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Tag Archive: reading

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.


Jan 15

Update January 2013

Dear Readers:

My friend Dan Poynter at Madman Graphics and I have been selecting and posting favorite Full Circle columns published between 2005 and 2012 in The Examiner, a daily newspaper serving Independence, Blue Springs, and Grain Valley, Missouri. Eventually, the goal is to publish a book of my favorite columns over the years. Since I wrote more than 300 columns, it is becoming a daunting task to compile favorites by subject matter.

However, as writer-blogger Neil Gaiman once quipped, “This is how you do it; you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” Exactly what I am attempting to do at the moment.

Once the book of columns is complete, I will begin tackling the book I really want to write, a World War II memoir. Since I guess I really want to read it, I had better get about the business of writing it. I’m paraphrasing Toni Morrison who said it much better than I when she wrote, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Happy reading everyone.

More as we go along,

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” –J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Apr 19

Hunger Games, cookbooks, genres and movies

“I read a lot – and I read a variety of genres” – Nora Roberts

The young man ahead of me in line at the movies had his nose in one book and was holding another one.

Hunger Games, I asked, fairly certain of his answer.

He grinned and said, “Yes, I am reading Catching Fire (book two in a series of three), but I am almost through with it so I brought along the last book Mockingjay.”

“Ah, can’t wait until you get home, right,” I offered.

And thus began a rather engaging conversation about how we both could become so absorbed in a good book that nothing short of Mega Millions would entice us to stop reading. Perhaps, not even a slapstick, side-splitting movie like The Three Stooges, the one we came to see.

The young man’s sister laughed and explained that he did the same thing with the Harry Potter series.

“So did I,” I admitted, “I read them during dinner and once or twice on trips across Kansas, but I don’t believe I ever read any book during a movie.”

As we laughed about that, it occurred to me that the wildly popular Hunger Games series had a familiar ring to it. Reminds me of a short story I read in high school years ago, I told the young man.

The story I remembered was titled The Lottery, written by Shirley Jackson and first published in 1948. Initially, it was not well received, no doubt because of its shocking subject matter in which the ‘winner’ of a lottery drawing was stoned to death.

Similarly, Hunger Games is about a lottery in which people must die. However, unlike The Lottery, the Hunger Games trilogy was well received and quickly became a runaway blockbuster.

I can see why The Lottery upset folks because it haunted me for days after I read it. By the 1960s, however, it was considered to be a remarkable short story, one that high school English classes studied.

No, he had not heard of it, the young man said: “I pretty much just read young adult science fiction.”

“Well then, you might like that short story”, I suggested and began to tell him the plot.

The head of each family in a fictional small town drew a piece of paper from a black box. If the slip had a black spot on it, that family was selected as the winner of the town lottery. The family members then drew slips of paper among themselves until one slip with a mark on it was drawn. Sadly, the mother in the ‘winning’ family drew the marked slip. Immediately, she was led to the center of town where her children and husband were expected to stone her to death along with the rest of the townspeople.

“That is one shocking story,” the young man said, clearly horrified.

“So what else do you read,” he asked, changing the subject.

“I read from a lot of genres,” I answered. “ Lately, I guess you could say humor, guidebooks and cookbooks are my favorite genre.

“What, they are all one genre,” he asked?

The young man stared blankly at me and nearly became comatose when I related, from memory, the titles of three books I am currently reading and enjoying so much they make me laugh out loud (Authors: Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays).

Title 1—“Being Dead Is No Excuse, The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral.”

Title 2—“Somebody is going to Die If Lilly Beth Doesn’t Catch That Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Wedding.”

Title 3—Some Day You’ll Thank Me For This, The Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Being a Perfect Mother.”

The young man’s nose went right back into the Hunger Games book when I told him about the recipe for the perfect egg salad sandwich that I found in the some-day-you’ll-thank-me book.

I think we might have a generational gap here, although we both loved The Three Stooges movie, and I have no idea what to make of that.