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)

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.”

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.

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.”