All Things Jane

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Every so often, I get on a Jane Austen kick.

I’ll go to the library to check out literary critiques of Austen’s works. One of the books currently on my nightstand is called Flirting with Pride and Prejudice (edited by Jennifer Crusie). The book is a compilation of various essays about the most famous of Austen’s books. My favourite essay is entitled “Plenty of Pride and Prejudice to Go Around” by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. In it, she compares Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet with the many incarnations of the Elizabeth in the movies either based upon or inspired by Pride and Prejudice.

Baratz-Logsted questions why the Elizabeth Bennet characters have been deteriorated “into characters who, however lofty their careers, however many modern choices arrayed before them, are charming ditzes at best, babbling and insecure bumblers at worst?”

Which makes me think of a comment made by one of my friends regarding Bridget Jones Diary a few years ago. It’s no great secret that Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary was inspired by Pride and Prejudice. My friend pointed out that Bridget is in fact NOT really an Elizabeth Bennet. She argued that the book is really the story of Mr. Darcy and Lydia Bennet. And I think she has a point. Bridget Jones really does have more in common with Lydia. She’s just masquerading around behind the mask of the Elizabeth Bennet character.

But back to the book on my night stand (which is now on my lap since I had to look up that quote above). The book isn’t just essays. It also has some pieces of… what to call it?… fan fiction, I guess. Fictionalized mini-stories based on various characters from the book.

And for some reason, these type of stories always make me cringe. It feels wrong to me somehow. Here’s another person trying to take Jane Austen’s place and write Georgiana’s story. Or tell what happened to Elizabeth after she married Darcy.

The one account I did manage to read (it wasn’t long—about five pages) was “The Secret Life of Mary”. Boy, was it convoluted. I mean, a love story between Mary and some Irish footman named Rory who works for Sir William Lucas?! Where Mary becomes famous for writing Austen-esque sketches of her family?! Um…

It’s stories like these that make me NOT want to read Austen-inspired rip-offs works. It makes me want to shout, “People, please leave the Jane Austen characters in the capable hands of Jane Austen!”

Yes, it’s bad Jane-Austen-inspired-stories that make me shy to read the good ones. And there ARE ones out there that aren’t bad. But to find the good ones… That is the problem. It means wading through so many disappointments. (At least for me.)

Here’s a list of books I liked/didn’t like. And some I thought were okay, but nothing to get too excited about…

Books I Liked

Austenland and Midnight in Austenland // by Shannon Hale
A Walk with Jane Austen // by Lori Smith (this is more of a memoir)
Bridget Jones Diary // by Helen Fielding (although, it’s been quite a while since I read this book; and I haven’t read the sequels because they didn’t really interest me)

Books I Thought Were Okay

Emma // by Alexander McCall Smith
Sense and Sensibility // by Joanna Trollope
Pemberley // by Emma Tennant
Prom and Prejudice // by Elizabeth Eulberg

Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits // by Mary Jane Hathaway

Books I Did NOT Like

Eligible // by Curtis Sittenfeld (DNF)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies // by Seth Grahame-Smith (DNF)
Confession of a Jane Austen Addict // by Laurie Viera Rigler (Not crazy about the time-travelling thing)
Longbourne // by Jo Baker (DNF)
Jane and the Man of the Cloth // by Stephanie Barron (Jane Austen solving mysteries? That was just weird.)

So… Sometimes I think I’m better off to just re-read the originals. And hey! Pride and Prejudice (or Emma, or Persuasion, et al) do very well on multiple re-reads.

Because Jane Austen was the master!

What about you? Do you like to read books inspired by Jane Austen’s world? Have you read any good ones that you’d recommend?

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When You’ve Read the Last One

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You’ve just read the last book ever written by an author.

And the author is no longer living. In other words: Dead.

What do you do?

Years ago, I remember reading about a man whose favourite author was Charles Dickens. He had read every single novel by Dickens. Except one.

This intrigued me. You see, the reason he held out on reading the final book was because he was saving it. That way he would always have one more book to look forward to.

I always wondered, Did he ever read that final book? And if so… when? On his death bed??

Fortunately, for the fan of Charles Dickens, there are a lot of books to enjoy. The same goes for Shakespeare. It’ll take you awhile to go through those.

I also remember my mom once telling me that, after reading To Kill a Mockingbird, she would always keep her eyes peeled for a “new” book by Harper Lee. Except, there was never any other book. She’d only ever published that one. (Until a couple of years ago, that is. I’ve still not read Go Set a Watchman. Basically because I’m afraid to. My big question is this: If the book wasn’t good enough to be published pre-Mockingbird, why would it be good enough to be published now?)

