Best Quotes About Truth

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIn the world inundated with a stream of lies from politicians, fake news, and alternative facts — truth has been the greatest casualty. It is no wonder then, that the term for the study of truth, alethiology, is so rarely known or used. Why study an endangered species? After all, New York attorney and legal advisor to President Trump, Rudy Giuliani recently claimed on the NBC show “Meet the Press” (August 19, 2018), “truth isn’t truth.” WTF? But perhaps Giuliani was unwittingly channeling German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who in The Will to Power (1901) wrote: “There is no truth, only interpretations.” (That is a paraphrase of the actual quotation: “‘There are only facts’—I would say, no, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations.”)

But in a civilized society, truth does matter. It is the foundation for every field of study, for a democracy, for diplomacy between nations, and significantly — for personal relationships. So forget about the politicians teaching us about truth — for real insights into truth, let us turn to some of the greatest minds:

Johan Wolfgang von Goethe: “It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it.”

Epictetus: “The people have a right to the truth as they have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one mode of being.”

Winston Churchill: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The greatest homage we can pay truth is to use it.”

Mark Twain: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

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What is the Most Stolen Book?

alex atkins bookshelf booksIn 1971, American activist and poster boy for the counterculture movement Abbie Hoffman published Steal This Book. (For those who were not born before the 1970s, Hoffman was as famous as the Kardashians; he was one of the most well-known anti-Vietnam War protestors). And obliging teens and young adults did exactly that — thousands were stolen, but at least Hoffman sold more than 250,000 copies. The book was essentially a handbook for protesting against “the Pig Empire” and surviving on as little money as possible. There’s no crime in being frugal, right? To Hoffman, not stealing from the establishment was immoral. In contrast, today the establishment considers it immoral not to steal from the middle and lower class.

Since we are discussing Hoffman’s controversial book, it certainly invites the question: what is the most stolen book? And according to recent research, it seems there are really two questions to address: what is the most stolen book from libraries? and what is the most stolen book from bookstores?

The curious folks at TheStreet visited libraries and bookstores to addressed both of these questions. Librarians and booksellers had no problem listing all the books that seemed to grow legs and walk out the door. Ironically, the two most stolen books are The Guinness Book of Records and The Bible. So much for the 8th commandment: thous shall not steal. As one librarian noted: there is a special kind of hell for those who steal books, especially those that are quite rare. Here are the lists of the most commonly stolen books from libraries and bookstores:

The Most Stolen Books From Libraries:

The Guinness Book of Records
The Bible
Test preparation books (SAT, ACT, GRE, etc)
Books of legal advice or forms
Sports Illustrated (Swimsuit Edition)
Books with nude photos or paintings; especially the Kama Sutra and erotica novels

Art Books
Books on college reading lists
Books about the paranormal, witchcraft, etc.
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series

The Most Stolen Books from Bookstores:

Anything by Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Graphic Novels
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
 Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman (of course)
The Alchemist by Paul Coelho

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The Antiquarian Bookseller’s Catalog: Sept 2018

atkins-bookshelf-booksAn antiquarian bookseller’s catalog is a bibliophile’s dream of a museum between two covers. Open any catalog, and you will find literary treasures — valuable first editions, rare inscribed copies, manuscripts, letters, screenplays, and author portraits — from some of the most famous authors in the world.

Ken Lopez has been an antiquarian bookseller since the early 1970s. Formerly the president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, Lopez focuses on first editions, literature of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, nature writing, and Native American literature. He is the quintessential bibliophile — as passionate about discovering rare books as he is about preserving literary history. Bibliophiles salivate as they browse through his comprehensive catalogs, filled with fascinating and valuable literary treasures. Here are some highlights from his most recent catalog, Modern Literature No. 170 (September 2018):

William Burroughs: First British Edition, The Naked Lunch ($2,500)

E. E. Cummings: Handwritten draft of poem “Will out of the kindness of their hearts a few philosophers tell me” ($13,000)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: First edition, first issue from Scribner (1925), no dust jacket, The Great Gatsby ($2,500)

Ernest Hemingway: First edition of The Old Man and the Sea, signed and inscribed by the author ($9,500)

Lee Harper: First edition, no dust jacket, To Kill a Mockingbird ($3,500)

Vladimir Nabokov: Pnin ($3,500)

Tom Wolfe: Unique edition in custom clamshell case, book inscribed by Tom Wolfe, fingerprinted by Ken Kesey, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test ($7,500)

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21 Epigrams That Can Make You A Better Person

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAn epigram is a remark that expresses an idea in a clever way; an ingenious thought. Or expressed another way: wisdom in a nutshell. The word is based on the Greek word epigramma, meaning “an inscription (typically on a tomb or monument).” The ancient Greeks were very fond of epigrams. The prominent Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed: “What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated — tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.”

