Virtual Convention Weekend

Virtual convention weekend: Philcon has moved most of the con online, and I’m doing four panels for them (the most I’ve had at any virtual convention this year). One of them was already this evening, but the two tomorrow and one Sunday I thought I had are actually three on Saturday (November 21):

10am: “Heinlein’s Third Rule of Writing” with Barbara Barnett, Lawrence M. Schoen, Michael Swanwick, and Elektra Hammond.

2:30pm: “Kickstarting Your Next Project” with Keith DeCandido, Danielle Ackley-Mcphail, Neil Clarke, and Alex Shvartsman.

8:30pm: “What Else Might Have Changed?” with Simone Zelitch, Miriam Scheiber Seidel, and Tom Doyle.

The panels are on Zoom, with after-panel discussions on Discord. Details on the Philcon web site.

Presidential Numbers

A couple of numbers you haven’t heard much of, regarding this year’s presidential election.

The 2020 election of Joe Biden to the presidency is the 59th election in US history (is, not was, because it’s ongoing; the electoral college has yet to cast its ballots, which will be counted by Congress on January 6, 2021, to determine the winners of the election).

On Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, Biden take office as the 46th president in US history (since the State Department has told us that Grover Cleveland’s two non-consecutive terms mean we should count him as both the 22nd and 24th presidents).

Biden’s first term will be the 68th presidential administration (since each president’s term counts as a separate administration). January 3, 2021, will mark the end of the 116th Congress and beginning of the 117th Congress.

At the moment, Biden is the 37th president-elect in US history. The term “president-elect” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and is relatively new (historically speaking). The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (Public Law 88-277) says “The terms ‘President-elect’ and ‘Vice-President-elect’ as used in this Act shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the office of the President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections held to determine the electors of the President and Vice-President in accordance with title 3, United States code, sections 1 and 2.”

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Vice Presidential not-the-first

On Saturday (November 7), I made mention of a pundit’s misstatement about one of the “firsts” that Kamala Harris will bring to the vice presidency. One of my friends on Facebook recommended writing an op-ed for the New York Times.

I’ve all but given up submitting pieces to newspapers because, if they’re timely, I have to figure out which paper is likely to say yes on the first attempt, because I won’t get a chance to submit it elsewhere, or by the time I don’t submit it, it will be incredibly dated. And if they’re not time sensitive (personal failing here), I tend to lose interest in submitting them after two or three newspapers fail to respond (and no newspapers respond negatively; they all say “if you don’t hear from us in [some amount of time], that means we don’t want it”). So I’ve taken to publishing my essays on my own blog, and hoping to eventually see some remuneration from sympathetic readers (it hasn’t happened yet, but I’m eternally hopeful).

At any rate, I wrote this piece Sunday, November 8, and submitted it to the Times with this cover note:

My first appearance in the Times was a letter to the editor commenting on the coverage of the 1984 election. I knew it appeared only after reading the letter in the paper, realizing it agreed with my views, and then seeing that the byline was, indeed, my name. After that, I earned my degree in political science from Boston University, went on to a career as a writer and editor, and am the author of three books on presidential history and trivia.

On Tuesday, they published a similar article by a staffer, making me grumble good-naturedly: obviously, the piece I wrote was a good idea, it was something they were interested in publishing, it’s just that my timing was off (though admittedly, I wrote it the same day everyone was thinking the same thing). So I’m publishing it here for your delectation.


Not all the “first”s are Kamala Harris’s

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris will be the first woman to be vice president, the first of Jamaican/African heritage, the first Asian-American, the first to use a different last name than her spouse, and several other firsts. But there’s one thing I’ve heard far too many times from pundits and commentators in the last few days, one first that is not hers: She will not be the first person of color to be vice president, or the first of other-than-European descent.

Charles Curtis was vice president from 1929 to 1933. Prior to that, he served more than three terms in the Senate (resigning in the middle of his fourth to become vice president), and before that, seven terms in the House of Representatives, representing Kansas. During his time in the Senate, he served as president pro tempore and as majority leader, and he co-authored an early attempt at the Equal Rights Amendment.

