The Book of Lists


Lately, my reading has been limited to short time chunks. No long leisurely afternoons of lounging these days. I recently came across The New Book of Lists: The Original Compendium of Curious Information by David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace and it’s perfect reading for my five minute “input” intervals.
The book is filled with all kinds of random information and facts, some lists I passed over like 12 Men Who Cried in Public or Unnamed Women of the Bible. I think I can live without knowing these facts.
Some of the most entertaining lists so far have been 13 Art Riots, Names of Things You Never Knew Had Names, 17 Untranslatable Words and New Neuroses. I found the terms for New Neuroses to be the most enjoyable.  I look forward every year to those dictionary introductions of new words for new situations. In fact, I think there needs to be more words to describe a number of unnamed situations that happen in life whether they are considered neuroses or not.
For instance, a co-worker and myself were trying to describe the feeling one gets when away from the job and being unable to imagine yourself back in the workplace. In this state, it can seem almost impossible to think your daily life revolves around the workplace. You start to think “That life could not possibly be mine.” Of course, one often gets this feeling while away on holiday or in some foreign city but it can easily happen over a long weekend. So this is my new goal, to come up with a word or phrase to describe this phenomenon.

Some highlights from the lists:

Untranslatable Words

Bilita Mpash from Bantu meaning “a legendary blissful state where all is forgiven and forgotten” much like the feeling one gets when waking from a happy dream.

Espirit de L’Escalier (French) when a brilliantly witty response to a public insult comes into your mind only after you have left the party. Literally translates as “the spirit of the staircase.”

New Neuroses

Cell Yell: Loud talking on cell phones in public places by people with the neurotic need to invade their own privacy.

Cyberchondria: Hypochondria resulting from seeing one’s symptoms on a medical Web site.

Art Riots

Most of the art riots listed in the book were the results of controversial performances. One exception was the 1809 “Old Price” Riot at Convent Garden Theatre where the audience interrupted a performance of Macbeth with cries of “old prices! old prices!” The theater had recently raised the rates and redesigned the theater so that only the legs of the performers were viewable from the cheap seats. Soldiers were called in to quell the audience but this only inspired the theater goers to mount greater disruptions. For months they brought in whistles, trumpets and even barnyard animals to cause mayhem. It worked, the ticket prices were finally set back to the “old prices.”

George Antheil, an avant-garde composer and performer who was well acquainted with hostile audiences, provoked a riot in Budapest, 1923 while performing one of his “harsh and unfamiliar sounding” piano compositions. The second night, in order for his music to be heard, he ordered all of the ushers to lock and guard the doors and then in full view placed a revolver on top of his piano. There it remained throughout the whole performance and no disturbances took place. It was said he carried a gun around for this very purpose.

George Antheil – Sonata for Piano and Violin 1 (b)

This was not the composition that caused a riot but it gives an idea of the type of music he composed.

Nowadays, it’s social conventions that will keep you in your seat suffering through drawn-out performances of self-absorbed artists, musicians and poets. I say we return to the good old days of rotten tomatoes, catcalls and barnyard animals. Artists, you need some inspiration? I got yer inspiration right here! All power to the peanut gallery!

4 thoughts on “The Book of Lists

  1. EL CHAVO! says:

    Ha ha, the peanut gallery is my army! BTW, what about the name for the craziness when people talk really loud to you because they have their ipod or some other electronics stuck in the ear and refuse to take it off or turn it down when engaging with others? That happened to me today

  2. apio says:

    Rotten vaggies, catcalls, raspberries, etc. should be expected at anything that can be called a performance… including lectures and workshops. Who needs boring pompous shit? And any good experimental or improvisational performer should have the skill to incorporate such responses into their performance.
    El Chavo, as a grumpy, old codger, I’d call the craziness you’re talking about rudeness, but in this therapeutic age when all behavior is a disease, a disorder or a syndrome, I guess we have to find a fitting name. How could we turn “technology-based deafness” into a scientific-sounding disease name? Oh, and what about those little cell=phones and ipods that people plug directly into their ears that look kind of like some high-tech hearing aids? I wouldn’t want to accidentally accuse some genuinely deaf person of having this other disease.

  3. human says:

    i actually find this antheil sonata quite soothing, but then again, i’ve written multiple 12-tone compositions, so my perspective is a bit, shall we say, academic.

    as much as i love artistic riots, i tend to like the things being rioted more than the things that aren’t. if it’s truly dreadful, people will just walk out. it has to be genuinely offensive to cause a riot. in any case, if you go about throwing tomatoes, chances are i’ll be downloading it soon. in fact, report all your throwing so i don’t have to read the paper to find out about it. i am, after all, above else, a lazy man.

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