Category Archives: Literature

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?
What is a First Edition of Ulysses Worth?
What is a First Edition of The Great Gatsby Worth?
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
What is a First Edition of Prufrock Worth?
Best Holden Caulfield Quotes About Phonies

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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What is the Liar Paradox?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAncient Greek philosophers loved a good paradox. Some of the most famous paradoxes were developed by Zeno of Elia, who lived in the 4th century BCE. Unfortunately, Zeno’s book of paradoxes was lost and we only know about them secondhand from Aristotle and his commentators, such as Simplicius. His most famous paradoxes focus on motion, namely, Achilles and the Tortoise and Arrow. However, our discussion today is about one overlooked writer of paradoxes — Eubulides of Miletus, one of Zeno’s contemporaries. While Zeno developed dozens of paradoxes, Eubulides came up with only seven. The most famous of them is the Liar Paradox (or Liar’s Paradox); Eubulides asked, “A man says that he is lying. Is what he says true or false?” Here is the conundrum: is what the man says true or false? If it is true, it is false; and if it is false, it is true. So it is both true and false. WTF?

Graham Priest, a professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne and author of Logic: A Very Short Introduction, discusses how these paradoxes tied up philosophers in knots: “The paradox and its variations were discussed by Ancient philosophers, and have been subject to much discussion in both Medieval and modern logic. Indeed, those who have engaged with them in the 20th Century reads rather like a roll call of famous logicians of that period. But despite this attention, there is still no consensus as to how to solve such paradoxes. Solutions are legion; but the only thing that is generally agreed upon, is that all of them are problematic.” Two philosophers wrote extensively about the Liar Paradox: Theophrastus, a successor to Aristotle wrote three papyrus rolls, while Chrysippus, a Stoic philosopher, wrote six. Sadly, like’s Zeno’s book, these manuscripts are lost. In fact, one scholar died trying to solve the paradox — Philitas of Cos, the first major Greek writer who was both a poet and scholar, died of insomnia. His epitaph reads: “Philitas of Cos am I / ‘Twas the Liar who made me die / And the bad nights caused thereby.”

This begs the question: why should we give a shit? That is to say, more politely, why have philosophers wrestled with this question for centuries? Why does this matter now? All good questions. Meet Philosophy Professor Bradley Dowden, CSU, Sacramento and a contributor to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy who believes that the Liar Paradox is a serious problem: “To put the Liar Paradox in perspective, it is essential to appreciate why such an apparently trivial problem is a deep problem. Solving the Liar Paradox is part of the larger project of understanding truth. Understanding truth is a difficult project that involves finding a theory of truth, or a definition of truth, or a proper analysis of the concept of truth.” Thus, at the heart of the paradox is man’s age-old quest for Truth.

Eubulides would be delighted to know that the Liar Paradox is alive and well in the modern Google Era. If you read or listen to the news each day you know what I mean. Take the President of the United States (please!). Many historians, journalists, and pundits recognize that President Trump has some difficulty discerning the truth. As former FBI Director James Comey wrote in his recently published book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.” And according to The Washington Post, that has staff dedicated to tracking the President’s lies, Trump has made 1,318 false or misleading claims in just 263 days: “This tendency of Trump is all too familiar to The Fact Checker. He is quick to make claims full of superlatives — the greatest this and the most beautiful that — with little to no empirical evidence to support them… The Fact Checker has completed two-thirds of our year-long project analyzing, categorizing and tracking every false or misleading claim by Trump, as well as his flip-flops. As of our latest update Oct. 10, 2017, or his 264th day in office, the president has made 1,318 claims over 263 days. He has averaged five claims a day, even picking up pace since the six-month mark.” John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine a former presidential speechwriter, expresses it more directly, “Trump’s career has demonstrated that he lies without consequence.” And herein lies the rub: each week when Trump is confronted with the lies, this is his response: “President Trump states that the story on X is fake news.” Is it true, is it false, is it true and false? Like, Philitas of Cos, Americans are inextricably trapped in the Liar Paradox, struggling with heightened anxiety and insomnia.

