I love irony, particularly when I’m in the middle of it. I found myself in such a situation while reading Joe Queenan’s latest book. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, the man is an essayist, an acerbic humorist who can slice and dice and quarter any particular target in his sights with the use of a combination of carefully chosen words. In ONE FOR THE BOOKS, Queenan examines not just his love of reading but, more significantly, his love of books. The irony is that I read the book (in one enjoyable sitting, by the way) on an eReader, while he reminded me in print that there are things that can happen with a book that cannot happen with an eReader.
"If you come to this book expecting only Queenan’s rough hilarity, you will be surprised, because there is a bittersweet element to it as well... Queenan peppers the narrative with enough book titles to keep even the most well-read reader busy for the next 30 years."
Queenan is right. I can remember where I bought my copy of AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS, edited by Harlan Ellison (Upstairs Books, in 1972 on Spicer Street in Akron, Ohio, from Mark Clayman), who I was dating at the time (the lady has a wonderful reputation that I refuse to ruin my mentioning her name here), and what I had for lunch immediately after (a Big Mac and a chocolate shake at the McDonald’s down the street from the bookstore). I don’t remember where I was when I downloaded ONE FOR THE BOOKS to my Kindle, or even when I did it. This is more than a function of age. There are practical advantages to owning and using an eReader, but books mean something. And Queenan tells you what, how and where repeatedly and, for the most part, hilariously.
He devotes chapters to such topics as reading in places and situations strange and otherwise (Great Expectations); bookstores (Shelf Life); books that, for one reason or another, change one’s life (The Stockholm Syndrome); and reading several books simultaneously (Opening Books). I use the term “devotes” loosely. Queenan begins with a subject but often wanders off–topic; he discusses book covers and bookstore personnel, and how impossible it is to dispose of books gifted from friends one will never see again.
If you come to this book expecting only Queenan’s rough hilarity, you will be surprised, because there is a bittersweet element to it as well, one that is akin to visiting a dear friend who, as a function of age, illness or injury, has an obvious but unspoken dwindling number of days left. Humor does abound here --- I could have finished it even more quickly if I hadn’t kept stopping to read passages to my wife or over the phone to friends --- but there are bittersweet moments as well, particularly when Queenan describes the manner in which books and reading were an escape from his childhood. And it closes with one of the saddest stories I’ve read in a while.
ONE FOR THE BOOKS has an added bonus for the avid reader. Queenan peppers the narrative with enough book titles to keep even the most well-read reader busy for the next 30 years. Is Queenan a book snob? Yes. Is he showing off? Probably. It isn’t bragging, though, if it’s true; therefore, he is not bragging, but sharing. Strongly recommended, particularly if you love books.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 2, 2012