Saturday, January 19, 2013

Still Life With Robin: A Listicle

by Peggy Robin

I was reading a book review* in which the book critic complained that the book makes too much use of "listicles." Being unfamiliar with the term, I immediately went to look it up and learned that a listicle is an article based upon a list. It may have an introductory paragraph or two, and some explication around the list, but that's often no more than a bit of padding to justify what's on the list and how it is ordered. It's a quick, painless, and arguably lazy way to produce an article. Fashion and lifestyle magazine could barely exist without listicles -- you know them by their cover blurbs: 10 Accessories You Already Own That Can Dress Up Your Wardrobe; 25 Budget Hotels with 5-Star Service, and almost anything else with enumeration in the article's title.

I love lists. So what better way to show it than to create a listicle of my own out of ten of the most entertaining lists I came across while looking up citations of the term, "listicle"?

1.  100 best opening lines of books:

You may not agree with the order of this list but it's hard to argue with what's been included. This list also can be turned into a fun quiz: Name the book for each opening line.

2.  BBC listeners pick top the top 100 "desert island discs":

In one of the longest-running radio programs ever (and since it's the BBC, I should have said "programmes") a BBC host each week asks a guest the question, "What eight recordings would you want to have if you were stranded on a desert island?" The question assumes you will have some means of playback with an inexhaustible power supply. Since 1942 the questions has been answered by thousands of well-known figures from a staggering variety of fields, including music, the theater, movies, politics, science, sports, comedy, you-name-it. On this list we find out what the listening audience would take to that deserted island.

3.  Most amazing creatures on earth that use camouflage:

The quality of the photography is even more amazing!

4.  The American Film Institute's top 100 movie lines of all time:

I only wish this had been a list of 500 -- with sound clips!

5.  The 50 strangest buildings in the world:

This list can be a time-sucker, especially if you start looking for websites that feature each building. And that can be hard to resist.

6.  10 great treehouses:

Take the list of strangest buildings, above, and add the rule that the resulting construction must be perched in a tree, winnow the results to 10, and you're bound to come up with something close to the list in this link.

The very first thing on this list is "Summit Mount Everest," which gives you a good idea of the caliber of the others. You could call this  the ultimate in fantasy adventures, since no one, no matter how fit and well trained, could possibly complete them all. But it's fun to dream...

8.  25 accidental inventions that changed the world:

This list has a lot on it to invite objection and argument, but it certainly does make you think about invention and ingenuity from its own slightly offbeat point of view. For example, I take issue with #14, "The Invention of Mauve." A new color certainly has not changed *my* life. Even if it has changed the lives of many others, it's not in the same class with the one that comes next, #15, the pacemaker.

9.  The 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world:

This list is the perfect thing for any bibliophile. Enjoy!

This list does not vouch for the authenticity of the contents. You do have to hope, for the sake of education in America, that most of them were made up to be funny -- and for that, they are all excellent answers.

If you'd like still more lists, there's a daily listing of amusing or interesting lists, either at Listverse, or at List25:  Each site is worthy in its own way. They do not duplicate each other. Warning: Both sites are extremely addictive!


*Not that it's important, but the reviewed book was The Missing Ink by Philip Hensher, and it was about the decline of handwriting. The review was in the January 21, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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