December 17, 2012

One for the Books

He would grouse that I'm a cheapskate and a skinflint for doing it, but I got this one from the library after hearing a bit about it on the radio.  I've enjoyed other writings from Mr. Queenan and was expecting something halfway between Nick Hornby's funny book essays and a series of hatchet jobs.

This is definitely something else.  He doesn't really review any books, though his feelings on many of them become clear, and it's not a paean to books and reading either, but he clearly loves them.

It's more a series of ruminations on how his life with books and reading intersects with the rest of life.  It's also quite irreverent and funny.  Be warned: if you can't take strong opinions then you won't want to go near this.

I like all his opinions, even the ones I completely disagree with just because he expresses them so well.

He doen't really bash e-readers or the people who enjoy them but he is personally never going to get one.  He likes writing in his books too much and he enjoys the random way certain books enter his life and has many wonderful anecdotes about this which he always ends: "That would never happen with a Kindle."

He appreciates libraries as a general concept and even uses them frequently but enjoys paying for books more and doesn't like the idea of used book stores.  He also much prefers paperbacks to hardbacks, which I gotta say I agree with on that one.

He makes delicious fun of book clubs and thinks the whole idea is silly.

I have a Kindle, dont write in books much (other than some underlining), still use libraries and used to frequent used book stores when it was convenient.  Oh, and I am in a book club.

But I appreciate his arguments against Kindles (for him), and don't really care either way about used book stores.  His version of book clubs is funny and, I agree, annoying, but he doesn't seem to realize they can be different.  Mine doesn't fit any of the things he doesn't like about them.  Not that he'd like mine either.

One thing he does, that I do too - but not to his extreme degree - is start and read more than one book at a time.  I've had as many a six books going at a time, but it's usually just two or three.  I have different moods and like different reading materials for different times and places.  But Queenan claims to be reading upwards of thirty or more books at a time.  He also claims to read hundreds of books a year.

Mathematically, I can't reconcile these two claims.  I'm not saying it's impossible, but very unlikely.  Being a free-lance writer, though, gives him as good a chance as anyone at pulling it off though.  You would need plenty of time alone to read that many at a time and actually finish as many as he claims.  So it could be done but you'd have to be a seriously dedicated reader.

He does provide some hints throughout the book that I'll count as evidence in his favor.  He claims to read around 4 hours a day.  He doesn't give a fig about most of the minor repairs he should be doing around the house.  He doesn't mind rudely reading pretty much anywhere, including music concerts, parties, and, I assume, when his wife was caring for their now-grown children.  The biggest clue came when he says he didn't get a driver's license until he was in his late fifties.  Driving is the one thing I would happily drop in favor of more reading time.  I'd love to live somewhere I could read on the train every morning and afternoon.  I hope those driverless Google cars become a thing and my car will drive me while I read.  In the meantime, I check out audiobooks (something else Queenan hates) from the library to listen to while driving/doing chores.

There's some great stuff in here.  He has given himself some wacky reading challenges.  Whether they end up being successful or not is beside the point.  His descriptions of them are always hilarious.  Which goes for pretty much everything he goes off about.  Another highlight is when he lists the reasons not to read a book.  We all have certain genres or authors we avoid for various reasons, but this guy won't touch Salman Rushdie because he supports the wrong sports team.  I gotta say, that's a new criterion on me.  I've avoided authors for being sexist, racist, homophobic, plain mean and stupid and even for being unpleasant in person, but never really even thought about the sports team angle.

Book covers, though.  Now there's a reason to judge a book!  He has a great moment when he realizes that most of the books on his shelves he's never gotten too all have ugly covers.  (I'd quote this bit, but I already returned it to the library, d'oh!)  I can attest to this from working in a children's library.  I've bought new copies of books that are sitting idle on the shelves that now circulate regularly due to a better cover.  That don't-judge-a-book-by-it's-cover thing is a bunch of hooey.

As snarky and curmudgeonly as Queenan is, there are some touching moments.  The ending, in particular  is a fine and eloquent piece of writing on the meaning of books and reading in the lives of those who embrace it.  He also respect those who don't embrace it and doesn't see readers as automatically better in any way than non-readers.  And, for me anyway, it was a better way to pass the time than many other things I can think of.  So I'm going to go read my new library book now.  Or work on this month's book club pick.  Or check out that new kids book I got for the school library.  Or...