Joe Queenan, author of Closing Time, Imperial Caddy: The Rise of Dan Quayle in America and The Decline and Fall of Practically Everything Else, some other books, and now a memoir about books titled One for the Books, hates books. And authors. And readers. Also libraries and book clubs. Probably also book bloggers.
In this baffling interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, Joe Queenan offered observations that range from bizarre to baffling to my-Spock-like-eyebrow-of-skepticism-cannot-go-any-higher. Like:
The[ ordinary person] read[s] about one book a year and it’s by Tom Clancy or James Patterson. They read books – the average person reads books by people who didn’t write the books that they’re reading. They got someone to write them for them.
Joe Queenan also hates ghostwriters. Or at least he hates the readers of ghostwriters. (Are Tom Clancy and/or James Patterson just fronts for ghostwriters?)
EDIT: So after therelentlessreader’s comment (see comments) about where Queenan gets that “average American reads one book per year” number, I had to look it up.
According to a 2007 Pew Research poll, the average American reads 17 books per year. The median is a little lower, at 8 books per year. Men tend to read fewer books than women, and the 65+ cohort reads more books than younger folks do. No demographic group in the pool reads fewer than an average of 11 books per year or a median of 5 books per year.
Insert joke here re: writers can’t math; enjoy irony of this blogger having just mathed.
SIEGEL: Now, you don’t discriminate here between high literary efforts and, let’s say, well-executed pulp fiction. There’s a place for that as well in your reading.
QUEENAN: Yeah, especially when you’re young, because when you’re young, you’re not going to start reading Jane Austen or Dostoyevsky, you start out reading people like, in my case, Agatha Christie. I read all of the Agatha Christie novels when I was young, and I really enjoyed them. And when you go back to read them later, they don’t hold up as well because she’s not really a great writer. But you move on and they open the door for you.
Robert Siegel has a really weird definition of “don’t discriminate.” Also, I have to wonder how much of thinking Agatha Christie is “not really a great writer” the second time round is because on the second reading, you already know whodunit.
Self-published books are great. Self-published books are so, so addled.
TRUE STORY: I also review for Kirkus Indie, which is the arm of Kirkus that does accept self-published works for review. Basically, a self-published author submits his or her book, the Kirkus review fee ($425 for standard service, $575 for express), and the book gets sent to me or someone like me for review. Kirkus Indie reviewers aren’t required to produce positive reviews; we can and do pan books.
Almost without exception, the self-pubs I’ve reviewed via Kirkus Indie were “so, so addled.” (I’ve panned only one so far, though, because even most “so, so addled” books have at least one redeeming quality.) By contrast, the self-pubs I’ve reviewed on this blog have been, almost without exception, above-average.
I don’t generally screen the self-pubs I get here; if it’s offered and it fits our very loose definition of what’s appropriate for this blog, I’ll take it. Which makes me wonder if there’s not some element of balloon-headedness that makes writers more likely to shell out $425 to put their magnum opus in the world’s oldest book review publication, versus the ones who e-mail me and are all “I wrote a book, I think it’s pretty groovy, wanna review it?”
Joe Queenan has not set foot in a library since the invention of the Dewey Decimal system:
Libraries kind of depress me and part of it is because you know that you can’t read all of the books that they have, but a lot of it is because libraries used to have some kind of way of putting the kind of Graham Greene and Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte stuff in one category, and then they’d have like Daphne Du Maurier and people, but they wouldn’t have the actual trash mixed in. And now it’s just all one big mall and it’s kind of depressing because most of the books you see in the library shelves are terrible books.
Dear Joe Queenan: popular fiction in Dewey-Decimal-categorized libraries is shelved under “FIC.” The classics are shelved under “800.” You’re welcome.
Joe Queenan also hates bookstores, but that’s totally justified, because bookstores hate him:
as soon as I walk into a bookstore, the people – the irony boys who work in bookstores, they just always figure, what’s he doing here? He’s looking for a book about Roger Maris breaking the homerun record or something. And they just don’t like me. They just don’t.
I can think of at least one reason for that that has nothing to do with Joe Queenan’s appearance.
Book clubs are even more offensive than bookstores:
The other thing is that when I read books, particularly when you read, like, you read Oscar Wilde or you read Moliere or particularly Shakespeare, I would consider it an invasion of their privacy for me to express any opinion about their work. The market has spoken. There’s nothing that we can add to this conversation
This doesn’t even make sense. Readers are the market. And a great many “the market has spoken” classics were panned like hell when they were first published. Should we stop reading Moby-Dick because nobody liked it when it came out? The market has spoken!
About the only thing Joe Queenan and I do agree on is the joy of plowing through about 200 books a year. Though even here, we disagree: he claims to read 60 or 70 books at a time, while I stick to two at a time: one fiction, one non-fiction. (Currently, that’s Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and John W. O’Malley’s Trent: What Happened at the Council. Your reading may vary, but I totally recommend Wolf Hall and, if you are into the Protestant Reformation, Trent as well.)