Monday, 29 October 2007

Book Review: Great Lists I Have Written by Seldom Hatchery

Great Lists I Have Written by Seldom Hatchery is one man’s love letter to lists, and the writing thereof. In this remarkable memoir, Hatchery, a professor of ergonomics and aesthetics at Coventry University, looks back over more than sixty years of lists that he has written.

The first thing that grabs one while reading this book is that in Prof. Hatchery’s hands, the lists have the ability to move us in many ways. They amuse, sadden, anger and warn us, all at the same time. Take one of Seldom’s earliest lists, written in 1951, entitled ‘Things I will do before I’m forty’:

1 Grow a beard
2 Write a book about ghosts
3 Buy a really nice desk
4 Shoot Mrs. Kilkenny
5 Read War & Peace

We are not informed as to whether Prof. Hatchery carried out the items on this list. However, we are given some poignant insight into the state of mind of a young man full of ambition, full of hope, and possibly full of anger towards a mysterious married woman.

While many of the lists are enjoyable reading in their own right, all are brought to life and given wings by Hatchery’s wonderful prose accompanying them. We learn the context of the lists; we learn of their place in time, we learn of their relevance to their own era.

This contextualisation of the lists is displayed incredibly well in the case of some of Hatchery’s most mundane minutiae. For instance, compare these two shopping lists, the first from 1965 and the second from 1997:

Lard
Dripping
An egg
Corn Flakes
Bin bags
Bread

Oysters
Two large rump steaks
Eggs
Harvey’s Bristol Cream
Tabasco sauce
Corn
Stuff Magazine

Professor Hatchery deconstructs these two lists and uses them as a metaphor for his own life at the time. While once he was a man who purchased lard and dripping, now he was a man with a research grant who could afford corn, oysters and extravagant sauces. But yet throughout, at the middle of each list, persevering through time and holding up the lists like a spine or column are the eggs. The change from one egg to ‘some’ eggs (plural) shows, for Hatchery, a display of growth, of aging. In many ways he is the same, but at the same time, he is ‘more’.

Every list that Professor Hatchery has ever written is here, from the interesting (‘Venice Itinerary, 1972’) to the dull (‘Things I need to do this week, February 10 1980’) and from the exhilarating (‘My favourite break-up records, 1965’) to the embarrassing (‘A list of all my colleagues with attractiveness ratings, 1992’). They constitute a good read on their own, but with the author’s commentary to go with them, this book is an essential read.

‘Great Lists I have Written’ by Seldom Hatchery (pp 930) is published by Elemental Quaker Books and is priced £34.99.

2 comments:

Rachel Chan Suet Kay said...

My, you are funny.

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoy the site!