Certainly, as Zeno and Eubulides have shown us, the search for truth is critically important — especially in a democracy — and worthy of attention and discussion. In his essay on Truth, Michael Glanzberg notes: Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest. Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years.” Unfortunately, in the topsy-turvy Trumpian world, one has to carefully traverse the minefield of Liar Paradoxes on a daily basis to arrive at the truth.

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For further reading:
Real Time with Bill Maher, April 27, 2018

Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsQuoting famous authors or thinkers is presumably a reflection of one’s erudition. But what it does it say about the speaker, if they don’t even know that the quotation they are using is incorrect — specifically, it is a paraphrase of the actual text. A speaker who actually knows the original text would say, “To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘methinks the lady doth protest too much'” rather than “To quote Shakespeare…” It doesn’t help that the internet functions like a global version game of telephone, where inaccuracies are disseminated in the time it takes to send a tweet — the twitterings of twits, as it were. Here are some famous misquoted quotes, for those who appreciate the nuances of the actual written words:

Misquote: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”
Original quote: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Source: William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (c. 1600), Act III, Scene II

Misquote: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Original quote: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are always bad men.”
Source: Lord John Acton

Misquote: “Blood, sweat, and tears.”
Original quote: “I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
Source: Winston Churchill, speech to House of Commons, May 13, 1940

Misquote: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Original quote: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
Source: William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697), Act III, Scene VIII

Misquote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Original quote: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
Source: Edmund Burke, Thoughts in the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), Volume I

Misquote: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Original quote: “James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grow out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Source: Mark Twain, note to a reporter, dated May 1897

Misquote: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.”
Original quote: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
Source: Mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. Actual writer was Nicholas Klein, speech to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1918

Misquote: “Money is the root of all evil.”
Original quote: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Source: The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10

Misquote: “No rest for the wicked.”
Original quote: “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”
Source: The Bible, Isaiah 15:21

Misquote: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
Original quote: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
Source: The Bible, Proverbs 13:24

Misquote: “Pride comes before a fall.”
Original quote: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
Source: The Bible, Proverbs 16:18

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Read related posts: Most Common Shakespeare Misquotes
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Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
Famous Misquotations: The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

For further reading: Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusions by Andrew Delahunty

The Artist Remains Within or Behind His Handiwork

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.

From A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce published in 1916. Joyce’s first novel actually began on his birthday, February 2, 1904, as an autobiographical novel titled Stephen Hero. Initially, Joyce planned on writing 63 chapters, but after he reached the 25th chapter, he abandoned the work. He reworked the structure (switching from third-person to mainly first-person narration), themes, and the protagonist which resulted in the novel we recognize today. Although, were it not for his wife, Nora, and sister, Eileen, the novel would have never been published. In 1908, Joyce threw a hissy fit when publishers refused to publish one of his manuscripts, so he threw the manuscript into the fire. Eileen and Nora saved as much of the manuscript as they could — 518 pages were lost to the fire.

Read related posts: Why Did James Joyce Burn his Manuscript?
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For further reading: Stephen Hero by James Joyce edited by Theodore Spencer, Jonathan Cape (1960)
James Joyce by Richard Ellman, Oxford University Press (1983)
James Joyce: A to Z by A. Nicholas Fargnoli and Michael Gillespie, Facts on File (1995)

What’s It Like To Stay Overnight in a Library?

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you are a true book lover, you have probably thought to yourself, “Wouldn’t be a cool experience to stay overnight in an actual library — to sleep among the books?” Well, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that such an experience is possible. Let me introduce you to Gladstone’s Library, located in the quaint Welsh village of Hawarden, United Kingdom. The library, founded by British statesman and former Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898, contains more than 150,000 books, journals and pamphlets. The core collections focus on Theology/Religion, Literature, History, and Politics. The heart of the collection, of course, is Gladstone’s prized collection of more than 32,000 volumes. The library is considered one of the most important research libraries in Wales. But what makes this library truly unique is that it is the only residential library in the UK. That’s right — you can literally have a sleepover in a library!

