In his memoir, Closing Time, Joe Queenan writes about his alcoholic father and his journey from the projects of Philadelphia to his becoming a writer.
What provoked you to write this book now?
I started the book four years ago, and I'd been telling the story to other people. What really provoked me to tell the story, though, was that I was tired of going to parties where everybody was asking each other what prep school they had attended and were comparing their lives. When they asked me and I told them I grew up in the projects in Philadelphia, they wanted to change the subject quickly. They were assuming that everybody had the same experience as they.
You were still distant from your father when he died. You refused to accept his apology for the way he treated you and your family, and you wouldn't shake his hand. Do you have any regrets?
No, I have no time and no pity for alcoholics. I prefer drunks to alcoholics because at least drunks will pass out and lie on the ground and stop talking to you. Recovering alcoholics feel as if they must constantly apologize for their past actions. Did my father squander his life because he didn't have opportunities or was he a bad guy? Perhaps a little bit of both, but no matter; my father wasted his life.
This is the memoir of a writer as well as a memoir of growing up poor and with an alcoholic father. What events led you out of this life to become a writer?
Well, I wrote a book about Joan of Arc when I was five; I was so fascinated with her story. I was always envious of my father's use of language; he would often start declaiming in the words of Fitzgerald, Hemingway or Shakespeare. We always had books in the house. I grew up in an environment where words were important, and I was always surrounded by great storytellers.
In a market glutted with memoirs, what do you hope readers will take away from yours?
Well, there are very few books like this written by people who grew up poor. Most poor people don't grow up to write books. One of the lessons I wanted to get across was that if you're poor, you'd better start reading. I've always loathed the way that most movies and books portray working-class people, and I'm offering here a completely unsentimental portrait of working people.