Monday, December 29, 2014


J.R.R. Tolkien would be turning 123 years old this week—he was born on January 3, 1892. Were he alive now, he would be oldest human ever, but he would still fall eight years short of Bilbo Baggins’s hobbit record. Maybe you’re a Tolkienphile, and you knew that. Actually, I knew that, too. Tolkien’s books are what inspired me to become a writer. My oldest son’s middle name is “Balin.” I named my dog “Pippin.”

But there are J.R.R. Tolkien fans, and then there is Emil Johansson.

A Swedish chemical engineering student, Johansson first read The Lord of the Rings in 2000. A dozen years later, he published a website that he called the Lord of the Rings Project. He generally shortens it to LotrProject. That’s about all he does halfway.

His website includes perhaps the most extensive genealogy of Middle-Earth, including family trees for, well, just about everybody. Want to know if the dwarves Balin and Oin are distant cousins? Just look it up. And there is a historical timeline of… everything. When did the city of Gondolin fall in the First Age? When were the Rings of Power created in the Second Age? When did Boromir set off for Rivendell in the Third Age? It’s there.

There’s even a Periodic Table of Middle Earth. And a map of the routes taken by each member of the Fellowship of the Ring. Want to know how long far Frodo and Sam traveled each day? Check it out. Johansson may know more about the comings and goings of Gandalf and Gollum than most Civil War historians know about the travels of Robert E. Lee. Really, I’m not kidding.

Perhaps most remarkable is Johansson’s census of Middle-Earth. Basically, he went through Tolkien’s books—The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the epic tales in The Silmarillion—and he took note of every named character. All of them. And then he crunched the numbers—about race and sex and life expectancy and population.

All I’ve done is travel through the site and pick out some of his most interesting findings. If you’ve only seen the movies—never read the books—then you may encounter some spoilers here. But really, if you’ve only seen the movies, you probably haven’t read this far. Here is a numerical trip through the geeked-out glory of Middle-Earth, divided into categories:


1. Among the characters mentioned by name in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, 474 are humans, 224 are hobbits, 98 are elves, and 52 are dwarves.

2. Only 18 percent of the total number of characters are female—not due to a lack of females in Middle-Earth but rather because Tolkien simply didn’t describe many of them.

3. However, 71 named hobbits—nearly one-third of all hobbits mentioned—are female.

4. Of the 14 “good” Valar—Tolkien’s version of the denizens of Mount Olympus—seven are male, and seven are female. There is a 15th—the male Morgoth, the source of all evil on Middle-Earth.

5. Although there is a disparaging reference to Gloin’s wife in the film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, only one female dwarf is actually named in Tolkien’s books. She is Dis, the mother of Fili and Kili, the youngest warriors who were members of Thorin and Company.


6. Elves live forever, unless killed, but Johansson figured the life span of a dwarf to be roughly 195 years—although that takes into account a rather small sample size and the fact that most of the dwarves mentioned in the books died in battle.

7. One of the original dwarves created—Durin the Deathless—lived to be nearly 2,400 years old.

8. Dwalin, brother of Balin and member of Thorin and Company, is the dwarf with the second-longest known life span—340 years.

9. At the time of their death during the Battle of the Five Armies, Fili (82) and Kili (77) were young by dwarven standards.

10. The dwarf with the shortest known life span, Fror, was slain by a dragon at age 37.

11. The life expectancy of men depends on one’s ancestry. Numenoreans and their descendants lived, on average, about 237 years. Other men averaged an 82-year life span.

12. At the time of The Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn was—believe it or not—about 88 years old. He was the last of the Numenoreans and lived to be 210.

13. The oldest living man, Elros, lived to be 500 years old, but he was a half-elf who chose to be a man (his brother Elrond chose to be an elf and spent about 6,000 more years on Middle-Earth). Aside from Elros, twenty known men lived at least 300 years (a dozen exceeded 400 years).

14. There is one account of a human who lived only to the age of three—Lalaith, a girl who died during a plague.

15. Every line of kings of men—of Numenor, Gondor, Arnor, Arthedain, and the Dunedain—saw a decline in their life expectancy as the years passed

16. The second-longest life span of any hobbit in history was that of Bilbo Baggins himself, who was age 131 (one year older than Gerontius Took—the “Old Took”) when he sailed into the West.

17. Bilbo didn’t even approach the age of the oldest hobbit. That would be Smeagol—aka Gollum—who perished in Mount Doom at the age of 589.


18. Not surprisingly, the highest-known population of Middle-Earth—judging only by the described characters in Tolkien’s books—occurred at the end of the Third Age, during the events described in The Lord of the Rings.

19. The second-highest-known population era peaked around the year 500, at the end of the First Age, just before the Wars of Beleriand and the Great Battle.

20. The first man is mentioned about halfway through the First Age.

21. Feanor, considered perhaps the mightiest of all elves of Middle-Earth, had seven sons.

22. The hobbit who fathered the most children? That would be Sam Gamgee. Samwise and his wife (the former Rose Cotton), had 13 children. And Sam was one of six children himself.


23. In The Hobbit, the approximate distance traveled by Bilbo and his companions to Rivendell was 397 miles. It took them 38 days to get there.

24. They rested in Rivendell for 23 days.

25. Bilbo and his companions trekked another 457 miles to the Halls of Thranduil (the Elven King in Mirkwood Forest). It took them another 54 days to get there.

26. By far the fastest they moved during that span of time was 58 miles in one day.

27. Another 81 days later, they finally arrived at the Lonely Mountain—although that included only six days of actual travel.

28. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and his three hobbit pals traveled a longer route to Rivendell (458 miles). But they made it there faster (27 days).

29. They rested in Rivendell for a whopping 64 days.

30. Then they traveled another 464 miles to Lothlorien. Including their excitement in the Mines of Moria, that trek took them another 27 days.

31. They stayed in Lorien for 30 days.

32. Frodo and Sam had to travel another 880 miles (some of it with their Fellowship companions). It took them 37 days to reach Mount Doom.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


The closing lines of My Mantelpiece, the memoirs of civil rights icon Carolyn Goodman (published by Why Not Books in 2014), reflect a woman’s relentless pursuit of social conscience and her realization that the job is never done. In the twilight of her life, as she looked back on life lessons amid tragedy and triumph, Dr. Goodman recalled the following:

I once asked a question of a slightly younger friend: “What do you during the day?”
“Nothing,” she told me, offering a few minor examples that bolstered her statement. “What’s there to do?”
What’s there to do? I would always wonder instead: Is there time to do everything?

Last lines are final impressions. The cherry on top. The words that linger.  What follows are some of the best:

1. "He loved Big Brother." (1984 by George Orwell)

2. "I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before." (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)

3. “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 
I am haunted by waters.” (A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean)

4. “From here on in I rag nobody.” (Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris)

Saturday, December 13, 2014


How much would you pay for a first edition of a classic book? Fifty dollars? Maybe $100? How about several million bucks?  What follows is a list of the 14 highest known prices paid for manuscripts and books.
The first 13 largely represent iconic and ancient texts, although the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers didn’t quite make the list. And there are certainly classics among them, including works by Chaucer and Shakespeare, although original copies of Don Quixote and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland didn’t quite make the cut either. 
But the 14th book? That was auctioned off on December 13, 2007. And it may surprise you: 
1) $30.8 million—Codex Leicester
This collection of largely scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci was named after Thomas Coke, the Earl of Leicester, who purchased it in 1719. The 72-page original document is considered perhaps the most famous of his 30 journals, covering topics as varied as why fossils can be found in mountains and why the moon is luminous. Bill Gates bought it at Christie’s auction house in 1994. He had its pages scanned into digital image files, some of which were later offered as screen savers.

2) $21.3 million—Magna Carta
In an attempt to limit the King of England’s powers, proclaiming that his will was not arbitrary, the feudal barons of England created this 13th-century document, which got the ball rolling toward the rule of constitutional law. Important stuff. And expensive stuff (in 2007)—especially for what is believed to be a copy of a copy. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Leonard Da Vinci. Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Dr. Seuss. Really, has anyone been more inventive?

Consider the evil Once-ler in The Lorax, who stays in his Lerkim on top of his store, tells his story via a Whisper-Ma-Phone (his whispers coming down through a snergelly hose) and makes his own clothes out of miff-muffered moof. What exactly is a Lerkim or miff-muffered moff? How does a Whisper-Ma-Phone work? Does it matter?

Or how about little Cat Z from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, who removes his tiny hat to release VOOM, an unexplained bit of clean-up magic.  Or a Zans (good for opening cans, according to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish). Or Oobleck, the green, gummy goo that falls from the sky in the Kingdom of Didd. Or mile after mile of the Lorax’s beautiful Truffula Trees—“The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk. And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” Unfortunately, the soft tufts can be knitted into Thneeds (a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need), which sells for $3.98.

So in the tradition of the good doctor, we at the Why Not 100 have created a store of sorts that sells imagination. We’re stocking it with a collection of 79 creations that can only be found (and named) in the pages of Dr. Seuss—from natural phenomena (Stickle-bush trees) and nutrients (Glunker Stew) to instruments (Three-Nozzled Bloozer) and ammunition (Kick-a-Doo Powder). We’ve even categorized them for you:

1. Whisper-Ma-Phone (The Lorax)
2. Audio Telly O-Tally O-Count (Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book)
3. Star-Off Machine (The Sneetches)
4. Zans (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish)
5. Thinker-Upper (The Glunk that got Thunk)
6. Un-Thinker (The Glunk that got Thunk)
7. Wamel (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
8. Faddle (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
9. Throm-dim-bu-lator (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
10. Gick (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
11. Goor (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
12. Skrux (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
13. Snux (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
14. Snoor (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
15. Borfin (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)
16. Super-Axe-Hacker (The Lorax)

17. Utterly Sputter (The Butter Battle Book)
18. Eight-Nozzled Elephant-Toted Boom Blitz (The Butter Battle Book)
19. Jigger-Rock Snatchem (The Butter Battle Book)
20. Bitsy Big-Boy Boomero (The Butter Battle Book)
21. Snick-Berry-Switch (The Butter Battle Book)
22. Kick-a-Doo Powder (The Butter Battle Book)
23. Moo-Lacka-Moo (The Butter Battle Book)
24. Triple-Sling-Jigger (The Butter Battle Book)

25. One-Wheeler Wubble (I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew)
26. Happy Way Bus (I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew)
27. Abrasion-Contusions (If I Ran the Circus)
28. Roller-Skate-Skis (If I Ran the Circus)
29. Ga-Zoom (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)
30. Zike Bike (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)
31. Zumble Zay (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)
32. Bumble Boat (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)
33. Crunk Car (Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!)

