How Many Words Are Left?

The other morning, while I was toiling through my regular routine on the treadmill and struggling with arthritis-pained knees, toes, and wrists, I found myself looking at the bookcase on the opposite wall. There, on the top shelf, were several anthologies and other books that include some of my own writings.

That set me to thinking of how many articles I’ve written. Those thoughts made me realize that I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words over the years since the first article I ever submitted was published back in 1981. One thought led to another.

Behind me, I remembered the huge notebook filled with tear sheets of my published articles. (I say remembered because I didn’t turn to look at it. I once learned a painful lesson about trying to turn around and run backwards on a moving treadmill, and I’m not fool enough to repeat that session!)

As I continued my morning run, warm (very warm!) and dry on a cool, rainy day, I wondered how many words I still have in me. Because we are each given a set amount of time in this life, and, knowing that we, like David, should pray that God would “teach us to number our days” (Psa. 90:12), it seems only natural that we should also ask Him to teach us to calculate our production in whatever our field of service might be. In my own case, it was first in teaching and now in writing and editing. So I wonder how many more words I have left in me to write.

Do I have another book left in me? Perhaps a couple? None? How many more articles are in me?

The question is not how many more writing ideas I have left in me. Those are a dime a dozen; they’re in every direction I look and in everything I read, see, and do. (And even if my idea well did happen to run dry, myriad people are more than happy to volunteer their ideas that they think I should write about!) The issue is how many of my  ideas I will actually be able to express in words fit for public consumption. Correction: it’s actually how many of those words will editors find acceptable to share with their readers. Without editors willing to buy and publish my words, no number of written words will amount to anything. To make a difference, there must be willing editors and willing readers. And that is the rub.

My mind was racing faster than my feet. The pace of the treadmill decreased, but the incline increased dramatically. As I huffed, puffed, and perspired, I asked myself the next logical questions: What will my last written words be? And will anything I’ve written have made any difference?

I know how I read. Whenever I pick up a magazine or newspaper, I skim and scan. Seeing an interesting title or headline, I might read the lead paragraph. If my attention is not immediately arrested, however, I move on to something else. I don’t have time to waste. As the librarian’s t-shirt read, “So many books, so little time.”

I probably read more than the average person, but I rarely read a complete article unless it really grabs me. If it does, I might even print or photocopy it for possible later use.

But most readers skim and scan even more loosely than I do. And we all forget so quickly. Someone once said that yesterday’s newspaper is good only for wrapping fish or lining a birdcage. Today, we don’t even wrap fish in newspaper, so its value is even less.

Can you name even one article that has made a lasting difference in your life? On the spur of the moment, I can think of only one, an article titled “The Tyranny of the Urgent” (about how we allow urgent demands to crowd out the truly important things of life), but I can’t remember its author’s name or which publication it was in.

Today, we suffer information overload, and we forget so much more quickly and easily. Can any words really take root in our lives to the point of making a lasting difference? Will any of the words that I write make any difference to anyone else?

Only one author’s words have the infallible promise that they will live eternally and make a lasting impression and difference in their readers’ lives, and those are God’s. He said, “My word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

If written, my words might not get published. If published, they might not be read. If read, they might not be remembered or make any difference in anyone’s life. But it’s nonetheless my responsibility to write them, whether many or few. What happens to them after that is beyond my control. As Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson said, “Duty is mine; consequences are God’s.”

Jesse Stuart, another writer-teacher, encouraged fellow writers to persevere:

And if men thwart you, take no heed.

If men hate you, have no care.

Sing your song.

Dream your Dream.

Hope your hope.

Pray your prayer.

So I write. I don’t know how many words I have left in me, just as I don’t know how much longer my life will last. But I simply do what God has called me to do and leave the results with Him.

