Better Than Before

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin. Published in 2015. 320 pages.

I am in the process of re-establishing good habits that I allowed to waver over the past year, while also (and probably more importantly) working to let go of some bad habits. As I have been contemplating and making some pretty big changes of late, I stumbled upon this book in our local library. I was curious enough about the possible research and information to pick it up and give it a look.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the NYT best-selling book, The Happiness Project. I was not familiar with her work prior to stumbling upon this book. That’s a good thing. Had I been familiar with her claim to fame, I might have been inclined to skip picking up this book, which I found pretty insightful.

It wasn’t so much that Rubin broke any new ground here, as much as she put it all together in ways that made sense; to me at least. It is entirely possible that we are more open to and impressed by ideas that speak to where we are on a particular leg of life’s journey. However, even with that concession, I think this is a good book for anyone in the process of trying to establish new habits and break old ones.

The trick to breaking old habits, of course, is to replace them with something better and stick to that thing until it becomes a habit. What Rubin attempts to do here is assist her readers with identifying what strategies will work best for them as they embark on a new habit or attempt to break one.

There is, as there always are with these things, general standards offered by way of a quiz to help the reader categorize him or herself in ways that best narrow the strategies that will work for them.  In years past, I balked at these types of things mainly because the idea that I fit into a neat box offended my snowflake tendencies.

As I have grown older, however, I have come around to the conclusion that while none of us fit neatly into any particular category (an obsession with categories is unhealthy), human tendencies can indeed be roughly narrowed and quantified enough that we can all use some of this information to help us achieve the goals we wish to accomplish. What’s more, there isn’t anything innately wrong or ungodly about making allowance for the fact that we all have personalities within we much navigate as we set ourselves on solid paths in life. The problem comes in when we use this information as an excuse not to change we should rather than tools to help us change the things we need to address.

As I said at the beginning, this book isn’t groundbreaking. Since there is nothing new under the sun anyway, we could all save ourselves a lot of angst by understanding that people the saying the same things in what we perceive to be a new or more comprehensive way doesn’t make it new. It just means that they said it in a way we can identify with. Like Gretchen Rubin did.

You can read an excerpt of her book here.

What I figured out from this book:

  • Unlike my husband, and my father before him, it is not enough for me to be internally motivated to do better in an area of change course in another. I invariably run out of steam if I don’t set up the proper guardrails to keep me moving in the right direction. That reality doesn’t mean I’m a “bad Christian”, which is what I used to think.
  • I can use my husband’s (and to a lesser extent one of daughter’s) stronger internal push as a guardrail. For example, once I decided that potato chips with a side of tears are not the key to managing stress, I took a page from this book and said out loud, “I don’t eat chips.” If I pick up a bag, I can trust my husband to take it from me so as to help me not be a liar, which would make me a bad Christian.
  • Our kids saw a lot of themselves in the four archetypes. Even the 10-year-old rebel has shown some growth since we all took the opportunity to examine ourselves in light of some of the insights here
  • Habits are surprisingly tough, and habits are surprisingly fragile (p.160) I totally need to remember that. You’d think after a year of running faithfully and spending a crazy amount of money -at least for me- on a race, I’d turned into a runner for life. Didn’t happen, but the health gains I made as a runner were so startling that I am back at it, this time with the understanding of how fragile habits are.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Too much of it focused on eating and health issues when most people’s most entrenched habits are related to things other than diet and exercise. For instance, my hurdle at this point is managing my Internet time. Exercise and eating are quite frankly, secondary. I’m in decent health and my husband thinks I’m gorgeous even carrying 25 extra pounds. The mental and time drain lost online however…that’s worth addressing.
  • Given the time this book was written, I was surprised at the sparse amount of time given to some of the other things people deal with as habits.

The good far outweighed the bad, however, and even without specifically mentioning things like social media, smart phones, collecting clutter (NOT an issue of mine), mindless spending (also not an issue of mine) or other vices, the book’s tools are easily transferable to whatever one’s habit might be.

