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Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country Hardcover – October 14, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Humorist Queenan calls this account of his 2002 trip to Great Britain "an affectionate jeremiad," conveying both his emotional ambivalence and displaying his favorite rhetorical device, the oxymoron. The West End musical We Will Rock You is "triumphantly cretinous"; a village woman is "belligerently harmless"; the museum curator wears an "ecstatically sober dress," etc. More broadly, contradiction is basic both to Queenan's humor and to his love-hate relationship with the British. He loves their "arch phrasing, infectious understatement and delightful euphemisms," just as he hates when all that posturing culminates in "the twit," that "master of rehearsed eccentricity." As with many travel accounts, one learns more about the traveler than about the locale. Queenan is a connoisseur of bad art; he can endure roomfuls of bad paintings at the Tate, just to make naughty remarks about the "insidious" hairstyles of yesteryear. Madame Tussaud's? It's "insufficiently absurd... nowhere near as bad as it ought to be." Conversely, he's thrilled to book a room at Durham's 500-year-old castle, complete with ghosts and a view of the cathedral. Indeed, the "American Dream," as Queenan explains it, is to stand on a fog-swept London street, watching the bobbies and dodging the double-deckers. As he says, there "isn't anything in the world better than riding a London double-decker bus." Hand-sell to the tweedies?
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From Booklist

Who knew that Joe Queenan--who years ago called the English "pasty-faced, mean-spirited, stingy, badly-dressed, anal-retentive, unfriendly, unadventurous, unimaginative people"--could bring himself to write this book-length love letter to the "mother country." Perhaps his English wife of 25 years finally softened him up. He fights the Joe Queenan fight: railing here against Paul McCartney, Pre-Raphaelites, Cats, English haircuts and public transportation, Fergie, Chelsea football supporters, Rod Stewart's Great American Songbook, and more. But the complaints are outnumbered by Queenan's love of a nice cup of tea, England's circuitous roads and stone houses, its writers (Swift, Dryden, Pope, Boswell, Samuel Johnson), its domestic niceties, and its "ebulliently shabby pubs." Queenan's is not a quickie romance; nor is this book an afterthought. It is written with the depth and detail of someone who's paid attention to his subject for a long time. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (October 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069808
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,672,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The village square had a brass band playing "Bangles" hit songs.
The Soft Machine Operator
Oddly enough I'd also just finished reading NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND, another book about England/Britain by a vastly superior author, Bill Bryson.
S. C. Dixon Photography
I can understand why many would dislike this book, and also why many would find his style of written rants a bit over the top.
Donald E. Gilliland

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 43 people found the following review helpful By D. B Poe, Jr. on December 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I've read all of these reviews, and will just have to run the risk of someone calling me a "sourpuss" because as much as I was looking forward to reading this book, I found it a real disappointment. Let me explain.

I should say at the outset that I enjoy a good cross-cultural put down as much as the next fellow, and am not one of the overly sensitive, "political correctness at all costs" gang. In fact, I have an ongoing (good-humored) verbal joust going with a Brit who works with me; he makes fun of things American and I return the favor. Then I heard an interview with Queenan on NPR and thought he was a scream. And so I sent away for the book and opened it with great expectation for a ripping good time at the expense of my British friends. But frankly, I am now three-quarters of the way through it and have yet to have a really good laugh. I agree with the other reviewers, even those who like the book, when they say that it is full of "rants." Although they do not mean this as a warning, it should be. His approach to writing seems to move from "I really dislike (insert long list of people or behaviors," to "here is another list of British people/behaviors that really annoy me or that are simply stupid."

Want some examples of his deep, humorous, and wry insights? How about, "John Lennon's musical legacy is ludicrously overrated....Lennon's solo records generally stink." Deep; and very clever. And turning to Paul McCartney, he opines, "The good that had come from `I Saw Her Standing There' and `Please Please Me' had been supplanted by the evil of `Ebony and Ivory' and `Silly Love Songs.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By SyrJohan on October 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Joe Queenan's articles in Spy magazine were some of the funniest things I've ever read. His humor has a dark cynical side and he seems to look down on everything in America outside of a few favored metropolitan areas. In _Red Lobster, White Trash, & the Blue Lagoon_, the humor and the attitude work well together as he examines some of the pop culture phenomena that literate and tasteful people avoid. _Balsamic Dreams_ is less successful; while the baby boomers deserve a lot of scorn, this book is more bitter than funny. _True Believers_, his book on sports fans, is very enlightening because Queenan is so ready to sneer at the tastes of average Americans, but shares their love of sports. _Queenan Country_ is also about love: his love for England, his English wife, and even his in-laws. Queenan's high culture references are relevant to his subject here and not just ironic counterpoint to horrible pop tastes. He is honest about his reactions to British literary classics and as willing to ask tough questions about them as he was when exploring trashy bestsellers in _Red Lobster_. He writes that when you push on a door in Britain, you are bound to find something wonderful and unexpected on the other side. I don't want to spoil the reader's pleasure in following Queenan through the door as he enjoys a range of delightful high and pop culture experiences by revealing any details. I laughed loudly throughout this book, not just out loud, but "what's wrong with him" loud. Queenan is quite willing to criticize the bad points in British society, but this book is quite upbeat and uplifting for him. This is must reading for any anglophile or anyone who loves to laugh. He is very funny citing Paul Theroux's _Kingdom by the Sea_; if you have enjoyed Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson, don't miss this book. I would love to read another book about Queenan's experiences in France.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Hustwit on December 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Unlike most of the reviews I've read of this author and book (except the two here), I did not find much humor in this book and I didn't catch myself laughing out loud once.

Queenan does a good job covering a lot of what makes the UK great: general British history, culture and tourist attractions. However, this book reads more like a dry tour guide than a humorously endearing account of all quirks British, which is what I was hoping for and expecting after reading reviews.

I've given up after about 100 pages because I'm not interested in Queenan's bland retelling of his trip to the home of the Beatle's or his snide, unoriginal comments about Fergie, Madonna and other famous (infamous) British inhabitants.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Poniplaizy on March 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
...It's going to be a bumpy ride. The first part of the book is absolutely hilarious--I guffawed out loud till my eyes watered and my husband got sick of asking me, "What's so funny?!" But about 1/3 of the way through, things started bogging down. The book was still readable, but no way did it live up to the promise of the first few chapters. There was stuff that was flatly unfunny (the chapter on Wales, the list of stuff the author doesn't like about the Brits), intermixed with your average travelogue, then coming back with a few choice witticisms toward the end. It would've been better as a long magazine article or short paperback, with all that filler deleted.

The other quibble I have is that the author uses some British slang words that aren't very well known to Americans, so that I had to have my dictionary at the ready to check exactly what he was saying. This interrupted the humor, making the joke fall flat. I realize he probably included the slang for atmosphere, but he'd have done better to have used words people on both sides of the ocean would've known immediately.

Two stars makes it sound like I liked the book less than I actually did, but three makes it sound like it was more consistent than it was. I'm not sorry I bought it, but I'm also not sorry I bought it on the ultra-discount rack at my supermarket. I'd say if you can get it at less than full price and you like (but are not obsessed with) England, it's worth it.
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