Monday, January 7, 2013

"One for the Books," by Joe Queenan

When I read Joe Queenan’s book “Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile’s Pilgrimage to the Mother Country” a couple of years ago, I enjoyed it thoroughly despite -- or maybe partly because of -- its flipness and snarkiness. I have just finished his most recent book, “One for the Books” (Viking, 2012) which I again thoroughly enjoyed despite -- or maybe partly because of -- its flipness and snarkiness. Queenan’s mode of writing seems to be exploring topics that are serious and very important to him, but through a lens of humor. I laughed out loud and was not surprised to find, long after I had used the word myself about his writing, that Queenan used the word “snarky” about himself late in this book. But the thing is, and an endearing thing it is, that Queenan loves, loves, loves books. He loves their variety and their content, and he loves their physicality. He collects books; his house is overrun with books. He makes resolutions about reading them, and tells us why he keeps the books he will never read. Among other topics, he writes of bookstores, of libraries, of favorite authors and genres, of reading several books at once, of book reviewers, of friends who recommend books to him and/or give him books, of ill-fated visits to long-dead authors’ homes, of reading when he should be doing other things, and of his blissful time in Paris, where he bought and read book after book. His overwhelming passion for books shines through. In fact, he tells us that he believes books saved his life: “Decades after my bitter housing project days were over, I continued to read feverishly, almost desperately, at all hours of the day and night, because reality – even my new, vastly improved reality – was never as sublime as the reality to be found in books” (p. 236). He concludes with a statement that I strongly echo, as will many of you: “The presence of books in my hands, my home, my pockets, my life will never cease to be essential to my happiness” (p. 240).

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