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The Endless Summer Reading List: 14 Long-Running Novel Series

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If you're anything like me, you finish your summer reading list by mid-July. To help curb your end-of-summer reading blues, here are some of the longest-running series of novels in the most popular genres. If you're so inclined, these will keep you busy until next summer.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Discworld "“ 62 books (37 novels and 25 companion books)

This groundbreaking series takes place in a fictional disc-shaped land populated by wizards, elves, and even a walking suitcase. The stories borrow from standard fantasy tropes, but uses them in a humorous, often satirical way. And if 37 novels isn't enough, there are also 25 supplemental books on topics ranging from short stories to maps, and even educational books that use the series to help explain real scientific concepts.

Deathlands -135 books and counting (including a spin-off series)

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If elves, wizards, and barbarians aren't your thing, how about nuclear bombs, machine guns, and teleportation devices? Created by Jack Adrien and James Axler, the series takes place in a world devastated by nukes, making food, supplies, and civilized people a rarity. Ryan Cawdor and his band of post-apocalyptic warriors use top secret teleportation machines to explore and fight their way across the vast wasteland that was once America. A sequel series, Outlander, continues the story one hundred years later as society begins to recover, though it still has a long way to go before it's civilized.

Malaf Al Mostakbal (The Future Files) - 158 books

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In this series by Egyptian author Nabil Farouk, a team of scientists are brought together as the Egyptian Scientific Intelligence Agency (ESIA) to deal with madmen using technology to commit crimes. Their leader, Nour, is an all-around genius, and the rest of the team includes specialists like a communications guru, an engineer, and even a computer tech who is artificially aged so she can join the ESIA. In later books, after aliens invade Earth, the series goes off in some wild directions including time travel, outer space adventures, and into other dimensions of reality.

Romance

Montana Mavericks "“ 63 (including spin-offs)

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The citizens of Whitehorn, Montana, include a woman who takes in a fugitive and ends up falling in love (Outlaw Lovers), a respected woman judge who marries a mysterious stranger tied up in a custody battle for his infant child (The Law is No Lady), and a widow who must repay her husband's debt to a ruggedly handsome cowboy by whatever means necessary (The Widow and the Rodeo Man). Not exactly Norman Rockwell material. The original 12 books were followed by nine spin-off series, whose stories ranged from historical romance to Christmastime flings.

Fortune's Children "“ 69 books (including spin-offs)

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The Fortune Family "“ rich, powerful, and good-looking "“ is a dynasty of American business. The series and its six spin-offs have been running since 1996 and feature a seemingly never ending supply of Fortune heirs. Many of the stories handle romance like a business deal, entered into only to save the family business or protect the family name. Of course the characters end up finding true love in the end, but the pretenses for these relationships must require a lot of couples' counseling.

Action/Adventure

The Destroyer "“ 149 books

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Remo Williams is part of an elite squad of covert government operatives called CURE. He is trained by Chiun, a Master of Sinanju, a fabled form of martial arts that gives its disciples super-human powers like the ability to dodge bullets. The original series, created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, started in 1971 and ran until 2006, followed by a short-lived series, The New Destroyer. The books were adapted into a movie, 1985's Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, starring Fred Ward, but it was not well-received by the books' fans nor the authors, who integrated jabs at the film into later novels.

Nick Carter: Killmaster "“ 260 books

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First printed in 1964, the series was a knock-off James Bond with fewer gadgets. But what Killmaster lacked in exploding pens, it made up for in all-out action and gratuitous sex (seems like a fair trade-off). Nick Carter of AXE, a super-secret espionage organization, is a master spy thanks to his cunning, good looks, and his favorite weapons "“ a German Luger named Wilhelmenia, a stiletto knife named Hugo, and a gas bomb named Pierre. Cheesy but popular, the series was a mainstay on the paperback racks until the 1990s. While the sheer number of novels is impressive, perhaps more so is the fact that there is no official author of any of the books "“ all the writers used the same pen name: Nick Carter.

