Saturday, February 21, 2015


When it comes to a well-turned phrased, a rapier wit, a literary sense of humor, has there ever been anyone quite like Mark Twain? Of course, he would likely answer, “I have been complimented many times, and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.” That quotation isn’t even one of his 82 finest, according to us at the Why Not 100. But the following do qualify as his best (and the first 14 are about reading and writing):

1. A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.

2. The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.

3. I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.

4. Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

5. The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

6. My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.

7. The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.

8. It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

9. Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.

10. 'Classic.' A book which people praise and don't read. 

11. Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.

12. Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.

13. Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

14. Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.

15. What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing he knew nobody had said it before.

16. Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we.'

17. Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

18. If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.

19. Name the greatest of all inventors. Accident.

20. Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.

21. Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

22. Don't let schooling interfere with your education.

23. Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.

24. It's good sportsmanship to not pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling.

25. It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

26. When red-haired people are above a certain social grade their hair is auburn.

27. Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

28. When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.

29. Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.

30. It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

31. Buy land, they're not making it anymore.

32. Don't tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish.

33. Man will do many things to get himself loved, he will do all things to get himself envied.

34. Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

35. Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

36. Man was made at the end of the week's work when God was tired.

37. Such is the human race, often it seems a pity that Noah... didn't miss the boat.

38. Familiarity breeds contempt - and children.

39. It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.

40. To refuse awards is another way of accepting them with more noise than is normal.

41. Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.

42. What, sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce.

43. Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.

44. Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.

45. Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.

46. Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.

47. When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it's a sure sign you're getting old.

48. The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little.

49. Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

50. Golf is a good walk spoiled.

51. A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.

52. The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.

53. Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.

54. It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

55. When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain.

56. To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.

57. I can live for two months on a good compliment.

58. I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

59. A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.

60. Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.

61. There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

62. It is easier to stay out than get out.

63. The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

64. It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.

65. No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.

66. The lack of money is the root of all evil.

67. The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

68. Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.

69. I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

70. Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times.

71. I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.

72. It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

73. It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

74. The educated Southerner has no use for an 'r', except at the beginning of a word.

75. You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

76. I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.

77. Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.

78. He is now rising from affluence to poverty.

79. Martyrdom covers a multitude of sins.

80. The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.

81. All generalizations are false, including this one.

82. The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Valentine’s Day is a holiday we celebrate much like an anniversary in my house. On February 14, 1986, my wife and I went on our first date. We were a couple of high school kids in suburban Chicago. On a bitter cold winter evening, we saw The Color Purple (classic book, good film, not the best date movie). Still, the rest is matrimony.

So every February 14, I celebrate the occasion by penning a poem. Sometimes I channel Robert Browning, other times Dr. Seuss. Once I gave her 17 haikus to celebrate 17 years. A sample:

Often late at night
I love to watch you sleeping
even when you drool

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Happy 60th birthday, John Grisham. What’s in a name? Sometimes, a whole pantheon.

Consider: If you’re an athlete, it’s tempting to want to be named Michael (Jordan, Phelps, Johnson, Tyson), but you really want to be a Bob (Jones, Orr, Hull, Cousy, Pettit, Gibson, Feller, Beamon, Mathias, Griese). If you’re an actor, Tom is terrific (Cruise, Hanks… um, Arnold), but James is probably better (Cagney, Stewart, Durante, Franco). And if you’re a writer, William is a mighty impressive name (Shakespeare, Faulkner, Maugham, Wordsworth, Yeats). But nothing matches the output of the Johns.

That might have been phrased better. But you understand. There is a personal attachment here. Three of my five favorite reads—Cannery Row, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy—were John creations. But the list of notable Johns is remarkable across genres and eras and personal tastes.

The irony, of course, is that if you ask a writer—and if they’re being honest—many will say they do their best thinking on the john. So here are 48 of them (we didn’t even include the likes of Jonathan Swift and Jon Krakauer), along with a superlative or two about each:

1. John Steinbeck
He won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath. And East of Eden is a classic. But many of us prefer his shorter works like Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men.

2. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
Poet, philologist, Oxford professor, path-maker of modern fantasy literature. Forbes named him the fifth top-earning “dead celebrity” of 2009, just behind Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. He’s why I’m a writer today.

3. John Updike
His series about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom earned him a couple of Pulitzers (one of only three authors to win it more than once).