Charles Curtis

Prior to his political career, Curtis was a lawyer in Kansas, and prosecuting attorney of Shawnee County, Kansas, from 1885 to 1889. And after retiring from the vice presidency (he and President Herbert Hoover were landslided out of office in the election of 1932), Curtis resumed his law practice in Washington, DC.

Curtis is the last vice president to have been born in a territory: he was born in Topeka, Kansas Territory, on January 25, 1860. Kansas became the 34th state a year later.

Curtis was a member of the Kaw Nation. His mother, Ellen Papin, was Kaw, Osage, Potawatomi, and French. His father, Orren Curtis, was English, Scots, and Welsh. Through his mother, Curtis was a descendant of chief White Plume of the Kaw Nation and chief Pawhuska of the Osage. His mother died when he was 3, and his father fought in the Civil War. Curtis was raised by his grandparents: his maternal grandparents on the reservation, and his paternal grandparents in Topeka.

Curtis and his wife, Annie Elizabeth Baird, had three children. She died in 1924. Curtis is the last vice president to have been unmarried during his entire time in office. His sister, Dolly, acted as his official hostess for social events. When he took office as vice president, Curtis was 69 years old: the oldest person to become vice president (though that record was exceeded by 71-year-old Alben Barkley in 1949).

Vice presidents at the time did not enjoy the partnership with their presidents that has marked the last several administrations, and the formerly active senator bristled at the inactivity of the office. So, trying to make the best of it, he enjoyed the status of the vice presidency, and made a big deal out of his rise “from Kaw tepee to Capitol.” He decorated his office with Native American artifacts and posed for pictures wearing Indian headdresses.

2895_109185243074Charles Curtis died a heart attack on February 8, 1936, at the age of 76. He was buried next to his wife at the Topeka Cemetery in Kansas. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine on December 20, 1926, and June 18, 1928, while serving in the Senate, and on December 5, 1932, as Vice President.

By the way, Harris is also not going to be the first vice president to have had a long-term relationship with a man. But the story of Vice President King will have to wait for another time.

Tips gratefully accepted at .

Most Popular Votes Ever… Until Next Time

Another one of those factoids floating around, in the absence of final, definitive data relating to this year’s presidential election is the number of actual votes the ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is receiving. Yesterday, Biden said “we’re on track to receive more than 71 million votes. That’s more popular votes than any other presidential ticket in history.” And he’s absolutely right. However…

As I start writing this, Biden and Harris are up to approximately 72.5 million votes. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have approximately 68.9 million.

While it is entirely true that Biden/Harris will get more votes than any other presidential ticket, it is also incredibly trite. It’s actually much more interesting (and less common) for a president to be elected with fewer popular votes than a previous president. That’s only happened 21 times in the 58 presidential elections we’ve had (in 1792, 1796, 1800, 1816, 1820, 1824, 1912, 1924, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2012, and 2016). The reasons those vote totals were lower vary, from the fact that no one was running against James Monroe in 1820, to the four-way free-for-all in 1824, from increasing discomfort with Franklin Roosevelt’s continual presidency in 1940 and 1944, to incredibly close elections in 1960 and 2000, to strong third-party candidate showings in 1912, 1968, 1980, 1992, and 1996.

Popular vote increases over time, as does the population of the US (from 2.8 million in 1780, to 5.3 million in 1800, 23 million in 1850, 77 million in 1900, 151 million in 1950, 281 million in 2000, to 328 million today, for example), the number of citizens (those eligible to vote), and the number of registered voters. And then, of course, in addition to the steady growth of those numbers, there were also the quantum leaps: the extension of popular vote throughout the states in the early years of the republic, the 15th guaranteeing the former slaves the right to vote (in 1870), the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote (in 1920), the 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 (in 1971), and so on.

