Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I’m a lifelong bibliophile (yes, it’s a word). Whether it’s a mental disorder, a bad habit, or a pleasant pastime, I like books, and I like to buy them. Naturally, when I saw Joe Queenan’s column in the Wall Street Journal, I was delighted.
Written to promote his new book “One for the Books,” Queenan’s piece is a witty, sarcastic and personal homage to the books he reads. Title “My 6,128 Favorite Books,” here are a few paragraphs that made me smile:
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.
Don’t I know what’s that like. More often than not, I return from the library with more books than I’ll have time to read before their due date, and not for lack of wanting or trying. Most of the time, I picked the books for odd reasons, like the cover (yes, I do judge), thickness, what it was sitting next to, or because I needed a couple extra books…sometimes, I’m even interested in the topic or the genre.
A case can be made that people who read a preposterous number of books are not playing with a full deck. I prefer to
think of us as dissatisfied customers. 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. People in the 19th century fell in love with “Ivanhoe” and “The Count of Monte Cristo” because they loathed the age they were living through. Women in our own era read “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre” and even “The Bridges of Madison County”—a dimwit, hayseed reworking of “Madame Bovary”—because they imagine how much happier they would be if their husbands did not spend quite so much time with their drunken, illiterate golf buddies down at Myrtle Beach. A blind bigamist nobleman with a ruined castle and an insane, incinerated first wife beats those losers any day of the week. Blind, two-timing noblemen never wear belted shorts.
Similarly, finding oneself at the epicenter of a vast, global conspiracy involving both the Knights Templar and the Vatican would be a huge improvement over slaving away at the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the rest of your life or being married to someone who is drowning in dunning notices from Williams-Sonoma. No matter what they may tell themselves, book lovers do not read primarily to obtain information or to while away the time. They read to escape to a more exciting, more rewarding world. A world where they do not hate their jobs, their spouses, their governments, their lives. A world where women do not constantly say things like “Have a good one!” and “Sounds like a plan!” A world where men do not wear belted shorts. Certainly not the Knights Templar.
Seriously. I like the people I work with, but who wouldn’t rather be at the center of a global conspiracy instead of negotiating commercial real estate contracts?
A friend once told me that the real message Bram Stoker sought to convey in “Dracula” is that a human being needs to live hundreds and hundreds of years to get all his reading done; that Count Dracula, basically nothing more than a misunderstood bookworm, was draining blood from the necks of 10,000 hapless virgins not because he was the apotheosis of pure evil but because it was the only way he could live long enough to polish off his extensive reading list. But I have no way of knowing if this is true, as I have not yet found time to read “Dracula.”
Why not? WHY NOT?
Take moment in the next couple days and read the piece, have a laugh, and then wonder over to a local book store and pick something up. After all, October is National Book Month, and you’ve not a day to lose if you’re going to get caught up on your book list.