Alphabestiary — explained
Anyone following this blog will recognize that I have begun a series of entries that I am calling my “alphabestiary.” I thought I might explain what I am doing.
I am currently researching and writing the seventh entry in the series, a piece about Galileo Galilei. Such a thing takes a lot of time and effort — more than you might imagine. I am about two-thirds of the way through and trying to work out a knotty problem: how to explain his trial and confinement without getting boggled up in the minutiae of 17th century Roman Catholic doctrine and Vatican law. It’s daunting.
And so, while I am working on the research and the de-clogging of that, I thought I might explain what brought all this on.
Since I was given this blog on my retirement from The Arizona Republic in 2012 — given to me by my colleagues on my leaving — I have written nearly 700 entries, which means I have written almost as much in retirement as I did when working. (As I have often said, writers never really retire, they just stop getting paid for it.) It’s an addiction. If you are a writer, you write just in the same way as how you breathe. You can’t stop or you die.
And it’s not that I have run out of subjects to write about, but after 688 blog essays (this is No. 689), I sometimes have to program a plan for coming up with new pieces if one doesn’t present itself automatically. And so, I have started the occasional alphabestiary piece.
The idea came to me after reading Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia, a hefty book from 2007 in which James writes about historical and literary figures and arranges the biographies in alphabetical order. He covers 106 figures in the 876-page book, which is subtitled: “Necessary Memories from History and the Arts.”
James, for anyone who is unfamiliar, was an Australian-born London-based essayist, poet, TV-presenter and critic who was a ubiquitous public intellectual in England until his death in 2019. His style was distinct, breezy, witty and with many a clever turn of phrase (“All I can do is turn a phrase until it catches the light,” he wrote about writing).
The essays in Cultural Amnesia each come in two parts: The first is fairly straight-forward potted biography, then, separated by a quote from the first part, comes an essay by James about something suggested by the biography. It might be only tangentially related, but writing about whichever person has tickled his imagination to find a buried connection.
I liked this plan a lot. I’ve read great wads of James, his TV criticism (which first brought him fame), his poetry (which is surprisingly good, even if most of it rhymes), his critical and political essays, and even when I might disagree with him, he is always an absolute pleasure to read.
And so, I stole a bit of his idea and modified it. If I have a momentary lapse in inspiration for the blog, I move to a new letter of the alphabet and find myself a subject. Inspiration, after all, doesn’t come from angels tapping you on the noggin with a magic wand — it comes from typing. Get started and the daimon swoops in unnoticed to guide your fingers on the keyboard. Inspiration is the doing, not the waiting.
In my version, I planned a single subject per alphabet letter, not the multiples that James has in his book. And I thought, to make it just a bit more interesting for me, let’s only choose names where the first and surnames begin with the same letter. AA, BB, CC, etc.
And so, I began with Ansel Adams, followed with Betty Boop, Caryl Chessman,
Denis Diderot, Edward Elgar and Federico Fellini. And I am now hard at work on Galileo Galilei. It should pop out sometime in the next week.
And so, chug, chug, the old writer keeps on moving forward, unable to stop.
As a kind of footnote, I thought I should append a list, to show just how variable the alphabet is in spitting up potential subjects. Some letters are filthy with choice, others are deserts. And while you might guess that finding an “X” could be somewhat rare, it still surprised me, making up my list of potentials, that while there are many, many “M” names, there are surprisingly few “N” possibles.
I made my list from a passel of sources. No one place online had all I needed. I searched “alliterative names” and found some, but I must have waded through a dozen sites to compile my list, which, to be honest, includes quite a few names I had never heard of — and you probably haven’t either.
I thought you might find the list entertaining, in that way lists can be. And if you can help me out by adding some I’ve missed, by all means, add them in the comment section. You may save me from having to write an essay about Qozidavlat Qoimdodov (yes, he’s real).
And so, here is my listilicious roster of names. Help me add to them.
