January 5:  List Day

Today is the birthday of Umberto Eco (1932-2016), the Italian novelist, literary critic, philosopher and semiotician (one who studies signs and symbols).  Although he is best known for his historical mystery novel The Name of the Rose, Eco’s most interesting work might just be a work of nonfiction that he published in 2009 called The Infinity of Lists.  In his book, Eco collects and catalogs examples of lists from literature, music, and art, showing over and over how people have turned to lists in an attempt to bring order to chaos (1).

Umberto Eco 1984.jpgSome people are critical of lists as a writing form.  They see the ubiquitous internet listacles as a sign of the apocalypse.  However, Eco views lists differently:

The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists (2).

The following are some of the lists from literature that Eco includes in his book:

-A list of the residents of Hades from Virgil’s Aeneid, Book VI.

-A list of conditions for manhood from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”

-A list of items that Tom obtained from his friends as payment for the privilege of whitewashing his fence, from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

-A list of book categories from the bookstore in Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

Lists are inherently organized and interesting.  A list’s title gives the reader immediate and easily categorized information, such as “The Ten Commandments” or “Thirteen Signs You’re Addicted to Lip Balm.”

Lists are an essential tool that assist writers to shovel up heaping helpings of savory details for the reader to enjoy.  Too often writers dwell too much on abstractions and generalities.  Lists remind the writer that the reader is hungry for concrete details.  Readers can be told things for only so long; they prefer, instead, to be shown things, things that they can see, hear, taste, smell and feel.

Today’s Challenge:  Your Personal Parade of Particulars

What are some titles of lists that you would find interesting to enumerate and catalogue your life experiences?  Generating your own lists is a great way to practice generating specific, concrete details in your writing.  Generate at least three list titles of your own, or use some of the examples below.  Then, based on the three titles, generate three separate lists, each containing at least seven items.

Things I’ve Found

Songs on My iPod

Jobs I’d Hate to Have

Things I Love to Hate

Things I Hope to Do by the Time I’m Fifty

Reasons I Get Up in the Morning

Important Numbers in My Life

Things I Can Rant About?

Things I Can Rave About?

Places I’d Like to Go Before I Die

Nicknames I’ve Had in My Life

Most Memorable People I’ve Met

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with . . . . We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.  -Umbeto Eco

1-Eco, Umberto. The Infinity of Lists.  New York:  Rizzoli, 2009.

2-http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-umberto-eco-we-like-lists-because-we-don-t-want-to-die-a-659577.html

 

 

August 30:  Top 10 Day

Today is the anniversary of the The Late Show with David Letterman which premiered on CBS on August 30, 1993 and ended on May 20, 2015. Letterman had previously spent eleven years as the host of Late Night with David Letterman, but after he was passed over as the host of the The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired, he signed a multi-million dollar deal to move to CBS. This put him in direct competition with Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny on The Tonight Show.

Latenightdllogo.pngMany aspects of Letterman’s show followed the basic pattern of the late night talk show genre established and perfected by Johnny Carson. Letterman added a few new wrinkles of his own that became staples of his show and focus points for his fans.

One of Letterman’s trademarks was “found comedy”: people, places, and things found on the streets of the city that become the subject of Letterman’s ironic wit. These consist of actual items found in the newspaper, viewer mail, “stupid pet and human tricks” performed on the show, esoteric videos, or -person-on-the-street interviews (1).

Letterman’s best known feature is one that is originally “found” in the Old Testament, a list of ten — sometimes called a “decalogue.”  This list of ten is best known as The Ten Commandments.  The Book of Exodus records Moses bringing the commandments, which are carved on two stone tablets, down from Mount Sinai and delivering them to the people of Israel.

Of course Letterman’s Top Ten lists are meant not to deliver the law but to deliver laughs. Based on a topic from current events, each list counts down ten hilariously warped responses. The very first list, for example, featured TOP TEN WORDS THAT RHYME WITH “PEAS”:

  1. Heats
  2. Rice
  3. Moss
  4. Ties
  5. Needs
  6. Lens
  7. Ice
  8. Nurse
  9. Leaks
  10. Meats

While this was probably not the funniest top ten list, it is interesting to note that the Top Ten began on a poetic note.

Today’s Challenge: TOP TEN TOP TENS
What would be the topic of your Top Ten list? Below are some of the list topics from David Letterman’s first book of Top Ten Lists. Select one of the topics, or create your own topic.  Then, complete your list. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

  1. Top Ten Ways Life Would Be Better If Dogs Ran The World
  2. Top Ten Ways To Pronounce “Bologna”
  3. Top Ten Unsafe Toys for Christmas
  4. Top Ten Prom Themes
  5. Top Ten Questions Science Cannot Answer
  6. Top Ten Things We As Americans Can Be Proud Of
  7. Top Ten Interview Questions Asked Miss America Contestants
  8. Top Ten Reasons To Vote
  9. Top Ten Reasons Why TV Is Better Than Books
  10. Top Ten Rejected Provisions of The U.S. Constitution

Quotation of The Day:  Based on what you know about him in history books, what do you think Abraham Lincoln would be doing if he were alive today?
1) Writing his memoirs of the Civil War.
2) Advising the President.
3) Desperately clawing at the inside of his coffin. -David Letterman

1 – LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN. The Museum of Broadcast Communications

2 – Letterman, David and the Late Night with David Letterman Writers. The Late Night With David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.