Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography by Lucy Worsley

31450766Summary from Goodreads:
“Jane Austen at Home offers a fascinating look at Jane Austen’s world through the lens of the homes in which she lived and worked throughout her life. The result is a refreshingly unique perspective on Austen and her work and a beautifully nuanced exploration of gender, creativity, and domesticity.”–Amanda Foreman, bestselling author of Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire
Take a trip back to Jane Austen’s world and the many places she lived as historian Lucy Worsley visits Austen’s childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses–both grand and small–of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life. In places like Steventon Parsonage, Godmersham Park, Chawton House and a small rented house in Winchester, Worsley discovers a Jane Austen very different from the one who famously lived a ‘life without incident’.
Worsley examines the rooms, spaces and possessions which mattered to her, and the varying ways in which homes are used in her novels as both places of pleasure and as prisons. She shows readers a passionate Jane Austen who fought for her freedom, a woman who had at least five marriage prospects, but–in the end–a woman who refused to settle for anything less than Mr. Darcy.
Illustrated with two sections of color plates, Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen at Home is a richly entertaining and illuminating new book about one of the world’s favorite novelists and one of the subjects she returned to over and over in her unforgettable novels: home.

Jane Austen at Home is a lovely, meticulously-constructed biography of Jane Austen that uses the location and atmosphere of Austen’s homes – from Steventon, to Bath, to Lyme, to Godmersham, to Southampton, to Chawton, to London, and finally Winchester – as a jumping off point to examine how these physical places tell us about Austen’s life. Worsley also examines how the single, impoverished women of the Austen family and their friends/near relations stuck together to create a found family of their own.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book when it came out and have been savoring it very slowly.

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Austenesque · stuff I read

Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman

35260525Summary from Goodreads:
One of the Chicago Reader’s Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018

A raucous tour through the world of Mr. Darcy imitations, tailored gowns, and tipsy ballroom dancing

The son of a devoted Jane Austen scholar, Ted Scheinman spent his childhood eating Yorkshire pudding, singing in an Anglican choir, and watching Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy. Determined to leave his mother’s world behind, he nonetheless found himself in grad school organizing the first ever UNC-Chapel Hill Jane Austen Summer Camp, a weekend-long event that sits somewhere between an academic conference and superfan extravaganza.

While the long tradition of Austen devotees includes the likes of Henry James and E. M. Forster, it is at the conferences and reenactments where Janeism truly lives. In Camp Austen, Scheinman tells the story of his indoctrination into this enthusiastic world and his struggle to shake his mother’s influence while navigating hasty theatrical adaptations, undaunted scholars in cravats, and unseemly petticoat fittings.

In a haze of morning crumpets and restrictive tights, Scheinman delivers a hilarious and poignant survey of one of the most enduring and passionate literary coteries in history. Combining clandestine journalism with frank memoir, academic savvy with insider knowledge, Camp Austen is perhaps the most comprehensive study of Austen that can also be read in a single sitting. Brimming with stockings, culinary etiquette, and scandalous dance partners, this is summer camp like you’ve never seen it before.

Continuing on my “will read all your books about Jane Austen ever” bent, I picked up a galley of Camp Austen by Tim Scheinman. I was expecting something a bit closer to A Jane Austen Education, about a dude who wouldn’t read Austen because “women’s fiction” who becomes a fan in grad school, but Camp Austen turned out to be a love-letter to Scheinman’s mom.

Camp Austen is a sweet little book about a journalist/academic who grew up around Jane Austen academics (chiefly, his mom) and fandom (she lectured at Jane Austen conferences, as well as her teaching job). He winds up helping at the inaugural Jane Austen Summer Camp one summer in grad school. It’s not that he never read any Austen, but it turns out he read the juvenilia as a kid, and liked it then read some for school and so on, and has just been surrounded by Austeniana for years. By dint of being a) the son of a prominent Janeite and b) a reasonably decent-looking younger person of the male persuasion (of which there aren’t many at Janeite gigs) he winds up getting immersed in the fandom for a good 18 months while his mom recovers from getting new knees. He gets fitted for an authentic Regency era suit of evening clothes, he learns set dancing, he gets to be Mr. Darcy. The book is partially a love-letter to a thing his mom loves, which he likes but isn’t his passion, and partially how something like how the Janeite fandom works (very surface level compared to something like Deborah Yaffe’s Among the Janeites, which gets into all the crevices, and Yaffe pops up as a friend here). Scheinman is blessedly free from the “Jane Austen’s books are silly ladies novels and not for dudes” attitude.

