Come on, you laughed, right? Lauren Leto, most commonly known as the founder of the humour site (and also the book of the same name) Texts From Last Night, knows how to pack a punch. Her newest book, Judging a Book by It’s Lover was, all-encompassed, extremely amusing! A collection of essays spanning from personal stories about her attachment to books, to how to fake having read a great classic writer, this book both praises and criticizes writers and readers alike.
After reading a post by my friend Lindsey at Reeder Reads, I knew that this was the book to get me out of my reading slump. I couldn’t settle into any specific story, so instead, I educated myself in the ways of literary criticism. And when I say criticism, I mean CRITICISM. Leto spares no one in her witty, though often cut-throat analysis of writers (their histories, their most predominant works and their personal lives) and the readers who love them.
I’ll admit that though I never once thought of putting the book down, I was a bit put off by Leto’s deeming of YA, mysteries and romances as “silly books”. She is a self-proclaimed Janet Evanovich fan, but also acknowledges that “silly books shouldn’t be all we read”. As Leto herself is extremely well read, this statement almost seems self-congratulatory Myself, I prefer Margaret Atwood’s outlook on this matter: it doesn’t matter WHAT you read, it matters IF you read. Atwood once said that she didn’t understand the use of terms like “high-brow” and “low-brow”, but sadly, our modern critic for this book, does.
After getting over the feeling of judgement for my reading tastes (and I can’t say I wasn’t warned — it’s right in the title!), I did dive into a completely bookish state and devour the rest of Leto’s thoughts. I particularly loved the section where she teaches readers how to “fake” having read an author. Not that I expect to find myself in a situation where this is needed, but some of the facts she included were extremely interesting, and often hilarious! For instance:
- Vonnegut’s chief contribution to society was his coining the phrase “flying fuck.”
- David Sedaris once made smokers move to the front of the [signing] line because they have less time to live.
And of course the Dostoyevsky fact at the beginning of this post.
Leto and I clearly see most things differently. In one of her essays, Leto explores the indie versus chain bookstore debate brought to light by the film You’ve Got Mail. She writes “Given the choice, I’ll take the independent over the chain in principle” and “You’ll rarely meet a better-read or more passionate person than your local indie bookseller.” As someone who works for the home office of a chain bookstore, I have to say that passion is distributed quite evenly between chain and indie. Leto saves herself (in my eyes) by concluding that “whether you find yourself in Meg Ryan’s or Tom Hanks’s store, there’s always a quiet corner and a new story to find.” Amen to that, sister.
Leto is clearly a book lover. One thing she said hit me straight in the solar-plexus: “Life happens alongside the act of reading — a story is forever mixed with where we were and what we were doing while we were reading that book.” I couldn’t agree more. My bookshelf is a map of my life; a testament to my changing tastes, the themes I hold close to my heart and characters I saw myself in. When I stare at my copy of Anne of Green Gables, I remember sitting on my Mom’s favourite blue couch reading before bed. When I look at Hey Nostradamus, I can envision the Christmas tree I read it in front of. What a wonderful way to preserve memories.
So though we may not have the same opinions, Leto and my unity over the love of literature transcended our differences. I really enjoyed this quirky, unapologetic take on the life of a reader!