34. Welcoming Horn (If I Ran the Circus)
35. Three-Nozzled Bloozer (If I Ran the Circus)
36. One-nozzled Noozer (If I Ran the Circus)
37. Poogle-Horn (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)

38. Oobleck (Bartholomew Cubbins and the Oobleck)
39. Pants eating plants (Do You Know How Lucky You Are?)
40. Grickle –grass (The Lorax)
41. Snide (What Was I Scared Of?)
42. Brickel Bush (What Was I Scared Of?)
43. Tutt-a-Tutt Tree (You’re Only Old Once)
44. Dike Trees (The King’s Stilts)
45. Stickle-bush Trees (If I Ran the Circus)
46. Truffula Trees (The Lorax)

47. Beezle-nut juice (Horton Hears a Who)
48. Dried-fried clam chowder (The Butter Battle Book)
49. Moose-moss (Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose)
50. Caviar Soufflé (You’re Only Old Once)
51. Pemmican Patties (You’re Only Old Once)
52. Terrapin Toast (You’re Only Old Once)
53. Glunker Stew (The Glunk that got Thunk)
54. Who-pudding (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
55. Who-hash (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
56. Who-roast-beast (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

57. Optoglymics (You’re Only Old Once)
58. Nooronetics (You’re Only Old Once)
59. Bus Driver’s Blight (You’re Only Old Once)
60. Chimney Sweep Stupor (You’re Only Old Once)
61. Prune-pickers Plight (You’re Only Old Once)
62. Internal Organ Olympics (You’re Only Old Once)
63. Wuff-Whiffer (You’re Only Old Once)
64. Sniff-Scan (You’re Only Old Once)
65. Loganberry-colored pills (You’re Only Old Once)
66. Eyesight and Solvency Test (You’re Only Old Once)

67. Thneed (The Lorax)
68. Miff-muffered moof (The Lorax)
69. Snuvv (The Lorax)
70. Gruvvulous Glove (The Lorax)
71. Lerkim (The Lorax)
72. Gluppity-Glupp (The Lorax)
73. Schloppity-Schlopp (The Lorax)
74. Glunk (The Glunk that got Thunk)
75. Jivvanese (Do You Know How Lucky You Are?)
76. Dooklas (Do You Know How Lucky You Are?)
77. Gizz (Do You Know How Lucky You Are?)
78. Schlopp (Oh, The Thinks You Can Think)
79. Voom (The Cat in the Hat Comes Back)

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Never judge a book by its cover, but how about a bookstore? Shouldn’t a repository of creativity boast a creative name of its own?

Sure, practicality has its place. But it can become… commonplace. There are stores out there—or least at last check in these volatile times, there were stores out there—named The Book Barn (Leavenworth, KS), Book Stop (Hood River, OR), Book Cove (Pawling, NY), Book Mine (Leadville, CO), Book Vine (Cherokee, IA), Book Parlor (Burns, OR), Book Vault (Oskaloosa, AL), Book Shelf (Winona, MN), Book Bin (Onley, VA), and Book Nook (Brenham, TX). Not to mention Bookin’ It (Little Falls, N) and Books to be Red (Ocracoke, NC) and Bookends (Ridgewood, NJ) and BookNest (Blairtown, NJ). Oh, and Books and Cookies (Santa Monica, CA).

Of course, you’ll also find references like Page One Bookstore (Albuequerque, NM), Turning Pages (Natchez, MS), The Next Page (Frisco, CO), and Back Pages Books (Waltham, MA). You’ll come across Chapter One (in both Ketchum, ID and Hamilton, MT), The Second Story (Laramie, WY), The Golden Notebook (Woodstock, NY) and Summer’s Stories (Kendallville, IN). There’s a Reader’s Loft (Green Way, WI), a Reader’s Corner (Louisville, KY) and a Literary Bookpost (Salisbury, NC). There’s a Country Bookseller in Wolfebore, NH. And a Country Bookshop in charming Southern Pines, NC. And a Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, MT.

If practicality or reading references aren’t the aim, proprietors of the published often hope to convey a certain charm, a sense of whimsy. Animal references are a common source, particularly for children’s bookstores. There’s a Nightbird Books (Denver, CO), Mockingbird Books (Seattle, WA), The Raven Book Store (Lawrence, NY), Toadstool Bookshop (Milford, NH), Turtle Town Books (Nisswa, MN), Beagle Books (Park Rapids, MN), even Pegasus Books (Oakland, CA). Colors, too, are popular—the more incongruous the better. Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX). Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, SC). Yellow Umbrella Books (Chatham, MA). White Birch Books (North Conway, NH).

