Monday, August 31, 2015


When my son Luke started reading in earnest—that is, when he found that he had made his way through enough contemporary fantasy novels to fill the libraries of Rivendell and Hogwarts—I began to suggest some older classics.

He had already read the three books in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, including The Two Towers, which was his favorite one. How about Jules Verne, I said. Around the World in Eighty Days or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Then I got him hooked on Sherlock Holmes, starting with Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four. For good measure, I led him to Agatha Christie’s classic And Then There Were None.

See a pattern? We at the Why Not100 obviously treasure the written word, but there sure are a lot of classics with numbers in the title, whether it’s 1984, Seven Years in Tibet, or North Dallas Forty. Hence, the following list.

Only once, as you’ll see, do we reference Janet Evanovich, who has written twenty numbered Stephanie Plum mysteries—from One for the Money, Two for the Dough, and Three to Get Deadly to Explosive Eighteen, Notorious Nineteen, and Takedown Twenty.

You may also notice, when you get to number 50, that a certain erotic novel didn’t make the cut.

1. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (Ken Kesey)
2. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
3. The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
4. The Sign of the Four (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Monday, August 24, 2015


Ever consider that most of us don’t necessarily know the first name of the authors of such classics as The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, Curious George, Mary Poppins, Charlotte’s Web, and Winnie the Pooh? Or The Catcher in the Rye? Or The War of the Worlds? Or, for that matter, The Sixth Sense?

Oh, and the Harry Potter series, too. Joanne Rowling was asked by her publisher to adopt a more masculine pen name. So she borrowed her grandmother’s name (Kathleen) and became forever famous as J.K. Rowling. Much the same process happened with Susan Eloise (better known as S.E.) Hinton, author of The Outsiders.

So let’s take a tour of initials and explore the real names behind some literary icons.

1. J.R.R. Tolkien (John Ronald Reuel)
2. W.E.B. Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt)
3. J.K. Rowling (Joanne Kathleen)
4. C.S. Lewis (Clive Staples)
5. E.B. White (Elwyn Brooks)

Sunday, August 16, 2015


I just finished reading a really unusual book called “S.” It was conceived by J.J. Abrams, the brilliant guy behind the TV series “Lost,” which I absolutely loved until I absolutely hated it. (I felt like it was equivalent to reading a 3,000-page Sherlock Holmes mystery in which none of the clues actually wound up mattering because it was all a morphine-fueled excursion into another dimension). Abrams is also the guy who was handed the keys to the modern film versions of Star Trek and Star Wars and Mission Impossible. Brilliance begets good fortune—and a certain pop culture responsibility.

But about the book… “S” is an idea that would have been immediately discarded as far too expensive and outside-the-box if it had been proposed by just about anyone less creatively successful. As Abrams tells it, he was at LAX more than a decade ago, when he came across an abandoned book signed by a mysterious woman named Janet. It sparked an idea that was finally realized when he recruited novelist Doug Dorst to write up a tale (two tales, actually) and Mulholland Books to publish it.

The tagline: One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace and desire.

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger who, as evidenced by his notes written in the margins, is entranced by the story (a novel called Ship of Theseus) and the enigmatic writer (a secretive and mysterious fellow called V.M. Straka). The readers—a college senior named Jennifer and a disgraced grad student named Eric—eventually begin to write to each other on the pages of the book. So it is essentially a double-story-intertwined. One is a mysterious sort of adventure tale, the other a beguiling sort of love story in the margins. What a cool idea.

It is basically two books in one, and “S” is the title of the meta-concept. Thus it is a long read with a short title. Add here’s where I finally get to the point of this post—it’s not even the first book called “S.” John Updike wrote one. And several authors wrote a collaborative novel of the same name. And Thomas Pynchon wrote “V.” Andy Warhol wrote “A.”

Here are 33 of the shortest book titles you’ll ever come across—along with a very short synopsis of each:

Sunday, August 9, 2015


August 9 is National Book Lovers Day. So I’m going to explore that in a literal sense.

There used to be a couple of communities in Florida, both of them settled sometime in the 1850s. One had a few general stores and some other businesses. The other boasted, at the very least, a post office. The towns were only about two miles apart, each one’s destiny certainly intertwined with the other’s. But today both are no more. They’re dead.

Their names? Romeo and Juliette.

Okay, so the spelling of the latter is a bit off. But c’mon, doesn’t that give you ghost town goosebumps?

Then again, there are plenty of Shakespearean places that you can visit during a cross-country excursion. We can start with a place called, well, Shakespeare, located in southwestern New Mexico, just south of the city of Lordsburg. That one’s a ghost town, too—much ado about nothing, one might say. But Shakespeare, New Mexico, actually offers occasional tours. And, in perhaps the ultimate anachronism, it has a website (

Want to further immortalize the Immortal Bard in the form of an epic road trip? Try this somewhat manageable itinerary:

1. Bard (California)
2. Romeo (Colorado)
3. Shakespeare (New Mexico)