Joe Queenan is, as a friend of mine and a fellow fan put it a few years back, a very facile man. Queenan is also consistently funny, as anyone who has read his masterpieces of snide humour will attest. These perfectly-formed volumes of snark include Imperial Caddy (about Dan Quayle's expected impending run for the 1996 Presidential election) and Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon (an account of his year slumming it amid American middle-of-the-road pop culture - retitled simply America for benighted Europeans).
In a piece in the Wall Street Journal Queenan turns his hand to a short study of readers' reviews on Amazon.com, because someone must, just as many imagine someone must pen those reviews in the first place. Queenan imagines a world in which the Amazon readers' review - that great leveller of canonical rankings and literary esteem - has been with us from the dawn of writing (and reading, of course). Below are a selection of his reviews. No fish in this barrel escapes Queenan's fire, nor does this detract from his greatness.
• "King Lear"—Average reader rating: Two stars. The author tells us: "As like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport." Oh, right, like I didn't know that? Like I didn't know that to be or not to be is the question? Like I didn't know that the fault lies not in us but in the stars? Tell me something I don't know, Mr. Bard of Whatever.
• "The 120 Days of Sodom"—Average Reader's Rating: Five stars. OK, so I like totally pre-ordered this book based on the author's name, which just happens to be the same as my maiden name—Marquis de. Yeah, a sketchy reason to buy a book, but I was pumped. But when it got here I didn't understand it at all. It just didn't go anywhere. It just kept repeating itself. I went through it a few times more, searching for some deeper, awesome meaning, but just ended up totally bummed. Actually, some parts of it were kind of gross.
• "Mein Kampf"—Average reader's rating: One star. Lively writing, but just too, too depressing. Why does he keep using big words that normal people can't understand, like lebensraum and oberkommandant? Hey! I own a thesaurus, too! And what's up with the Jewish thing?
Next week Joe Queenan turns his attention to YouTube commenters.
Joe Queenan: Amazon Reviewers Take On the Classics - WSJ.com