How to Buy a Love of Reading: A Novel

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Read Tanya Egan Gibson's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A playful, witty, and remarkably accomplished debut novel about how reading can save your life

Asked to name her favorite 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 ...

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Read Tanya Egan Gibson's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A playful, witty, and remarkably accomplished debut novel about how reading can save your life

Asked to name her favorite 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 behavior becomes increasingly erratic, Carley begins to understand the importance of stories-and how they are powerful enough to destroy a person. Or save her.

Tanya Egan Gibson's debut novel is an irresistible work of metafiction that dazzlingly embeds a book within the book, and boasts an unforgettably fresh narrator whose journey towards embracing literature will make you fall in love with reading all over again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Egan's debut, an odd blend of young adult melodrama and unsuccessful metafiction, winds itself into knots of empty story lines. Recognizing that their dullard daughter, Carley, needs an academic boost, Gretchen and Francis Wells hire author Bree McEnroy to write a book to Carley's specifications. Though Carley's love for reality television and Bree's fondness for self-conscious literary tropes should, in theory, unite to make a delightful story-within-a-story, it is often neglected or underwritten. Meanwhile, the cardboard secondary cast floats around Bree and Carley: there's Hunter, Carley's crush, whose alcoholic rakishness, we are assured, masks a poet's interior; Carley's social-climbing mother and philandering father; and Justin, Bree's college chum, who has become, on dubious merit, a literary star. Carley and Hunter's friendship is jeopardized by both his addictions and her unrequited adoration, and Bree and Justin reconcile. Plagued by thin, when not wildly inconsistent, characterization from the start, the narrative's tendency to flit from character to character without revealing anything memorable or insightful further blurs the point. Unfortunately, there isn't enough heart to redeem the dopiness. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Brimming with literary allusions, commentary on the rich and famous, and the necessary ingredients for a successful novel, Gibson's ingenious debut succeeds on many levels.
Library Journal

Carley Wells, nearly 16, has reportedly never met a book she likes. Aghast, her nouveaux riches parents decide that their daughter needs a "passion," and so to ensure that she does not remain intellectually impoverished, they commission a previously underappreciated writer to live at their estate and write a book to Carley's specifications. As she finds herself drawn into the story being assembled, Carley's life is dramatically altered. Complications persist in the form of Hunter, Carley's F. Scott Fitzgerald-obsessed best friend bent on self-destruction, and Bree, the hired novelist now separated from her previous existence. From the opening sentence of this strongly sardonic satire, Gibson's debut, it is clear that nothing is sacred. Whether examining trendy charity functions or the muted morals of the so-very-rich, her acerbic, acidic book is right on the money. The major surprise is that the novel also has a heart, and Carley leaps off the page as the most real character. Gibson's inventive language also enlivens this overly long novel; especially winning is the construction of the novel-within-the-novel. Readers fond of Claire Messaud and Marisha Pessl might want to try Gibson's bold outing. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/09.]
—Andrea Tarr

Kirkus Reviews
Debut novelist Gibson attempts to combine a snarky lampoon of super and nouveau riche cultural striving with a heartfelt coming-of-age story. She throws in a metafictional critique of metafiction for good measure. In the Long Island, N.Y., town of Fox Glen, the wealthy, generally doltish residents vie to show how highbrow they are. So it's not much of a stretch when a sweetly boorish bra-manufacturing magnate and his cartoonishly cold wife hire a writer to create a book for their daughter Carley's sweet-sixteen party. The book will be a cultural coup. Besides, Carley's teachers have complained about her lack of intellect, and Carley's parents hope that involving her in the writing will prove motivating. Overweight Carley hates books and has few friends except Hunter-a big exception since he's the most popular boy in the high school. A handsome if sickly lothario who drinks to serious excess when he isn't reading or working on his application essay for Princeton, Hunter considers Carley his best friend and depends on her for all his platonic emotional needs. Her feelings are less platonic, and she repeatedly forgives him for behaving badly under the influence. Bree, the starving author of a novel, is hired to write Carley's book, thanks to Justin, a famous writer living in Fox Glen seclusion since a fan attacked him. Justin knew Bree in college, treated her badly and has been secretly atoning every since. As Justin and Bree skirt around their relationship, they genuinely try to help Carley, but Carley cannot face that Hunter's addiction to alcohol and drugs is becoming worse. The drunken scenes, the acting outs and the apologies repeat themselves in various forms until the reader losestrack. Hunter's downward spiral is offset by various witticisms surrounding Carley's SAT vocabulary malapropisms; the excessively obnoxious behavior of various parents and rich friends; and Bree, Justin and Hunter's literary debates. Ambitious but unconvincing mix of uplift, tragedy and cartoonish satire. Agent: Susan Golomb/Susan Golomb Agency
From The Critics

