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Posted on Sat. Dec. 22, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

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The reading list

“With others of my ageing type, I assemble outside provincial book fairs waiting tremulously for them to open, as drinkers waited outside pubs in the days when they still had opening and closing hours. We all rush in, hopeful of finding something special and fearful that others will find it first. It isn't only fish that get away.

“How many hours, among the happiest of my life, have I spent in the dusty, damp or dismal purlieus of second-hand bookshops, where mummified silverfish, faded pressed flowers and very occasionally love letters are to be found in books long undisturbed on their shelves. With what delight do I find the word 'scarce' pencilled in on the flyleaf by the bookseller, though the fact that the book has remained unsold for years, possibly decades, suggests that purchasers are scarcer still.

“Alas, second-hand bookshops are closing daily, driven out of business by the combination of a general decline in reading, the internet and that most characteristic of all modern British institutions, the charity shop. Booksellers tell me that 90 per cent of their overheads arise from their shops, and 90 per cent of their sales from the internet. Except for the true antiquarian dealers, whose customers are aficionados of the first state and the misprint on page 287, second-hand bookshops make less and less economic sense.”

– From “Why second-hand bookshops are just my type” at telegraph.co.uk

A quiz

Which bear has the largest home range?

Wisdom of the ages

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

Current wisdom

“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence.” – President Obama, after promising to send Congress broad proposals in January for tightening gun laws and curbing violence after last week's schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut.

Quiz answer

The polar bear. One bear can hunt and live in an area as big as Maine.

Snob words

apopemptic (ap-uh-PEMP-tik), adj. – pertaining to leave-taking or departing; valedictory, as in: “The departing editorial writer tried not to disturb council members with noisy apopemptic rituals.” From the Greek apopemptikos, pertaining to “sending away.”

Today in histor

On this date in 1944, Germans demanded the surrender of American troops at Bastogne, Belgium; the response is still handy today: Nuts!

Now you know

Scientists believe that Earth will exist for another 7.5 billion years before the sun becomes a red giant star and, in all probability, destroys the planet.


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