Bookstore People: Whispers and Words

Whisper is the author of the book of poetry “I Have Arrived.” When you see her at Classics, it will be the first Saturday of the month and she will be reading her poetry in the back of the store at the Capital City Open Mic.

Whisper once said, “Poetry saved my life!! It rescued me from off of that ledge! One more ounce of negative energy and I would have jumped.”

Photo: U betta werk!

Barbara is a Scrabble players’ Scrabble player. She plays on Friday nights and some Saturdays in Trenton at Classics Books, Tuesdays in Princeton and through FaceBook. A two-time Classics Tournament champion, Barbara is tough to play—but fun. She never gloats (well, almost never) and is pleasant to play if you are good or a beginner.

She is also an accomplished artist, turning parts of the bookstore into a gallery of her photos and paintings.

When you see her at Classics, she could be anywhere–at a Scrabble board, hanging her artwork or ringing up customers during the week.

Barbara’s most common quote?  “Bingo!”

Photo by Bruce Bentzman

Classics News Update

It was announced at Classics open mic that one of the singers that sang in January was called back for The Voice.  You heard him at Classics first!

The Classics Scrabble club (notably Tim Walker) has mounted bookcases in wheels so we can easily move it for Scrabble and for the Open Mic.  Come down and check this out!

FaceBook did a video of Classics activity.  Check this out!!/photo.php?v=10151816520737434&set=vb.660327433&type=2&theater

Friends of Classics Bruce Bentzman and Roger Long have distributed their children’s book.  Read it for free here!


Classics News

In case you haven’t been able to make it in the Classics lately, here’s what you may have missed.

16 of the best Scrabble players in the area met at the 14th Annual Classics Scrabble Invitational.  Megan Iurilli reclaimed her crown as Grand Champion, Sarah Ohls came inches of winning her third Championship and Arthur Iurilli went from being a seat filler to coming in third.

Classics Open Mic comedian McKelle Kellz Barksdale went to Florida and won the 2014 Winter Shine Overall Standup Comedian. Says Kellz “I started in a bookstore with 13 people. If that isn’t a Testament to following what God puts on your heart I don’t know what is!!!”  Guess what bookstore he was talking about?

Classics Open Mic musician Quincy Stallworth video performing one Saturday.

Shoppers at Target had hackers steal data from up to 40 million credit and debit cards during the first three weeks of the holiday season.  Shoppers at Classics Books & Gifts had no data stolen.  Shop local!

Megan Iurilli

Lucky 13th Classics Scrabble Invitational

For the first time in its new location at 4 West Lafayette Street in downtown Trenton, Classics held its 13th Annual Scrabble Invitational, where the top 16 players from 2012 met to battle it out for the title of Grand Champion!

After a rousing America the Beautiful, non-lip synched by Trentonian Cherry Oakley (as befits all great sporting events), and after 5 consecutive rounds of play, the winner was determined.  Last year’s Grand Champion, Trentonian Megan Iurilli and number-one seed, Trentonian Eric Maywar, failed to make the final four.

The winners were

  • Tim Walker in 4th Place
  • 2-time Grand Champion Bruce Gross in 3rd Place.
  • 4-time Grand Champion Daniel Robinson in 2nd Place
  • and the 2012/1013 and Current Grand Champion is Barbara Keogh

Scrabble is played at Classics every Friday from 6:30 to midnight at 4 West Lafayette.  All skill levels are welcome.


Love, Scrabble and Bookstores

Najah Masudi once asked me if there were any love stories about Classics Books.  There are.  Little did she know one of them was about her own daughter!

Dan Robinson and his wife Sarah Ohls play Scrabble at Classics Books.  Sarah taught Dan how to play Scrabble years ago, and since then he has become the most feared player at the club on Friday nights.  They are often each other’s most dangerous competition: Dan has won the Annual Classics Scrabble Invitational Tournament three times; Sarah has won twice and earned a commendation from Trenton City Council for her skill.  But despite this bare-knuckled rivalry, their love is strong.  They have two young children and they are still married.

Kimberly Brennan uses Scrabble at Classics as a love barometer.  One cannot put on airs while they are being beaten by a 12 year old. So, she brings dates to the bookstore to test their mettle. It’s like placing a new ingredient into a stew pot and seeing what flavors come out. She’s brought four dates so far and is curious to see if the fifth one is the charm. 

