"All new from cover to cover." proclaims the front cover of the Wallace family's latest effort to forge a collective, fact-soaked epic. The claim almost true. Most of the material is new, and the old stuff has been slightly modified.
At the end of the first "Book of Lists," for example, after the authors final note on plans for their second volume, the index, the photo credits and the brief profiles of the authors, the final printed page contains a moderately endearing graphic pun: a picture of Franz Liszt standing, leaning lightly on a piano, his arms crossed and his gaze fixed firmly (perhaps a shade arrogantly) on the reader.
On the last page of "The Book of Lists #2," Liszt is seated at the keyboard and gazing soulfully (perhaps grumpily) into the distance, With his long white hair he reminds one, somehow, of Wild Bill Hickok -- but more of that in a moment.
Not all is deja vu, to be sure, in this new collection of trivia. Most readers will here encounter for the first time the computer that writes fiction, and they will have a new pride in their humanity after reading a short sample of its output: "James invited Lady Buxley. James liked Lady Buxley, Lady Buxley liked James. Lady Buxley was near James. James caressed Lady Buxley with passion. James was Lady Buxley's lover. Marion following them saw the affair. Marion was jealous."
In some categories, "Lists #2" elaborates on its predecessor. Thus, the brief item on "3 people who died during sex" from the first book is now followed by the less exclusive (and less sexy) "10 well-known people who died in someone's arms" in the new volume without repeating any of the names (Attila the Hun, Felix Faure, Pope Leo VIII) from the first list.
"Lists #2" will be welcomed by those who want to do research on things that have fallen from the sky -- 25 are listed, including money and frozen excreta (presumably from airplanes) as well as the more common-place toads and small fish, the spectacular Skylab and the eerie "white fibrous blobs" and "luminous green snow" that were recorded (in California, of course) in 1977 and 1953. The book may be useful, occasionally -- it has lists of the 10 most wanted Nazi fugitives, the 10 healthiest places to live in the United States, the areas safest (and least safe) from nuclear attack, and the things about their spouses that bother most husbands and wives. a
In some cases, the book is an agent of long-delayed justice -- for example, in its tribute to Margaret Glidden, who perfected the machinery for making flat-bottomed paper bags but nonetheless died poor. It will enlighten those who wonder what cookbooks Julia Childs likes (next to her own), and it will hearten the afflicted with its list of people (including Handel, Whitman, Pasteur and Churchill) who recovered from strokes and went on to signigicant achievements.
Interest may lag during the book's list of 20 bad puns, but it can be revived by dozens of other items. One mourns, reading "Unrealized Plans of 8 Special Geniuses," that Wagner never completed his opera about Buddha, that Debussy's opera on "The Fall of the House of Usher" rests in limbo with Edison's science fiction novel. There is drama of sorts in the lists of winning words from the last 10 national spelling bees (croissant, shalloon, macerate, vouchsafe, hydrophyte, incisor, narcolepsy, cambist, deification, maculature), and for some there may be relief from suffering in the news that an electronic snorestopper has been invented.
The inexplicable has its small but spectacular place in this volume, as in its predecessor. Notable poltergeists are listed this time, as distinguished ghosts were before ("Old Jeffrey," who haunted the family of John Wesley, has made it to both lists), and this time readers are also offered the "8 best-documented cases of UFOs," with no repeats from the last volume's "9 possible visitations from outer space."
A list of notable lists in this volume might be quite long: "Colin Wilson's 10 Strangest Unsolved Murders in History" (with, naturally, a return visit by Jack, the Ripper), "13American Thoroughfares with Unusual Names" (such as Wrong Way in Riverside, Calif.), "20 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time" (a remarkable list that omits "Beggars Banquet" and has nothing by Janis Joplin, Randy Newman, Cream, or Donovan, to name a few), "7 People Who Died Laughing" and "5 persons Who Died Playing Cards."
If you are going to list people who died playing cards, Wild Bill Hickok is, of course, mandatory, and in this volume he appears twice within 10 pages (being also one of the "10 Celbrated People who Read Their Own Obituaties.") The last time around, he was on the list of "fanatical card players," and the story of his death was told -- including the fact that his final poker hand (two pair, aces and eights) is known as the "dead man's hand." As these books proliferate (a third volume has already been promised), the Wallaces will have to ask themselves how many times people want to read about Hickok and Old Jeffrey, how many pictures of Franz Liszt the market will absorb. But so far, they seem still short of the limit.