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How to Buy a Love of Reading ~ Tanya Egan Gibson

October 5, 2010

Genre: Adult Fiction
Publisher: Plume
400 pages
ISBN: 9780452296091

It will always be debatable, whether the “greats” of yesterday (Homer to Emerson to Fitzgerald) would still have written about deep things, had that been alive, today. Or, as some might propose, would Homer be a cheesy romance writer, Emerson a gossip columnist and Fitzgerald a head writer for The O.C.? There is, simply, no way to tell, lacking that windbag pundit Wells’ time machine, but the real point is that what we deem deep, looking back, may very well have been, to their then-modern-day critiques, fairly trivial. And, looking forward, what we toss off as pulp, today, may be hailed by future generations as the wisdom of days gone by, unappreciated during its time.

All of this said, I’m not sure (though, again, who knows what the future may hold) that How to Buy a Love of Reading will make the cut. With all of the backdrop and drinking of Fitzgerald’s timeless, Long Island miseries mixed with either  a jab or an attempt at Pynchon’s satirical absurdity, Gibson’s would-be parody falls a bit flat of or far from greatness. Mentioned throughout and quoted tirelessly (at least, it seemed, for the author) was one of my favorite authors, Fitzgerald. I do think, however, it might take a bit more than wild nights and western Long Island to pair the two writers together.

The curtain opens on Carley Wells, a sympathetically pathetic high school junior. Pleasantly plump, virtually friendless, academically clueless and reality-t.v. obsessed, she finds herself both locked into and locked out of a society that values everything she is not. Those around her, including her parents and two best friends, hoard gossip and waste money, but she seems completely out-of-place, in a useless, rather than poetic, sort of way.

Instead of acting as some sort of metaphoric commentary on the evils of Society, the “character” ff Carly (for she really never develops beyond a reality show version of a scripted extra) appears to have no grounding, neither in the mystical world of the North Eastern elite nor in, what is usually the antithesis of such a thing, usually, some crunchy-granola or artistically subversive backlash against the haughty gaudiness.

There are points of redemption that pop up, not in any one character, but in slivers of interaction. There are two writers (one too successful, one decidedly not successful at all) and a Boy, with an capital B, that hint at something deeper. Of course, I was never really sure that they were mentioned, superficially, to show Carly’s lack of understanding or written vaguely because they really weren’t supposed to be taken that deeply at all, even perhaps, by the author. Regardless of the intent, the few moments of higher thinking weren’t enough to bring Fitzgerald anywhere near this story. The whole thing reminded me of a half-hearted attempt at merging an episode of The O.C. and Gossip Girl without any of the funny parts.

I really don’t mean for this to come off as terrible as I’m sure it must. There were moments of insight; I just wish that those had been the main focuses, rather than the humdrum cliches that made up most of  the book. Of course, there’s an eternal optimist in every cynic and I’ll be interested in Tanya Egan Gibson’s next book to see if she manages to get away from the teen angst to go for the heavier stuff.

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