Popular vote milestones (the first candidate to reach):
100,000: Thomas Jefferson in 1804 (104,110)
500,000: Andrew Jackson in 1828 (642,553)
1,000,000: William Henry Harrison in 1840 (1,275,390)
2,000,000: Abraham Lincoln in 1864 (2,218,388)
5,000,000: Grover Cleveland losing in 1888 (5,534,488)
10,000,000: Warren Harding in 1920 (16,144,093)
20,000,000: Herbert Hoover in 1928 (21,427,123)
30,000,000: Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 (34,075,529)
40,000,000: Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (43,127,041)
50,000,000: Ronald Reagan in 1984 (54,455,472)
60,000,000: George W. Bush in 2004 (62,040,610)
70,000,000: Joe Biden in 2020

Presidents who received more popular votes than any other candidate in history:
George Washington in 1789: 43,782
Thomas Jefferson in 1804: 104,110
James Madison in 1808: 124,732
James Madison in 1812: 140,431
Andrew Jackson in 1828: 642,553
Andrew Jackson in 1832: 701,780
Martin Van Buren in 1836: 764,176
William Harrison in 1840: 1,275,390
James Polk in 1844: 1,339,494
Zachary Taylor in 1848: 1,361,393
Franklin Pierce in 1852: 1,607,510
James Buchanan in 1856: 1,836,072
Abraham Lincoln in 1860: 1,865,908
Abraham Lincoln in 1864: 2,218,388
Ulysses Grant in 1868: 3,013,421
Ulysses Grant in 1872: 3,598,235
James Garfield in 1880: 4,446,158
Grover Cleveland in 1884: 4,914,482
Grover Cleveland in 1892: 5,556,918
William McKinley in 1896: 7,112,138
William McKinley in 1900: 7,228,864
Theodore Roosevelt in 1904: 7,630,457
William Taft in 1908: 7,678,395
Woodrow Wilson in 1916: 9,126,868
Warren Harding in 1920: 16,144,093 (the first election in which women could vote legally)
Herbert Hoover in 1928: 21,427,123
Franklin Roosevelt in 1932: 22,821,277
Franklin Roosevelt in 1936: 27,747,636
Dwight Eisenhower in 1952: 34,075,529
Dwight Eisenhower in 1956: 35,579,180
Lyndon Johnson in 1964: 43,127,041
Richard Nixon in 1972: 47,168,710
Ronald Reagan in 1984: 54,455,472
George W. Bush in 2004: 62,040,610
Barack Obama in 2008: 69,498,516
And now, Joe Biden in 2020.

And those who didn’t win the election, but still received more popular votes than any other candidate in history:
Andrew Jackson in 1824: 151,271
Samuel Tilden in 1876: 4,288,546
Grover Cleveland in 1888: 5,534,488

And for those of you who are more graphically inclined, here’s a graph of popular vote totals over time. Each time the top line makes a new high marks an election in which a presidential candidate received more popular votes than any other candidate in history.popularvotetotals

Tips gratefully accepted:

How many incumbents lost?

Joe Biden just made a brief speech about the election. He said he expects to win enough states to win the electoral college and claim victory. He did not claim the election is over, so that’s good. He also mentioned that he expects his ticket to have won the greatest number of popular votes in history, which, while true, is somewhat trite; vote totals always increase, as the population increases.

And there was one throw-away line which caught my ear: he said “Only three presidential campaigns in the past have defeated an incumbent president. We expect to be the fourth.” I said, “No way, Joe. Why did you say that?”

1992: Bill Clinton defeated George W. Bush, with H. Ross Perot also in the mix.

1980: Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. Blame the Iran hostage crisis.

1976: Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. After Watergate, and the pardon of Richard Nixon, the biggest surprise was how close Ford came to winning.

1932: Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover. The Great Depression. Need we say more?

1912: Woodrow Wilson defeated William Taft. Actually, Wilson beat Theodore Roosevelt, who came back from Africa, didn’t like what his successor Taft was doing, and got in the race himself. Taft is the only incumbent president to come in third in his bid for re-election.

1892: Grover Cleveland defeated Benjamin Harrison, to become the only former president to win the election.

1888: Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland. Cleveland was the only Democrat to win the White House between the Civil War and the election of Woodrow Wilson.

1840: William Harrison defeated Martin Van Buren. After the mad scramble of 1836, where four Whig candidates couldn’t win, the party unified and Harrison won.

