Monday, March 31, 2014


Some book titles are just plain bad. And some are so bad that they may be brilliant. For this installment of the Why Not 100, we’ve selected 83 of the worst. You be the judge:

1. What’s Your Poo Telling You? (Anish Sheth)

2. Assaulted Pretzel: An Amish Mystery (Laura Bradford)

3. How to Avoid Huge Ships (Captain John W. Trimmer)

4. The Best Dad is a Good Lover (Charlie W. Shedd)

5. I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Lisa Schroeder)

6. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (E.L. Konigsburg)

7. Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and Also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! (Elizyabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson)

8. 277 Secrets Your Snake Wants You To Know (Paulette Cooper)

9. George Bush, Dark Prince of Love (Lydia Millet)

10. Truth, Dare, or Handcuffs or Threeway (Jade James)

11. Granddad, There’s a Head on the Beach (Colin Cotterill)

12. Living With Crazy Buttocks (Kaz Cooke)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


The greatest doctor in all of literature? Why, that’s Dr. Seuss, of course. Theodor Seuss Geisel wasn’t a medical doctor, although the medical school at Dartmouth College is the Geisel School of Medicine). And he didn’t earn a PhD, although he intended to obtain one in English literature after graduating from Dartmouth. Instead, while at Oxford, he met a woman named Helen Palmer, who would become his wife. She encouraged him to give up his notion of becoming an English teacher and instead pursue a career in drawing.

Thank you, Helen Palmer.

I find that particularly interesting because I had a Helen Palmer in my life, too. Mrs. Palmer actually WAS an English teacher—11th grade expository composition, if I remember correctly. She nominated one of my essays—about my love of baseball, actually—for an award, which worked out well, which gave me self-belief, which set me on a course to becoming a professional writer.

Again, thank you, Helen Palmer.

But while Dr. Seuss is the greatest doctor in literature, he’s not the most memorable doctor WITHIN literature. That’s what this post is about—the MDs and PhDs, the heroes and villains, the good doctors and bad doctors who populate the pages of books.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


We at Why Not Books believe that history is the foundation of an enlightened education—and it starts early with nonfiction picture books. So for this Why Not 100 edition, we’ve chosen 20 stories that, as a whole, tell the tale of the 20th century (plus one bonus book for the 21st). 


Johnny Moore and the Wright Brothers’ Flying Machine (Walter A. Schulz)

On Dec. 17, 1903, Johnny Moore was a 16-year-old living in Nags Head on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He happened to be walking along the beach when he noticed several men working on an unfamiliar machine. Two of those men were Orville and Wilbur Wright. Moore joined the team and helped them prepare for four flights that day. Like any good book for kids, this picture book tells the story from a child’s perspective. That and Doug Bowles’s illustrations capture the wonder of the moment—a moment that changed the world. 

The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss (Kathleen Krull)

How to concoct an enchanting book? Take a lovable literary icon. Explore his childhood—“Once upon a time there was a little boy who feasted on books and was wild about animals…” Illustrate it with paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher that transport the reader, almost Rockwell-like, back to the early days of the 20th century (Geisel was born in 1904, and this book was published a century later). Complement those paintings with Dr. Seuss’s own drawings. Mix it all together, and enjoy. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014


The Why Not 100 is a blog about creativity. Books, poems, films, quotations, characters, settings, descriptions, ideas, words, pictures. So why not take a detour into photography, too? It is setting as story, moment as description, picture as poetry.

George Lange is a world-class photographer ( Not only can he turn the everyday moment into a masterpiece, he has photographed icons ranging from the Obamas to Adam Sandler. He has photographed Ewan McGregor with his head inside a lion’s jaws, Jonah Hill watering some mysteriously floating flowers, Jim Carrey with eight clothespins attached to his rubbery face, Sophia Loren holding a leaf blower, and the cast of “Will and Grace” tossing martinis at the camera.

Oh, and my family, which is more like the cast of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

That was about three-dozen years ago when my parents, my siblings and I were visiting his family in Pittsburgh. You see, George is a cousin of mine. He must have only been about 19 or 20 at the time, but he led us to his backyard and photographed us against a stark white background. The photos still hang in my parents’ second-floor hallway.

My point is this: He can make anything look good. And he recently wrote a book offering suggestions to allow the rest of us to take perfect pictures, too.

The Unforgettable Photograph by George Lange with Scott Mowbray offers “228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life.” Each tip is accompanied by a fantastic photo representing that very notion. It’s a gorgeous yet practical book—inside information to get you to think outside the box.

