The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Tanya Egan Gibson and
How to Buy a Love of Reading

September 07, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

When Tanya Egan Gibson was a high school English teacher, one of her students admitted that she had never read any book she liked. Instead the student spent her time daydreaming about her friends and their experiences shared during the day, imagining what might have been done differently. Although this was creative, Tanya loved books too much not to accept a challenge and vowed one day to write a book the girl would like. And, after ten years. that vow/idea became How to Buy a Love of Reading.

Debuting in May, 2009 and released in trade paperback on July 27, 2010, How to Buy a Love of Reading is beyond multi-layered. In addition to its meta-fiction format, fully drawn, flawed characters, Gatsby-esque setting, society, and quotes, mention of numerous literary works, there’s more. However the novel isn’t complicated, certainly the author’s description is reassuring proof:

“My characters live in the fictional town of Fox Glen, Long Island, where appearances are everything, money is plentiful, and life is forever disappointing. Most of the characters have given up on their real, private selves and have come to believe in their public selves– images they once-upon-a-time constructed to protect their egos, and in which now they find themselves imprisoned.”

Indeed How to Buy a Love of Reading is primarily based on past behavior that now affects the characters’ present. Here is the synopsis:

To Carley Wells, words are the enemy: the countless SAT lists from her tutor, the “fifty-seven pounds overweight” assessment from her personal trainer, and most of all, the “confidential” Getting To Know You assignment from her insane English teacher (whose literary terminology lessons include “Backstory is Afterbirth” and “Setting is Nobody’s Slut”). When he tells her parents that she’s answered “What is your favorite book?” with “Never met one I liked,” they become determined to fix what he calls her “intellectual impoverishment.” They will commission a book to be written for Carley that she’ll have to love—one 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 ever loving words, 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 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 voyages through the Internet—into their mansion to write Carley’s book, Carley’s sole interest in the project is its potential to distract Hunter from drinking and give them something to share. Instead, as Hunter’s behavior becomes erratic and dangerous, she finds herself 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.

While there is an Excerpt to the novel’s first pages, it’s up to you to discover it by visiting the website. Simply turn the light on, then browse the bookcase as well as that book being read in bed. According to Tanya, the website is filled with treasures for good reason:

“Much of the material on my website–photographs, a character’s journal, excerpts of fictional “‘books'” that are mentioned in my novel–does not appear in the book and is intended as an extension of the book, a way to keep the “‘world'” of Fox Glen alive.”

It’s also a way to pay to tribute to Carley by keeping her insight into reading alive. For her indifference to books comes from their characters. She wants them to be genuinely human, rather than figure fixtures telling a story. Carley needs to identify and care about people in a book since it’s her way of understanding herself and others. Yes it’s the “unknowable” that Tanya described in her guest post, and the “gap” that 16-year old Carley feels is too wide.

Described as “razor-sharp, funny, and poignant,” How to Buy a Love of Reading is a satire of how the rich are different or appear to be as they hide their true selves from themselves and each other. And then there’s overweight, “intellectually impoverished” Carley who is seeking much more. Although she wants to love books to understand THE boy better — for Carley even knows as in life, so in books, “there’s always a boy” –, this adolescent also wants to know and love herself.

Tanya Egan Gibson had high hopes that her debut would be “literary,” yet her attempts to write towards that goal removed emotion from the story. So she stopped trying and simply told the story of “an overweight teenage girl’s love for her unattainable best male friend.” It’s not complicated yet it is truth. Because, through the multi layers of the book and the book-within-a-book, the voice of Carley remains basic. She’s a girl who leads with her heart, a heart strong enough to set an example for all the bewildering souls around her.

And that’s the author’s gift to readers in How to Buy a Love of Reading. This present is a character/person who allows us to bring our own hearts to the pages with the desire to know and understand each other better. Could there be a more valuable reading experience for your “must read” list?

