, educated – are ignored, oppressed, and have little legal recourse. Women are the caregivers, the empathetic. They hold society together and provide salvation even as the priests take the credit.”

Stephen Greenblatt, English professor: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Incidentally, this book is one of the most popular books assigned as summer reading for incoming freshmen at over 70 colleges in America. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to defend those need it most: the indigent, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the byzantine and Kafkaesque criminal justice system. Author John Grisham compares it to the timeless legal classic To Kill A Mocking Bird: “Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.” Ted Conniver, from The New York Times Book Review, adds: “You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man… The message of this book… is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.”

Steven Pinker, psychology professor: The Internationalists: How A Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro: [The authors] explain the decline of interstate war and conquest [via]… the Kellogg-Briand Paris Peace Pact of 1927, which declared war illegal… [The] book presents a sweeping vision of the international scene, making sense of many developments in the news and recent history.”

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Famous Authors Who Were Rejected by Publishers

alex atkins bookshelf books“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat,” observed American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. That’s great advice for an aspiring writer who will most likely face his or her share of rejection slips from publishers and agents. And Fitzgerald should know. His timeless classic, The Great Gatsby, was rejected by several publishers. One publisher had the audacity to write this preposterous note: “You’d have a decent book if you ‘d get rid of that Gatsby chapter.” WTF? Did he or she read the entire manuscript? Another famous American author, L. Frank Baum, best known for The Wizard of Oz novels, received so many rejection slips he kept them in a journal that he titled “A Record of Failure.” But in the final analysis, persistence pays off. Consider the sea of rejection slips that young authors — who are now famous and highly regarded — once received at the beginning of their writing careers. Recall the famous proverb introduced by American educator Thomas H. Palmer’s Teacher’s Manual: Being an Exposition of and Efficient and Economical System of Education Suited to the Wants of a Free People (1840): “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women was rejected by several publishers. One publisher completely dismissed the novel, penning this advice: “Stick to teaching.”

Anne Frank: The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected by 15 publishers.

William Golding: Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers.

Joseph Heller: Catch-22 was rejected by 22 publishers. One publisher wrote: ““I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.”

Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises was rejected by many publishers. One publisher wrote: “If I may be frank — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you?…Your bombastic, dipsomaniac, where-to-now characters had me reaching for my own glass of brandy.”

Frank Herbert: Dune was rejected by 20 publishers.

James Joyce: Dubliners was rejected by 22 publishers.

Stephen King: Carrie was rejected by 30 publishers.

Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers.

Herman Melville: Moby-Dick was rejected by many publishers. One publisher wrote: “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?… For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”

Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind was rejected by 40 publishers.

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita was rejected by many publishers. Sometimes publishers can be really mean; check out this rejection note: “overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian… the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream… I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

George Orwell: Animal Farm was rejected by 4 publishers. One of those publishers was Faber & Faber, where T.S. Eliot worked. Eliot wrote the now famous rejection letter: “we have no conviction (and I am sure none of other directors would have) that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time… Your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm — in fact, there couldn’t have been an animal farm at all without them: so that what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.” Another publisher wrote: “There is no market for animal stories in the USA.”

James Patterson: The Thomas Berryman Number (the first in the Alex Cross series) was rejected by 31 publishers.

Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by 121 publishers.

J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected by 12 publishers.

Kathryn Stockett: The Help was rejected by 60 agents. Stockett wrote: ““In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60?”

