April 24:  Library of Congress Day

On this date in 1800, President John Adams approved an appropriation of $5,000 to purchase books, establishing the Library of Congress. The books were ordered from London and a total of 740 volumes were housed in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Invading British troops destroyed the library when they set fire to the Capitol Building in 1814. In 1815, Congress accepted an offer by retired President Thomas Jefferson to replace the library with his own eclectic collection of 6,487 books.

The library moved to its current location, the Thomas Jefferson Building across the street from the U.S. Capitol, in 1897. Two additional buildings were added in 1939 and 1980: The John Adams Building and the James Madison Memorial Building.

Today, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.  Its more than 38 million books are stored on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves.

While the Library of Congress plays an important role in the government of the United States and is the de facto national library of the U.S., just as important are the thousands of local libraries around the world.  Too often we take these spaces for granted. Here are a few choice quotations to remind us the value of libraries:

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.Walter Cronkite

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.Ray Bradbury

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest. -Lady Bird Johnson

Today’s Challenge:  The Future of Books

What is the future of libraries?  In the age of the Internet and all the changes in the way people access information and the ways they read, are physical libraries filled with physical books still important?   Research what people are saying about libraries and about the future of physical books.  Then, make your argument about what role libraries and books will play in the future, and use evidence from your research to support your reasoning.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Outside of a dog, books are man’s best friend; inside of a dog it’s too dark to read anyways. -Groucho Marx

1 – Library of Congress website. https://www.loc.gov/about/fascinating-facts/

April 23:  Birth of the Bard Day

The greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare, was born on this day in 1564. He died on the same day 52 years later in 1616.

Besides the date of his birth and death, we know little about Shakespeare’s life. Here is a brief timeline of key events:

1564 Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, 100 miles north of London

1582 Married to Anne Hathaway on November 28th

1583 Daughter Susanna is born

1585 Twins Judith and Hamnet are born

approx. 1591 Travels to London, works as an actor

1596 Eleven-year-old Hamnet dies

1513 Globe Theatre burns and Shakespeare retires to Stratford.

1616 Dies in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Shakespeare is clearly the most successful playwright who ever lived, but his influence reaches well beyond just his plays. His writing literally transformed the English language. If you want to see what the birth of the universe looked like you can read an account in Genesis, Chapter 1; if you want to see what the birth of words looks like, read the plays of Shakespeare.

According to linguist David Crystal, of the 17,677 words in the collected works of Shakespeare, approximately 1,700 (10%) can be identified as neologisms — that is invented words (1).

Here is a small sample of words first recorded in Shakespeare, according to David Crystal in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language:

accommodation, assassination, barefaced, countless, courtship, dislocate, dwindle, eventful, fancy-free, lack-luster, laughable, premeditated, submerged

In addition to individual words, there are countless common expressions that first appear in the works of Shakespeare:

There’s the rub from ‘Hamlet’

It’s Greek to me from ‘Julius Caesar’

At one fell swoop from ‘Macbeth’

Every inch a king from ‘King Lear’

Play fast and loose from ‘Love’s Labor Lost’

What’s in a name? from ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Paint the lily from ‘King John’

Too much of a good thing from ‘As You Like It’

Give the devil his due from ‘I Henry IV’

Although we know few specifics about Shakespeare’s education, we can make some guesses based on what we know about education in the 16th century England.  According to writer Simon Callow, the main topic of study was grammar – not English grammar, but Latin grammar:

Grammar school was tough. . . .They didn’t study history, they didn’t study mathematics, they didn’t study geography, they didn’t study science.  They studied grammar, from dawn to dusk, six days a week, all the year round. Grammar – Latin grammar. They translated from Latin into English and from English into Latin. At school, ordinary conversation was in Latin; any boy caught speaking English was flogged. And they mastered the tropes of rhetoric, from antimetabole (where words are repeated in inverse order) to zeugma (where one verb looks after two nouns). This is the language of power and politics: of the law, of Parliament, of the court, and this is the world of which young Will and his fellow pupils would soon, it was hoped, be part.

Today’s Challenge:  A Novel Opening

Who are the most memorable characters from Shakespeare’s plays?  If you were to inhabit the mind of one of these characters, writing his or her story in first person, which character would you choose?  Select your favorite character from Shakespeare and re-imagine his or her story as if it were a novel written in first person by the character.  Write the opening 250 words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  From a selection of his other works, we might think him variously courtly, cerebral, metaphysical, melancholic, Machiavellian, neurotic, light hearted, loving, and much more. Shakespeare was of course all these things—as a writer. We hardly know what he was as a person. -Bill Bryson

1-Shakespeare’s Genius in Creating Words. https://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A76533195#back1

2-https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/shakespeares-childhood-and-education