1828: Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams. Perhaps the first negative presidential campaign, marked by mud-slinging, two former party-mates faced off as Jackson became the first Democrat.

1800: Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, and we discovered why presidential and vice presidential candidates need to run as a ticket.

[Editing several hours later to add the following:]

After posting that, I was talking with my father later in the day, and he said he’d heard one of the pundits say that only three times in the last hundred years had an incumbent president been defeated. I said that was wrong, and gave him the list (above). Then I realized that pundit and Joe Biden probably had the same (incorrect) source.

But thinking about it further, I realized it’s not quite so rare an occurrence as at first it appears to be. Of those four times in the last hundred years, how many times was there even a chance to defeat an incumbent?

In 1920, Woodrow Wilson retired after two terms, so no incumbent was on the ballot.
In 1924, Calvin Coolidge ran for his own term as president after succeeding to the office upon Warren Harding’s death. He won.
In 1928, Calvin Coolidge retired. No incumbent.
In 1932, incumbent Herbert Hoover ran and lost to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In 1936, incumbent FDR ran and won.
In 1940, incumbent FDR ran and won.
In 1944, incumbent FDR ran and won. Then he died in 1945, and Harry Truman succeeded.
In 1948, Truman ran for his own full term and won.
In 1952, Truman retired. No incumbent.
In 1956, incumbent Dwight Eisenhower ran and won.
In 1960, Eisenhower retired.
In 1964, LBJ (who’d succeeded to the presidency upon JFK’s assassination in 1963), ran for and won his own term.
In 1968, LBJ retired. No incumbent.
In 1972, incumbent Richard Nixon ran and won.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford, who’d succeeded to the office upon Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter.
In 1984, incumbent Reagan ran and won.
In 1988, Reagan retired.
In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated incumbent George H.W. Bush.
In 1996, incumbent Clinton ran and won.
In 2000, Clinton retired.
In 2004, incumbent George W. Bush ran and won.
In 2008, Bush retired.
In 2012, incumbent Barack Obama ran and won.
In 2016, Obama retired.

So in the last hundred years, incumbent presidents running for re-election are 12 and 4. Yes, incumbency is worth a chunk of votes, but defeating an incumbent is not so rare an event as one might think.

And, for the sake of completeness: in the years before 1920, incumbents ran for and won re-election ten times. Incumbents ran for and lost re-election six times. And there was no incumbent on the ballot sixteen times.

[Editing again at 3:00am on November 5:]

I just heard Douglas Brinkley on CNN quote that stat: “Since FDR, only three incumbents have lost.” So I guess he’s the source Biden used, and the source my father heard.

So, wow, that’s a shocker. <end sarcasm mode>

But since FDR, incumbents running for re-election have won eight times and lost three times. If Donald Trump loses, that means that, since FDR, incumbents running for re-election are only batting .667. Suddenly, it’s a bit less of a shock.

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Election day continues, despite the candidates

If you missed it, President Trump just made a speech from a stage in the White House’s East Room, in which he declared victory in the presidential election, and announced that all vote counting should cease immediately. I’m outraged. I delivered my ballot a week ago, but as with most mail-in ballots, it probably hasn’t been counted yet, because the counters can only go so quickly, especially when they don’t even open the ballots before “election day.” So I called the White House to express my “concern” (well, I used slightly more forceful language). If you’re in a similar situation, I urge you to call, too. The phone number for the White House is 202-456-1414.

Voting Day

I delivered my absentee ballot today to a nearby early voting location. As I’ve said several times, my vote probably doesn’t matter, because of where I live. Yours may be far more important.

Something odd about this ballot, for me: this is the first time that I’ve voted a straight party ticket. I voted for the candidate representing the Democratic Party in every single race. And this ballot is my response to the actions (and inactions) of President Donald Trump, and to the leaders of the Republican Party who have rolled over and allowed the president’s nonsense and villainy to run rampant and unchecked through the government and the country. (Yes, villainy: he frequently seems to think he’s still playing the villain on a reality television show, rather than realizing that he is the President of the United States, and that his words and actions have very great impact on the planet.)

