Author On the Bookcase: Tanya Egan Gibson, author of How to Buy a Love a Reading

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Author On the Bookcase
Tanya Egan Gibson

I met a great writer at the Virginia Festival of the Book last March-- Tanya Egan Gibson, author of How To Buy a Love of Reading. We stay up all night, with Kim Addonizio (awesome poet) solving the world's problems. What happens in Charlottesville stays in Charlottesville!

Tanya Egan GibsonSo, I'm so thrilled to welcome Tanya to On the Bookcase. Tanya's debut novel, How To Buy a Love of Reading tells the story of Carley, a 16 year old girl, who when asked what was her favorite book, answered, "never met one I liked." [I say, "Off with her head!] Her parents are horrified and decide to commission a book to be written just for her. No spoilers here but throughout the "project" Carley begins to understand the importance of stories -- and how they are powerful enough to destroy a person. Or save her. With literary allusions throughout the novel, Tanya reveals her joy of reading. A book with a book -- what a great way to fall in love with literature, again.

Tanya chats about how novels reveal "characters' "insides" first, particularly those of point-of-view characters."

Inside Out, Outside In

Recently, a friend and I discovered that as children both of us had wondered what it would be like to be in someone else's body. Maybe everyone does this?  It's never come up in conversation before for me. I don't mean being another person and having their thoughts and emotions; I'm talking about inhabiting just his or her body--that flesh carrying case for one's heart and brain and soul. Did people get born into the bodies they were *supposed to* have?  Would I still be me in someone else's body? Would I feel mismatched?

I've been intrigued my whole life by the randomness of "looks." Style is something you about which you have choices. (I regard things like cosmetic surgery and sculpting one's body at the gym to be decisions not entirely dissimilar from choosing one's hairstyle and clothing), but about the raw materials behind your "looks" you have none. Symmetrical faces are often considered more conventionally advantageous, as are certain body shapes. Some bodies come into the world with great immune systems, others don't. Not all bodies are born with two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes. And even bodies that do have all of the aforementioned plusses can end up suffering injuries that leave them "deformed" (an odd word, I think, as it implies that there is a specific "form" the body *should* take).

I am less interested in raw materials than how they are manipulated and adorned. That is, when I look at people--and I look a lot, studying what people are wearing and considering the implications of their sartorial choices--I'm struck by style more than genetics.  (Odds are that if you ask me, for instance, "Oh, are you talking about the tall girl?" I won't be able to answer because I won't have noticed if the girl was, indeed, tall.  I will remember, on the other hand, that she was wearing blue and grey, looked good/bad in a fedora, and carried a fur purse that may or may not faux.)

While I'm talking to you for the first time or staring at you in at a party, I'm making you up in my head. And I doubt I'm the only one. There are some hilarious scenes in the movie Date Night where characters played by Tina Fey and Steve Carell do a version of this at restaurants. While it entertains me as a storyteller (and as an admirer of accessories) to guess at people's insides by analyzing their exteriors, I understand how inaccurate my suppositions probably are. There is no possible objectivity in such an exercise: I am filtering "clues" to people's existences through the lens of my values and style--through my own point of view. And I assume other people are filtering me through theirs. How misread am I? How badly have I misread you?

All of which makes me wish, sometimes, that I could meet you in a book.

How to Buy a Love of ReadingPutting my fascination with clothing and guessing-games aside, I love that in novels I get to encounter characters' "insides" first, particularly those of point-of-view characters. Even if, as in the case of my novel How To Buy a Love of Reading, a character's "looks" are an oft-discussed topic (my protagonist, Carley, is very overweight, and her "Golden Boy" best friend, Hunter, looks like he walked out of a Barney's catalogue), readers get to spend far more time hearing characters' thoughts than seeing their bodies. In written fiction, you peer at a character's soul before his or her body.  In fiction we are inside-out.

How To Buy a Love of Reading, I think, was borne in part from these two conflicting impulses: my fascination with people's exteriors, and a wish to "see" (and be seen) beyond them accurately. I ended up inventing a community where almost everyone's appearance belies his or her soul, where insides and outsides never "match": beauty hides sickness, slickness hides depth, coarseness hides sensitivity. Hunter doesn't recognize himself in the mirror because he is still the fat kid inside that he'd been years earlier, an introverted, oversensitive bookworm whose now-gorgeous façade does him more harm than good. Carley feels like she "might maybe be beautiful" underneath her skin. I suppose I've never stopped wondering if some people end up, by accident, in the "wrong" carrying cases, or if, on the other hand, part of the beauty of life is in the unmatching.

Thanks so much, Tanya, for revealing your thoughts about "outside" appearance vs "inside" soul. Great discussion topic for reading groups. 

Praise for How to Buy a Love of Reading

"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

Tanya is mother to a five-year-old girl who produces countless construction-paper "books" she insists Mommy "get published" and a two-year-old boy who thinks books are for throwing, and wife to the most patient man in the universe.

Check out Tanya's cool website!

Do you think "the beauty of life is in the unmatching?"

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