Marilyn Monroe was frequently very late to arrive when filming on set. So it may come as a surprise that she explicitly told herself, in her list of New Year’s Resolutions for the year 1956, that there are ‘No excuses for ever being late’. She was 29 years old at the time and had starred in many successful films (The Seven Year Itch for example) and she had just been accepted as a student at a renowned drama school in New York called the Actors’ Studio. Judging by her other resolutions (‘Work whenever possible’) she was clearly very driven and committed to try and continue her success as an actress.
This is Lists of Note, a sister book to the ever-popular Letters of Note. Except it’s a collection of lists. Reminders, to-do lists, how-to lists, calendric lists, shopping lists, the list is endless – literally.
We can read Roald Dahl’s expansive list of vocabulary he created for his children’s book The BFG. Words like ‘Bizzfizz’ and ‘Swogglewop’ have been written with urgent annotations and scrawled commentary. Some, however, did not make the cut. ‘Fizzwiggler’ was furiously crossed out several times and Dahl must have returned to this catalogue of terms repeatedly as there are numerous notes in pencil and different coloured pens across the entire page.
In a similar vein, although in a wholly different era, is the amusing list of potential names drawn up by the writing team at Disney for the seven dwarfs in Snow White. There could have been a dwarf called Cranky or Blabby!
In complete contrast, you’ll be very shocked at the sinister list of alarming ‘Reasons for Admission: West Virginia Hospital For The Insane’ dated 1889. From the vague ‘Imaginary female trouble’ and ‘Mental excitement’, patients were admitted to the psychiatric hospital with physical conditions such as epileptic fits and asthma.
It’s this roller-coaster of emotions you’ll go through when reading Lists of Note that make the book so significant. You will be forced to fight a smile as F. Scott Fitzgerald conjugates the verb ‘To Cocktail’: ‘Conditional: I might have cocktailed’ and the hilarious list by Tina Fey on women’s supposed deficiencies in her 2011 memoir. Leonardo da Vinci’s unstoppably inquisitive mind is revealed as we can observe that he wanted to get to the bottom of ‘What is yawning?’
Lists of Note is such an incredible book. I recommend it unreservedly.
‘Lists of Note’ was released on 2nd October, compiled by Shaun Usher, published by Canongate Books, £30.
More about the Lists of Note project here.