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?
You Only Have Your Emotions to Sell

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.

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Read related posts: Exploring Carl Sandburg’s Library of 11,000 Books
The Lord of the Books: Creating A Library From Discarded 
A Tale of Two Donkeys and a Mobile Library
Lacuna: The Library Made Out of Books
 I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
If You Love a Book, Set it Free
The Library without Books
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

For further reading: https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org


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)


When We Fail to Speak Up About Corruption, We Strike a Blow Against Freedom, Decency, and Justice

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”

Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), American politician who served as a U.S. Attorney General (1961-1964) and Senator from New York (1965-1968). Kennedy was a passionate and eloquent advocate for social justice and human rights. Like his older brother, John F. Kennedy, he was assassinated — two deaths in a long succession of tragic misfortunes that have befallen the Kennedy family that gave rise to the term “Kennedy Curse.”


The Memory of a Departed Friend

alex atkins bookshelf literatureThere is an age-old truism that notes that although you cannot choose your family, friends are the family you choose for yourself. But what happens, when you are further along life’s journey and you lose a close friend? For many, that feels like a piece of them died, or expressed more eloquently “there falls along with him [or her] a whole wing of the palace of our life.” Part of the healing process of grieving and mourning is that those memories are intensified for a certain period of time. However, memories, being so precious but so fragile, can slip away forever, like tears in the rain; you must tend to memories like the gardener tends to his roses.

This sense of loss, as he walked through a graveyard, is what inspired Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, best known for Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Kidnapped, to write one of the most beautiful and eloquent reflections about a recently departed friend, so that he would not lose those precious memories forever. Stevenson’s moving essay, found in Memories and Portraits (1912), also includes some of the most eloquent testimonies about true friendship in English literature. Although it is a lengthy excerpt, it is worth reading all the way through. I submit to you that this is the apotheosis of eulogies, for it is filled with such spectacular diction, brilliant insights, vivid images, and numerous quotable lines; to paraphrase Stevenson “in this place you will find the words of life” that will stir your soul:

I would fain strike a note that should be more heroical; but the ground of all youth’s suffering, solitude, hysteria, and haunting of the grave, is nothing else than naked, ignorant selfishness. It is himself that he sees dead; those are his virtues that are forgotten; his is the vague epitaph. Pity him but the more, if pity be your cue; for where a man is all pride, vanity, and personal aspiration, he goes through fire unshielded. In every part and corner of our life, to lose oneself is to be gainer; to forget oneself is to be happy; and this poor, laughable and tragic fool has not yet learned the rudiments; himself, giant Prometheus, is still ironed on the peaks of Caucasus. But by-and-by his truant interests will leave that tortured body, slip abroad and gather flowers. Then shall death appear before him in an altered guise; no longer as a doom peculiar to himself, whether fate’s crowning injustice or his own last vengeance upon those who fail to value him; but now as a power that wounds him far more tenderly, not without solemn compensations, taking and giving, bereaving and yet storing up.

The first step for all is to learn to the dregs our own ignoble fallibility. When we have fallen through storey after storey of our vanity and aspiration, and sit rueful among the ruins, then it is that we begin to measure the stature of our friends: how they stand between us and our own contempt, believing in our best; how, linking us with others, and still spreading wide the influential circle, they weave us in and in with the fabric of contemporary life; and to what petty size they dwarf the virtues and the vices that appeared gigantic in our youth. So that at the last, when such a pin falls out—when there vanishes in the least breath of time one of those rich magazines of life on which we drew for our supply—when he who had first dawned upon us as a face among the faces of the city, and, still growing, came to bulk on our regard with those clear features of the loved and living man, falls in a breath to memory and shadow, there falls along with him a whole wing of the palace of our life.

One such face I now remember; one such blank some half-a-dozen of us labour to dissemble. In his youth he was most beautiful in person, most serene and genial by disposition; full of racy words and quaint thoughts. Laughter attended on his coming. He had the air of a great gentleman, jovial and royal with his equals, and to the poorest student gentle and attentive. Power seemed to reside in him exhaustless; we saw him stoop to play with us, but held him marked for higher destinies; we loved his notice; and I have rarely had my pride more gratified than when he sat at my father’s table, my acknowledged friend. So he walked among us, both hands full of gifts, carrying with nonchalance the seeds of a most influential life.

