The Library of Congress Needs Help Transcribing Walt Whitman’s Poems and Letters

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

From O Captain! My Captain! to Song of Myself, Walt Whitman produced some of literature's most memorable poems. But for every work published in his lifetime, the writer left behind many manuscripts that weren't shared with the world. Now, the Library of Congress is asking for the public's help in reviewing thousands of Whitman's handwritten documents, including letters, poems, and other writings.

May 31, 2019, marked the 200th anniversary of Whitman's birth, and the LOC is honoring the occasion by making a push to transcribe its Walt Whitman archives. The institution is home to the world's largest Whitman manuscript collection, which includes original copies of his poems as well as more personal works. In letters written in 1840 and 1841, Whitman expressed his support for presidential candidate Martin Van Buren and his disdain for small-town life in Woodbury, New York. On one printed copy of O Captain! My Captain!, the poet has scribbled his edits by hand.

The collection the LOC wants to transcribe originally consisted of close to 4000 documents. More than half of those have been completed so far, and roughly 1860 transcriptions still need to be reviewed. Anyone can read the documents that need approval and officially add them to the Whitman archive.

The Library of Congress depends on the public for many of its transcription projects. In 2018, it launched a campaign to transcribe its Lincoln collection, and it crowdsourced a project transcribing thousands of suffragist documents in 2019.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

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How Lolita Author Vladimir Nabokov Helped Ruth Bader Ginsburg Find Her Voice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016.
Supreme Court of the United States, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The road to becoming a Supreme Court justice is paved with legal briefs, opinions, journal articles, and other written works. In short, you’d likely never get there without a strong writing voice and a knack for clear communication.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg learned these skills from one of the best: Vladimir Nabokov. Though most famous for his 1955 novel Lolita, the Russian-American author wrote countless works in many more formats, from short stories and essays to poems and plays. He also taught literature courses at several universities around the country, including Cornell—where Bader Ginsburg received her undergraduate degree in the early 1950s. While there, she took Nabokov’s course on European literature, and his lessons made an impact that would last for decades to come.

“He was a man who was in love with the sound of words. It had to be the right word and in the right word order. So he changed the way I read, the way I write. He was an enormous influence,” Ginsburg said in an interview with legal writing expert Bryan A. Garner. “To this day I can hear some of the things that he said. Bleak House [by Charles Dickens] was one of the books that we read in his course, and he started out just reading the first few pages about the fog and Miss Flite. So those were strong influences on my writing.”

As Literary Hub reports, it wasn’t the only time RBG mentioned Nabokov’s focus not only on word choice, but also on word placement; she repeated the message in a 2016 op-ed for The New York Times. “Words could paint pictures, I learned from him,” she wrote. “Choosing the right word, and the right word order, he illustrated, could make an enormous difference in conveying an image or an idea.”

While neither Dickens nor Nabokov were writing for a legal audience, their ability to elicit a certain understanding or reaction from readers was something Ginsburg would go on to emulate when expressing herself in and out of the courtroom. In this way, Nabokov’s tutelage illuminated the parallels between literature and law.

“I think that law should be a literary profession, and the best legal practitioners regard law as an art as well as a craft,” she told Garner.