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City Lights: A list for why this recovering list addict is going list-less (from now on)

January 03, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) looks across a battlefield in the aftermath of a terrible siege in this scene from director Steven Spielberg's drama "Lincoln." If Features Editor Michael Miller had to make a list for 2012's best movies, "Lincoln" would probably be No. 1.
President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) looks… (Courtesy DreamWorks…)

Now that Christmas is over, I have a new seasonal tune stuck in my head. Maybe it wasn't intended as a holiday song, but it's one I often find myself humming around the end of December and start of January: "Nothing Was Delivered," an obscure Bob Dylan track from 1967 whose chorus opines, "Nothing is better, nothing is best / Take care of yourself, get plenty of rest."

It's a song that gives me strength as a recovering list addict. I have so far steered clear of whiskey, heroin, gambling and other vices, but for a long stretch of years beginning around high school and ending some time in my mid-20s, I had an insatiable inclination to list things in order of preference — movies, songs, right-handed starting pitchers and just about anything else quantifiable.

Every year in college, as a ritual, my critical-minded friends and I would trade our annual best-of lists: Ten best movies of the year! Ten worst songs of the year!

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While others fretted about Western civilization ending with Y2K, we fretted about whether Lucinda Williams should outpace Gillian Welch on our best-albums-of-the-decade rankings.

I'm better now, of course. (That "Nothing Was Delivered" chorus may have helped; in fact, at the time I stopped making lists, it was my 37th favorite Dylan tune and steadily gaining on "Mr. Tambourine Man" at No. 36.) But just as alcoholics can suffer a relapse during the holidays amid all the wine and merriment, list addicts can find those old temptations nagging them again.

Day after day, left and right, we're bombarded in December with lists from different publications trying to condense the year into five or 10 definitive slots. The New Yorker recently got into the spirit irreverently when it posted a list of "The Hundred Best Lists of All Time," which included Schindler's list (No. 13), the Apollo 11 surface checklist (25) and the National Register of Historic Places (66), with an option to choose Generations of Adam from the Book of Genesis or the Periodic Table of Elements for the top spot, depending on which state you live in.

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