Listapalooza, holiday edition: all-time top tens

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)
Funny Bones
The Godfather/The Godfather Part II
Groundhog Day
Local Hero
A Night at the Opera
Sense and Sensibility
The Third Man
Wings of Desire
Young Frankenstein

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?

What we’re reading
Gail Caldwell, A Strong West Wind: A Memoir
Martin: Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt, Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket

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6 Responses to Listapalooza, holiday edition: all-time top tens

  1. Ellen Jockusch says:

    No fair! You have already crossed the finish line on this exercise and we Madrono-ites have not even started! Just kidding. I love it that you posted your rave-faves. The range of what you read is extraordinary. No wonder you are a top draft pick for charades!

  2. Caitlin Strokosch says:

    fantastic list! here's a partial fiction list for me….

    #1 book of fiction: Lands of Glass, by Alessandro Barrico

    and others:
    -Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
    -Til We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis
    -Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
    -And the Ass Saw the Angel, by Nick Cave

  3. Joel says:

    These lists, especially of friends, always elicit three responses in me:
    - "They must not have read/seen xxxx"
    - "How can they not included yyyy?!"
    - "Am I common or a fool because I would list zzzz?"

    Under books: Wind in the Willows is on my list too. Too Kill a Mockingbird is there, though that's definitely common. There's also a collection of Vonnegut short stories called Welcome to the Monkey House that I read at a disturbingly young age and have enjoy rereading several times.

    Movies: Given your penchant for classics and light comedy, have you seen It Happened One Night? Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert, and a sweep of the Academy Awards.

  4. Heather and Martin says:

    See? This is exactly what I mean. I don't know Barrico, but now I'll have to check him out. And I LOVE It Happened One Night (no undershirt!), but it didn't quite make my top ten – this time, anyway.

  5. The says:

    In years past Martin claimed I cheated on my lists – can't remember why exactly – maybe because I didn't name albums, but instead songs as favorites. Ha!!!

    Here is my current list of books:

    1. John Steinbeck, East of Eden
    2. John Kennedy Toole, Confederacy of Dunces
    3. Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
    4. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes were Watching God
    5. Daniel Pinkwater, The Big Orange Splot
    6. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
    7. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
    8. E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
    9. William Goldman, ed. The Princess Bride
    10. Cynthia Rylant, The Relatives Came


    1. Arthur
    2. The Princess Bride
    3. Say Anything
    4. Pride and Prejudice (last two productions)
    5. Henry V
    6. Groundhog Day
    7. Mulan
    8. Ladyhawke
    9. Dodgeball
    10. ANYTHING by the Coen brothers

    Discography will be skipped, as I don't want to make Martin feel fussy. Sigh. I do also have a list of best onscreen kisses (including the scene in Witness where Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis don't even touch).

    Merry Christmas my friends! Louisa

  6. John Tate says:

    I like this exercise, and I do it all the time — philosophers, composers, religions, etc. I usually stick to a top 5. But when I try to do movies, the top 5 is all Kurosawa, so I allow myself another 5. Now Martin gives me 10, and I'm on Easy Street because I don't have to bend the rules at all. So here they are:

    Seven Samurai
    Throne of Blood
    Dr. Strangelove
    Modern Times
    Mon Oncle
    Under the Rooftops of Paris
    Babette’s Feast

    Love to all,


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