The powers and the ground of friendship is a mystery; but, looking back, I can discern that, in part, we loved the thing he was, for some shadow of what he was to be. For with all his beauty, power, breeding, urbanity and mirth, there was in those days something soulless in our friend. He would astonish us by sallies, witty, innocent and inhumane; and by a misapplied Johnsonian pleasantry, demolish honest sentiment. I can still see and hear him, as he went his way along the lamplit streets, Là ci darem la mano on his lips, a noble figure of a youth, but following vanity and incredulous of good; and sure enough, somewhere on the high seas of life, with his health, his hopes, his patrimony and his self-respect, miserably went down.

From this disaster, like a spent swimmer, he came desperately ashore, bankrupt of money and consideration; creeping to the family he had deserted; with broken wing, never more to rise. But in his face there was a light of knowledge that was new to it. Of the wounds of his body he was never healed; died of them gradually, with clear-eyed resignation; of his wounded pride, we knew only from his silence. He returned to that city where he had lorded it in his ambitious youth; lived there alone, seeing few; striving to retrieve the irretrievable; at times still grappling with that mortal frailty that had brought him down; still joying in his friend’s successes; his laugh still ready but with kindlier music; and over all his thoughts the shadow of that unalterable law which he had disavowed and which had brought him low. Lastly, when his bodily evils had quite disabled him, he lay a great while dying, still without complaint, still finding interests; to his last step gentle, urbane and with the will to smile.

The tale of this great failure is, to those who remained true to him, the tale of a success. In his youth he took thought for no one but himself; when he came ashore again, his whole armada lost, he seemed to think of none but others. Such was his tenderness for others, such his instinct of fine courtesy and pride, that of that impure passion of remorse he never breathed a syllable; even regret was rare with him, and pointed with a jest. You would not have dreamed, if you had known him then, that this was that great failure, that beacon to young men, over whose fall a whole society had hissed and pointed fingers. Often have we gone to him, red-hot with our own hopeful sorrows, railing on the rose-leaves in our princely bed of life, and he would patiently give ear and wisely counsel; and it was only upon some return of our own thoughts that we were reminded what manner of man this was to whom we disembosomed: a man, by his own fault, ruined; shut out of the garden of his gifts; his whole city of hope both ploughed and salted; silently awaiting the deliverer. Then something took us by the throat; and to see him there, so gentle, patient, brave and pious, oppressed but not cast down, sorrow was so swallowed up in admiration that we could not dare to pity him. Even if the old fault flashed out again, it but awoke our wonder that, in that lost battle, he should have still the energy to fight. He had gone to ruin with a kind of kingly abandon, like one who condescended; but once ruined, with the lights all out, he fought as for a kingdom. Most men, finding themselves the authors of their own disgrace, rail the louder against God or destiny. Most men, when they repent, oblige their friends to share the bitterness of that repentance. But he had held an inquest and passed sentence: mene, mene; and condemned himself to smiling silence. He had given trouble enough; had earned misfortune amply, and foregone the right to murmur.

Thus was our old comrade, like Samson, careless in his days of strength; but on the coming of adversity, and when that strength was gone that had betrayed him — “for our strength is weakness” — he began to blossom and bring forth. Well, now, he is out of the fight: the burden that he bore thrown down before the great deliverer. We “In the vast cathedral leave him; / God accept him, / Christ receive him!”

If we go now and look on these innumerable epitaphs, the pathos and the irony are strangely fled. They do not stand merely to the dead, these foolish monuments; they are pillars and legends set up to glorify the difficult but not desperate life of man. This ground is hallowed by the heroes of defeat.

I see the indifferent pass before my friend’s last resting-place; pause, with a shrug of pity, marvelling that so rich an argosy had sunk. A pity, now that he is done with suffering, a pity most uncalled for, and an ignorant wonder. Before those who loved him, his memory shines like a reproach; they honour him for silent lessons; they cherish his example; and in what remains before them of their toil, fear to be unworthy of the dead. For this proud man was one of those who prospered in the valley of humiliation;—of whom Bunyan wrote that, “Though Christian had the hard hap to meet in the valley with Apollyon, yet I must tell you, that in former times men have met with angels here; have found pearls here; and have in this place found the words of life.”