Camp Austen is out March 6 in the US – definitely a fun book for Janeites everywhere.

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

Austenesque · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn

35297218Summary from Goodreads:
An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancé has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancé—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past…and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all.

First of all: Persuasion is my absolute favorite Austen novel. Would pay good money to get Ciaran Hinds to read Wentworth’s letter aloud over and over (the movie fades Hinds’s and Amanda Root’s voice-overs back and forth and I’m not a fan of that, Hinds only please). Any Persuasion re-telling churned out of the Austen fan-fiction machine gets extra side-eye and skepticism from me.

Second: I have an extra-helping of skeptical for retellings that chain themselves to the original plot in lock-step. (There are retellings out there for Pride and Prejudice to which you can set your watch.) Some of the best retellings/modernizations/sequels take what they need from the bones of the story and jettison what no longer applies to twenty-first century novels.

By the Book was recommended to me by author (and bookseller) Sarah Prineas, so I decided to take a chance on it. In this setting, Anne Elliot, lonely, over-looked, middle daughter of a class-obsessed, cash-poor baronet, has been transformed into Anne Corey, an over-worked, under-appreciated English professor trying to get a tenure-track position at her liberal arts college Fairfax. Captain Wentworth, gallant naval captain rising through the ranks via his success in the Napoleonic Wars, is now Adam Martinez, a former undocumented child immigrant from Guatemala who has risen through the ranks of collegiate administration to become one of the youngest college presidents in the United States. He is Anne’s ultimate boss…and her ex-fiancé (Anne had got some less-than-stellar life advice from her advisor, Dr. Russell – cue Lady Russell – about not having a serious relationship in grad school). Entering from stage right is our Mr. Elliot – in this iteration rock star author Richard Forbes Chasen, very sexy, British, and successful, who has just taken the job of writer-in-residence at Fairfax (he gets to give a JFranz burn, and I laughed forever).

These are the bones of Austen’s original: a hero and heroine with a second-chance romance and a bit of a villain. And this is all that By the Book needs. It is a sweet and charming campus novel about a professor who is lonely and uncertain in their job prospects. It does not lock-step its plot to the original, so if you are very familiar with Persuasion (like me) you won’t quite guess the path to the denouement (y’all, if you can’t guess how this book generally ends you need to read more Austen and romance novels). Austen fans will enjoy all the little bits pulled out of Persuasion and used to flesh out the plot. Sonneborn even borrows a little bit of Wickham from Pride and Prejudice. But if you have never read Persuasion, you don’t need it to enjoy By the Book.

Anne is our protagonist throughout this book. We feel all her indecision, uncertainty, and frustration at being a single woman trying to get some respect and job security in a really, really tight job market (there is a rejection letter for her book that almost made me punch my iPad). And maybe also find a boyfriend because loneliness is the worst sometimes. I had a good chuckle every time Anne and her work-husband, Henry James-teaching professor Larry, had to deal with their tone-deaf department chair because lack of insight in administrators is a real thing. Speaking of Larry, I really liked his character. He’s an adaptation of Captain Bennick, the grief-stricken, poetry-obsessed friend of Wentworth. As Anne’s best friend, Larry is a hopelessly romantic gay man who becomes embroiled in an illicit affair with the hottest actor of the moment who is starring in an obvious Twilight-esque teen movie where Jane Eyre is a vampire (it’s hilarious, I’m not kidding). He’s always got a good quip, some timely text emojis, and an unironic love of a terrible mash-up movie (based on an uneven genre mash-up novel) even while stating he doesn’t read novels published after 1920 (see also: I laughed forever at this, too). I felt so much for him at the end of this book.

I’ve been reading some reviews of By the Book that don’t quite feel the romance or tension between Anne and Adam. This may be a fair criticism. Anne and Adam don’t spend a lot of time together (especially alone) in the book, particularly compared to genre romance novels so expectations may not be met on the page. But, in my opinion, this makes sense in the end especially given that Adam is the college president where Anne is very much his subordinate; no one with even half of Adam or Anne’s intelligence would jeopardize their academic career to get a leg up with the boss. This goes triple for women and people of color, which Anne and Adam are. Adam also makes a nice speech at one point that brings up plot-specific reasons for not trying to get with Anne once he’s at Fairfax, which I won’t spoil here. In addition, this separation between characters is exactly what happens in Persuasion. The only person who flirts with Anne Elliot is Mr. Elliot, making everyone, including Wentworth, believe that those two will marry.

