12 September 2013

All for the books

I bet everyone reading this could write her or his own edition of ONE FOR THE BOOKS, Joe Queenan's memoir of the reading life. With all the idiosyncrasies and curmudgeonry included, this book spoke to me as a reader even when I violently disagreed with him (which was often). It's great fun to accept or dispute any kind of book-related judgment; why else am I hear?

As I learned from Queenan's memoir CLOSING TIME, he grew up in working-class Philadelphia toting his paperbacks on the bus to and from horrible factory jobs and dreaming of a way out. That doesn't give him any sympathy for people who never read, but sometimes I got the sense of him reading and acquiring books as the creation of a wall between that old time and the present -- a bulwark of knowledge no one can take away from him. Queenan has primarily worked as an essayist (in sort of a pop culture-y P. J. O'Rourke vein), even producing several books of his own, but ONE FOR THE BOOKS doesn't cover that ground, instead beginning from the realization that all of us must have one day, that we won't have time to read all the books we want. Not even close, not even a little bit.

Among Queenan's pronouncements covered in this book: He hates e-books and all things digital. He will gladly fling aside any book that doesn't please him, except when he stubbornly decides to commit to the end (well, that one sounds familiar at least). He's ruthless about giving books away, except for the ones he compulsively re-reads every year. In that vein, he's definitely a re-reader, and a man who clings to books he may never actually get around to reading -- but only certain books. He hates most books given to him as gifts, especially the well-meaning ones. Heaven forbid you try to relieve him of the tomes he associates with the years he lived in Paris as a young man, even the ones he can no longer read in French (or the ones he never got around to, then or now). And while he mildly despairs of his son's taste in reading material, he's still pretty pleased the kid takes after his old man.

I'd put ONE FOR THE BOOKS right up there with Anne Fadiman's books on reading, Stephen King's ON WRITING or the Nick Hornby Believer essay collections. I have more in common with this 62-year-old man than most people I know. Queenan may hate the above company, but he'd get used to it.

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