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Customer Review

79 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One for the readers, October 25, 2012
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This review is from: One for the Books (Hardcover)
Joe Queenan is a columnist/journalist/writer/reviewer. He describes his regular work as "ridiculing nincompoops and scoundrels." To some extent, One for the Books is a collection of funny, book-related stories that do exactly that. He ridicules the inept security guards who detained his bag in a library, the luncheons he has attended to honor writers because "they are still breathing," and the book store employees who treat him like dirt because he isn't searching for their favored titles. More significantly, One for the Books offers an amusing glimpse at the life of a dedicated reader. The last few paragraphs in particular are a wonderful tribute to reading.

Although reading has collateral benefits, Queenan is convinced that most book lovers read books "to escape to a more exciting, more rewarding world," a proposition with which I completely agree. Queenan reads every day and would read more if he could. He reads enduring literature and he reads trash (although less of the latter as he ages). He sometimes reads "the types of books that thirtyish women devour at private swim clubs, often to the dismay of their drowning children," but only years after they have lost their trendy bestseller status. He forms relationships with his books and often prefers their company to the bozos he knows.

Queenan is equally fervent about the books he has read and those he refuses to read, ever. He names names. Yet, for all the titles that Queenan drops (typically several on every page), this isn't a work of literary criticism. He may or may not mention what the book is about or his impression of it, but when he does, he rarely employs more than a few words. One for the Books is about Queenan's experiences as a reader and feelings about reading more than it is about the books he has read.

Queenan is something of a book snob and he makes no effort to disguise his snobbery. Rather, he revels in it. He expresses his opinions forcefully, in the manner of a curmudgeon. Books about businessmen and politicians "are interchangeably awful." Detective novels are "piffle." He would rather have his "eyelids gnawed on by famished gerbils than join a book club." He ridicules the questions prepared for book clubs that can be found in the backs of books and on websites, and contributes (mockingly) a few of his own. He does not want friends to loan him books and cannot understand "how one human being could ask another human being to read Look Homeward, Angel and then expect to remain on speaking terms." He doesn't like to discuss books with people who don't love serious literature because they always set the conversational agenda, which tends to focus on current bestsellers, but he enjoys pulling a book from his shelves and reading "striking passages to baffled dimwits who have turned up at my house." Although he frequents a variety of bookstores and finds some of them alluring, he is acerbic in his description of their employees (particularly the "Irony Boys"). He complains about readers "upon whom the gift of literacy may have been wasted." He thinks book critics are "mostly servile muttonheads" while blurb writers are "liars and sycophants." He refuses to read books about the Yankees and their "slimy fans" or books written by Yankees fans (Salman Rushdie included). He will not read books with ugly covers. He does not read digital editions because they make reading "rote and mechanical," stripped of its "transcendent component." He is no friend of the Kindle.

Although we're often on the same page (so to speak), about equally often I disagree with Queenan's opinions. This is, after all, a guy who cavalierly dismisses two of my favorite novels, The Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22. His decisions about books he will not read are often capricious. That's fine. Agreement with Queenan is irrelevant because he writes with such passion and conviction and humor that it is impossible not to be entertained, and occasionally moved, by his words. Besides, as Queenan points out, people who care about books are willing to get into knife fights to defend their beliefs. I appreciate that he cares so much, even if I might sometimes be inclined to tangle with him using sharp blades.

Other than a long list of books ranging from The Iliad to the obscure, is there anything Queenan actually likes? Shockingly enough, he claims to admire Amazon book reviews, at least the snide ones written by courageous reviewers who hide behind the bushes, fire their muskets and run away. He even offers (mockingly) a few Amazon reviews of his own. They are hilarious.

Queenan would hate this review because I have nothing nasty to say about his book. My only complaints about One for the Books are (1) its haphazard organization and corresponding (albeit occasional) tendency toward redundancy, and (2) a chapter that is largely devoted to the visits he has made to towns and homes and graves of dead writers bogs down in stream-of-consciousness triviality. Otherwise, I have to say sorry, Joe, but I really enjoyed your book. Fortunately, someone else will come along and trash it, providing him with the kind of review he admires.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 12, 2013 11:55:17 AM PDT
I LOVED this review!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted on Mar 26, 2014 2:31:23 PM PDT
Anyone who loves books will love Queenan's snappy remarks throughout the book. Criticize by all means! That is the life of the mind! Imagine that I cannot dare to say how trashy Danielle Steele's books are on my San Francisco city tours as a tourguide. We pass her humongous mansion and we have to always reckon with SOMEONE on the bus who LOVES Danielle Steele and gets offended. I tell them that she's okay as a writer, without doubt a "success." But the book about Pat Montadon in 1970's San Francisco, a woman whose husband left her for DAnielle Steele, is much juicier because it's real. The son of Montadon, Sean Wilsey, bitter and angry and neglected son, writes it: OH THE GLORY OF IT ALL. That is as far as my literature criticism can ever get on a general public tour. Pat Montadon wrote her own autobiography in response to her angry son, Sean Wilsey: OH THE HELL OF IT ALL. Both are great reading!
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