As readers of this column will know, lists aren’t just the preserve of obsessive, emotionally under-developed males, such as Rob from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (2009), a man who could tell you his “Top Five Most Memorable Break-Ups” in a heartbeat. They can also stretch into excellent books.
‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ (1911)
Ambrose Bierce’s misanthropic masterpiece is the dictionary with all the boring words extracted, and intoxicating wit, rage and perceptiveness injected in their place. An A-Z of human vanity, hypocrisy and greed, in which love is defined as “a temporary insanity curable by marriage”, and absurdity as “a statement of belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion”.
500 Self-Portraits (1937)
No list of lists is complete without a pictorial list. “What confronts us: 500 unveilings or a ream of further masks?” asks Julian Bell in the 2000 paperback edition of Phaidon’s magnificent collection of 500 of the world’s best self-portraits. The artists are left to speak for themselves. “I’m very much in love with me,” says Arnold Böcklin. “I’m about to die,” says Pierre Bonnard. (pictured, Albrecht Dürer’s 1498 “Self-Portrait with Landscape”)
‘Have You Seen? – A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films’ (2008)
Treat this alphabetically arranged compilation of David Thomson’s essays on movie masterpieces, guilty pleasures, classics and disasters as a shopping list of films to rent or buy. Or to snort at: the erudite, provocative Thomson writes of The Sound of Music, for example, “Christopher Plummer is caught between heavy boredom and the apparently serious urge to start kicking some of the children.”
‘Bob Dylan Album File & Complete Discography’ (2006)
Brian Hinton’s “detailed listings of the albums and individual tracks, release dates, credits and comments” allows Bobcats to check, among other things, just when Ringo Starr played tambourine on Mr Tambourine Man.
London A-Z (first published 1938)
If you live in London, this is your life – or, at least, it was your life before the advent of Google Maps. As well as mapping Britain’s capital, the book lists every street, road, crescent, avenue, square and place you’ve ever been – from Abbess Close E6 to Zoffany Street N19 – reminding you of every friend, lover, party, shop, job or bagsnatcher you found there.
‘Afterliff: The New Dictionary of Things There Should Be Words For’ (Faber, £9.99) by John Lloyd and Jon Canter is out now