Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Listing to Starboard (or is it Port?)

I am a compulsive maker of lists. I make a list for everything, including a master list that lists all my other lists. I’ve made a million lists over the years, most of them on cocktail napkins (both wet and dry), on the back of junk mail envelopes, and in the margins of the newspaper. A ton of my lists have been washed and dried, which makes for a very clean and softened list but alas, also a very blank one.

Even if I have nothing in particular to do, I make a list:


1. Nothing in particular.
2. If something in particular comes up, I'll let me know.

* * * * *

With hindsight and regret, there is a list I never made—or ever thought of making. It is a list (best kept in a wirering notebook), of the good books I’ve read during my lifetime.

What made me think about it was a discussion of Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase on LibraryThing. “I’ve read that!” I thought, and in fact I’ve read it twice, back about the time it came out in 1964 or so. But do you think I could remember anything about it? The story, the characters, maybe a quote or two? No, on all counts. All I could do was read the discussion, keep my yap shut, and feel the frustration.

The same thing has happened with Steinbeck, Chaim Potok, The Catcher in the Rye, and On the Road. It isn’t that my memory is shot; rather, it’s a matter of reading too many books too long ago and not remembering anything but the title and author.

How nice it would have been, then, to start a book list, a book journal, when I was in high school—in conjunction with (or instead of) making lists of dates in history and the abbreviations of the elements in chemistry. The high school lists are long gone, but I sure wish I had some notes on Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There and Pinball.

Perhaps I'll be a bit smarter in my next life when I come back as a library cat named Louie.

* * * * *

Poor Martha and her grocery lists. She makes one every week, and every week when she goes shopping, the list is on the kitchen table right where she left it. Not occasionally or once in a while, but every single week. We even have a routine when she gets home:

“You, uh, forgot your shopping list,” I tell her.

“I know, but I remembered almost everything on it.”

[This part varies]
“Did you remember the double-chocolate triple-fudge brownie with quadruple-dark chocolate sauce on top ice cream? And the hot fudge for it?”

[This part doesn't vary]
“Nope. Those are the two I forgot. I did get a nice strawberry rhubarb pie, though.”

The reason she “forgot” is because the ice cream was for ME and the pie was for HER. To prove it, listen to this:

“You know I can’t eat strawberry-rhubarb pie—it lies on my chest all night,” I say.

“Well no one is forcing you to eat it. Don’t worry; it’ll get eaten before it turns green."

It would be easy to get angry, but I don’t. She’s the one who spends her time and energy shopping, schlepping the bags around, and putting the groceries up—all because I can’t do it any more. Martha does her best, and I find her list- forgetfulness kind of endearing, something that’s unique about her.

But damn, I sure miss my family-size bowl of chocolate crash cart before I put on my jammies . . .


Wandering Coyote said...

You mean you don't like rhubarb? Shocking!

Jimmy Bastard said...

You had me at the forgotten shopping list. So much truth in your words on that subject!

koonsmother said...

*ssshhhh...don't tell Martha she's not that unique, but I always forget my shopping list too.* As for the book journal, I know a certain too-smart-for-her-own-good PhD candidate who HAS been keeping one since high school. You'll run in to her from time to time on Library Thing. (Hint: It isn't me, but we share some DNA)

savannah said...

give the darling woman YOUR list before she walks out the door, sugar! see if that helps. or try the MITM's trick, he calls my cellphone while i'm in the store! xoxoxo

(thanks for the little piece of your heart.)

Mary Witzl said...

I never remember my shopping lists either, and like Martha, the act of writing them fixes almost everything in my mind. The stuff I never seem to remember in proper quantities is all the stuff my husband needs like a hole in the head. He prefers to do the shopping himself. I've got my own secret stash of chocolate, well hidden.

Tiffin said...

Oh Charlie, you hit such a chord with your wish that you had recorded everything you had read, starting way back when. I've been thinking of printing off my LT lists for the past three years and pasting them in a journal, along with the reviews I've done. Instead of thinking of how much we haven't read, might we be quite impressed with ourselves at what we HAVE read? Like you, the content of some books is gone although the title remains.

Also a chronic list maker here. Totally lost without them. Certain medications create permanent memory loss, so lists and post it notes are its substitute these days. My husband's memory astonishes me: he can't remember a conversation or a person's name but he can remember the code number on a lightbulb.

Pat said...

You don't think Martha is forgetting to buy your goodies because they aren't good for you? MTL prefers to do the shopping because that way he never runs out of crumpets, cakes, apple pies and chocolate bars which would be very low on my list - if on at all.
I'm with you on forgetting books one has read - Hemingway, Fitzgerald et al but remember every precious chapter of Alcott's 'Little Women and 'Good Wives'.

Kevin Musgrove said...

there's also the list of books you wish you could forget ever reading...

Robert the Skeptic said...

I also am guilty of leaving the grocery list at home when I head to the store. one time I did this but I knew there were only three things on it so I thought I would remember what they were. I found two of the items when I got to the store (coffee and coffee filters) but for the life of me I couldn't remember what the third thing on the list was. OK, I thought, I would just cruise up and down the aisles and it would jog my memory. Nothing. I left the store pissed that I would now have to make a separate trip back to the store for the lone forgotten item.

