Thursday, February 26, 2009

I've found my literary alterego

Literacy and Longing in LA by Jennifer Kaufman & Karen Mack

On Saturday, I plowed through Literacy and Longing in LA, a debut novel by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack. To be honest, it is basically chick lit. Good chick lit, but chick lit nonetheless. The protagonist is Dora, named after Eudora Welty, of course. She is a hard-core bibliophile. When life gets her down, she locks herself in her apartment with stacks of literature. She goes on book binges. She takes two-hour baths with a stack of books next to the tub. (People are calling asking if these authors know me.)

The real joy of this novel is Dora's ruminations on books, reading, different categories of readers, book clubs, specific books she's read or is reading. I turned every page wanting to know if I'd read what Dora had, and if I agreed with her assessments. And there were so many quotations I wanted to read aloud to bookish friends. I'll restrict myself to just two here:

"I collect new books the way my girlfriends buy designer handbags. Sometimes, I just like to know I have them and actually reading them is beside the point. Not that I don't eventually end up reading them one by one. I do. But the mere act of buying them makes me happy--the world is more promising, more fulfilling. It's hard to explain, but I feel, somehow, more optimistic. The whole act just cheers me up. "

And here:

"I like stories about lovers, seduction, sex, marriage, violence, murder, dreams, and death, and also stories that focus on the family with all its dysfunction and grief. I love writers who make their women characters independent, smart, and courageous but also passionate and romantic. I love plots about bitter old men and women who turn all soft and mushy for the love of a child. I love writers who focus on women who reach middle age and ask, 'Now what?' or lonely disappointed women who live in suburbia and can't get out, or authors who write about the pain of growing up, searching for identity. But most of all I love books about spontaneous love affairs that go wrong or veer off in uncharted territory. It's the sudden twists of fate that I like and the unexpected outcomes. Doesn't everyone?"

I need to memorize that speech for the next time someone asks me what I like to read!

Dora is far more attractive than any bookish girl I've ever met. She has too much money and has bought into the whole Angelino lifestyle to an alarming degree. Nonetheless, what bibliophile girl could fail to identify with her quest for love in a bookstore? For God's sake, the novel has literary footnotes and a 9 page book list (of references made within the text) at the back. I loved it!

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