Works in Progress

Consider the Zipper

One professor’s quest to uncover the 100 best ideas of all time

By Rebecca McCarthy | October 27, 2020
Luca Florio (Flickr/elle_florio)
Luca Florio (Flickr/elle_florio)

About eight years ago, a piece of junk mail promised Frank Soos, a retired English professor in Alaska, access to a book listing the 100 Best Ideas in the World—among them, the rule of law and representative democracy. After skimming the list, however, he begged to differ. So, he started compiling his own version.

Soos is now up to about 80 “best ideas.” These include the bicycle, the pocketknife, rocking chairs, and silence, as well as the moon, space, and solitude.

“Like many writers, I keep a small notebook with me at all times, and when an idea occurs to me, I write it down,” he says. “This project, like many I pursue, began as a joke and then quickly jumped into other directions. What I write is tangential to the object, which is usually a think trigger.”

Take the entry for “knots”:

If as the fishers say—and I know it to be true—any knot weakens the line, then what good might all those knots we’ve learned to fashion from childhood forward do?

Sometimes, though, it is wrong to let a small truth stand in the way of a larger understanding.  How else to live except by taking the long or short filaments of time, those joyful accidents, those terrors that cannot be avoided, those long stretches of waiting, simply waiting for whatever comes next, and skein them together to make a life?

Subject to breakage and loss, this tying together is what we have.

Or the one for “zipper”:

Is there any sound sexier than a zipper pulled slowly in the dark?

In addition to teaching, Soos has written books of essays, stories, and collaborations with his wife, artist Margo Klass. For one exhibit of her sculpture, he wrote the labels for each piece, and each label could be only 250 words. That experience informs his 100 Best Ideas project as well—no entry is longer than that. A few of the entries have already been published in literary journals. When he reaches 100, he’s hoping a small press somewhere will publish them as a book.

“I write about concrete things, like combs,” Soos says, “and abstract things, such as solitude and transcendence. It’s not science. I need them to be ideas, and they are.”

Some of Soos’s other “best ideas” include:

Converse All-Stars
Flying Saucers
Hot Dogs
Rocking Chair
Sand Box
Skinny Dipping
Tooth Brush

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Comments powered by Disqus