Lists of Note, compiled by Shaun Usher - book review: Proof that life's not just one damn thing after another


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The Independent Culture


1. Review Shaun Usher's Lists of Note. Mention that Usher's first book was the bestselling collection Letters of Note.

2. Describe book: a list of 125 lists by everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Sir Isaac Newton, Gandhi to Kurt Cobain. Includes a list of JFK's potential assassins by his secretary, Evelyn Lincoln: "Lyndon…KKK…Hoffa…Nixon".

3. Suggest we live in Age of the List. Nerdy, Hornby-esque Top 10s: Best Albums containing the letter G; 40 Places To Twerk Before You Are 40.

4. Give some intriguing Usher examples. Hemingway's must-read books for aspiring novelists: War and Peace, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights; 25-year-old Marilyn Monroe's ideal lovers; rules for writers by Kerouac, Billy Wilder, Henry Miller.

5. Lists are part of the creative process. Walt Disney's other Dwarfs: Biggo-Ego, Biggy, Flabby, Neurtsy. Chandler's list of similes: "Smart as a hole through nothing". Marianne Moore's possible names for Ford cars: Thunderblender, Mongoose Civique, Utopian Turtle-top.

6. Propose that 21st-century culture has made list-makers of us all. Twitter, email, search engines concentrate communication, news, gossip, football matches into lists. Note how lists shape prose style into Txt msg lyricism: dearth of complete sentences, death of definite article, abv-iation.

7. Usher includes writers – Calvino, Borges, Perec, Barthes – who know that lists can tell stories. Example: Perec's knowing account of everything he ate, which makes Karl Ove Knausgaard look forgetful. F Scott Fitzgerald reminds us that recipes are lists: "Turkey cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth…"

8. Some favourite lists. Johnny Cash's witty, moving personal dos and don'ts: "2 Kiss June 3 Not Kiss anyone else…", Swift's "When I come to be Old"; Harry S Truman's list of 38 wedding anniversaries as national and personal history: "June 28, 1947: Marshall Plan…A grand 28th Anniversary"; Edmund Wilson's curmudgeonly Won't Dos sent to pesky correspondents: "Read manuscripts...Judge literary contests…Give interviews…Autograph books for strangers". Usher notes Wilson "was soon inundated with requests for the list itself".

9. Lists of Note: 1. Splendid. 2. Addictive. 3. Sumptuously produced with interesting photos and facsimiles of actual lists.

10. Quote Calvino's book categories, eg: "Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified".