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Order, order

James Cary


The word 'Buzzfeed' doesn't mean anything, really. If you'd said it to someone a decade ago, they might have thought you were referring to a haircut or an insect. Now it's the name of a company worth nearly a billion dollars. What does it do? Nothing terribly useful. It just produces eye-catching lists of facts, trends, jokes and PR-dressed-up-as-news-or- advice. Like: '29 Reasons Why 2014 Is Already The Year Of The Booty'. I wish I'd made that up. I have not.

Like all things preposterous, it's nothing new. We've always loved lists. Recently, there was Schott's Miscellany, spawning dozens of copycat publications in which random information was presented in an orderly, concise and slightly Victorian fashion. And before those was the Great Book. One of the best selling books not written by Delia Smith: The Guinness Book of Records, itself the holder of the record of Book Most Often Stolen From Libraries. It contained, and presumably still contains, hundreds of lists of the greatest and the best. I spent hours of my childhood reading it. Why? Here are five reasons why we love lists:

1. Lists are easy to read. A page of them contains lots of white space (and probably advertising). It's not prose. The grammar is simple. There's no context and you can take it in very quickly. It's the 'Bacon Buttie On White Bread' of reading. (By this reckoning poetry should be wildly popular - perhaps if more of it was about Kim Kardashian and sat on the internet next to adverts for Slimming Pills, it would come back as a popular art form.)

2. Lists are easy to finish reading. Normally, you're told how many things are in the list so you can read it and know how long it's going to take, or how many pictures of eerily deserted railway stations you have to get through. Right, three left.

3. Lists are easy to write. They don't require clever grammar or much imagination. You just take your information and lay it out with a unifying theme. Or you just put down your jokes about former child stars one after the other, with your best first, and second best last.

4. Lists come naturally to us. God made the world in some kind of order. And he made us to look after thatworld and work within that order. There are seasons and cycles to deal with. And when you're trying to fill the earth and subdue it, best make a list.

5. Lists come naturally to God. The Bible is full of lists. The commandments, condensed to ten and then to two by Jesus. There are genealogies galore, lists of tribe members, terrible sins, spiritual fruit, armour and heroes of the faith. Clearly, lists are part of the divine code of life.

I mention lists because there's been a Facebook fad of listing ten books that have 'stayed with you'. Buzzfeed ran a compilation of them, producing a Top Twenty books found on our favourite Top Tens. There were no real surprises, except for one book I'd never heard of called A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. So here's my list.

1. Three Men in Boat by Jerome K Jerome. When I read it aged 13 I had no idea that old books could make me cry laughing - especially the bit about Pineapple Chunks.

2. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend. When I won a book prize at school, I chose this. My mother was mortified. I still think about Barry Kent.

3. Conversations with my Agent by Rob Long. A fictionalised version of what happened when a writer on Cheers had to create his own show.

4. The House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne. I really don't understand why this isn't on everyone's list. Seriously.

5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I read it then passed it onto my wife who read it on our honeymoon. We barely spoke for three days.

6. The 39 Steps by John Buchan. Utterly gripping.

7. The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer contains the best opening paragraph of any book I've ever read.

8. Therapy by David Lodge. Another book about a sitcom- writer. Sorry.

9. Lord of the Rings. Obviously.

10. Summer Lightning by PG Wodehouse. Because there has to be a Wodehouse on everyone's list, doesn't there?