Writing about books is not easy. Writing about your reading experience is very difficult. Why? Because you are letting people know something very intimate about yourself. Reading choices, the way a person is around books, the way a person touches books, smells them even and the quirks of a reader are close to being sacred. The very fact that an author or a reader wishes to share this with others only means that the person wants people to read more and let them know about the beauty of books and the written word. “One for the Books” (as the title suggests) is that kind of book written by Joe Queenan.
I had not heard of Joe Queenan till this book was in my hands. I was taken in by the book, being the book collector that I am and wanted to know the author’s perspectives on borrowing reading, buying, lending and just being with pages bound with glue.
Joe Queenan has written the book the way such a book is supposed to be written: With all honesty. He speaks of his reading habits and that of the others and at some point he is being judgmental but with reason. The book is categorized into eight chapters – talking about chance meetings on entering a book store, the bonding over books, the way he manages to read thirty books at one time, the rereads and the recommendations that he cringes from. At the same time, throughout the book, Joe speaks of his dislike of the Kindle and E-Readers and states reasons that I could not refute or counter-argue with.
There were times as a reader that I just had to stop and make notes about my perspective on what Joe was talking about. The connection was instant as it was about books. That to me says a lot about the book and its reach.
Joe’s uncanny passion or rather obsession over books is fantastic. He takes you in a minute from a bookstore in Paris to his experience of a North American town where he just moved and the bookstore that meant so much to him for over twelve years or so. I loved the way the book was written and structured. Of how he compares reading to visiting the Louvre where every piece of art is tempting, where everything needs to be devoured, as in reading, everything that catches the eye needs to be read.
Queenan also speaks of books that he will never be able to finish – Middlemarch being one of them, as much as he would like to get through it. What I found most interesting was also that he spoke of the American School Reading List recommendation and how his children would get irritated on reading something that they did not enjoy.
He speaks of how one year he decided to read a book every single day and almost managed till he fell ill. I loved this reading project (for the lack of a better word) as it gave him choices to grapple with, books to go back to and new books to discover.
I could go on and on about “One for the Books” and how much I enjoyed the read. It made me weep in most places for the love of the written word – the imagination that it conjures, the poetry, and the hunger to finish one novel and move on to the next. “One for the Books” is truly a love song, a poem, a recollection of reading, and most importantly a reader’s tribute to books and reading.
Here is one of my favourite quotes from the book:
“People we adore pass on; voices we love to hear are stilled forever. Books hold out hope that things may end otherwise. Jane will marry Rochester. Eliza will foil Simon. Valjean will outlast Javert. Pip will wed Estella. The wicked will be overthrown, and the righteous shall prosper. As long as there are beautiful books waiting for us out there, there is still a chance that we can turn the ship around and find a safe harbor. There is still hope, in the words of Faulkner that we shall not only survive; we shall prevail. There is still hope that we shall all live happily ever after”.