A few things that prompt me to make lists:
- Mistrust of my own memory
- A desire to share reading recommendations
I harbor an extreme fondness for lists, both creating and reading them. Judging by the number of books on the topic, I know I have a lot of company.
Last year saw the publication of three noteworthy books containing suggested reading lists. “1,000 Books to Read Before You Die” is the product of decades of work. James Mustich, a longtime book seller, pulls titles from many genres, time periods and cultures. His suggestions include Plato and Zadie Smith, as well as “The 9/11 Commission Report.”
In “What to Read and Why,” Francine Prose addresses the philosophy of reading. What makes a piece of literature endure? Why read particular titles? Why read at all? An accomplished short story author herself, she makes sure that form is not neglected. Her book includes a bonus list in the form of an essay, “Ten Things Art Can Do.”
“The Book of Books” by Jessica Allen was published as a companion volume to the PBS Television series, “The Great American Read.” PBS conducted extensive surveys to compile a list of Americans’ 100 favorite books. Each entry provides background on the author, the history of the work and a discussion of how it has affected our society. A bonus list here is a page of great first lines in literature.
If lists functioned only as a tool for finding the next great read, that would be enough. But they can do so much more. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre believes there’s nothing like a good list to set the world right. Her book, “Make a List,” isn’t simply about getting organized or increasing productivity. McEntyre advocates list making for personal growth, discovery of the world and spiritual enlightenment. She provides lists of suggestions for lists. Examples are: “when to speak out” and “why I keep it secret.” She argues the process of list making is more important than the accomplishment of checking things off.
“Fiske Countdown to College” by Edward Fiske aims to help parents and teens get a handle on the overwhelming number of steps involved in the journey to higher education, with “41 to-do lists and a plan for every year of high school.” This is a workbook, with room for adding notes. Information is presented in easy-to-digest portions, with a realistic approach geared more toward parents than students. The book discusses what to do, when to do it, and how.
In some cases, the use of a list can save lives, as Atul Gawande shows in “The Checklist Manifesto.” Gawande is a surgeon and public health researcher who has found the use of simple checklists during medical procedures dramatically improves outcomes. Even the super smart among us can forget a detail in a high-stress, high-stakes situation. When Gawande began using the checklist he designed in his own practice, he made startling discoveries about his own lapses. After a five-point checklist for surgeries was implemented at the University of Michigan, infection rates decreased by 66% in three months. Lists can help us focus on our priorities.
When Lauren Fern Watt discovered her best friend, a 160-pound mastiff named Gizelle, had bone cancer, she made a bucket list for her dog. “Gizelle’s Bucket List”tells of their life together. Keeping in mind the pain her dog experienced when walking, Watt planned adventures that put minimum stress on her companion. Gizelle got to experience ice cream for the first time, and spend time hanging out on the beach. Bonus lists in this book include Watt’s personal goals and a recounting of Gizelle’s fears.
“Lists of Note” celebrates list-making throughout human history, offering glimpses into myriad facets of life. In the hours after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, his personal secretary filled a page with possible murder suspects. In the tenth century, Tibetan monks put a purse of camel skin and three spoons on their shopping list. Science fiction author Robert Heinlein’s 1949 predictions for the year 2000 were often spectacularly off the mark, except for the one about personal phones that would fit in handbags. The to-do list of Leonardo da Vinci included “describe the tongue of a woodpecker.” The oldest list in the collection comes from 1250 BCE Egypt. It’s a list of worker absences, with excuses, such as “bit by scorpion.”
Literary Links, compiled by library staff, appears monthly in the Ovation section of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Each article contains a short list of books on a timely topic.
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