Grade: B

 

 

 

America’s Real First Thanksgiving

real-first-thanksgiving

America’s Real First Thanksgiving, by Robyn Gioia. Originally published in 2007. 48 pages.

I’m teaching a Florida history class to 4th and 5th graders this year and as Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the kids to what some historians consider the real first Thanksgiving, which took place on September 8, 1565. It was a feast celebrated between Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez and the Timucuan tribe in St. Augustine.

The significance of the nationally recognized Thanksgiving feast of 1621, led by William Bradford and Massasoit cannot and should not be downplayed, given that the British colonization of the New World laid the foundation for our country. However, no American history curriculum is complete without an exploration of Florida history, and for that reason, I found this book a valuable resource. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

It’s our family’s first holiday season without my father. As a result,  I’m reading very lightweight stuff right now, to temper the innate heaviness we all feel. We’re increasing extended family time, prayer, cultivating thanksgiving, and keeping the atmosphere devoid of heaviness. A few funny, fluffy, and even romantic books are in the review queue for the next couple of weeks. Consider yourselves warned.

Quotable Literary Quotes #3

This one is courtesy of the ever profound and straightforward Zora Neale Hurston. I have included it before in a review of one of her books but the thought has been pushed to the forefront of my thinking of late. It’s worth sharing:

“I did not know then, as I know now, that people are prone to build a statue of the kind of person it pleases them to be. And few people want to be forced to ask themselves, ‘What if there is no me like my statue?’”

This era of Pinterest, Snap chat, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs makes it all too tempting and all too easy to build statues which draw viewers to admire as well as those who spend inordinate amounts of energy looking for the crack in the statue. It creates a perpetual and vicious cycle.

Enter this bit of wisdom from Voddie Baucham, which blessed me greatly:

“Whatever is the worst thing you think about me, I know something worse about me. Whatever the worse thing is that you could say about me is almost surely not the worst thing about me. I could no doubt do you one better.”

Pause and think about that and what it really means. Freedom perhaps?

In the spirit of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I would call this one alternately the “Must-Have-Others-Think-Well-of-Me” cure.

Have a great weekend!

The Lion’s Paw

lions-paw-book

The Lion’s Paw, by Rob White. Published in 1946. 243 pages.

12-year-old Penny and her 9-year-old brother Nick live in an orphanage on the east coast of Florida. Nick doesn’t much remember living anywhere else and Penny just barely remembers a life before they came there. They hate it, and Nick dreams of running away, but his sister is terrified at the prospect. The orphanage doesn’t like it when kids run away and those who try are almost always caught and made an example of. She tries to talk Nick out of it, but he is determined.

Penny can’t let her little brother run off on his own of course so they escape together, running towards the ocean, hoping to find a boat in which sail away. They determined to start a new life away from the orphanage, which they referred to as the “eganahpro”, because they only ever saw the word written backwards through the wrought iron gates which held them captive.

After Penny and Nick make a run for it  and set off on their adventure, they have the good fortune of running into 15-year-old Ben on the wharf. Ben not only has the boat that he inherited from his father (an WWII Navy lieutenant  presumed dead after a year MIA), but life has thrown him a curve ball inspiring him to run away from his uncle’s as well. The three children set sail together on an adventure far too big for children of their age and station, yet rise to the occasion.

This is an obscure book which once enjoyed a passionate following among Florida readers and educators in the 1960’s and 70’s, and then was out of print for a very long time. I only encountered it because I was looking for books specifically about Florida and Old Florida life. Re-entering the market in 2004, The Lion’s Paw is again enjoying a resurgence among those who know enough to seek it out.

Make no mistake however, this touching, fast paced novel is good reading no matter where you live,where you’re from, or how old you are. C.S. Lewis’ admonition about the timelessness -and age defying quality- of a well told story certainly fits here. Rob White hits all the right notes as the children wrestle with trying to out run the adults searching the seas for their masterfully disguised boat, battle against nature, and grapple with their out fears and uncertainties about the future they face on a journey bigger than themselves.

