Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Review: Literacy and Longing in LA

Literacy and Longing in LA by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack
2 1/2 stars

Summary (from Publisher's Weekly): Dora, at 35, is a twice-divorced former young reporter on the rise at the L.A. Times. . . Dora's depressed, and she only leaves the house to stalk [2nd ex] Palmer and buy more books. At the bookstore, she meets elegantly scraggly comp lit Ph.D. Fred, and they begin an unlikely courtship. Dora is soon surprised by Fred's invitation to meet his mother, Bea, whom Dora likes instantly, all the more so when she learns Bea is also raising Harper, the six-year-old daughter of Fred's troubled sister. The bond between Bea and Dora gives Dora something she never had with her own, alcoholic mother, and helps her make decisions that bring her life back into focus.

My thoughts: I wanted to like this book more than I did. On paper, it was perfect for me - iblioholism and chick lit! And I didn't hate it, it did have some good bits. But I just couldn't really get into Dora. She deals with her depression by going on "book binges"- retreating to her bathtub with a stack of books and a bottle of wine for a weekend or longer. It sounds wonderful to me and, apart from the wine, a very non-harmful way to cope. If I could bring myself to take books into the bath, I'd give it a try. But her family and friends think it's terrible and they all seem to focus on books as the bad part, rather than Dora's obvious borderline-alcoholism and actual depression.

Throughout the book, Dora often seems to blame reading for her state of mind. I was amused by her zealous conversion to "popular" literature like Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel, finally realizing that not every book has to be a weighty tome. It seems like she's turned a corner, but a later scene where she realizes that reading hasn't been helping her deal with reality (which I'd say was her fault, rather than books themselves) will horrify any book-lover.

And yet, I had to check backwards in the book to see why she was depressed - oh yeah, the divorce and quitting her job. She struck me as a spoiled woman who was stuck in a rut (she lives in a great apartment and lives on a - dwindling - trust fund) rather than someone who was really in pain. She's also a literary snob and an appearance snob (in one scene she's quite shocked by how her sister Virginia, who has a baby, doesn't weigh 80 pounds and dress like a model, like everyone else in LA).

Harper and Bea were delightful - I'd have wanted to adopt them, too. They bring warmth and reality into Dora's life and, with the help of her sister, she's able to discover that she actually wants to be much more conventional (that is, bourgeois) than she realized. Fred is a complete snot and often a heartless jerk - he basically serves to show Dora that Palmer is actually a really great guy. The fact that Palmer seems to have had no problem flirting with Dora and then dumping his live-in, almost-fiancee lowered his great-guy status a bit for me, but it was in the name of a happy ending, so okay.

The "Book List" at the end was very strange. I fully expected to have a bibliography in such a bookish book, but this lists every author, artist, poet or songwriter mentioned, starting with the very first quotation before the title page. It seemed really weird to me that, having already included the citation for the poem by Ted Kooser (including mentioning that he's the Poet Laureate) they then feel the need to put "Ted Kooser, poet" in their list. They even include Mother Teresa, "nun/author"! And will it come as a shock to me that Cinderella is a "children's tale"? There's no extra information, just the title and author of a book or a person's name and their vocation. I can't figure out if it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, if they think we're all really stupid or if they just thought it would be fun to make a list.

Final grumble (which isn't really their fault and it's part of the story) - apparently Dr. Seuss wasn't very fond of children, which Dora finds out when she takes Bea and Harper on a trip to his hometown. I didn't need to know that. :(

No comments: