July 15: Amazon Day  

Today is the anniversary of the first book sold on Amazon.com in 1995. The title of the book was Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter.

Amazon.com was founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, who originally called it “Cadabra.” To rename his mega-online store he searched for an appropriate metaphor and rediscovered the Amazon River. The Amazon is exotic, it’s different, and it starts with an “A,” which puts it at the top of alphabetical lists. The Amazon River is not the world’s longest river (it’s the second longest next to the Nile), but it is by far the world’s largest river when measured by water volume. Thus the name for the world’s most voluminous river also became the name of the world’s most voluminous bookstore.

The word Amazon has its origins in Greek mythology. The Amazons were a tribe of female warriors, so ferocious and bellicose that each warrior would cut off and cauterize her right breast to increase her accuracy with bow and arrow. In two myths featuring Amazons, Achilles killed Penthesila, Queen of the Amazons, and Hercules, in one of his twelve labors, stole the girdle of another Amazon queen.

Amazon became the appellation of South America’s great river when explorers noticed a resemblance between the indigenous women of the region and the Amazons of antiquity (1).

In addition to revolutionizing the way books are sold, Amazon.com has also created a whole new world of book reviews.  Reviewers rate books on a five star rating scale, and all kinds of reviews are published — the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Reviewer’s reviews are also rated based on how helpful other customers find their comments.

Eleven years to the day after Amazon appeared online, another online juggernaut made its debut.  Twitter became available to the public on July 15, 2006. What Amazon has done for online sales, Twitter has done for online communication (2).  A free online social networking service, Twitter allows users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets.”

Today’s Challenge:  Brevity is the Soul of Tweets
How would you describe or review your favorite book, or the book you’re reading right now, in 140 characters or fewer?  Make every word count by writing a review of your favorite book or the book you’ve read recently in 140 characters or fewer.  Write your first draft without worrying about the length; then, edit carefully to reach the character limit by eliminating any unnecessary words.  Economy in writing is just as valuable as economy in online purchases.

Quote of the Day: When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. –Erasmus

 

1 – Ammer, Christine. Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

2-http://www.thewire.com/technology/2012/03/today-twitters-real-birthday-no/50151/

July 7:  Utopia Day

On this date in 1535, Sir Thomas More, English statesman and author, was executed for treason.

More was caught in the middle of religious and governmental conflict when Henry VIII established the Church of England, separating from the Catholic Church.  Because More disagreed with the King’s decision, he resigned his office in the English Parliament and refused to take a loyalty oath. As a result, he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded.

The 1966 film A Man for All Seasons portrays the events surrounding More’s execution.

More is best known for his 1516 satirical novel Utopia, in which he envisioned a perfect island state with universal education, common land ownership, religious tolerance, and shared labor (1).

Because of the sharp contrast between the less than perfect island of England and More’s idyllic island of Utopia, the satirical aspect of the novel was clear to 16th century readers. Today utopia and utopian have become a part of the English lexicon, describing any ideal or perfect condition or place. Of course this is an idea that exists purely in the imagination since establishing any perfect society is impossible. More certainly understood this, since he used Greek roots to generate a name for his island that translates literally as “no place,” [ou, not + topos, place].

More is not the first writer to envision an idyllic place in literature. The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions has an entire chapter devoted to these utopias:

Albion:  In Arthurian legend, this was the place to which Arthur was conveyed after his death.

Arcadia:  An idealized region in classical poetry found in the mountainous district in the Peloponnese of southern Greece.

Avalon:  In poetry and literature this name is sometimes used to refer to Britain as a green paradise.

Eden:  The garden home of Adam and Eve where the Tree of Knowledge was found.

El Dorado: The fabled city of gold sought in the 16th century by Spanish conquistadors.

Shangri-la:  A Tibetan utopia depicted in James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon.’

Valhalla:  A great banqueting hall from Norse mythology where heroes, slain in battle, feasted with Odin eternally.  

Xanadu:  The name of a dreamlike place of beauty and luxury in Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” (2).

Today’s Challenge: Go To Your Happy Place
What is the most idyllic place you have ever been? Describe it so that your reader can experience it vicariously.  Try to capture its idyllic nature in both your tone and your imagery. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious, discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness. -Helen Keller

1 – Raftery, Miriam. 100 Books That Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2002.

