Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Joe Queenan: One for the Books

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Queenan may have written this book as an anti-eBook treatise (I don't know if he did but suspect he might have) but it's really a piece about his love affair with books and reading. I can't blame him- I kind of love physical books, too- a friend is here looking at my shelves and asking why they're labeled by BISAC codes. (Answer? How else is someone supposed to find something?) Queenan doesn't organize his books by BISAC codes: he organizes them by texture and height. Can you blame him? What an aesthetically pleasing way to go! He goes further: books are toys. I totally relate to this:
I like to play with my books, to mark them up, to give them a lived-in look. I like to stack them up on the shelf and move them about and rearrange them according to new parameters-height, color, thickness, provenance, publisher, author's nationality, subject matter, likelihood that I will ever read them. Then I put them back the way they were.
My parents know that I do this, too. From the time I was a child I've been pulling all of my books (ALL of my books) off of the shelf and arranging them on the floor only to put them back again in some other permutation. I do this now, too. Maybe they shouldn't be by BISAC code, come to think of it. Maybe they should be by color or by alphabet, regardless of subject. And those graffiti books should be on the other side of the house.

Queenan does some things that I find inspiring: one year he read only short books. One year, a book a day. And he knows he will never read Middlemarch. He doesn't talk to his friends about books because he knows he wont' agree. Also, he hates the Yankees. Queenan will not read books about the Yankees, Yankees fans, or supporters of the Yankees. Including Salman Rushdie. I wish I could be this strict, but it would take more work than it's worth, I think. I'd have to research who likes the Yankees, and then I would have to think about the Yankees. I'm just going to quote how he feels about the Yankees, because it's SO GOOD:
This vindictive attitude is rooted partly in principle and partly in pathology; I, like most Americans, resent the Yankees' success, wishing that my own cheapskate teams would also go out and purchase championships by the fistful. But I further reject the notion that Yankees fans experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat the way the rest of us. They are fans who have not paid their dues. Yankees fans, not to put too fine a point on it, suck, and the rest of us do not. Rooting for the yankees, as a friend of mine who roots for the Cubs says, is like rooting for the air. 
And he loves libraries, especially for the things that don't belong there.

One of my favorite passages should ring true to lots of readers:
I one tried to devise a term to describe the euphoria a person feels when he approaches the end of a book he has not enjoyed reading. I think the term is in fact "euphoria," as the closest I ever got was Buchendungfreudejoie. Others share my inability to chuck away a book once they have slogged a good way into it. One of the best friends I have ever had says that when reading a book she dislikes but cannot quite bring herself to abandon, she is thrilled when she suddenly, unexpectedly stumbles upon a passage so awful or disgusting or immoral that it would make it a crime to continue holding the book in her hands.
Isn't that what books are for? To give us that out that life doesn't ever seem to come up with?


mamagotcha said...

Hah, yes indeed! I love the concept of books as toys... they totally are for me. It always gives me the heebie-jeebies when I walk into a home that has no books on display, and it makes me immeasurably sad when I'm babysitting kids whose room is bereft of a bookshelf. Wish I could peruse your shelves, lady! (or does that sound too creepy?)

bigboyjun said...

I miss you on Instagram :(