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When Walt Whitman Reviewed His Own Book

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Literary society was not quite ready for Walt Whitman when his transformative volume, Leaves of Grass, came out in 1855. Whitman revised and expanded the poetry collection throughout his life and it's now considered an essential part of the American literary canon. But when the collection was released, the contemporary reviews were more than skeptical. One 1856 review suggested that Whitman be sent to an insane asylum, and stated that its author would “not aid in extending the sale of this intensely vulgar, nay, absolutely beastly book, by telling our readers where it may be purchased” [PDF]. As late as the 1880s, a writer for The Atlantic decried its “tedious and helpless prose.”

But Whitman did get a few friendly reviews. Some of them, in fact, came from his own pen. In hopes of bolstering sales, the writer reviewed his own book, anonymously publishing fawning endorsements of his own writing.

Image Credit: Library of Congress

One, a September 1855 piece in the United States Review, betrays exactly how highly Walt thought of himself. “An American bard at last!” it declared.

Here’s how Whitman describes himself in the review.

Self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all the attributes of his country, steps Walt Whitman into literature, talking like a man unaware that there was ever hitherto such a production as a book, or such a being as a writer. Every move of him has the free play of the muscle of one who never knew what it was to feel that he stood in the presence of a superior. Every word that falls from his mouth shows silent disdain and defiance of the old theories and forms. Every phrase announces new laws; not once do his lips unclose except in conformity with them.

“His scope of life is the amplest of any yet in philosophy. He is the true spiritualist,” he continues. “He recognizes no annihilation, or death, or loss of identity. He is the largest lover and sympathizer that has appeared in literature.

Whitman would prove himself worthy of the “American bard” title in due time, but not that many people seem to have believed his rave reviews. “Apparently, they did not help sales much,” according to Whitman scholar Ivan Marki.

"Though no reliable records have survived, probably very few copies of the book were sold,” Marki explains in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia. “A few reviews appeared, some of them discerning and sympathetic, but most of them somewhat bewildered by the new work and also offended by the sexual frankness of some of its passages.”

Lucky for Whitman, over time, other critics began to review his book favorably, so that he didn’t have to keep tooting his own horn.

You can read his 1855 self-review in full over at the Whitman Archive.

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Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
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Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

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