Today is the birthday of American writer Irving Wallace (1916-1990). Wallace parents emigrated from Russia and settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Irving grew up. From an early age, Irving, whose father was a clerk in a general store, dreamed of being a writer. When he was still in high school, he sold his first published article to Horse and Jockey Magazine for $5.
After graduating from Williams Institute in Berkeley, California, Wallace began writing full time in 1937, selling freelance fiction and nonfiction to magazines. He also wrote for Hollywood, producing a number of screenplays for major studios.
Wallace is best known, however, for his books — both fiction and nonfiction, which he began writing in the 1950s. His 16 novels and 17 nonfiction books have sold more than 120 million copies.
In 1977, working with his son and daughter, Wallace published The Book of Lists. It was the perfect book for the dawning information age and quickly became a bestseller (1).
The Book of Lists is more than just a compilation of lists. Each of the book’s lists is annotated with fascinating facts and storylines. Here’s a small sample of some of the tantalizing titles of the book’s lists:
10 Famous Noses,
6 People Whose Names Were Changed by Accident,
13 Mothers of Infamous Men,
Rating the Effects of 51 Personal Crises,
14 Highly Unusual Recipes,
33 Names of Things You Never Knew Had Names,
17 Pairs of Contradictory Proverbs,
5 Famous People Who Invented Games,
9 People Who Died Laughing
27 Things That Fell From the Sky (2)
The Book of Lists inspired hundreds of imitation volumes, and with the advent of the World Wide Web in 1990, the list article (or listicle) has become a staple method for writers to deliver information.
Today’s Challenge: It’s the Listicle You Can Do
What are ten possible topics for interesting listicles? Brainstorm at least ten specific topics that you might package as a listicle. Use the words below to help you determine some possible organizing principles for your lists, such as 10 Reasons to Read More, or 10 Secrets to Getting an A in English:
ways, reasons, things, places, people, principles, rules, secrets, lessons, keys, habits, tips, myths, best, worst, mistakes, steps
Once you have some ideas, select the one list you like the best, and expand it into a listicle. Make sure you have an engaging title that includes the number of items on your list. The number ten seems to be a number that resonates with readers; in fact, there is a single word in English, that means “a list of ten.” Decalogue is from the Greek deca, meaning “ten,” and logos, meaning “words.” Make sure to number each item on your list, and follow each numbered item with details that will engage your audience.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: A listicle feels more democratic than a hierarchically structured argument, as well as more in tune with a conception of history and the world as just one damn thing after another. The foundational text of Protestantism was a listicle nailed to a church door: Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” posted at Wittenberg. So it makes sense that in our culture, which makes a fetish of anti-authoritarianism, the listicle should have spread everywhere, like mold. -Steven Poole
2-Wallechinsky, David, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace. The Book of Lists, 1977.