Posts Tagged ‘Books’

In 1954, educator and author Dorothy Law was on a short deadline for her family advice column in a California newspaper. She hurriedly wrote a primer about parenting.

The article immediately went viral, 1954 style. It spread around the world, mostly unattributed, and became a child-rearing anthem.

“I simply wrote it and put it out there, where it has apparently moved through the world on its own momentum,” Dorothy said later.

As time passed, the popularity of her work remained high. Finally, when she learned that an organization was using it in a promotion, she stepped forward and claimed authorship.

Dorothy later wrote a book that devoted a chapter to each line of the poem. She then wrote a similar book that focused on teenagers.

In 1999, a two-time widow, Dorothy Law Nolte retired and bought a house with profits from her books. She died in 2005, age 81.

Here’s the article.


Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism,
they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility,
they learn to fight.

If children live with fear,
they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity,
they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with ridicule,
they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy,
they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame,
they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement,
they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance,
they learn patience.

If children live with praise,
they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance,
they learn to love.

If children live with approval,
they learn to like themselves.

If children live with recognition,
they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing,
they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty,
they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness,
they learn justice.

If children live with kindness and consideration,
they learn respect.

If children live with security,
they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness,
they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Dorothy Law Nolte.

Dorothy Law Nolte.

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The passage below is from the conclusion of the 1819 short story “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving. Rip has awakened, returned to his village, and resumed his life of indolence…


Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can be idle with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village, and a chronicle of the old times “before the war.”


“Idle with impunity” is a lovely phrase. It gladdens the heart of a retired person such as myself.

Alas, my little town has no inns with benches at the door. Bars and package stores, yes, but no inns.

Rip Van Winkle’s Return, Tompkins H. Matteson, 1860.

Rip Van Winkle’s Return, Tompkins H. Matteson, 1860.

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In “A Sand County Almanac,” conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote about the natural environment around his home in rural Wisconsin. Most notably, he called for a “land ethic”  that values preservation and a state of harmony between the land and the plants and animals that live on it.

The book is a series of essays, presented in 12 chapters, one for each month. It was published in 1949, a year after his death.

This excerpt is from my favorite chapter.



Great Possessions

One hundred and twenty acres, according to the County Clerk, is the extent of my worldly domain. But the County Clerk is a sleepy fellow, who never looks at his record books before nine o’clock. What they would show at daybreak is the question here at issue.

Books or no books, it is a fact, patent both to my dog and myself, that at daybreak I am the sole owner of all the acres I can walk over. It is not only boundaries that disappear, but also the thought of being bounded. Expanses unknown to deed or map are known to every dawn, and solitude, supposed no longer to exist in my county, extends on every hand as far as the dew can reach.

Like other great landowners, I have tenants. They are negligent about rents, but very punctilious about tenures. Indeed at every daybreak from April to July they proclaim their boundaries to each other, and so acknowledge, at least by inference, their fiefdom to me.

This daily ceremony, contrary to what you might suppose, begins with the utmost decorum. Who originally laid down its protocols I do not know.

At 3:30 a.m., with such dignity as I can muster of a July morning, I step from my cabin door, bearing in either hand my emblems of sovereignty, a coffeepot and notebook. I seat myself on a bench, facing the white wake of the morning star. I set the pot beside me. I extract a cup from my shirt front, hoping none will notice its informal mode of transport. I get out my watch, pour coffee, and lay notebook on knee. This is the cue for the proclamations to begin.

At 3:35 the nearest field sparrow avows, in a clear tenor chant, that he holds the jackpine copse north to the riverbank, and south to the old wagon track. One by one all the other field sparrows within earshot recite their respective holdings. There are no disputes, at least at this hour, so I just listen, hoping inwardly that their womenfolk acquiesce in this happy accord over the status quo ante.

Before the field sparrows have quite gone the rounds, the robin in the big elm warbles loudly his claim to the crotch where the icestorm tore off a limb, and all appurtenances pertaining thereto (meaning, in his case, all the angleworms in the not-very-spacious subjacent lawn).

The robin’s insistent caroling awakens the oriole, who now tells the world of orioles that the pendant branch of the elm belongs to him, together with all fiber-bearing milkweed stalks near by, all loose strings in the garden, and the exclusive right to flash like a burst of fire from one of these to another.

My watch says 3:50. The indigo bunting on the hill asserts title to the dead oak limb left by the 1936 drouth, and to diverse near-by bugs and bushes. He does not claim, but I think he implies, the right to out-blue all bluebirds, and all spiderworts that have turned their faces to the dawn.

Next the wren — the one who discovered the knothole in the eave of the cabin — explodes into song. Half a dozen other wrens give voice, and now all is bedlam. Grosbeaks, thrashers, yellow warblers, bluebirds, vireos, towhees, cardinals — all are in it.

