5 thoughts on “Solo from Coode St: On canonical list making”

  1. Excellent podcast, Jonathan.

    List-making has a long and illustrious history and the reasons for partaking in it are simple. Despite being subject to all the pitfalls you mention, it also sparks discussion (like this podcast here) and offers suggestions to those looking to answer the same question themselves. There are no assumptions made about the mentioned titles being comprehensive; the sample size is too small, for one thing. Nor is there any assumption that a book’s exclusion means it *isn’t* worthy or deserving to be in a fan library. List making – especially on the web – is subject to a “Buyer Beware” warning, just like any other opinion.

    There is another motive for lists: they’re fun to read. I certainly hope that folks see this Mind Melds in the proper light of having fun and calling attention to *some* worthwhile books, and not as a definitive list that by necessity must exclude thousands of other titles.

    You’re correct; there are multiple ways to parse the question. That’s partly intentional to increase participation. It’s easier for folks to answer the question as stated than to answer a more specific question about, say, the origins of space opera. The Mind Melds work best when they showcase the mixture of opinions and perspectives of the panelists. The reason for the “10” limit has to do with being sensitive to other people’s time and also post-length control. I was looking for something more meaningful than a simple list of titles and asking folks to choose more than 10 was probably asking them to contribute more than was reasonable to ask of them, timewise. On the flip side, sometimes folks are very…wordy…in their responses and having multiple panelists do the same bumps up into post size limits. So I added the 10-max limit, yet I did suggest in the email that they could work in more titles in their discussions if they felt 10 was too constraining. Across all panelists, we do get a list of more than 10 titles in the end, so that alleviates that limit somewhat.

    But point taken, and more nuanced questions are certainly not something we’d shy away from. Here’s a confession: Coming up with questions is hard. As is finding the right people to ask. The trick is to ask non-yes/no questions to which people feel comfortable responding, and hopefully to get participation from enough panelists to make a decent post. I’m always open to Mind Meld question suggestions (and panelists!), just like this particular one from John Klima, whose original question I misinterpreted – he was actually asking about public libraries, speaking of parsing questions! ;)

  2. Jonathan-

    I broadly agree with your point here, especially in that any cannon-forming discussion you leave out as many worthy books as you put in. But I have to say, ultimately what is a cannon if it’s not a list? I like your point about a more fuzzy set of themes, but: a) has that ever been done, and b) would it be as useful for the people who want official ‘cannons’ (I assume mostly for pedagogical purposes, or maybe just because they like arguing)?

    Anyway, I’ve been loving these podcasts you’ve been doing, here and on Starship Sofa. I’ve listened to more podcasts in the last two weeks than I had in the previous two years. Thanks, and keep it up!

  3. Karen – Hey! I love canon-building, in many ways. I guess maybe what I want to start arguing against is that they need to be ranked numerical lists. – J

  4. Maybe. Yes. I think so. Art is a little more complicated than sport, but ordered/ranked lists are overly simplistic and exclusionary.

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