Highlights from Recent Reading and Other Stuff

Perfection is the enemy of the perfectly adequate.

by Len Kasper, Chicago Cubs announcer


“You see,” said the Harvester, “this is a question of ethics. Now what is a guest? A thing of a day! A person who disturbs your routine and interferes with important concerns. Why should anyone be grateful for company? Why should time and money be lavished on visitors? They come. You overwork yourself. They go. You are glad of it. You return the visit, because it’s the only way to have back at them.

from The Harvester, by Gene Stratton-Porter (1911)


By the 1770’s, the Teton Sioux had overrun the Arikara, or Ree, on the Missouri River and made it as far west as the Black Hills, where they quickly ousted the Kiowa and the Crows. Over the next hundred years the Sioux continued to expand their territory, eventually forcing the Crows to retreat all the way to the Bighorn River more than two hundred miles to the west, while also carrying on raids to the north and south against the Assiniboine, Shoshone, Pawnee, Gros Ventre, and Omaha. “These lands once belonged to [other tribes],” the Oglala Black Hawk explained, “but we whipped those nations out of them and in this we did what the white men do when they want the land of the Indians.”

from The Last Stand, by Nathaniel Philbrick (2010)


We should ever remember, in a place of trial, that what we want is not a change of circumstances, but victory over self.

from Notes on the Book of Genesis, by C.H. Mackintosh (1879)


If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.

by Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox player


“We got to have some government,” said Gay.

“Better none than too much. It is a corrupter, a seducer; it panders to the weak and selfish. It feeds us sugar till we like sugar too much, and then it has got us, because we need the sugar more than we need self-respect.”

“That’s a strong view,” said Gay.

“I fear government more than I fear hell, starvation, anarchy or the devil. I fear it because I fear the instinct in all men to want things for nothing. I never heard of a government that stayed small. They all get big and suck the sap out of the people they serve, and finally kill people, and kill themselves.”

The Earthbreakers, by Ernest Haycox (1952)


“It’s the old bone we’re chewing on,” said Burnett. “Stay ignorant and be happy. Get wise and grow sad. Be ignorant and believe just one thing, and fight for it, and die feeling you’ve had a hell of a good life. Be wise, and wonder if anything’s worth fighting for, and end up asking why you were born at all.”

“Truth and beauty, according to the poets, are two names for the same thing, and truth is supposed to set men’s spirits free.”

“But it doesn’t,” said Burnett. “I go tell a man the truth. Then we get in a hell of an argument, whether it’s true or not. If he doesn’t want to believe it, I don’t convince him. If I convince him, it only makes him miserable. Men don’t want to change their superstitions. They’re like blankets, dirty and full of fleas; but they’re warm and the man’s been sleeping in them so long he don’t want any new-fangled blankets.” He grinned at Whitcomb. “What the hell we talking about?”

Whitcomb looked around the room. “Why aren’t you married?”

The Earthbreakers, by Ernest Haycox (1952)


Up From The Egg: The Confessions Of A Nuthatch Avoider

Bird watchers top my honors list.
I aimed to be one, but I missed.
Since I’m both myopic and astigmatic,
My aim turned out to be erratic,
And I, bespectacled and binocular,
Exposed myself to comment jocular.
We don’t need too much birdlore, do we,
To tell a flamingo from a towhee;
Yet I cannot, and never will,
Unless the silly birds stand still.
And there’s no enlightenment in a tour
Of ornithological literature.
Is yon strange creature a common chickadee,
Or a migrant alouette from Picardy?
You rush to consult your Nature guide
And inspect the gallery inside,
But a bird in the open never looks
Like its picture in the birdie books—
Or if it once did, it has changed its plumage,
And plunges you back into ignorant gloomage.
That is why I sit here growing old by inches,
Watching the clock instead of finches,
But I sometimes visualize in my gin
The Audubon that I audubin.

by Ogden Nash (1957)


More and more I realize that to be bored with birds is to be bored with life. I say birds rather than some generic “nature,” because birds are what remain to us. Yes, deer and coyotes show up in the suburbs, you can see grizzlies in Yellowstone Park, and certainly there are bugs galore. But in Central Park, two blocks from my apartment, hundreds of species of birds pass through by the thousands every spring and fall, following ancient migratory routes as old as the Ice Age.

If herds of buffalo or caribou moved seasonally through the park, I’d no doubt go out to see them. But the only remaining wild animals in abundance that carry on in spite of human development are birds.

from The Life of the Skies, by Jonathan Rosen (2008)


Eating health foods won’t make you live longer. It will just make it seem longer.

by Jimmy Durante


We suddenly realized, lying there in our hammocks, that there is no romance at all within one’s own self. Romance must have an audience, or it doesn’t exist. It is like the famous falling tree in the woods, when there’s nobody there to hear it. Suppose you were to kill a tiger barehanded in the jungle. Would that be romantic to you if there was no one to see you do it, and if you knew that in your entire lifetime there would never be anyone to tell it to? I think it would not. And that was the way Ed Robinson felt about himself. He had all the intelligence and sense of drama to make his present circumstances seem romantic to him, and they were, in the sense that he knew how certain people elsewhere were thinking of him and picturing this kind of life. But he himself, living right there with the road scraper and the flabby tortillas and the pidgin English and the macaw that was after all just a pretty chicken, knew that it wasn’t romantic at all.

from Home Country, by Ernie Pyle (1947)


Most of the artists seemed to be genuine people, living normal lives, though there were freaks and pretenders—people who liked to dress up like Indians and stare into fireplaces. Many people who go to Santa Fe stay sane. Some go to pot. Some go what you might call native, and don’t take baths any more, and ride to cocktail parties on spotted ponies, and dress like Spaniards, and collect pink mice, and live in tents as the Indians used to do. There was one man who insulted every stranger at a party. And there was one woman who would go to parties, get bored, tie a string around her skirt, and then go and stand on her head din the corner the rest of the evening.

from Home Country, by Ernie Pyle (1947)


“When we return to Moscow in January, I shall be starting school.”

“You don’t seem very excited by the prospect.”

“I fear it will be dreadfully dull,” she admitted, “and positively overrun with children.”

The Count nodded gravely to acknowledge the indisputable likelihood of children in the schoolhouse; then, as he dipped his own spoon into the scoop of strawberry, he noted that he had enjoyed school very much.

“Everybody tells me that.”

“I loved reading the Odyssey and the Aeneid; and I made some of the finest friends of my life …”

“Yes, yes,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Everybody tells me that too.”

“Well, sometimes everybody tells you something because it is true.”

“Sometimes,” Nine clarified,” everybody tells you something because they are everybody. But why should one listen to everybody? Did everybody write the Odyssey? Did everybody write the Aeneid?” She shook her head then concluded definitively: “The only difference between everybody and nobody is all the shoes.”

from A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles


Things I’ve Learned

  • Lunsford Richardson, the creator of Vicks VapoRub, convinced the post office to let him blanket homes with free samples without having to label each package with the individual name and address. He mailed each jar to “Boxholder.” In time “Boxholder” would give way to the more personal “Occupant.” And thus would be born Junk Mail.
  • The only baseball franchise that has never in its entire history had a cumulative record below .500 is the Chicago Cubs.
  • Lemon Pledge furniture polish contains more lemon than Country Time Lemonade.
  • Anson Williams, who played Potsie on Happy Days was born Anson William Heimlich. His uncle, Dr. Henry Heimlich, invented the Heimlich maneuver.
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