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the Complete Review
the complete review - reading / memoir

One for the Books

Joe Queenan

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To purchase One for the Books

Title: One for the Books
Author: Joe Queenan
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012
Length: 244 pages
Availability: One for the Books - US
One for the Books - UK
One for the Books - Canada
One for the Books - India

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable account of a passionate reader's reading life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 27/1/2013 Ligaya Mishan
Publishers Weekly . 6/8/2012 .
San Francisco Chronicle . 26/11/2012 Leah Price

  From the Reviews:
  • "One for the Books is a shaggy specimen, and could have done without the mock Amazon reviews from previous centuries or the litany of fake Lincoln titles and Kinks autobiographies or the mock book-discussion questions. Nevertheless, it is hard not to be charmed by Queenan’s enthusiasms." - Ligaya Mishan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Many pages display his brilliant wit (.....) But woven around these one-liners are thoughtful musings on the importance of books in the author’s life" - Publishers Weekly

  • "Queenan's goal isn't just to declare his love for books and to list particular books that he loves, but to suss out the customs of book lovers: to analyze what books mean to his friends and acquaintances (not to mention a few enemies), and how books forge or destroy friendships." - Leah Price, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       One for the Books is a reading-life-memoir, as Joe Queenan describes his passion for reading -- "If it were possible, I would read books eight to ten hours a day, every day of the year. Perhaps more" -- and the roles books have played in his life from a variety of vantage points.
       Queenan admits his obsessive reading is a form of escapism -- "I read because I want to be somewhere else" -- and some of the biographical observations support that, but he's careful not to probe too deeply looking for explanations, preferring to more or less simply accept the importance of books in his life and take it from there. Aside from the sheer volume of his reading -- between six and seven thousand books consumed to date, he guesses -- Queenan is not a typical reader. Anecdotal evidence suggests men drift to non-fiction with advancing age, but Queenan reports that he still reads "mostly fiction" -- which also helps make One for the Books itself a more interesting read (fiction, after all is where it's at; non-fiction, not so much). Admirably, too, he'll at least consider reading practically anything (though the exceptions are hardening in his advancing years).
       Queenan is fascinated by his relationship to books. The physical one is almost taken for granted: Queenan is a bound/print man, and has no use for electronic readers. He's an impulse buyer -- and his impulse sees him want to immediately plunge into every new acquisition (bought or library-borrowed) -- but he also juggles an enormous amount and variety of reads at the same time, dozens of books read side by side by side at different paces. Occasionally, he sets himself particular goals and chooses books essentially blindly, but he's also willing to cast aside books that he doesn't quickly take to. He's a tremendously curious reader -- a particularly appealing trait, as it means he's willing to try practically anything, and doesn't stick to any specific genre or type of book.
       Reading is also a personal experience for Queenan: he isn't thrilled about most recommendations from friends (and notes unfortunate series of books received as gifts), and he has "an aversion to book clubs". Several times, too, he notes the obscurity of authors by mentioning how they've never come up in any conversation he's ever had. Advancing in age, he's also more keenly aware of just how much (reading-)time there's left, and how many books can be squeezed in -- requiring also more careful thought about whether picking up a specific book is still worth his precious time. (So too in relying on outside recommendations he complains that reviewers are: "just too darned nice".)
       Though he has difficulties with Middlemarch -- and has decided to forsake all of Philip K. Dick -- his tastes are astonishingly catholic. But he's no indiscriminate reader: willing, yes, to indulge in pop-genre-pulp as well as admitting to having turned his back on the works of Thomass Mann, Wolfe, and Hardy, but also showing some serious and high standards. And anyone who devotes half a long paragraph to describing the pleasure of discovering René Belletto's Coda in a library (and sneaks in the name of both the publisher and translator) has got more than just his heart in the right place.
       The writing in One for the Books can be described as jaunty, but there are many nicely-put (and often sharp) observations, too. So, for example, he describes (sympathetically) the Anita Brookner-type of writer, who reassuringly produces what is essentially the same book, again and again:

Thomas McGuane and John McGahern fit neatly into this class. They are like Haydn: They always rise to the occasion. They always rise to the same occasion, but they rise to the occasion all the same.
       Or, cruelly:
When Howard Stern's autobiography was published, in 1993, I saw a man walking down Fifth Avenue who manifestly was not sure how one went about holding a book. Its inscrutable rectangularity perplexed him. He wasn't sure whether to stuff it under his arm or cradle it like a football. His maiden voyage on the sea of literacy had not prepared him for this daunting adventure; the book-maneuvering skills most of us acquire relatively early in life, via Richard Scarry or Judy Blume, were not available to him. There is no telling what happened when the poor man opened the book and found that it contained words.
       There are occasional missteps -- two pages worth of examples of "what a typical Amazon.com review might have looked like had the Internet existed centuries ago" are a particular low-point -- and there's a bit of repetition, of both examples and presentation (lots of books get listed here), but on the whole One for the Books is an enjoyable account of one man's fairly interesting reading-life. Good fun for passionate readers and the book-obsessed.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 October 2012

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One for the Books: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American writer Joe Queenan was born in 1950.

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