If you have kids who might like a great story of children on an adventure at sea, you should try and get your hands on a copy of Robb White’s The Lion’s Paw. It might also be a great idea to print a map of Florida’s Okeechobee Waterway to track the kids’ trip from one side of the Florida peninsula to the other.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Mayhem and adventure on the high seas, but nothing the average 9-year old can’t handle. Lots of nautical terminology which provides a good opportunity for the kids to do some research on what it all means.

No Good

no good

No Good, by John Hope. Published in 2014. 137 pages.

No Good is the title character of this short novel I was introduced to when the author gave a copy of it to my husband to add to our library. Despite the fact that it is fiction, it took several pages of reading before I stopped experiencing the internal cringe I felt every time one of Johnny’s parents called out to him, “No Good…”

The interesting dichotomy is that No Good’s parent clearly cared about him a great deal,  but the prevailing sensibilities of our day were virtually unheard of in the time, space, and socioeconomic station in which No Good and his family lived. The cover photo illustration (logic dictates this is No Good based on the author’s description) no doubt offers an indication of No Good’s and his family’s situation. Pancakes and sausage are a luxury to get excited about, and a bath is a once week dip in a wash tub filled and placed in the center of the kitchen.

Since the reconstruction of Japan is mentioned,  I’ll estimate the era as the late 1940’s in the then small town of Sanford, FL. Since the climax of the story centers around the  murder of a white boy in which a Negro man is the prime suspect, the irony of Sanford as the center of all the action was not lost on me. I wondered if this were coincidental or by design.

I approached this book initially assuming that it was one I could pass on to our 10-year-old to read but as I delved further into it, I decided that it is best reserved for the early teenage reader. Some of the themes, which would have been digestible for a poor, more world wise fifth grader in the 1940’s, are too much for the average 10-year-old to appreciate. While the book was a delight to read, I don’t  yet want to explain the meanings of “the claps” or “bear-lesk”. This brings me to a portion of the book which I found thoroughly amusing.

When No Good, his adoptive brother with a bombshell of a secret, and a neighborhood girl decide to take the bus across town to the negro jail and investigate whether their friend had indeed been arrested for the murder that had gripped the town, No Good finds himself explaining how he even knew where to find the negro jail in the first place:

“How you even know about this place?”

“I helped my Uncle Travis take some trash to the dump a while back, and he told me all about it. Said it used to be a house of bear-lesk until the cops made it a jail for Negros.”

“Bear-lesk?” Josh asked.

“Uncle Carl said it was like a full service hotel.” I explained. “First class, I reckon.”

“How come they built a hotel next to the dump?”Jeannie asked.

I shrugged. “Guess that’s why it’s a jail now.”

I like this book. I like the setting, the fact that the author chose a class of people and a way of life that is largely neglected by fiction writers.  I like that a book with such sensitive themes, written with young readers in mind, is done tastefully and yet without shrinking back or sugar coating.

It’s worth a look.

Grade: B

Content advisory: Race related themes and terminology, boyhood mayhem and the violence which sometimes accompanies it (or used to before we decided in our infinite wisdom that boys should be neutered). Brief reference to sexual relations between No Good’s parents. Again, matter of fact and tastefully presented.

 

 

 

 

First Day of (Home) School

Today, August 15 is our first official day of home school, and there were grand plans in the works that didn’t go off without a hitch. The facade of the home, home school and home school teacher which all run like well oiled machines bit the dust today- and hard.

It all started with the summer Olympics, which should have been an indicator to push school off for another week. We always stay up late watching them and allow the kids to do so as well. This led to the children sleeping in a little later than I had accounted for on my very tight and detailed schedule.

However, for reasons I still can’t articulate if I tried, I was determined to start school the same week as the traditional schools (both private and public) in our area. Yes. I know this violates one the supreme benefits of home schooling in the first place. Didn’t I just tell you that I don’t know why I did it this way?

In any event, despite the hour and a half delay, things did get started, topics were tackled, fun was had, and learning took place. The house? That’s another matter so I need to wrap this up and get to the laundry. But first, a few book notes.