Kallah Masudi once had this boyfriend, brought him to a bookstore, and found that he didn’t like to read. She filed him under “C” for “CU later!”

Here’s a short story about love and Scrabble by Ganga Moongilan.  The year was 1978, the year of the horse, and also the year in which all of the stars in all the galaxies aligned perfectly and two babies were born. One of the babies was born in India and the other in Poland, two lovely bundles of joy and poop for their lucky parents to feed and feed some more. As the two grew up in their respective lands and cultures, playing and frolicking about, little did they know that their parents had bigger ideas for the respective families’ futures. Thus, sometime in the late 1980s, when clothing styles were rather questionable as most of us can see by looking at our family albums, just as the two children were ready to take their frolicking up a notch, they were unceremoniously whisked away on big planes and transported to America, the land of promise and immigration. One ended up in Chicago, the other in New Jersey, which raised their chances of meeting to about one in one million. Eventually the Indian child moved to New Jersey as well because apparently New Jersey was the place to be at that point and time in history. The two blossomed awesomely, approximately 45 minutes from each other, one into an Americanized Indian woman, the other into an Americanized Polish man. They went to school, worked at jobs, and did many things their parents would greatly disapprove of if they ever found out. They even hung out in the same neighborhood without ever meeting. Eventually though, all of those same stars in those same galaxies that aligned perfectly in 1978, aligned again in 2010, and the two met for the first time, a meeting that mathematically should not have had the slightest chance of ever occurring. Yet it did happen, and eventually led to a pretty exciting romantic connection that led the two of them to stumble into Classics Bookstore on a random Friday night. They literarily stumbled too because earlier in the evening the two of them enjoyed a responsible amount of adult beverages. They sat down to a game of scrabble, and the rest is history.  The End.

Of course things didn’t really end with the initial scrabble game. Afterwards they visited the bookstore a bunch more times, sometimes to play more scrabble, sometimes to buy some books, and sometimes to just say hello. It’s a nice place, you know. And the two still work jobs, and read books, and do things their parents would greatly disapprove of if they ever found out.


Bookstore People: Activists and High School Students

This is part four in my series of cool bookstore people.  Links to the other installments can be found below.

Darren Freedom Green

Darren Freedom Green is a Trenton community activist of the first order.  He maintains an active FaceBook presence, calling people’s attention to civic issues and steps they should take to get involved whether finding their voice at City Council meetings, or supporting Bruce Boyd’s work with youth, or stepping up in emergency situations (like when elders needed help getting water and other basic needs met after an emergency), or volunteering to help make the walk home from school a safer time for our kids.  He hosts a Trentonian broadcast highlighting community members who are working to benefit Trenton.  He is one of the hosts (with Yolanda Robinson) of On the Reel Radio.  And he is a big booster for the Trenton Books at Home Program, that provides free books to kids in Trenton’s struggling school district.

A great Freedom quote: “I miss My Beautiful Grandmother who is no longer physically here. She NEVER placed any of the Babies in a “kids room.”  She made ALL of the FAMILY sit together.  She didn’t talk foolishness, or gossip, but she poured the history, the legacy, the TRUTH.  NOT of us coming from slavery, but of the pyramids, Mansa Mussa, and the GREAT KINGS/QUEENS of Mali/Kemet. She NEVER allowed us to disrespect ourselves, for she said ALL represented ONE FAMILY.”  

Kallah Masudi

Kallah Masudi is a student at Foundation High School.  She grew up at the Classics Scrabble Club.  Starting when she was 9 years old, Kallah was never afraid to mix it up with adults on the Scrabble board, holding her own with Trenton’s best.  She currently holds a club record—most points for a non-seven letter word.  A lover of anime and manga, she introduced me to Deathnote, which was really good!

A great Kallah quote-requote: “We are number one.  All others are number two…or lower.”

Earlier installments of Bookstore People

Scrabblers and Playwrights:

Poets and Lawyers:

Scientists and Photographers:

Bookstore People: Scrabblers and Playwrites

This is part three in my series of cool bookstore people.  Links to the other installments can be found below.

Megan Iurilli

Megan is one of the most competitive Scrabble players at Classics’ Friday nights and is the 2011-2012 Trenton Club Grand Champion.   

