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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.”