I love a good list. Not a to-do list...those I rarely make unless I'm going on a trip and simply must get certain things done to avoid disastrous consequences while I am away. Otherwise I find them incredibly oppressive and in the normal course, unnecessary. I do like to start my work day by writing down things that should be done in the near future, but more as a way of organizing my thoughts than than as a scorecard. I almost never get through my whole list in a day, and life continues apace nevertheless, which confirms my suspicion that terribly prescriptive lists are in fact inessential.
Rather the lists I love are those which provide possibilities, a plethora of enchanting choices at one's fingertips. My Netflix list, for example, currently stands at 500 films, most of which I'm looking forward to seeing. Scrolling through it is a bit like reading the pages of a history book, as I started the list when I was 23 and have been building on it ever since.
The early additions to the list are mostly classics...I was in an unfulfilling job when I joined Netflix and had a brief flirtation with the idea of working in the movies. I figured that in order to do so I should brush up on the oldies. So for ages I was watching only black and white movies...Sorry, Wrong Number...All About Eve...frankly the vast majority of them I found to be a bit overrated, with the exception of course of Sunset Boulevard which was fantastic...Gloria Swanson is undeniable after all...and Roman Holiday which I still daydream about (the chemistry between Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck totally riveting, as are the visages of these two lovely actors).
And then I moved on to the golden age of movies that was the 70s and early 80s. Five Easy Pieces (a young Jack Nicholson, be still my heart!),
The Year of Living Dangerously (a young Mel Gibson, be still my heart!),
Three Days of the Condor (a young Robert Redford...well, you get the picture).
All revelations in their own ways.
And now that a few years have passed I've happened upon a weird mix of mediocre movies that I apparently missed in the 90s and odd foreign films (go rent Nathalie immediately!). I think this indicates that I am now at the part of the list that was compiled after I found my career calling and realized that it was actually not the movie business and I felt more free to choose movies that wanted to see rather than thought I ought to see.
My library list is my other treasure trove. The fabulous New York City Public Library system upgraded its website not long ago to allow patrons to maintain not only a hold list (no more than 10 books you wish to have delivered to your local branch when they are available) but also a wish list of sorts...a self-created canon seemingly unlimited in size. Or at least I haven't hit the limit yet.
I add titles that catch my eye in the New York Times Book Review section, cookbooks I read about in the press, volumes that I fall a tiny bit in love with at various bookstores (but not so deeply in love with to actually purchase right then and there). My moods seem to shift and sway with the seasons.
One day I'm feeling whimsical and add Nigel Slater's Eating For England: The Delights and Curiosities of the British at Table, one day I'm feeling raunchy and go for Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life. Other days I fancy myself an intellectual and simply must put Justin Fo's The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward and Delusion on Wall Street and Richard Overy's The Twilight Years: The Paradox of Britain Between the Wars at the top of my list. Sometimes I like a bit of gossipy dirt and turn to Michael Gross's 740 Park: The story of the World's Richest Apartment Building.
But mostly I just want to know about people and eras and events that came before me, so I add all manners of autobiographies and biographies like Kenneth Whyte's The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst, T.J. Stiles's The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Diana Vreeland's D.V. I add memoirs like Christopher Buckley's Losing Mum and Pup and Douglas Rogers' The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe. And brief histories like D.J. Taylor's Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age and Virginia Nicholson's Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939.
Will I ever get through 500 movies and 236 books before I leave this fine earth? Probably. But I enjoy adding to the lists too much to stop, which thankfully means I will never reach their ends. Shrinking lists would mean that I had lost all interest in art and literature, which would certainly signal that it was indeed time to call it a day. Permanently.