Ansel Adams, Amy Adams, Abigail Adams, Andre Agassi, Alan Alda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Aziz Ansari, Adam Ant, Alan Arkin, Arthur Ashe, Amedeo Avogadro
Barbi Benton, Barry Bonds, Betty Boop, Brian Blessed, Backstreet Boys, Bilbo Baggins, Brigitte Bardot, Bob Barker, Beach Boys, Beastie Boys, Ben Bernanke, Bernardo Bertolucci, Benazir Bhutto, Bill Bixby, Ben Bradlee, Bill Bradley, Benjamin Bratt, Bugs Bunny, Billy Burke, Barbara Bush
Caryl Chessman, Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Chan, Christopher Columbus, Calvin Coolidge, Carlos Castaneda, Coco Chanel, Carol Channing, Cesar Chavez, Chris Christie, Charlotte Church, Cassius Clay, Chelsea Clinton, Claudette Colbert, Charles Colson, Courteney Cox, Cindy Crawford
Denis Diderot, Dorothy Dandridge, Doris Day, Dana Delany, Don DeLillo, Drea De Matteo, Dorothea Dix, Dr. Demento, Don Draper, David Duchovny, Daisy Duke
Edward Elgar, Emilio Estevez, Eddie Edwards, Eddie the Eagle, Erik Estrada
Federico Fellini, Francisco Franco, Faith Ford, Farrah Fawcett, Freddy Fender, Fionnula Flanagan, Fannie Flagg, Frances Farmer, Felix Frankfurter, Fyvush Finkel, Fannie Farmer, Frankie Frisch
Greta Garbo, Greer Garson, Grace Gummer, Galileo Galilei, George Gershwin, Gal Gadot, George Gallup, Gabrielle Giffords, Gilbert Gottfried, Graham Greene, Germaine Greer, George Gobel
Harry Houdini, Humbert Humbert, Helen Hayes, Harriet Hosmer, Howard Hawks, Hugh Hefner, Henry Heimlich, Henry Hudson, Heinrich Himmler, Hulk Hogan, Hal Holbrook, Herbert Hoover, Howard Hughes, Hubert Humphrey, Holly Hunter, Helen Hunt, Heinrich Heine
Itziar Ituño, Ivan Illich, Ilya Ivanov, Ilya Ivashka, Ivan Ilyin
Jim Jarmusch, James Joyce, Janis Joplin, Janet Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Jesse James, John Jay, Jasper Johns, James Earl Jones, January Jones, Jennifer Jones, Jim Jones
Kim Kardashian, King Kong, Kevin Kline, Killer Kowalski, Kato Kaelin, Khloe Kardashian, Ken Kesey, Klaus Kinski, Kunta Kinte, Keira Knightley, Kris Kringle, Kublai Khan
Lois Lane, Linda Lovelace, Louis L’Amour, Lucy Lawless, Lucille Le Seuer, Lee Liberace, Laura Linney, Lucy Liu, Lara Logan, Lindsay Lohan, Lyle Lovett, Lucky Luciano, Louis Lumiere, Loretta Lynn, Loretta Lynch
Marilyn Monroe, Mercedes McCambridge, Malcolm McDowell, Mad Max, Mary Magdalene, Moses Maimonides, Marilyn Manson, Mickey Mantle, Meghan Markle, Marky Mark, Mary Martin, Melissa McCarthy, Matthew McConaughey, Mitch McConnell, Mark McGwire, Margaret Mead, Mickey Mouse, Martin Milner, Mini-Me, Margaret Mitchell, Maria Montessori, Mandy Moore, Marianne Moore, Mary Tyler Moor, Michael Moore, Marion Morrison, Mike Myers, Michelangelo Merisi
Nick Nolte, Nichelle Nichols, Natalya Neidhart, Nigel Ng, Niecy Nash, Natti Natasha, Nazriya Nazim, Nicephore Niepce, Nell Newman
Ozzy Osbourne, Olive Oyl, Oona O’Neill, Olive Oatman, Olusegun Obasanjo, Olivia O’Brien, Özge Özpirinçci, Olivia Olson, Oliver Onions, Olivia Ong, Olga Ostroumova
Pablo Picasso, Parker Posey, Pete Postlethwaite, Pauley Perrette, Peter Parker, Pawel Pawlikowski, Peter Pan, Pink Panther, Pol Pot, Pope Pius IX, Paula Poundstone, Prince Philip, Punxsutawney Phil
Qin Qin, Qu Qiubai, Qi Qi, Qozidavilat Qoimdodov
Ronald Reagan, Roy Rogers, Ricky Ricardo, Robert Redford, Ralph Reed, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Rice, Robert Ripley, Richard Rodgers, Robert Rodriguez, Ray Romano, Rebecca Romijn, Ruby Rose, Rosie Ruiz, Rene Russo
Steven Spielberg, Susan Sarandon, Simone Signoret, Sissy Spacek, Sylvester Stallone, Sam Shepard, Sheryl Sandberg, Stephanie Seymour, Sidney Sheldon, Sarah Silverman, Shel Silverstein, Sirhan Sirhan, Severus Snape, Steven Soderbergh, Suzanne Somers, Stephen Sondheim, Sonia Sotomayor, Sam Spade, Splendid Splinter, SpongeBob SquarePants, Sri Srinivasan, Saint Sebastian, Sharon Stone, Sutan of Swat
Tina Turner, Ted Turner, Tiny Tim, Terry Thomas, Tim Tebow, Tiffany Trump
Umit Ulgen, Usha Uthup, Udo Ulfkotte, Ugyen Ugyen
Vince Vaughn, Vivian Vance, Vincent Van Gogh, Vidya Vox, Victor Valdes, Val Valentino, Virginia Vallejo, Ville Valo, Victoria Vetri, Victor Vasarely, Violetta Villas, Vito Volterra, Violette Verdy, Via Vallen, Vanessa Vadim
William Wyler, William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Wilson, William Wallace, Wil Wheaton, Walter White, Wicked Witch of the West, Wendy Williams, William Carlos Williams, Willy Wonka
Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl, Xuxa, Xu Xin, Xie Xinfang, Xia Xuanze
Yo-Yo Ma, Yoo Yeon-seok, Yukio Yamaji, Yelena Yemchuk, Yu Yamada, Yakov Yurovsky, Yang Yang, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Yeo Yann Yann, Yohji Yamamoto, Yordan Yovkov, Yan Yuan
Zhang Ziyi, Zinedine Zidane
— So, there you have it: Homo Ludens playing with names to keep the brain sharp and engaged.