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Jun 14, 2024

Listing the Lists I Don’t List Toward

“Yelp!” I need somebody/”Yelp!” not just anybody…

By Ed Goldman

The New York Times must have a subsidiary that somehow derives income from creating completely useless lists.

How else to explain its recent listing of the funniest novels ever written since “Catch- 22,” the great Joseph Heller book which, among other things, added its title to our vernacular?

Edgy Cartoon

It’s only a legal-yellow-paper moon

As a snarky aside, the Times’s motto has always been, “All the news that’s fit to print.” Acknowledging the thickness of the paper at the time (the 1960s), Mad Magazine changed that to “All the news that fits, we print!”  

Back on topic: For those of you unfamiliar with Catch-22, it concerns the disconnect that occurs when John Yossarian, a U.S. soldier in World War II, wants to leave the army because he feels himself going insane from all the battlefield gore and officious bureaucracy. He wants to be declared mentally unfit for further duty. But the “catch” is that wanting to not be around the violence and soul-draining rules and regs of military life means you’re actually of sound mind.

The book was seen as a satirical watershed when it was published in 1961. If you subscribe to the New York Times theory of humor—which isn’t required when you subscribe to the New York Times itself, thank God—“Catch-22” represented the Mt. Everest of funny novels, with everything that followed barely fit to reach the base camp.

Naturally, the list provoked readers to write about the books and authors they felt were missing, all of which I agreed with—and most specifically, the disgraceful omission of John Kennedy Toole’s posthumous Pulitzer-winning “A Confederacy of Dunces.” After Toole’s suicide, this book got published only because of the tenacity of Toole’s bereaved mom; she reached out to the great novelist Walker Percy who, in turn, made its publication a quiet crusade.

Why do we need lists—except to remind us of what to buy when we go grocery shopping or to double-check pre-flight necessities like making sure an airplane’s doors and tires are securely fastened?

I’ve never purchased a book because it was a best-seller, seen a movie because it was Number 1 at the box office for a millisecond, watched a TV show because it won that week’s Nielsen ratings nor gone to a restaurant because it was awarded a star or two by Michelin, which should stick to making car tires. (Yes, it’s the same company. Begging the question: Would you dine at a place recommended by the manufacturers of STP or WD-40?)

It’s not as though I’m a contrarian by nature (to which some who know me would say, I’ll admit,  “Au contraire“). I just don’t read books, see films, watch TV shows or eat at restaurants if their premises simply don’t interest me.  As a result, I’m sure I’ve missed a lot. I’ve yet to see “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer,” and all of the superhero films. 

I didn’t read any of the spy books of the past 30 years, all of which my mind summarized as “The Syndrome Optimum Conspiracy File.” I never made it through an entire episode of “Game of Thrones,” which struck me as a bunch of British actors loudly declaiming heroic baloney or comic-book villainy while standing in front of a green wall trying to relate to the creatures that’d be added in post-production. I also missed “Succession” and every permutation of “Yellowstone.”

I’ve yet to try some of my region’s trendier “concept” restaurants and realize if I don’t do so pretty soon, they’ll be closing. 

While we’re at it, I haven’t been to Hawaii (yet), the Rain Forest (where I hope to run into Sting while he’s wearing glasses to show his seriousness about its devastation because of my past use of spray deodorant).

What I have read, seen and done comprise a pretty lengthy list. I share some of it in my work—but rest assured, if we ever go to lunch, I won’t force you to sit through all the photos on my iPhone. After all, I want to stay on your A-list.

Don’t forget! A new Goldman State Podcast drops every Friday!


Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).