Or you just combine the color and the creature: Blue Manatee (Cincinnati, OH)

Those are all fine establishments—and we at the Why Not 100 say support your local independent bookstore, whatever the name! But the following happen to be our 89 favorite names for indie outlets:

1. Crazy Wisdom (Ann Arbor, MI)
2. Tome on the Range (Las Vegas, NM)
3. Iconoclast Books (Ketchum, ID)
4. Women and Children First (Chicago, IL)
5. Present Tense (Batavia, NY)
6. Wild Rumpus (Minneapolis, MN)
7. The Elephant’s Trunk Children’s Bookshop (Lexington, MA)
8. Hooray for Books! (Alexandria, VA)
9. A Whale of  Tale Children’s Bookshoppe (Irvine, CA)
10. Monkey See, Monkey Do (Clarence, NY)

11. The Voracious Reader (Larchmont, NY)
12. Dragonwings Bookstore (Waupaca, WI)
13. WordsWorth Books (Little Rock, AR)
14. Between the Covers (Telluride, CO and Harbor Springs, MI)
15. Where the Sidewalk Ends Books (Chatham, MA)
16. Eight Cousins (Falmouth, MA)
17. Yellow Book Road (Point Loma, CA)
18. The Story Emporium (Pawtucket, RI)
19. The Briar Patch (Bangor, ME)
20. Jaberwocky Bookshop (Newburyport, MA)

21. Wit and Whimsy (Marblehead, MA)
22. Centuries and Sleuths (Forest Park, IL)
23. Page and Palette (Fairhope, AL)
24. Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.)
25. Fact & Fiction (Missoula, MT)
26. Breathe Books (Baltimore, MD)
27. Tattered Cover Bookstore (Denver, CO)
28. Inquiring Minds (Saugerties, NY)
29. Greetings and Readings (Hunt Valley, MD)
30. Bunch of Grapes Bookstore (Vineyard Haven, MA)
31. CoffeeTree Books (Morehead, KY)
32. Paragraphs Bookstore (Mount Vernon, OH)
33. Novel Ideas (Baileys Harbor, WI)
34. LaDeDa Books & Beans (Manitowoc, WI)
35. Booklovers Gourmet (Webster, MA)
36. The Velveteen Rabbit (Fort Atkinson, WI)
37. Moby Dickens Bookshop (Taos, NM)
38. Storybook Cove (Hanover, MA)
39. Sustenance Books (Murphys, CA)
40. The Flying Pig Bookstore (Shelburne, VT)

41. Learned Owl Bookshop (Hudson, OH)
42. Pooh’s Corner (Grand Rapids, MI)
43. Off the Beaten Path (Steamboat Springs, CO)
44. Town Crier Bookstore (Emporia, KS)
45. Common Good Books (St. Paul, MN)
46. The Open Door Bookstore (Schenectady, NY)
47. Subterranean Books (St. Louis, MO)
48. Alphabet Soup (Seattle, WA)
49. Four-Eyed Frog Books (Gualala, CA)
50. Maloprop’s Bookstore (Asheville, NC)

51. The Twig Book Shop (San Antonio, TX)
52. The King’s English Bookshop (Salt Lake City, UT)
53. Big Blue Marble Bookstore (Philadelphia, PA)
54. Kids Ink (Indianapolis, IN)
55. Read Between the Lynes (Woodstock, IL)
56. A Room of One’s Own (Madison, WI)
57. Spellbound Children’s Bookshop (Asheville, NC)
58. Big Hat Books (Indianpolis, IN)
59. Rainy Day Books (Fairway, KS)
60. Humpus Bumpus Books (Cumming, GA)

61. Nonesuch Books (South Portland, ME)
62. The Hickory Stick Bookshop (Washington, CT)
63. The Frugal Frigate (Redlands, CA)
64. The Magic Tree Bookstore (Oak Park, IL)
65. Red Balloon Bookshop (St. Paul, MN)
66. The Honey Bee (Cincinnati, OH)
67. Duck’s Cottage (Duck, NC)
68. Other Tiger (Westerly, RI)
69. Reading Reptile (Kansas City, MO)
70. Oblong Books (Millerton, NY)

71. Inklings Bookshop (Yakima, WA)
72. Storyopolis (Studio City, CA)
73. Bramble Bookstore (Viroqua, WI)
74. The Muse Bookshop (Deland, FL)
75. Yawn’s Books (Canton, GA)
76. Gum Tree Bookstore (Tupelo, MS)
77. Covered Treasures Bookstore (Monument, CO)
78. Booky Joint (Mammoth Lakes, CA)
79. Hicklebee’s (San Jose, CA)
80. The Spotty Dog (Hudson, NY)
81. Percy’s Burrow (Auburn, ME)
82. Quarter Moon Books (Topsail Beach, NC)
83. Pomegranate Books (Wilmington, NC)
84. Mysterious Galaxy Books (Redondo Beach, CA)
85. Wind and Tide Bookshop (Oak Harbor, WA)
86. Full Circle Bookstore (Oklahoma City, OK)
87. Browseabout Books (Rehoboth Beach, DE)
88. Rediscovered Bookshop (Boise, ID)
89. Viva! Bookstore (San Antonio, TX)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


November 20th is Ann Turner Cook’s 88th birthday. But she’ll always be four months old.