This time of year usually opens the door for me to read more adult books that I had been putting off due to summer travel and activities, but not this fall. In addition to my own children, I am also teaching a literature based homeschool co-op class built around exploring Florida and its history. This means I’ll be reading more children’s books than is  typical for me read in late summer or early fall.

The great thing about building  a reading list for this type of class is this wonderful Florida based publishing house, which is a wealth of resources on the best books, both new and old, written about Florida, by Florida authors, and containing Florida history. Depending on where you are, you might want to see if your state has a similar unknown gem.

My list of books in anticipation of fall co-op is as follows:

  • The Lion’s Paw, by Robb White: First published in 1946, this book was the only *must read* book listed on every site I researched for good children’s books set in or based on Florida history.
  • The Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo, by Jean Craighead George: Originally published in 1992, set in the Florida Everglades and categorized as an eco-mystery.
  • No Good, by John Hope: Originally published n 2014, a novel set in 1940’s Central Florida and chronicles the story a boy -can you imagine answering to “No good”?- and his foster brother. This one is too intense for 4/5 graders, but I’m reading it for my own enjoyment while hoping that this author will be a resource to draw on for our students later in the school year.

How are you guys preparing for the new school year? What are you reading? You know I’m always looking for book suggestions to add to the pile I hope to finish before I die.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Hair

good hair  Good Hair: for Colored Girls Who Considered Weave When the Chemicals Got too Rough,  by Lonnice Brittenum Bonner. Originally published in 1994.

One of the things that happens when you decide to live a healthier, more natural life is that you look at every aspect of what that means. Over the past decade or so black women started doing the “big chop” (cutting off chemically straightened hair and starting over with their natural texture of hair). I said back then that there was no way I was going to cut off my shoulder length hair and start over from scratch. This, even though the women in my family actually grow a pretty decent head of hair. Our daughter did her big chop in 2012 and went from 1 inch hair to this in about 3 years:

curly girl

She straightened it once for a formal event and it was slightly longer than shoulder length. Not bad for 3 years. Still, I was unconvinced, especially since the decision isn’t mine alone to make.

As I started working more and more towards optimum health, even putting myself through the torture of regular boot camp workouts, it seemed ridiculous to do all of this and continue to slather my scalp with harsh chemicals for the appearance of length and the expensive ease of styling. It’s unhealthy as well as unnatural.

I still haven’t taken the plunge, but I am inching closer to it and I started reading up on ways to get there without a “big chop”. My daughter was 17 when she did it and I am NOT 17. I need my hair.

I ran across Lonnice Bonner’s Good Hair in the library and since it’s a short book, I knew I could spend an hour reading on a subject that I probably already knew more than enough about. But I read it anyway.

The book contains Bonner’s journey towards wearing her natural hair in all its glory, starting with the all too familiar review of the things most black women remember from childhood. The hair tugging, hair straightening and tight corn rows we all grew up with which made us weary of our locks and sent us running to the nearest salon for a solution as soon as we were old enough and/or had the money. Whichever came first.

This author’s journey was much more perilous than mine to be sure. I’m conservative by nature with a husband who hates weaves and wigs so I have never been particularly adventurous when it comes to my hair.

However, I watched from the sidelines as many of my friends and relatives drifted from hot combs to Jeri curls to weaves and wigs and everything in between. Bonner’s journey was one I’d seen countless times before. She finally made peace with her hair, the hair God gave her, and it looks fantastic.

It isn’t great writing by any stretch, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to let other women know that even after all the damage and drama they have inflicted on themselves fighting against their hair, that they can make peace with it too.

Clearly this is not a book my most of my readership will have any need or inclination to read, but I read it, so I reviewed it.

Grade: C

Dust Tracks On A Road

dust tracksDust Tracks on a Road, an autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston. Originally published in 1942.

This book, written at the height of Hurston’s notoriety, is an intriguing read. Because of my personal connections to some of the historical notes Hurston lays at the beginning of her story, I read it with expectations that went unmet. It was a very detached autobiography which should not have been surprising as it was very much in keeping with Hurston’s “cards close to the vest” persona.

