From Our Staff | December 14, 2008

The time of year is upon us when some animals begin creeping into their holes for a long winter’s hibernation and our cultural mavens creep out of their lairs to deliver unto us their judgments enumerated in list form. Lest we be left out of this mass migration, we offer as one of our closing blogs of 2008 our staff list of some of our own favorite lists.

1. Evelyn Somers: “Not-so-Smart Behavior”, “Influential Books”

This is a really awful thing to confess:  I like lists that make me feel smart, which tends to mean lists that showcase other people’s not-so-smart behavior.  I guess you could call these What Not to Do lists. Here’s an example: recently I was lured into reading a list of the ten dumbest financial moves.  We don’t have a lot of money, but I could at least congratulate myself that I was astute enough not to invest in collectible toys (remember all those people who were going to get rich buying up Beanie Babies?).  I also like lists that confirm my own pet theories (proving, again, that I’m smart)-for instance, my theory that men still get more respect when it comes to the books they write.  One of the news magazines publishes a weekly list, by a different celebrity each week, of the five most influential books in his or her life. The gender of the celebrity rarely seems to make a difference; the “influential” books are almost always by men. We don’t subscribe to that magazine anymore, but during the time that we did, I’d open it to the influential book list the moment it arrived, read the list and then go yell at my husband about how rotten it was to be a member of the “second sex.”  My ten-year-old son, our third child, heard me talking about the second sex and corrected me one day.  Didn’t I mean the “third sex”?  After all, that was the sex that had produced him.

2. Brittany Barr: “Entertainment Weekly”

I always enjoy the various lists compiled by the Entertainment Weekly website. If I’m ever bored (or in the mood to procrastinate) I know I can head on over to (a very memorable website name, to be sure) and read through their latest list. Ranging from the holiday fare (Top TV- Thanksgiving Moments) to more “serious” (2008 Oscar Contenders) to eyebrow-raising (30 Unforgettable Nude Scenes,,20229685,00.html), Entertainment Weekly’s lists are always informative and sometimes even nostalgic. Lately, it seems they’ve been chronicling moments in film–almost anthologizing them, in a way, to tie back in with last week’s blog theme. I like going through their “Top 50” countdowns; whether they’re discussing the best romance scenes, the scariest moments in film, or the most memorable cinematic goodbyes, the lists always seem to incoporate some of my favorite films. I usually agree with a majority of the movie moments they include, and get the urge to revisit my favorite films after reading EW’s lists!

3. Seth Graves: “The Post-Potter New York Times Bestseller List(s)”

A wicked thing happened earlier this year.  And I am implying both the most common British and American uses of wicked. For the first time in ten years, no Harry Potter title made a NYT bestsellers list. They disapparated, and few gave a flying broom about it.

See it here:

The craze for the first book contributed to NYT’s decision to add a children’s list.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the book craze that Harry Potter brought to millions of kids and adults alike has carried on to another work or series in quite the same way.  However, it’s nice to see some more challenging and substantive stuff hit those open spots on both the children’s and adult listings. 

Now that the election is over, I can go back to uninterrupted cheering for authors I like.  No list is all-trash-lit-all-the-time.  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has 64 weeks on the list, The Alchemist 63, and the wondrous The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is in its 12th week on the list. (all paperback listings).

4. Kris Somerville: “Naming Baby”


On teaching days when I take attendance, I am reminded of Mike Doughty’ song “27 Jennifers,” which begins “I went to school with 27 Jennifers, 16 Jenns, 10 Jennies, and then there was her.”  This year the names Caitlin and Sara(h) predominate.  In a class of twenty, I have seven Caitlins (as well as a Kat and a Katie) and five Sara(h)s.  One Caitlin decided to break away from the pack and renamed herself Sasha on the first day of class.

I slightly prefer the name Caitlin to Lindsey, Lauren, and Ashley, Ralph Lauren-designer names in vogue half a decade ago.  And Sara?  Sara strikes me as the Jane of the millennial generation.  My own name Kris, unisex and infinitely variable, was overused in the ‘80s so I’m sensitive to the curse of copycat parents.

Every year I read the list of most popular baby names, not because I’m in the market for one but because I want to anticipate the next of nom de la mode.

According to, the most popular boy names for 2008 are full of old classics:   Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Matthew, Andrew, Anthony, Christopher, Joseph, and William.  With the girls, parents get a little more adventuresome:  Madison, Emily, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Abigail, Hannah, Ava, Samantha, and Alyssa. 

Though Caitlin and Sara don’t top the list, you can bet they did eighteen years ago.

5. Patrick Lane: “Nicholas Felton’s Annual Report”

My choice isn’t a traditional “list”, but somewhat more complex dataset. Since 2005, New York-based graphic designer Nicholas Felton has been recording data about his daily life, and compiling it into a fascinating (and beautifully designed) “annual report,” which he posts to his website, Perusing the report for 2007, we find out such information as:

  • Cups of coffee consumed: 612
  • Estimated mg of caffeine consumed: 83,565 (~6.5 lethal doses)
  • iTunes tracks played: 25, 247
  • Digital photos taken: 6,115
  • Weight gained: 2.6 pounds
  • Pool games won: 4
  • Pool games lost: 6
  • Burglars confronted: 1 (at apartment window)

Felton has also been attempting to track every street he’s walked in New York (mapped out in the report) as well as every bar and restaurant he’s visited during the year. And apparently, Felton’s site has inspired others to try to make such an accounting of their own lives. So take a look and see if you are likewise motivated to tackle 2009 with notepad in hand.