The Guardian today had a promising headline, ‘The Seductive Power of Lists’, which I fell on, because lists are one of my favourite things — magic, incantatory. The Guardian‘s piece, however, is about Booker lists, prize lists, books-to-read-before-you-die lists. Not what I think of when I think of lists at all.
Lists are the shipping forecast: Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Trafalgar, Fitzroy, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes, Southeast Iceland.
And of course poor old Finisterre, long gone…
But lists are everywhere, if you look. In Milton Meltzer’s A Book About Names, there are the Puritans who named their children Much-mercy, Increased, Sin-Deny, Fear-not; Safe-on-high, Free-gift, Dust, Ashes, Obedience, More-trial, Discipline, Praise-God and Live-well; Repentance, Lament, Forsaken, Fly-fornication and of course the pariah of the nursery playground, Misericordia-adulterina.
And then there are indexes: Joe Queenan’s If You’re Talking to Me, Your Career Must be in Trouble lists ‘Aiello, Danny, a fixture in movies that make no sense; Cher, grooming influence on James Earl Jones; Schwarzenegger, Arnold, influence of Wuthering Heights on’. Julian Barnes’s collection of essays from the New Yorker refers in the text to an unnamed author who is ‘unavoidably detained’ and fails to appear at an event. The index reads: ‘McEwan, Ian, unavoidably goes skiing’.
Or there is, instead of comic, the heart-breaking. Raul Hilberg described the fourteen centuries of increasing persecution of the Jews as a list:
‘You may not live among us as Jews.
You may not live among us.
You may not live.’