The credentials for Bartlett's are admittedly arbitrary: Space concerns, individual tastes and the uncertain definition of the word "familiar" make the book an invaluable excuse for an argument.
Larry David is in, but not Aaron Sorkin; P.J. O'Rourke, not Maureen Dowd; Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Martin, not George Carlin or Richard Pryor. The many expressions popularized on "Saturday Night Live," from "Talk amongst yourselves" to "Well, excuuuuuse me!" were not mentioned. Among novelists, Richard Powers is in, but not Jonathan Franzen; Colson Whitehead, not Michael Chabon.
"I am sure that twelve different well-informed people would come up with twelve different lists of people (and more importantly of specific quotations) left out, and I am sure some of these will be strong candidates for inclusion in the next edition," O'Brien said.
Among songwriting entries, excerpts appear from Lou Reed's lyrics for "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Heroin," but not from the more famous "Walk On the Wild Side." The Beach Boys' "Caroline, No" gets a mention, but not such anthems as "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Good Vibrations." Kurt Cobain's entry omits "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in favor of "Stay Away" and "Serve the Servants."
For movies, two quotes are included from Robert Towne's "Chinatown" screenplay, but not the immortal closing line, "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." One of just two entries for Nora Ephron is "I'll have what she's having," the joke from "When Harry Met Sally ..." that is widely credited to Billy Crystal. Among the favorites left out: "Well, nobody's perfect," the kicker from "Some Like it Hot"; Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator" catchphrase "I'll be back"; the courtroom explosion "You can't handle the truth!" from "A Few Good Men."
"Certain lines strike me as 'familiar for being familiar' — 'You can't handle the truth' being one of them, as I can see little originality or singularity in it," O'Brien said. "The price of compactness is a certain amount of arbitrary exclusion."