About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to Buy a Love of Reading

This one was underwhelming. As I said in an earlier post, I gave a former colleague a copy of Tanya Egan Gibson's How to Buy a Love of Reading (New York: Dutton, 2009) as a going-away gift earlier this year. Then and now, I picked it out for a few reasons: the title intrigued me, and how could I not be drawn to a book that satirizes the uber-rich of Long Island's North Shore?

Jacket blurb: "To Carley Wells, words are the enemy. Her tutor's innumerable SAT flashcards. Her personal trainer's 'fifty-seven pounds overweight' assessment. And the endless assignments from her English teacher, Mr. Nagel. When Nagel reports to her parents that she has answered the question 'What is your favorite book?' with 'Never met one I liked,' they decide to fix what he calls her 'intellectual impoverishment.' They will commission a book to be written just for her -- one she'll have to love -- that will impress her teacher and the whole town of Fox Glen with their family's devotion to the arts. They will be patrons -- the Medicis of Long Island. They will buy their daughter the love of reading.

"Impossible though it is for Carley to imagine loving books, she is in love with a young bibliophile who cares about them more than anything. Anything, that is, but a good bottle of scotch. Hunter Cay, Carley's best friend and Fox Glen's resident golden boy, is becoming a stranger to her lately as he drowns himself in F. Scott Fitzgerald, booze, and Vicodin.

"When the Wellses move writer Bree McEnroy -- author of a failed meta-novel about Odysseus's journey home through the Internet -- into their mansion to write Carley's book, Carley's sole interest in the project is to distract Hunter from drinking and give them something to share. But as Hunter's behavior becomes erratic and dangerous, she finds herself increasingly drawn into the fictional world Bree has created, and begins to understand for the first time the power of
stories -- those we read, those we want to believe in, and most of all, those we tell ourselves about ourselves. Stories powerful enough to destroy a person. Or save her."

Sounds like it could be good, but didn't quite live up to its potential. Carley has all the makings of a compelling, make-you-root-for-the-underdog heroine -- love for a boy she can't have and who, frankly, doesn't deserve it; shallow mom from hell -- but not enough substance to make you get past your pity and truly like her. And Bree, the working-class writer with literary pretensions and her own bad-rich-boy skeleton in the closet, might have the substance, but we don't see enough of it to know. It gets a bit better as it goes on, but frankly, much of the book is as muddied and meta- as Gibson pokes fun at Bree's failed novel for being.

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