Friday, May 15, 2015

Foisting books on others

I hate having books rammed down my throat.
Joe Queenan, One for the Books

Joe Queenan goes on to say this may be why he never liked school. "I still cannot understand how one human being could ask another human being to read Look Homeward, Angel and then expect to remain on speaking terms."

I, on the other hand, loved school and always looked forward to discovering which books would be the assigned reading for each particular class. Maybe I didn't always enjoy reading these books, and maybe I just skimmed through a few of them, but today I at least have some familiarity with The Merchant of Venice, The Canterbury Tales, the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Lolita, Barchester Towers, The Heart of Midlothian and numerous other literary works because some high school teacher or college professor rammed them down my throat. I may have never dipped into any of them had they not been assigned reading. Today, all these years later, I have yet to read, or even opened, Look Homeward, Angel, and I regret that some instructor didn't assign it.

Yet I still agree with Queenan's basic point. I, too, hate having books rammed down my throat. Several weeks ago a woman simply handed me a copy of a biography of William A. Wheeler, vice president under Rutherford B. Hayes. She didn't ask me if I wanted to borrow the book. She simply gave it to me and began talking about something else. When Hayes learned that Wheeler had been nominated by the 1876 Republican National Convention to be his running mate, he is said to have asked, "Who is Wheeler?" Who is Wheeler, indeed. Unlike Hayes, I wasn't that interested in finding out. I did sample a few pages here and there in the book so I might have something intelligent to say when I returned it, but fortunately she again quickly turned to talking about something else, saving me the embarrassment of admitting I didn't actually read the book. I still consider her a friend.

I did at least return the book. Queenan says he keeps such books on the theory that "people who foist books upon other people don't really want them back." He writes, "Lending books to other people is merely a shrewd form of housecleaning." Even if that were true, why would either Queenan or I want other people's book cluttering up our homes. We already have our own books cluttering up our homes. Returning them, whether read or unread, as quickly as decently possible seems like the better way to go.

Gift books at least do not have to be returned, although you may feel obligated to read them at some point because someone was kind enough to give them to you. I still have a paperback copy of Tom Wolfe's The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby given as a Christmas present in the mid-'60s. I hope to get around to reading it someday.

I wrote book reviews for a newspaper for nearly 40 years, and even in retirement I receive, on average, one review book a month, which I write about in this blog, on the LibraryThing website and, rarely, for Amazon. Yet these books sent by publishers are not quite being "rammed down my throat." I have, with two exceptions during all those years, never been obligated to read or review any particular book, plus I get a some choice in which books I get from publishers. Even so, I have often felt I would rather be reading one of my own books according to my own schedule.

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