A Baker’s Dozen of Quotations

In lieu of my writing about a single topic for today’s blog, I decided to share a baker’s dozen (i.e., thirteen, for some people who might not be aware of the meaning of that adage) assorted quotations that have made me think over the past several months. I hope you enjoy at least one or two of them. If you do, please let me know. Maybe share one of your favorite quotations with me, and I’ll, in turn, share it with your fellow blog readers.

Books and Reading

“Reading is the great prerequisite for everything else, not only in school but also in life itself. The teacher who gets her pupils to read has done the biggest job a teacher can ever do.” (Max Rafferty)

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.” (Barbara Tuchman, left)

“Read, not to contradict or confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” (Sir Francis Bacon)

“[T]oo often what we read and profess becomes a part of our libraries and our vocabularies, instead of becoming a part of our lives.” (E.E. Bauermeister)

Perseverance and Work

“The man who wins is the man who hangs on just five minutes longer after everyone else has quit.” (Douglas Southall Freeman, left)

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (Thomas Edison)

“However boring work may be, the lack of it is worse.” (Roland Bainton)

 

 

Exemplars and Heroes

“Many a man looking death, or simply compromise, in the face has been spared the label coward because his faith was bolstered by the memory of heroes who walked before him.” (Doug Phillips)

“[A] good copy cannot be made from a bad model.” (Johan Amos Comenius, left)

“The hero acts alone, without encouragement, relying solely on conviction and his own inner resources. Shame does not discourage him; neither does obloquy. Indifferent to approval, reputation, wealth, or love, he cherishes only his personal sense of honor, which he permits no one else to judge.” (William Manchester)

“I found my heroes in books. I observed how it was that they were able to overcome adversity, stand fast in trials, and persist in their convictions heedless of the cost. Thus over time, I came to comprehend the vast difference between being a politician and being a statesman.” (Calvin Coolidge)

Honor

“[Chivalry is] a romantic idealism closely related to Christianity, which makes honor the guiding principle of conduct.” (Richard M. Weaver, left)

“[T]he first quest of the hero is triumph over himself.” (Andrew Nelson Lytle)

And the Nominations Are In

My publisher, McFarland & Company, has informed me that they have submitted my book in nomination for the following two awards.

The 2017 Bobby and John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History is given by the John L. Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia for what they deem the best book on that topic published in 2016. The winner will be announced July 1, 2017.

The Wiley-Silver Prize for Best First Book in Civil War History published in 2016 is given by the Center for Civil War Research at the University of Mississippi. The winner will be announced by August 1, 2017.

From the beginning, when I first started my search for a publisher of my manuscript, I gave the book over for the Lord to do with as He pleased. I prayed that, if it was His will for it to be published, He would open the door with the right publisher. He did, and it was published by McFarland in May 2016. Then I prayed that He would work His will concerning sales of the book. To date, scores of major universities, libraries, and museums across the nation and even several overseas have purchased it. I would like to see many people benefit from what my book offers, but its sales will be what God wants them to be, and I give all the glory for any success it might have to Him alone.

Book Cover Peterson_978-1-4766-6521-4Similarly, with these two award nominations. I’m grateful to have my book included among the many books published during 2016 in the field of Civil War history, and I consider the mere nomination to be a great honor. Humanly speaking, however, the chance of its winning either award is a long shot. If it goes beyond the nomination to win any acclaim, whether an award or even a mere mention, it will be up to God to bring it to pass, and I’ll thank Him for it.

If you are inclined to pray, I’d appreciate your prayers that God’s will be done and that whatever He does with the book will bring honor to Him alone.

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week

The first full week of February is Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week. It’s impossible to estimate how many young readers have been born from the works of the various authors who wrote for children and the artists who illustrated those works over the years, but it’s bound to be considerable. And I’m one of those who became a reader as a result of several such authors.

I’m not too familiar with the illustrators, although I’m sure that I spent nearly as much time looking at the drawings of the books I read as I did reading the words. If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then I’ve “read” many books just by looking at the pictures!

When my wife and I had our children growing up at home, we introduced them to many of the same authors who had influenced us as children. We also all learned from those children’s books the truth of Ronald Reagan’s sage observation: “You can never be lonely if you have a good book.”