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: Is There a Heaven?
The Poem I Turn To
Why We Read Poetry
How To Grieve for a Lost Friend
Best Books on Eulogies

For further reading: Memories and Portraits by Robert Louis Stevenson


The Best Signs from March for Our Lives Events

alex atkins bookshelf cultureTo paraphrase the misquoted line from the obscure play The Mourning Bride by William Congreve, “Hell hath no fury like a teenager scorned.” Today, March 24, 2018, hundreds of thousands of teenagers, along with parents, teachers, and supporters, gathered in Washington D.C. and major cities around the world for the “March for Our Lives,” organized by the shooting survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One by one, with heavy hearts — and broken hearts — the teenagers filled the streets armed with signs and banners to advocate for reasonable and stricter gun control laws and to ways to make schools safer. They refer to themselves as “the mass shooting generation.” According to the medical journal, Pediatrics, guns are the third leading cause of child deaths in America. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1968, more than 1.5 million Americans have died due to gun violence. David Hogg, one of the organizers, exclaimed: “We will not stop until every man, every woman, every child and every American can live without fear of gun violence.” Breaking through the sorrow and sense of loss, was a deep-seated rage against the political machine, corrupted by campaign finance laws and the insidious, powerful gun lobby. Rather than picking up guns, the students picked up markers and wrote out searing political statements on poster signs to tackle a problem that the complacent, apathetic Baby Boom generation created and condoned for decades in the shadow of a government that long ago abandoned its intended purpose — to represent the people and to serve the common good. Here are some of the best signs from the March for Our Lives events:

Love over lead

Book bags — not body bags

Stop the silence ending violence

Math before bloodbath

Books not bullets

Why are uteruses more regulated than guns?

School is made for ambition not ammunition

I should be writing my English paper, not my will!

We thought you were pro life

The scariest thing in a school should be my grades

The number of bullet holes in this poster are the number that can be shot in the time it takes to read it

I can’t even bring peanut butter to school

The only thing easier to buy in the USA than a gun is a Republican

The only gun that belongs in school is a glue gun

Students should be attending class not funerals

In my day “I survived high school” was not meant literally

If you need an assault weapon for hunting — you suck!

Generation Z: end of gun violence in the USA

NRA-endorsed politicians — our thoughts and prayers for you in November!

You can’t choose when to be pro-life

If we are old enough to be shot, we are old enough to have a say about gun violence

Girls clothing is more regulated than guns

Thoughts and prayers don’t stop bullets

If you aren’t smart enough to buy beer, then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun

This is not a moment — it’s a movement. #NeverAgain

Am I next?

I am 6 — I want to see 60

We are the change

Murdered in school — and still no gun laws. How come Congress?

Protect schools not guns

My outrage does not fit on a sign

My right to live is greater than a gun

Arm teachers with pencils not guns

Thoughts & prayers, blah, blah, blah — #neveragain

How many more?

When injustice becomes law resistance becomes duty

There are more laws for my pussy than for guns

The NRA is not a brancy of the US government

My grandchildren are worth more than your guns

My school district won’t give me the password to use wifi, yet you want me to carry a gun?

Are guns more precious than children

No more thoughts and prayers — we want policy and change

NRA — die bitch!

The only thing easier to buy than guns is the GOP

If only my uterus could shoot bullets, then it wouldn’t need regulation

We call BS!

Kids over campaign contributions

SINators for sale

Make America great again? Make America ours again!

One child is worth more than all the guns in America

Did you have a favorite? Please share any slogans not listed above.

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 School Shooting that Inspired Elton John’s Song, Ticking
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Why I Have a Dream Speech Endures
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For further reading: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/emma-gonzalez-apos-one-biggest-153956763.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/us/student-protest-movements.html
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/gun-deaths-wars/

 

 


I Should Have Bookmarked That: “Where Lies the Final Harbor” from Moby Dick

alex atkins bookshelf literatureFine books are often bound with a ribbon bookmark. Bookmarks in books were introduced as early as 1 A.D., bound into some of the earliest codices found in libraries and monasteries of that period. The primary function of the bookmark, of course, is to the mark the reader’s place in the book as he or she reads it. However, once the book is read, the bookmark has a secondary and very important function: it can be placed in the location of a favorite or beautiful passage that you want to return to again and again.

Herman Melville’s magnum opus, Moby Dick,  is considered “The Great American Novel” however its themes and meaning transcend the shores of America. The novel is literally teeming with meaning and brilliant insights. One wishes the book were bound with two dozen ribbon bookmarks. If you have read and studied the novel you know what I mean. Recently I reached for one of my copies of Moby Dick, a beautiful deluxe leather-bound edition with gilded fore-edges published by Easton Press. The silk ribbon marks a passage in the book from Chapter 114, The Gilder. In this chapter, mesmerized by the calmness of the sea, Captain Ahab reflects on life’s journey:

“There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more?”

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 post: Why Read Moby
The Books That Shaped America
The Books that Influence Us
What to Read Next
30 Books Everyone Should Read
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms

For further reading: Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville
Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco


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