Tag Archives: book blogs

Intergalactic Awesomeness

By:  Alien Jones (Special Guest Contributor)

Greetings pathetic 3.5 human readers.

Do not attempt to adjust your computer.  I have taken control of bookshelfbattle.com

Alien Jones, Special Guest Contributor

Alien Jones, Special Guest   Contributor to bookshelfbattle.com

To pronounce my name would require you to rub sandpaper on your tongue for three hours and then stretch it out while a musician strums it like a ukulele string.  Neither of us have time for that, so you may simply refer to me as “Alien Jones.”

This name was carefully selected after I asked the computer on my spaceship to determine a name that the insignificant human mind could wrap itself around.  It came down to either “Alien Jones” or “Goofy Space Man.”  I selected the most dignified option of the two.

Do not embarrass yourself by asking what planet I hail from.  By edict of my emperor, I am forbidden to tell you.  My home world has passed legislation known as the “Keep the Humans from Finding Us So Our Airwaves Are Not Filled with Reality Television Act.”  Violation will result in me being slapped unconscious with my own ganderflazer.

First and foremost, I’d like to take this opportunity to share a public service announcement.  My home world banned the practice of human probing over a thousand years ago, in the year you would refer to as 1015 A.D.  At that time, our revered team of scientists and medical doctors announced they had discovered all there is to be learned through endoscopic exploration of human nether regions.

The practice was banned but, alas, even a highly intelligent species such as mine is not without its weirdoes. Rogue aliens have been conducting their own unsanctioned probing missions to your planet for an entire millennium.  Many of you simple folk have been duped into being willing participants.

Therefore, please be aware that if an alien demands to probe you in the name of intergalactic science, he is acting alone and not under the authority of the emperor of my home world.  You may comply if you so choose, or you may beat him with his own ganderflazer.  The decision is entirely yours.

Now that I have dispensed with the pleasantries, I shall explain why I have briefly taken control of this blog.

I am not going to sugar coat it, Earth.  You dudes are really screwing the pooch.  You have a planet capable of sustaining life.  Many species, including my own, recognize this miracle and act accordingly.  You people?

Compare the accomplishments of my world vs. yours:


MY WORLD:  Our scientists have eradicated all diseases and remedied all bodily maladies.  We live happy, pain free lives.  Hospitals are non-existent as they are no longer necessary.

EARTH:  Has yet to cure cancer or heart disease, yet erectile dysfunction pills are in abundant supply.  Prioritize much, losers?


MY WORLD:  All media is downloaded directly to our brains.

EARTH:  The device you call an iPad was used by our prehistoric cave aliens to wipe their expectorant holes.  We felt sorry for you nimrods, watching you tether yourselves to your televisions and computers that we decided to throw you a bone and beam the idea into the brain of  renowned computer scientist, Mr. Steven Jobs.


MY WORLD:  We have mastered intergalactic space travel.

EARTH:  You people have barely mastered the Pontiac Aztec.


MY WORLD:  We have developed 4D television which allows you to enter and live as a character in your favorite program.

EARTH:  Breaking Bad.  OK.  We will give you that one.

Aside from Breaking Bad, an idea we totally beamed into the mind of Mr. Vincent Gilligan, your planet is really stinking up the universe, Earthlings.

And to help you unstink yourselves, we beamed the idea to create this blog straight into the mind of Bookshelf Q. Battler.  Yes, this site is an ongoing chronicle of one man’s love of books, movies, media, writing, and tales from his magic bookshelf.

But we zapped the idea to create this blog into Mr. Bookshelf’s mind.  We even implanted him with the idea to blog once a day for a year.


Because we have identified Bookshelf Q. Battler as the most awesome dude on your planet, and frankly, given the pool of talent you’ve got down there, that isn’t saying much.  Even so, this guy is pretty awesome, so you should all listen to him….and follow his blog…and follow his twitter…and follow him on Google Plus…and sing songs of his awesomeness from the rooftops.  Also, bake him chocolate chip cookies.

Are you still unconvinced?  Here is a smattering of what the most awesome individual on your pitiful planet has been up to lately:

When the F$%k Should Your Characters Swear? – Yes.  Delightful.  The worst swear in my language would require you to pull out your tongue and jump rope with it.  You could never pronounce it and I certainly hope you never encounter a situation in which you deem it necessary to utter it.

