Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Austentatious: The Evolving World of Jane Austen Fans by Holly Luetkenhaus and Zoe Weinstein

cfacdfe7-e9a7-45da-a4ee-119630f54791Summary from Goodreads:
The amount of fan-generated content about Jane Austen and her novels has long surpassed the author’s original canon. Adaptations like Clueless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen’s Fight Club, and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries have given Austen fans priceless opportunities to enjoy the classic texts anew, and continue to bring new and younger fans into the fold. Now, through online culture, the amount and type of fan-created works has exponentially multiplied in recent years. Fans write stories, create art, make videos, and craft memes, all in homage to one of the most celebrated authors of all time.

This book explores online fan spaces in search of “Janeites” all over the world to discover what fans are making, how fans are sharing their work, and why it matters that so many women and nonbinary individuals find a haven not only in Jane Austen, but also in Jane Austen fandom. In relatable chapters based on firsthand experience, the authors explore how Austen fandom has and continues to build communities around women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Whether Janeites are shrewdly picking up on the latent sexual tension between women in Emma or casting people of color in leading roles, Luetkenhaus and Weinstein argue that Austen fans are particularly adept at marrying fantasy and feminism.

New book about Jane Austen and fan culture? Where and when? *grin* This is very much my jam.

Austentatious is a fun yet academic examination of Austen fan culture, from fanon, online communities, and shipping to book-to-screen adaptations and queer representation. I really appreciated Chapter 2 about the adaptation of Austen’s Emma into the movie Clueless (total Betty!), which probably shows my age. There are good chapters near the end about Austen and LGBTQ+ themes/ships which provided some interesting perspectives about how the canon novels can be interpreted and how they are adapted via shipping. The book is a little short, with only nine chapters, so I would have liked a few more chapters poking into more crevices.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

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mini-review · stuff I read

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

42129087Summary from Goodreads:
Stories provide portals into other worlds, both real and imagined. The promise of escape draws people from all backgrounds to speculative fiction, but when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, the doors are often barred. This problem lies not only with children’s publishing, but also with the television and film executives tasked with adapting these stories into a visual world. When characters of color do appear, they are often marginalized or subjected to violence, reinforcing for audiences that not all lives matter.

The Dark Fantastic is an engaging and provocative exploration of race in popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. Grounded in her experiences as YA novelist, fanfiction writer, and scholar of education, Thomas considers four black girl protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early 21st century: Bonnie Bennett from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Analyzing their narratives and audience reactions to them reveals how these characters mirror the violence against black and brown people in our own world.

In response, Thomas uncovers and builds upon a tradition of fantasy and radical imagination in Black feminism and Afrofuturism to reveal new possibilities. Through fanfiction and other modes of counter-storytelling, young people of color have reinvisioned fantastic worlds that reflect their own experiences, their own lives. As Thomas powerfully asserts, “we dark girls deserve more, because we are more.”

The Dark Fantastic is a very thought-provoking examination of race in media and young adult speculative fiction through the lens of the “Dark Fantastic” (spectacle, hesitation, violence, haunting, and emancipation). Thomas uses four key Black characters – Rue from The Hunger Games, Gwen from BBC’s Merlin, Bonnie from CW’s The Vampire Diaries, and Angelina Johnson from Harry Potter – to explore this cycle and how fan-fiction and counter-storytelling are changing these characters in the fandom. This monograph sits between popular lit-crit and academic theory so be ready for a more formal argument.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison

41735103Summary from Goodreads:
Novelist and writing teacher Jane Alison illuminates the many shapes other than the usual wavelike “narrative arc” that can move fiction forward. The stories she loves most follow other organic patterns found in nature―spirals, meanders, and explosions, among others. Alison’s manifesto for new modes of narrative will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

As Jane Alison writes in the introduction to her insightful and appealing book about the craft of writing: “For centuries there’s been one path through fiction we’re most likely to travel―one we’re actually told to follow―and that’s the dramatic arc: a situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides. . . . But: something that swells and tautens until climax, then collapses? Bit masculo-sexual, no? So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?”

