5. Naïve. Super, by Erlend Loe, translated from the Norwegian by Tor Ketil Solberg (Canongate). After losing a croquet match, a 25-year-old abandons his university studies and relinquishes his books and television. Housesitting for his brother, he ruminates on time and starts making lists. His lists, whether of people he admires or animals he has seen, help him to communicate with others and recover his lost sense of wonder. He travels from Norway to New York, where he reunites with his brother, and his lists reflect a world beyond his own. Loe’s whimsical and quietly philosophical first novel, a best-seller in Norway for over a year, is a swift but entrancing read.
4. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, edited by Jeff Vandermeer and Mark Roberts (Night Shade Books). Diseases are predicated on lists — of symptoms, of treatments, of cases and histories. No book this year provides a more scrupulous diagnosis of our collective fascination with and fears about medicine than the Lambshead Guide. This “83rd edition” of the mock-historical casebook features maladies incubated in the imaginations of 57 writers, including Michael Moorcock, China Miéville, Alan Moore, Rachel Pollack, Neil Gaiman, Shelley Jackson and L. Timmel Duchamp. There are also “Reminiscences” of Dr. Lambshead’s Zelig-like appearances throughout the 20th century and a history of the Guide’s editions, along with a famous 1977 variant written by one Jorge Luis Borges.
3. The Movies of My Life, by Alberto Fuguet, translated from the Spanish by Ezra E. Fitz (Rayo/HarperCollins). Flying from Santiago to a seismology conference in Tokyo, Beltran Soler encounters a woman who inspires him to compile a list on his layover in his childhood hometown of Los Angeles. Soler, whose favorite book is The Book of Lists, remains in L.A. and recollects his 50 most important movies. His list, incorporating disaster films and ’70s science fiction, frames his experiences growing up in Nixon’s America and Pinochet’s Chile. In Fuguet’s captivating novel, cinema and nostalgia integrate in a single list, and tremors of memory move across shifting fault lines of personal and cultural identity.
2. Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City, by Paul Morley (Bloomsbury). The famed New Musical Express critic’s absorbing odyssey through pop music is replete with lists, from his chronology of 20th-century culture to no less than five lists of the 100 greatest albums. After one such litany, Morley elucidates his metaphysics of lists: “This is a list surrounded by other lists leading to other lists, lists that are at the centre of this book, the lists that explain everything by being gateways into worlds of sound, feeling, and information . . .” Nick Hornby’s Songbook traces its author’s story through 31 singles, but think of the CDs that Morley’s motley compendium could generate.
1. Schott’s Original Miscellany, conceived, written and designed by Ben Schott (Bloomsbury). This ubiquitous, stocking-stuffer-size volume is the most list-obsessed book of the year. You could consult the Internet for all these minutiae, but that would miss this digest’s chief virtue — an opportunity to peruse, what we did before “to google” became a verb. There are quotations, conversion tables, sesquipedalian words, holalphabetic sentences, a few drink recipes and, inexplicably, the entire program of Princess Diana’s funeral. From the Scoville Scale for measuring the heat of chiles to the Glasgow Coma Scale for measuring head trauma, from the faces on the Sgt. Pepper cover to the names of Haydn’s symphonies, Schott’s will satisfy any reader.