A Review of Birdman – Even we aliens agree Michael Keaton was robbed. 1989 Batman forever!

A Response from the Yeti – Do you know any other bloggers willing to fight a snow beast just to blog for you?  I thought not.

Those are just three of the best posts written by Bookshelf Q. Battler this month.  I could go on and on all day about the awesomeness he has put into the universe over the past year.

And to help him garner the attention of more than a paltry 3.5 readers, I will, from time to time, take control of this blog through my space ship’s super computer and remind you of his latest contributions to your planet’s supply of cool stuff.

Your planet is lagging, Earthlings.  Bookshelf Q. Battler will help you catch up.  Continue to follow his blog, and maybe one day we will allow your species to sit at the intergalactic adults’ table.

Thank you for reading.  You may now return to your programs about Kardashians and pizzas with crusts stuffed with cheese, as if you all aren’t portly enough already.

Alien Image Courtesy of “Marauder” on openclipart.org

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel – So, What About That Ending?


One could argue that Yann Martel’s Life of Pi has a choose-your-own ending.

Did Pi really travel across the ocean, learning to peacefully coexist with a ravenous man-eating tiger along the way, a clever allegory that opposites don’t necessarily have to cancel one each other out and people can learn to live their lives without destroying each other?

Did Pi lie to the authorities who questioned him because it was easier than it would have been to insist that his incredible story was true?

Was Pi’s claim of sailing with Richard Parker the Tiger a lie?  Did he, in fact, suffer a terrible fate in which his mother was killed and he made up the story about the animals to avoid thinking about it?

Personally, I thought the Richard Parker version of the story was very uplifting, and then to add in the possibility that it never happened was a little disappointing.  But the dual ending possibilities could be a litmus test.  Positive people probably gravitate to the Richard Parker version.  Negative people say “a boy and a tiger never could have survived on a raft together, the boy would have been eaten in 2 seconds.  The version where Pi’s mother is killed must be the true version.”

All I can say is the novel is a good read, very original, and the movie really brings it to life.

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Half-Written Novels

I did something I told myself I would not do:  I shelved a half-written novel, and started a new one.

Let’s back up.  This summer, inspiration hit me and I blasted out 200 pages of a novel, then hit a point where I realized that while the premise was decent, I needed to go back, start at the beginning, and perform a major overhaul.

Why?  I didn’t know my characters as well when I first started writing.  I needed to go back and make adjustments – add things they would have done, subtract things they would never have done, make all kinds of revisions now that my characters and I were simpatico.  It was a difficult idea – involving different dimensions, different timelines.

November rolled around and I worked on a new novel – an idea that’s been rattling around my head for years.  This too circled around a unique idea, but it was complex, and included a Games of Thronian amount of characters.  What does that mean?  IT HAD A LOT OF CHARACTERS.  I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Most epic fantasies have tons of characters and their various maneveurs, schemes, and backstabbings all eventually work their way into a central plot.

I promised myself I’d see this one through.  I lied.  This weekend, I started a third novel.  The idea is still fun and unique.  But unlike my other two attempts, the idea exists on a single timeline.  The characters begin at point A, they’ll end at point B. Also, there’s only one central main character, a handful of supporting characters, and the occasional walk-on.

I’ve found this to be one of the more difficult aspects of writing – seeing the project through, and ignoring that voice that tells you, “This was a good idea, but the logistics are too hard!  Pick another story, a simpler story, it will be easier!  Get it published, then you can go for your sweeping, complicated epic!”

The problem is I think my mind is just a complicated place, and most novels are only riveting if they contain complications – i.e. plot twists that make the reader go, “Wow!  Didn’t see that coming!  I need to keep reading!”

Plus, even after banging out 20 pages of my new novel idea, I can see complications starting to form.  My past two attempts at a novel I actually had to develop flow charts – i.e. “OK this character did X at this time, therefore, he can’t be doing Y at that time.  Character A did not do X in that time period, so in theory he could be doing Y, but then you need to go back and rewrite Chapter 3 to account for why Character A was not able to help Character B” and then at that point my eyes glaze over and I need a nap. 