W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants was the first novel to show Alison how forward momentum can be created by way of pattern, rather than the traditional arc―or, in nature, wave. Other writers of nonlinear prose considered in her “museum of specimens” include Nicholson Baker, Anne Carson, Marguerite Duras, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, Gabriel García Márquez, Susan Minot, David Mitchell, Caryl Phillips, and Mary Robison.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a singular and brilliant elucidation of literary strategies that also brings high spirits and wit to its original conclusions. It is a liberating manifesto that says, Let’s leave the outdated modes behind and, in thinking of new modes, bring feeling back to experimentation. It will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a thoughtful, unique literature studies book about different types of narrative patterns (waves, cells, fractals, meanders, spirals, explosions, etc) rather than the standard arc or linear plot. This was a really fun way to challenge how we look at these non-linear plots although a number of the examples she cites were pieces I had not read. Alison also had an emphasis on shorter works (short stories, novellas, short novels) with the longest book cited (Cloud Atlas) being used only once as an example of tsunami.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London by Claire Harman

40909430Summary from Goodreads:
From the acclaimed biographer–the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Queen Victoria herself to wonder: Can a novel kill?

In May 1840, Lord William Russell, well known in London’s highest social circles, was found with his throat cut. The brutal murder had the whole city talking. The police suspected Russell’s valet, Courvoisier, but the evidence was weak. The missing clue, it turned out, lay in the unlikeliest place: what Courvoisier had been reading. In the years just before the murder, new printing methods had made books cheap and abundant, the novel form was on the rise, and suddenly everyone was reading. The best-selling titles were the most sensational true-crime stories. Even Dickens and Thackeray, both at the beginning of their careers, fell under the spell of these tales–Dickens publicly admiring them, Thackeray rejecting them. One such phenomenon was William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard, the story of an unrepentant criminal who escaped the gallows time and again. When Lord William’s murderer finally confessed his guilt, he would cite this novel in his defense. Murder By the Book combines this thrilling true-crime story with an illuminating account of the rise of the novel form and the battle for its early soul among the most famous writers of the time. It is superbly researched, vividly written, and captivating from first to last.

I enjoyed Claire Harman’s biography of Charlotte Brontë so I was tickled to see Murder by the Book come up in the catalogs. It is a delightful mashup of true crime and my favorite genre, books about books. Harman gets at the class worries of upper class early-Victorian London with the grisly murder of a harmless old man (in the ways of British aristocracy, Lord William Russell was pretty innocuous) by his valet (GASP). In among the description of the crime and investigation is a discussion of the unbelievably popular Newgate novels romanticizing criminals’ exploits, particularly that of Jack Sheppard, which has many echoes today in the fraught discussion of the effect of violent and/or radicalized media on consumers. Harman perhaps should have left off the “I shall try to suss out what really happened” epilogue since it’s pretty thin and doesn’t add much to the book.

Murder by the Book is out today in the US.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon

39893600Summary from Goodreads:
A Wall Street Journal writer’s conversation-changing look at how reading aloud makes adults and children smarter, happier, healthier, more successful and more closely attached, even as technology pulls in the other direction.

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children, whatever their class, nationality or family background. But it’s not just about bedtime stories for little kids: Reading aloud consoles, uplifts and invigorates at every age, deepening the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of teenagers and adults, too.

Meghan Cox Gurdon argues that this ancient practice is a fast-working antidote to the fractured attention spans, atomized families and unfulfilling ephemera of the tech era, helping to replenish what our devices are leaching away. For everyone, reading aloud engages the mind in complex narratives; for children, it’s an irreplaceable gift that builds vocabulary, fosters imagination, and kindles a lifelong appreciation of language, stories and pictures.

Bringing together the latest scientific research, practical tips, and reading recommendations, The Enchanted Hour will both charm and galvanize, inspiring readers to share this invaluable, life-altering tradition with the people they love most.

The Enchanted Hour is a very accessible book that makes the case for reading aloud to children (mostly children, but a few later chapters do talk about reading to adults) as both a way to give children a boost in school and to provide “together” time for a family. It is much less The Sky Is Falling!/hand-wringy than other recent books about the tech vs paper book divide. Gurdon brings together a lot of research and in person interviews (and some cute family anecdotes). Some of the recommendations do seem like they apply mainly to families with two caregivers and stable incomes. She also briefly discusses reading aloud to and among adults.

The Enchanted Hour is out tomorrow wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ’80s and ’90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss

40093255Summary from Goodreads:
A hilarious and nostalgic trip through the history of paperback pre-teen series of the 80s and 90s.

