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Thursday, April 30, 2015

71 BOOKS IN ONE TRAIN OF THOUGHT


Jason Segel and Paul Rudd happen to be two of my favorite comedic actors. During a 2009 tandem interview about their film I Love You, Man, they got a bit giddy when the subject of a bromance arose.

Rudd: “I couldn’t think of a movie that had told it in quite this way...”
Segel: “Midnight Cowboy.”
Rudd (nodding): “And Urban Cowboy.”
Segel: “And Rhinestone Cowboy.”
Rudd: “And Rhinestone.”
Segel: “And… Stonehenge…”
Rudd: “And Romancing the Stone.”

After a pause, Rudd continued: “Stone cold…”

Segel: “Cold Mountain.”
Rudd: “Brokeback Mountain… that would be one.”

Kind of fun, right? If you’re just immature enough. But instead of citing movies, I’m going to do it for books.

Upon announcing that Why Not Books would be publishing the second fantasy novel by young prodigy Luke Herzog, the most common question has been: Is it a sequel? Luke wrote DRAGON VALLEY, believe it or not, as a nine- and ten-year-old. It was published when he was 11 and captured the imagination of kids all around the country. They sent him emails telling him they’d read it several times. They chose it as their favorite book and wrote school reports about it. One fan even sent a photograph of a sculpture he made depicting one of Luke’s characters—Blue, the water dragon. Luke wrote his new book, GRIFFIN BLADE AND THE BRONZE FINGER, from ages 11 to 13. But no, it is not a sequel.

Dragon Valley tells the story of five baby dragons who were spawned in a laboratory and released in the wilds of a hidden valley. They navigate the next one thousand years of their evolution—the growing pains, the battles, the descendants, the myriad creatures populating the magical valley. Griffin Blade and the Bronze Finger is the tale of a good-hearted rogue, a thief named Griffin Blade, who steals a gem, gets it stolen from him, and embarks on a search for a jewel that becomes an epic quest for redemption. Along the way, he encounters creatures ranging from dwarves, dark elves and djinns to minotaurs, mermen and, oh, a massive sand worm.

So what’s the connection between his first book and his second—besides the author, that is? Well, for that we need to climb aboard a train of thought. Here’s one way to connect Dragon Valley to Griffin Blade and the Bronze Finger, with 69 titles in between:

Monday, April 20, 2015

97 PHRASES COINED BY SHAKESPEARE



When we say that something is not for the “faint hearted” or is a “foregone conclusion” or is taking “forever and a day,” we rarely stop to consider where the phrase came from. But it had to come from somewhere, right? And more often than not, William Shakespeare—who would be turning 450 years old on April 23—is probably the guy.

The Immortal Bard coined so many phrases that he actually had a significant impact on the English language. It’s one of many reasons why he is far and away the paragon of English literature. The Beatles transformed rock and roll. Michael Jordan elevated basketball. Marlon Brando altered acting. But nobody comes close to the impact of Shakespeare.

This installment of the Why Not 100 celebrates just 97 of the MANY phrases first attributed to the literary genius, starting with some of our favorites:

1. The world’s my oyster (The Merry Wives of Windor)
2. Be-all and the end-all (Macbeth)
3. It was Greek to me (Julius Caesar)
4. There’s the rub (Hamlet)
5. Knock knock! Who’s there? (Macbeth)
6. Bated breath (The Merchant of Venice)
7. ‘Tis high time (Comedy of Errors)

Friday, April 10, 2015

99 HARD-HITTING BASEBALL MYSTERIES



At the start of my career, while I was briefly a sportswriter for The Ithaca Journal in upstate New York, I covered everything from football and field hockey to lacrosse and lightweight football. On the side, I wrote a baseball murder mystery. I called it Hit and Run, which I still believe is a fine title.

The protagonist was a Chicago sportswriter named Austin Pearl, the last name being an obvious reason to give him a daily column called “Pearl’s Wisdom.” The novel focused on the murder of the Chicago White Sox manager during the World Series (yes, at that time, such a thing was pure fantasy—the Sox in the Series, I mean). Interspersed throughout the novel were columns written by Pearl, box scores from the games… and a bunch of red herrings. The story was pretty good, but not good enough to actually send to a literary agent. I was 22. It was my version of batting practice. Maybe someday I’ll revise it and publish it. Maybe.

But the baseball murder mystery is a thriving genre, even without Hit and Run. Maybe it’s because the purity of the game (theoretically, at least) conflicts so wonderfully with murder or arson or theft. Maybe it’s because the arc of a baseball game is an excellent way to understand the notion of narrative flow (just listen to a game on the radio, how the announcers fill in the empty spaces with back story and commentary). Or maybe it’s due to the endless opportunities to manipulate baseball terms into titles.

The following list includes gems like A Player to be Maimed Later and Rally Killer and Caught Stealing. Titles like Murderer’s Row, Suicide Squeeze, and Strike Three You’re Dead have been used more than once. (Green Monster has been used twice, too. Then again, Boston is far and away the most common setting for baseball mysteries).

So let’s play ball, Why Not 100 style. As a nod to two teams playing nine innings, I offer 99 baseball mysteries for young and old:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

73 BEST HEADLINE FAILS




If you ever visit the Newseum in Washington, D.C.—the outstanding museum dedicated to the First Amendment—make sure to go to the bathroom. In part, that’s because you can spend days at the museum, and you’ll need the break. But more importantly, if you go to the bathroom, you’ll laugh. You’ll see news bloopers affixed to the tiles on the bathroom walls—newspaper headlines that desperately needed a copy editor. The stories have long been forgotten, but the headlines—RED TAPE HOLDS UP NEW BRIDGE—endure.

Headline writing is an art form. Do it well, and it can be magical.

FROM RUSSIA WITH GLOVES

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE KOREA?

OTTER DEVASTATION

But do it wrong, and oy. Here are 73 head-scratching headlines, some of them undoubtedly purposeful, all of them hilarious:

1. Man Accused of Killing Lawyer Receives a New Attorney
2. Police: Crack Found in Man’s Buttocks
3. Chick Accuses Some of Her Male Colleagues of Sexism
4. Top Secret Mission To Launch Tuesday
5. Bugs Flying Around With Wings Are Flying Bugs 
6. Statistics Show That Teen Pregnancy Drops Off Significantly After Age 25