It’s hard to single out one, or even just a few, authors who most influenced me and my family members because we read a host of writers, but I’ll take a stab at it. I’ve written in earlier posts of how the Hardy Boys series and the Landmark Books influenced me. But those were just some of the many, and they came during my late elementary years. Here are a few others that came even earlier.

beverly_cleary_19711Beverly Cleary wrote the two delightful series of books about Ramona and Henry Huggins. Our girls loved those books.

ramona-the-pest-by-beverly-clearyhenry-huggins-by-beveraly-cleary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

robert-mccloskeyhomerprice1Robert McCloskey wrote (and, talented man that he was, illustrated as well) Homer Price and Make Way for Ducklings. (Who could forget that fabulous donut machine?)

 

 

 

 

laura-ingalls-wilderlittlehouseontheprairiecd1Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House series of books from which the TV series The Little House on the Prairie was born.

 

 

 

 

eb_white_and_his_dog_minnie1books-by-eb-white1the-elements-of-style1E. B. White wrote Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. Imagine my surprise when, years later, as a fledgling editor, I realized that he was the same author as one of the duo of Strunk & White fame, co-authoring The Elements of Style.

And how could I forgive myself if I didn’t pay homage to Jesse Stuart? His Penny’s Worth of Character, The Beatinest Boy, and The Rightful Owner are especially important for developing values and character in young readers.

jesse_stuart1pennys-worth-of-characterbeatinest-boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

rightful-owner

 

These authors and many others like them did a great service to millions of young people over the years because their books made–and continue to develop–readers. (If I’ve left out your favorite authors, please write and tell me who they were and why.)

May our mantra–and our personal example–ever be what was written above the door of the children’s reading room of the Hopkinton, Massachusetts, Library:

 

 

Books are keys to wisdom treasure;

Books are gates to lands of pleasure;

Books are paths that upward lead;

Books are friends. Come, let us read.

 

 

A Really Hard Job

img_0823I don’t mind working–even working hard. Growing up, I was expected to work. Mother gave me various household chores, such as taking out the garbage after supper and throwing it onto the compost pile. And she made us kids make our beds every morning and keep our rooms clean. If we didn’t, she gave us KP duty–cleaning up the supper table and washing the dishes and pots and pans for a week.

And Daddy, a self-employed brick mason, made my brother and me go to work with him from the time we were old enough to get into trouble at home. We carried brick, mixed mortar, built (and tore down) scaffolding, and whatever else Daddy told us to do. If we didn’t have anything to do, he always found something. It was all dirty and usually hard. And in the summertime, it made us sweat. I hated to sweat. I still don’t enjoy sweating.

Some jobs like those are hard, but a few jobs are really hard! Take, for instance, a job that I had to do earlier this week. I boxed up a bunch of books, loaded them into my old Mazda B2000 pickup, and hauled them to the local Goodwill store.

Anyone who is the least bit acquainted with me knows that I love books, both reading and collecting them. Over the years, I’ve saved my various college textbooks (even one of my favorite high school history textbooks); collected a large number of books that were payment for my writing reviews of them; and bought even more through book clubs, in bookstores, online, and at yard sales. And they were on a wide variety of subjects: history, writing and editing, marketing, trains and railroading, Bible study, Christian living, education, marriage and parenting, and a host of miscellaneous topics. The problem was that I never got rid of any of them.

I first began to realize that perhaps–just maybe–I had a few too many books when we moved from Tennessee to South Carolina. First, my aching back told me as I was loading all those boxes into the U-Haul truck. Then, just before entering South Carolina, I happened to pull through a North Carolina weigh station. (I didn’t know if I, driving a moving van, was even required to stop at weigh stations, but I did so just to be on the safe side.)

The officer came from the building, looked at the weight limit posted on the side of the truck, climbed onto the passenger-side running board, and said, “Do you realize that you’re several hundred pounds over your weight limit?”