"[A] bold outing." ---Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452296091
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/27/2010
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 426,184
  • Product dimensions: 8.06 (w) x 5.68 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Tanya Egan Gibson lives in Marin County, California. How to Buy a Love of Reading is her first novel.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 1, 2009

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    Reviewed by Cat for

    Life in the upper class enclave of Fox Glen is not kind to those refusing to keep up appearances; people who are overweight, academically underachieving, and generally social outcasts. People like Carly Wells. Somehow, all of this is still bearable thanks to Carly's love for hard partying, Fitzgerald quoting, all-around golden boy and best friend, Hunter Cray.

    When her parents crown themselves the Medici of Fox Glen by hiring struggling novelist Bree McEvoy to write a novel ensuring their daughter discovers a newfound appreciation of words, Carly has no concern and no idea that everything in her life is about to change.

    Every once in a while you'll come across a novel so precise in its observations, so visceral in its actions, and so familiar in its depictions you know less than three pages in you're reading a book that will shatter your soul, breaking you into bits. You will relive some of the best and worst moments of you life and cry through every page while your heart tightens with fresh pain. You'll be thrown against jagged cliffs until everything inside splits open, and in the end, you'll still be grateful for the experience.

    I realize there are plenty of people who will pick up HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING and not identify as closely with the characters as I did, but it's still a deeply layered, incredibly nuanced piece that digs into your mind and stays there long after the novel's end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Not Bad, but Not My Favorite

    The formation of HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING links back to a discussion between the author and one of her students who'd never "read any book she liked." The author sets high expectations by stating she wanted to "write a book that a girl like that would like." I actually understand where the female student is coming from. In middle school, I loved reading. I always had Lois Duncan in my backpack. In high school, teachers deemed books of that nature as juvenile and mandatory reading assignments began. Three years running, I was assigned Romeo and Juliet. Rarely did I like anything we were told to read. In the end, I spent high school avoiding books. Today, I read at least two books per week. There's something to be said about free choice.

    In HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING, the author taps into a Gossip Girl world. Carley Wells lives in Long Island. She's overweight, much to her size double-zero mother's dismay; is in love with her best friend, Hunter, of many years; and is generally accepted into the elite world of Long Island's Fox Glen because her father is the famous inventor of the Marvel-Bra entitling them to impressive wealth.

    Carley's parents, like many of the other Fox Glen parents, are clueless at parenting. Between Carley's mother's snide comments about her fat daughter and her father's ignorance into the pain Carley endures because of those comments, Carley's sole support comes from Hunter, who is addicted to booze, Vicodin and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hunter's passion for literature is lost on Carley. In fact, Carley writes for a school assignment asking about her favorite book that she's "never met one she liked." In an artsy community that one comment is concerning to her parents. For Carley's 16th birthday, they hire a novelist to write a story Carley will adore.

    While I have my dreams of wealth, every time I read a book about the wealthy, I start to wonder if they really are that shallow. Honestly, I pitied Carley and hated most of the remaining characters. It's hard to enjoy a book when the characters turn you off. Hunter's mother leads the pack because she's a vapid airhead who should have recognized the trouble her son was in. When he's sober, which isn't often, Hunter had tremendous potential. I'd hoped for a more satisfying ending, but I guess what's done is done.

    This leads me to wonder if teens will like this book. It does have that Gossip Girl appeal, but the vocabulary is better and it gives insight into the structure of a novel. But, I'm not sure the average teen really cares about the formation of a book. It comes off, at times, as a writing lesson defeating the entertainment value. Yet, I still found myself intrigued to see where the story would go.

