Sunday, 24 October 2010

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson

GENRE: general fiction/young adult/family


Asked to name her favourite book, sixteen-year-old Carley Wells answers, "never met one I liked." Her parents are horrified and decide to commission a book to be written just for her. They will be the Medicis of Long Island and buy their daughter The Love of Reading. At first, Carley's sole interest in the project is to distract Hunter, the young bibliophile she adores. But as Hunter's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, Carley begins to understand the importance of stories –and how they are powerful enough to destroy a person. Or save her.

I wanted to read this novel because of its title – How to Buy a Love of Reading. And it got me thinking: can one really do that? I was also surprised that a person hasn’t read a book they liked. Whether one is a bibliophile or not, whether one reads one book a day or one book a year, everyone has come upon a story they enjoyed at one point. So, I simply had to know how it was possible for fifteen-year-old Carley Wells to not like one single story.

This novel is about reading – to a certain extent. It reminds the reader why we read and why reading is fun. Mostly, reading is about pure escapism. We don’t want big words and mind-blowing symbolism; readers just want a story, forgetting for a moment that they’re reading fiction and just enjoying the fact that for a moment that piece of fiction is a kind of reality. This is Carley’s stance and she hasn’t read a book she likes because she is not a bookworm and she only reads what her English teacher assigns the students to read. She doesn’t like symbolism and literary analysis; she just wants a good story and The Great Gatsby, with all its symbolism and literary complexity, is just not her kind of good story.

The first thing I noticed about the novel, the thing I both liked and disliked (at first), was the language. The language is very rich and quite flamboyant at times, employing big words one definitely does not use in every-day communication (even a native speaker of English might require the use of a dictionary at times), sounding quite academic, yet relaxed at the same time, which is a strange linguistic paradox. The language is quite post-modernistic, I’d say, at times using the elements of meta-fiction (a nod to a character in the novel) and the thing is, I’m not a fan of either. I don’t like (most) post-modernistic literature and I don’t like meta-fiction by far. The book is also a clear nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald and I personally got a Holden Caulfield vibe, too (The Catcher in the Rye); again, I don’t like either of them. I was ready to close the book, fearing the story might go towards a strange post-modernistic direction I wouldn’t like. But I was wrong. I am brave enough to say that this book is great for people who don’t like post-modernism, Fitzgerald and anti-heroes of Holden Caulfield’s calibre because it brings something really fresh and likeable to them. I ended up enjoying the language and the way the story was narrated. I really went out of my usual reading sphere with this book and I truly enjoyed the experience.

The book is about reading, but at the centre of it are the characters. I mostly didn’t like the characters in the book, but I believe that just because a character isn’t likeable, it doesn’t mean the character is badly written. All the characters in the novel were really well written, but I had a hard time really liking them. At first, I truly disliked Carley Wells. As a person, she is really badly defined and could hardly be called an individual. She is so close to her best friend Hunter Cay (Holden Caulfield?), so in love with him, so dependent on him, that she doesn’t really have her own personality. However, she is the character who undergoes a beautiful character development and really blooms into a great woman by the end of the novel. When the end of the book was approaching, I was quite ready to slap Carley senseless, but then she grew a spine and I totally loved her. I thought it was great that the author made Carley fat – so many heroines are pretty and seductive, but not Carley.

Hunter Cay, her best friend, is a very complex boy, but mostly I saw him as a pretentious teenage infant who, because he is a bibliophile and can talk big, sees everyone else – apart from Carley – as a bunch of imbecilic Philistines (his words). He is one big problem incarnate, the sort of guy many (or all) girls love, but he is bad for them all. There is a certain vulnerability about him that only Carley can see, but he keeps hurting her and she keeps forgiving him, she’s so deep in his messy world. He is a great character, but I don’t like the boy. He is very charming, very attractive and changes girls as often as he does his socks (which is too often in his case), but he is destructive, for others as well as for himself. The love between Carley and Hunter is deep, but sick and everyone knows they should try to be apart, but they can’t do that. However, Carley, although unsophisticated, manages to move on, whereas Hunter, with all his knowledge and sophistication, remains pretty stagnant.

The book is partly a satire too, criticising – or making fun of – the rich who keep libraries in their mansions for appearances, but who haven’t cracked the spine of a single book they possess. There’s a lot of hypocrisy in this book, a lot of cheating, deceit, lies, drinking and emotional stupidity. I couldn’t live in the world of the rich portrayed in the book; it is shiny, but very empty, which is what the author was trying to portray, I think. It’s pretty reminiscent of The Great Gatsby’s world, too.

I really liked the conversations between Carley and the author her wannabe-Medici parents hired to write their daughter Carley’s favourite book. They taught each other a lot and Carley, although only fifteen and very ordinary, managed to teach Bree, the author, a lot of things. Bree was very strange to me at first, obsessed with her meta-fiction and symbolism and whatnot, but she evolved nicely too and became something that constitutes a good, normal author. Really, this book has some great character; it’s just not very easy to like them.

In the end, I think that you can’t buy a love of reading. You can’t buy love, period. Finding your favourite book is like finding your true love – you have to do the searching yourself and keep reading/looking until you find it. I think this came across nicely in the book.

All in all, this was a nice and very interesting read. There were times when I struggled with the book, and it is quite a slow read, too, focusing on the inner workings of people and not on events, but it is a really good book, I think, and I recommend it to everyone who likes to read and who can just appreciate a good story, no matter their preferred genres. It ends nicely and frankly, I can’t imagine it ending any other way. The ending is perfect as it is.



Peppermint Ph.D. said...

sounds interesting...another one for the wish list :)

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

Love your review-I personally love meta fiction but I am also intrigued by many of the other points you mentioned about the book.

I'm also in complete agreement with Carley re: literary analysis and symbolism-BORING!

Blodeuedd said...

Not one book, by that age I have come across a lot of books I loved

Jan von Harz said...

I hear Carley in many of my students. I don't read, I have never read a book I liked and reading is boring. Every year I attempt to change that for my students with some success, but not with all.

I enjoyed this review and had to laugh at how much time you spent on describing Hunter. But I am surprised that you don't like Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading this review. It was so thoughtful and asked lots of interesting questions. You certainly can't buy a love of reading. It is as you say the heart of connecting with a story or a character's journey. That is why I read and I do not appreciate a lot of big words just for the sake of them.
I doubt that I would enjoy this but it has been fascinating to read about.