The Portable Curmudgeon – Jon Winokur

People have largely stopped getting me books as gifts. I sometimes think about this and wonder why. After all, I like books, and for the most part I tend to see things as “It’s the thought that counts,” so even if I don’t like the book, at least you got me a book and not, say, a tie.

But I also get books like this, and I fully understand why getting books as gifts is a terrible idea.

No, that’s not entirely true. When I first received this book I thought I would enjoy it. Short little vignettes from bitter, angry and / or (hopefully!) funny people seemed like something I could do with. Not to mention I have a passing interesting in reading more books of a comedic nature.  So I was actually pretty excited to start this.

I quickly found myself annoyed by it.

I really was not all that sure that there was any kind of unifying theme to the quotes and authors in this collection. It really felt like this was something he put together haphazardly and then justified retroactively. Nor were all the quotes even all that curmudgeonly. Some of them were just the random deepities of an author. It got to the point where I couldn’t help but feel like I just no longer cared about having an assorted selection of opinions about New York City. I likely had better things to be doing with my time. That’s not the feeling you want when you read a book.

To be fair, the book was not entirely without merit. I did find learning about some of the people very interesting, and I found myself wanting to learn more about them. This book broadened my pallet, and I found myself purchasing an H.L. Mencken reader from a used book shop after I read this. So there were some positive outcomes.

By the end of the reading I also recalled that I am not actually all that curmudgeonly a person, despite even using this title on myself in the past. I am actually a whole lot more optimistic than most people I encounter.

Buying books is hard. ‘Book’ is a pretty spacious category to wallow around in, and deciding to do so doesn’t do anything to remove the stress of selection. To do it well then becomes a pretty difficult exercise in knowing the person you are actually buying for. You don’t encounter that problem when buying socks, so that explains why my Christmas tends to pass the way it does. I have a feeling this blog post will ensure that I never get a book as a gift again.

I would rather have gotten a tie anyway.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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