I regret that my votes are against candidates, rather than for candidates (and this is also notice to the Democratic Party not to take my action in this election as an indicator of my future votes), but I’ve decided that a continuing Trump Presidency is a danger to the continued health and well-being not only of the country, but of each one of us individually. Joe Biden is not my ideal choice for President, but he is a much better choice in this election, and my vote for him and the rest of the Democratic ticket is my attempt to emphasize how much I think Donald Trump is the wrong choice in this election.


Our Most Important Books

A week or two back, a friend of mine posted on Facebook:

If you are a reader: what’s that book that is so important to you that if you can’t find your copy (say from when you read it five years ago) you just buy another like groceries. Any genre from religious/philosophical to bath-room joke book, media-tie in novel to Proust, cook-book to metahistory, graphic novel to translation of a epic (etc.).


What’s the one book you give copies of to people you Love??

I responded: I’m interested by the responses, because I don’t have any qualifying titles to add to the list. There are books I reread occasionally for the fun or the mental-popcorn nature of it (to give me a break from reality), and books I recommend (though it varies with the person receiving the recommendation and the situation), but no special book that has such a pull on my soul.

Then I mirrored his post on my own Facebook page, and the responses were phenomenal! So many, and such passion. The responses make for a fascinating list, so rather than attempting to digest or sort it, I’m sharing them here with you in no order except chronological by when someone made the suggestion. The line spaces are between respondents (so you can see that many had more than one suggestion). In some cases, my respondents offered abbreviated titles; I’ve tried to clean them up to give you the full title/author.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo
Revenge, A Story of Hope by Laura Blumenfeld
Finding Fish: A Memoir by Antwone Q. Fisher and Mim E. Rivas

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

The Grand Inquisitor by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (translated by Constance Garnett, introduction by William Hubben)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson

The Water-Method Man by John Irving

Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
The People’s Almanac (volumes 1-3) by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace
The Book of Lists (volumes 1-3) by by David Wallechinsky, Amy D. Wallace, Ira Basen, and Jane Farrow

The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs, writing as Linda Brent

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

We Are in a Book, or any of the other Elephant and Piggy books by Mo Willem
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics by Alfred Korzybski

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

My Bible
Boundaries [which seems to be a series] by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

The Psychology of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Walls Around Us: The Thinking Person’s Guide to How a House Works by David Owen
The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Breach the Hull edited by Mike McPhail

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston
Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Rising Strong by Brene Brown

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
Bel Canto by Ann Pratchett

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block

Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein

Job by Robert A. Heinlein

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Odyssey by Homer

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Promise by Eckhart Tolle
Ask and it is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires by Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks
The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams [not the comedian]

Dune by Frank Herbert
In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd

Galactic Patrol by E.E. “Doc” Smith

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater
Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell, MD, and John J. Ratey, MD

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater
Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater
The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization by Daniel Pinkwater

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

The Bible, to which someone else responded: “There’s a whole lotta ‘books’ in the Bible. Any specific book or books within? I’m partial to Proverbs myself.”

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Playboy, June 1997 issue. This was later revealed to be a joke answer, but in response, another answered seriously: Playboy, September 1971 issue. And the “Women of Mensa” issue of Playboy (November 1985).

A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman
The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman

The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

A Big Storm Knocked it Over by Laurie Colwin

Hancer’s Price Guide to Paperback Books, Third Edition by Kevin B. Hancer, R. Reginald, Rahn Kollander [this respondent also offered an explanation: “Bookscans, Ace Image Library, Abebooks can give me certain data easily enough but there’s no substitute for that book.”]
The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden
The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock by Nick Logan

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan
Mirabile by Janet Kagan
The Collected Kagan by Janet Kagan
Hellspark by Janet Kagan
The Dragon Variation by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Korval’s Game by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Agent of Change by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The War Against the Rull by A.E. Van Vogt

The Unstrung Harp or Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel by Edward Gorey [The respondent said “I keep a stash of that book to give away. The single best description of the process of writing I have even encountered. And I’ve watched the real process A LOT.”]
The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Patrick O’Brian
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Hellspark by Janet Kagan
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie
War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
Edison’s Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude)
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
The Alienist by Caleb Carr
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray

Disease Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right by Joel Fuhrman, MD
Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The Presidential Book of Lists by Ian Randal Strock [like I said, these people are my friends!]

