Confessions of a Lister

“Listing: It’s not just my passion, it’s also a desperate cry for help.” – JMB

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 on a topic, 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 or the number of items on the list, but I don’t.  Whether an item is ranked No. 1 or No. 100 on a list, whether it’s on a Top 10 list or a Top 1000 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 Velázquez’s Las Meninas was on 18 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

22 thoughts on “Confessions of a Lister

  1. Dedra

    Wow! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Superb choice of colors!

    Reply
  2. bkwrm513

    Absolutely! I love lists 🙂 I LIVE for lists. Per my military training, I enjoy having a POD (plan of the day) for every. single. day. Even if I don’t stick to it exactly, I like to feel in control and accomplished when I can cross things off. We are kindred spirits, you and I.

    Reply
    1. beckchris Post author

      I’m impressed by your PODs – takes discipline I don’t seem to have. I do know about the thrill of checking off, though. My wife laughs at me when I make a Saturday to-do list and the first three items are: wake up, shower and eat breakfast. Hey, it’s only 8 a.m. and I’ve already checked off three things!

      Reply
      1. fordfan96

        Hi, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but did you see my comment below? I am curious about what the lists that you have used for these meta-lists are?

  3. fordfan96

    Hello,

    These lists are very interesting. Can you tell me what the 18 lists that were used are for the artwork list? Same with the TV show, literature, poetry, and classical music lists?

    Reply
  4. fordfan96

    This website is very interesting! I am curious, though, if you could disclose what lists you created the meta-lists from? Such as the artworks list, classical music, literature, poetry, and TV shows?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  5. beckchris Post author

    Fordfan96: No problem – not rude at all. I sent this reply to your hotmail address on 3/12/15 – you must not have seen it:

    Thanks for your ‘like’ and comments on Make Lists, Not War. Unfortunately, I am unable to comply with your request because I wasn’t very methodical about keeping track of the original lists I used to make my meta-lists. I found lists in blogs and other websites, books and magazines, then compiled them all together – along the way, the actual sources of the lists got lost. I’m sure you can find many of them with a web search. I can tell you that I preferred lists made by experts, critics, academics and scholars over lists made by non-expert individuals or lists that were crowd-sourced, although I was not absolutely rigid about that.

    Reply
  6. Marcelo Funes-Gallanzi

    I am currently working on a artificial cognition system, which is implemented in part in a conversational agent to be found in http://www.rachaelrepp.org As part of the development, I would like to give it some ability to be “creative”… as a first stab at it, I have been thinking about using a list of famous paintings and their description (which is necessary because we associate ideas through making ideograms which are based on written language – a bit like Chinese symbols) is it OK if I use your list of best works of art? I will be happy to put a link and an acknowledgement of course. We will combine this with synesthesia and the use of metaphors so should be fun to see what comes out…

    Reply
    1. beckchris Post author

      Marcelo:

      I received your comment asking to use the list of famous paintings and their descriptions from Make Lists, Not War. Yes! Go right ahead! And a link would be great, too. Best of luck in your project – looks very interesting.

      Let me know if you have any questions.

      John M. Becker

      Reply
  7. Dave Hannon

    I tend to list to the right, but I have a new knee now and plan to be more of a centrist. Glad we are now friends on Facebook, you are good company. That’s my highest compliment.

    Reply
  8. ronniesmartwriter

    I discovered your short story list today. Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing this, and for giving me more resources to improve my own writing skills. Make the gods of sky and earth bless you!

    Reply

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