Five Reasons I'm Tired of Lists

Late last year, as I was negotiating the details of a story assignment with an editor over email, he lamented to me about the difficulty of reconciling meaningful content with the tendency of web audiences to scan. While I don't deny that the proliferation of news and entertainment online has changed (and is changing) our reading habits, I will say that I recognize the utility of ordered information.

Lists can be a quick, handy way to gain some understanding of an unfamiliar subject, and occasionally lead to serendipitous discoveries. For writers, they can encourage careful thinking and considered selectivity. And although they aren't a form of expression I particularly enjoy, I am guilty of list-making myself. But lately it seems like every other article is trying to tout the Top Five Ways to Brush Your Teeth or the World's Best Places for Cold Cereal.

I find this trend somewhat disappointing, especially when it comes to travel writing. So, in the hopes of attracting people with a surfeit of time and yet lack anything resembling an attention span, I decided to outline my thoughts in a easy-to-skim format.
  1. Travel Writing Should Inspire Curiosity. Some of my favorite—and arguably the best—examples of this genre are long, thoughtful ruminations that don't include a single recommendation. The writer transports you to a place and then pulls back the curtain on a peculiar aspect of it that they alone have investigated. You think to yourself: I wonder what I would say to a magical penis thief if I met one?
  2. Every Experience Doesn't Need a Ranking. If you're going to bother leaving your routines at home, go ahead and forget about what you think you're supposed to do when you reach your destination too. Do something for the hell of it. Try something you might not like. Believe it or not, misadventures often make for fond memories.
  3. Lists Value Templates Over Talent. As another writer I admire once said at a reading series I enjoy attending: Ideas are easy. Stories are hard. Call me old-fashioned, but I think there's something to be said for accepting a challenge every now and then.
  4. Experts Are a Dime a Dozen. Let's say you spent a long weekend in Baltimore. You caught an Orioles game, checked out the National Aquarium, feasted on crabs at Phillips, and wandered over to Little Italy for cannoli after dinner. Wonderful. Tell your friends and family about the great time you had in Charm City, but please don't call yourself an insider.
  5. Itemization Begets Impatient Readers. I'll be slightly impressed if you make it this far into my post.


  1. Can you direct me to that article about the World's Best Places for Cold Cereal?

  2. Will you still be slightly impressed if I just skipped to the end?

  3. Skipping to the end would be impressive if you then read my list in reverse order...

  4. Ben, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. This list´s useful for all types of writing. When i posted it on Facebook, this handsome picture of you showed up!! Let´s see some pictures from Iceland soon.