    The book is being marketed as teen fiction. Parents should note drugs, sex and alcohol are prominent features in the book just as they are in life. Some parents try to keep their children from reading certain material, a practice with which I disagree. I do recommend reading the book with your teen and being ready to use the material as an opportunity to have a candid discussion on issues that teens face.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    It's great all the way through but the epilogue just wen ot with

    It's great all the way through but the epilogue just wen ot with a fizzle. The book is on my top shelf though and it's one of those books that you don't want to share with your friends because it hits you on a personal level.

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  • Posted July 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointing and Depressing

    I wanted to enjoy this book - maybe the problem started with my misconception that it was a comedy. But I don't find much to laugh about when EVERY character in a book is depressed, desperate, and dying for love and then one of the main characters offs himself at the end. I picked this up because 1) it had an interesting, cheery cover with lots of praise quotations on the back, using phrases like, "razor sharp wit" and "a novel for those who love both Buffy ... and Fitzgerald" and "a joy from start to finish;" 2) the premise was promising; and 3) the first chapter was funny. But in my opinion, things went seriously downhill after page 30, and there was very little of the rest that struck me as either witty or enjoyable. If you're looking for literary wit in a story you can have fun with, I'd recommend checking out Richard Russo's Straight Man.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 1, 2009


    Part delightfully witty satire, part soppy teen romance, Gibson's debut novel pokes fun at both the pretensions of upper class families and the techniques of writers. Given that this is a story essentially about stories and the way they are made, it's a difficult novel to critique, because it so blatantly reminds us that writers are often aware of the flaws in their own work. "How to Buy a Love of Reading" begs not to be overanalysed or nitpicked, to do so would be to miss some thematic elements. Therefore, I'll try to keep things simple and to the point.
    Carley Wells is a teenager who lives in a rich area of New York, and comes from a world where parties are thrown to impress, not to socialize, and people take on hobbies and interests to appear well-rounded and intellectual, not to actually better oneself. Therefore, when her English teacher informs her parents that Carley's hatred of books renders her "intellectually impoverished" her parents crop up with a ridiculous scheme of hiring a writer to produce a book Carley will have to love- not because they have a love of literature themselves, but because they don't want their daughter to appear stupid.
    Carley's father is kindly and well-meaning, but still rather absent, and her mother is downright hateful and views her daughter merely as a vehicle toward social advancement, and one who's failed, given the fact that she's overweight, unfashionable and unpopular. Carley is in love with her best friend Hunter, (whose parents are also superficial and shallow), and they both dream of a better life somewhere else. The only problem? Hunter is becoming an alcoholic and, given his good looks and popularity, would rather sleep with any girl other than Carley.
    Enter Bree McEnroy, the author hired by Carley's parents, and her old flame Justin Leighton, and we've got our main cast of characters, who will proceed to make mistakes, hurt each other, forgive each other and learn from each other.
    For about the first half, the novel crackles with refreshing wit and proves itself delightful for any book-lover and/or writer. Highlights include seeing the perspectives of various characters and the characterization of lovable, charming Hunter, whose pitiful demise into further drug abuse and alcholism call into question how much of someone's cruel and inappropriate behaviour can be excused by addiction. Unfortunately the novel then begins to get enmeshed in excessive detail; despite Carley telling Bree that "backstory" is important in a novel, readers can really do without the backstories provided here, which contribute little to the plot and progression of the story. And Carley's and Hunter's love needed a little more development and depth than it was given; the fact that they "take care" of one another in times of diarrhea, hangovers and head colds is certainly noble, but also over-emphasised and sometimes sickening. It's enough to make the reader sympathize with Bree for throwing the lovers in her own novel off of a cliff.
    That being said, "How to Buy a Love of Reading" is still a worthwhile read that's absolutely stunning places, even if it does lose its footing in others.

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  • Posted June 24, 2009

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    Rich Lit

    Tanya Egan Gibson's intriguing debut How to Buy a Love of Reading is w/o a doubt an engrossing novel.

    Gibson's cast of characters are engaging, delightful & interesting. Gibson's writing is truly beautiful.

    Juggling all the characters points of view while keeping How to Buy a Love of Reading flowing smoothly instead of tumbling into murky verbiage is where Gibson shines.

