“Wish List! No More Sweaters” by Joe Queenan

A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine, whom I tolerate more than those clearly horrible people who give me Navajo books, spent about twenty hours knitting me a sweater. She had gone out of her way to use very specific yarn imported from Guatemala with what she called “good weave” and had designed the sweater pattern herself. Apparently, the bitch actually expected me to wear the thing. Of course, I was gracious and took the sweater, even as the tears flowed down her cheeks after she saw that I clearly loathed it. And while this acquaintance and I are no longer on speaking terms, I called Sam Tanenhaus up and told him this story. And he said, “Joe, that would make a fantastic essay! You know I’ll print anything you write. Even your shopping list!”

Since I’ve spent the majority of my writing career belittling things without expressing so much as an ounce of joy about anything that inhabits this miserable planet, I figured I’d give it a shot. So here goes: the people who knit and hand you sweaters (mostly grandmothers, apparently) are evil sadists who should be flayed alive in front of a paying public. After all, any reasonable man knows that the universe revolves exclusively around him. First and foremost. Or failing that, Joe Queenan.

Gift management is not the only issue here. The idea that other people could even contribute to your well-being by hand-knitting you a gift is outside any red-blooded male’s paradigm. We shouldn’t even have to open the carefully packaged box that contains the sweater. We should dismiss the gift simply because thumbing down the cardboard reveals the unmistakable trappings of a sweater. Who really knows how to knit things anyway save those starving workers toiling in an export processing zone? No, let the machines do all the knitting work for us.

Some people may wonder, “Well, why don’t you simply lie when people give you a sweater?” There are two problems with such duplicity. One, I’m an asshole and a pompous windbag. And people should know that in advance when they give me a gift. Two, while graciously receiving another person’s gift or perspective might have prevented my divorce, see point number one. As the old saying goes, you only live once. And when you have a guy like Joe Queenan as the center of your universe (meaning me or fawning and unquestioning admirers), life’s too short to pay even the smallest suggestion any heed. Joe Queenan takes no lip from nobody. Not even those septuagenarians who have taken several hours out of their shortening lives to try and make me happy.


  1. Based on the NYTBR’s essays over the last few months: We disapprove of book awards; we’re annoyed by book titles that make use of a colon followed by a subtitle; we’re ready for the end of gay bookstores (and labels like “gay fiction”); we don’t think there’s any good fiction about terrorism; we haven’t been to too many worthwhile book readings; we just can’t find a really good biography these days; and, now, we just hate when people give us books as gifts. It sure is exhausting keeping literary culture alive in America!

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