I love lists. I love to make lists. I love to read other people’s lists. I like to collect lists and combine them and analyze the results. Every December, I collect all the critics’ lists of best movies, books and music of the past year and combine them into meta-lists that I use to guide my own choices and also distribute to friends, family and co-workers. And I like to argue with listmakers: how could you leave X off your list? Or, I can’t believe you rated Y so highly.
I make my own lists – favorite this, favorite that, concerts I’ve seen, birds I’ve seen, native plants I’ve grown, states I’ve been to, etc. Many of these “my favorites” lists have found a home on this blog. But the majority of the blog is not dedicated to my favorites, but to meta-lists. Meta-lists are lists that combine pre-existing lists. I look around the Internet, and in books and magazines and newspapers to find lists that other people have made, and I combine them into one large meta-list. I do this using a very simple formula: if an item is on one list, it gets one point on the meta-list. If it is on two lists, it gets two points, and so on. I know that some meta-listers like to give different weights to items on a list according to their ranking. I don’t. Whether an item is ranked No. 1 or No. 100 on a list, it still gets one point on the meta-list. (For my justification for this method, and my mathematical explanation for why those who give different weights to different items on lists are almost always wrong, see this post.) As you go through the lists in the menu above, when you will see numbers in boldface type, they usually indicate how many lists the item was on. So, for example, Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel Frescoes was on 13 Best Works of Visual Art lists; Hagia Sophia is on 17 Best Architecture lists; Citizen Kane was on 18 Best Films lists; The Simpsons was on 10 Best TV Shows lists; The Beatles’ Revolver was on 28 Best Albums lists; Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother was on 22 Best Photographs lists; Don Quixote was on 21 Best Literature lists; electromagnetism was on 17 lists of the most important scientific discoveries; the printing press was on 20 Best Inventions lists; Albert Einstein was on 18 Most Influential/Important People lists; Marlon Brando was on 22 Best Film Actors lists; Michael Jordan was on 17 Best Athletes lists, and so on.
Why this obsession with lists? Is it a mild form of OCD? An escape from the complexities and ambiguities of life into a simpler world? I know that when I’m trying to decide what movies to watch, books to read, and music to listen to, these lists help me to winnow down the choices to those that have the stamp of approval of at least a few critics or other folks who have the time and inclination to assess the quality of the thousands of items released into the overcrowded marketplace every year. But really, I don’t know why I love to make lists. And most of the time, I’m not worried about it. I just enjoy making the lists, and I hope you’ll enjoy them too.
– John M. Becker