My solemn list of performers, in their order and time of first song, hesitates, wavers, ceases, for my ear can no longer filter out priorities. Besides, the pot is empty and the sun is about to rise. I must inspect my domain before my title runs out.

We sally forth, the dog and I, at random. He has paid scant respect to all these vocal goings-on, for to him the evidence of tenantry is not song, but scent. Any illiterate bundle of feathers, he says, can make a noise in a tree.

Now he is going to translate for me the olfactory poems that who-knows-what silent creatures have written in the summer night. At the end of each poem is the author — if we can find him. What we actually find is beyond predicting: a rabbit suddenly yearning to be elsewhere; a woodcock, fluttering his disclaimer; a cock pheasant, indignant over wetting his feathers in the grass.

Once in a while we turn up a coon or mink, returning late from the night’s foray. Sometimes we rout a heron from his unfinished fishing, or surprise a mother wood duck with her convoy of ducklings, headed full-steam for the shelter of the pickerelweeds. Sometimes we see deer sauntering back to the thickets, replete with alfalfa blooms, veronica, and wild lettuce. More often we see only the interweaving darkened lines that lazy hoofs have traced on the silken fabric of the dew.

I can feel the sun now. The bird-chorus has run out of breath. The far clank of cowbells bespeaks a herd ambling to pasture. A tractor roars warning that my neighbor is astir.

The world has shrunk to those mean dimensions known to county clerks. We turn toward home, and breakfast.

Aldo Leopold and his dog Flick at Leopold’s home near the Wisconsin River.

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Thoughts about the demands of parenting from “The Territorial Imperative,” a 1966 book by screenwriter/anthropologist Robert Ardrey.


Among the wonders of the natural world is determination, shared equally by animals and, at their best, by men.

When young robins hatch, one begins to understand why pair bonds are necessary. For a few days, the female will spend most of her time on the nest, and he will bring all the food, passing it to her to be stuffed into the four, five or six gaping mouths. By the end of the week, she will spend no time at all on the nest, since the collective appetite it shelters will have developed by then to proportions which two parents can scarcely keep up with.

On a day in early May, [English ornithologist David] Lack kept count on a nest containing five young. The parents paid it 29 visits per hour, each bringing two or three caterpillars. He reckoned that in the course of a full working day, the pair harvested about 1,000 caterpillars.

After two weeks, the fledglings leave the nest, but they will pick up no food for themselves for another eight or 10 days. The parents are relieved of the necessity of returning to the nest, since the young follow them about, but that is all they are relieved of. For through this time, the young are growing bigger and bigger, their gullets more and more cavernous. Finally, three weeks after leaving the nest, the young will be on their own.

One would think that the pair, after all this, would take a holiday at some robin resort. But they will not. She will get busy building another nest, and they will have another brood.


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In the early 1970s, I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and was inspired to create the… creation shown below.

That passage is my favorite from the book. To display it in the chosen manner, I used a typewriter and a piece of Manila folder.

God knows how long it took me. Even on a computer, it would be awfully laborious.

I don’t feel the need to do it again, but I still love the passage.


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When I was a young man in Georgia, college age and after, the Atlanta Constitution was a mighty force in journalism. Especially noteworthy were the front page columns of Ralph McGill, the publisher, and the editorial page columns of Eugene Patterson, the editor.

The 1960s were tumultuous times. It was the era of the civil rights movement. The assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK. The space race. Vietnam. During those years, Patterson wrote 3,200 articles for the Constitution, McGill probably more.

Many of their columns pointedly focused on desegregation and civil rights. Always the liberal, I loved those columns as much as their critics hated them.

Not long ago, I read McGill’s book, “The South and the Southerner,” which tried to shed light on why we are what we are.

In one chapter, McGill describes a particular type of person who for generations has ruled people’s lives, literally, in towns throughout the South: the small town rich man.

An excerpt…

He owned, according to his geographic location, the gin, the turpentine works, the cotton warehouses, the tobacco warehouses. He was a director in the bank.

He was the owner of all, or part of, the biggest store. He sold on credit, taking liens on crops and mortgages on livestock.

He knew the financial predicament of every man in his section of the county. He “advised,” or selected, the men who ran for the legislature.

As McGill implies, no currency is more potent than power and influence. In the same way that a Mafia don called the shots in his world, the small town rich man ruled absolutely in his. Cheap labor and desperation enriched him. He had every incentive to maintain the status quo.

If the South has been slow to change, that underlying system of feudalism surely is an important reason.

You would think we’ve outgrown so primitive a social order by now, but we haven’t. The small town rich man remains as entrenched as ever. He still does business as usual, and not only in the South. He reigns everywhere.

Things have always worked that way, and probably always will.

Ralph McGill died in 1969. A few months later, Patterson resigned. He went to the Washington Post and later to the St. Petersburg Times.

The Atlanta Constitution hasn’t been worth a damn since.

Ralph McGill

Ralph McGill

Gene Patterson

Gene Patterson

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