Ryan Holiday, originally a marketing director and now a successful author of several bestselling books, has popularized the wisdom of stoicism, particularly in The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (2016). In an article for Manliness, Holiday reflects on the enduring significance of epigrams: “As long as man has been alive, he has been collecting little sayings about how to live. We find them carved in the rock of the Temple of Apollo and etched as graffiti on the walls of Pompeii. They appear in the plays of Shakespeare, the commonplace book of H. P. Lovecraft, the collected proverbs of Erasmus, and the ceiling beams of Montaigne’s study. Today, they’re recorded on iPhones and in Evernote… And they pack all this in in so few words.” Remarkably, Holiday believes that by following 21 epigrams, which he has collected over the years, can make you a better person — and here’s the rub: if you apply them.

“We must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” (Epictetus)

“The best revenge is not to be like that.” (Marcus Aurelius)

“There is good in everything, if only we look for it.” (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

“Character is fate.” (Heraclitus)

“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” (Nicholas Nassim Taleb)

“Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“This is not your responsibility but it is your problem.” — Cheryl Strayed)

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” — Marcus Aurelius)

“You are only entitled to the action, never to its fruits.” (Bhagavad Gita)

“Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.” (Epicurus)

“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

“Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue.” (Zeno)

“Space I can recover. Time, never.” —Napoleon Bonaparte)

“You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” (Warren Buffett)

“Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.” (Benjamin Franklin)

“The world was not big enough for Alexander the Great, but a coffin was.” (Juvenal)

“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.” (Winston Churchill)

“Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Jesus)

“Time and patience are the strongest warriors.” (Leo Tolstoy)

“No one saves us but ourselves / No one can and no one may.” (Buddha)

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To Live is to Suffer, to Survive is to Find Meaning in Suffering

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in suffering.”

This quote is mistakenly attributed to German philologist, Latin and Greek scholar, and philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), considered one of the most influential philosophers in modern intellectual history and Western philosophy. If you have googled the quotation, you realize how ubiquitous it is — it appears in hundreds of books, blogs, and merchandise (like posters) — mostly misattributed to Nietzsche. So much for fact-checking in the Google Era. Sure, it makes sense — Nietzsche certainly wrote about suffering. In fact, there is a passage that comes close; in On the Genealogy of Morals (1887) he wrote: “Man, the bravest animal and most prone to suffer, does not deny suffering as such: he wills it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering.” (p. 120, Cambridge edition, translated by Carol Diethe; p. 144, Penguin edition, translated by Michael Scarpitta).

But the actual source of that quotation is Victor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist who founded logo therapy. The quotation is from his profoundly insightful and bestselling work, Man’s Search for Meaning (1946), originally published as From Death-Camp to Existentialism (1959). In the 1946 edition, Frankl wrote: “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in suffering. If there is a meaning in life at all then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an inevitable part of life — without suffering life cannot be complete.” (p. 106, translated by Ilse Lasch).

Imagine the conversation that Nietzsche and Frankl would have had if they had lived in similar times and met.

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The Most Beautiful College Libraries in America

alex atkins bookshelf booksAs most librarians know, college libraries have been on the endangered species list for some time. Over the last two decades, college libraries have downsized, relocated, or — gasp — entirely eliminated their books as they shifted to digital resources or repurposed the space. Which begs the question: if a library does not have any books, is it still a library? But we digress. In the article “The Disappearance of Books Threatens to Erode Fine Arts Libraries,” journalist Sarah Bond discusses this disturbing trend: “Across the country, many university libraries are engaged in a book purge. This has meant reassessing the use of library spaces and consolidating book holdings in a bid to attract more visitors. In states like Missouri and Kansas, libraries have begun to spend more and more of their annual budgets on digital subscriptions and spaces for people, rather than on the acquisition of physical books. As in Austin and Madison, such shifts have often been met with resistance. At Syracuse University in New York, there was a faculty uproar over the proposed movement of books to a far-away warehouse. The struggle ultimately resulted in the university building a 20,000-square-foot storage facility nearby for over 1 million books — guaranteeing next-business-day delivery.”