I’m thinking maybe for my first novel, perhaps the traditional “straight line approach” is the way to go.  There will still be complications, twists, turns, the need for revisions, rewrites, and character building.  I’ll probably get half-way through it and think my attempts at complicated epic fantasy might have been easier.  Who knows.

Sometimes I wonder if that writing bug that bit me left me with a curse.  Most people on their few precious days off go to the mall, watch a movie, or take a nap.  I’m sitting here with a flow chart and a slide rule trying to figure out when friggin’ Hugo the Magical Elf has time to bring the enchanted chalice to the palace if he was also busy fending off the Orcs and…oh, screw it.  Screw it.  I can’t take it anymore.  Yeah, I know J.R.R. Tolkien did it.  Tolkien didn’t have a bunch of people interrupting him every five minutes when he was writing either.

At least I think he didn’t.  I don’t know.  I have no idea what happened in the Tolkien household.  I just assume.  But you know what happens when you assume…

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Public Domain Horror Fiction – The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

Readers, if there’s one lesson you ever learn from this humble book blog, I hope it is this one:

Never make a deal with something or someone evil.

You scoff but you know it is true.  Ask a source of evil to make you win the lottery and you will…only to get hit by a bus on the way to cash in the ticket.  Evil has one of the twisted view of irony ever known.

So tonight, in bookshelfbattle.com ‘s ongoing Public Domain Horror Fiction Series, check out the short story, The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, first published in the early 1900’s.  Short summary – A couple and their adult son find a Monkey’s Paw from India.  Supposedly, it has the power to grant wishes.  Sadly, they learn the hard way that with their wishes comes evil irony.


“The other two wishes,” she replied rapidly. “We’ve only had one.”
“Was not that enough?” he demanded fiercely.
“No,” she cried, triumphantly; “we’ll have one more. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.”

– W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey’s Paw

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Text of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

Not to make this a Poe-fest, but he was the Father of American Gothic Horror, after all.  Bookshelfbattle.com ‘s Halloween festivities continue with the full text of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe in its entirety:




TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out –“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief –oh, no! –it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself –“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney –it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel –although he neither saw nor heard –to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it –you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily –until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! –do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once –once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eve would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye –not even his –could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all –ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock –still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, –for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, –for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search –search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: –It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath –and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men –but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

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The Writer’s Battle – Expressions

Expressions – you hear them all the time.  They’re those pesky figures of speech that everyone says but no one knows where they came from.  And sometimes, when you really sit there and think about them – they’re kind of weird.

Here’s some that are on my mind:

EXPRESSION:  “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

MEANING:  It is possible to achieve the same end through various means.

EXAMPLE:  “Hey Fred!”  Pete said.  “I ran out of glue and now I can’t finish my collage of 17th Century Prussian Warlords!  What the hell should I do know?”

Pete stroked his beard in a thoughtful manner and replied, “Why don’t you try some chewed up Grape Bubbalicious?  After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat!”

COMMENTARY:  When you think about it, this expression is sick.  Apparently, based on the expression’s continued existence in the modern lexicon, there was at one point in the world’s history a booming cat skinning operation.  Whether people skinned cats for industrious profit or leisurely sport I am unaware.  Yet, cat skinning must have been prevalent at some point for people to have coined this expression.

GUESS AT HOW IT WAS INVENTED:  Two cat skinners, 1 and 2, were discussing a vexing problem in 1’s life.  2 suggested a variety of possible methods of solving 1’s problem, adding “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  1, a veteran cat skinner, keenly aware of and experienced in a wide range of cat skinning techniques, devices, and methods, knew instantly that 2 was attempting to convey the message that there was more than one way to remedy his conundrum.  Thus, a new expression was born.

THE BOOKSHELF BATTLE EXPRESSION CHALLENGE – In an effort to motivate myself to engage in more bloggery, from now until Labor Day I will be consulting with Expression Scientists all over the globe to explain to you, the noble reader, not only how our most prevalent expressions were invented, but also, how they are pretty weird when you think about them.

Have an expression you’d like to see decompressed?  Post it in the comment section below.