“Oh no!” I moaned. “It must be all those books!”

After I had explained to the officer that we were moving and that I hoped never to move again–through North Carolina or any other state–he warned me to be more careful and let me go on my way. That incident told me something about how many books I had.

The next omen was when we began organizing our “stuff” in our new house. I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough shelf space for all my books. My home office in Tennessee had one entire wall that was a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookcase. We had a similar built-in bookcase upstairs in the family room. Since it was a built-in, I had to leave it behind. And the moving truck had been so full that I didn’t have room for a smaller bookcase and had had to leave it behind. So when we got to our new house in South Carolina, I had to go out and buy four new, large bookcases.

But even that was not enough shelf space. I divided the books between “must haves” and “probably won’t need right away” books. The former went on the shelves in my office; the latter stayed in boxes and went into the attic above the garage. I had cut a hole in the garage ceiling, installed a ladder, and laid rough flooring across the joists, thereby creating some extra storage space. By the time I got all of my extra books and my wife’s educational materials up there, little room was left.

After my four daughters were married and living on their own, we invited each of them to the attic the next time they visited and asked them to take anything that was theirs. Anything they didn’t want, they could take with them to sell in a yard sale–or we would donate it to Goodwill. Dolls, favorite stuffed animals, craft items, trophies and other awards, and a few miscellaneous items disappeared.

When the last of the daughters made her pilgrimage to the attic for her stuff, she took her husband with her to help her decide what to keep or discard. Being a building contractor, he naturally was interested in examining the garage’s ceiling joists and the webbing of the trusses. When he saw how many boxes of books were in the attic, he let out a low whistle of surprise.

“You know, you have ‘way too much weight up here,” he said to me. “These joists weren’t designed to carry such a load. You need to get some of this weight out of here and put it somewhere else.”

“What you need to do is to organize it!” my daughter bluntly interjected. “Mom, let’s go through all these boxes. I’ll get out what’s mine, and then we’ll see what we can get rid of. Here, Dad, put these boxes in the truck; we’ve already gone through them, and you don’t need any of these books!”

As she scooted the boxes toward me, I opened the lids and peered inside.

“Hey, I can’t get rid of these,” I protested. “These are my college lit books!”

“You don’t need them,” my wife declared. “Load them into the truck!”

I looked into another box. “I have to keep this,” I said, holding up an old commentary. “The youth group gave this to me when I went away to college.”

“Well, you can keep that one, but you need to get rid of the rest of the books in that box. You’ll never use them,” my daughter said.

After a brief but futile attempt to argue my way out of their trap, I succumbed to the inevitable. Soon, the bed of the truck was full. We made two trips to Goodwill that afternoon. I cried inside.

It stayed that way for several years. But then my writing required that I consult a particular reference book, and I had to dig through all of the boxes left in the attic to find it. Moving all the boxes around stirred up dust, triggering my allergies and making me sneeze. And the awkward lifting of heavy boxes among the trusses caused my tender back to complain painfully. Nothing was where it should have been in the pre-labeled boxes because the girls had dug through them in search of their stuff, and books from one box ended up scattered among the other boxes. I had to rummage through numerous boxes every time I needed to find another reference book. That got old fast.

Earlier this week, realizing how cluttered my office had gotten, I determined to clean and reorganize it.

“What you need to do,” my wife declared with her hands on her hips and a look of determination, “is to get rid of all these books!”

“No! Not my books!” I cried. “I might need them!”

Before the complete sentence was out of my mouth, she continued. “When was the last time you used any of these books? Have you used any of them in the last five years? Ten years?”

“Well,” I demurred, “I’ve used some of them.” She walked from the office unconvinced, and I could see the handwriting on the wall–again. No need to argue with reason. Besides, I knew that she was right.