Twenty years ago, book stores also thrived. Consumers took them for granted. And then, before you knew it, they disappeared — one by one. That is why Town & Country’s recent feature, “22 of America’s Most Beautiful College Libraries,” is a reminder to appreciate their significance of what they contain as well as their stunning architecture. If you have an opportunity, visit them while they are still around. Here is the list of the 22 most beautiful college libraries in America:

Bapst Art Library at Boston College

Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington

Widener Library at Harvard University

Uris Library at Cornell University

Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College

Riggs Library at Georgetown University

Washington University Law Library

Hoose Philosophy Library at the University of Southern California

Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago

George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University

Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania

Cook Legal Research Library at the University of Michigan

Butler Library at Columbia University

Beinecke Rare Book And Manuscript Library at Yale

Anne Bremer Memorial Library at San Francisco Art Institute

Mclure Education Library at the University of Alabama

Joe And Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago

Firestone Library at Princeton University

Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego

Albert And Shirley Small Special Collections Library at University of Virginia

William R. Perkins Library at Duke University

Powell Library at UCLA

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What is a Ghost Word?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA ghost word is definitely scary — especially if you are a lexicographer. Why? Because, at bottom, a ghost word is essentially a euphemism for a royal lexicographic f**k-up. More politely, a ghost word is a word published in a dictionary that is meaningless because it originated from an egregious mistake, eg, a typo, misreading, mispronunciation, or misinterpretation. Oops!

The term ghost word was coined by philologist Walter William Skeat in 1886. As president of the Philological Society, Skeat wanted to nip this lexicographical disaster in the bud; in a speech he highlighted this embarrassing professional blunder: “Of all the work which the Society has at various times undertaken, none has ever had so much interest for us, collectively, as the New English Dictionary. Dr. Murray [the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 to 1915] , as you will remember, wrote on one occasion a most able article, in order to justify himself in omitting from the Dictionary the word abacot, defined by Webster as “the cap of state formerly used by English kings, wrought into the figure of two crowns”. It was rightly and wisely rejected by our Editor on the ground that there is no such word, the alleged form being due to a complete mistake … due to the blunders of printers or scribes, or to the perfervid imaginations of ignorant or blundering editors… I propose, therefore, to bring under your notice a few more words of the abacot type; words which will come under our Editor’s notice in course of time, and which I have little doubt that he will reject. As it is convenient to have a short name for words of this character, I shall take leave to call them “ghost-words.”I only allow the title of ghost-words to such words, or rather forms, as have no meaning whatever.” And thus, the ghost word was born.

Related to the ghost word, is the term Nihilartikel (a mixed language portmanteau, Latin and German, literally translated, “nothing article) that is a fictitious word that is deliberately published in a dictionary to catch a plagiarist. The term was first used in German articles in the early 2000. (Those who grew up in the era of maps, may be familiar with Rand-McNally maps. They would include fake streets, known as trapstreets in cartography jargon,  in their maps in order to catch ruthless competitors who copied and sold their maps illegally.) A Nihelartikel is also known as a trap word or Mountweazel, named after a phony entry in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975) about a non-existent person named Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a supposed fountain designer who became a photographer. The original fake news, as it were.

Here are some of the notable ghost words that have made it into some of the most venerated dictionaries:

dord: Perhaps the most famous of all ghost words. It was first included in Webster’s International Dictionary (second edition) in 1934. The definition was indicated as “density.” It wasn’t until five years later that an eagle-eye editor realized that the entry for dord did not have an etymology. He checked the dictionary’s extensive files and found the original paper slip; it read: “D or d, cont/ density” which was referring to abbreviations that began with the letter “D.” However, a typesetter interpreted this as “dord” with the definition of “density.” (Back then words were often written with spaces in between the letters so that lexicographers could insert pronunciation marks.) The ghost word was finally removed from the dictionary in 1947.

abacot: This ghost word made its appearance in Superman’s Glossarium published in 1664, based on the appearance of the word in the second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles published in 1587. This ghost word then appeared in many other English dictionaries. As Skeat mentioned in his speech, three centuries later, James Murray discovered that the word was an egregious misprint of the world bycoket, a cap or head-dress. By then, abacot was firmly entrenched in the English lexicon, with a meaning expanded to include “cap of state,” “made like a double crown,” or “worn by ancient Kings of England.”

esquivalience: This ghost word is a deliberately fake word placed by the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary (2001) to catch other dictionary makers who want to steal their content. The definition was: the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties.” A perfect word for the Trump administration, no? The word was invented by editor Christine Lindberg, who confessed in an interview that she used it regularly: “I especially like the critical, judgmental tone I can get out of it: ‘Those esquivalient little wretches.’ Sounds literate and nasty all in one breath. I like that.”

feamyng: This ghost word supposedly is a collective noun for ferrets. Lexicographer Dmitri Bormann discovered that the word is the result of a long chain of bonehead typos: from BUSYNESS to BESYNESS to FESYNES to FESNYNG to FEAMYNG.

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: Beyond Language: Adventures in Words and Thoughts by Dmitri Borgmann

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