Back in 1927, she was about the same age as the daughter of Dorothy and Daniel Gerber, who produced a line of canned fruits and vegetables at the Fremont Canning Company in Michigan. Tired of hand-straining solid foods for her daughter, Dorothy suggested to Daniel that the work could easily be done at the plant. By late the next year, her suggestion bore fruit in the form of strained prunes, peas, carrots and spinach—the first Gerber Baby Foods line.

After discovering that the Gerbers were seeking a baby’s face as part of a national advertising campaign, artist Dorothy Hope Smith, who specialized in drawing children, submitted a simple charcoal sketch. She told them she could finish the sketch if it were accepted. The Gerber execs told her not to change a thing. By 1931, the popular drawing was the official Gerber trademark (the original sketch is kept in a vault at the company’s headquarters). Its subject—Ann Turner’s parents were friends of the artist—was en route to becoming America’s best-known baby.

I had a very pleasant phone conversation with Cook about a decade-and-a-half ago for a magazine article that I was writing about the origins of iconic logos—you know, the Nike swoosh and the Michelin Man and the NBC peacock. The Gerber Baby is as iconic as any of them. “I don’t take credit,” Cook told me. “I think all babies are adorable. The artist just captured that look that people love.”

Over the years, rumors pinned the baby’s identity on a number of celebrities – from Elizabeth Taylor to Humphrey Bogart to Bob Dole. After the court case, in 1950, after a woman actually sued Gerber (complaining that her child’s likeness was being used), the company asked Cook to sign some papers making it clear that she was, indeed, their beloved baby. She was compensated for the use of her likeness. No baby food was involved, but it was enough money to allow Cook and her new husband to make a down payment on their first house and car.

Then Cook became an English teacher—a beloved teacher for more than a quarter-century. But when she retired in her native Florida, she decided what she really wanted to do was write. So nearly nine decades after bursting upon the scene as the ultimate child star, the Gerber Baby is now a member of the Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of a series of novels set on Florida’s Gulf Coast and featuring Brandy O’Bannon, a reporter and amateur sleuth. Picture Agatha Christie selling strained carrots.

Cook has published four books through iUniverse—one for each month in the age of the Gerber Baby. Here are the opening lines of each of them:

1. Trace Their Shadows (2001)
Brandy O’Bannon looked up at the dormer windows, shrouded in Spanish moss, not because she believed in ghosts—she was open-minded on the question—but because a good ghosts story could save her job on the paper.

2. Shadow Over Cedar Key (2003)
Allison did not think about death when she arrived in Cedar Key, only about the approaching storm. Tense and shaking, she carried her little girl from the car through the wind and rain and up the cabin steps. But the hurricane was not what she feared most.

3. Homosassa Shadows (2005)
Brandy O’Bannon sat a Tiki bar, watching the wide Homosassa River glide past, its black waters shimmering under the outdoor lights. She nursed a margarita and toyed with a crab cake, reluctant to return to the rented house alone. Tomorrow was Thursday, the official beginning of her vacation, but it promised to be a solitary one.

4. Micanopy in Shadow (2008)
Ada turned her young face toward the unfamiliar dirt road. It stretched straight before her in the chill October afternoon. After a quarter of a mile, it curved to the right. Two hours ago its oak canopy seemed protective. Now in the fading light, the branches arched above her, darker and more sinister. The only sound was the murmur of leaves. She clenched her fists, stifled a final sob, and strode forward.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


There have been a number of “100 best books” lists over the years. But what happens when you amalgamate those lists to select the books regarded as the best of the best? One enterprising reader (posting online under the name Scerakor) accepted the challenge.

He (she?) chose 11 such lists—from sources as varied as Time, Entertainment Weekly, Goodreads, Modern Library and Reddit—and compared them to find the most recommended books among the top-100 lists. Since today is November 11th—11/11—I thought it might be interesting to look at the 11 most cited books among the 11 lists.

The top three (appearing on 10 of 11 lists):

1. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
2. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
3. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

The next four (appearing on 9 of 11 lists):

4. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
5. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner)
6. Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
7. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

And the next four (appearing on 8 of 11 lists):

8. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
9. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
10. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
11. 1984 (George Orwell)

So that’s the top 11 from the 11 top-books lists. Interesting, right? One book, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, appeared on seven of the lists. Another 14 books found their way onto six of the lists:

*Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
*On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
*The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
*Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
*Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
*An American Tragedy (Theodore Dreiser)
*Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
*My Antonia (Willa Cather)
*The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)
*The Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller)
*Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)
*To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf)
*Ulysses (James Joyce)

Oh, and one more: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams), which at least lends a somewhat contemporary quality to what is largely an old-school inventory.

If I may just inject my opinion for a moment… How in the heck do three of the 11 lists leave out To Kill a Mockingbird? That should almost be automatic disqualification. Discard those three lists. They don’t even merit scrutiny. Of course, that was the only novel Harper Lee ever published. But I also find it fascinating that, among the 26 books above, no author has more than a single book ranked among the best of the best. Apparently, Animal Farm (Orwell), The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway) and Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf) just missed, showing up on 5 of the 11 lists. But what about Tom Sawyer? Or one of my favorites, Cannery Row?