2 – Delahunty, Andrew, Sheila Dignen, and Penny Stock (Editors). The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

 

July 1:  Strunk and White Day

Today is the birthday of William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1946), the principal author of The Elements of Style.  This book, also known as Strunk & White, is the single most influential style guide ever written, selling over ten million copies.  Strunk originally published the book as an instructional pamphlet for his students at Cornell University in 1918, but it didn’t gain its great notoriety until after it was revised and published by Strunk’s former student E. B. White in 1959.

Elements of Style cover.jpgOne of Strunk’s recommendations, which dates from the original 1918 edition, still holds today as one of the most insightful things ever said about the characteristics of effective writing:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.  

This passage not only proclaims one of the key principles of effective writing, it also exemplifies it, by omitting needless words.  Below is a list of Stuck and White’s other Principles of Composition, each of which is explained in The Elements of Style:

  1.      Choose a suitable design and stick to it.
  2.      Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
  3.      Use the active voice.
  4.      Put statements in positive form.
  5.      Use definite, specific, concrete language.
  6.      Omit needless words.
  7.      Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
  8.      Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
  9.      Keep related words together.
  10.      In summaries, keep to one tense.
  11.      Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

Today’s Challenge:  What’s Your Primary Principle for Proper Prose?
What would you argue is the single most important rule for effective writing? Select one of the 11 principles from Struck and White, or come up with your own.  Then, support your rule by explaining it in detail along with showing examples where appropriate. (Common Core 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day:  The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up. –E. B. White

June 30:  One-Book Author Day

On this day in 1936, Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) published her first and only novel Gone with the Wind.  The book became a blockbuster, mesmerizing readers with its story, set in the Old South, and its fascinating characters, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.

Gone with the Wind cover.jpgMitchell worked as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal until 1926 when complications from an ankle injury prevented her from walking. To occupy herself, she began to read.

Mitchell read voraciously, so voraciously that her husband John Marsh became tired of carting books back and forth from Atlanta’s Carnegie Library.  One day instead of a pile of books, he arrived with something else to keep her occupied, and announced, “. . . here is a typewriter.  Here is some copy paper.  Write your own book to amuse yourself” (1).

Although her experience as a writer was in journalism, she began to write fiction, turning to the stories she had heard from her family about the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Because she always struggled to write the openings of her newspaper stories, Mitchell got in the habit of writing the last part first.  She followed this same pattern with Gone With the Wind, beginning with the last chapter, Chapter 63.

Mitchell wrote for nine years without any real ambition to publish, until she had a chance meeting with a publishing representative in 1935.  Bashful about sharing her work, Mitchell was at first reluctant to show anyone her book.  Fortunately, she reconsidered.  Pulling together her manuscript of over one thousand pages, she placed it in a suitcase and delivered it to the publisher.  A few days later Mitchell received a wire announcing that her book had been accepted for publication.

When the book went on sale on June 30, 1936, Mitchell hoped it would sell 5,000 copies.  The book sold one million copies in its first six months, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.  Two years later the film version of the book premiered in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.

Although Gone With the Wind became the most successful book ever published by an unknown author of a first novel, Mitchell never wrote another book.  Besieged by admiring readers, the press, and fan mail, Mitchell found little time to write fiction.  Mitchell died in 1949 after being struck by a speeding car near her home in Atlanta (2).

Margaret Mitchell is not the only author to write only one book. Other one hit wonders include J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), Emile Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Anna Sewell (Black Beauty), and Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar).  The 2003 documentary The Stone Reader traces one reader’s quest for one-book author Dow Mossman, who published The Stones of Summer in 1976.

Today’s Challenge:  One Book, One City
Many communities across the United States have participated in One Book, One City projects where a single book is chosen to be read and discussed by everyone in that community.  The first such program began in Seattle in 1998 with Russell Banks’ 1991 novel The Sweet Hereafter (3).  What one book would you argue would be worth reading by your entire hometown?  What makes this one book something special?  Write the pitch for the book that you think would be a good fit for your hometown, explaining why it is a book that would appeal to all ages and interests. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.  -Samuel Johnson

1-http://www.npr.org/2011/06/30/137476187/margaret-mitchells-gone-with-the-wind-turns-75

2-http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1108.html

3-http://read.gov/resources/

June 21:  Bibliophile Day

On this day in 2003, 16-year old Emerson Spartz traveled nearly 4,000 miles, from Chicago to London, to buy a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Spartz could have stayed in the United States since the American release of the book was on the same day as the British release, but Spartz said that he wanted to be “where the story began” and to “feel the weight of that book” (1). The fifth installment in the Harry Potter series, Order of the Phoenix weighed in at 768 pages.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.jpgAlmost ten years earlier the New York Times featured an article called The End of Books that speculated whether or not books and other print-based media were on their way out, being superseded by computer technology. This is certainly not the first time that anyone prematurely declared books dead. As early as 1894 Scribner’s Magazine published an article entitled The End of Books, relaying the predictions of Arthur Blackcross, who claimed that inventions like the photograph and the Kinetoscope, the first silent movie projector, would replace the antiquated written page.