The Gladstone Library contains 26 uniquely-decorated (mainly book-themed, as you can imagine) boutique bedrooms. As a guest of this incredibly unique “hotel” you have extended use of the reading rooms, containing desks and comfy armchairs, from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. If you get lost in a book, you can take it to your room. Guests can also enjoy three meals at the library’s bistro, “Food for Thought.” Situated on the expansive Gladstone Estate, visitors can also take long walks amid the beautiful countryside.

What sort of people visit and stay overnight at the Gladstone Library? The staff reports, “We’re very proud to say that our users include school, college and university students, researchers, theologians and clergy, local historians, academics, and award-winning novelists, scriptwriters, poets, and playwrights… In the last decade we’ve been made aware of over 300 books that have been inspired, started, revised, finished or otherwise worked on while the writer was at Gladstone’s Library.” Throughout the year, the staff hosts unique programs by leading writers and thinkers.

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 Greatest Lesson from Childhood by Pablo Neruda

alex atkins bookshelf literatureSome of life’s greatest lessons come from childhood — a time of innocence, optimism, and openness. Regrettably, some of these lessons are lost because they seem so simple that they don’t warrant a great deal of scrutiny at the time; however, in retrospect — with the wisdom of age — they can be appreciated for the gems that they truly are. Pablo Neruda, the brilliant Chilean poet, shares  one of life’s greatest lessons when he was a child in the essay “Childhood and Poetry” found in the introduction to Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems (1971). The enchanting story takes place in the backyard of his childhood home, when he serendipitously discovers a hole in one of the fence boards. This brief, almost magical encounter, with a kind stranger (another child), made a huge impact on Neruda in two ways: first, it inspired his poetry writing; second, by offering friendship to a complete stranger, it strengthened his connectedness to all human beings. This second concept is related to the central metaphor in George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch — society is a web and one cannot disentangle a single strand without touching all the others; that is to say, there is a kinship between every person. Here is the unforgettable story of the sheep and the pinecone by Neruda:

“One time, investigating in the backyard of our house in Temuco the tiny objects and minuscule beings of my world, I came upon a hole in one of the boards of the fence. I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared, a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvelous white sheep.

The sheep’s wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole but the boy had disappeared. I went into the house and brought out a treasure of my own: a pinecone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.

I never saw either the hand or the boy again. And I have never again seen a sheep like that either. The toy I lost finally in a fire. But even now, in 1954, almost fifty years old, whenever I pass a toy shop, I look furtively into the window, but it’s no use. They don’t make sheep like that anymore.

I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses, that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together. That experience came to me again much later; this time it stood out strikingly against a background of trouble and persecution.

It won’t surprise you then that I attempted to give something resiny, earthlike, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood. Just as I once left the pinecone by the fence, I have since left my words on the door of so many people who were unknown to me, people in prison, or hunted, or alone.

That is the great lesson I learned in my childhood, in the backyard of a lonely house. Maybe it was nothing but a game two boys played who didn’t know each other and wanted to pass to the other some good things of life. Yet maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light.”

This story, like his poetry, is Neruda’s gift to humanity — given out of love. The American poet, Robert Bly, shares this fascinating insight: “What is most startling about Neruda, I think, when we compare him to [T. S.] Eliot or Dylan Thomas, or [Ezra] Pound, is the great affection that accompanies his imagination… When Eliot gave a reading, one had the feeling that the reading was a cultural experience… When Dylan Thomas read, one had the sense that he was about toe perform some magical and fantastic act… Pound used to scold the audience for not understanding what he did. When Neruda reads, the mood in the room is one of affection between the audience and himself.”

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: The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son
The Mayonnaise Jar and Cups of Coffee
The Wisdom of a Grandparent
The Wisdom of Parents
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For further reading: Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems (translated by Robert Bly)

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