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Monday, December 29, 2014

32 NERDY NUMBERS FROM A CENSUS OF MIDDLE-EARTH

J.R.R. Tolkien would be turning 123 years old this week—he was born on January 3, 1892. Were he alive now, he would be oldest human ever, but he would still fall eight years short of Bilbo Baggins’s hobbit record. Maybe you’re a Tolkienphile, and you knew that. Actually, I knew that, too. Tolkien’s books are what inspired me to become a writer. My oldest son’s middle name is “Balin.” I named my dog “Pippin.”

But there are J.R.R. Tolkien fans, and then there is Emil Johansson.

A Swedish chemical engineering student, Johansson first read The Lord of the Rings in 2000. A dozen years later, he published a website that he called the Lord of the Rings Project. He generally shortens it to LotrProject. That’s about all he does halfway.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

87 MEMORABLE LAST LINES OF NOVELS


The closing lines of My Mantelpiece, the memoirs of civil rights icon Carolyn Goodman (published by Why Not Books in 2014), reflect a woman’s relentless pursuit of social conscience and her realization that the job is never done. In the twilight of her life, as she looked back on life lessons amid tragedy and triumph, Dr. Goodman recalled the following:

I once asked a question of a slightly younger friend: “What do you during the day?”
“Nothing,” she told me, offering a few minor examples that bolstered her statement. “What’s there to do?”
What’s there to do? I would always wonder instead: Is there time to do everything?

Last lines are final impressions. The cherry on top. The words that linger.  What follows are some of the best:

1. "He loved Big Brother." (1984 by George Orwell)

2. "I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before." (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)

3. “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 
I am haunted by waters.” (A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean)

4. “From here on in I rag nobody.” (Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

14 MOST EXPENSIVE BOOKS EVER PURCHASED



How much would you pay for a first edition of a classic book? Fifty dollars? Maybe $100? How about several million bucks?  What follows is a list of the 14 highest known prices paid for manuscripts and books.
The first 13 largely represent iconic and ancient texts, although the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers didn’t quite make the list. And there are certainly classics among them, including works by Chaucer and Shakespeare, although original copies of Don Quixote and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland didn’t quite make the cut either. 
But the 14th book? That was auctioned off on December 13, 2007. And it may surprise you: 
1) $30.8 million—Codex Leicester
This collection of largely scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci was named after Thomas Coke, the Earl of Leicester, who purchased it in 1719. The 72-page original document is considered perhaps the most famous of his 30 journals, covering topics as varied as why fossils can be found in mountains and why the moon is luminous. Bill Gates bought it at Christie’s auction house in 1994. He had its pages scanned into digital image files, some of which were later offered as screen savers.

2) $21.3 million—Magna Carta
In an attempt to limit the King of England’s powers, proclaiming that his will was not arbitrary, the feudal barons of England created this 13th-century document, which got the ball rolling toward the rule of constitutional law. Important stuff. And expensive stuff (in 2007)—especially for what is believed to be a copy of a copy. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

79 SEUSS-IMAGINED INVENTIONS



Leonard Da Vinci. Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Dr. Seuss. Really, has anyone been more inventive?

Consider the evil Once-ler in The Lorax, who stays in his Lerkim on top of his store, tells his story via a Whisper-Ma-Phone (his whispers coming down through a snergelly hose) and makes his own clothes out of miff-muffered moof. What exactly is a Lerkim or miff-muffered moff? How does a Whisper-Ma-Phone work? Does it matter?

Or how about little Cat Z from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, who removes his tiny hat to release VOOM, an unexplained bit of clean-up magic.  Or a Zans (good for opening cans, according to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish). Or Oobleck, the green, gummy goo that falls from the sky in the Kingdom of Didd. Or mile after mile of the Lorax’s beautiful Truffula Trees—“The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk. And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” Unfortunately, the soft tufts can be knitted into Thneeds (a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need), which sells for $3.98.

So in the tradition of the good doctor, we at the Why Not 100 have created a store of sorts that sells imagination. We’re stocking it with a collection of 79 creations that can only be found (and named) in the pages of Dr. Seuss—from natural phenomena (Stickle-bush trees) and nutrients (Glunker Stew) to instruments (Three-Nozzled Bloozer) and ammunition (Kick-a-Doo Powder). We’ve even categorized them for you:

TOOLS AND PARTS
1. Whisper-Ma-Phone (The Lorax)
2. Audio Telly O-Tally O-Count (Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book)
3. Star-Off Machine (The Sneetches)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

89 BEST INDIE BOOKSTORE NAMES




Never judge a book by its cover, but how about a bookstore? Shouldn’t a repository of creativity boast a creative name of its own?

Sure, practicality has its place. But it can become… commonplace. There are stores out there—or least at last check in these volatile times, there were stores out there—named The Book Barn (Leavenworth, KS), Book Stop (Hood River, OR), Book Cove (Pawling, NY), Book Mine (Leadville, CO), Book Vine (Cherokee, IA), Book Parlor (Burns, OR), Book Vault (Oskaloosa, AL), Book Shelf (Winona, MN), Book Bin (Onley, VA), and Book Nook (Brenham, TX). Not to mention Bookin’ It (Little Falls, N) and Books to be Red (Ocracoke, NC) and Bookends (Ridgewood, NJ) and BookNest (Blairtown, NJ). Oh, and Books and Cookies (Santa Monica, CA).

Of course, you’ll also find references like Page One Bookstore (Albuequerque, NM), Turning Pages (Natchez, MS), The Next Page (Frisco, CO), and Back Pages Books (Waltham, MA). You’ll come across Chapter One (in both Ketchum, ID and Hamilton, MT), The Second Story (Laramie, WY), The Golden Notebook (Woodstock, NY) and Summer’s Stories (Kendallville, IN). There’s a Reader’s Loft (Green Way, WI), a Reader’s Corner (Louisville, KY) and a Literary Bookpost (Salisbury, NC). There’s a Country Bookseller in Wolfebore, NH. And a Country Bookshop in charming Southern Pines, NC. And a Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, MT.

If practicality or reading references aren’t the aim, proprietors of the published often hope to convey a certain charm, a sense of whimsy. Animal references are a common source, particularly for children’s bookstores. There’s a Nightbird Books (Denver, CO), Mockingbird Books (Seattle, WA), The Raven Book Store (Lawrence, NY), Toadstool Bookshop (Milford, NH), Turtle Town Books (Nisswa, MN), Beagle Books (Park Rapids, MN), even Pegasus Books (Oakland, CA). Colors, too, are popular—the more incongruous the better. Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX). Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, SC). Yellow Umbrella Books (Chatham, MA). White Birch Books (North Conway, NH).