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Tanya Egan Gibson’s How to Buy a Love of Reading in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Tanya Egan Gibson on Unknowable

August 31, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[How well do you know your friends? Do you know them as well as favorite fictional characters? In today’s guest post Tanya Egan Gibson (How to Buy a Love of Reading) reflects on how by reading and knowing characters, we’re motivated to close the human “gap” of getting to know and understand the truth of real-life people. ]


At the beginning of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway says he wishes for “no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.” He’s had enough of confidences from people he barely knows; he doesn’t want emotional involvement with strangers. But F. Scott Fitzgerald did, I believe. I suppose every writer of fiction does.

I write because other people are a paradox—essentially like me (human), yet essentially unknowable. I stare at strangers on line in the grocery store and want to know their stories. Does that T-shirt with the dancing cat on it mean something to her, or is it something she threw on? Is that last-minute candy bar purchase a happy treat or a guilty pleasure? Is she glancing at her cell-phone to check the time or to wish a call into happening? Her doctor? Her boss? Her child? Her lover?

Does she love someone? What does love feel like for her? We all want to be loved. But loved how? What feels like love to someone else doesn’t necessarily feel like love to me. I want to know what her love feels like. This is where and why the storytelling starts for me, this what if?-ing. To bridge the gap between myself and other people, I make them up in my head.

There’s always distance between people, even those we know well. I imagine a Zeno’s Paradox of Relationships where the space between us and those we care about is halved with every interaction, every effort, every disclosure–a gap that shrinks but never quite disappears. Most of the characters in my novel, How To Buy a Love of Reading, suffer from loneliness because they give up on other people, believing that nobody can ever understand them. (A little gap seems just as daunting to them as a big one.)

It isn’t just other people’s unknowability that plagues them; it is their own fear of being unknown. Hunter Cay, a sixteen-year-old bibliophile and substance abuser, is desperate to be seen for who he is–to be read accurately. He looks like he has everything–he’s handsome, wealthy, and idolized by his friends and his friends’ parents alike. But he makes it impossible for anybody but his overweight, unpopular, book-hating best friend, Carley, to crack open his “cover” to read his true “text” (and accept the unexpected story she discovers therein). He chooses the fiction he reads and the fictions he constructs about himself over real life because in the world of pretend there is no gap. You can be the character.

As much as I adore fiction, and as much as I turn to it to make sense of life, and to be entertained, and not infrequently to be comforted, I don’t think the real-life gap between real-life people is a bad thing. The mystery of other people draws me to them; the slow unveiling of another human being is a beautiful, mesmerizing dance.

In the end, I care about people more than characters–even my own. It’s easy to fall in love with characters, especially those of your own creation–they do what you want them to, they lay their souls bare, and (you can imagine) they understand you completely. The unreal is addictive because bonding with characters requires no emotional risks. (Hunter fantasizes about the authors of the books in which he buries himself, making up scenarios in which they befriend him in bookstores and bars, but when he is confronted with two real authors who want to help him, he is unable to be real.) Characters are easy; real people are hard. And what is easy is rarely most worthwhile.

I can’t imagine a life without stories. But fiction, I think, is a means, not an end; a prescription, not a cure. It suggests that peering closer to people is a good thing. It promises that we are not alone, that the universality of the “gap” can, paradoxically, bring us together. It is a “privileged [glimpse] into the human heart” that inspires us to read real people more closely, more thoughtfully, and–I hope–with more care.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Katharine Davis’s A Slender Thread in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Katharine Davis and A Slender Thread. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

The Revealing of Tanya Egan Gibson

August 25, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Interviews, Profiles

Tanya Egan Gibson debuted with her first novel, How to Buy a Love of Reading, in May, 2009 to the following praise:

“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.” __Booklist

The book was released in paperback late last month and here’s a brief synopsis:

Literary references abound in Tanya Egan Gibson’s debut novel, How to Buy a Love of Reading. Filled with social commentary and dark humor, the book features a young woman, Carley, who has never read a book she liked, so her parents hire a novelist to write a book just for her. This novel-in-a-novel as well as Gibson’s clever depiction of Carley’s own life and social circle brim with wit and intelligence.

