I love reading the words written by people who really like books, and yea, I’m gunna expound on this:
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.
Aside from being a voracious reader, one so prolific most people wouldn’t believe me if I told them how much I read, I’ll circle back to Joe Queenan himself [a writer who- as far as I'm aware of - I've read one of his books and one of his essays, the latter being a piece for Spy magazine, one of the better magazine essays ever published by, er, god or man].
Queenan – the writer of the WSJ piece excerpted above, took it upon himself to spend a day as Mickey Rourke, and the results – Googlable, I’m sure – were quite funny. They made an impact on my teenage-self, and as these things tend to happen, Queenan’s day spent as Mickey Rourke wound up nudging me to casually host a Mickey Rourke Movie Night at my freshman dorm at Colorado College, which led to a series of dominoes falling that are still flabbergasting and/or tragic, depending on which side of the bed I rise.
Although it doesn’t matter, I still have the torn-out pages with Queenan’s work tucked away.
All that business aside, what’s an appropriate number of books to have read, or – more importantly – to own? Among the physical books in my house, the number is probably 1,500, and carry-the-three-minus-the-two-factoring-for-inflation, I suspect like the jelly-beans in that weirdly big jar, I’ve read 4,000 books, give/take. I’m 37 and I read a lot, so discounting – again – discounting – for the inflation of all those silly children’s books I read when I was a kid, yeah, 4,000 sounds about right.
As Clay Davis would say: Sheeeet – I’m not even the best-read person in the room, not by a long shot.
Who knows – might be 800. Might be 7,000. Girls keep reading journals – I do not. Had Algore not invented the Internet, I’d have probably read 12,000 book by this point in life’s journey, and written at least a hundred more. True story.
I visited my parents last weekend, and my father and I were talking about reading. I started reading at a freakishly young age, and to add some spice to that chili, I started doing it [ie reading] up-side-down. My dad read James Michener novels, those giant doorstops of my youth. Although I don’t have photographic memory, I do know that sitting, sage-like, on my parents’ bookshelf, is a green-jacketed copy of Leon Uris’ Trinity.
“You sister loved to have me read to her when she was young,” he said, and he was true in this – my sister, now an engineer, loved being read to, and she is to this day an insatiable reader, though – granted – she enjoys popular novels [/thehorror I know].
“So what about me?” I asked, and yes, I’m aware that it’s the height of pretension to structure one’s everyday conversations in novel form.
“I think you taught yourself to read,” my father said. “You hated having anyone read for you. You read the newspaper upside-down, and that was that.” And so on. And although I can’t vouch for myself at 3 or 4, there is little I hate more in life than anyone reading anything to me – I love my mother, but whenever she unearths a newspaper clipping to recite, she may as well be reading from the most bearably dark parts from that book about unbearable darkness, being, et al.
Yeah, worst analogy ever.
Queenan’s essay is good. He obviously spent a lot of time on it, he’s obviously spent a lot of his life reading books, and this I respect. Although this has turned into equal-parts confession and review, it was meant to be neither – frankly, I like it when writers write about books they love and about the reading habit that pushed them into the game in the first place.
My quibble, and it’s a little one, is this: about of a million books published about a million things, why did Queenan find the need to dog Atlas Shrugged? Hitchens did the same thing in one of his later essays, and many essayists have done it before – at the end of the day, it’s one book, nothing more. If Ayn Rand’s self-described magnum opus is so terrible, why bring it up?