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein


I’m not terribly surprised that so many books on this list are science fiction and fantasy, based simply on how I connected with most of my Facebook friends. I am a little surprised that there are so many from the Self Help section of the book store.

Repeated authors and titles

That was a lot of people listing a lot of books, but there were a few that came to mind for more than one person:

Robert A. Heinlein: Job, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (three times), The Past Through Tomorrow, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land (twice), and Time Enough for Love (twice).

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice three times.

J.R.R. Tolkien: three times (The Hobbit once, and The Lord of the Rings twice).

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy twice.

The Bible: twice.

Ray Bradbury: one each for Dandelion Wine and Fahrenheit 451.

Emma Bull: War for the Oaks twice.

Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama twice.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were each mentioned twice, once for Good Omens (which they co-wrote), and once each for The Graveyard Book (Gaiman) and Small Gods (Pratchett).

Janet Kagan: two people mentioned her novel Hellspark; one of them mentioned her other two novels and her short fiction collection.

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness twice.

Daniel Pinkwater: mentioned by two respondents. Both listed Borgel, and one listed three other titles as well.

William Shakespeare: one mentioned Hamlet, the other mentioned the complete works.

And there are those of my friends who can’t decide on a book, but still want to participate, leaving comments such as:

“All books by Georgette Heyer.”

“Heinlein is on my ‘can’t wait for next book’ list along with John Grisham.” [Unfortunately for him, Heinlein died in 1988.]

Andre Norton
Allan Eckert

“all of Salinger”

“Any of the Foundation books by Asimov.”

“All of Rex Stout.”

“No one book but [Lois McMaster] Bujold both is enjoyable and I feel like I get another layer each reread.”

Mark Helprin novels
Anthony Hecht poetry


There you have it. If you’ve been looking for a suggestion of what to read next, there are a bunch of them!

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President Etaoin Shrdlu

“Etaoin shrdlu” is a term from the era of typesetting with hot type, representing the 12 most frequently used letters in the English language. (For more background, see

Elbridge Gerry

Several places (including, for example,, note that among people’s names in the United States, the most common first initials are C, D, J, M, and R. The most common initials of last names are B, M, S and W. And the most-likely two letter combination is JB. At the other end of that spectrum, least common initials (for both first and last names) are Q, X, Y, and Z.

Portrait of Nelson Rockefeller
Nelson Rockefeller

This got me thinking about the 44 people who have been president, and the 48 who have been vice president. Among both presidents and vice presidents, the most common first initial is J. There have been ten presidents and six vice presidents whose names started with J. Among the presidents, there were six James (Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield, and Carter) and four Johns (both Adams, Tyler, and Kennedy). Well, actually five Johns, but John Calvin Coolidge used his middle name. Among the vice presidents, there were five Johns (Adams, Calhoun, Tyler, Breckinridge, and Garner) and one James (Sherman). Coolidge was also a vice president, giving us another unused John, and Vice President Dan Quayle’s full name is James Danforth Quayle.

Ulysses Grant

Among presidents, the next most common first initials are W and G (six and five, respectively). But from that list of common initials? C, D, M, and R: two, two, two, and three presidents. For vice presidents, five each used the first initials A, C, G, and H. There were one D, three Ms, and three Rs.

It’s when we get to last names that we see a significant diversion from the population at large (remember, most common are B, M, S, and W). The most common last initials among presidents are both H and T (five of each). There have been three Bs, three Ms, and two Ws, but absolutely no presidents whose last names start with S. Among vice presidents, C and B are the most popular (six C and five B), with three Ms, two Ss, and three Ws.

Zachary Taylor

To date, we have had no presidents whose last names started with D, I, Q, S, U, X, Y, or Z. And their absent first initials are: E, I, K, N, O, P, Q, S, V, X, and Y. So it’s definitely time for a President Ian Strock, right?