Or you just combine the color and the creature: Blue Manatee (Cincinnati, OH)

Those are all fine establishments—and we at the Why Not 100 say support your local independent bookstore, whatever the name! But the following happen to be our 89 favorite names for indie outlets:

1. Crazy Wisdom (Ann Arbor, MI)
2. Tome on the Range (Las Vegas, NM)
3. Iconoclast Books (Ketchum, ID)
4. Women and Children First (Chicago, IL)
5. Present Tense (Batavia, NY)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

4 NOVELS WRITTEN BY THE GERBER BABY




November 20th is Ann Turner Cook’s 88th birthday. But she’ll always be four months old.

Back in 1927, she was about the same age as the daughter of Dorothy and Daniel Gerber, who produced a line of canned fruits and vegetables at the Fremont Canning Company in Michigan. Tired of hand-straining solid foods for her daughter, Dorothy suggested to Daniel that the work could easily be done at the plant. By late the next year, her suggestion bore fruit in the form of strained prunes, peas, carrots and spinach—the first Gerber Baby Foods line.

After discovering that the Gerbers were seeking a baby’s face as part of a national advertising campaign, artist Dorothy Hope Smith, who specialized in drawing children, submitted a simple charcoal sketch. She told them she could finish the sketch if it were accepted. The Gerber execs told her not to change a thing. By 1931, the popular drawing was the official Gerber trademark (the original sketch is kept in a vault at the company’s headquarters). Its subject—Ann Turner’s parents were friends of the artist—was en route to becoming America’s best-known baby.

I had a very pleasant phone conversation with Cook about a decade-and-a-half ago for a magazine article that I was writing about the origins of iconic logos—you know, the Nike swoosh and the Michelin Man and the NBC peacock. The Gerber Baby is as iconic as any of them. “I don’t take credit,” Cook told me. “I think all babies are adorable. The artist just captured that look that people love.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

11 BEST BOOKS COMPILED FROM 11 “TOP 100” LISTS



There have been a number of “100 best books” lists over the years. But what happens when you amalgamate those lists to select the books regarded as the best of the best? One enterprising reader (posting online under the name Scerakor) accepted the challenge.

He (she?) chose 11 such lists—from sources as varied as Time, Entertainment Weekly, Goodreads, Modern Library and Reddit—and compared them to find the most recommended books among the top-100 lists. Since today is November 11th—11/11—I thought it might be interesting to look at the 11 most cited books among the 11 lists.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

66 BEST SONGS WRITTEN ABOUT ROAD TRIPS



When authors are in need of subject matter to carry the narrative along, two arteries in particular are popular fodder. One is love found and love lost, be it Lolita or Frankenstein. The other is the road trip, whether that means On the Road or The Lord of the Rings. The same is true, probably more so even, in songwriting. And I love a good road-trip song. 
I’ve written three American travel memoirs. I’ve visited each of the contiguous 48 states several times over. My wife and I take a road trip/publicity tour in a house on wheels for a couple of months every summer. So I know this: The view through the front windshield can seem like an epic movie of America playing before you, but it can always be enhanced by a good soundtrack to complement the scenery. 
So in honor of U.S. Route 66, which celebrates its 88th anniversary this month, here are 66 road-trip-themed tunes that will put a smile on your face as you hug the center line: 
1. Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin)
My favorite song. Kris Kristofferson wrote it. Janis Joplin nailed it. But really, you can’t go wrong with any cover of this classic, whether you’re listening to Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Sheryl Crow, or Pink. Or a really remarkable version by Jerry Lee Lewis. As the song says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” 

2. On the Road Again (Willie Nelson)
Willie Nelson’s voice simply sounds like a ramble down an open highway. “The life I love is making music with my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the road again.” This is THE iconic road trip song.
3. Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf)
Not every road trip song has to be mellow. Sure, you’ll generally picture Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on two-wheeled transportation, but this 1969 classic will “get your motor running” anyway. 
4. Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen)
The Boss is the man when it comes to epic road trip songs, from “Rosalita” to “Born to Run” to “Darlington County.” But this is his best: “So roll down your window and let the wind blow back your hair. The night’s busting open. These two lanes will take us anywhere…”
5. King of the Road (Roger Miller)
It’s old school. It’s simple. But when you’re driving beneath the redwoods or along the Blue Ridge Parkway or through the Black Hills, you feel just like the song title. 
6. Take It Easy (The Eagles)
When you’re runnin’ down the load trying to loosen your load, consider this: You can take a drive along Route 66 to Winslow, Arizona, and Standin’ On the Corner Park, an intersection where there’s actually a flatbed Ford parked there and a mural of a woman “slowing down to take a look at me.” 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

76 BOOKS FOR THE 20TH CENTURY, YEAR BY YEAR


You want to troll for a date? Try a bookstore. Or better yet, read a book.

Have you resolved to learn about the Norman invasion of England? Pick up a copy of David Howarth’s 1066: The Year of the Conquest. The first permanent settlement in the New World? Karen Lange wrote 1607: A New Look at Jamestown. America’s origins? How about David McCullough’s 1776.

You can read 1492: The Year the World Began by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. But if you want some more historical context, you can also pick up a couple of books by a fellow named Charles C. Mann—1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.

As much as those distant histories fascinate us at the Why Not 100, this is a post about more recent historical accounts. And as much as we love 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’re going to focus on the 20th century.  If you have the time and the inclination, you can give yourself and at-home education by simply journeying through the century one book at a time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

49 WITTY TWEETS BY R.L. STINE



R.L. Stine has been called the “Stephen King of children’s literature.” He has written, literally, hundreds of books and has racked up sales in the hundreds of millions. On his Twitter feed, he describes his job as “to terrify kids.” And in fact, he is nearly as prolific at tweeting as he is at writing.

We at the Why Not 100 love an epic book, but we well know that it is also a talent to write pithily. And while horror can be fun, humor can be funnier. It’s why our blog celebrates everything from top headlines from “The Onion” to Steven Wright’s best one-liners.