So one day, while she was at work, I gritted my teeth and got busy. I climbed into the attic above the garage and went through the boxes of books that remained there. I cried inside as I took book after book from one box, examined each of them, and made a fateful decision: to keep or not to keep. I was brutal. I carried four boxes down the ladder to load into the old truck; only two boxes remained.

Then I climbed the stairs to my office and addressed the shelves on one end of the room, where rows of books were stacked in front of other rows of books, and most of the shelves had books stacked horizontally on top of those double rows. I was on a roll, and the pain subsided. (Or had I just become so numbed by sorrow that I no longer felt the pain?) I carried six boxes downstairs to be loaded into the truck. I later added three more boxes of historical journals and train magazines. The shelves are still full but not so crowded.

I haven’t started on the book cases on the other side of the office, the ones that contain the biographies, histories, commentaries, and other Bible-study books. My knees still hurt from ascending and descending the attic ladder and the stairs with those heavy boxes. My heart aches from condemning my beloved books to the donation pile. And there will be still more books to move another day. I have no fear of running out of books.

I just hope that my daughters and my wife don’t suddenly get the idea of cleaning up the myriad books I’ve stored on my Kindle!

Fulfilling Resolutions One Step at a Time

img_0823Someone once said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Well, I’ve taken that first step (actually several steps) on that long journey of fulfilling one of my perennial resolutions: to read several books that will improve (1) my spiritual condition, (2) my historical knowledge, and (3) my writing abilities.

For the first of the three categories, I’ve been studying the section of Alexander Maclaren’s book Expositions of Holy Scripture dealing with the epistles of Peter. In the second category, I finally got around to reading–and finishing–David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers, a book that had long been on my to-read-when-I-get-around-to-it list. (What struck me most about their quest to fly is that whereas other aeronauts expected the government to foot their bills for experimentation, the Wrights paid for everything from their own pockets and were therefore frugal in their expenditures.)

As for the third category, I’ve completed both Writers on Writing (Mynhardt, ed.) and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. And I’ve begun a book that has surprised me because I actually am enjoying it despite the fact that I began it thinking that I wouldn’t. It is Writing for the Soul by Jerry Jenkins (he of Left Behind fame). It’s as much the story of his own development as a writer as it is a self-help for writers. Jenkins has written more than 150 books (many people have never even read that many), the first 90 of them without the benefit of an agent, so I think he knows how it’s done. Therefore, what he says about writing is worth serious consideration.

Here are ten gems that I’ve uncovered so far. I know they’ll help me; perhaps you’ll find them helpful too.

  • “The only way to write a book is with seat in chair.”
  • “Maintain your priorities and your writing will benefit.”
  • “[N]o writer ever arrives.”
  • “[P]ublishing has to be a byproduct of your writing, not the end goal.”
  • “Neither author nor publisher has much say or control over how many books sell. What you can control is how you write your next book. Work to your potential and let the results go.”
  • “[I]f you plan to make a life of writing, you must stand for something, have a carefully considered and lived-out worldview.”
  • “Write because you believe in something.”
  • “Allow yourself to be moved, and write what moves you.”
  • “We can’t write for other people’s souls unless ours are healthy.”
  • “[B]e your own toughest critic.”

It’s important to begin well. But it’s also important to persevere throughout the race and to finish well. That journey of a thousand miles that I’ve begun with those first few steps won’t end well unless I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’m hoping and praying that I’ll do so throughout this year. But right now that next step is to put my seat into the chair and resume my writing!

Review and Gift Suggestion

Are you looking for that perfect gift for someone special? If that someone special happens to be a history buff, I’ve got a suggestion: a copy of my book Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries. Here’s a link to an unsolicited review of the book from the Civil War Monitor magazine to help guide your gift-buying suggestion:

http://www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf/peterson-confederate-cabinet-departments-and-secretaries-2016

Book Cover Peterson_978-1-4766-6521-4The book is available both in paperback and as an e-book. You may purchase it directly from the publisher, McFarland & Company (www.mcfarlandpub.com or 800-253-2187) or from a variety of online booksellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and others.