The foreword of the edition I read was written by Maya Angelou. Much as in the foreword by Toni Morrison of the edition I read of Their Eyes were Watching God, there was much angst. Hurston never fails to simultaneously fascinate and confound modern day black feminists. Ground breaking, politically incorrect, and seemingly born without a victim-hood bone in her body, the forewords of her books read eerily similar no matter which of the black feminists writers is entrusted to the task.

Hurston was a rebel from childhood, often aided and abetted by her mother who admired her spirit. Her father worried for the troubles she would encounter in the world if she continued to run headlong wherever it suited her fancy. She however fully expected to run into trouble, looking forward to the lessons the trouble would teach as she journeyed through life.

It never occurred to Hurston to be afraid of white people, having befriended and hung out near the lake with an old man from the neighboring town who took a liking to Zora precisely because she had so much spunk. He took her fishing and taught her life lessons. Later two white women were fascinated with Zora’s reading ability when they came to Eatonville to take a tour of the negro school there. Again, Zora found herself a beneficiary as a result of who she was and what she could do. It didn’t take long for Zora to conclude that while racism was a real thing, it wasn’t something she needed to fret about with regard to her own life so long as she was honest, hard working, unafraid, and generally excellent.

With the exception of her general disregard for religion (she was the master of her fate after all), Zora Neale Hurston again and again defies the  thinking of the very modern black feminists who revere her and her contributions. After the of her early years, much of the book is an exposition of Hurston’s philosophies on life and their effect on her more than any detailed information about her personal experiences.

One thing is crystal clear as Hurston tells her scrappy story, and that is that she figured out early in life that rallying for her race at the expense of her dreams and economic survival wasn’t for her. More than that, she thought that “our interests are too varied” to expect any kind of monolithic unity anyway. Some interesting quotes follow.

On being self-aware:

“I did not know then, as I know now, that people are prone to build a statue of the kind of person it pleases them to be. And few people want to be forced to ask themselves, ‘What if there is no me like my statue?'”

On not taking yourself too seriously:

“My sense of humor will always stand in the way of my seeing myself, my family, my race or my nation as the whole intent of the universe.”
On the folly of living an isolated life:
“Make the attempt if you want to, but you will find that trying to go through life without friendship, is like milking a bear to get cream for your morning coffee. It is a whole lot of trouble, and then not worth much after you get it.”
Lots of good quotes and insights to be found here, as is the case with much of what Hurston wrote. The book however, I found fair to middlin’.
Grade: B-/C+

 

Intriguing Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

zora neale hurstonThe Reading Room rotation consists mainly of Christian books (both doctrinal and historical), books relevant to my personal history, historical fiction, classic fiction, and children’s books. All else is tier 2 stuff that I may or not get around to depending  on reviews and research.

Of late, I have spent a fair amount of time going back over what I thought I knew about my place of origin, and black American culture worth embracing (circa 1900). This brings me to my extensive study of Zora Neale Hurston.

Because I heard a lot about her as I grew up, I thought I knew a lot about her. My gathering of her writings was prompted mainly by the fact that reading her books offers me insight into my hometown. I then stumbled into learning about her rather than simply remembering odd facts from elementary school.

Hurston, widely embraced after her death while largely ignored most of her life, was in many ways a larger than life persona. Even the black feminist writers of the 80’s and 90’s, who revived her from obscurity, have a love/confused relationship with her. Her politics, views on relationships, and unwillingness to engage in racial victim-hood put her at odds with much of what they embrace.

In fact it was this very thing that caused her to be largely dismissed by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. A cursory, unthinking post modern person would assume they criticized her because she was a female in a male dominated movement. That was however, not the case. They disliked Hurston’s work because she refused to write about black life in relation to white America. She didn’t think it did justice to the life and culture of blacks to pretend that their lives held no joy or worth except as compared to the white American mainstream. From her Dust Tracks on a Road:

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

This permeated her writing and her refusal to get in on the racial protest writing that typified the acclaimed writers of the Harlem Renaissance stood in the way of her ability to be widely accepted. Much was and has been made of Richard Wright’s criticism of Hurston, but they simply approached what it meant to be black in America from different angles. To Wright, being black was serious business, while Hurston viewed it as a simple fact of her life which carried some good, and some bad along with it. Same as everyone else. It wasn’t that she was unaware of discrimination:

Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.

