At the Sun-Gazette, staff members tend to read. A lot. So we thought we would share what we're reading and let you know how they fare.
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Reader: Mike Reuther, political and business reporter.
What I read: "Closing Time," by Joe Queenan.
Synopsis: Memoir of Joe Queenan
Stats: Published in 2009 by Viking.
What I thought: Joe Queenan is a bright and funny guy.
And in his memoir, "Closing Time," he draws on his intellectual gifts and clever word-play to paint a both humorous and sad account of his days growing up Roman Catholic and poor in North Philadelphia with an abusive father.
Queenan fans may know him from his past books that pull no punches with sharp and funny criticism of popular culture and film.
It's a prose style he uses to lambaste a father who drank too much, couldn't hold jobs and moved his family from one deteriorating neighborhood to another over the course of Queenan's youth.
The father is a fairly well-read, self-educated man, a charmer, even a likeable character - when sober - but a person Queenan and his siblings know to steer clear of when he's drinking.
The family, which includes Queenan's long-suffering mother, want nothing more in life than for dad to just disappear.
What overall effect the father may have had on Queenan is hard to know after reading this memoir that covers the years from the 1950s to the early 21st century.
What perhaps is clear is that the father's abuse forced him to seek other outlets and role models.
There's the Catholic church, which the father strangely enough embraced, as does the young Queenan - at least for a time.
Queenan even goes as far as contemplating a life in the priesthood before abandoning the idea after a one-year sojourn at a junior seminary school at age 14.
If the priests he got to know in Catholic schools and churches where he served as altar boy fell short of his idea of role models he so sorely needed, two other important people apparently filled those spots quite nicely, if temporarily.
Both of the men gave Queenan part-time employment as a boy.
Len, an ex-Marine who ran a men's clothing store, served as a counterpoint to Queenan's father, dispensing advice to the young Queenan, opening up new worlds to him, making him a kind of surrogate son. Len is a larger than life character, but it's the colorful people who form a steady parade in and out of the store throughout the working days of Queenan's time there that make this one of the richer parts of the book.
There's also Glenn, an unconventional man in his own right, who longed to be someplace else other than running a small pharmacy in Philadelphia.
He describes Glenn as a "sweet, generous, fascinating man" broken by life.
Both men seem to show that possibilities are out there, even if it means going against the grain.
"In the end, what I valued most in these two men, apart from their decency, was their wholesome eccentricity. Unlike my father, whose antisocial approach to life always culminated in mayhem, Len and Glenn demonstrated how it was possible to thrive in this society even though one had in some sense seceded from it."
There also are relatives, aware of the negative home life Queenan and his sisters endure, who extend kindness.
Queenan can be bitingly funny in his descriptions of the many people and places from a Philadelphia of a generation ago.
And even if he's a bit nostalgic about aspects of those years, he makes it clear there's nothing wonderful about being poor.
Well before he renounces the priesthood and sets his sights on becoming a writer, he longs to escape his world.
This story isn't so much an inspirational one as Queenan's story of struggling, of finding his way out.
What I'm reading next: "Father's Day" by Buzz Bissinger.