Megan is fun.  For her birthday, she had business cards printed up that announced it was her birthday and handed them out to friends and strangers alike.   She always has interesting stories that turn everyday occurrences like dropping her bottle of soda under her car into hysterical monologues that sound like Greek tragedies on crack.  And then there is her infectious, breath-catching laugh.  Click here to experience it:

Follow her blog at

My favorite Megan quote “Dear Bartender, Last time I checked the main liquor in a whiskey sour is indeed whiskey, not amaretto. On a side note, you make a mean amaretto sour.”

David White

David is the Associate Artistic Director of Community Programming at Passage Theatre.  He runs their youth theatre programs and coordinates the playwriters workshops, as well as writing and acting. 

Bookwise, David is a fan of turn-of-the-century mysteries.  All the contemporaries of Sherlock Holmes you haven’t heard of, David has.  He particularly likes the sociopathic killer, Fantomas and is the author of Fantomas in America, where the master of terror continues his one man crime wave.

Because David’s FaceBook statuses are like a Steven Wright marathon, it’s impossible to pick a favorite.  Here’s a sample: “Just got back from a Fall festival where families were making their own scarecrows. Nick was a little disconcerted. Perhaps because to a two-year old it kind of looks like dozens of crazy, laughing families attacking people while they’re sleeping and stuffing them with straw.”

Earlier installments of Bookstore People

Poets and Lawyers:

Scientists and Photographers:

Scrabble Tips for Beginners

Here are tips for Scrabble beginners from Dan Robinson, the 4 time Classics Scrabble Club Champion, unquestionably the best Scrabble player in the club.

As a beginning Scrabble player, your job is to learn how to play the game and how to develop good game habits, not necessarily win.   If you build a strong foundation of game strategy and word knowledge, the winning WILL come.  (and it’s likely to stay)

1.  Rack balance– Try to keep a 3:4 ratio of vowels to consonants on your rack.  You will have more options no matter what the board offers.  If your rack is balanced, try to play a combination of vowels and consonants each turn to maintain your rack.
2.  Bluffing and Challenging– Like poker, bluffing is just part of the game of Scrabble.  My advice for beginners is that if you don’t know a word that someone plays….challenge it.  You may lose many turns, and ultimately the game, but it’s a great way to commit those words to your long-term memory.  It also keeps your opponent from playing fake words.
3.  Memorizing the 2-leter words– There are 101 2-letter words that are acceptable in Scrabble.  Memorize them.  They’ll not only give you words to play when the board is very tight, but they’ll give you hooks to play off of. Did you know that an OE is a kind of tropical storm?
4.  Offense vs. Defense–  A good Scrabble player know how and when to use offensive and defensive plays.  Your goal in Scrabble is to OUTSCORE your opponent.  Your goal is not to make fun words or to make one really high-point word.  Scoring 50 points in one play is great, but not if it opens your opponent up to score 51.  Of course, you don’t often know what letters your opponent has, so how can you know if they’re going to outscore you?  It’s simple.  You don’t know.  So, the best bet is to minimize your opponent’s opportunities to score big.  Playing defensively for fewer points in a turn is often a smarter move.
5.  Don’t be Afraid to Turn in–  Sometimes, your letter just stink.  If you’re looking at a rack of “UUUULII”, you could always play the word “ULU” (an Eskimo hunting blade) to get rid of 2 U’s, but that would leave you with “UUII” and three new letters.  Chance are, no matter what three new letters you pull out of the bag, your new rack is going to stink too.  Remember tip #1;  Leaving yourself with “UUII” and any three letters is not good rack balance.Sometimes, it’s better to trade in some tiles to avoid several turns saddled with a bad rack.  
6.  Make Every Turn Count–  Do something with every turn.  Improve your rack balance, give yourself a hook for next turn, block a spot your opponent could use, or just play the best word you can.  These are generally bad ways to use your turns – Playing off one tile with the hope to draw a specific one from the bag, passing and hoping your opponent gives you the opening you need, and using your high-point letters in a way that doesn’t multiply their values.  If you make every turn count, your game scores will improve dramatically.
7.  Use Your S’s Wisely–  S’s are an easy way to score more point in a turn by “hooking” off of another word on the board.  If your opponent drops a word with high point tiles, YOU can now use your S to get those points for yourself.  Suppose they play “Zipper” for on a double-word score for 38 points.  By playing a word with an S in it that also pluralizes Zipper automatically gains you 20 points.  You get the 19 raw points from Zipper, plus your S on the end, AND whatever word you make.  All you have to do is score 19 points with your new word to negate the fact that they drew the magnificent Z.  Remember, it doesn’t matter who draws a given tile, it only matter who benefits from it most.
8.  Know Your Style–  Play to your strengths. If you know lots of two and three-letter words, try to keep the board tight so that you can take advantage of your tiny words.  If you’re a great anagrammer and 7-letter words come to you like swimming to a fish, then keeping the board open may give you more opportunities to play those long words.
9.  Make Your Opponent do it–  There’s a rhythm to Scrabble.  If you see your opponent constantly benefitting from opportunities you’ve opened on the board, stop.  You don’t have to be the one to open the board, or get to the Triple-Word-Score.  Be Patient.  Sometimes, it only takes one turn of not opening up your opponent to shift the balance back in your favor.  Soon enough, they’ll be opening up the board for YOU.
10.  Scrabble is a Game about Points, not about Words–  This can be one of the toughest things for new players to overcome.  To win a game of Scrabble, you need to score more than your opponent.  That’s it.  You don’t get bonus points for fun, interesting or long words, (unless you get the 50-point bingo bonus, of course).  You may get 30 points for a well-placed “THE” on the board, but only 18 points for “QINDAR”.  Try not to think of the words as “words”, they’re merely code for scoring points.  At its core, Scrabble is a game more about board strategy and math than about words.  Like chess, think about your next turn while you’re making your current one.  If you have “ROGZSYY”on your rack playing GROSZ (a polish coin) this turn an pluralizing it next turn with GROSZY, while making another word with your Y will probably get you more points over two turns than just playing GROSZY up front, since you’ll be scoring the GROSZ letter twice in two turns.
For more Scrabble Tips visit

