Tuesday, June 2, 2009
How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson
To Carley Wells, words are the enemy. Her tutor's innumerable SAT flashcards. Here 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 iwht 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.
This book is just--wow. The eloquence of the language, the syntax of the sentences, and the indirectness and honesty of the dialogue all come together to make is novel astounding and spectacular. Undeniably unique is this remarkable debut by Tanya Egan Gibson, who I'm sure to continue reading for her enchanting style, with and refreshing voice. She also has the ability to create a character, Mr. Nagel, who fully embodies wit, charm, and malignity all in one and creates, in his own, indirect way, Carley Wells herself. For, without Nagel, there would be no book and a change in character could not happen. He is never once present throughout the entire 389-page book, but his presence is overwhelming. Because this book is told in many points of view, the reader gains insight into nearly every important character's thoughts. When the story is told from Carley's point of view, you see how much Mr. Nagel has influenced her. She is constantly saying he did this, he said that, and questioning herself, believing she will always be wrong because she almost always is around him. This second-guessing girl is just trying to become what Hunter wants, and since he is an avid reader, she believes that literature and understanding Nagel will help her become that.
Gibson has the ability to become her characters (or, rather, her characters become her, according to the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote at the beginning of Part III: Devices) and write from their mind. When reading Carley's point of view, the reader understands her yearning and desire, and how much she truly doesn't understand or doesn't want to. When reading from Bree's point of view, the reader understands how out of place she feels and how she doesn't care to fit in if she has to be like these people. The best however, is Hunter's point of view. It resonates, it's poignant, and it reveals to the reader all the self-loathing he has felt throughout his life, his need for the drugs, and his worry about how he appears to others.
It is the characters that make this book, as the plot couldn't stand on its own. Not much really happens except for a change in the characters. And because of the change in them, their lives change. But mostly, Bree writes a book, Carley critiques it, Hunter drinks, and families have issues. I'm not saying this is bad. I actually liked this refreshing way of handling things. It's as if Gibson was trying to prove her own character, Bree, wrong by writing a book for the characters, not the plot or detail (which, actually, probably was her point. Funnily enough, you'll know why when you reach the end--which is really good, by the way).
It took longer than usual to finish How to Buy A Love of Reading and not only because I was busy. I was so immersed in every every section, every chapter, every sentence that I didn't want it to end. I could have sat in my room for hours, reading and rereading one page and constantly finding new meaning to some things and the same meaning to others and never get tired of it. I got half way through and wanted to slow down, not wanting it to end, but I wanted to keep reading--quickly, as if taking a long time would make it disappear.
This wasn't the best book I've ever read, and there were some issues I had with the fluidity of a few paragraphs, but mostly, this was thoroughly enjoyable, and it gives me an obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald in quote form--he is a smart man. I'm ready for the next book by Tanya Egan Gibson.
4/5 cups of sobering coffee.