There were in fact, two-dozen books that earned mention on 5 of the 11 lists—everything from Crime and Punishment to Pride and Prejudice, from Heart of Darkness to Light in August, from Fahrenheit 451 to 100 Years of Solitude, from The Call of the Wild to The Age of Innocence, and from Lord of the Flies to The Lord of the Rings. Incidentally, The Hobbit made four of the lists. John Irving’s The World According to Garp appeared on five lists, too, but only 2 of the 11 top-100 lists included my other favorite by that prodigious talent, A Prayer for Owen Meany.

And, of course, the original 11 lists ranked the best novels ever written. Many of the finest books ever produced—Roots, The Right Stuff, Blue Highways—fall under the category of creative nonfiction. But that’s another list for another time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


When authors are in need of subject matter to carry the narrative along, two arteries in particular are popular fodder. One is love found and love lost, be it Lolita or Frankenstein. The other is the road trip, whether that means On the Road or The Lord of the Rings. The same is true, probably more so even, in songwriting. And I love a good road-trip song. 
I’ve written three American travel memoirs. I’ve visited each of the contiguous 48 states several times over. My wife and I take a road trip/publicity tour in a house on wheels for a couple of months every summer. So I know this: The view through the front windshield can seem like an epic movie of America playing before you, but it can always be enhanced by a good soundtrack to complement the scenery. 
So in honor of U.S. Route 66, which celebrates its 88th anniversary this month, here are 66 road-trip-themed tunes that will put a smile on your face as you hug the center line: 
1. Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin)
My favorite song. Kris Kristofferson wrote it. Janis Joplin nailed it. But really, you can’t go wrong with any cover of this classic, whether you’re listening to Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Sheryl Crow, or Pink. Or a really remarkable version by Jerry Lee Lewis. As the song says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” 

2. On the Road Again (Willie Nelson)
Willie Nelson’s voice simply sounds like a ramble down an open highway. “The life I love is making music with my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the road again.” This is THE iconic road trip song.
3. Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf)
Not every road trip song has to be mellow. Sure, you’ll generally picture Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on two-wheeled transportation, but this 1969 classic will “get your motor running” anyway. 
4. Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen)
The Boss is the man when it comes to epic road trip songs, from “Rosalita” to “Born to Run” to “Darlington County.” But this is his best: “So roll down your window and let the wind blow back your hair. The night’s busting open. These two lanes will take us anywhere…”
5. King of the Road (Roger Miller)
It’s old school. It’s simple. But when you’re driving beneath the redwoods or along the Blue Ridge Parkway or through the Black Hills, you feel just like the song title. 
6. Take It Easy (The Eagles)
When you’re runnin’ down the load trying to loosen your load, consider this: You can take a drive along Route 66 to Winslow, Arizona, and Standin’ On the Corner Park, an intersection where there’s actually a flatbed Ford parked there and a mural of a woman “slowing down to take a look at me.” 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


You want to troll for a date? Try a bookstore. Or better yet, read a book.

Have you resolved to learn about the Norman invasion of England? Pick up a copy of David Howarth’s 1066: The Year of the Conquest. The first permanent settlement in the New World? Karen Lange wrote 1607: A New Look at Jamestown. America’s origins? How about David McCullough’s 1776.

You can read 1492: The Year the World Began by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. But if you want some more historical context, you can also pick up a couple of books by a fellow named Charles C. Mann—1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.

As much as those distant histories fascinate us at the Why Not 100, this is a post about more recent historical accounts. And as much as we love 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’re going to focus on the 20th century.  If you have the time and the inclination, you can give yourself and at-home education by simply journeying through the century one book at a time.

Not every year offers a suitable selection (we decided the year has to be somewhere in the title). On the other hand, some years offer myriad possibilities. There are two books titled 1913, another called 1913: The Eve of War. And there’s 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War. And 1913: The Year Before the Storm. And so on.

The following is a list of 76 books about 76 years, from novels (i.e. 1984) to biographical studies (Elvis 1956), from broad nonfiction (1949: The First Israelis) to very specific accounts (Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934), from Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis to October 1964 by David Halberstam.

We’ll start with a novel by Robert Conroy (1901), who also wrote books titled 1862… and 1920… and 1942… and 1945

1. 1901 by Robert Conroy
2. The 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates: Treachery and Triumph by Ronald T. Waldo
3. The 1903 World Series: The Boston Americans, the Pittsburg Pirates, and the "First Championship of the United States” by Andy Dabilis
4. 1904 St. Louis World's Fair by Michael W. Lemberger and Leigh Michaels

