Thursday, May 28, 2009

Author Guest Post - Tanya Egan Gibson

Readers, please join me welcoming Author Tanya Egan Gibson who will be guest blogging here today!

About the Book
Did you know that less than a third of 13-year olds are readers? As a former high school English teacher, Tanya Egan Gibson was well aware of this gloomy statistic. But she was still flabbergasted when a bright student told her, “It’s not your fault, Mrs. Gibson—I’ve just never read a book I liked.”

In her debut novel, HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING (Dutton, May 2009, $25.95), Gibson introduces readers to Carley Wells, a teen just like the one in her classroom, who never met a book she liked. Carley’s nouveau riche parents, distraught at the prospect of looming college applications, decide to fix this by commissioning a book to be written just for Carley, a book she’ll have to love, one that will impress their entire wealthy Long Island town with their devotion to the arts. They will buy their daughter a love of reading.

By Tanya Egan Gibson
As I searched archival films from the nineteen-forties through -sixties for footage to use in a funny book trailer for my upcoming novel, How To Buy a Love of Reading, I chuckled at the depictions of readers and reading that made them seem as exciting as Brussels sprouts (and as humorless).  One of Coronet’s “instructional films” shows a student library volunteer—who patently aspires to the position of hall monitor—repeatedly denying a classmate’s pleas to keep an overdue book out one more day with, “I can’t.  It’s a rule.”  The narrator of another film proclaims that the purpose of leisure reading is to “learn things you’d like to know about many subjects.”

Fifty or so years later, for many people reading still appears that boring.  The protagonist of my novel, teenage Carley Wells, thinks it’s stultifying.  She’s learned from her parents that people read books or pretend to read them to impress other people.  She’s learned from school that books are supposed to be dissected into symbols and metaphors and other literary devices, like “fetal pigs.” According to the most recent NEA study on reading, while overall reading is on the rise, we’re becoming a nation divided into two categories: readers (like you, I presume, since you’re reading a book blog) and nonreaders like Carley.

Convincing non-reading children or spouses or friends to read isn’t easy. For one thing, it’s hard to show non-readers the appeal of reading through visual means like TV or movies. (The one Coronet film that tried to depict, through diagrams, the act of words entering a boy’s head on lines that went from the page to his eyes to his brain made him look as if he were being impaled by language.)  For another, because we often speak about books—especially “literary fiction”—in terms of their import or seriousness, we end up deemphasizing the very qualities that people seek when looking for a diversion: the ability to entertain and the potential for emotional engagement.  Simply put, we don’t make reading sound fun.

As a writer, reader, and former high school English teacher, I believe that while there are a thousand other good reasons to read—reasons ranging from the intellectual to the practical to the spiritual—fun is always the most important one.

Thank you for that entertaining post, dear Author! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

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