 

October’s Special Times

As we approach the cusp of another new month (can it really be October already?), a quick glance at my planning calendar reveals some interesting special days during the month before us.

The fact that it’s Children’s Magazine Month reminds me of that childhood favorite Highlights for Children. I always associate it with my original optometrist, Dr. George Goodman, because he had that magazine in his tiny waiting room in downtown Knoxville. I loved looking for the hidden objects buried within the illustrations and the quizzes where two seemingly identical illustrations challenged young readers to identify the subtle differences.

four-generations-of-jim-blizzards-copyAnd its being Clergy Appreciation Month reminds me of some good, influential pastors I’ve had over the years, from James Blizzard (left) during my adolescent years to my current pastor, Dr. Don Heinrich. Like anyone else, pastors get discouraged and perhaps think that their ministries are having no impact on anyone. We should let them know otherwise. The apostle Paul wrote that we should remember not only what we’ve learned about God and His Word but also from whom we learned those truths (2 Tim. 3:14).

And October is National Book Month, a good time to put in a not-so-subtle plug for my book Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries. I’m not a bit biased when Book Cover Peterson_978-1-4766-6521-4I say this, but it must be good–I just learned that among the colleges and universities that have purchased my book (which is about the civilian government of the Confederacy) is the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Go figure! (Was that section on the surgeon general really that good?)

The first week of October is designated National Carry a Tune Week. My! How badly I wish I could commemorate that special week by belting out a song, but if I did, someone would be sure to belt me! I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Mrs. Smelser, our elementary school music teacher, had a teaching method that only exacerbated my problem. She lined up all the boys in front of the music room and had us sing. As we sang (or attempted to), she walked along the line, listening to each person. Knowing that I couldn’t sing well, I sang ever more softly as she approached me. By the time she got to me, I was doing nothing more than “mouthing” the song. She even put her ear up to my face, trying to detect a note slipping out somewhere. I still made the sixth-grade chorus that sang in the All-Knox County Schools concert at the University of Tennessee. (I recall singing some song in Latin that sounded all the world to me like “pawnee soon jelly goose!” It never made sense to me. Why would a Pawnee Indian need a quick jelly goose?) So I won’t be doing any crooning during the first week of October.

But there is one day I can celebrate–tomorrow: Old People’s Day! I generally don’t feel as though I’m old during the daylight hours. At least my mind tells me I’m still young. But, oh! Those early mornings and late nights suddenly bring reality before me! Although I still force myself to get up early (4:45 a.m., to be precise), the old body makes me start thinking of bedtime earlier every week. In the coming winter months, that won’t be so bad, but when we change our clocks in the spring and it stays light longer, that’s a different story. I guess I’ll just have to put on my sunglasses and go to bed when the old body dictates.

National Read-a-Book Day

DSC_0111I had to chuckle the other day when I discovered that September 6 is “National Read-a-Book Day” and September 7, tomorrow, is “Buy-a-Book Day.” To top it off, September 16, ten days from now, is “International Read-an-E-Book Day.”

I guess, based on the dates of those various special days, that someone wants you to read the book before you buy it. It’s usually the other way around. Few books are so good that, once you’ve borrowed and read them–or read them while sitting in a book store’s coffee shop–you’ll then go and buy the already-read book. That’s sort of like buying a coloring book that’s already been colored in.

DSC_0590 - CopyI’ve got a better idea that will allow people to kill three birds with one stone, so to speak: Let’s make it “Buy-My-Book Day.” Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries is a good read for all history buffs. If you buy it in e-book form and read it, you celebrate all three days at once–Buy-a-Book Day, Buy-an-E-Book Day, and Read-a-Book Day. Besides, proceeds go to a worthy cause–me!

And since we’re talking special days, September 5 was “Be-Late-for-Something Day.” I never thought I’d see the day when people needed to have special encouragement to be late! (But, in honor of that special day, I purposely delayed mentioning it until today, a day late.)

