Life Lists

IN BIRDING, a life list is a record of all the birds you have ever seen. When memory fades as the old synapses begin to go pffft, you merely consult your life list and memories of past happy birding are quickly restored to mind. (A lot of people, I suspect, keep life lists on matters other than birds. I maintain one for Michelin-starred restaurants in France where I have eaten over the years. It's the sort of hobby that provides structure amid the chaos of the contemporary world.)

But back to birds. Knopf has just issued a two-volume book that should prove helpful for aspiring list-compilers. Titled The Bird-watcher's Book of Lists, it includes one volume for the Eastern United States and Canada and another for the West. Each is 128 pages, comes in a pocket-sized loose-leaf format and sells for $7.95. The author, or compiler, of the books is Lester L. Short, chairman and curator of the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In 1985, as you may remember, he led the expedition to Cuba that spotted the ivory-billed woodpecker, which many had thought extinct.

The new volumes in no way obviate the need for guides such as Roger Tory Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin) or The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (Knopf). Indeed, the standard field guides already contain rather compact life lists. But the new volumes are devoted solely to lists and some excellent maps (no bird pictures or descriptions). This means there is more space for notes and comments.

I also like the logic of Short's volumes. They proceed from the sorts of birds you are likely to see in your back garden to waterbirds and birds of prey to harder-to-spot species. The eastern volume would be a handy accessory (along with a field guide) in a room that overlooks a garden, where one can keep a record of the birds passing through or nesting in the area.

"The books are aimed at beginning or part-time birders," said Short in a phone interview. "Someone who is becoming enthusiastic but doesn't have the time to take a plane somewhere to build up his list. They also try to teach gradually. It is true that people will need a field guide as well, but that shouldn't be too much of an inconvenience. Birders today often wear little belt packs. The books are lightweight and will fit easily into them."

Since we had the good man on the phone, we asked him the big birder question -- what's happening with the ivory-billed woodpecker?

"Well, it just so happens that five of us from the Council for Bird Preservation are going to Cuba at the end of the month and will be meeting with Fidel Castro on endangered species. There are search parties out now, checking on the ivory-billed. There are three, possibly four birds in the mountain pine woods at the eastern end of the island. A few years ago it was being hunted. Now all Cuba knows about the bird, and they are very proud and protective of it.

"We'll get a realistic list of things they need for preservation of endangered species -- radios and so forth -- and then come back and try to raise some money to help."

The Business of Business

PROFESSOR William H. Becker of George Washington University is a busy man these days. Not only does he hold appointments in both history and business administration at GWU, but he has just signed up as general editor of The Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography, currently projected to come in at 50 volumes. Meanwhile, he continues to produce books himself at an impressive rate. The 44-year-old Becker, who lives in Columbia, Maryland, has a doctorate in business history from Johns Hopkins and taught at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County before coming to GW in 1980. He made a name for himself with The Dynamics of Business-Government Relations: Industry and Exports 1893-1921 (University of Chicago Press), which won the prestigious Newcomen Award for business history.

With Samuel F. Wells of the Woodrow Wilson Center at the Smithsonian Institution, he edited Economics and World Power (Columbia University Press). "The USIA is bringing out an Arabic edition," says Becker. "It's currently in Cairo being translated."

His latest book is American Business and Management in Perspective: The 20th-Century Experience (Oxford University Press) and his current project is a history of business in Washington, which will be published by the Center for Washington-Area Studies at GWU. "The Greater Washington Board of Trade is currently setting its archives in order, which should be completed within the year," says Becker. "As soon as that is finished, I'll be able to polish off the book because those are the best records on the subject."

What does he think the findings of the book will be?

"That there is more business around than most people would think. Washington's never been a big industrial town, but it's been important in printing, it's always had significant bankers, and by the 20th century, tourism had become a serious factor."

The new encyclopedia of which Becker is general editor is being published by two leaders in the reference-book field, Facts on File of New York and Bruccoli Clark Layman, the scholarship factory in Columbia, South Carolina. It will use biographical entries on key figures, with the volumes divided into various business categories and time periods. The first volume, due in the fall, is called Railroads in the Age of Regulation. "Biography is one of the most accessible forms of history," says Becker. "Already, it is evident that we are going to provide information on very important people who really haven't been identified by scholars before."

Out of the Past

THE BRIGHT puce promotional broadside from a tiny Menlo Park, California, publisher called Perseverance Press carried a different kind of advertising copy. "A new line of old-fashioned mysteries," it said, "with emphasis on the classic whodunit; without excessive gore, exploitive sex or gratuitous violence." Anyone swimming against the current like that seemed worth talking to.

Perseverance Press turned out to a one-person operation run by a 43-year-old mother of three named Meredith Phillips, a Stanford graduate who created her mystery line when she found herself disgusted by Jackie Collins' sex-drenched novel, Lucky.

"A friend recommended it to me," said Phillips. "I started reading it, and it seemed to me to symbolize everything I hated in the contemporary novel. I ended up throwing it across the room -- I wish I had a bonfire to throw it into."

Her motives are not religious. "I don't go to church," she says. "I guess I'm what they call a secular humanist, but I really deplore this exploitive sex. I've tried to explain at some meetings what I mean -- men never seem to get the point, but women always know immediately what I'm talking about."

Phillips' first publication was in 1984 and she wrote it herself. It was called Death Spiral: Murder at the Winter Olympics. "After that," she says, "I realized I had more fun being the publisher than the writer, so I stick to that now." Since then, she has published To Prove a Villain by Guy M. Townsend, Play Melancholy Baby by John Daniel, Chinese Restaurants Never Serve Breakfast by Roy Gilligan and the recently released Rattlesnakes and Roses by Joan Oppenheimer, a romantic mystery set in San Diego. The Gilligan book has sold about 3,000 copies, the others about 2,000.

Phillips' husband, whom she met at Stanford, is a personnel executive with the Syntex Corporation. Perseverance Press turned a small paper profit last year but, she adds, "I'm glad I'm not dependent on it to put bread on the table."

In the Margin

WASHINGTON-AREA author Kitty Kelley, who wrote the bestselling His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, has won the Philip M. Stern Award of the Washington Independent Writers group. The award is named for the group's founder. Kelley was cited as "an enthusiastic, good-natured and caring supporter of independent writers from any station of life and at any point in their careers."

Little, Brown has announced that it will publish a new Thomas Pynchon novel in early 1989. It is Pynchon's first full-scale work of fiction since Viking published Gravity's Rainbow in 1973. Pynchon's editor on the new novel is Ray Roberts, who handled Slow Learner, a collection of Pynchon's early stories published by Little, Brown in 1984. ::