Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A JANE AUSTEN EDUCATION by William Deresiewicz

I loved William Deresiewicz's op-ed piece "A Matter of Taste?", a look at how "foodism has taken on the sociological characteristics of what used to be known — in the days of the rising postwar middle class, when Mortimer Adler was peddling the Great Books and Leonard Bernstein was on television — as culture." If you didn't read it, now's a good time.

Be sure to read the author's bio at the end. If you're like me, the next thing you'll do is buy or borrow his 2011 book, A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter.

The book is part memoir, part literary interpretation, part wisdom literature. The three parts aren't seamlessly integrated, and that bothered some reviewers. I enjoy all three genres and appreciated the author's - let's call him Bill - self-deprecating humor, so I wasn't bothered.

Here's the plot: Bill recounts how he moved from disdaining Jane Austen to adoring her and eventually writing his Ph.D. dissertation about her. In the process, he also moved from being a (self-described) dumb 26-year-old with daddy issues and a dismal romantic life, to being a grown-up guy with an apartment, a job, good friends, and a wife.

Jane Austen, it turns out, was his life coach.

If you already like Jane Austen, you'll probably enjoy Bill's ideas about the messages underlying her six novels.

If you read Jane Austen a long time ago - or just saw the movies and TV miniseries -  don't hesitate to pick up this book. Bill gives enough context that you'll know exactly what's going on.

If you don't like Jane Austen (but have to read her for class), or if you've never tried her at all, go ahead and see if Bill can get you interested. His book is at least as much about "the things that really matter" as about Jane.

Thanks to Bill, I'm now rereading - well, listening to an audiobook of - Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen's hilarious send-up of gothic fiction. It's read by one of my favorite narrators, Wanda McCaddon, under the name of Nadia May (she is also widely known as Donada Peters).

1 comment:

Carmamd said...

Jane Austen stories in movie form, are a must-watch at my house nearly every time they appear on TV. I blame Linda for getting me started, but I do enthusiastically watch them with her every time she puts them on again. I can't say anything better about her than to comment on your essay: "what you (and "Bill") said!