John H. Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston, makes an interesting analogy, challenging the conventional wisdom that says that new technologies replace old ones:

So, are paper books doomed? Oddly enough, they’re not. Think about pianos. Pianos evolved from harpsichord improvements. But soon they were something wholly different. You still need a harpsichord for harpsichord music. In this century, cars replaced horses. But cars aren’t much use in rough, roadless country (2).

Lienhard continues to argue in the article that books do something for us that no other media can. Instead of just supplying us with images and sounds in a passive manner, books allow us to participated in the creation of images as we read actively and interact imaginatively with the text. Perhaps that’s why readers like Emerson Spartz are willing to travel to distant cities to feel the weight of a book in their own hands.

And speaking of distant cities –the Greek word for book biblos originates from the name of a Phoenician city, Byblos, renowned for its manufacturing of paper from the Egyptian papyrus plant. It’s the same root from which we get the word Bible, meaning book of books.

Bibliomania

A book for all book lovers(sometimes called bibliophiles) is A Passion for Books, a treasury of stories, essays, and lists all related to books. In a chapter called Bibliolexicon, it lists a number of words with the biblio root. See if you can match up each word with its correct definition. When you finish, go to your local bookstore and buy a book.

  1. Bibliobibule
  2. Biblioclast
  3. Bibliodemon
  4. Biblioklept
  5. Bibliolater
  6. Bibliophage
  7. Bibliophobe
  8. Biblioriptos
  9. Bibliosopher
  10. Bibliotaphe

A. One who steals books
B. One who buries or hides books
C. One who worships books
D. One who tears pages from or otherwise destroys books
E. A book fiend or demon
F. One who eats or devours books
G. One who reads too much
H. One who fears books
I. One who throws books around
J. One who gains wisdom from books (3)

Today’s Challenge:   RUSH for MORE Books

What are four books that should be on every bookshelf?  What four books should readers buy today, read immediately, and keep on their bookshelf forever?  Make your argument for your Mount Rushmore of books.  Give a brief overview of each book along with an explanation of why each book is so essential.  (Common Core Writing 1 -Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  A room without books is like a body without a soul. Marcus Tullius Cicero

Answers: 1. G 2. D 3. E 4. A 5. C 6. F 7. H 8. I 9. J 10. B

1 – Grobman, Paul. Vital Statistics: An Amazing Compendium of Factoids, Minutiae, and Random Bits of Wisdom. New York: Plume Books, 2005.

2 – Lienhard, John H. Engines of Ingenuity Episode No. 2009: “The End of Books: 1894” http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi2009.htm

3 – Rabinowitz, Harold and Rob Kaplan (Editors). Passion for Books: A Book Lover’s Treasury. New York: Times Books, 1999.

 

June 19:  Create a Monster Day

Today marks the anniversary of one history’s most remarkable meeting of literary minds. On the night of June 19, 1816, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Byron’s doctor and travel companion Dr. John Polidori met in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

Frankenstein 1818 edition title page.jpgInspired no doubt by the unseasonably stormy weather of that summer, caused by the eruption of Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, the group gathered to read aloud from a collection of German ghost stories, called The Fantasmagoriana. These stories inspired Lord Byron to challenge each person in the group to compose a ghost story (1).

One might guess that the two established poets Byron and Shelley would battle for first place in the contest; however, it was the two members of the party without literary reputation who rose to the challenge, each creating a monster that would change literature forever.

The English Doctor, John Polidori, wrote what has come to be called the first vampire tale, a short story called “The Vampyre,” published in 1819. Although his story is not widely read today, it predates other stories in the vampire genre and is seen as the inspiration of the masters of the form: Sheridan le Fanu, Edgar Allen Poe, and, of course, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula (2).

As far as the overall winner of the contest, based on the criteria of both influence and creativity, the award must go to Mary Shelley, whose contribution to the contest later became her novel Frankenstein (1818). In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary credits a conversation between Byron and her husband, Shelley, as the inspiration for her story. She listened attentively as the two poets discussed Darwin’s discoveries and as they speculated about whether or not the secret of life could be found and whether or not a human corpse could be reanimated.