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Daily Rituals of Writers: Herman Melville

atkins-bookshelf-literatureAmerican novelist Herman Melville (1819-1891), best known for writing Moby-Dick (or The Whale), wrote six to eight hours a day. It took Melville 18 months to write Moby-Dick. In September 1850, Melville had purchased a 160-acre farm, located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from his father-in-law for $3,000. In this remote, bucolic setting, he learned how to balance writing with farm life. In a letter (dated December 1850) to a friend, Melville wrote: “I rise at eight — thereabouts — and go to my barn [where I feed my horse]… Then, pay a visit to my cow [and feed her]…. My own breakfast over, I go to my work-room and light my fire — then spread my manuscript on the table… take one business squint at it, and fall to with a will. At 2:30 PM I hear a preconcerted knock at my door, which (by request) continues till I rise and go to the door, which serves to wean me effectively from my writing, however interested I may be.” He goes on to describe how he spent most evenings: feeding the horse and cow, eating dinner, and taking his sisters and mother on a sleigh ride to the nearby village. When he returned home he spent time “skimming over some large-printed book” since he was too tired to read.

Incidentally, students of American literature know that Melville’s magnum opus, Moby-Dick, about man’s epic struggle with evil was a commercial failure when it was first published in 1851. The 600-page book sold only 3,215 copies in America; he earned about $1,259. Melville died in 1891, and it took about 100 years, specifically the 1919 centennial of his birth, for literary critics and scholars to discover his works. This critical reassessment of his work (known as the “Melville Revival) finally established Melville in the pantheon of America’s greatest writers and recognized Moby-Dick as a classic of American literature and certainly one of the Great American Novels. Today, a first edition of Moby-Dick is worth more than $60,000 and the novel has sold millions of copies.

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: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey (2013)

What is a First Edition of The Catcher in the Rye Worth?

alex atkins bookshelf booksJ. D. Salinger introduced the world to Holden Caulfield, the quintessential cussing, anti-phony, cynical, disillusioned, rebellious adolescent, on July 16, 1951 after working on The Catcher in the Rye for about a decade. The 277-page first edition was published by Little, Brown. Salinger objected to cover art and illustrations on his books because he didn’t want readers influenced by any artistic interpretations. However, The Catcher in the Rye was an exception. With this particular book, the iconic artwork was drawn by E. Michael Mitchell, a close and trusted friend of Salinger. The dust jacket features the pen-and ink-drawing of a carousel horse painted red-orange. The title is superimposed in yellow over a field of red-orange. On the lower left, obscured by the hind leg of the horse, is a small sketch of Central Park overlooking the New York City skyline in the lower left. Attentive readers will recognize that Holden’s sister, Phoebe, rides a carousel horse in Central Park (Holden refuses to join her); but more significantly, the horse is an important metaphor in the novel. On one level, the horse represents lost innocence. On another level, it represents Holden’s attempt to jump into adulthood but is inextricably bound to the carousel horse of his childhood. The back of the dust jacket features a black-and-white photo of Salinger taken by Lotte Jacobi.

Back in 1951, a first edition of The Catcher in the Rye cost a paltry $3.00. Since then, the book has sold more than 65 million copies. But more significantly, the value of a first edition has risen exponentially. Most first editions sell for about $20,000 to $25,000. However, first editions signed by Salinger are extremely rare and fetch much higher prices: Currently, there are two signed first editions for sale: one for $55,000 and one for $125,000. This more expensive one is inscribed: “To Ned Thompson with all good wishes J.D. Salinger Windsor, VT Nov. 5, 1961.” Both books are housed in custom clamshell boxes.

One wonders what Holden Caulfield would make of all this. Perhaps he would say, “Half a grand for a lousy book about some whiny jerk and his sister? Leave it to a bunch of phonies to read the book and then smoking and talking about how important it is. And it takes another goddamn phony bastard to come up with that much dough for a book because he believes it’s actually worth that amount. That kills me!”

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

What is the Value of a Word?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThere is a longstanding myth that Charles Dickens was paid by the word because his novels are so long. However, he was actually paid by installments. Book collectors know that his novels were published in parts (chapters) — essentially small pamphlets printed on cheap paper with slightly thicker blue-green front and back covers. Several of his longer works, such as Nicholas Nickleby (952 pages) and Pickwick Papers (609 pages), were printed in 20 parts. As he completed one of the parts, the publisher paid the prolific author. (These novels in parts, found in decent quality today, are extremely rare and fetch up to $45,000.)