Twitter, of course, asks for 140 characters of pithy. With that in mind, we scrolled through R.L. Stine’s Twitter feed (@RL_Stine) over a two-month span last year—naturally, the 60 days surrounding Halloween—and came up with this list of our favorites:

1. Oct. 21, 2013: “I’m flattered & honored to have 100,000 followers. I plan to invite you all over for drinks. Keep watching for details.”

2. Nov., 21, 2013: “I see I was passed over again by the Nat’l Book Awards. I thought Son of Slappy stood a chance, but better writers prevailed.”

3. Nov. 4, 2013: “Did you know that monkeys can blush? I didn’t either. What do you think you have to do to make a monkey blush?”

Monday, October 13, 2014

93 UNFORGETTABLE ANIMALS IN BOOKS



My friend Kwame Alexander recently won the Newberry Award for his novel The Crossover. But the author/poet also wrote a 2011 picture book, Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, which tells the story of a jazz-loving rooster who recruits his friends—pianist Duck Ellington, singer Bee Holiday, percussionist piggy Pepe Ernesto Cruz—in an attempt to win a barnyard talent show. There’s some stiff competition from the likes of Mules Davis and Ella Finchgerald, but the riffing rooster comes to realize the power of understanding that you can’t go it alone.

It’s another in a long literary line in which creatures of all sorts capture the imagination of readers, young and old. So we at the Why Not 100 have recruited Kwame Alexander. Since October 14 is generally regarded as Winnie the Pooh’s birthday, we’ve asked him to help us choose the 93 most iconic animal characters in literature.

Monday, October 6, 2014

24 FAMOUS CHARACTERS WHO ALMOST HAD DIFFERENT NAMES




Any writer will tell you: The name has to match the character.

Just take a stroll through another Why Not 100 list—the 70 best character names in literature—and try to re-imagine many of those names. It’s not easy. What if Huckleberry Finn was Nat Bricklebush? What if a Golden Ticket (found inside a Lervin bar) earned you a tour of Larry Lervin’s chocolate factory? What if Hannibal Lechter was Ernest Munch?

Literature is filled with iconic characters whose names have become so part of our collective psyche that we can’t quite imagine them being anything else. Count Dracula. Sherlock Holmes. Ebenezer Scrooge. Gandalf the Grey.

But then, we didn’t see the first drafts.

Here are two-dozen classic characters whose iconic names were not the originals:

1. Count Dracula

Originally, Bram Stoker called his legendary vampire “Count Waympr.” But then he came across a historical account of Vlad II of Wallachia, otherwise known as Vlad Dracul. Besides the literary impact, fans of Count Chocula breakfast cereal are grateful.

2. Sherlock Holmes

Sherringford was an early choice by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which would have let to a whole generation of boys saying, “No shit, Sherringford.”

3. Dr. Watson

Fascinating factoid: Literature’s Sherlock Holmes never actually uttered the phrase most attributed to him. He said, “Elementary!” And he said, “My dear Watson.” But never in the same sentence until a 1929 film called The Return of Sherlock Holmes. But imagine this: “Elementary, my dear Sacker.” Holmes’s friend was nearly named Ormond Sacker.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

84 CLASSIC MOVIES THAT WERE BOOKS FIRST



Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about favorite movies, and we were talking about The Princess Bride. I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t love that movie. It’s almost perfect. Anyway, I mentioned that William Goldman and I happened to attend the same high school and summer camp (albeit about 37 years apart).

“William Goldman,” I said. “You know, the guy who wrote the book.”

My friend replied, “It was a book?”

Yes, it seems that mainstream films sometimes erase memories of literature. So I’m going to remedy that by ranking the 84 best movies that were books first. It’s a bit of a challenge, mostly due to an embarrassment of riches. From 12 Angry Men to Apollo 13, from The Graduate to The Player to The Firm, Hollywood has been poaching literature for decades.

Friday, September 19, 2014

6 KIDS WHO UNEXPECTEDLY IMPACTED SPORTS


On this day 101 years ago – Sept. 19, 1913—an unknown amateur golfer made an 18-foot putt that transformed the sport.

My motivation for writing the children’s book FRANCIS AND EDDIE (Why Not Books, 2013) didn’t necessarily come from the fact that I think it ranks as perhaps the greatest underdog feat in championship sports—the tale of Francis Ouimet beating the best golfers in the world to win the U.S. Open. It wasn’t even because it struck me as the ultimate local-boy-makes-good story—a kid who literally lived across the street from the golf course in Brookline, Massachusetts, right near the 17th hole. He taught himself to play be sneaking onto the course in the dark and the rain, taught himself so well that he qualified to compete in the national championship, then sank an ultra-clutch putt on that very 17th green to shock the world and catapult golf onto the front pages for the first time.

No, that’s not why either. It’s because of Eddie Lowery.

Ouimet’s prospects were so dim that his regular caddie opted instead to carry the bag of a French pro, figuring he could share in some prize money. During a practice round, a boy named Jack Lowery had been an able replacement, but only minutes before Francis’s scheduled tee time for his Tuesday qualifying round, Jack was nowhere to be found. That’s when a tiny fellow, just four feet tall, came running up to the practice green and offered five words that would launch an iconic partnership: “I could caddie for you.”

Eddie Lowery was Jack’s little brother. He was skipping school. He was ten years old. “My bag’s as big as you are,” said Ouimet, but it could be that the golfer saw a bit of himself in the boy, an underestimated kid reaching for respectability. Or, perhaps he figured he had nothing to lose. “All right then, Eddie, let’s go,” he said. “Just please call me Francis.” And that is how, over the next several days, a child stood at the center of this extraordinary athletic saga.

Friday, September 12, 2014

34 UNFORGETTABLE ISLAND SETTINGS


A few years ago, author Judith Schalansky published a widely praised book called The Atlas of Remote Islands. She pairs full-color cartographic drawings with compelling narratives about lore and legend and science and history, the aim being to celebrate the cartographic unknown.

That’s one way of exploring uninhabited or sparsely populated blips of land amid endless seas. Another way is to read some classic fiction.

As setting goes, every island is brimming with possibilities that affect plot, character, mood. It is isolation and introspection, seclusion with no place to hide, a place that seems both manageable and unfathomably mysterious. It is new life or a slow death, terror or revelation. Or sometimes all at once—just re-read Lord of the Flies, which was published 60 years ago this month.

