little instruction bookLife’s Little Instruction Book, first published in 1991 as a collection of advice from H. Jackson Brown, Jr., to his college-bound son, has sold millions of copies, been translated into 35 languages, and inspired calendars, posters, journals, greeting cards, and screensavers.  

Not surprisingly, it’s a very popular graduation gift.

The latest edition contains plenty of  excellent counsel, like “Get a dog” and “Check hotel bills carefully for unexpected charges,” along with some that are downright puzzling, like  “Steer clear of restaurants that rotate” and “Never buy a beige car.” (What kind of awful early encounter with beige cars or rotating restaurants left Brown with this kind of lasting animus?)  

Ironically, one piece of advice Brown gives us is “Never give a loved one a gift that suggests they need improvement.”

Uh . . . isn’t that this little gift book in a nutshell?

But who am I to argue with a dude who became a multimillionaire by pithily telling other folks what to do? I’ve been telling other people how to live their lives for decades, and not only has it not brought me fame and riches, it has earned me a reputation for being a “smart-ass know-it-all.”

Although I’ll have no trouble following advice like “Never buy a beige car” (I may be a mild-mannered librarian, but I love my red Toyota), there are some words of wisdom here that I plan to ignore: 

Avoid sarcastic remarks
Do 100 push-ups every day
Get up 30 minutes earlier
Never miss an opportunity to ride a roller coaster
Learn a card trick
Attend class reunions
Never use profanity
Remember peoples’ names
Learn how to fix a leaky toilet
Never go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink
Don’t gossip
Try everything offered by supermarket demonstrators
Read the Bible cover to cover
Never eat the last cookie 
When attending meetings, sit in front
Cut your own firewood
Learn to juggle
Don’t let anyone see you go back more than twice for the peeled shrimp

Of course, I might be able to whittle this list down a bit, with some creative off-setting.    

For instance, I’d be up for sitting in the front at meetings, if I can juggle and make sarcastic remarks.

And can I gossip about people as long as I correctly remember their names?

I have to admit that the challenge of doing card tricks on a roller coaster appeals to me.

Not to mention attempting to juggle while chopping firewood. (And—if I survive—what a fun talent to show off at the next class reunion!)

On the other hand, some things are just non-starters. I am, by nature, a last-cookie-grabber. And after I’ve enjoyed that cookie, I’m going to  put the plate it was served on in the sink with the other dirty dishes and go to bed.

But I’m guessing I could manage to rise from my bed 30 minutes early to do 100-push-ups or even fix the toilet, as long as I could employ plenty of  profanity.

Anyway, as delightful as it is to dream up these little scenarios, now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m off to read the Bible cover to cover while gobbling peeled shrimp in a rotating restaurant. 

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  • Kelly April 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    this is great!

  • Andy Johnson April 27, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    This essay was MUCH more entertaining than the book. Here’s hoping that Women’s Voices gets millions of readers!

  • jody April 26, 2013 at 7:39 am


  • diane Dettmann April 25, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Hey Roz, I would add, librarians and teachers should never drive their red Toyotas more than 10 miles over the speed limit. Got my first speeding ticket in my life two months after I bought my red Toyota Celica. Cop nailed me for 42 in a 30 on my way to school.

  • Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) April 25, 2013 at 3:52 am

    Here’s one, “Never sit up front at a meeting or lecture while surreptitiously reading a Roz Warren essay on your smart phone.” People will crane their necks from their safe seats in the back to see who is laughing inappropriately. Trust me on this one.

  • Joan Price April 24, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Rotating restaurants make me dizzy, so I avoid them. As for the last cookie — excuse me? The last cookie is mine — every time!

    I attended my 50th high school reunion, and I’m glad I did — imagine lecturing a group of 68-year-olds on senior sex (which I did) when the previous time we were all together, we were randy 18-year-olds!

  • Isy April 24, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    The guy who fixes our toilet uses plenty of profanity. I loved this one, Roz – it’s very liberating!

  • Elise April 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    I will attest that chopping firewood is a great way to induce labor for women who are past their due date. Thus, I believe it has a place in the book. 🙂

  • Toni Myers April 24, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    It hurts to laugh so much, not covered in the book.
    I love Roz!

  • hillsmom April 24, 2013 at 11:29 am

    I would advise and indeed make it a point never to turn down a free meal.

    Speaking of which…Roz you can get all the peeled shrimp you can eat tomorrow if you are available. The same place 12:00ish. However, it will be inside since the porch isn’t open yet. There’s crab legs also if you want to wrestle with them. (I shall continue to pig out on oysters.)

    Thanks for the good morning laugh!

  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson April 24, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Love your wit! ellensue
    How about Never wear white after Labor Day?