The Executioner "“ 709 books (including spin-offs)

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Mack Bolan was a skilled sniper, registering 97 confirmed kills in the Vietnam War. But when virtually his entire family was murdered, Bolan came home to seek revenge on those responsible: the Frenchi crime family. Created in 1969 by Don Pendleton, the main series "“ currently on book #369 "“ has spawned four long-running spin-offs: Able Team (53 books), Phoenix Force (58 books), the Stony Man series (#102 is due in August 2009), and Super Bolan (#127 is due in July 2009). If The A-Team was your favorite show, or The Punisher is your favorite comic book, these books ought to be right up your alley.

Kids/Young Adult

The Baby-sitters Club "“ 207 books

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During the series run from 1986 until 2000, it seemed like every 10-year old girl was reading The Baby-sitters Club books. Following the adventures of Kristy Thomas and her gang of middle-school babysitter friends, the series was a cultural phenomenon, branching into a TV series and a feature-length film. In the final book, the frozen-in-time heroines finally graduate the 8th grade and move on to high school, signifying the end of the "BSC," as well as the end of an era for many young readers who, two decades later, still hold fond memories of the series.

Inspector Jamshed "“ over 400 books

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While Harry Potter might seem daunting to some kids, seven books is nothing compared to this vast library of spy/detective novels - some as long as 2000 pages - by Pakistani author Ishtiaq Ahmad. Popular from the 1970s through the 1990s, the series followed the adventures of Inspector Jamshed (sometimes spelled "Jamshaid") and his three children, Memood, Farooq, and Farzana. Most stories had a Muslim moral message, so they had parental approval even if some kids were only reading for the adventure aspect. The books are pretty hard to find in America, making them collectors' items for Pakistani adults looking to recapture their youth.

Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys "“ 616 books combined

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When it comes to kid lit, very few beat the one-two punch of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. The adolescent Sherlocks have been a publishing powerhouse since the Boys debuted in 1927, followed by Nancy in 1930. With numerous spin-offs (nine each for Nancy and the Boys, and even three separate series of cross-over adventures), the total number reaches a staggering 616 books. That'll keep even the most voracious young reader occupied until school starts up again.

Mystery

Perry Mason "“ 87 books

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Mason got his start in 1933 with the first of many novels by writer Erle Stanley Gardner, a self-taught lawyer who passed the California state bar exam in 1911. The books usually featured Mason and his crew of investigators digging up evidence to prove their client's innocence, as well as finding the real guilty party. Over the years, the Mason novels have been adapted to TV (Raymond Burr's 1957 "“ 1966 series is the quintessential portrayal), radio, comic books, and 30 TV movies. And through all that, he never lost a case. What are the odds?

Nero Wolfe "“ 97 books (including novellas and companion books)

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Nero Wolfe, the rotund, beer-drinking recluse, who spent much of his time "“ and completed almost all of his crime-solving "“ inside his New York City brownstone, debuted in 1934. Over the years, author Rex Stout wrote 87 novels and novellas, as well as three companion books, including a cookbook of the foody detective's favorite dishes. After Stout's death, the series continued for seven more books by Robert Goldsborough, writing with the Stout estate's approval. Like Perry Mason, books were just the beginning for Wolfe, who branched into radio, a popular TV series on A&E, and even shows on Italian, Russian, and German television.

Did we miss your favorite book series? Or do you have some suggestions for great summer reading? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Design
      Inside This Pop-Up Book Are a Planetarium, a Speaker, a Decoder Ring, and More
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      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      Designer Kelli Anderson's new book is for more than just reading. This Book Is a Planetarium is really a collection of paper gadgets. With each thick, card stock page you turn, another surprise pops out.

      "This book concisely explains—and actively demonstrates with six functional pop-up paper contraptions—the science at play in our everyday world," the book's back cover explains. It turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with a few pieces of paper and a little bit of imagination.

      A book is open to reveal a spiralgraph inside.
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      There's the eponymous planetarium, a paper dome that you can use with your cell phone's flashlight to project constellations onto the ceiling. There's a conical speaker, which you can use to amplify a smaller music player. There's a spiralgraph you can use to make geometric designs. There's a basic cipher you can use to encode and decode secret messages, and on its reverse side, a calendar. There's a stringed musical instrument you can play on. All are miniature, functional machines that can expand your perceptions of what a simple piece of paper can become.

      The cover of This Book Is a Planetarium
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

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