So it is no wonder that many renowned authors have taken their readers to remote islands for some of their most famous stories—authors like Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Virginia Wolff, Agatha Christie, and Michael Crichton. And they’ve stranded iconic characters like Long John Silver and Robinson Crusoe, Piggy and Prospero. Island protagonists (and antagonists) have been shipwreck survivors, prison escapees, accidental adoptees, treasure hunters, exiled rulers, explorers, mad scientists, and murder suspects.

So let’s take a trip to some uncharted isles. No Hawaii here (sorry, James Michener). No United Kingdom (sorry, Bill Bryson). Jamaica is by no means overlooked and secluded, so we’ll steer wide of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. No Long Island (sayonara, Gatsby).For that matter, no island of Manhattan.

No, here we celebrate remote (usually) spits of land—the kind that become lead characters in the story. Agatha Christies A Caribbean Vacation doesn’t count. But Indian Island from And Then There Were None? You bet. Any good island explorer seeks out the unusual—or at least the legendary. So break open a coconut and have a seat for this installment of the Why Not 100—34 unforgettable island settings:

1. The Island of Despair

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is the shipwrecked tale that inspired all others. There’s even a genre of “desert island story” known as a Robinsonade. Crusoe is stranded with two cats and a dog on what he calls the Island of Despair (probably based on the Caribbean island of Tobago). He excavates a cave, builds a canoe, hunts, grows crops, makes pottery, fends of mutineers and cannibals, and rescues a fellow whom he calls Friday. The first edition, published in 1719, actually credited the title character as the author, and many readers believed it was a travelogue.

2. Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson left us with iconic characters—Long John Silver, Billy Bones, Ben Gunn. And an iconic scenario—an island bearing lost pirate treasure. Captain Flint calls it Skeleton Island. To protagonist Jim Hawkins (and to Stevenson for a book title), it’s Treasure Island. The duality symbolizes the risk and reward of the adventure.

Friday, September 5, 2014

7 TIPS FOR THE PERFECT AUTHOR VISIT



I wish an author had visited my elementary school back in the day. I was just beginning to become enthralled by the written word—Judy Blume and Roald Dahl and J.R.R. Tolkien. The chance to see a real live author, up close and in person? I’m sure I’d still remember it.

It is that thought that drives me when I visit schools as a guest author, telling students about how I became a writer, about the fun stuff I get to do as a writer, about where my ideas come from. When the kids and I create a goofy story together, and I see their eyes light up, it sustains me. It makes up for the occasional times when the school seems to regard my visit as an afterthought. Or when the librarian hasn’t bothered to stock my books. Or when some first graders are intent on playing with the Velcro on their shoes.

Yes, an author visit is—in my humble opinion—a fantastic way to inspire young readers and writers. But not every author visit is created equal. And it is often the efforts of the host that make the difference.

With that in mind—and now that school is back in session—we at the Why Not 100 are turning this post over to an author who is to school visits what cheerleaders are to school pride. Michael Shoulders is energetic. He is fearless (you’ll see what I mean if you ever get to see him rap one of his books). And he loves his job. A former educator who has written more than a dozen picture books (including T is for Titanic, G is for Gladiator, and Say Daddy!), he is the kind of author every school librarian dreams of finding.

Take it away, Mike…

Thursday, July 24, 2014

26 LITERARY FACTOIDS FROM A TO Z




In my latest American travel memoir, Turn Left at the Trojan Horse, I passed through a town called Laporte, located in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. There I met a remarkable woman who called herself Mollie Sheldon Elliot. It turns out that Mollie, Sheldon, and Elliot are three of more than a dozen disparate personalities within her, the products of dissociative identity disorder stemming from childhood molestation. Each is aware of the others, a group that includes a baby, a teenager, a fellow who speaks with an Irish brogue, even an elderly Native American man. When talking about herself, she uses the pronoun “we.”

“We started out with four of us who were together all the time, and then we began to suspect—and that was part of the midlife crisis—that there were other personalities hanging around,” she told me. “We sensed that there were more, and we’ve had a series of alters—that’s the word psychologists use—show up. We kind of view it as coming in from the cold.”

She is, in fact, a warm and intelligent woman—and an author. A few years back, she wrote an autobiography about her experiences. She called the book Portrait of Q, which is what she calls the system that constitutes herself. The Trekkie in me understood the reference immediately. Q was a recurring character on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” who possessed both an individual and communal perspective as part of the Q Continuum, an omnipotent collective of beings who seemed to guide the fortunes of mankind.

So in honor of Mollie Sheldon Elliot—really, in honor of Q, my favorite pen name—we at the Why Not 100 offer an alphabet of literary information that might someday be useful, if only to impress your friends:

A is for A.A. Milne, who first published Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926. Yep, the hyphens were there at first—until Disney adopted the books into a series of features and dropped them. Did you know it was translated into Latin (Winne Ille Pu) and in 1960 was the first Latin language book ever to hit The New York Times bestseller list? Did you know that Milne had a son name Christopher Robin? Did you know that Christopher named his toy bear after “Winnie,” a Canadian black bear at the London Zoo who had in turn been named by the hunter who captured him after his adopted hometown of Winnipeg? Did you know that Pooh had been the name of a swan? Now you do.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

12 MOONWALKERS AND THEIR BOOKS



Only a dozen men have walked on the moon. It is, perhaps, the ultimate in elite accomplishment. Someday, certainly, a thirteenth Earthling will follow in their dusty gray footsteps, but it won’t be a surprise performance. So everyone should know these 12 names. They should be taught in schools—beyond Neil Armstrong. I’m not saying every elementary school student should be as enamored with space minutia as I am. I’m not saying Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff should be a required part of the curriculum, right alongside To Kill A Mockingbird and Tom Sawyer. I’m just saying this: If we’re going to insist that kids learn, say, the seven inert gases, then we may as well teach them the names of the 12 men who are the only people to have left footprints beyond Earth.

So to facilitate that education for all of us, we at the WhyNot 100 offer a reading list: Twelve books written by or about the 12 men who have touched the moon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

67 BOOKS FOR THE MOST POPULAR BOYS’ NAMES




In my last Why Not 100 post, I offered up 68 pictures books for 68 of the most popular girls’ names these days. Now it’s the boys’ turn. Again, I’m focusing on picture books specifically. That means no James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, of course, personalized book series don’t count either.

And there are currently popular names that haven’t attached themselves to book titles over the years. Can someone write a picture book about Brayden? Jayce, maybe? Carter? Colton? How about boys named Christian or Hunter or Parker?  Is it possible that we can’t locate a book title about Evan?