I really enjoyed By the Book. I was pleasantly surprised by how deftly the update in plot was handled and I loved the warm-fuzzy feeling I got while reading (I love second-chance romances in general). I think this is also a good entry in the “campus novel” genre, because I recognized a lot of real-world things that happen on college campuses (raise your hand if you’ve ever been “volunteered” for institutional fundraising drives?). A definite recommend.

Comment: I do not like the US cover. It says “charming novel about young love set in a bookshop in the French countryside” not “campus novel about tenure-track professors at a liberal arts college within driving distance of Beverly Hills/Los Angeles.” Does anyone even ride a bicycle in this book? (There’s a motorcycle, but I don’t remember a bicycle.)

By the Book will be available on February 6.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss after someone whose taste I trust told me they thought I might like it. I’ll probably buy a paper copy to put with the Austen collection.

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson

34972694Summary from Goodreads:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of our greatest writers.

But before that, she was just an ordinary girl.

In fact, young Jane was a bit quiet and shy; if you had met her back then, you might not have noticed her at all. But she would have noticed you. Jane watched and listened to all the things people around her did and said and locked those observations away for safekeeping.

Jane also loved to read. She devoured everything in her father’s massive library, and before long she began creating her own stories. In her time, the most popular books were grand adventures and romances, but Jane wanted to go her own way . . . and went on to invent an entirely new kind of novel.

Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng have collaborated on a gorgeous tribute to an independent thinker who turned ordinary life into extraordinary stories and created a body of work that has delighted and inspired readers for generations.

I did not now how badly I wanted an adorable children’s picture book biography of Jane Austen until someone wrote an adorable children’s picture book biography of Jane Austen.

img_9325Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen is a beautiful book illustrated by Qin Leng’s delicate artwork.  Look at little tiny Jane and her bookstack! Ahhhhh! (Yes, yes, the clothing styles aren’t quite right for Austen’s childhood, but it’s too, too cute. RIP me.) There’s a lot of girl power and reading all the books you want overlaid over the basic timeline of Austen’s life. Being a picture book, it doesn’t get very in-depth as a biography but I think it’s just right. Definitely a book to pick up for Janeites of all ages.

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen is out tomorrow from Balzer + Bray.

Dear FTC: A fellow bookseller got me this picture book galley and it is the CUTEST thing ever. (Camille!!!! You are the best xoxo)

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

The Jane Austen Writers’ Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-loved Novelist by Rebecca Smith

28260537Summary from Goodreads:
Jane Austen is one of the most beloved writers in the English literary canon. Her novels changed the landscape of fiction forever, and her writing remains as fresh, entertaining and witty as the day her books were first published. Now, with this illuminating and entertaining new book, you can learn Jane Austen’s methods, tips and tricks – and how to live well as a writer. Filled with useful exercises, beautiful illustrations and illuminating quotations from the great author’s novels and letters, The Jane Austen Writers’ Club explores the techniques of plotting and characterisation, through to dialogue and suspense. Whether you’re a creative writing enthusiast looking to publish your first novel, a teacher searching for further inspiration for students, or an Austen fan looking for insight into her daily rituals, this is an essential companion, guaranteed to satisfy, inform and delight all.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Jane Austen Writers’ Club (I acquired it in a book exchange at Book Riot Live in 2016 and it had “Jane Austen” in the title, ok? Lol forever) but I was on a Jane Austen tear so I just went with it. This is a nice little book about writing and craft that takes its cues from Austen’s work and written by an Austen descendant who is herself a published author. It was fun to revisit key scenes (or minor ones, in some cases) using a writer’s eye for analysis. I didn’t try any of the writing exercises but there are MANY to attempt later.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn copy of this book.

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Jane on the Brain: Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence with Jane Austen by Wendy Jones

34445233Summary from Goodreads:
Why is Jane Austen so phenomenally popular? Why do we read Pride and Prejudice again and again? Why do we delight in Emma’s mischievous schemes? Why do we care that Anne Elliot of Persuasion suffers?

We care because it is our biological destiny to be interested in people and their stories—the human brain is a social brain. And Austen’s characters are so believable, that for many of us, they are not just imaginary beings, but friends whom we know and love. And thanks to Austen’s ability to capture the breadth and depth of human psychology so thoroughly, we feel that she empathizes with us, her readers.

Humans have a profound need for empathy, to know that we are not alone with our joys and sorrows. And then there is attachment, denial, narcissism, and of course, love, to name a few. We see ourselves and others reflected in Austen’s work.

Social intelligence is one of the most highly developed human traits when compared with other animals How did is evolve? Why is it so valuable? Wendy Jones explores the many facets of social intelligence and juxtaposes them with the Austen cannon.

