That Should Be A Word: Australian Edition

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEngland has the Oxford English Dictionary of British English, America has the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of American English, and Australia has the Macquarie Dictionary, the dictionary of Australian and New Zealand English. The first edition of the Macquarie Dictionary was published in 1981 with a team of lexicographers from the Linguistics department at Macquarie University (Sydney Australia) led by editor Susan Butler. The dictionary has quite a lexicographic pedigree: the first edition is based on Hamlyn’s Encyclopedic World Dictionary (1971), which in turn was based on Random House’s American College Dictionary (1947), which was based on the New Century Dictionary (1927), which was based on the two-volume The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language (1847-1850), which was based (finally!) on Noah Webster’s second edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language (1841). The Macquarie Dictionary is now in its seventh edition.

Like its British and American English counterparts, the Macquarie Dictionary is always evolving, adding new words as they arise in print and online. On their website, they ask Aussie readers to submit words that should be considered for inclusion. Here are some recent words being considered by the editors:

detourism: tavel that is off the beaten track or away from the usual sightseeing destinations

Droste effect: a Dutch art term for when a smaller image appears within itself in a recursive manner (a picture within a picture, as in the work of M. C. Escher)

factflip: when  politician or government changes impending policies because of public pressure

psychobiotics: live bacteria which, when ingested, can manipulate human gut bacteria for mental health benefits

SOML: story of my life

xenofiction: fiction told from the perspective of a nonhuman

zucked: to be banned from Facebook for posting something that conflicts with their guidelines

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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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Doublets: Lazy Thinking

atkins bookshelf quotations“A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.”

American comedian Steven Wright (born 1955), known for his deadpan delivery of ironic, paradoxical, nonsensical humor. Wright is fond of paraprosdokians — a figure of speech in which the end of the sentence is a surprise, or prompts the listener or reader to reinterpret the first part. For example, here are two Wright classic lines “On the other hand, you have different figures.” and “I went to a place to eat; it said ‘breakfast any time.” So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”

“To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the need for thought.”

From (Jules) Henri Poincare’s Science and Hypothesis. Poincare (1854-1912) was a French mathematician, theoretical physicist, and philosopher of science. His pioneering studies laid the groundwork for chaos theory.

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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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The Greatest Life Lesson: Life is Transitory

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomOne of the greatest gifts of getting older is wisdom. Life’s journey, that inevitably traverses through the steepest hills and deepest valleys, eventually leads you to a plateau that is high enough for you to look back and reflect on it — to appreciate its point of origin and its meaning. And if you turn around and look ahead, it shows you a horizon that is wide enough that allows you to see the real possibilities. It is from this perspective, that one of life’s great lessons becomes crystal clear: life is transitory, ephemeral. In youth, we tend to think that some of life’s great moments or stages in one’s life are permanent; that they will last forever — or perhaps if not forever, it will be for a very long time that seems like forever. But as you get older, you realize that life is played out over decades and not days, like a massive ball of beads that is rolled out, each bead separated by a thin strand of twine, each representing a moment in time, each presenting something joyful or painful, happy or sad. So in youth, we obsess over each bead or group of beads, oblivious to the beads that will come after; but in middle-age and beyond, we view really large sections — hundreds, perhaps thousands of beads — at a time; mindful of the beads that come before and after those sections. To put this another way, life at any particular time in one’s life is not a moment, but a clip from a very long movie. Knowledge of this is what gives us hope and perseverance, to move forward to the next frame, to the next scene, especially if we want to move from the shadow to the light.

American poet, Carl Sandburg, was very much aware of this life lesson when he wrote the poem titled “The People, Yes” published in 1936. It was written in the midst of America’s Great Depression in the hope that it would inspire people to persevere through extremely challenging times. One of the greatest life lessons is buried inside the 300-page poem, told as a story about a king that wanted an inscription that would stand the test of time:

And the king wanted an inscription
good for a thousand years and after
that to the end of the world?
“Yes, precisely so.”
“Something so true and awful that no
matter what happened it would stand?”
“Yes, exactly that.”
“Something no matter who spit on it or
Laughed at it there it would stand
And nothing would change it?”
“Yes, that was what the king ordered
his wise men to write.”
“And what did they write?”
“Five words: This too shall pass away.”

Five simple words: “This too shall pass away.” May it provide some solace and inspiration as you walk through the darkest valleys of your life journey. Remember it always; and be sure to share it with a friend in need.

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The Weirdest Museums in the World

alex atkins bookshelf triviaJames Halperin, a professional rare coin dealer and the founder of Heritage Auctions, the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer, believes collecting is a basic human instinct that has been intensified by centuries of natural selection: “Those of our ancient ancestors who managed to accumulate scare objects may have been more prone to survive long enough to bear offspring.” That is to say, acquisition of rare items led to wealth that allowed someone to have and care for more children. In short, it is one of humanity’s innate idiosyncrasies or compulsions to collect shit. And this is where museums — particularly museums of weird or offbeat collections — come in: they validate the collection and bestow some level of honor (genius, eccentric, or madman?) on the collector or collectors. In some respects, it is high culture hoarding — and it attracts those with enough curiosity and the willingness to fork over the sometimes pricey admissions to peer into the rarefied collector’s world. For example, you can visit the Iceland Phallological Museum that has the world’s largest collection of pricks, second only to the U.S. Congress. Imagine what items are for sale at the gift shop — Sigmund Freud would have a field day. Or you can visit the entertaining (or creepy, depending on your experience) Clown Hall of Fame and Research that has the world’s largest collection of clowns, second only to the U.S. Congress and the White House. Without further ado, here are some of the weirdest or most offbeat museums in the world. Don’t delay — plan your trip today!

Tap Water Museum – Beijing, China

Dog Collar Museum – Kent, England

British Lawnmower Museum – Merseyside, England)

The Bread Museum – Ulm Germany

Garden Gnome Museum –  Grafenroda, Germany

Platinarium (bodies, sans skin, that have been preserved in creative positions) – Guben, Germany

Avanos Hair Museum – Avanos, Turkey

Iceland Phallological Museum (penises and phallic symbol) – Reykjavik, Iceland

Mummy Museum – Guanajuato, Mexico

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum – Ikeda-shi, Japan

Siriraj Medical Museum (museum of Death) – Bangkok; Thailand

Sulabh International Museum of Toilets – New Delhi, India

The Kunstkamera (contains collection of human fetuses with grotesque mutations) – St. Petersburg, Russia

Torture Museum – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Museum of Bad Art – Dedham, Massachusetts

Kansas Barbed Wire Museum – La Crosse, Kansas

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum – Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Museum of Sex – New York City, New York

Vent Haven Museum – Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

International Cryptozoology Museum (life size art sculptures of famous monsters) – Portland, Maine

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: Offbeat Museums: A Guided Tour of America’s Weirdest and Wackiest Museums by Saul Rubin

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