It was simply that she didn’t let it define her. The thing most bewildering to today’s cadre of black writers and activists, however, were Hurston’s politics. She wasn’t a liberal. That much is obvious. And although the neocons of today try to co-opt her views as evidence that she would be Republican were she alive today, it is probably closer to characterize Hurston as a libertarian, more akin to Ayn Rand than Ann Coulter. She recoiled against being treated as an inferior creature, and it didn’t matter if it was to her supposed benefit:

“It seems to me that if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”

On the idea of one black person’s actions being a credit to or an indictment of us all:

“Now, suppose a Negro does something really magnificent, and I glory, not in the benefit to mankind, but in the fact that the doer was a Negro. Must I not also go hang my head in shame when a member of my race does something execrable? . . . The white race did not go into a laboratory and invent incandescent light. That was Edison. . . . If you are under the impression that every white man is an Edison, just look around a bit.”

It has been enlightening and fun to read and learn about this woman whose re-emergence put my hometown on the map.

If not for a few profound differences,  I’d say Hurston was my kind of woman.

Character Building

booker-t-washington-reputationIn keeping with the theme of  books by men who were committed to true education rather than simply  filling the head with facts, I give you Character Building,  by Booker T. Washington.

This is actually a series of 37  lectures Washington gave to students at The Tuskegee Institute, which he founded in 1881. Most of those students were dispatched around the South to start new schools to educate Negro* children.

Fun fact: The elementary school I attended was founded in 1888 by a couple who had attended Tuskegee Institute. By the time I got there in the 1970’s, it had been long sucked in to the public school system, but it still bears its original name.

You can read Character Building for free here , as is true of almost all of Booker T. Washington’s writings.

Almost nothing that Washington says here would be readily accepted or embraced by today’s university students. There would be cursory nods given to portions, but Washington was far too invested in personal responsibility, discipline, and moral uprightness as a precursor to a good life for today’s generation at large, and today’s black culture in particular.

I stress today’s black culture because there was a true and excellent, a golden age if you will, of black American culture. One that is mostly absent today. Indeed, Washington’s understanding of what a good life entailed was much simpler, far less glamorous, and required more hard work than today’s culture would tolerate.

Rather than blather on, I’ll give you man’s words for himself, with the hope that you will be inclined to read further. On the uselessness of dwelling on negatives:

It is often very easy to influence others in the wrong direction, and to grow into such a moody fault-finding disposition that one not only is miserable and unhappy himself, but makes everyone with whom he comes in contact miserable and unhappy. The persons who live constantly in a fault-finding atmosphere, who see only the dark side of life, become negative characters. They are the people who never go forward. They never suggest a line of activity. They live simply on the negative side of life.

On the importance of thinking:

Now no individual can help another individual unless he himself is strong. You notice that the curriculum here goes along in three directions along the line of labor, of academic training, and of moral and religious training. We expect those who are here to keep strong, and to make themselves efficient in these three directions, in each of which you are to learn to be leaders.

Some people are able to do a thing when they are directed to do it, but people of that kind are not worth very much. There are people in the world who never think, who never map out anything for themselves, who have to wait to be told what to do. People of that kind are not worth anything. They really ought to pay rent for the air they breathe, for they only vitiate it. Now we do not want such people as those here. We want people who are going to think, people who are going to prepare themselves.

On the importance of respecting authority (uh-oh!):

Some of you are going to find it difficult to obey orders. Sometimes orders will be given you which you think are wrong and unjust. Perhaps orders will be given you sometimes that really are unjust. In that respect no institution is perfect. But I want to learn this lesson in respect to orders – that it is always best to learn to obey orders and respect authority – that it is better ten time over for you to obey an order that you know is wrong, and which per- haps was given you in a wrong spirit or with a mistaken motive. It is better for you to obey even such an order as that, thank it is for any individual to get into the habit of disobeying and not respecting those in authority.’