How to Buy a Love of Reading explores the power of books in our lives.

Intrigued? The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of How to Buy a Love of Reading for Tuesday, September 7, 2010, however — as is the custom — let’s first meet the author through her “official” bio:

Tanya Egan Gibson’s debut novel, HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING, was published by Dutton in May 2009. An alum of Squaw Valley Community of Writers, she is mother to a five-year-old girl who produces countless construction-paper “books” that she insists Mommy “get published” and a two-year-old boy who thinks books are for throwing (though he also has Goodnight Moon memorized), and wife to the most patient man in the universe.

Now it’s time for Tanya to speak for herself by revealing:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Love-filled tangle of children, husband, and stories.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: “Don’t think, just do.”

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Seeing the love in my children’s eyes when they do something sweet and random, like stroke my cheek with a chubby little hand.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Anything bad happening to my husband or children.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Any warm beach, watching waves crash.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Despite my best efforts, I can’t come up with an answer for this one. Best I can do is tell you who fascinates me: F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve read so many biographies about him, Zoe, and their contemporaries.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Joss Whedon (creator of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, DOLLHOUSE, et. al.)

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: “Actually,” and “Welcome to my world”

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’d love to know how to sew and design clothing.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Motherhood. It’s by the far the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. That my children are kind, gentle little people makes me unbelievably happy.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I’m inclined to want to question/change rules.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I’m passionate about everything important to me–my family, my friends, my writing, everyone else’s writing.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: I can’t ignore mean people.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I’d think it could be fun to be The Statue of Liberty for a while. The things she must see! (I figure her giant eyes give her the ability to see everything in lower Manhattan, not to mention all those folks on the ferries.)

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: I’m physically demonstrative and don’t like to “blend.” I hug. I talk with my hands. I wear clothing that can verge on costume-y: leather trench coats, shiny things, etc. I own a skirt trimmed with feathers.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Are you going to think I’m a total sap if I say Mr. Darcy? Oh, I don’t care. Mr. Darcy it is.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Spike, from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Wait, did I need to pick someone from a book? I hope not.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Johnny Weir, a U.S. figure skater known for his big personality and sometimes eccentric behavior and costumes. I’d tell him how much I respect his being true to himself.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Bad manners. I don’t mean using the wrong fork or putting your elbows on the table. I mean people being pushy, inconsiderate, or rude.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: Reading.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I’d love to be an Imagineer (a person who design rides and attractions for theme parks).

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Kindness, independent thinking, humor.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Cheese! CheddarSwissHavartiiMuensterBrieManchegoHumboltFogMozzarellaFetaBleuSt.AndreJack! I love all cheese!

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: As of today: “Stepping Out” (Joe Jackson), “Lifetime Piling Up” (Talking Heads), “Every Breath You Take” (Sting), “Don’t You Forget About Me” (Simple Minds), “Bring Me To Life” (Evanescence)

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: After trying and trying, I really can’t winnow it down to fewer than six! Please forgive my inability to comply with directions. (This particular weakness is related to my answer to the “Greatest Flaw” question above.)

Here are the 6: Bel Canto (Ann Patchett), The Confessions of Max Tivoli (Andrew Sean Greer), The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut), Waterland (Graham Swift), The Keep (Jennifer Egan).

Embodying the three personal qualities most important to her — kindness, independent thinking, humor –, Tanya Egan Gibson also possesses a passionate nature that’s difficult to resist. Discover that for yourself by becoming a follower on Twitter and her friend on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: This week Kate Ledger has graciously offered two “signed” copies of Remedies to the winners of a random drawing from comments left on this specific post, Kate Ledger and Remedies. A comment left on any other post during the week will not be eligible. The deadline for this contest is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT and the winners will be announced here in tomorrow’s post. IF you do enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.