And then there’s Jane Austen. She only published six novels. Once you’ve read the six, that’s it! Unless you want to read her unfinished works. Which, frankly, I tend to avoid. And I don’t count the fan fiction. (I’ve tried, and in my opinion, those books don’t quite cut it.)

So, what do you do when you’ve run out of books by your favourite author?

I find there are two things that can be done.

1) Good books are worth reading a second time. And a third. And a fourth. Actually, a good book just keeps getting better.

2) It also means you get to look for new authors. Whether they are new “old” (read: dead) authors, or new “new” (read: alive) authors. It’ll be hit and miss. Probably more misses than hits. And when you find a good one, it’s like adding to your circle of friends.

Happy New Year!

The More Popular the Book

20160628ma_2092The more popular the book…

The less likely I am to read it. Or at least want to read it.

Like Harry Potter. I’m just not crazy about these books. Oh, I’ve read the first three in the series. And, to be honest, I didn’t hate them. But I didn’t LOVE them either. So, I stopped after number three.

Why?

Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it might have to do with the fact that these books are just so popular. There is just too much hype.

I’ve never liked hype. Cabbage Patch Kids, anyone? These were the be-all, end-all to dolls when I was a kid. But I did not have one. I did not even want one. Basically, I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

They were just too popular.

I wonder that if I had come across Jane Austen’s books in the late 1990s, would I have read them? Luckily for me, I read and loved Pride and Prejudice well before the big 1995 mini-series that rocketed the book to superstar-status. (Oh, I realize that P&P was well-loved long before then; but after 1995, it gained a following of people that never even read the book… People that loved Darcy in his wet clothing in that infamous pond scene. I hated that scene, by the way, purist that I am.)

Here’s one thing that I’ve noticed. IF I already like the book (or the author’s writing style), then I don’t care how popular it is.

Take for example The Hunger Games. I read the first two books in the series blissfully unaware of how trendy they would become. By the time the final book came out, I was already hooked and so I read it anyway. (Not to say I don’t think Mockingjay is a perfect book. I believe it has its flaws, but I think Suzanne Collins is an amazing writer. She really is. I absolutely love her Gregor the Overlander series. But even in that one, she seems to fall apart a bit on her final book.)

I wish people would just stop the hype. Stop insisting that I should love Harry Potter. Or that I have to read this book or that book.

A lot of times I disagree with the quality of what’s in vogue. For me personally, I don’t need the validation of millions of readers to know what makes a good book. “Everybody’s reading it” is not necessarily a recommendation in my view.

But am I missing out of some good stories?

Perhaps. That’s why I will sometimes pick up a book I am resisting… just to give it a shot. Just in case I’m missing a gem of a story. But, I’ll tell you this. That book has a very steep mountain to climb. Because it’s got to overcome my bias against the popularity that surrounds it.

Basically, this book has surpass my expectations.

Problem is, most popular books rarely ever do.

What Shall I Call Thee?

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Growing up, one of my best friends would often refer to our favourite authors by their first names. (In fact, she still does it today.) And, by extension, any book by said author. So an L.M. Montgomery book would become a “Lucy Maud” … As in “Have you read this Lucy Maud?” (Later she’d shortened it to simply “Lucy”.)

And I’ve noticed that this with other people as well, typically regarding women writers. Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder are “Louisa” and “Laura”. Jane Austen fans even have their own special designation as “Janeites”.

But why do we call authors by their first name? Is it because it makes these authors feel more like our friends? Well, that’s my guess.

But, I’m different. For me, it’s important to use the author’s name under which they published. So “Lucy Maud Montgomery” is written or spoken of as “L.M. Montgomery”. And thereafter, in the same conversation or article, just as “Montgomery”.  (Which becomes a slight problem if we’re talking about the Brontes!)

I think this may stem from this realization… Authors are people that have private lives. For example, “Lucy Maud” was never really called “Lucy” (her grandmother’s name) in her lifetime. Her family and friends called her “Maud”. And for most of her published life, she was “Mrs. Macdonald”. And yet, she published under the name “L.M. Montgomery”.

For me, that knowledge is enough. “L.M. Montgomery” she would be.

So, while C.S. Lewis was “Jack” to his friends, he was “C.S. Lewis” to me because that’s how I knew him.

And then there’s Jane Austen. I’m definitely a fan, but for some reason, I cannot (and will not) call myself a “Janeite”. I will not call her “Jane”.

I think, for me, it’s a respect thing. Respecting the work of the author. Respecting the boundaries between an author and the reader. Although, when my friend does the opposite? I find it endearing. It’s like Jane Austen really is her friend!

So, what’s that say about me? Hmm…

P.S. I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong side to this. But it interests me to find out where other people stand. What do you tend to do?

P.S. 2 – If you’re curious to know… The photo above is of a statue of “Lucy Maud” at the L.M. Montgomery Museum in Leaskdale, Ontario.