Author: Lauren Leto
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Source: Publisher for review
Description from Goodreads:
Want to impress the hot stranger at the bar who asks for your take on Infinite Jest? Dying to shut up the blowhard in front of you who’s pontificating on Cormac McCarthy’s “recurring road narratives”? Having difficulty keeping Francine Prose and Annie Proulx straight?
For all those overwhelmed readers who need to get a firm grip on the relentless onslaught of must-read books to stay on top of the inevitable conversations that swirl around them, Lauren Leto’s Judging a Book by Its Lover is manna from literary heaven! A hilarious send-up of—and inspired homage to—the passionate and peculiar world of book culture, this guide to literary debate leaves no reader or author unscathed, at once adoring and skewering everyone from Jonathan Franzen to Ayn Rand to Dostoyevsky and the people who read them.
First Sentence: "The first book I ever loved was a book about a monster in a child's closet."
As you might guess, I am a bit of a reader. As such, one of the things I enjoy doing when not reading is discussing literature. In Leto's book, I can sort of read and discuss reading all at once, albeit in a format where the discussion is rather one-sided with me unable to respond to Leto's opinions. Leto's work is for book lovers, or, perhaps even more, for those of us who want to pretend we've read all the most pretentious works but haven't.
Judging a Book by Its Lover, like most books containing short snippets of story or essay, is a bit of mish mash. Some of the sections entertained me and resulted in my wanting to be best buds with Lauren Leto. Other sections made me roll my eyes at Lauren Leto's handing down of her mighty opinion to the masses, much of which I didn't agree with. Leto's observations will primarily be entertaining to those who a) get the references and b) share her opinions. When she snarks at something I hated, I laugh along merrily. However, when the snark turns on beloved books, I could not help but be annoyed, especially since much of the snark came with no context or backing whatsoever.
One of Leto's bits of snark that bothered me in its inaccuracy comes from the lengthy section "Stereotyping People by Favorite Author," in which she asserts that those whose favorite author is Jane Austen - since they are totally the same in their writing style, these four people - are "girls who made out with other girls in college when they were going through a 'phase.'" Really, Lauren Leto? I would have gone more for the "girls who are always disappointed that real men don't measure up to fictional ones and remain single forever." Also mean, but more applicable to the fan base, which includes myself. Besides, for someone claiming to have so much knowledge of reading and its culture, why does she make the rookie mistake of pairing Austen and Brontës as though they're the same?
I guess I just felt that Leto was often overly brutal toward an author or a book in an effort to be edgy and funny, and, more importantly, to show how clever Lauren Leto is. I got the distinct sense that things she enjoys are awesome and to be judged as such, and things she doesn't automatically suck. Well, isn't that nice. For all that her posturing frustrated me, I actually preferred the snippets of her life to the gimmicky bits and lists. I wish it had been a bit more memoir, a bit less book snob.
The long lists, "Stereotyping People by Favorite Author" and "How to Fake It" drag on and on, not especially fun to read back to back. The latter gives key information for those who want to pretend they've read an author they haven't. They both run on too long, taking on a number of figures I've never even heard of, which, given that I spend a lot of time looking at books, makes me wonder about relevance to the average reader. In the stereotypes, it definitely felt as though people liked that so she wrote as many as she could, resulting in the forced feeling to many of them.
Obviously, I had a number of issues with this book. However, there were good things and I did enjoy reading it more than I didn't. When not sniping, Leto can actually be quite funny. She clearly loves books, which is always good, and advocates reading strongly, even if it has to be things she denigrates. In addition, there are a lot of fun facts to be learned, like that Norman Mailer liked to punch people and that I should never touch a Charles Bukowski novel.
If you're a book lover that wants to judge most of the books released in the last ten years and some classics, Judging a Book by Its Lover will help you with that. This one is for snark release, not for too much serious analysis though.
I'm offering up my review copy for giveaway. US readers, just fill out THIS FORM by Thursday October 4 to enter.
Favorite Quote: "The most important thing about reading is not the level of sophistication of the books on your shelf. There is no prerequisite reading regimen for being a bookworm."