    Gibson's players are painted w/ rich, robust colors mesmerizing you right from the start. The characters simply soar from the page performing just for you.

    Gibson hit the nail on the head showcasing the wealthy lifestyles of Long Islanders. It is rather sad how the rich try to out "money" their own but it is an ongoing occurrence. Gibson's unique take on what money can & can not buy is forceful. Can money really buy a love of reading? As a reader, I'd love to have an unending flow of money (listening book universe) to buy books, bookcases, book gadgets & airfare to attend all of those ultra fabulous book events. Granted, money can buy me all the books on the planet but a hunger for it money just can't buy. My fervor for reading stems from the core of who I am; infact, it shapes who I am in a lot of ways.

    Gibson does a sensational job incorporating a lot of modern concepts into How to Buy a Love of Reading. Gibson highlights the obsession many individuals have w/ reality television by skillfully showcasing Carly's obsession w/ the unimaginative genre.

    Gibson integrates How to Buy A Love of Reading w/ hot social topics as the novel prudently deals w/unrequited love, weight, body image, self-esteem, alcoholism & drug abuse.

    Despite the fact that Gibson's vastly well written & intricate characters are financially affluent, emotionally & spiritually they are impoverished beings. Kudos to Gibson for unmasking the crux of the moneyed & spotlighting the creatures they sincerely are.

    Gibson's players may start out as shallow well-heeled hoi polloi but Gibson's eloquent writing unveils a depth to the characters that is delightfully surprising!

    Bottom line, literature is something that inspires you, extends your awareness, enhances your life & gives you choices beyond compare!

    How to Buy a Love of Reading does start off rather measured but takes off & doesn't let go.
    Gibson has you so engaged you find yourself lost in the lives of Carley, Bree & Hunter. So, if you are having trouble @ the beginning, whatever you do... don't give up!

    I still find it hard to believe this is Tanya Egan Gibson's debut novel. Where's Ashton? Tanya, am I being punk'd?

    Hurry, grab a copy of How to Buy a Love of Reading!

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  • Posted June 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Can't buy me love, no, no, no, no

    I would characterize Tanya Egan Gibson's delicious debut novel, How to Buy a Love of Reading, as love stories between three couples even though 'love story' isn't the premise of her book. Or is it? But these love stories come with a twist, wherein the power of choice prevails as the characters literally rewrite their stories, their lives, and their fate. Actually there are three tales of love within two parallel stories.

    In this is complex novel Gibson's characters are very much alive, but, after all is said and done, it is not the people, but rather the story or stories themselves that become the power brokers in Gibson's artistic hands.

    Gibson is a word wizard with an uncanny knack for building character to the extent that the couples, Carley and Hunter and Bree and Justin (Rock Star), walk right out of the pages and pull us into their lives where the bonds of convoluted love link them as though they have no choice.

    Within How to Buy a Love of Reading there is a story being written by the unsuccessful author, Bree McEnroy, for the main protagonist, Carley Wells, after Bree, is 'bought' by Carley's mega-wealthy parents to write a book just for her in the hope that she'll never again say that she has never met a book she liked. This inner story, conceived by Bree as a 21st Century reality television show based in a Medieval world, portrays a third couple, Buck and Jules, as they struggle with the challenges of love, reality vs. fantasy, and choice, essentially mirroring the main story of the present-day connection between Carley with Hunter and Bree with Justin, and, for that matter, the stories of love and lovers throughout time.

    Gibson demands one's attention through her energy, wit, and irony and then asks the reader to read between the lines to get the point - all the while navigating a rapid river. Great read, great work out!

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  • Posted March 27, 2009

    Buy Your Love of Reading Now

    How to buy a love of reading? Start by buying this book. Egan Gibson reminds me why I love to read- because I love to fall in love with characters and want to rip the heads off of others and sometimes those roles shift, because I love when an author can so artfully navigate the blurry line between the classes, a clear nod to Fitzgerald and, for me, Ethan Canin, but with a voice that is so instinctively, purely her own, because I love when an author can so clearly translate a sensitivity to the universal nature of longing, because I love when a book can be smart and funny and insightful and sweet and not pull punches unless it means to all at the same time, but mostly because I so rarely get to lose myself in THIS kind of book. Buy your love of reading. Now.

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