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Archive | January, 2013

Who holds this book also holds a man – Joe Queenan’s *One for the Books*

our cat bella logoSomewhere along the way, and way back when, Walt Whitman wrote something like, “Who holds this book holds a man.” If memory serves, it was in Leaves of Grass.

Googling the phrase shows me to be half-correct. Accurate as to the poem, but inaccurate as to the quote. What Whitman sez is, “This is no book,/Who touches this, touches a man.”

jon books in review 150xOnce again, Memory serves up Correspondences.

And Google keeps me honest, one more time.

After reading One for the Books, by Joe Queenan, that quote came to mind in its slightly mangled form as descriptive of holding up, and reading, this author.

Queenan is easily more angry than I am, and that is not an easy thing to achieve. If you have read his response to his alcoholic father’s 12-Step apology for any harm he might have done to his son, which if memory serves ran in Time magazine’s endpaper essay spot several years ago, (and seems to appear in one of his memoires, Closing Time),  you know that this guy is not serene – though he may be clean.

I remember being grateful that Queenan had the guts to stick his father’s apology sideways where the sun don’t shine. Many of us need that kind of permission in dealing with toxic parents. I also reflected on my sense of what goes around comes around. Still, I admired Queenan’s rage and appreciated its full expression.

one for the books coverQueenan’s latest book give you two things –

  • A full sense if who this writer is.
  • A selection of finely written pieces from a lover of books, particularly palpable books in print on paper (though you can, oddly enough, buy the book  for your Kindle).

As a fairly typical liberal, I believe that reading writers like Queenan can be a timely correction of the excesses my cohort is heir to and prone, to, too. I don’t listen when the devil quotes scripture, but I do pay attention when a writer who is his own free thinker has something to say that is worth reading.

I even paid full price for the privilege. In hardcover. My copy will sit beside my other books on books.

One for the Books has only fresh material, which I am grateful for. If the copyright page had cited previous publication of parts of the whole, I would have given the book a miss. If I want warmed-over stuff, my memory will suffice for that.

Good job, Joe.

  • Queenan’s many books are available on Amazon.

Here is another book about books – when space is and isn’t a problem

our cat bellaFor those of us who buy, beg, borrow, or steal books, space is not a problem. We simply find ways to add to our stacks.

As is the case with those who have personality disorders, we have no problem, but others especially spouses, parents, or roomies may very well have a problem with our zeal for the word on the page, stacked randomly by volume, to the ceiling (and beyond, frankly, if we could but figure out the mechanics).

The divide is between maniacs and neurotics. Right?

jon books in review 150xLately, I have enjoyed a small-format hardcover (The Overlook Press, 2012) concerning private libraries, Phantoms on the Bookshelves, by Jacques Bonnet (translated from the French by James Salter).

From the time my brother would read a book given to him as a gift and leave it behind when he returned to college, thus adding to my budding adolescent collection of books, I have been a buyer and forager of books as well as a reader.

I would borrow books from mom and tools from dad, and the borrowing was permanent unless one of us complained.

I never did.

When I was young and mobile, I would load all my belongings in the back of my old pickup and move to a new place. Boxes of books were the bulk of the load.

When I moved across the country to attend seminary, quitting a good job and jettisoning most of my belongings, 24 boxes of books went ahead of me by parcel post. I found out that I was notorious, though not at all popular, when I arrived a week or so later, by car.

I was the nut who sent all those books that overwhelmed the closet-sized seminary mail room.

bookshelvesFor most of my reading, for a very long time, I bought trade paperbacks (loved the razor-sharp edges), shunned mass market paperbacks (the cheap ink made my eyes itch), and rarely bought hardcovers (because of the price differential). All that changed when I took up the selling of used books. I suddenly had a huge supply of hardcover books costing $1 each at library sales. I had to expand my shelve space. Using a simple design that is based on No. 2 pine boards 1 inch thick and four inches wide (well, ¾ by 3 ½ in finished size), I had almost enough shelf space to accommodate my horde. For the space of a day, anyway. When I ran out of wall space for shelves, the piles began to grow.

That’s just a bit of my story as a reader who hangs on to what he reads and who buys books, frequently, on a whim. I claim 3,000 volumes, but who’s counting?

My spouse, maybe?

phantom of the bookshelves djBonnet has many, many more books than that, and a system for keeping track of them, and no print-generated piles on the floor, one presumes.

That, however, is not the point.

If you love to read about books as books, this slim volume and the slightly dazed book person behind the writing will please you. His thoughts on the differences between collectors and accumulators is worth the cost of admission. And I was excited to take from his bibliography a list of novels new to me that include personal libraries prominently in their plots.

Now I am getting ready to prune my books by a factor of X, since I no longer sell used books online and have about 1,200 volumes to sort. One pile for donations and one pile for keepers.

The promise of empty shelves lures me on.

  •  Phantoms on the Bookshelves is available as a hardcover or Kindle file from Amazon.



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