So, do modern freelance writers who submit articles to print and web-based magazines get paid by the word? Excellent question. Freelance writer Malcolm Harris was curious about this issue so he did some research. “Freelance writers have long tolerated a wide range of rates, he reports in his fascinating essay “How Much a Word is Worth,” “Freelance writers have no collective with which to bargain, they are not subject to minimum wage laws, and their pay fluctuates all the time. For those reasons, it’s hard to keep track of the averages (and few organizations are compelled to try). But back in 2001, the National Writers Union published a report on pay rates for freelance writers. The report figured that to earn the median wage for college grads — $50,000 per year — writers needed to pitch, sell, report, write, edit, publish, and be paid an average of $1 per word for 3,000 to 5,000 words a month. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $1.40 per word today.”

After talking with several writers, editors, and based on his own experience, Harris found that most writers get paid a lump sum for a typical article that runs from 1,000 to 2,000 words (thus the average value of a word is 50 to 25 cents in this model). One writer mentioned that this $500 fee was standard way back in 1977. So much for inflation… 

Harris discovered that there were certain writers that earned a celebrity rate of $1 per word: “The first account of a publication offering $1 per word comes from 1908. It was for a type of story that remains the single most expensive genre in writing: anything ‘post-presidential.’ The Fourth Estate, an early 20th-century weekly newspaper about the media, reported that Theodore Roosevelt was fielding multiple offers at the unheard-of fee (plus expenses!) to write up the hunting trip he planned to take after he left office.” A few years later, Hampton’s magazine offered the $1 rate to explorer Frederick Cook to write about his amazing trip to the North Pole. By the mid 1960’s, the rate of $1 a word became a standard at national magazines with high circulations, like Time, Reader’s Digest, and Playboy (because men bought it for the articles). It took two decades before freelance writers saw a significant increase in price per word. Harris notes, “And then came Tina Brown. In 1984, when she was named editor of Vanity Fair, she turned the publishing world upside down by doubling the top rate to $2, plus a bunch of fringe benefits….’My ambition is to get the best,’ Brown told the Times. ‘We still are not paying enough.'” However, three decades later, the $2 per word rate has not kept up with inflation — it remains the high end fee for freelancers. Of course, some stories and writers due command the “Carrie Bradshaw” rate of $4 a word.

Harris spoke to one writer who worked for six months on a major feature for a national magazine. He got paid $5,000. Writers who sign exclusive deals with high circulation magazines, and write their asses off, can earn as much as $60,000. But that is peanuts compared to what TV writers can make: typically $12,000 to $25,000 per episode. When you consider that a season has 10 to 16 episodes, that can earn up to $600,000. And writing screenplays, makes TV money look like pocket change. Consider that some screenwriters make $2 to $5 million for a screenplay that typically consists of 110 to 130 pages (at about 175 words per page, that translates to about 20,000 words; so a screenplay’s cost per word is a whopping $250 per word!). Not surprisingly, many freelance publication writers are looking for greener pastures (and greener paychecks). This means the decline of the great feature story; one writer Harris spoke to expressed it this way, “No wonder the stuff in the sixties and seventies was so good. I don’t see anything out there today that shows the kind of thought they got to put in.”

Harris concludes: “I don’t truly know what a word is worth. The historical record certainly suggests it used to be worth more, but longform writers also know that their work can be inefficient. They are people who care too much about their subjects, whose depth of interest defies the rational allocation of labor time… The rational thing for individual publications is almost certainly to continue tightening the screws, hold the nominal rates as close as possible to where they were in the 1960s, increase annual output from full-time staffers (who are facing more competition for their jobs), and find writers who are used to writing a lot for a little. In that scenario, there will still be good writing, and even some great writing, but there will be less of it.” And if Dickens were alive today, he would probably share that same lament.

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