12 Scrabble Tips for Beginners

Occassionally we teach a beginners course at Classics’ regular Friday night Scrabble games.  Here’s a summary.

#1.  Turning in

When to turn in:  If I can’t get at least 10 points in a play, I turn in the less desireable letters.

What to turn in: I turn in the “c” and the “v.”  If I have too many vowels, I turn in several, assuming that for every two I put in, I will draw another vowel.  Ideally, I want to end up with 3 vowels and 4 consonants.

#2.  Bingo

To help set yourself up for bingos, save “re/er” combinations, “s” and blanks.  I only play blanks to help me get a bingo.

Also, play the highest point value tiles quickly.  Bingos come easier with lower point letters.

#3.  Multiple Words

The key to big scores between bingos is to play a word that forms multiple words.  To do this most effectively, you need to learn the 101 two-letter words.

#4.  The Elbow

The magic spot on the board is not the triple word (though that’s a good one).  Look for the elbow, where a high point letter can be part of two words (horizontal and vertical) on a double or triple.  Hit the elbow with letters like “x”, “f”, “h”, “j”, “b”, “m”, “p”, “w”, “z” and “q”.

#5.  The “S”

Bookstore Scrabble veteran Marion never plays the “s” unless is adds 10 points to a play.  I only play an “s” with a bingo, unless I have more than one.

#6.  The “X”

Get at least 28 points for your “x”.  To do this, you’ll need to play multiple words while playing the “x” on a double or triple square.

These words will help you do this: ex, ox, ax, xi, and xu.

#7.  The “Q”

Dump it as fast as you can.  Try to place it on a multiplier, but if you can’t, still dump it.

These words will help you do this:  qi, qua, qat, qaid, quid, quad, aqua, qyay, quai, quin.

#8.  The “Z”

Dump it as fast as you can.  Try to place it on a multiplier, but if you can’t, still dump it.

These words will help you do this:  za, zoa, azo, zed, zee, zin, adz, biz, coz, zag.

#9.  The “V”

Dump it as fast as you can. 

These words will help you do this:  vac, var, vau, vav, vaw, vee, veg, vig, voe, vug

#10.  The “J”

These words will help you to maximize your “j”:  jo, haj, jag, jee, jeu, jin, joe, jun, raj, taj.

#11.  Endgame

Going out first can give you as many pointsas you might get playing an additional turn.

To go out first, as soon as you see that the game is almost over and you won’t get any tiles, arrange your tiles into two words using all your letters and make plans to be out in your next two turns.  Get rid of your most difficult letters in your first word.

#12.  Practice

The best practice is to play often against people better than you.  Watch how they play.  Watch what words they play.