That evening the seeds of the poets’ conversation germinated in Mary’s mind, producing a vivid nightmare that gave her the story that would captivate readers and moviegoers for generations. In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley describes what she saw in her nightmare:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to make the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade, that this thing which had received such imperfect animation would subside into dead matter, and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench forever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.

As a result of Byron’s challenge, on this one fateful day, two unique literary monsters were born.

Famous Monsters of Book Land

Long before Shelley and Polidori created their monsters, other monsters filled the pages of ancient myth. See if you can match up each monster below with its appropriate description. Then, challenge your family or a group of friends to create their own horror stories and monsters.

  1. Grendal
  2. Cyclopes
  3. Minotaur
  4. Cerberus
  5. Hydra
  6. Sphinx
  7. Harpies
  8. Medusa

A. The many-headed snake that Hercules defeated in one of his labors.

B. The monster that Beowulf fought and killed in the Old English epic.

C. The creature with a bull’s head and a man’s body that was confined in the Labyrinth until it was killed by Theseus.

D. The Gorgon who had snakes for hair and turned anyone who looked at her into stone. She was killed by Perseus.

E. The monster with the wings and claws of a vulture and the head and body of a woman.

F. The winged monster with a woman’s head and a lion’s body. It challenged travelers with a riddle and killed them when they failed to solve it. It killed itself when Oedipus finally solved its riddle.

G. The three-headed dog who guards the entrance to Hades.

H. The race of one-eyed giants who made thunderbolts for Zeus.

Today’s Challenge:  A Dark and Stormy Story

What would make a good setting for a horror story?  How might you create tension and suspense at the very beginning of a scary story?  Write the opening paragraph of a tale of horror.  Start your tale with a specific setting, and use the kind of specific description that creates a mood that is appropriate to a horror story.  For inspiration, read the first paragraph of a Stephen King story or novel. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: Everyone thinks I’m a horrible person, but I’m really not. In fact, I have the heart of a child, and I keep it in a jar on my desk. -Stephen King

Answer: 1. B 2. H 3. C 4. G 5. A 6. F 7. E 8. D

1 – Woodbridge, Kim. “The Summer of 1816.” http://www.kimwoodbridge.com/maryshel/summer.shtml

2 – John Polidori & The Vampyre Byron http://www.angelfire.com/jazz/louxsie/polidori.html

 

June 18:  Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary Day

On this date in 1746, Dr. Samuel Johnson, poet and critic, signed a contract with bookseller Robert Dodsley to write the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language. Johnson thought he would complete the project in three years, but the dictionary was not completed and published until April 15, 1755.

JohnsonDictionary.pngAlthough it took six years longer than he first estimated, it was worth the wait. The dictionary contained 40,000 words and definitions, along with 114,000 supporting quotations, and is written with precision, clarity, and wit. Johnson did for English in nine years what it had taken 40 French lexicographers 40 years to complete for the French language (1).

Here are few examples of words and definition from Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language:

Amulet: An appended remedy, or preservative: a thing hung about the neck, or any other part of the body, for preventing or curing some particular diseases.

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.

Microscope: An optick instrument, contrived various ways to give to the eye a large appearance of many objects which could not otherwise be seen.

Zootomy: Dissection of the bodies of beasts.

In his Preface, Johnson talks about the challenges he faced in trying to harness the recalcitrant words of English:

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity, and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority.

Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as experience and analogy suggested to me; experience, which practice and observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others.

Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language set the standard for future dictionaries. Unlike other languages like French and Italian that established academies to fix the language and prescribe how words should be used, Johnson’s approach was not to prescribe but rather to describe the language. In this way, instead of fixing the language, Johnson registered the English language by basing his definitions not solely upon his own whims, but upon the written record of centuries of writers in English. In the words of author Simon Winchester, Johnson’s method created “a whole new way of dictionary making, and an entirely new intellectual approach to the language, had been inaugurated” (2).

Johnson’s process inspired the writers of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose 10 volumes were completed in 1928. And still today English lexicographers take the descriptive approach to dictionary writing by reading all kinds of published words and recording how the meaning of words are changing and what new words are appearing.

