So I was surprised to hear myself laughing at the NPR radio show "All Things Considered" today. They were interviewing the notoriously sardonic writer and critic Joe Queenan. A self-described "well-paid bastard," Queenan was plugging his new tome One for the Books.
Queenan is a big, grey-haired, Irish Catholic from Philadelphia. As he says, "I look like a cop." He doesn't look like an author, or even someone who belongs in a bookstore. And he's become used to being dismissed by the typical bookstore clerk - what he calls "the irony boys."
Now, I've never been to Paris. But I always wanted to visit the legendary English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company, which was James Joyce's home bookstore during his years in Paris. Queenan's description* of his visit there made me laugh:
When I was in Paris and I was 20, I used to go to Shakespeare and Company. You always hear about what a great place that was. They were horrible to me!
Most of the people who'd go in there were poorly shod. They looked like they hadn't eaten in a long time - they looked like they were at death's doorstep. So you knew that they'd gone to Phillips Exeter! You knew they'd gone to Andover!
No doubt it made me laugh because I'd been similarly dissed by haughty store clerks.
Anyway, if you'd like to listen to his interview, go here. And here is Joe Queenan's list of must-read books:
Darwin - Marx - Wagner: Critique of a Heritage, by Jacques Barzun
A History of Western Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
Père Goriot, by Honoré de Balzac
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Emma, Persuasion or Lady Susan, by Jane Austen
Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift
The Iliad, by Homer
Copyright(c) 2012, NPR
* This was my transcription of Queenan's interview. It's probably not 100% accurate.