Still, I found a bunch. So what follows are 67 picture books for 67 boys’ names:

1.     Jackson—Jackson and the Big Blue Boots (Mary Jane Kooiman)
2.     Aiden—Aiden’s Aquarium Adventure (Bill Connors)
3.     Liam—Dirty Face Liam (Flo Barnett)
4.     Lucas—Lucas the Littlest Lizard (Kathy Helodoniotis)
5.     Noah—Noah and the Magic Dragon (Amy McNeil)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

68 BOOKS FOR THE MOST POPULAR GIRLS’ NAMES



My sons Luke and Jesse were prolific readers from the beginning, and I remember two picture books in particular that captured the fancy of the boys (and their parents). Jesse had a few books in the Jesse Bear series by Nancy White Carlstrom and Bruce Degen—I particularly recall Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? And Luke and I both enjoyed a book called Luke’s Way of Looking by Nadia Wheatley and Matt Ottley. It’s the story of a kid whose art teachers and classmates don’t have the imagination that he has—and don’t like it. So Luke discovers his own world filled with colorful and crazy pieces of art, and knowing about that place changes the rest of the world for him.

Well, Jesse’s now on the cusp of adolescence, but once in a while he’ll still answer to Jesse Bear. And Luke, the one who saw his name in a book about a child who embraces his imagination? At age 13, he’s the published author of Dragon Valley and a soon-to-published fantasy novel called Griffin Blade and the Bronze Finger.

Maybe every child deserves a book title, a lead character of their own. With the publication of our picture book Francis and Eddie in 2013, we at Why Not Books tried to help the cause, Any four-year-old Francises out there? Any eight-year-old Eddies? Yeah, not so much.

Well, I found another way to help—by simply locating the top baby names of 2013 (according to the half a million parents who shared the information with BabyCenter.com) and finding at least one book for almost every one of them.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

50 BOOKS FOR 50 STATES


I’ve long believed that reading across America is one of the best ways to experience it. The Fourth of July celebrates a nation, but really it’s a community-by-community display of attitudes and priorities. Fireworks? A parade? A lawn party? A slo-pitch softball tournament? A symphony? What say you? No, you have to travel to truly rejoice in America.

As long as there have been travelers, there have been attempts to put the experience into words. But sometimes what has already been written can improve the ride. On my first-ever cross-country RV excursion in 1995-96, I began by reading a trilogy of road classics to get me in the mood – On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Travels with Charley by Steinbeck and Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon. But I soon found an even better way to give myself a sense of place – by regionalizing my reads.

So while we were parked for the night in Montgomery, I journeyed through the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I could almost taste the red Alabama dust. In Missoula, I dove into A River Runs Through It and began to understand Montanans’ relationship with the landscape. On the banks of the Mississippi River, I spent some time with Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and realized the myriad stories at every bend in the great waterway.

Each and every time, I was infused with a greater understanding of where I was.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

15 BIZARRE FACTS ABOUT ERNEST HEMINGWAY



“Every man’s life ends the same way,” Ernest Hemingway once declared. “It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” With that in mind, this edition of the Why Not 100 presents 15 odd and extraordinary facts—somewhat chronologically—about the Pulitzer- and Nobel-winning author, his family, and how he lived and died:

1. HIS MOTHER LIKED TO DRESS HIM AS A GIRL

Grace Hemingway liked to fashion young Ernest’s hair like a girl and dress him in lacy white frocks. She called him her “Dutch dolly” and her “Sweetie.” Ernest pronounced it “Fweetee.” But he soon grew not to like it. One day he retorted, “I not a Dutch dolly… Bang, I shoot Fweetee.” As John Walsh wrote in The Independent, “He’d spend the rest of his life in a galloping parody of masculinity.”

2. HE HUNTED JUST ABOUT ANYTHING

At age three, Hemingway killed a porcupine. Then he ate it. In 1940, he went out with his third wife and two of his kids and reportedly killed four hundred jackrabbits in a single day. While deep sea fishing one day, he grabbed a Thompson submachine gun and opened fire on a group of sharks that were scavenging a huge tuna that he was trying to land. He once established a record by catching seven marlins in one day. Over countless hunting trips through the years, he bagged lions, leopards, hyenas… “I spent a lot of time killing animals and fish,” he once told Ava Gardner, “so I won’t kill myself.”

Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 LITERARY LANDMARKS IN THE GOLDEN STATE



The Gold Rush notwithstanding, California’s most precious commodity may be the nugget of an idea, which turns into a story, which graces a piece of literature for the ages. The number of famous authors who lived and worked in San Francisco alone is remarkable, from Ambrose Bierce and Dashiell Hammett to Upton Sinclair and Mark Twain. Several of them even have streets named after them. Stroll across Keroauc Drive. Stretch your legs at William Saroyan Place.

But the convergence of literature and place is a curious one, and it begs a question: Do we really need to create monuments to writers? Shouldn’t the writer’s plays or poems or novels be enough of a legacy? The answers: Yes and yes. While a writer’s creations are legacy enough, it can also be fascinating to understand the setting that sparked that creativity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

25 BOOKS ABOUT FREEDOM SUMMER



My Mantelpiece: A Memoir of Survival and Social Justice, recently published by Why Not Books, is Carolyn Goodman’s account of her lifetime of love and loss, courage and conviction. Her life was punctuated by tragedy—a brother’s premature death, childhood molestation, teenaged abortion, a mother’s callousness, a father’s suicide, the loss of two husbands. But hers is foremost a tale of survival, of turning personal anguish into social conscience—and the fulcrum of this tragedy-and-triumph dichotomy was the murder of her son in the summer of 1964.

That was Freedom Summer, when the forces of good went on the offensive, flooding the South with northern college students who would start Freedom Schools and register African-American voters. On the very first day of summer, Carolyn’s 20-year-old son, Andy, was one of three volunteers to disappear in Philadelphia, Mississippi, an event that galvanized the nation and transformed the civil rights struggle.


The names Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner—their bodies were discovered 44 days later—still spark raw emotion in those who recall the era’s turmoil. Carolyn Goodman turned her son’s martyrdom into a mission. She formed The Andrew Goodman Foundation, organized an anniversary Freedom Summer, and produced documentary films celebrating young activists. In 1999, she was arrested at a protest in New York City—at age 83. She passed away in 2007, but not before recounting her life—and the lessons therein—in full.

