Tuesday, March 24, 2015
“You see things, and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never wore, and I say, ‘Why not?’”
It is a statement of possibilities, of unlimited imagination, of perspective, of creative enthusiasm. And it is why, when we started a publishing venture, we called it Why Not Books.
None of the 59 books that you’ll see on the list below were published by us. But all of them have one thing in common—“why not” appears somewhere in the title. We could have chosen more—titles ranging from Why Not Waste Time With God? to Why Not Embroider Boxes? But this is an eclectic group divided into several categories and covering 150 years of publishing—books about everything from Buddhism and the Boston Red Sox to Billie Holliday and beekeeping.
Why collect them all on one goofy list? Why not.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
J.R.R. Tolkien, master of Middle-Earth, was very careful about names. Malevolent creatures are duly evil-sounding: Morgoth. Azog. Grima Wormtongue. For the most part, elves have elegant names, befitting the creatures of light who walk atop snow and speak in ancient tongues and live forever. Galadriel. Legolas. Fingolfin. The names of men aspire to elvish elegance, but also hint at ordinariness. Denethor. Eomer. Boramir. Dwarves’ names are largely short, no-nonsense, with a dash of whimsy but as practical as a pick axe. Durin. Gimli. Bofur. Mim.
And then there are the hobbits. A journey into the name of the Shire-folks is like a peek into a bubble far removed from the worries of the world—almost childlike, often silly, exactly what Tolkien intended the Shire to be.
Fourteen-year-old author Luke Herzog, inspired by the works of Tolkien, is careful about names, too. In his first book, Dragon Valley, he gave his five progenitor dragons simply descriptive names—Red, White, Yellow, Blue, and Black. But their descendants were the likes of Frogleap and Snoweye, Darkroot and Rohawk.
In his second fantasy novel, Griffin Blade and the Bronze Finger, he created a world brimming with various creatures. When selecting names he occasionally referenced Latin influences. Often, he closed his eyes, mouthing out different sounds, taking into account the character’s species, lineage, morality… until he came up with just the right name. A dwarf named Kwint. A dark elf named Naymeira. A no-good merman named Ranimus. A minotaur named Bo’cul.
So, because it was The Hobbit that sparked his own flights of fantasy, we’ve asked Luke Herzog to rank the 61 top names of halflings who roamed Middle-Earth.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
I have a confession to make. For several years, I mispronounced the name of an iconic sports figure who would become the subject of one of my books. His name is Francis Ouimet, the unknown amateur golfer who shocked the world at the 1913 U.S. Open (I contend it’s the greatest of all championship tales, and it’s the subject of the beautifully illustrated picture book, Francis and Eddie, from Why Not Books). When I first heard of him, I figured, well, Francis Ouimet is the son of a French-Canadian immigrant. Surely, his name is pronounced “we-may.” Actually, no. It’s “we-met.”
Now I know. And, frankly, I think the humble handle fits his up-from-nothing story. But I also know this: If his name had been, say, Johnny Fairways or Frankie Miracle, he’d be a helluva lot more famous.
This isn’t to say that the best athletes need the best names. Just ask Jim Brown. Or Bill Russell. Or Tom Brady. But if I were going to conjure up a fictional athlete, I would name him something like Johnny Unitas. Or Usain Bolt. Or Tiger Woods. Or Shaquille O’Neal.
Indeed, for every unforgettable fictional athlete’s name—Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, Mighty Casey and Willie Mays Hayes—there are a dozen equally unforgettable names of real athletes. You take Jesus Shuttleworth. I’ll take Moses Malone. You root for Happy Gilmore and Roy McAvoy. I’ll root for Boo Weekley and Rory McIlroy. You wax nostalgic for Roy Hobbs and Forrest Gump. I’ll go with Ty Cobb and Forrest Gregg. Ricky Bobby? How about Fireball Roberts. Kenny Powers and Crash Davis? How about Boog Powell and Johnny Bench?
All fiction is derivative—a reexamination of essential truths. And even when it comes to names, truth can trump fiction.
So I offer you lots of lists here: 53 better-than-fiction names of real athletes in each of seven categories—baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, other sports, and female athletes. You’ll notice a handful of nicknames in there, but only if it was inseparable from the athlete—you know, like Magic and Babe and Catfish. And sorry, Ali and Kareem didn’t make their respective lists (but Cassius Clay and Lew Alcindor did).
Imagine each of these names as the main character of a novel, and try not to smile:
Sunday, March 1, 2015
In the pages of more than four-dozen books, Dr. Suess (a.k.a. Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, a.k.a. Theo Le Sieg, a.k.a. Theodor Seuss Geisel) created scores of characters—from Horton, the Once-ler and Bartholomew Cubbins to various Sneetches, Wockets and Nizzards—who have become an iconic part of childhood… and parenthood. His are characters constructed not only out of character—not just quirky behaviors and idiosyncratic attitudes—but also physical appearance (has there ever been a more satisfying illustrator?). And, of course, with Dr. Seuss, everything’s in a name. Biffer-Baum Birds. The Long-Legger Kwong. Brown Bar-ba-loots.
The man was a genius.
So in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday celebration, we at The Why Not 100 would like to celebrate that genius with a Seuss list. Actually, several Seuss lists can be found among the Why Not Books Lit Lists, including Seussian places and inventions. But this particular list ranks his 91 most classic characters.
Sometimes it’s all in the name—although not every classic character was given one. So among these you won’t find the grumpy-but-eventually-grateful chap who doesn’t like spinach-colored breakfast, for instance. Or the young fellow who narrates The Butter Battle Book. Or the boy who encounters (with sister Sally) the Cat in the Hat (nor, for that matter, the uber-responsible goldfish who lives with them). But it’s not always about the name. Sometimes it’s all about the appearance (for instance, Thing One and Thing Two). Often it’s the attitude—hello, Grinch. Usually, it’s a combination of all three. Here’s how we’ve ranked them:
1. The Cat in the Hat (The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back)
When you’re iconic enough to serve as the Seuss logo—with an instantly recognizable fashion statement full of surprises from A to Z, then you’re #1. Sure, there’s a creepy factor—destroying kids’ houses when mom’s not home, risking the lives of goldfish, eating cake in the bathtub—but there’s always satisfaction in the end.
2. Horton the elephant (Horton Hears a Who, Horton Hatches an Egg)
A pachyderm paragon of persistence, savior of a speck of dust, an egg-sitter so dedicated that the embryonic life form takes on his appearance. He is a be-trunked example of how nothing trumps the simple notion of doing the right thing.
3. The Grinch (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
On the other hand… “It could be that his head wasn't screwed on quite right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”