Saturday, February 21, 2015


When it comes to a well-turned phrased, a rapier wit, a literary sense of humor, has there ever been anyone quite like Mark Twain? Of course, he would likely answer, “I have been complimented many times, and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.” That quotation isn’t even one of his 82 finest, according to us at the Why Not 100. But the following do qualify as his best (and the first 14 are about reading and writing):

1. A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.

2. The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.

3. I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.

4. Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Valentine’s Day is a holiday we celebrate much like an anniversary in my house. On February 14, 1986, my wife and I went on our first date. We were a couple of high school kids in suburban Chicago. On a bitter cold winter evening, we saw The Color Purple (classic book, good film, not the best date movie). Still, the rest is matrimony.

So every February 14, I celebrate the occasion by penning a poem. Sometimes I channel Robert Browning, other times Dr. Seuss. Once I gave her 17 haikus to celebrate 17 years. A sample:

Often late at night
I love to watch you sleeping
even when you drool

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Happy 60th birthday, John Grisham. What’s in a name? Sometimes, a whole pantheon.

Consider: If you’re an athlete, it’s tempting to want to be named Michael (Jordan, Phelps, Johnson, Tyson), but you really want to be a Bob (Jones, Orr, Hull, Cousy, Pettit, Gibson, Feller, Beamon, Mathias, Griese). If you’re an actor, Tom is terrific (Cruise, Hanks… um, Arnold), but James is probably better (Cagney, Stewart, Durante, Franco). And if you’re a writer, William is a mighty impressive name (Shakespeare, Faulkner, Maugham, Wordsworth, Yeats). But nothing matches the output of the Johns.

That might have been phrased better. But you understand. There is a personal attachment here. Three of my five favorite reads—Cannery Row, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy—were John creations. But the list of notable Johns is remarkable across genres and eras and personal tastes.

The irony, of course, is that if you ask a writer—and if they’re being honest—many will say they do their best thinking on the john. So here are 48 of them (we didn’t even include the likes of Jonathan Swift and Jon Krakauer), along with a superlative or two about each:

1. John Steinbeck
He won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath. And East of Eden is a classic. But many of us prefer his shorter works like Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men.

2. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
Poet, philologist, Oxford professor, path-maker of modern fantasy literature. Forbes named him the fifth top-earning “dead celebrity” of 2009, just behind Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. He’s why I’m a writer today.

3. John Updike
His series about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom earned him a couple of Pulitzers (one of only three authors to win it more than once).