Make up your mind that if you want to add to your happiness and strength of character, you are, before all things else, going to learn to obey. If it should happen that for a minute, or five minutes, one of your fellow students is placed in authority over you, that student’s commands should be sacred. You should obey his commands just as quickly as you would obey those of the highest officer in this institution. Learn that it is no disgrace to obey those in authority. One of the highest and surest signs of civilization is that a people have learned to obey the commands of those who are placed over them. I want to add here that it is to the credit of this institution that, with very few exceptions, the students have always been ready and willing to respect authority.

On staying busy, out of trouble, and the virtues of country life. I am resisting the urge to paste this entire chapter. If you read nothing else, read this:

A large proportion of you are to go from here into great cities. Some of you will go into such cities as Montgomery, and some, perhaps, will go into the cities of the North-although I hope that the most of you will see your way clear to remain in the South. I believe that you will do better to remain in the country districts than to go into the cities. I believe that you will find it to your advantage in every way to try to live in a small town, or in a country district, rather than in a city. I believe that we are at our best in country life-in agricultural life-and too often at our worst in city life. Now when you go out into the world for your-selves, you must remember in the first place that you cannot hold your-selves up unless you keep engaged and out of idleness. No idle person is ever safe, whether he be rich or poor. Make up your minds, whether you are to live in the city, or in the country that you are going to be constantly employed.

In a rich and prosperous country like America there is absolutely no excuse for persons living in idleness. I have little patience with persons who go around whining that they cannot find anything to do. Especially is this true in the South. Where the soil is cheap there is little or no excuse for any man or woman going about complaining that he or she cannot find work. You cannot set proper examples unless you, yourself, are constantly employed. See to it, then, whether you live in a city, a town, or in a country district, that you are constantly employed when you are not engaged in the proper kind of recreation, or in rest. Unless you do this you will find that you will go down as thousands of our young men have gone down-as thousands of our young men are constantly going down who yield to the temptations which beset them.

Refrain from staking your earnings upon games of chance. See to it that you pass by those things which tend to your degradation. Teach this to others. Teach those with whom you come in contact that they cannot lead strong, moral lives unless they keep away from the gambling table. See to it that you regulate your life properly; that you regulate your hours of sleep.

Have the proper kinds of recreation. Quite a number of our young men in the cities stay up until twelve, one and two o’clock each night. Sometimes they are at a dance, and sometimes at the gambling table, or in some brothel, or drinking in some saloon. As a result they go late to their work, and in a short time you hear them complaining about having lost their positions. They will tell you that they have last their jobs on account of race prejudice, or because their former employers are not going to hire colored help any longer. But you will find, if you learn the real circumstances, that it is much more likely they have lost their jobs because they were not punctual, or on account of carelessness.

On keeping good company and being content at home:

You cannot hope to succeed if you keep bad company. As far as possible, try to form the habit of spending your nights at home. There is nothing worse for a young man or young woman than to get into the habit of thinking that he or she must spend every night on the street or in some public place.

On what it means to be truly educated:

I want you to get it firmly fixed in your minds that books, indus-tries, or tools of any character, no matter how thoroughly you master them, do not within themselves constitute education. Committing to memory pages of written matter, or becoming deft in the handling of tools, is not the supreme thing at which education aims. Books, tools, and industries are but the means to fit you for something that is higher and better. All these are not ends within themselves; they are simply means. The end of all education, whether of head or hand or heart, is to make an individual good, to make him useful, to make him power-ful; is to give him goodness, usefulness and power in order that he may exert a helpful influence upon his fellows.

The great Booker T. Washington offers practical, simple wisdom in these lectures to  young people so blessed to be under his tutelage barely one generation removed from slavery. Some of it seemed so rudimentary as I read that were I not privy to what has become of us in this era I would marvel that he bothered to lecture on the subject. It’s timeless.

Grade: A

* I use the word Negro when reviewing works written by black authors of the Harlem Renaissance and earlier generations because that is the word they used. I will most often use the terminology and language of the author. Except for African-American. I will never use that. Black is as far as I am willing to go.