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One for the Books by Joe Queenan
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One for the Books (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Joe Queenan (Author), Francesca Belanger (Designer), Thomas Ng (Cover designer), Dorothy Handelman (Photographer)

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3062336,480 (3.72)24
Member:anthonywillard
Title:One for the Books
Authors:Joe Queenan (Author)
Other authors:Francesca Belanger (Designer), Thomas Ng (Cover designer), Dorothy Handelman (Photographer)
Info:Viking : New York
Collections:Your library, Lastc, Gift
Rating:*****
Tags:Books About Books, Literary Criticism

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One for the Books by Joe Queenan (2012)

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Avid readers, especially those who have been reading for a few decades now and have a little history under their reading belts, simply cannot resist picking up a book about books and reading. Looking back through my own files, I see that I’ve read about eighty books that can be characterized as a “book about a book,” and that at least thirty of them still sit on my shelves. Some of these books are novels (An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Bookman’s Wake, etc.); some are memoirs (84 Charing Cross Road, Slightly Chipped, Among the Gently Mad, etc.); some are historical fiction (Mrs. Poe, The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, etc.). There are reference books, instructional manuals, and even a few true crime books that fit well into the category.

Most readers drawn to this type book, however, seem to prefer the ones that are some combination of memoir and general celebration of the world of books and those who read them (physical copies, not electronic ones). That’s where Joe Queenan’s One for the Books fits in. One for the Books is certainly a celebration of books and what they have meant, and continue to mean, to mankind, but what makes it a particular joy to read is that Joe Queenan is a funny man – and his take on what turned him into such a voracious reader is often laugh-out-loud funny.

Queenan is not all fun and games and jokes, however. Early on, for instance, he tells us that, “I was stranded in a housing project with substandard parents at the time I started reading as if there were no tomorrow, and I’m convinced that this desire to escape from reality – on a daily, even an hourly basis - is the main reason people read books. Intelligent people, that is.”

And the man’s cynicism often shines brightly, such as when he is giving his take on book clubs: “I would rather have my eyelids gnawed on by famished gerbils than join a book club. Book clubs pivot on the erroneous, egotistical notion that the reader has something to add to the conversation…the people I know who attend book clubs are generally intelligent, but they are rarely what I would call interesting.”

As for those who like to read “bad books,” Queenan has this to offer: “People who like bad books are not bad people, any more than are people who like bad food. They are simply people who like bad books. They are people on whom the gift of literacy may have been wasted.”

Along the way, Queenan gives his take on public libraries (and his series of bad experiences in libraries), his habit of reading thirty or more books at the same time (some of them, it seems, for years), the willingness he found at age sixty to toss books aside forever if they are not working for him, and his disdain for speed readers and those who get their “book count” up by reading a dozen children’s books a day. He observes that serious (obsessive) readers “all have some kind of clock or meter running in our heads…a rough estimate of how long we expect to live, and we have structured our reading habits accordingly.”

There is even a section on “loyal readers (who) may feel the need to part company with a writer he once admired greatly.” This, Queenan says happens when a reader learns something about a writer’s past or personality that makes it impossible for him to read them with pleasure or respect. He says (and he is never afraid to name names) that it’s happened to him with Henry Miller, John Cheever, Hanning Mankell, and Ian McEwan. I found this to be a particularly reassuring section of the book since I’m going through the same thing right now with an author whose initials are Joyce Carol Oates.

Readers, Joe Queenan is one of us; he gets it. Just listen to him explain the “excruciating” process of purging books from a collection: “This was excruciating. My books have been part of my life forever. They have been good soldiers, boon companions. Every book has survived numerous purges over the years; each book has repeatedly been called onto the carpet and asked to explain itself. I own no book that has not fought the good fight, taken on all comers, and earned the right to remain. If a book is there, it is there for a reason.”

Bottom Line: If you are one of those people that Joe Queenan calls “serious” or “obsessive” about books, you are going to love this book. No doubt about it. ( )
  SamSattler | Sep 28, 2016 |
I enjoyed this collection of essays about books and the reading life. Did you know that the average American reads about 4 books a year and finds this "more than sufficient"? There was much discussion about why we read, and Queenan states that, "no matter what they may tell themselves most book lovers do not read primarily to obtain information or to while away the time or to better themselves or even, in the words of C.S. Lewis, to know that they are not alone. They read to escape to a more exciting rewarding world." Hmmm--I'm not sure I agree--What about you?

Other remarks of his that struck me related to how we read as we get older. After turning 64, Queenan states that he now only buys about 20 books a year, and that he is relying on his 1374 unread books to get him through the rest of his life. (He reads between 100 and 200 books a year). He states that as we age, "Life becomes a zero-sum affair, where every second spent reading mediocre books is time that could be spent reading great ones." Somewhat more depressingly, he also states that any book you read after age 60 "could be your last."

Unlike others in the "professional" book world, Queenan loves amateur reviewers like those on Amazon, because they are "fearless" when it comes to trashing high-profile authors with whom mainstream reviewers would hesitate mixing it up. However, he is not fond of public libraries, because "the wheat and the chaff are intermingled," and they are "filled with books I have made a deliberate point of never reading."

Beyond being full of witty thoughts about reading and books, One for the Books, is also full of some good reading recommendations, some I had heard of, but many that were more erudite.