Today’s Challenge: The Only Constant is Change

If you were writing a dictionary, what are ten words — all starting with the same letter — that you would define?  New editions of dictionaries in English are published every year because the language is constantly changing. Because of this change, some of the words from Johnson’s Dictionary have very different definitions today than they did in 1755. Visit the online edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, and select five unfamiliar words.  Record the parts of speech and definitions of the words.  (Common Core Language – 4)

Quotation of the Day: At painful times, when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction. -Elizabeth Barrett Browning

1 – McCrum, Robert, Wiliam Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

2 -Winchester, Simon. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

3 – Hitchings, Henry. Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

May 25:  Towel Day

Today fans of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, honor his life and work by wearing or displaying towels. Why towels? Well, the explanation can be found in an excerpt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

H2G2 UK front cover.jpgA towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Adams was born in Cambridge, England in 1952. His publishing career began with a short story that was published in a comic book called Eagle when he was 11 years old. His best known work, the comic sci-fi novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy began as a BBC Radio 4 series in 1978. The novel was published in 1979. The original novel spawned four sequels and a cult following that bought more than 15 million books. The Hitchhikers Guide was made into a movie in 2005.

Towel day was established in 2001 after Adam’s unexpected death of a heart attack on May 11, 2001. He was 49 at the time, living in California with his wife and daughter.

The following proclamation is from the official Towel Day website:

You sass that hoopy Douglas Adams? Now there’s a frood who knew where his towel was. You are invited to join your fellow hitchhikers in mourning the loss of the late great one. Join in on towel day to show your appreciation for the humor and insight that Douglas Adams brought to all our lives.

Today’s Challenge:  The Catalog of Literary Swag

If you were putting together a catalog of physical objects from various great literary works, what are some of the items you would include?  Brainstorm some physical objects that would be included in a catalogue featuring items from great literary works, such as Adams’ Towel, Yorick’s Skull, Huckleberry Finn’s Raft, Scout’s Ham Costume, Romeo’s Vile of Poison, or Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter.  Select and name three specific items from three separate works. Next to the name of each item, write a brief description, the kind of description you would find in a catalog to entice buyers. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer–so that both men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time–was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.

-Nathaniel Hawthorne, description of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter

May 10:  Banned and Burned Books Day

On the evening of May 10, 1933, Students on 34 campuses across Germany gathered to burn books that were deemed “un-German.”  The book burnings were one of several of the actions the Nazi party took in the years leading up to World War II to bring German arts and culture in line with Nazi goals.

More than just spontaneous demonstrations, the book burnings were organized affairs, complete with ceremonial music and scripted statements called “fire oaths” that were read aloud as students tossed books onto bonfires.

In Berlin, where over 40,000 students and Nazi officials gathered, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, delivered a scathing speech denouncing the decadence and moral corruption found in the unwanted books.

Any book expressing ideas that in any way ran counter to Nazi ideologies was deemed fit for incineration.  The following is a small sample of some of the authors whose books were burned: Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Karl Marx, Bertolt Brecht, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, and Helen Keller.  

Also burned on May 10th were works by the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, whose words foreshadowed the horror to come:  “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people” (1).

Germany, of course, is not the only place where there have been book burnings.  In 1973, Charles McCarthy, Chairman of a school board in North Dakota had copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five burned because of its “obscene language.”  Fortunately, many denounced the book burning, including the book’s author who sent a letter to McCarthy, saying the following:

I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can’t stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

Each September since 1982, the American Library Association has sponsored Banned Books Week, a national campaign that promotes the freedom to read and that celebrates a diversity of ideas, even those that are unorthodox or unpopular.  Activities during the week include public readings, panel discussions, and even a teen fashion show where designers display original fashion inspired by challenged or banned books (3).

Today’s Challenge:   Only You Can Prevent Book Burning

What are some examples of books that have been banned or challenged?  Research some books that have been frequently banned or challenged.  Select one and write a report that gives a brief overview of the book and its author, along with some details on the specific context in which it was banned or challenged.

The following are examples of books that have been banned or challenged:

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

1984 by George Orwell

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

The Bible

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Ulysses by James Joyce

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. -Ray Bradbury

1 https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852

2-http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/03/i-am-very-real.html

3-http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/

May 2: King James Bible Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of what is probably the most influential work in the history of the English language, the King James translation of the Old and New Testaments, completed in 1611. Of course, one might argue that it is not one work but 66 separate books (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament); nevertheless, the reading and proclaiming of the words from the King James Bible have made a significant impact on the words we speak today.

