Scribner, 2009, 256 pages, C$24.00 tp, ISBN 978-1-4165-9473-4
Seven ideas gleaned from reading the Onion’s A.V. Club Inventory
- The web’s lowest-common-denominator excuse for content has finally crossed over to the paper world. Oh, I jest, but only barely: For one thing, books of lists have a long pedigree (From David Wallechinsky’s The Book of Lists series to David Letterman’s books of Top Ten Lists). For another, while Buzzfeed.com has recently perfected the idea of using lists as cheap ways to grab viewer eyeballs on the web to a science, the folks at The A.V. Club have been at it for years, delivering weekly lists of pop-culture trivia. Inventory is a collection of their best lists, along with some original material all wrapped up in pleasant page design.
- Pop culture is hopelessly tribal: Since The A.V. Club is entirely dedicated to pop-culture, expect the lists in Inventory to focus on movies, TV, music or (more rarely) books or video games. Of course, since the lists delve deep into minutiae, their interest is likely to be proportional to your own knowledge of the area. I’m generally knowledgeable regarding movies, a bit less so regarding books or video games, and sort-of-lost in TV and music (it’s a vast universe, and one can’t be expected to know everything) and my interest in the lists was generally proportional to my expertise in the area. Some of the music stuff was dreary and pointless enough to make me skip to the next list; other lists about movies, video games or books felt far more interesting. Inventory is a buffet; take what you want.
- At their dullest, lists are wastes of meaningless trivia: Especially if you have no perceptible interest in the central focal point of the list. “Songs about taking the bus?” Meh. “Songs under 3 minutes.” Really? I don’t need a list of movies about specific things when I can just go get one from IMDB.com
- At their best, lists are a decent way to chunk a larger thesis: Beyond trivia, well-conceived lists become something else: Some of the most remarkable material in Inventory end up building an argument through an accumulation of examples, or a categorization of the same. “Approaches to DVD commentary” isn’t a list as much as a systematic breakdown of how directors approach their DVD commentaries. “Videogames that outraged a nation” paints a capsule history of how videogames pushed the envelope throughout their history. And “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” practically codifies a trope that illuminates a certain kind of self-indulgent filmmaking. All a far more satisfying than listing songs about public transit.
- Talking about Pop Culture is a waste of time… unless you enjoy it: Reading Inventory, it’s hard to avoid the ghastly realization that the book is essentially useless. That lists of trivia are useless. That pop-culture itself is useless. Why, then, does it compel us so much? Perhaps because, as the very name implies, that pop-culture is the glue that binds us to our own self-chosen subcultures. Discussing shared interest is fun, not for the things themselves but for the sentiment of belonging to a group with someone else. Inventory is clearly meant for the cyber-fluent quasi-hipster: The “Heaven/Hell” bits clearly identify the audience as young(ish), urban, progressive and multi-media literate –although classifying Coke as Heaven and Pepsi as Hell is a good way to get on my list of pretentious posers. In keeping with the “Inventory is a buffet” thesis, the most interesting pieces of the book are those that most closely align with our own projected persona.
- Parents of toddlers trying to get back into reading could do worse than beginning with a book of lists: Let’s face it: toddlers require less attention than infants, but they don’t like to be ignored for more than a few minutes. A book of list, easily digestible in chunks of 2-3 minutes, is ideal for reading in such circumstances: Even trivial interruptions don’t feel as annoying when they happen on the eighth item of a meaningless list. Plus you can hand over the bookmark for the toddler to play with and not feel too concerned about losing one’s place in the book.
- There’s not need to go all the way to a top-10 when you’ve said enough.