Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Judging a Book by Its Lover" by Lauren Leto

In the right hands, a book about a love of books can be a wonderful, self-affirming nugget. I love books! And so does this author! And we love them in similar ways, and (hehe), I totally get that feeling all the time--kindred bookworms of the world, unite! I felt that way about Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman because even though Fadiman is way better read than I am, I still experienced a kinship with her.

Though I hoped to find a similar feeling in Judging a Book by Its Lover, Leto just doesn't inspire the same book-lover camaraderie. Leto has a snarkier tone than Fadiman, something I thought I'd enjoy but that instead put me off. Her sarcastic descriptions of the type of people who love a certain author (e.g., "J.K. Rowling: Smart geeks") sometimes rang true, but were never especially funny or insightful. A lot of the book is comprised of lists (how to write like a certain author;"cult favorite" books; summaries of well-known literature; summaries of popular memoirs) that quickly grew tedious. A list billed as an "SAT vocabulary-word cheat sheet" and "a way to make your sentences seem smarter" was so basic--maybe my high school students wouldn't know all the words, but I certainly was comfortable with and regularly use nearly all of them--that I felt offended (really, who's going to be impressed with your use of "compelling" or "inexplicable"?).

The sections of the book that aren't lists (and some that are) are mostly about how to pretend to have read a book you haven't. As a book lover, this somewhat surprised me, as I can think of only one time that I was ever in this situation (and remember, I'm an English major and an English teacher). There's something either wrong with your friends or with you if you're constantly needing to bluff your reading experience.

And, here I fear sounding pretentious, but there has to be something said for taking literary advice from a woman with a degree in political theory and constitutional democracy and whose only other publication is the book version of Texts from Last Night (and whose cover is blurbed by James Frey...yeah...). Leto acknowledges that she's not a "scholar of literature," which is fine, but I did need to buy, somewhere along the way, that I should believe in her. I'm sure if the book had been written differently and I'd enjoyed it more, Leto's credentials wouldn't have mattered, but as I slogged my way through endless lists, I couldn't help but think, "So says the girl whose other book was composed entirely by very drunk people who can't text well."

Leto is best when she focuses on personal stories, such as she does in the first half of the introduction (before the story goes into grating hyperbole) and in "The Spelling Bee." Otherwise the book will only be new--yet completely unappealing--to people who don't read.

No comments:

Post a Comment