5. 1905 by Leon Trotsky
6. 1906: A Novel by James Dalessandro
7. The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market's Perfect Storm by Robert F. Bruner and Sean D. Carr
8. America, 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T, and the Making of a Modern Nation by Jim Rasenberger
9. 1911 The First 100 Years by Patrick Sweeney
10. 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs—The Election that Changed the Country by James Chace
11. 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson
12. The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began by Jack Beatty
13. 1915: The Death of Innocence by Lyn MacDonald
14. The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Sir Alistair Horne
15. 1917: Red Banners, White Mantle by Warren H. Carroll
16. 1918: A Very British Victory by Peter Hart
17. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan, Richard Holbrooke and Casey Hampton
18. 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents by David Pietrusza
19. 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York by Lyle Spatz, Steve Steinberg and Charles C. Alexander
20. Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism Year One by Kevin Jackson
21. In 1926: Living on the Edge of Time by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
22. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
23. 1928 by C. S. Alexander
24. The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith
25. New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars by Robert A.M. Stern, Gregory F. Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins
26. The 1931 Hastings Bank Job and the Bloody Bandit Trail by Monty McCord
27. The Speakeasies of 1932 by Al Hirschfeld and Gordon Kahn
28. America 1933: The Great Depression, Lorena Hickok, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Shaping of the New Deal by Michael Golay
29. Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934 by Charles R. Smith Jr. and Frank Morrison
30. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
31. Moscow, 1937 by Karl Schlögel
32. 1938: Hitler's Gamble by Giles MacDonogh
33. 1939: Countdown to War by Richard Overy
34. 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election amid the Storm by Susan Dunn
35. December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World by Craig Shirley and Gen. P.X. Kelley

36. 1942: The Year That Tried Men's Souls by Winston Groom
37. The End: Hamburg 1943 by Hans Erich Nossack
38. Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising by Alexandra Richie
39. Year Zero: A History of 1945 by Ian Buruma
40. The Dream Team of 1947 by Arno Paul Niemand
41. 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America by David Pietrusza
42. 1949: The First Israelis by Tom Segev and Arlen N. Weinstein
43. Accordion War: Korea 1951: Life and Death in a Marine Rifle Company by Charles Hughes
44. Shoot Them Down! - The Flying Saucer Air Wars of 1952 by Jr, Frank Feschino
45. The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and The Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations by Ervand Abrahamian
46. .721: A History of the 1954 Cleveland Indians by Gary Webster
47. Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe
48. Elvis 1956 by Alfred Wertheimer
49. Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration by Shelley Tougas
50. The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL by Mark Bowden
51. Early Wynn, the Go-Go White Sox and the 1959 World Series by Lew Freedman
52. 1960—LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies by David Pietrusza
53. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault
54. The First America's Team: The 1962 Green Bay Packers by Bob Berghaus
55. Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis
56. October 1964 by David Halberstam
57. The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America by James T. Patterson
58. 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East by Tom Segev
59. 1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky
60. 1969: The Year Everything Changed by Rob Kirkpatrick

61. Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970 by David Browne
62. 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh by Srinath Raghavan
63. 1972: The Summit Series, Canada vs. USSR: Stats, Lies & Videotape: The Untold Story of Hockey's Series of the Century by Richard J Bendell
64. 1973 Nervous Breakdown: Watergate, Warhol, and the Birth of Post-Sixties America by Andreas Killen
65. Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America's Pastime by Mark Frost
66. 1978: Crashed Memories by Ger-I Lewis
67. Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century by Christian Caryl
68. The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey and Jim Craig
69. The Original 1982 by Lori Carson
70. Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 by Barbara Kingsolver
71. 1984 by George Orwell
72. 1985 by Anthony Burgess
73. The 1986 Masters: How Jack Nicklaus Roared Back to Win by John Boyette

74. Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen
75. Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith
76. 1996 by Gloria Naylor

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


R.L. Stine has been called the “Stephen King of children’s literature.” He has written, literally, hundreds of books and has racked up sales in the hundreds of millions. On his Twitter feed, he describes his job as “to terrify kids.” And in fact, he is nearly as prolific at tweeting as he is at writing.

We at the Why Not 100 love an epic book, but we well know that it is also a talent to write pithily. And while horror can be fun, humor can be funnier. It’s why our blog celebrates everything from top headlines from “The Onion” to Steven Wright’s best one-liners.

Twitter, of course, asks for 140 characters of pithy. With that in mind, we scrolled through R.L. Stine’s Twitter feed (@RL_Stine) over a two-month span last year—naturally, the 60 days surrounding Halloween—and came up with this list of our favorites:

1. Oct. 21, 2013: “I’m flattered & honored to have 100,000 followers. I plan to invite you all over for drinks. Keep watching for details.”

2. Nov., 21, 2013: “I see I was passed over again by the Nat’l Book Awards. I thought Son of Slappy stood a chance, but better writers prevailed.”

3. Nov. 4, 2013: “Did you know that monkeys can blush? I didn’t either. What do you think you have to do to make a monkey blush?”

4. Oct. 4, 2013: “Quoth the raven, “What’s up, Doc?” (--Edgar Allen Poe first draft)”

5. Oct. 12, 2013: “Warning: If peg legs freak you out, you’re in trouble tonight. #TheHauntingHour”

6. Nov. 1, 2013: “Good news: The UN has formed a committee to let us know when a deadly asteroid is hurtling toward earth.”

7. Oct. 17, 2013: “Yes, there is a calendar of tattooed librarians. #notmakingthisup”

8. Oct. 21, 2013: “Is your house haunted? A new website will tell you if someone died in your house… works for any address.”

9. Nov. 28, 2013: “Since we don’t believe in killing turkeys, we always have ham, roast beef, and duck. Have a joyous holiday, everyone.”

10. Nov. 3, 2013: “Your nightmare for tonight: Box jellyfish have heads a ft wide & tentacles 550 ft long. If you’re stung, you have 4 minutes to live.”