As always, thank you for stopping by.  Stop by more often, will you?  I’ve seen cholesterol numbers higher than my stats. 

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James Patterson Weighs in On Amazon vs. Hachette Battle

Exceptionally prolific book writing machine James Patterson has weighed in on the Amazon vs. Hachette Battle. Check it out here on CNN.

MY TWO CENTS: Frankly, this is one of those complicated issues that leaves a bumpkin like me cross-eyed. I think I get it. For both sides, it’s about money. On the one hand, you have Hachette and authors arguing that they should be rightly compensated for their work – that a lot of time and effort goes into producing these stories that we all enjoy and they should be paid for it. Why would anyone sit themselves in front of a computer screen typing away for twelve hours a day unless there’s just compensation coming? For the love of the artform? Well, that would be nice but hey, you know, money would be nice too. After all, authors need to pay their bills and need an income to survive on so they can focus their efforts on churning out more books. Without that income, they’ll have to get day-jobs and who feels like writing when they get home from work?

On the other hand, you have Amazon claiming that the demand for books priced too high just isn’t there. They may have a point. Think for a moment the veritable explosion of entertainment at your fingertips that has arrived on the scene in recent years. I can remember living in a time where if you wanted to watch a movie, you drove to a store and rented a physical copy, brought it home, watched it, forgot to bring it back, got charged late fees. Today, you can pop on your iPad, rent any movie you want and it is instantly on your screen. I can remember a time where if you wanted to buy a book you’d drive to the bookstore. Today, you again pop on your iPad, download it and start reading. Sadly, the movie and book stores are bygone relics, which is kind of sad as I used to enjoy wandering around them, finding books and movies I’d never heard of before.

The point is though that if you are any kind of entertainer – an actor, a singer, or even an author – you have a ridiculous amount of competition these days for the limited dollars people can afford to spend on your entertainment product in today’s garbage economy. If your book price reaches over a certain level, people will just watch a movie on Netflix instead.

It’s one of those difficult debates where both parties aren’t entirely right or wrong. I suppose in the end, we live in a free market and the publishers/authors should be able to price their products as they choose. If they price them too high, in an age where there is an abundance of options, the consumers will be the ones in the end who will let them know whether or not their product is worth the cost.

One last shameless plug for James Patterson (not that he needs it) – he’s one of the most successful authors in history for a reason. His books are pretty great and you should read one today.

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The Poet’s Battle – “The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost

Choices – they are the bane of our existence, aren’t they? To do one thing is to NOT do the other. To choose profession X is to forego profession Y. To marry person A is to never meet person B, C, or D. To eat at McDonald’s for dinner is to bypass Burger King.

Have you ever thought about the concept of timelines? I have for awhile. Sure, we all think about “what might have been.” Chances are, if you think about it as much as I do, you’re second guessing some of the decisions you’ve made in life. You wish you’d of bobbed instead of weaving. You wish you’d of ducked instead od covering. You wish you’d of taken the blue pill instead of the red.

“Regrets, I’ve had a few,” as Frank Sinatra would say. Heck, had he ignored his desire to express himself through song, he’d of never even said it. I would have had to of think of another quote to express myself just now. Thanks Frank.

Here’s what the poet Robert Frost had to say about the subject:


By: Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That’s some powerful imagery, isn’t it? Imagine yourself walking down a path through the woods when all of a sudden the road forks into two directions – you can either go left or right. Your mind starts racing – “What if I pick the left road and it’s full of bats and zombies?” “What if I pick the right road and it’s full of daisies and adorable bunny rabbits?” “What if, after the daisies and adorable bunny rabbits, the right road leads me straight off a cliff?” “What if the road full of bats and zombies leads me to a life in a magnificent mansion?” “What if both roads are scheduled for demolition and I’m screwed either way?”

Life is all about making difficult choices – to do X is to forego Y. And sadly, you never find out whether or not X was a good decision until you’re smack dab in the middle of it and to get out of it would be a nightmare and a half. Y never presents itself as the better option until it’s too late. And even then, you never know for sure if Y would have been a better option.