Recommended.
3 1/2 stars ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Dec 20, 2015 |
I'm really enjoying this book and Joe's offhand manner. I no longer feel bad reading a number of books at once. I can't beat Joe's tallies, 15-35 at once!
Finished just now ...
It's a wonderful book. Amazing the number of books Joe has read. I was a joy to read. He has a clever way with words. His vocabulary is wide, I needed to use an electronic dictionary often. ( )
  GeoffSC | May 31, 2015 |
I had so much fun reading this book! It is a comfort to know that I am not the only crazy book person out there. This man puts me to shame.

I will admit that at first I was skeptical as to whether or not I would like this guy. He seemed a bit pretentious at first and I was worried that he was going to make me so angry that I would have to stop reading. However, as I went on, I realized that while he is a highly well-read man, and has read some highly obscure literature that I would probably never touch, we also have favorites in common. That, and he admits to enjoying the odd bit of genre fiction, which is a positive check in my book.

While I by no means agreed with him 100% of the time (I happen to think a book club would be fun with the right people and I love getting suggestions about what to read next) I did find myself agreeing with him on various things, like how e-readers would never work for me because every one of my books is attached to a memory, and that comparing brand new authors to say, Jane Austen, is the dumbest and worst thing you can do. I also have to say that his rant about the Yankees and Yankees fans it spot on and beautiful. (They don't actually know the pain of disappointment. They think they do, but they don't.)

There were times (like the Yankees rant) were I actually found myself laughing out loud in public places. Thus getting strange looks from strangers. Some of these times were because what he said was just generally funny and other times it was because I was just so happy to hear that someone had the same opinion I did.

While he does seem rather immovable in his ways, and while I do believe that he should be a little nicer about some people's taste in books, I truly enjoyed what he had to say. He even made me feel better about not finishing a book, no matter how far into it I am, when I'm not enjoying it. This has been a constant struggle for me, and reading about his same struggle and how he views it now, I feel that I will now save time in the future by not slogging through books that just aren't working for me. It basically comes down to "why waste the time?". Why it took this book to make me realize that, I don't know, but it did and I am grateful for it. If only I had that mentality when I was slowly making my way through Anna Karenina and Lady Chatterley's Lover. ( )
1 vote kell1732 | Jan 25, 2015 |
A collection of essays by Joe Queenan about his life in books, from memories of the bookmobile that visited his impoverished childhood neighborhood, to his compulsive habit of starting way too many books at once, to his experiences as a young man living in Paris and obsessing over French writers.

This... was an interesting reading experience for me. Because, first and foremost, Queenan does a whole bunch of things that annoy me. He constantly name-drops obscure literary works he's sure you've probably never heard of, but which he's clearly proud that he has. He off-handedly dismisses entire genres as trash and lobs insults at the people who read them. And by the third repetition, I was thoroughly tired of hearing "You can't do that with a Kindle." (Usually about things you could, in fact, do perfectly well with a Kindle.) The older I get, the less patience I have with this kind of book snobbishness, and several times I found myself expressing my opinions of Queenan's opinions by waving a middle finger in the direction of the page. Childish and pointless, I know, but strangely satisfying.

And yet... And yet, I can't say I disliked this book. In fact, overall, I found it fairly entertaining. Queenan's snark, however poorly aimed, is often pretty funny, and his curmudgeonliness is not without a certain acerbic charm. It helps, I think, that he comes across as playing it up a bit for effect, and that while he is certainly judgmental, he doesn't seem genuinely mean-spirited. So even when I was flipping him the bird, it was more in amusement than in real anger. Plus, even when our reading tastes, habits, and attitudes are diametrically opposed -- as they certainly are in this case -- I apparently just can't help but feel a certain warmth towards a fellow passionate book lover.

So. Am I ever going to read anything else by Queenan? Probably not. Did I mostly enjoy reading this one, almost despite myself? Yeah. Yeah, I did.

Rating: I'm going to call this one 3.5/5, with the caveat that if I were rating how much I agreed with the guy, that would be a much lower number. ( )
5 vote bragan | Oct 21, 2014 |
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To Skip McGovern, Lover of Books
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The average American reads four books a year, and the average American finds this more than sufficient.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670025828, Hardcover)

One of America’s leading humorists and author of the bestseller Closing Time examines his own obsession with books

Joe Queenan became a voracious  reader as a means of escape from a joyless childhood in a Philadelphia housing project. In the years since then he has dedicated himself to an assortment of  idiosyncratic reading challenges: spending a year reading only short books, spending a year reading books he always suspected he would hate, spending a year reading books he picked with his eyes closed.

In One for the Books, Queenan tries to come to terms with his own eccentric reading style—how many more books will he have time to read in his lifetime? Why does he refuse to read books hailed  by reviewers as “astonishing”? Why does he refuse to lend out books? Will he ever buy an e-book? Why does he habitually read thirty to forty books simultaneously? Why are there so many people to whom the above questions do not even matter—and what do they read? Acerbically funny yet passionate and oddly affectionate, One for the Books is a reading experience that true book lovers will find unforgettable.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:27 -0400)

One of America's leading humorists and author of the bestseller "Closing Time" examines his own obsession with books.

(summary from another edition)

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