Friday, November 21, 2008

The Power of a Good Book

As writers, we aim to write a book that influences, sustains, or even entertains. Books are able to do that simply because of ink blobs on the page, formed in shapes we recognize. I have always found that fascinating.

I found an old book recently in a used bookstore (sometimes these stores are our society's most priceless of jewels). Published in 1941, the book is called The American Citizens Handbook.

The book's author quotes William J. Hutchins' 1916 text, "The Code of the Good American." His words remind the reader not to injure another, whether in word or in deed. I found his "ink blobs" fascinating ... and sobering, an almost literary analysis of a gentler time.

And here was the thought that struck me upon reading his words (included below): How far have we strayed as a culture, in the nearly 100 years since he first fashioned his publication?

I must admit, Mr. Hutchins' words saddened me. For against them, the backdrop of our society intensified his society's own gentility. Oh, that we would capture that society's expressions and make them our own. What a better world that would be.

Here are his words:


"The Good American Controls Himself.
"Those who best control themselves can best serve their country.
  • "I will control my tongue, and will not allow it to speak mean, vulgar, or profane words. I will think before I speak. I will tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
  • "I will control my temper, and will not get angry when people or things displease me. Even when indignant against wrong and contradicting falsehood, I will keep my selfcontrol.
  • "I will control my thoughts, and will not allow a foolish wish to spoil a wise purpose.
  • "I will control my actions. I will be careful and thrifty, and insist on doing right.
  • "I will not ridicule nor defile the character of another; I will keep my self respect, and help others to keep theirs."
That kind of says it all, doesn't it? Again, as writers, are we aware that our words capture more than simple thought as we write them? They contain nuances of mood and lifestyle, veritable snapshots of our day. Ah, the power of the written word.