Good Reads for Writers: Mountain Man Dance Moves, The McSweeney’s Book of Lists

Cathy BelbenReviewed By Cathy Belben
When, if ever, is a list literature? Although the editors of Found (www.found.com) might argue with me, I believe it’s a rare list that qualifies as entertaining, intelligent, engaging, thought-provoking and original. Unless finding Grandma’s grocery list for corn niblets, a new plastic hair bonnet and kitty litter meets these criteria for you, it’s unlikely that you’ll find many memorable lists.

Enter McSweeney’s (www.mcsweeneys.net). The site maintains a regular feature (open to submissions; see Web site for details) consisting of lists that do meet high standards—they’re funny, unique, smart and sassy reflections on history and pop culture. After all, isn’t it about time someone confronted Charlie Daniels, as John Moe does, in “Thirty-Nine Questions for Charlie Daniels Upon Hearing ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ for the First Time in Twenty-Five Years”?

Checking in with the online compilation of lists is sufficient to keep up with the cultural zeitgeist as captured in lists, but to truly appreciate the form and its humor and insight, it is imperative to read the collected works as they appear in Mountain Man Dance Moves. You might be confused (“The Week Ahead: Five-Word Verification Strings to Watch For”) or skeptical (“Notable Bands of 2005”) about some of the entries, but you’ll assuredly be entertained by at least one.

McSweeney’s Mountain Man selections offer creative and (and occasionally bewildering) ideas about practicing expression through precision and meticulous word choice. As a left-brained, list-making alphabetizer, I’m delighted to see the form exalted by McSweeney’s, and I think other writers will be too.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

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