There is no more tired, cynical trope than the end-of-the-year Top 10 list. It's a completely lazy, unimaginative way to get people to buy magazines and build traffic on Web sites. These "listicles" are everywhere, especially this year, because it's also the end of the decade. (See NEWSWEEK’s own 20/10 project.) But they do have a way of sucking you in, which is why editors keep insisting on publishing them. Before you know it you're paging through the top 100 iTunes songs or the 10 best cupcake recipes and you've blown half the afternoon.
I confess I cruise the lists now and again. Like all day at work yesterday, for instance. What I found as I searched for a very easy column subject that I could phone in on Christmas Eve, was that some of these lists are actually kind of cool. Like the one I saw that rated snowmen. Others are useful and provide important information we can use in our daily lives, like the one I found that ranked urinals. Well, before I knew it I was making a list myself of the top 10 top 10 lists I have seen this year.
But my list is different. It is not the cynical, clicks-driven exercise of the type those other, lazy journalists slap together on the day before a long holiday weekend. Not at all. My list is the hard-won result of a gritty nose-to-the-grindstone effort undertaken as a public service for you, my readers.
It is no easy task to Google thousands of top 10 lists, let alone the dozens or more I must have Googled. But I think you deserve a break. After all, your life is such that you have chosen to spend some of it reading a top 10 list about top 10 lists. The least I can do is make it easy on you, along with recommending some time away from the Internet, or a dating service. Or an Internet dating service.
And it wasn't easy narrowing down my list to just 10 top 10s. There were at least 11 lists worthy of being honored in this space. But journalism is about making hard choices. So herewith my top 10 top 10s of 2009. Read them and enjoy, or skip them and reclaim 15 precious minutes of your life. Whichever you choose is my holiday gift to you, dear readers.
Top 10 Snowmen
Dscriber.com mines "snowman expert" Bob Eckstein's remarkable—seriously—snowman photo collection, complete with brief history notes and wonderful sepia-toned photos of snowmen through the years. He's even written a book about it.
(True story about my mom: When she was a little girl she built an upside-down snowman with her sister, Gail, with boots poking up where the top hat should be. A man ran his car into a fence trying to figure out what the hell it was.)
9. Top 10 New Species - 2009
This great and fascinating list from The International Institute for Species Exploration features a palm that flowers itself to death, a pea-size pony, and a new hairspray-based life form. You can also read about "a snail that's whorls apart," which proves that scientists still know how to have pun.
8. Top 10 Google Phone Rumors
My favorite: "All the rumors of the Google phone are false, and the whole thing was made up by Apple."
(Second true story about my mom: When she was a young woman in rural Virginia, she started getting obscene phone calls. This was no secret to the rest of the folks in town, because the pervert had to use the party line which meant we all got obscene phone calls. He was later arrested.)
7. NASCAR’s Top 10 Twitter Personalities
Among other things, this list highlights the Twitter stylings of driver Juan Pablo Montoya. He tweets "every morning when he takes his kids to school, what he eats for lunch, when he's playing with his model helicopters (and crashing them), and when it's time to go to bed." This will finally quiet those naysayers who argue that men in cars turning left for four hours is boring.
6. The Top 10 Moments in Cleveland Sports in 2009
The URL for this site says it all: waitingfornextyear.com.
5. eWEEK Selects Its Top 10 Storage Stories of 2009
Because even nerds need a list to call their own this holiday season.
4. Top 10 Scottish News Stories in 2009
If you don't think anything important happened in Scotland last year, try No. 10 from The Telegraph's list on for size: "Alex Salmond taunts Unionists over independence referendum plans." This Mr. Salmond also made the list by unveiling a white paper. Remember: “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!”
3. Top 10 Holiday Date Ideas From Ask Men
This site gives such laughable advice as taking your woman to the Nutcracker, even though it's "a bit girlie." Even more ridiculous: "Doing things for other people is what it's all about ... Remember, it's better to give than to receive." Ha! Good one, Askmen.com. If it doesn't work out with the girl you took to the ballet, you can take solace in their list of Top 10 "Psycho Chicks."
2. Top 10 Baby Names for 2009
I find this fascinating for two reasons: the winner for girls, according to hundreds of thousands of baby names compiled at babycenter.com, was Isabella. USA Today and other news organizations speculate that's because of the popularity of the Twilight books and movies. So these parents are naming their girls after a truculent monosyllabic adolescent who lusts after a vampire. The name Jackson moved to No. 3 on the male baby list, apparently because of the death of Michael Jackson. So these parents are naming their children in honor of a 112-pound Peter Pan, known as much for his peculiar personal life as his prodigious talent. Heath also made a jump up the list, as proud new parents flocked to name their children after Hollywood actor Heath Ledger, who tragically died of a drug overdose.
(Third true story about my mom: She took my middle name from a famous movie character, but I'm not telling which one. I will offer that it's not the most manly of names, and let's just say it led to some character-building beat-downs when I was a kid, and at least one totally uncalled for locker room swirlie.)
I wrap up my list with what we in the dying news biz call an "evergreen." Sure, it's not technically about 2009, but it's my favorite, and it's my column, so I'm taking some artistic license.
1. Top 10 Most Fascinating Urinals
"Don't see your favorite urinal on this list? Let us know!" screams the Web site. Here you can view urinals that range from the Taj Mahal to a "women's urinal" at a Dairy Queen in Port Charlotte, Fla. Despite that tough competition, the prize winner is at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station: "No other urinal in the world or even space can compete with the efforts and loss of life that went into [this fixture's] eventual permanence at the South Pole. What it may lack in beauty it more that makes up for in dignity."
Ah, dignity. That's something I've thrown overboard by closing my Christmas column with an item about urinals. At least I can take some comfort that my name's not Heath Jackson. Though my middle name's not far from Isabella.