On the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi Summer Project, My Mantelpiece marks the first time that a family member of one of the victims has expounded about the experience. It is an intimate perspective of Freedom Summer—the story of one mother, one cause, one decision, one tragedy, and the myriad emotions it spawned, from guilt to pride to resolve.

But it also one of many ways in which Freedom Summer has been explored over the years—historically, legally, spiritually, in fiction, in books for adults and for young readers, in first-person accounts and academic studies. A journey through the literature is a means of examining this seminal moment in the civil rights struggle from all angles.

Friday, June 13, 2014

78 AUTHOR ALMA MATERS



Prospective authors, take note: The list of literary legends who didn’t attend college for one reason or another includes Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Edith Wharton, Truman Capote, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, Maya Angelou, William Saroyan, John Cheever, Sherwood Anderson, and Louis L’Amour. And the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, and Henry Miller made only fleeting attempts at the university experience.

But before you decide to give the heave-ho to higher education, you might be interested to learn that these folks went to Harvard: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, John Updike, Horatio Alger, Gertrude Stein, Norman Mailer, William S. Burroughs, John Dos Passos, George Plimpton, Michael Crichton, Peter Benchley, and Eric Segal.

Every year, the U.S. News & World Report puts out a ranking of American colleges and universities—based on all sorts of criteria. But I wondered: How would we rank the way they’ve churned out celebrated writers?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

17 MOST PROLIFIC WRITERS IN HISTORY



In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King commented on how he was considered to be prolific despite having written “only” a few dozen novels to date (this was back in 2000). Yet he contended he was nothing compared to a British mystery novelist named John Creasey, who wrote more than five hundred novels under ten different names. On the other hand, some renowned novelists have written fewer than five books in a career. “Which is okay,” King stated, “but I always wonder two things about these folks: how long did it take them to write the books they did write, and what did they do with the rest of their time?”

Well, here are the 17 writers who are to “prolific” what King is to “horror.” In fact, King isn’t even close to making this list. But Creasey? He’s ninth.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

74 CLASSIC BOOK TITLES BORROWED FROM LITERATURE


In 1934, a male English author named Evelyn Waugh wrote a book called A Handful of Dust, which focused on the breakdown of a marriage and has been named more than once as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It was originally called A Handful of Ashes, but after a dispute with his American publishers, Waugh renamed it—after a line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” which was written a dozen years earlier.

I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

But “The Waste Land,” regarded as one of the century’s most important poems and loosely following the legends of the Fisher King and the Holy Grail, also borrowed its title from another source. In his notes about the poem, Eliot wrote, “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book.” That book, From Ritual to Romance, was an academic examination of the roots of the King Arthur legend and had been published only two years earlier.

So let’s recap, shall we? Over the course of just 14 years, one book borrowed its title from a poem, which borrowed its title from another book. Oh, and a line from “The Waste Land” also led to the title of two Iain Banks novels—Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward. And another poem by Eliot (“Whispers of Immortality”) contributed the title for P.D. James’s The Skull Beneath the Skin. And still another bit of poetry by Eliot (“Gerontion”) sparked the title of another book, this one a detective novel by Peter Robinson called In A Dry Season. Who says all literature isn’t derivative?

Then again, these titular literary loans are far more common that you might think. Charles Dickens did it. Ernest Hemingway did it. William Faulkner did it. E.M. Forster, George Orwell, Margaret Mitchell, Maya Angelou… they all borrowed. In fact, Aldous Huxley, Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck, and Madeleine L’Engle were serial borrowers.

So for the Why Not 100, I have come up with a list that honors the best-of-the-best of the borrowers—74 titles from renowned authors, all of which were taken from other literary creations.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

10 PATHS TO A GOOD IDEA



In 2014, I was invited give a TED talk—at TEDxMonterey to a room full of folks eager to hear about the latest insights, eye-opening innovations, impressive pursuits. I was joined on the list of presenters by a NASA space scientist who has discovered hundreds of distant planets, a charismatic marine biologist from Sri Lanka who studies humpback whales, a Naval captain who focuses on systemic strategy and complexity, a developmental psychologist, a tech innovator… All I do is tell stories. What the hell was I supposed to talk about?

So I told stories. More accurately, I told them how I FIND stories.

For me, the idea is always paramount. I’m often asked about the writing process, but that ignores the first step: What are you going to write about? Good writing begins before the first line is ever written. It all starts with subject matter that captures readers' attention, a story or angle that is simply too clever for an editor or publisher to pass up, something that just might make a student actually enthusiastic about writing.

I’m a bit of a literary jack of all trades, mostly because I enjoy experimenting, challenging myself. I’ve written more than 30 books for kids and adults, newspaper articles, magazine features, poems, movie screenplays, blogs, you name it. It keeps me fresh as a writer, if rather exhausted and often humbled. I tend to pursue whatever piques my interest—a broad range of subjects that includes just about anything (from sports car racing to civil rights) and anyone (from Dr. Seuss to Dr. Joyce Brothers). But each started as merely the germ of a notion.

My hope is that by learning about how these stories came to me over the years, it might offer some insight into the spectrum of creative possibilities. So here I offer 10 paths to a good idea:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

29 EVOCATIVE DESCRIPTIONS OF AMERICAN PLACES

Often when I stand up in front of audiences and discuss my trilogy of American travel memoirs, some curious soul in the crowd asks me about my process. Do I write while I’m in the road? (Not usually.) Do I tell people exactly what I’m doing when I sit down to extract their story? (Always.) Do I conduct preliminary research on the places I’ll be going and the concepts I’ll be mining? (Gobs of it.)

I tell them that I bring along a digital recorder, not only for the interviews, but for my own commentary as I’m strolling through a small-town or rumbling along a ribbon of highway beneath an endless sky. And I always marvel at the fact that some of my favorite passages from my books are nearly word for word what I spoke into my recorder—because I’m in the moment, and the words come out with a lyrical quality inspired by a flash of epiphany. A dollop of description will often finds its way from my mouth to the pages virtually verbatim.