Perhaps a verbal illustration is in order. You meet a nice woman at a party. (Ladies, you can play along and just imagine you met a nice man.) You two hit it off. You date for awhile. She starts talking about marriage. You’re now at a crossroads. Choice A leads you down a road where you’re married to this woman, you have kids with her, you’re tied to her for life. MAYBE it will be great and you’ll end up an old man pleased with yourself for choosing a woman who looked out for you for so many years. Or, maybe she’ll turn out to be a beast-and-a-half, and you’ll end up living in a one room apartment because she took all your money in a brutal divorce, your kids end up being raised by Fabio the tennis instructor she dumped you for.

Before you chose Choice A, to marry this woman, you also had Choice B – to tell her no thanks and remain single in the hopes that someone else better for you comes along. And maybe someone better does come along. Or, maybe you never meet anyone else for the rest of your life and end up with a lifetime of regret, kicking yourself daily for allowing the woman from choice A to get away.

Then there’s the wild card possibilities that will hurt your brain if you even try to think of them. Maybe you marry the woman from Choice A and she’s wonderful, but to marry her means you move to a new city you’d of otherwise never been interested in living in, and while there, you are hit by a bus you’d of otherwise never encountered. Maybe you stay single in Choice B and your feeling sad for a few more years until one day, you go to a convenience store at 3 AM (the wife from choice A would have never allowed you to stay out so late), buy a lottery ticket on a whim and win a million dollars.

Forget women and dating altogether. You’re trying to pick the profession you want to enter. You think you might be better suited for Profession X, but Profession Y makes more money. You pick profession X and you never make it past the entry level arena. You kick yourself – “Had only I picked Profession Y, I’d of become a star of that profession.”

If only we could have some kind of magical clairvoyance that allows us to see into the future to help us make our choices. If only we could consult a real live fortune teller. “Don’t marry Woman A – she’ll be nice for a few years then will cheat on you with the milk man. By the way, milk delivery will make a come back. Fear not, for if you hold out only two more weeks, Rebecca Romijn Stamos will get lost, pull up next to you at the gas station to ask for directions, and fall madly in love with you.”

I feel like Robert Frost’s infamous poem is often used to teach people to take the hard road in life. Don’t take the easy way – take the one that involves a lot of hard work and determination. Your legs will get really tired but you’ll be really pleased with yourself once you get there. It’s kind of like taking a road trip on the highway – you can stop at the creepy HoJo with the Jo part broken so the neon sign just reads, “Ho” and all the beds haven’t had the linens changed in a year because the maids are lazy – OR you can keep driving for five more miles and there’s a perfectly lovely Marriot to stay at.

I think the uniform translation of this poem is that the speaker is happy with the choice he made – “and that has made all the difference.” Overall, that was probably the message Frost meant to convey – but keep in mind, at no point does the speaker come right out and say, “Holy Crap, am I happy with the choice I made and how! The road I took was great! I skipped along it the whole time like a happy idiot and it was just all kinds of wonderful the whole time!”

“And that has made all the difference” – was it a good difference? A bad difference? An indifferent difference? We don’t know.

Sadly, the bottom line is – WE WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN. You kind of have an inkling, but usually you never start yearning desperately to go back in time and choose choice Y until it turns out that choice X sucks big time. You never wish you stayed single until the milk man until you look around your breakfast table one day and say, “Well I’ll be damned if my children don’t bear a striking resemblance to the milk man!” You never start to wish you’d of chosen Profession Y until your boss from profession X starts making you stay late every night and not only never pays you more but cuts your salary to less. You don’t start second guessing yourself until your first choice craps out.

My advice – it is perfectly normal, even logical, to think about what might have been, but not helpful to torture yourself and be angry at yourself for not taking the alternate choice. A) You HAD to choose something and you made the best choice you did given the information you had at the time. B) You really don’t know for sure what would have happened had you made the other choice. Might have been great. Might have been even worse. C) At least you took a choice and didn’t end up as one of those people who just spends their entire lives staring at the fork trying to figure out what to do.

The point is – if you’re unhappy with the road you took, stop looking in the rear view mirror and start looking for an exit ramp. (That means find a new choice to make, for you people who are metaphorically challenged).

Thanks for reading, and by the way – you have the choice of following @bookshelfbattle on Twitter or not and I think doing so would be a really great choice.

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