Here I’ve chosen 88 of my favorite tips, starting with an obvious preference:

1. Take your “Why Not” pictures
2. Prepare, then improvise
3. Get intimate with food
4. Take a fast family portrait
5. Create a bit of imagined peril
6. Get close to the grotesque
7. Move past the “I Was Here” postcard
8. Isolate a single moment
9. Ease into intimacy
10. Don’t sweat the group shot
11. Move to baby’s eye level
12. Don’t force a smile
13. Catch the last bit of sunlight
14. When in doubt, hold them upside down
15. Find the right distance for intimacy
16. Play with your subjects

17. Submit to the chaos
18. Don’t worry: people won’t mind
19. Let it breathe
20. Move your eye away from the main subject
21. Negotiate with shyness
22. Look for the stories that light reveals
23. Avoid the flash
24. Move outside and shoot in
25. Move inside and shoot out
26. Play people against geometry
27. Keep an eye on the shadows
28. Play with the dynamics of a duo
29. Wait for those fleeting moments of baby attitude
30. Block the shot
31. Use an object out of context

32. Cut off their heads
33. Find  a patch of light
34. Shoot their tears
35. Embrace the awkward
36. Don’t be afraid of the dark
37. Shoot young people with old things
38. Create funny moments
39. Let the kid work the picture
40. Get close to a big, wet kiss
41. See the moments you cannot make up
42. Move to a fresh angle of the action
43. Embrace the energy of blur
44. Cover the face

45. Play with the mystery of water
46. Move to a tight, simple angle
47. Crop while you shoot
48. Know where the best light in your house is
49. Shoot the quiet
50. Catch the rhythm of the action
51. Move around, 90 degrees
52. Find intimate light
53. Move down, look up
54. Move underneath
55. Push the lens out of focus
56. Play with scale
57. Shoot the dirt
58. Put babies in surprising places
59. Face them into soft light
60. Anything is a prop

61. Move into the action
62. Use the drama of hard light
63. Turn up the volume
64. Just dive in
65. Keep the funny simple
66. Balance light and dark
67. Let the kid play!
68. Pan the camera
69. Use things the “wrong” way
70. Play with depth of field
71. Push their limits
72. Shoot the distance between people
73. Write on a blackboard
74. Capture splash and spray

75. Try an out-of-focus foreground
76. Capture two gazes in one shot
77. Use a dramatic sky as your backdrop
78. Drop to the floor
79. Move to a bird’s-eye view
80. Shoot against backlight
81. Make a scene dreamy
82. Use the macro setting on your camera
83. Pose people with their pets
84. Shoot gorgeous people in gorgeous light
85. Try portraits at low shutter speeds
86. Be patient
87. Find beauty in the every day
88. Remember, there’s almost always enough light

Monday, March 10, 2014


Twenty-five years ago, in 1989, a fatwa was ordered for the death of Salman Rushie, author of The Satanic Verses. Sadly, it merely continued a tradition of literary censorship—a tradition that knows no geographic or cultural boundaries. Whether for moral, religious or political reasons, the banning of books is an unfortunate through line of history. These have ranged from nonfiction like The Peaceful Pill Handbook (a euthanasia instructional manual banned in New Zealand) to novels like Peyton Place (banned in Canada for a few years).

The following is a list of only some of the more notable books that have been censored by various governments over the years. Some of the books are no longer banned. Some still are. Some titles won’t surprise you. Some most certainly will (#18, especially), as will some of the countries themselves.

What’s with Australia?

1. The Bible (North Korea)
2. Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (United Kingdom)
3. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Confederate States of America)
4. The Diary of Anne Frank (Lebanon)
5. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (Austria)
6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (South Africa)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


In September 2013, Christina Katz, champion of mom writers and author of several books about writing (including three Writer’s Digest books), updated a remarkable list she had been working on for several years.  She calls it “277 Movies About Writers and the Writing Life.” Along with her husband Jason, she carefully researched the subject and came up with a chronological list that went from Barrets of Wimpole Street (1934) to Before Midnight (2013).

It’s a long list because they cast a wide net. They included movies about print journalism, which is fine if you’re talking about All the President’s Men. But Superman is on the list, and I’d argue that the movie is about writing in much the same way that Iron Man is about welding. Still, there are LOTS of great films from which to choose. I can’t say I’ve seen very film on Katz’s list. Not even close. Never heard of Call Northside 777. Wouldn’t pay to see Sex and the City: The Movie. And I certainly haven’t liked every one of the films that I have seen (in fact, Funny Farm is one of my absolute least favorite movies—a bad Chevy Chase film, which is redundant).

But here’s the Why Not 100 ranking of the top 80:

1. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
2. Almost Famous (2000)
3. The Player (1992)
4. The Shining (1980)
5. Stand By Me (1986)