Friday, May 16, 2014

51 AUTHOR PORTRAITS DRAWN BY ZAK PULLEN

Award-winning illustrator Zak Pullen contributed the gorgeous illustrations that made an art piece out of the first picture book from Why Not Books -- Francis and Eddie, which tells the tale of the stunning triumph of 20-year-old amateur golfer Francis Ouimet (and his 10-year-old caddie) at the 1913 U.S. Open. We consider it an unprecedented contribution to the world of children's literature about golf --which is appropriate because Pullen loves golf, and he loves literature. The latter is evident in the following: Pullen's 51 portraits of legendary writers -- from Maya Angelou and Edward Abbey to Jack London and James Joyce to Lewis Carroll and Langston Hughes. In this case, their literary contributions are forever priceless, but a picture is worth at least a thousand words. 

 





Saturday, May 10, 2014

46 SHORT AND SWEET SHEL SILVERSTEIN POEMS


You can love Shel Silverstein because he was a Renaissance Man, yet a Captain of the Unpretentious—singer-songwriter, screenwriter, playwright, cartoonist, iconic children’s author. You can love him because of his range. He wrote iconic songs like “A Boy Named Sue” (he won a 1970 Grammy) and iconic books like The Giving Tree. He created illustrated travel journals for Playboy about everything from a baseball training camp to a nudist colony, from Haight-Ashbury to Fire Island, from Spain to Switzerland (“I’ll give them 15 more minutes, and if nobody yodels, I’m going back to the hotel.”)

You can love him because he said things like this: "When I was a kid… I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls, but I couldn't play ball. I couldn't dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write… By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to me. Not that I wouldn't rather make love, but the work has become a habit."

You can love him because he called himself Uncle Shelby, even those his real name was Sheldon. You can love him because he was a survivor. He was a Korean War veteran who espoused peace. He was a poet who made children smile around the world—with illustrated poetry collections like Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, and Every Thing On It—even though he himself lost a daughter to a cerebral aneurysm when she was 11.

It may be that only Dr. Seuss combined whimsy and profundity—imagination and insight—as deftly as Silverstein did. And Silverstein could do it in only a few lines. So we at the Why Not 100 have chosen our 46 favorite Shel Silverstein mini-masterpieces, starting with the perfect one:

1. INVITATION (Where the Sidewalk Ends)

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

69 AWESOME AND AWFUL AUTOBIOGRAPHY TITLES



When we at Why Not Books were considering titles for the memoirs of the late Carolyn Goodman, mother of slain civil rights worker Andrew Goodman and a civil rights icon herself, we harkened back to a particular story she told:

When my youngest son David was seven years old, he came running home from school one day, breathless with excitement. In his hands he held a large piece of construction paper smothered in assorted colors, lines, shapes, and squiggles. In the eyes of a seven-year-old, it was a creation of unmatched brilliance, Monet and Degas and O’Keeffe all rolled into one. In fact, that’s quite literally what it looked like. With the flamboyance only a true artist can exude, David boomed into our Upper West Side apartment, raised his magnum opus, and proudly declared, “Mom, come here! Look at my mantelpiece!”

 A masterpiece is essentially the product of another’s estimation. Someone else reviews your life’s work and pronounces judgment. But a mantelpiece is a personal statement of values and choices, your life’s work presented as a museum of the self… My life has been a work of art—a wondrous, colorful, tragic, flawed, intimate and epic work of art. This is my story. This is my mantelpiece.

So that’s what it became—MY MANTELPIECE: A Memoir of Survival and Social Justice.

Selecting a title for a well-known person’s autobiography or memoir can be a challenge. For some reason, iIf you’re an unknown with a remarkable story, it seems easier to choose evocative titles like Girl, Interrupted (Susanna Kaysen), The Color of Water (James McBride), or Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi). But when you’re a celebrity of some sort, it can be a bit trickier. And not always successful.

We at the Why Not 100 have ranked 69 of the more interesting choices through the years. Those at the top of the list are wonderful. Those at the bottom are wince-inducing. You be the judge where the line is drawn.

1. Me (Katherine Hepburn)

2. The Memoirs of an Amnesiac (Oscar Levant)

3. Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)

4. I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow, Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day (Joe Namath)

5. Kiss and Make-Up (Gene Simmons)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

21 ICONIC WRITERS’ ACCESSORIES



Writers tend to be creatures of habit. I know that because I’m a writer, and I have some pretty entrenched habits. Writers can also be unconventional. I know that for the same reason. Combine the two—a preference for both the usual and the unusual—and you begin to understand why a good many writers (of song, screen and celebrated literature) are known for somewhat eccentric accessories. Here are 21 of the most iconic:

1. J.R.R. Tolkien’s pipe

Tolkien loved, loved, loved his pipe. Think of the images you’ve seen of the man, and there’s probably a pipe in the picture. Think of the images you’ve seen of his works on the big screen, and there may be a long curvaceous pipe in the picture too (remember Gandalf and Bilbo blowing smoke rings?). Middle-Earth lore talks of “pipe-weed” (also known as halflings’ leaf) being a plant developed by the hobbits of the Shire.  Indeed, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are brimming with pipe-smoking scenes—some rather curious, making one wonder what exactly they’re smoking. Here’s one passage from The Hobbit:

“After some time he felt for his pipe. It was not broken, and that was something. Then he felt for his pouch, and there was some tobacco in it, and that was something more. Then he felt for matches and he could not find any at all, and that shattered his hopes completely.”

2. Mark Twain’s cigars

When Cigar Aficionado magazine decided to list its “Top 100 Cigar Smokers of the Twentieth Century,” several authors made the list, including Rudyard Kipling (#22), W. Somerset Maugham (#61), Ernest Hemingway (#85) and John Grisham (#100). But ol’ Samuel Clemens was #5, behind only Winston Churchill, JFK, Fidel Castro, and George Burns. It was said that he smoked two or three dozen cigars a day. He once wrote an essay about it—“Concerning Tobacco” was the title. But he said, “I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

98 WORDS INVENTED BY SHAKESPEARE



April 23 marks a remarkable day in literary history—the day William Shakespeare may have been born (in 1564) and the day he certainly died (in 1616). There is a word for that—coincidence. For all we know, Shakespeare might have coined it.

It is difficult to know which words were created by Shakespeare and which were simply history’s first attestations of such words. Fame makes one’s contributions seem pioneering, even if they were less than so. Kind of like how some people believe Dorothy Hamill invented her haircut. (I’m well aware that there is a generation of readers who has no idea that what means). But we at Why Not Books—and one of us survived the Seventies with that very haircut—have a love of language. And we are in awe of William Shakespeare, even if some of the words he invented didn’t catch on.

