Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Joe Queenan - Reading as Multi-Tasking

Why I Can't Stop Starting Books, a recent Sunday New York Times Book Review column by humorist Joe Queenan expressed a problem we've heard a lot about this summer. Patrons keep starting books, but, unlike, Queenan, do not wish to finish them. This is the summer of the disappointing book, but maybe that's what happens when you look for mere entertaining "beach reads" instead of going for the classic and serious tomes as he does. Still, despite wide- spread cases of severe trashy-book-guilt, there really should be books that fall somewhere between abysmal schlock and mind-numbing erudition. Shouldn't there? Perhaps Queenan's own 2004 title Queenan Country, a reluctant Anglophile's pilgrimage to the mother country would fall in that category. The reviews are good, the book is short, the author is well-read and the cover is ironic or iconic (?): the famous photo of the Beatles crossing Abby Road with Queenan substituted for the four moptops.
Since the NYT's links go bad after a short while, here is an excerpt from the column. The library has the NYT online, so full-text articles can be retrieved from as far back as 1851 even after blog links go to link heaven. He states at the start of the column:
"... I am never reading fewer than 25 books. I am not talking about books I have delved into, perused and set aside, like “Finnegans Wake” or Pamela Anderson’s first novel — that would get me up way over a hundred. I am talking about books I am actively reading, books that are on my nightstand and are not leaving there until I am done with them. Right now, the number is 27."
Later he names names:
"A few weeks ago, I read Barbara Freese’s “Coal: A Human History,” four chapters of “The Guns of August,” and a collection of harrowing stories about addicts, creeps and losers called “Jesus’ Son,” by Denis Johnson, which served as a 75-minute pit stop between Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and the coal industry’s offensive against Al Gore in 2000. Simultaneously, I wrapped up “The Pickup,” a brilliant, insufficiently appreciated novel by Nadine Gordimer, and “Henry Miller on Writing,” ramblings by the most overrated writer of the 20th century. Meanwhile, I was blasting away at story collections by Mavis Gallant, John McGahern, Thomas Mann and Marcel AymĂ©, none of whom write about addicts. I was also plowing through A. J. P. Taylor’s heretical “Origins of the Second World War,” Paul Cartledge’s snappy reappraisal of Alexander the Great, and Jeff Long’s gutsy demythologizing of the Alamo legend. A bit farther back on the burner were Flann O’Brien’s uproarious “At Swim-Two-Birds” and Oscar Wilde’s children’s tales. I am also reading not one but two books about Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas. This is madness."
Yes, madness, but impressive. But about that Pamela Anderson title...?

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