Pop Vulture

David Mansour‘s recently published encyclopedia From Abba to Zoom includes 3,001 entries, and to quote a Sesame Street song that the book cites, “one of these things is not like the other.” As a compulsive list maker, the Kansas City author is attracted to round numbers, so it would have made sense for him to jettison the outsider.

Instead, he kept the listing titled “Pop Culture Events 101,” which chronicles “the 101 greatest events in pop culture history” between 1963 and 1999. Ranging from John F. Kennedy’s assassination to the Columbine massacre, these topics seldom surface when VH1’s talking heads profess their love for various decades.

“That was my way of being able to add the things that really affected us,” Mansour says from his Waldo home. By acknowledging the existence of these watershed moments, he adds a dose of jarring gravity to a tome that devotes much of its space to toys, trends, sitcom characters and jingles.

People turning to From Abba to Zoom as a competitive-trivia tutor might get an accidental educational experience, whereas viewers tuning to network news hoping for substantial headlines inevitably receive a crash course in celebrity couplings.

“When I watch news, I want to know what’s going on in the world,” Mansour says. “Otherwise, I’d turn on Entertainment Tonight.”

Entertainment Tonight didn’t make Mansour’s cut, despite introducing voice-mailer Pat O’Brien, talk-show also-ran Leeza Gibbons and terminally dull composer John Tesh to the lexicon. Such are the choices an author must make when eliminating ephemera.

Let cinema critics canonize Chinatown in essay collections. From Abba to Zoom grants relief to people who spend sleepless nights trying to recall Richie Rich’s best friend’s name (Freckles Friendly) or assemble a mental picture of Ronald McDonald’s cohort Grimace (“purple bloblike creature”).

Working on this project enabled Mansour to escape to cheerier times, before Madonna let him down by “going all Kabbalah.” But his sobering “Pop Culture 101” entry proves that nostalgically brightened “good old days” are just as apocryphal as the urban legends he gleefully debunks.