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One for the Books by Joe Queenan

One for the Books (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Joe Queenan

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3762545,690 (3.68)25
One of America's leading humorists and author of the bestseller "Closing Time" examines his own obsession with books.
Title:One for the Books
Authors:Joe Queenan
Info:Viking Adult (2012), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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One for the Books by Joe Queenan (2012)



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I had hoped Joe Queenan’s ‘One for the Books’ would prove to be an exception from the often stuffy, professorial tomes that wax lyrical about the joys of reading, as long as that reading is almost exclusively authored by, or about, Dead White Dudes (D.W.D).

In part it was, but unfortunately Queenan’s humour doesn’t quite negate his narrow definition of what ‘good books’ are. Queenan is a book snob, dismissing genre fiction almost in its entirety, and championing way too many D.W.D.

I was particularly frustrated by Queenan’s dismissive attitudes to libraries (his white male privilege is showing there), and his hatred of ebooks, and ereaders. I own about equal amounts of both print and ebooks, that brings my current total to somewhere over 4000 books. I have read many more, owned many more, borrowed many more, given away many more. I have, and I doubt anyone I know would dispute it, ‘...engaged in an intense, lifelong love affair with books...’ ,and I don’t care if they are written longhand on parchment, or are a complicated string of binary numbers...a book, is a book, is a book, no matter the format.

So, sadly, my search for a book from a self confessed bibliophile who isn’t contemptuous of the other 99% of readers continues. ( )
  shelleyraec | Apr 14, 2019 |
Marvelous read from an author writing about reading, his books, and all points related among them. A few laugh out loud parts among a good read about our books and reading lives. Its only flaw was it sometimes became a tad self-indulgent in my opinion; yes, we get how much you loved Paris, but why more than a half dozen anecdotes only loosely associated with the topic to which you linked your aside? ( )
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
I really wanted to like this book, but really didn't. I would say this was more of a 2.5 for me mostly because I took an instant dislike to this author's attitude. Although saying that, I did end up reading the whole darn thing with a bit of skipping along the way.
This guy has book snob written all over him, maybe it takes one to know one :) ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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.

3 1/2 stars ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Dec 20, 2015 |
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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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