Orgulous? Quatch? Foxship? Wappened? Deracinate? Hey, nobody’s perfect.

Here are 98 of our favorite words—roughly in order of preference—that we may, indeed, owe to the Immortal Bard:

1. Well-read (Henry IV)
2. Published (Henry VI)
3. Moonbeam (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
4. Bloodstained (Henry IV)
5. Arch-villain (Measure for Measure)
6. Hot-blooded (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
7. Eyeball (The Tempest)
8. Flowery (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
9. Gallantry (Troilus and Cressida)
10. Hobnob (Twelfth Night)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

36 KILLER WRITING TIPS FROM STEPHEN KING



Forty years ago this month, Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was published. He has since produced more than four-dozen bestselling books, from Cujo to Christine, from The Shining to The Stand, from The Dead Zone to The Dark Tower. But here at Why Not Books, far and away our favorite Stephen King book is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It is part memoir and part invitation—an opportunity to peek behind the curtain of a masterful mind. As he wrote in the foreword, “What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.”

Actually, that was from the “first foreword.” In the “second foreword,” he wrote, “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”

He was being modest, of course. Of the many we could have chosen, here are our 36 favorite tips from one great storyteller:

1. “Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

2. “Write with the door closed, and rewrite with the door open.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

8 PROUDLY PECULIAR AMERICAN LIBRARIES



“Whatever the cost of our libraries,” Walter Cronkite once intoned, “the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” Amen to that. So we all should celebrate National Library Week.

My son Luke, published author of DRAGON VALLEY at age 11 and soon-to-be-published author of GRIFFIN BLADE AND THE BRONZE FINGER, is a prodigy spawned not by a father who happens to be an author, but rather by a public library. He reads one or two books a week. Not short ones either. Perhaps he learned of the possibilities of the written word from observing me, but he actually learned to write through immersion in the pages of The Lord of the Rings and Eragon and Ender’s Game. And on and on and on. So many books with so much to offer an intellectually curious child. But it would have been an utterly unaffordable passion were it not for our local library. Which is why, when young Luke starting earning some money from sales of DRAGON VALLEY, he promptly donated a hefty portion back to our local literary repository.

Luke would be in heaven with a visit to the Hobbit House in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Frankly, I would, too. Imagine being a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and getting to read a rare manuscript by the “father of fantasy literature” while seated in, oh, a random Halfling house in the Shire. In rural Pennsylvania, architect Peter Archer received a very unusual request from a client—design a fitting structure to house his valuable collection of Tolkien manuscripts, books and artifacts. Archer came up with a structure that looks as if it belongs in Middle Earth, not middle America. He built a cottage anchored to a stone wall, round doors, butterfly windows, half archways. It’s the kind of place where Bilbo would have written his memoirs, where Gandalf would bump his head, where any Tolkien library would be right at home.

But there are a great many fascinating public libraries, too. Just like some of the character’s from Luke’s favorite fantasy novels, some are quirkier than others, more mysterious, brimming with surprises.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

27 LOVABLE BOOKS ABOUT THE CHICAGO CUBS



Alex Gordon likes to joke that he has written for so many defunct publications that he is the “Ted McGinley of journalism.” Any 1980s TV aficionados out there are probably grinning at the reference. The former editor of Basketball Digest and Hockey Digest, Gordon has also written for outlets ranging from Entertainment Weekly to the Chicago Tribune to ChicagoSideSports.com. More often than not, he is putting his own spin on the intersection of sports and pop culture.  So we at The Why Not 100 asked Gordon, a lifelong Chicago baseball fan, to rank the 27 winningest books about sport’s most lovable losers:

Comedy and tragedy. The two greatest genres of all fiction. Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Much Ado About Nothing; there’s a reason Shakespeare worked almost exclusively in these two diametrically opposed areas. Nothing illuminates the folly of the human condition like a great tragedy, and once you’ve been put through the ringer, nothing lifts your spirits and renews your faith in humankind like a true comedy.

It is with high comedy and great tragedy in mind that I offer a list of 27 lovable books written about the Chicago Cubs. Sure there have been great works written about the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and Chicago Bulls, but really all that winning (even with all the requisite scandals and bad behavior and ego) gets boring. No team in the history of sports better exemplifies the tragic and comedic like the Cubs, who entered this season 105 years removed from their last World Series title. The Cubs haven’t even played in the World Series since 1945.

But every year hope springs eternal. And even though we Cubs fans know with every rational ounce of our being that the cover of Sports Illustrated the first week in November will not feature a shot of Jeff Samardzija triumphantly leaping into the arms Welington Castillo under the banner “Finally,” come Memorial Day when the Cubs are 22 games behind the Cards, at least we can turn to this list for diversion from the misery on the field as we await the latest batch of can’t miss prospects to defy the odds and, well, miss.

1.    A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred (George Will, 2014)

The Friendly Confines turn 100 this summer and a host of books have been written to commemorate the occasion including this reminisce by conservative pundit Will, whose love for baseball is surpassed only by his passion for skewering the Democrats.



2. Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs’ Glory Years, 1870-1945 (Randy Roberts and Carson Cunningham, 2011)

Roberts and Cunningham explore the pre-goat grandeur of the Cubs through vintage newspaper accounts and historical essays.

3. The Cubs Quotient: How the Chicago Cubs Changed the World (Scott Rowan, 2014)

Rowan makes the case that no sports franchise has altered the world the way the Cubs have, linking the team to everything from the Teapot Dome Scandal and the Vietnam War to Jay-Z and Tom Hanks.

4. Miracle Collapse: The 1969 Chicago Cubs (Doug Feldmann, 2006)

Feldmann tries to make some sense of the 1969 Cubs. With a line-up featuring four future Hall-of-Famers in their prime, they enjoyed a 17.5-game lead over the New York Mets in August before going into a tailspin, including losing 17 of their final 25 games.

5. W Is for Wrigley: The Friendly Confines Alphabet (Brad Herzog, 2013)

Even if he wasn’t keeping the lights on around here, I’d include Herzog’s book on this list for the way his whimsical rhymes—and sidebar text about everything from Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse to the ivy and the antique scoreboard—both educate and entertain fans young and old. Throw in John Hanley’s gorgeous illustrations and this is a doubleheader that can’t be beat. Former Cub Fergie Jenkins declared that the book turned “the storied ballpark into an art form.”