Even as a kid, I hated to be late for anything lest I miss something important or interesting. As I got older, I began to hate it for a less personal reason: lateness shows a disrespect for the time of others.

The university I attended took great pride in the fact that everything there started on time–not a minute earlier, not 30 seconds late. On time. Meals. Classes. Concerts. Ball games. Everything started on time. So firmly did the administration insist on punctuality that if you weren’t there when it started, you didn’t get in. (I worked as an usher, and I had to enforce that rule many times.) So strongly did the administrators believe in teaching the importance of punctuality that they gave demerits for tardiness. People hated the rule (especially those who were habitually late), but after being denied access once or twice or getting enough demerits, they learned to be on time!

Back in the hey-day of railroading, railroads knew that punctuality could not only get people and freight where they and it needed to be but also saved lives. Deviation from time schedules proved deadly until a Mr. Ball got the railroads to operate on standard time. That got them “on the Ball!”

Maybe instead of a “Be-Late-for-Something Day” we should have a “Be-on-Time Day.”

Powerful, Influential Books

IMG_0823What books have most influenced your life? Can you think of a few?

As many books as I’ve read since Mrs. George first awoke my interest in reading nearly fifty years ago in fifth grade, that’s a hard task. But I tried, and I came up with the following ten books that I think have most influenced my life.

 

10. Random House’s Landmark Books series. These were the books that I started reading in fifth grade, and they gave me an abiding interest in American history and biography. Although they’re old now, you can often still find them, and for young readers there are none better.

9. Call Me Charley by Jesse C. Jackson. (No, the author was no relation to the political activist.) This book about a little black boy who moves into a white neighborhood and is befriended by a white classmate gave me sympathetic insights into racial biases.

8. The Power of a Positive Mental Attitude by W. Clement Stone. A college professor’s recommendation led me to this book, which greatly helped me deal with negativity and a poor self-concept. Hearing the author speak only increased his book’s influence on my later teaching and writing careers. I’ve read the book numerous times since.

7. Forever My Love by Margaret Hardisty. My future father-in-law gave me this valuable book shortly before I married his daughter, and it helped both my wife and me understand one another better–thereby making his job as father-in-law easier, I’m sure.

6. Dare to Discipline by James Dobson. This classic by the founder of Focus on the Family proved invaluable not only in rearing our four daughters but also in the school classroom. Not having to deal with discipline problems makes it a lot easier and more fun to teach both life lessons and the enjoyment of history.

5. The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart. This book proved indispensable to my teaching and writing careers. It taught me to believe that if Stuart could overcome great obstacles to succeed as a teacher and a writer, I could certainly overcome my puny (by contrast) problems.

4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser. If Stuart’s Thread provided the motivation for my writing, Zinsser provided the advice on correctness necessary to communicate my thoughts in writing. Rereading this book is always a helpful reminder of how to write right.

3. The On-Purpose Person by Kevin McCarthy. This book helped me focus my efforts on my true priorities and helped me avoid wasting (or allowing others to waste) my precious time. My asking, “What is the purpose of your call?” has left many telemarketers speechless, giving me an opening to say, “I’m on the do-not-call list. Please remove my name from your list, or I’ll report you!”

2. Do Right! by Bob Jones Sr. This book was required reading in my freshman year of college, and that assignment was one of the best of my college years. It is a compilation of short, practical life lessons based on pithy little sayings, like “Finish the job,” “It’s never right to do wrong,” and “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate.”

1. The Bible by God. Without question, this book has had the greatest influence on every area of my life–not only for the here-and-now but also (and most importantly) for the hereafter. Many of the principles included in the other nine books are derived–whether or not the authors knew it when they wrote them–from the Bible. Of all books, it deserves to be read regularly and repeatedly because it contains far more than we’ll ever be able to learn.

But (to borrow a phrase from LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow), “Don’t take my word for it”–read these books for yourself, and see how they can influence your own life as they have mine.