Like Rob Fleming, the protagonist of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, I seem to have a strong taxonomic impulse. Longtime readers of this blog have already seen several manifestations of my obsession with list making, but Heather and the kids will tell you that one of my more annoying habits is my annual end-of-the-year insistence that we all update the Kohout family top ten lists.
Every New Year’s, I insist that the whole family, and whatever friends and innocent bystanders happen to be around, sit down and list their ten all-time favorite novels, movies, and albums. This always occasions a good deal of grumbling, at least from the family, but they usually do it.
Here are the basic rules:
- Each list must include ten items, no more and no less, though I’ll cut you some slack when it comes to works in multiple parts (for example, we customarily count The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Harry Potter series as one entry).
- Unlike so many end-of-the-year lists, these aren’t your favorites from the last twelve months; they’re supposed to be your all-time favorites, which is why you’ll always find at least a couple of children’s books on my list.
- The items don’t have to be in order of preference; just your ten favorites, in whatever order they occur to you.
- Plays count as fiction, as does epic poetry (The Odyssey, Paradise Lost); lyrical poetry does not.
- All this is done with the understanding that if you were to do it again tomorrow, you might come up with a very different list.
Since we’re approaching the end of another year, and I’m preparing to crack the whip on the family again, I thought it might be interesting to share my own most recent top-ten lists, even at the risk of exposing myself to the ridicule of our readership. (More so than usual, I mean.)
Without further ado, then, here they are:
Fiction (in alphabetical order by author)
Richard Bradford, Red Sky at Morning
Margaret Wise Brown, The Sailor Dog
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
Richard Price, Lush Life
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
Movies (in alphabetical order by title)
The Godfather/The Godfather Part II
A Night at the Opera
Sense and Sensibility
The Third Man
Wings of Desire
Albums (in alphabetical order by artist)
Dave Alvin, Ashgrove
The Cambridge Singers/La Nuova Musica, directed by John Rutter, The Sacred Flame: European Sacred Music of the Renaissance and Baroque Era
Rosanne Cash, Black Cadillac
Manu Chao, Clandestino: Esperando la Ultima Ola
Derek and the Dominoes, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Howlin’ Wolf, The Definitive Collection
Iron and Wine, The Shepherd’s Dog
Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, All the Roadrunning
The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
Jordi Savall, El Nuevo Mundo: Folías Criollas
Bonus List: Nonfiction (in alphabetical order by author)
Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book
Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War< Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Adam Gopnik, Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life
S. C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
Tracy Kidder, Home Town
Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory
David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions
Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods
David Winner, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football
To me, one of the pleasures of this exercise, besides the inherently enjoyable experience of summoning up cherished treasures from one’s past, is seeing what’s on other people’s lists, which can be quite revealing. (I, for example, clearly have a thing for lightweight movie comedies and for books about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.) They can also bring some worthy books or movies or music to your attention, or inspire you finally to read or watch or listen to that classic you’ve been meaning to read or watch or listen to for years.
So what about you, Faithful Reader? What works have mattered most to you over the course of your life?