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.”