Don’t play to beat them; play to beat your average score.  This way you won’t get discouraged.  They might win the game, but you are improving.  Their time will come.

Note: 4 time club champion Dan Robinson disagrees with some of the advice above. 

He believes, for example, that you should not focus on dumping premium tiles like “c” and “v”.  While Scrabble experts see the “c” as an excellent bingo building letter, my advice remains to the beginner to get rid of it quickly.

Dan also believes that maximizing the use of other premium letters like “z” and “q” is important for beginners.  Of course, I agree with this, as written above.  Beginners be careful, though, not to let these premium tiles sit on your board for 6 rounds.  It will be like playing with only 6 tiles while you are waiting to play these in a good spot.

Dan is also skeptical about beginners saving blanks and “er” combination for bingos.  Here we disagree.  One bingo against other beginners in a kitchen table game should rocket you ahead.  I believe it is worth the risk.

To read more advice from Dan Robinson, visit

How Used Bookstores are Saving the Universe

The Environment

I couldn’t find any numbers for books alone, but about 54.3 million tons of paper and paper fill American landfills every year.  Among that 54 million tons are countless libraries worth of books that could be kept in circulation instead of weighing down our waste infrastructure.

When you buy used books, you don’t just help keep them out of landfills; you also help preserve our natural resources. It is estimated that 24 trees are needed to produce one ton of virgin printing paper.

Used book stores are such a part of the fabric of American life that it is easy to forget that they are as important environmental centers, as important as newer (and therefore more visible) reuse centers like TerraCycle in Trenton.

Save the environment.  Support your used bookstores. 


Used books improve education by providing low-cost options to fill a home with books. 

Not only are used bookstores already a fraction of the cost of new bookstores, some (Classics in Trenton NJ for example) provide books for FREE for local kids.  You don’t get lower-cost than that!

What impact does having books in the homes of kids have?  Especially books in the homes of low-resourced families in struggling school districts like Trenton?

The following is from “ScienceDirect – Research in Social Stratification and Mobility : Family scholarly culture and education”

Only 40% of children from bookless homes with unschooled parents can be expected to finish Year 9, compared to 88% of children with unschooled but book-rich parents, a huge 48 percentage point advantage.

A home library is also a big advantage in getting children through high school, for illiterate and university educated parents alike. For unschooled parents, the advantage of a large home library is 33 percentage points, about the same as the 37 point advantage for primary educated parents, 40 for incomplete secondary parents, 41 for parents with high school education, and 38 for university educated parents. 

Classics Used and Rare Book in Trenton (117 South Warren) has consistently handed out over $4,000 in FREE books every year to Trenton kids through their Books at Home Program.

Support education.  Support your used bookstores. 


Far more than other businesses, used bookstores are meeting grounds for the community to meet and discuss matters of community importance and then taking action.  Random collections of customers at Classics Used and Rare Books, for example, have volunteered to help restore a vandalized mural, provided back-to-school backpacks for foster kids, and knitted helmet liners for soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

In addition, used bookstores, far more than other businesses, provide space for community groups to meet.  Classics in Trenton, for example, has opened their space for Peoples and Stories, BOOST, the Urban Studies Group, the Trenton Scrabble Club, the Trenton Kids Books Club, Trenton Knit and Stitch and other community groups.

Support your community.  Support your used bookstores. 

Arts and Letters

Used bookstores are on the vanguard of supporting regional authors with booksigning opportunities and consignment sales to which chain bookstores can be insensitive.  In addition, cutting-edge used bookstores, like Classics in Trenton, find ways to offer additional support.  Classics published the Trenton Review, which features Trenton artists, authors and subjects including Pulitzer Prize-winning Trenton poet Yusef Komunyakaa and the infamous Trenton rock hall, City Gardens.

Support local arts and letters.  Support your used bookstores. 

Economic Development

Like they do in supporting local authors, used bookstores are far more receptive to selling products of local business people.  Nowhere besides Classics, for example, can you purchase Trenton bridge tee-shirts done by a Trenton artist, candles from two local candlemakers (Ana Candles and Messiah’s Candles), note cards depicting the Battles of Trenton, outlandish ties made by a Trenton seamster, a DVD on tomato pies produced by Trentonians, and music CD’s by Trenton artists like The Blue Method, Clarice Sabree and the musicians of Trenton2Nite.

Support local micro-businesses.  Support your used bookstores.