The List: The Uses and Pleasures of Cataloguing

Yale University Press, 1 . 2004 . - : 252

I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house, wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden. In creating this list, and many others that appear in his writings, Thoreau was working within a little-recognized yet ancient literary tradition: the practice of listing or cataloguing. This beautifully written book is the first to examine literary lists and the remarkably wide range of ways writers use them.
Robert Belknap first examines lists through the centuriesfrom Sumerian account tablets and Homers catalogue of ships to Tom Sawyers earnings from his fence-painting schemethen focuses on lists in the works of four American Renaissance authors: Emerson, Whitman, Melville, and Thoreau. Lists serve a variety of functions in Emersons essays, Whitmans poems, Melvilles novels, and Thoreaus memoirs, and Belknap discusses their surprising variety of pattern, intention, scope, art, and even philosophy. In addition to guiding the reader through the lists many uses, this book explores the pleasures that lists offer.



The Literary Listi
A List of Literary Lists


Robert E. Belknap is instructor of English at Saint Marys School in Raleigh, North Carolina.