The other night I was lying in bed, head propped up by several pillows, reading yet another book about reading — Joe Queenan’s One for the Books (2012) — when I came across this startling sentence on page 210: “My wife, who has the remarkable ability to read in bed with her head propped up on a pillow — an almost Tantric skill that I have never mastered — never recommends books to me, as she cannot figure out what I will like.”
OftB was the 119th book I’ve read so far in 2013, practically every one of which has at some point found me lying with it in bed, head propped up. This is a Tantric skill? I cannot figure out how this is so difficult, unless of course Queenan is being ironic. Which doesn’t seem like him; OftB is the sixth of Queenan’s books I’ve read, and they seem refreshingly irony-free. In his typical approach, he says what he thinks, and is straightforward without being splenetic.
Some of what he writes here about reading and books I agree with: there’s no need for audiobooks, for example, or speed-reading, and no reason to make a big deal about first editions or original manuscripts. I also really like this, from page 238: “I refused to make any headway on my career until I was in my mid-thirties because I was too busy reading. I refused to cultivate the kinds of contacts that would be useful in my line of work because I was too busy reading. Well, that and the fact that the people were appalling.”
Some is a matter of personal preference: Queenan reads dozens of books at the same time, while I think six or seven at once is plenty. He won’t take reading suggestions from most people, which seems limiting, and he really doesn’t like e-readers. Over and over OftB includes sentences like “This story does not work on a Kindle.” or “I do not think you can have this sort of experience with a Kindle.”
I wouldn’t buy a Kindle, either, but I have read about 90 books on my Sony eReader, almost all courtesy of Project Gutenberg. E-readers are no replacement for the real thing, obviously, but certainly an appropriate technology to get access to books long out of print or otherwise impossible to find in this country.
Some seems as if he’s… several shelves shy of a library? Queenan doesn’t like libraries, in fact; he considers that they “exist in large part to divert and service cheapskates.” (This is more kind than his daughter’s opinion, which he quotes on page 212: “If you don’t want to own books, it means you are an asshole.”)
And then there’s Queenan’s pillow problem. Maybe the answer is found in sentences like “I am willing to concede that people like me are mad as hatters.” or “In fact, [my book addiction] is madness.”
More power to him. By now I’ve finished books #120-122 for the year, and working on #123-128.