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.

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?”

Monday, October 13, 2014


My friend Kwame Alexander recently won the Newberry Award for his novel The Crossover. But the author/poet also wrote a 2011 picture book, Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, which tells the story of a jazz-loving rooster who recruits his friends—pianist Duck Ellington, singer Bee Holiday, percussionist piggy Pepe Ernesto Cruz—in an attempt to win a barnyard talent show. There’s some stiff competition from the likes of Mules Davis and Ella Finchgerald, but the riffing rooster comes to realize the power of understanding that you can’t go it alone.

It’s another in a long literary line in which creatures of all sorts capture the imagination of readers, young and old. So we at the Why Not 100 have recruited Kwame Alexander. Since October 14 is generally regarded as Winnie the Pooh’s birthday, we’ve asked him to help us choose the 93 most iconic animal characters in literature.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Any writer will tell you: The name has to match the character.

Just take a stroll through another Why Not 100 list—the 70 best character names in literature—and try to re-imagine many of those names. It’s not easy. What if Huckleberry Finn was Nat Bricklebush? What if a Golden Ticket (found inside a Lervin bar) earned you a tour of Larry Lervin’s chocolate factory? What if Hannibal Lechter was Ernest Munch?

Literature is filled with iconic characters whose names have become so part of our collective psyche that we can’t quite imagine them being anything else. Count Dracula. Sherlock Holmes. Ebenezer Scrooge. Gandalf the Grey.

But then, we didn’t see the first drafts.

Here are two-dozen classic characters whose iconic names were not the originals:

1. Count Dracula

Originally, Bram Stoker called his legendary vampire “Count Waympr.” But then he came across a historical account of Vlad II of Wallachia, otherwise known as Vlad Dracul. Besides the literary impact, fans of Count Chocula breakfast cereal are grateful.

2. Sherlock Holmes

Sherringford was an early choice by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which would have let to a whole generation of boys saying, “No shit, Sherringford.”

3. Dr. Watson

Fascinating factoid: Literature’s Sherlock Holmes never actually uttered the phrase most attributed to him. He said, “Elementary!” And he said, “My dear Watson.” But never in the same sentence until a 1929 film called The Return of Sherlock Holmes. But imagine this: “Elementary, my dear Sacker.” Holmes’s friend was nearly named Ormond Sacker.