11. Nov. 20, 2013: “The largest bovine in the world? Glad you asked. I’m sure you’ll agree this is a lot of bull.”

12. Nov. 22, 2013: “In time for your lunch, I thought you might enjoy this selection of delicious monkey brains.”

13. Nov. 11, 2013: “What would YOU do if your dog brought home a human leg? Write a horror movie about it?”

14. Oct. 16, 2013: “Has anyone tried the Pecan Pie flavored Pringles?”

15. Oct. 5, 2013: “Coen Bros.’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”—Best Supporting Performance by a Cat. You’ll see what I mean.”

16. Oct. 14, 2013: “A jack-o-lantern freak or a pie fan? Last week on Long Island, someone stole 600 pumpkins.”

17. Nov. 14, 2013: “Scientists estimate 100 million homeless cats roam the U.S. These cats kill a BILLION birds a year. #natureishorrifying”

18. Oct. 28, 2013: “The Onion writes about Fear Street. Love the comments, especially the people who don’t think I’m real.”

19. Nov. 12, 2013: “A Florida man said his neighbors were mean and wouldn’t drink with him. So he called 911.”

20. Nov. 1, 2013: “A GA man after rescuing his family from their burning house, rushed back into the flames to save his Bud Light. #notmakingthisup”

21. Oct. 16, 2013: “Is the Magic Restroom Café the WORST restaurant ever? For one thing, diners sit on TOILETS. Seriously.”

22. Nov. 4, 2013: “Emergency crews rushed to a 6th grade classroom in Queens, NY when a hazardous smell was reported. Turned out to be Axe body spray.”

23. Oct. 6, 2013: “The most violent, dangerous states in the U.S.? A survey lists the states with most violent crimes per 100,000. The top 5…”

24. Oct. 6, 2013: “…5. S. Carolina 4. New Mexico 3. Alaska 2. Nevada. And the most dangerous state—a surprise, I think—it’s Tennessee.”

25. Nov. 26, 2013: “Don’t believe in ghosts? Boy killed in tornado shows up in photo TWO MONTHS LATER.”

26. Oct. 31, 2013: “News Flash: Aliso Niguel High School in Orange County, CA has banned twerking at school dances.”

27. Oct. 12, 2013: “Something New to Worry About: Ticks may be tiniest, most dangerous creatures on earth.”

28. Oct. 4, 2013: “Here’s a job you might like: NASA is looking for people to lie in bed 24 hours a day for 10 weeks. They want to see what happens…”

29. Oct. 4, 2013: “…to normal people when they do this. The pay for staying in bed for 10 weeks? $12,000. Do you qualify?”

30. Oct. 15, 2013: “I watched This is The End this afternoon. It’s horrible, but it made me laugh a lot.”

And in that same two-month span, I came across these terrific re-tweets from Stine:

31. @MikeJFear: “@RL_Stine since my last name is Fear do I get a special prize?”

32. @juskewitch: “A kiddie pool with a carrot floating in it would look odd to you and me but to a snowman it would be horrifying.”

33. @mayhemll: “I’ve started reading: #Goosebumps books on the train to work in an attempt to meet guys. It’s working. Much obliged @RL_Stine, much obliged.”

34. @maidofstarstuff: “Watching @RL_Stine’s Goosebumps just like it was 20 years ago… except now I have vodka.”

35. @tsokolove: “FUN FACT: I once graced the cover of an @RL_Stine book. I’m the “prom date” killed off in the first chapter…”

36. @KnoxBlevins: “Started reading the Prologue of Red Rain on Amazon… Take my money. Just take it.”

37. @JenCrittenden: “Black Friday presents a conundrum. I like shopping but I also like trampling people.”

38. @WyattBertsch: “when I was a 90’s kid, I pretended The Haunted Mask didn’t scare me. Now, I have no one to act macho for. And I’m still scared.”

39. @AndyRichter: “Watching old episodes of Goosebumps that’s set in Louisiana. Entire cast made the bold choice to speak with Canadian accents.”

40. @Daltongrandon: “Couldn’t find a Goosebumps skateboard on ebay, so I decided to make one, now just need wheels.”

41. @CodyRaines: “@RL_Stine Hey Mr. Stine I’m going to be you for Halloween.”

42. @banubelle: “the scariest books for me has always been the night of the living dummy ones. I threw away most of my toys because of them”

43. @aiahrachel: “Just learned a fabulous and horrifying new expression: “best horse in the glue factory.” Yowza.”

44. @ameliedepoulan: “@RL_Stine Greetings from Peru, sir. Thank you for everything. I had an amazing childhood because of you! :)”

45. @cryptor_chid: “@RL_Stine idea for a story: teenage girl hears her refrigerator breathing and it comes to life and eats her. Based on a true story.”

46. @KinsleyOfficial: “Damn Goosebumps books have me hooked all over again. I’m staying up too late and hiding under the covers like it’s 1995.”

47. @fordhughes: “what advice would u give a young thug with ambitionz as a wridah?”

48. @laurenreeves: “911, what’s your emergency?”
“Hi. Long time listener, first time caller.”
“That’s really funny.”
“Thank you. Anyways, I’m being stabbed.”

49. @emhig: “I just discovered that I remember the plot of every Goosebumps book. @RL_Stine, how can I use this in my daily life?”