101 Reasons to Love Listicles
Because all the great minds wrote listicles
I love lists. If you were to peer inside my Apple Notes, you would find nothing but lists. Lists of todo’s, lists for other people to do, lists of sea creatures that don’t belong in the sea, lists of serial killers with killer artistic talents (John Wayne Gacy’s clown art is so underrated), lists of horrible ways to die, lists of wonderful ways to die. Lists. Lists. And more lists. I am a list whore.
I wanted to put the above in a numbered list. But I was afraid the intellectual cognoscenti might force me to eat hemlock.
“Another listicle from another sad writer,” you say. Easy there. Writers are not always sad. But I do have a list of writers who committed suicide in tragic ways. (Sylvia Plath…what were you thinking? An oven?)
But I have noticed a dangerous trend lately in our small literary world — everyone dissing listicles. What would some of the greatest minds think of all this listicle bashing?
Plato wrote lists. He listed the qualities of a philosopher and how to live a good life. Oprah would have loved Plato’s lists.
Aristotle one-upped him. He taught his students through listicles, creating categories, and subcategories of wisdom. And then he made everyone ask a million annoying questions…in lists.
Eleventh-century Japanese author and poet Sei Shōnagon is famous for her pithy lists. My favorite is her list of “Rare Things.” On that list, “Two women, let alone a man and a woman, who vow themselves to each other forever, and actually manage to remain on good terms to the end.”
Apparently, love advice has not changed much since the eleventh century.
Benjamin Franklin wrote a titillating listicle on why you should date an older woman. #8 — “They are so grateful!!” (emphasis not added.) Well, that’s not very profound. Relationship vlogs preach the same.
Nietzsche wrote rules in lists. His ten rules for writers is worth a read. Although I don’t share his hatred of periods, I would agree with the following wisdom;
“8. The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses.”
Maybe that is why the bible is so enduring? It teaches in lists (The Ten Commandments) while evoking the senses. But Nietzsche would shake his head at me and say, “God is dead!” And then I would have to come up with a list of reasons why religion lives on. I might lose that argument by #3.
My favorite listicle writer is Michel de Montaigne — the inventor of the essay. In the sixteenth century, Montaigne wrote mundane, visceral lists on his kidney stones, sleep, sex, love, friendship, thumbs…his penis.
I could give you more examples, but then I might have to number them. And I fear flogging by the list haters.
But whether you love or hate listicles, they endure. Why?
Maybe it is because the wisest Philosopher Kings take the commonplace and make it uncommon. From Oscar Wilde’s antithesis to Simone Weil’s musings on the simple act of paying attention, these great thinkers are not mining for diamonds. They find grey, shapeless rocks and turn them into objets d’art.
In most enduring works of art, you will find a pattern. A metronomic synthesis of sounds. An elegant proof. A Fibonacci sequence. A divine proportion to break and unbreak the laws of nature. Lists give order to humanity.
The world needs more, not fewer lists. Our attention spans are ungracious for at least 10 reasons.
Personally, I am an incurable list maker, and no amount of criticism will stop me. You shouldn’t indulge me. But maybe next time you roll your eyes at yet another listicle on “5 Books You Should Read Before You Die” or “10 Reasons to Get Your Lazy Arse out of Bed Early,” take a beat. You might find enlightenment in that frenzy of numbers.
Or at the very least, one decent reason to read another listicle.