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Category Archive: What’s New

Mar 03

Reading about a Reader’s Reader: Joe Queenan

Credit: Photo published by The Book Reporter www.bookreporter.com

Credit: Photo published by The Book Reporter www.bookreporter.com

The cover of the Rotarian monthly magazine caught my eye. The magazine, a year old now, was stuck in a rack at a car dealership that I know well and frequent a lot. I glimpsed a corner, saw the title “The Joys of Reading”, and that was all I needed to know.

I rescued it.

Inside was a fascinating story titled “Living by the Book” by Joe Queenan. Subtitle: “Books may be the best way to engage the world. Even if you intend to have an argument”.

I admit I did not know about Joe or his writing, and for that matter his voracious reading.  I do now.

Fascinated by the article, I read it, and then began searching for more information on Joe Queenan. Of course I did.

I am betting you might be interested, as well.

An excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article, “My 6,128 Favorite Books” explained in Queenan’s own view ‘how a harmless juvenile pastime turned into a lifelong personality disorder’.

Here is an excerpt:

“I started borrowing books from a roving Quaker City bookmobile when I was 7 years old. Things quickly got out of hand. Before I knew it I was borrowing every book about the Romans, every book about the Apaches, every book about the spindly third-string quarterback who comes off the bench in the fourth quarter to bail out his team. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but what started out as a harmless juvenile pastime soon turned into a lifelong personality disorder.

Fifty-five years later, with at least 6,128 books under my belt, I still organize my daily life—such as it is—around reading. As a result, decades go by without my windows getting washed.

My reading habits sometimes get a bit loopy. I often read dozens of books simultaneously. I start a book in 1978 and finish it 34 years later, without enjoying a single minute of the enterprise. I absolutely refuse to read books that critics describe as “luminous” or “incandescent.” I never read books in which the hero went to private school or roots for the New York Yankees. I once spent a year reading nothing but short books. I spent another year vowing to read nothing but books I picked off the library shelves with my eyes closed. The results were not pretty.

I even tried to spend an entire year reading books I had always suspected I would hate: “Middlemarch,” “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Babbitt.” Luckily, that project ran out of gas quickly, if only because I already had a 14-year-old daughter when I took a crack at “Lolita.”

Just the other day, my friend Bill and I had an email discussion about “Middlemarch” (see reference above in quote from Queenan).

Bill explained our reservations this way: “I just picked up the book ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ by Rebecca Mead. Whereby she creates her own memoir and literary criticism by showing her life and trial as they mirror the main characters lives. The protagonist Dorothea Brooke marries badly and endures and makes peace. Like I say, I am intrigued, but to take on a 800 p. Jane Austin-ish/ Bronte-ish novel is a heavy lift”.

Incidentally, neither Bill nor I are brave enough to tackle it, to date, that is.

Since it’s Joe Queenan we are discussing, one would expect a plethora of stories about him. If you like to read, it’s worth taking a minute to discover this reader’s reader. Personally, I have no idea how he does it and manages a life at the same time. There are moments, I confess, I could succumb.

After all, it is as Thomas Allen once quipped: “If you have read 6,000 books in your lifetime, or even 600, it’s probably because at some level you find ‘reality’ a bit of a disappointment.”

And therefore, we read don’t we.

Here is Queenan in the news as promised:

From NPR: Reading 125 Titles a Year? That’s ‘One for the Books’ http://www.npr.org/2012/11/01/163949969/reading-125-titles-a-year-thats-one-for-the-books

From The Book Report Network: A Biography and Partial List of Queenan’s Books:


Full Article From WSJ: “My 6,128 Favorite Books” by Joe Queenan


And most recently, this entertaining read from The Weekly Standard’s The Magazine: “How Do You Feel? The interrogative mysteries of Deep Space” - MAR 10, 2014


Some of you ‘get it’, this reading ‘personality disorder’. For the rest, well, we are moving on. Happy Reading.


Feb 17

The Top 25 Law Novels Ever Written – How many have you read?

Have you read any of the top 25 greatest law novels ever written? Sure you have, but you may not know it or consider some of these novels as ‘law novels’. I know I didn’t.

After reading a magazine story about the supposedly greatest law novels ever written, I immediately began to wonder ‘who says they are the best’. Who decided, what are the criteria, and why was “In Cold Blood” not on the list?

You may have guessed by now that, yes indeed, lawyers decided. I don’t mean that with any malice you understand, because of course, lawyers might view ‘law novels’ with a more critical legal eye than you or me. However, literature, English, and journalism majors might disagree with their choices. Some of the classics they chose surprised me, yet I can understand why they were chosen.

The ABA Journal published its list of the top 25 law novels of all time last year (August, 2013). They convened a panel of experts, well-read lawyers and scholars, (names listed on their website) and asked for nominations. Next, they complied a ballot of 100 novels with storylines that revolved around lawyers or legal cases. The panel then selected the list of 25, which turned out to be 26 in the end (two books tied for the Number 25 spot).

They describe their final choices this way: “These are stories that have endured for years or decades, or even generations. Many of them are familiar; some of them, less so. Among them are stories of life and death, courage and betrayal, loyalty and honor, revenge and redemption—in other words, human existence.”

• “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote was not included in the ‘best ever’ list because: “In Cold Blood was a seminal contribution to the true-crime genre, but it wasn’t a novel. It was written with all the narrative conventions of a work of fiction…but was too deeply identified as journalism to be considered for our list.”

• Three authors have two works on the list.

• My score: 12 out of 26. What’s yours?

25. A Tie.
Old Filth by Jane Gardam (2004)
The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1940)

24. The Fountainhead by Ann Rand (1943)

23. Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (1958)

22. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

21. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (1844)

20. The Firm by John Grisham (1991)

19. QBVII by Leon Uris (1970)

18. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston (1937)

17. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (1951)

16. A Time to Kill by John Grisham (1989)

15. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

14. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)

13. Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)

12. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville (1853)

11. The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn Jr. (1971)

10. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser (1925)

9. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)

8. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

7. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow (1987)

6. Billy Budd by Herman Melville (1924)

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862)

4. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)

3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1852)

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)