Life Lessons from the Library: Lists are Fun, But at the End of the Day. . .

There is a book that everyone is the library has been leafing through the last few days. It keeps being put on the cart to be shelved, but then the next time I look it’s back on someone’s desk. It’s 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die (and 10,001 More You Must Download by Robert Dimery and Tony Visconti. I was pleased that Snow Patrol was included. Terry wondered at the number of Iggy Pop songs that made the book. And Emily and I were both surprised that several Barry Manilow songs were there, and then both admitted that we’d been fanilows at some point in our lives. Now I would say that this intense interest is because two of our staff members are musicians, and we are, after all, in Nashville. But the same types of discussions also happened when we cataloged books of lists on best novels, movies, and paintings.

There is something intriguing about a list. We feel a little surge of accomplishment and maybe even superiority as we check off the titles of works that someone has determined to be the best of the best.  And these lists do give us a place to start if we do want to start reading good books, listening to good songs, or viewing good art.

But as my colleague Pam pointed out, these lists do have their problems. Being a bluegrass artist, she had a different view on the best songs. She kept asking if certain artists and songs were included. She was usually disappointed in both. And she’d never heard of many of the songs that were listed.

Obviously, such lists can never be completely objective. As an English major who focused on Victorians, I’m sure that my list of most important books would be quite different from an English major who specialized in postmodernism. Sure, we might agree on including Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Hawthorne. But we might break out in a fistfight over whether we should include Gertrude Stein or add a second George Eliot novel.

So books advising us on the best of anything certainly are fun and can be instructive. Just don’t take them as gospel.(And a second George Eliot novel should always beat out Gertrude Stein!)



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