The title page's central text is:"THE HOLY BIBLE,Conteyning the Old Testament,AND THE NEW:Newly Translated out of the Original tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties speciall Comandement.Appointed to be read in Churches.Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie.ANNO DOM. 1611 ."At bottom is:"C. Boel fecit in Richmont.".For example, take any letter of the alphabet and think of expressions we use in print and spoken word that came to us from the King James Authorized Version. Here are just a few examples from the letter A:

Adam’s apple

Apple of one’s eye

Adam’s rib

A little lower than angels

All things are possible

All things work together for good

Alpha and omega

Am I my brother’s keeper?

A soft answer turneth away wrath

Ask, and it shall be given

For a more complete collection of words and phrases from the Bible, see the book Mene, Mene, Tekel (The handwriting is on the wall): A lively lexicon of words and phrases from the Bible (1).

In the second year of his reign, after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, King James I ordered a new English authorized translation of the Bible. It was a time of renaissance for the spoken and written word in English as witnessed by the works of William Shakespeare, who was a contemporary of the men working on James’ translation. Over fifty scholars worked on the project, making it probably the most impressive work ever completed by a committee.

The King James Bible and the manner of speaking it influenced soon crossed the Atlantic to the New World, where in 1620 the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth to plant the seed of King James’ English in this new Promised Land.

The King James Bible was published the same year that Shakespeare began work on his last play The Tempest. In Shakespeare and the Authorized version of the Bible, we have the Yin and the Yang of the English language. Shakespeare prodigiously invented words, metaphors, and turns of phrase; his works make up a vocabulary of approximately 30,000 words. In contrast, the King James Version uses a sparse 8,000 words, a basic lexicon that could be read, spoken, and understood by common men and women.

Bard or Bible?

Read the common expressions below. Which come from the King James Bible and which are from Shakespeare’s plays?

  1. Apple of one’s eye
  2. Out of the mouth of babes
  3. There’s the rub
  4. Fallen from grace
  5. Lamb to the slaughter
  6. It’s Greek to me
  7. Through a glass, darkly
  8. To eat out of house and home
  9. Tower of strength
  10. Pearls before swine
  11. Serve God and Mammon
  12. Sings of the times
  13. Too much of a good thing
  14. Skin of the teeth
  15. Fatted calf
  16. Feet of clay
  17. Giants in the earth
  18. Gone with the wind
  19. Every inch a kind
  20. Turn the other cheek
  21. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth
  22. Den of lions
  23. Cast the first stone
  24. Paint the lily
  25. Cruel to be kind
  26. Blind leading the blind
  27. Budge an inch

According to the scholar and critic E. D. Hirsch, knowledge of the Bible is not simply an issue of religious education; it is instead an issue of literacy (see March 1: Cultural Literacy  Day).. A basic understanding and working knowledge of the Bible is essential to being literate in the English-speaking world. As Hirsch puts it:

Literate people in India, whose religious traditions are not based on the Bible but whose common language is English, must know about the Bible in order to understand English within their own country.  All educated speakers of American English need to understand what is meant when someone describes a contest as being between David and Goliath, or whether a person who has the “wisdom of Solomon” is wise or foolish . . . . Those who cannot use or understand such allusions cannot fully participate in literate English. (2)

Allusions are references to people, places, events, and things from history, mythology, religion, or literature.  The mention of an allusion doesn’t just evoke a story, it also evokes an abstract idea or universal theme. For example, if a writer makes an allusion to “Judas,” most literate readers will comprehend the reference to Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus as told in the New Testament.  In addition to the story of Judas, the allusion also evokes themes related to Judas’ story, such as treachery and betrayal.

Today’s Challenge:   Tales from the Testaments

What are some examples of stories from the Bible that everyone should know — the kind of stories that are alluded to not just in religious works, but also in secular poems, novels, and nonfiction works?  Brainstorm a list of stories you think of that come from the Bible, either the Old or the New Testament.  The following are a few examples of allusions that most literate persons would be expected to recognize:

Abraham and Isaac, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, David and Goliath, Good Samaritan, Jacob and Esau, Job, Jonah and the Whale, Lot’s wife, Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Moses and the Exodus, Noah and the Flood, Pentecost, Pontius Pilate, Prodigal Son, Solomon, Tower of Babel

Select one allusion and paraphrase the essential elements of the story. Imagine an audience who has not heard the story before. Your purpose is to give them details concerning the story’s plot and its characters to that they will understand both the story and the meaning of the story. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand. –Mark Twain

1 – Ehrlich, Eugene and David H Scott. Mene, Mene, Tekel: A lively lexicon of words and phrases from the Bible. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

2- Hirsch, E. D. The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.

Answers:

KJV: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14,15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26

Shakespeare: 3, 6, 8, 9, 13, 19, 24, 25, 27