Brilliantly original and insightful, this fusion of psychology, neuroscience, and literature provides a heightened understanding of one of our most beloved cultural institutions—and our own minds.

2017, being the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, has brought a solid round of all things Jane Austen: new biographies, new editions of older work, and new applications.  Jane on the Brain by Wendy Jones is a work fusing neuroscience and literary studies. It’s pretty good. I think the book works better for teaching concepts like Theory of Mind, etc, by using Austen’s characters as examples rather than doing textual analysis of the Austen novels using ToM, which is how it was pitched to me (there are some areas where things get off-text and that’s a no go for me). There are a lot of very technical sections and it helped to understand the psychological/neuroscience theory via well-known characters. So an interesting read, though I didn’t love it.

I hope that the copy editors were thorough – the galley I read had a boatload of typos, including a few where Edward from Sense & Sensibility was referred to as Edgar. Whoops.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

33413920Summary from Goodreads:
Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Coauthors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, thanks to their discovery of a wealth of surprising collaborations: the friendship between Jane Austen and one of the family servants, playwright Anne Sharp; the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; the transatlantic friendship of the seemingly aloof George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex friendship fired by an underlying erotic charge.

Through letters and diaries that have never been published before, A Secret Sisterhood resurrects these forgotten stories of female friendships. They were sometimes scandalous and volatile, sometimes supportive and inspiring, but always—until now—tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.

A Secret Sisterhood is a set of four short biographies about a specific female, literary friendship in the lives of Britain’s four greatest female writers: Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. (George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe were besties, yo #goals.)

I really, really want to like this book more than I do. I like the concept of this book – reconstructing the literary friendships of major 19th century/early 20th English lady writers is something I will always be down for – but I feel the construction of the book brings it down. The authors try to walk a line between straight literary biography and historical fiction. There are imagined scenes of the women’s lives interspersed with sentences drawn from letters and diaries and that juxtaposition almost never works for me. I would have preferred a much more straightforward literary biography, personally, with longer quotes from the primary source material. Also some notation/citations in the text would have been nice (I had a digital galley that appeared very close to the finished product without notation so perhaps the finished copies have that.)

A Secret Sisterhood is out next week, October 17, in the US if you want to check it out.

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

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood by Paula Byrne

32497929Summary from Goodreads:
Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this updated edition of Paula Byrne’s debut book includes new material that explores the history of Austen stage adaptations, why her books work so well on screen, and what that reveals about one of the world’s most beloved authors.

Originally published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2003 as Jane Austen and the Theatre, Paula Byrne’s first book was never made widely available in the US and is out of print today. An exploration of Austen’s passion for the stage—she acted in amateur productions, frequently attended the theatre, and even scripted several early works in play form—it took a nuanced look at how powerfully her stories were influenced by theatrical comedy.

This updated edition features an introduction and a brand new chapter that delves into the long and lucrative history of Austen adaptations. The film world’s love affair with Austen spans decades, from A.A. Milne’s “Elizabeth Bennet,” performed over the radio in 1944 to raise morale, to this year’s Love and Friendship. Austen’s work has proven so abidingly popular that these movies are more easily identifiable by lead actor than by title: the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility, the Carey Mulligan Northanger Abbey, the Laurence Olivier Pride and Prejudice. Byrne even takes a captivating detour into a multitude of successful spin-offs, including the phenomenally brilliant Clueless. And along the way, she overturns the notion of Jane Austen as a genteel, prim country mouse, demonstrating that Jane’s enduring popularity in film, TV, and theater points to a woman of wild comedy and outrageous behavior.

For lovers of everything Jane Austen, as well as for a new generation discovering her for the first time, The Genius of Jane Austen demonstrates why this beloved author still resonates with readers and movie audiences today.

Oooh, a book about Jane Austen and theatre and adaptations?  Yes, please!

The first two-thirds of Byrne’s new edition, retitled The Genius of Jane Austen, are excellent overviews of the Georgian theatre and playwriting during Austen’s lifetime and her opinion of play-going as reflected in her letters (tl;dr: she liked the theatre and had decided opinions on actors).  Even plays that Austen read as a child were reflected in the juvenilia and the plays she wrote to be performed by the family as entertainments. Byrne starts to fall off in examining the influence of theatre on the novels – two chapters examine Mansfield Park (which with it’s home theatre scenes shows the heaviest theatre influence), one each for Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma, and none for Persuasion or Northanger Abbey. There is a nice chapter about Austen adaptations on the big screen (and small) that was added for the new edition but there wasn’t a good conclusion or final chapter to the book.

Dear FTC: I bought my own copy.