Every twenty- or thirty-something woman knows these books. The pink covers, the flimsy paper, the zillion volumes in the series that kept you reading for your entire adolescence. Spurred by the commercial success of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club, these were not the serious-issue YA novels of the 1970s, nor were they the blockbuster books of the Harry Potter and Twilight ilk. They were cheap, short, and utterly beloved.

PAPERBACK CRUSH dives in deep to this golden age with affection, history, and a little bit of snark. Readers will discover (and fondly remember) girl-centric series on everything from correspondence (Pen Pals and Dear Diary) to sports (The Pink Parrots, Cheerleaders, and The Gymnasts) to a newspaper at an all-girls Orthodox Jewish middle school (The B.Y. Times) to a literal teen angel (Teen Angels: Heaven Can Wait, where an enterprising guardian angel named Cisco has to earn her wings “by helping the world’s sexist rock star.”) Some were blatant ripoffs of the successful series (looking at you, Sleepover Friends and The Girls of Canby Hall), some were sick-lit tearjerkers à la Love Story (Abby, My Love) and some were just plain perplexing (Uncle Vampire??) But all of them represent that time gone by of girl-power and endless sessions of sustained silent reading.

In six hilarious chapters (Friendship, Love, School, Family, Jobs, Terror, and Tragedy), Bustle Features Editor Gabrielle Moss takes the reader on a nostalgic tour of teen book covers of yore, digging deep into the history of the genre as well as the stories behind the best-known series.

Paperback Crush is a delightful romp through ’80s and ’90s teen and tween literature. The more things change, the more they stay the same in the book world. I loved the combination of tongue-in-cheek writing with serious examinations of the genre’s successes and shortcomings (it was overwhelmingly white, straight, able-bodied, and well-off) although I would have liked more in-depth analyses of some trends. A good one to pair with Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount

37826511

Summary from Goodreads:
The ultimate gift for book lovers, this volume brims with literary treasures, all delightfully illustrated by beloved artist and founder of Ideal Bookshelf, Jane Mount.

Book lovers, rejoice! In this love letter to all things bookish, Jane Mount brings literary people, places, and things to life through her signature and vibrant illustrations. Readers will:

• Tour the world’s most beautiful bookstores
• Test their knowledge of the written word with quizzes
• Find their next great read in lovingly curated stacks of books
• Sample the most famous fictional meals
• Peek inside the workspaces of their favorite authors
A source of endless inspiration, literary facts and recommendations, and pure bookish joy, Bibliophile is sure to enchant book clubbers, English majors, poetry devotees, inspiring writers, and any and all who identify as bookworms.

If you loved My Ideal Bookshelf Jane Mount is back with a tour of the book world. Bibliophile is a lovely book about books, bookstores, readers, and writers complete with Jane Mounts beautiful book-stack paintings (she started Ideal Bookshelf, you’ve probably seen their stuff). It is a delightful tour through the book world.

(The only oops is that she somehow misses the rise of Internet Poetry – however, there are, like, 12 pages devoted to books about cooking and food so A++ there.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

I remember reading about the Los Angeles Central Library fire in other books about libraries, chiefly Patience and Fortitude. The intriguing thing about the fire is that is was never solved – not in ignition and not in culprit, if indeed the fire was deliberately set. So I was really interested in Susan Orlean’s new book, titled The Library Book.

Now, The Library Book is three things:

  1. A reminiscence about books and reading and libraries and how Orlean had been a heavy library user as a child but grew out of it as an adult.
  2. A history of the development of the Los Angeles Central Library as an institution and what the library offers the Los Angeles area in the twenty-first century
  3. An account of the 1986 fire that gutted the Central Library and of the decidedly odd man suspected of setting the fire

Although there are some sections of the book that don’t flow together as well as they might due to the three different themes running through the book, I found Orlean’s work to be fun. The Library Book is a very readable and warm (haha) book from one library lovers to another. Orlean could have written a completely separate book about Harry Peak, the man arrested for setting the fire (never charged due to lack of evidence of arson, or even a conclusive ignition point for the fire – the building was so in need of modernization the fire could have started spontaneously). Peak is both a larger-than-life and an enigmatic character and as such is completely fascinating.

As a little bonus for library nerds, each chapter is headed by titles of several books and their associated call numbers (nerd catnip) pertaining to the subject of the chapter.

The Library Book is out October 16.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.