When I got home, I found the list I had made there on the counter where I had left it. It read:

coffee filters
coffee filters

Charlie said...

WC: I like rhubarb--used to eat it raw when I was a kid--but it lies on my chest at night. Whatever the hell that means.

JIMMY: There must be a worldwide pandemic of grocery list forgetfulness. The ice cream industry is losing big-time.

KM: (If that's your REAL name.) I'm willing to bet you never forget your bowling ball, your bowling shoes, and your bowling shirt that has "Ed's Eats" embroidered on it.

And of course you're talking about the lovely and smart The Betrothed, who's still somewhat bratty at times.

SAVVY: #1: I'm too busy dancing to give her the shopping list. #2: She won't answer her phone if she sees my name on the display. #3: You still have a piece of my heart.

Charlie said...

MARY: You have my curiosity aroused about "all" the stuff your husband needs, and in proper "quantities." Is he the chef of the house or just an ordinary glutton?

TIFFIN: Ah Tui, you poor thing. I know about meds and lists--I use one of those plastic weekly pill sorter things because I forget whether or not I've taken something I should have.

As far as your lists and reviews on LT, I'd go for it--at least you'll have some records to refresh your memory. It's funny, though, how we remember titles and, in most cases, the author.

PAT: Since I don't drink, smoke, or have sex with wanton women, I'll settle for a chocolate overdose.

And I'm glad that you can remember two of your favorite books--you're two up on me.

KEVIN: Boy, there's been a TON of those over the years, but I don't keep a shitlist.

ROBERT: LOL! That's a great story, but it does say something about your mental agility.

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

I haven't been in my googlereader for days....
So I am late to the party - Charlie's words.

You know I am a list maker too. I haven't gotten so far as to make lists of my lists yet. Perhaps that will develop as I age.

But what I was thinking about here is that memory is a funny thing....
You could actually start that list of books you are thinking you wished you had kept notes on and just work on it a little here and there and who knows what will happen....
could be very interesting, rewarding, and potentially hilarious in your hands....

Take Care.

Peter said...

Hi, Charlie! I would love to see your list of the good books that you've read. I can imagine it being a very diverse one. I'm a sucker for lists, but I approach lists labeled as "The 100 Best Novels of All Time" with a healthy dose of skepticism. "Best" is always relative.

As for my list of best books I've read, I find that the books listed in them varies at different stages of my life. One thing hasn't changed though: my favorite novels would always be I, Claudius by Robert Graves and Independent People by Halldor Laxness.

Al said...

I never remember a thing without a list.
Which for some reason reminds me how I was taught, by an old sailor, to remember the difference between Port and Starboard.
"There is some Port Left in the bottle."

Pat said...

'You know I can’t eat strawberry-rhubarb pie—it lies on my chest all night,'

Charlie honey - if pie means the same there as here - ie pastry - that is the culprit. I have the same problem - pastry lies heavy. Rhubarb fool would be good. And I truly don't begrudge your choccies.

koonsmother said...

I'll have you know my bowling shirt does NOT say "Ed's Eats". It says "A Little Pizza Heaven --As Good As Italian Gets". Which I say is a back-handed compliment, but I'm not responsible for it. And the food there IS very good.

Charlie said...

SHELLIE: It's easy to make a master list of your lists if you use Excel or some other worksheet program.

PETER: I saw that you did a 15 best book list in 15 minutes on your blog the other day. I'll put up my own here in a little while.

AL: Now that's easy to remember--even though I don't drink. Thanks for stopping by and imparting your wisdom.

PAT: I don't really eat as much chocolate as I pretend to do--at least not anymore. And I think you're right about the pastry. I guess the thing to do is eat it with high tea instead of a before-bedtime snack.

KM: Alright already. I should have guessed that it would be a pizza place since I know your neck of the woods is famous for its pizza.

That's kind of a long name on a bowling shirt, especially if your name is on it too. It must either be in 10 point or it wraps around you two or three times.

koonsmother said...

My name isn't on it, and it doesn't look much like a bowling shirt. It's a bright red t-shirt and it came out of the bin of shirts they keep on hand to sell to people who, having eaten Toni's fabulous Pizza Margherita topped with Darryl's homemade fresh mozzarella, wish to pay for the privilege of advertising the place on their backs and bosoms. You just wish you could even SMELL such pizza. ("What? Oh, yeah, thanks, Toni, I will have another slice.")

Charlie said...

KM: Sadist.

Alice said...

Another perpetual list maker and forgetter here. But even worse, I made my husband buy the totes to take with him to the store, instead of using the plastic bags. That was two months ago and in probably the 20 trips to the store since, do you know how many times we took them with us? Zero. I also pack my lunch to take to work and leave it on the counter. I blame the counter. Thanks for your humor, by the way. Since I've been stalking you for a while now.

Charlie said...

ALICE: It's not often that I'm stalked by Alice in Wonderland--it makes me wonder, though, why you left Wonderland for this side of the tracks.

I wonder, too, if there's something in the water that causes people to forget their lists. Or their totes. Or their lunch.

It's a good thing our heads are sewn on.