Among vice presidents, none have had last names starting with E, I, L, O, U, X, Y, or Z. Absent vice presidential first initials: B, F, I, K, O, P, Q, U, V, X, Y, or Z.

Dwight Eisenhower

Unique first initials: Elbridge (Gerry), Nelson (Rockefeller), Ulysses (Grant, though his birth name was Hiram), and Zachary (Taylor).

Unique last initials: (Dwight) Eisenhower, (Abraham) Lincoln, (Dan) Quayle, and (Barack) Obama. And sort of (Richard) Nixon and (Martin) Van Buren, since they’re each the only one with their last initial, but they appear on both the presidents and vice presidents lists.

Abraham Lincoln

With so many people sharing so few initials, it ought to have been common for presidents and vice presidents to share initials, right? Wrong. The only time our president and vice president shared initials was when James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge were in office (1857-61).

Another feature that caught my eye were alliterative initials. In fiction, they’re common: Bilbo Baggins, Betty Boop, the Bunnys (Babs, Bugs, and Buster), Cliff Clavin, the Duck (Daffy, Daisy, and Donald), Fred Flintstone, Henry Higgins, Humbert Humbert, King Kong, Lana Lang and Lois Lane, the Mouses (Mickey, Mighty, and Minnie), Olive Oyl, the Pink Panther, the Pigs (Petunia and Porky), Roger Rabbit, Tiny Tim, Willie Wonka, many characters who live in the Marvel Universe*, half the supporting cast of the Harry Potter series**… and it’s not unnoticed in the realm of presidents or vice presidents, either. We’ve had presidents Woodrow Wilson (1913-21, though his unused first name was actually Thomas), Calvin Coolidge (1923-29, see above, John), Herbert Hoover (1929-33), and Ronald Reagan (1981-89). Vice Presidents: Hannibal Hamlin (1861-65), William Wheeler (1877-81), Calvin Coolidge (1921-23, again, John), Charles Curtis (1929-33), and Hubert Humphrey (1965-69).

Dan Quayle

And then there were those who were sequentially named. We had presidents James Madison (1809-17) and James Monroe (1817-25). And vice presidents Calvin Coolidge (1921-23), Charles Dawes (1925-29), and Charles Curtis (1929-33).

As for the current election, Donald Trump is the second president named with a D (after Dwight Eisenhower), and Mike Pence is the first vice president with a P on his last name. Joe Biden (already on the vice presidents’ list) would be the eleventh J president, and Kamala Harris would be the first K vice president.

Barack Obama

* : In The Big Bang Theory episode “The Excelsior Acquisition” (season 3, episode 16), Raj lists Stan Lee’s alliterative character names, including: Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Steven Strange, Otto Octavius, Silver Surfer, Peter Parker, J. Jonah Jameson Junior, Dum Dum Dugan, Green Goblin, Matt Murdock, Pepper Potts, Victor Von Doom, Millie the Model, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Invincible Iron Man, Happy Hogan, Curt Connors, and Fin Fang Foom. (See

** : First appearing in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Bathilda Bagshot, Bertie Bott, Daedalus Diggle, Dudley Dursley, Filius Flitwick, Gregory Goyle, Gellert Grindelwald, Morag MacDougal, Minerva McGonagall, Marlene McKinnon, Pansy Parkinson, Padma Patil, Parvati Patil, Piers Polkiss, Poppy Pomfrey, Quirinus Quirrell, Severus Snape, Vindictus Viridian, and William “Bill” Weasley.

First appearing in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Colin Creevey, Godric Gryffindor, Gladys Gudgeon, Helga Hufflepuff, Martin Miggs, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin.

First appearing in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Cho Chang, Florean Fortescue, Peter Pettigrew, and Stan Shunpike.

First appearing in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Broderick Bode and Joey Jenkins.

First appearing in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Dilys Derwent, Inigo Imago, Luna Lovegood, and Willy Widdershins.

First appearing in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Arkie Alderton, Betty Braithwaite, Mary MacDonald, Ted Tonks, and Wendell Wilkins.


See also chapter 7 in my The Presidential Book of Lists, and chapter 5 in my Ranking the Vice Presidents.

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