5 Reasons Why I love Jane Austen’s Work

I’ve been reading Austen for years now and she’s on my list any time I’m asked who my favorite authors are. I’m even planning a tribute to her in one of my future tattoos. It struck me recently that I’ve never bothered to share what it is about her work that makes me love it so much.

-Her Wit

Despite Austen’s work being over 200 years old, I still find it funny. There’s a subtle humor to many of the conversations she writes between her characters and I find myself picking up on new details with every re-read. I’ve mentioned before I’m not terribly well-read when it comes to the classics – sometimes I connect with older work, sometimes I don’t. So I still find it pleasantly surprising when Austen’s work makes me chuckle.

The first example that comes to mind is from Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Collins makes a clumsy (and eventually insulting) proposal to Elizabeth. Before even hearing whether she’ll accept him, he’s going on about how he doesn’t expect a dowry from her father considering how little money the family has.

Elizabeth thanks him for his offer, but politely declines and Mr. Collins, thinking he’s on the up-and-up comments on how he knows ladies often reject a proposal when they truly mean to accept it:

“I am not now to learn,” replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”

Every time I read the book, this scene makes me laugh. Mr. Collins is so ridiculously out of touch with the woman he aims to marry that he can’t detect her sincere rejection of him. Despite her telling him no several times, he goes on to state why he feels there’s no reason she wouldn’t accept him:

“You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: — It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in its favor; and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”

He is so dense that he can’t understand how insulting his proposal is and that if he had any hopes of actually winning over Lizzy, they’d be dashed after that monologue.

-She’s Inspirational

Jane’s works have inspired countless literary and film adaptations, as well as fanart, clothing and household décor items!

Books and films based on her work run the gamut from faithful adaptations to modern remakes to paranormal parodies, sequels and murder mysteries. I think I speak for many of us when I saw that Colin Firth is the best Darcy-I especially love that they threw in that wet shirt and bathtub scene! There’s even a statue to commemorate the scene!

Wet shirts aside, I’ve found some fabulous films and books inspired by Austen:  Lost in Austen, Austenland, Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, Bride and Prejudice, Clueless, Longbourn, Bridget Jones’s Diary. There are also adaptations that make me groan: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, Jane and the Damned, the 1999 Mansfield Park film.

Whether I find these adaptations good or bad, it makes me happy to see when creators are still inspired by Jane’s content and I hope she’d be happy too!

-Her Female Characters

To someone who isn’t really a fan of Austen’s work, her books may appear to have the same theme – a somewhat poor girl who is down on her luck ends up finding love and marrying up the social ladder. But her stories are more complex than they appear and her main characters are flawed and exhibit depth and growth beyond simply finding a rich husband (though many of them actually do that.) She has a varied cast of heroines, many of whom are striving to find their place in the world where their options are so limited.

My favorite is of course Lizzy Bennet, as I’ve read Pride and Prejudice most often. She’s smart, quick-witted and not afraid to say what she thinks. But she’s also arrogant and rude at times, unable to see her own harsh judgements because she’s so caught up in those of others (ahem, Darcy.)

Marianne Dashwood is a total diva that acts solely based on her feelings at any given moment and thinks later (or not at all). But her passion for life and emotions is heartwarming, even if she needs a good slap.

Elinor Dashwood bottles up her feelings in order to put her family first, to the point where many assume she’s actually cold and incapable of romantic love. Yet it’s the fact that she’s so willing to strive to make her loved ones happy that draws me to her (though sometimes she’s such a pushover that I want to shake her and tell her to stand up for her damn self.)

I love Catherine Morland’s wild imagination and love of novels, though it gets her into a lot of trouble and almost ruins her shot at love. I actually misunderstood her when I first read the novel because she’s felt so unlike any other character I’d read that I couldn’t take her seriously.

Emma Woodhouse is the spoiled know-it-all who does her best to control those around her with the belief that she’s improving their lives. She is possibly the harshest of the heroines because of her privilege and her complete inability to walk in anyone else’s shoes. But I still find her charming and I do think she comes a long way in her efforts to improve herself (once she’s thoroughly scolded by Knightley anyway.)

Despite their flaws, I root for them all – well except Fanny Price because she was insipid and I couldn’t stand her (but maybe a re-read of Mansfield Park will fix that someday) – and I don’t really have much in common with these characters and their situations.

-Her Perseverance

While four of her six finished novels were published before her death, Jane Austen received little fame from her writing career. Having read up on Austen’s life (though not extensively) I’ve learned that while she did experience a modicum of success considering the time in which she lived and the fact that she was female. However, she died without knowing the true effect she would have on readers for generations beyond her own. Not knowing what her work would become, Jane worked hard on her novels and even after a lapse of many years where she did not write, and dealing with the struggles of publication (like how Northanger Abbey was sold to a publisher, but then never actually published), she never gave up and I’m thankful for that.

-The Atmosphere

Jane’s work truly transports me to another time, both in landscape and culture. Her stories depict a time in England that is so far away from my modern American life, yet I don’t feel isolated as a reader. I’ve always been immediately sucked into the settings of her novels, and like the heroine of Austenland, I can understand wanting to experience a little taste of that society (though I don’t envy the lack of women’s rights and general hygiene).

If you’re an Austen fan, what is it about her work that you love?

Judging A Book By Its Cover: Clockwork Century Series

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

I borrowed Boneshaker from the library some time ago and shortly thereafter purchased the entire Clockwork Century series. I’ve yet to read any of the other books (surprising no one), but perhaps I will this year! They’re lovely editions to my shelves nevertheless, though it does bother me to no end that Clementine doesn’t match the rest of the series. For whatever reason, this story wasn’t picked up by Tor, so it does ruin the effect slightly. However there’s nothing I can do, so I try not to think about it too much.

Here are the details – despite two different cover artists, I think the art styles do resemble each other enough to make the books match, part of this is possibly because the design is all done by the same artist:

Boneshaker – cover art by Jon Foster and cover design by Jamie Stafford-Hill, Tor 2009, ISBN: 9780765318411
Clementine – cover art by Jon Foster, Subterranean Press 2010, ISBN: 9781596064959
Dreadnought – cover art by Jon Foster and cover design by Jamie Stafford-Hill, Tor 2010, ISBN: 9780765325785
Ganymede – cover art by Jon Foster and cover design by Jamie Stafford-Hill, Tor 2011, ISBN: 9780765329462
The Inexplicables – cover art by Cliff Nielsen and cover design by Jamie Stafford-Hill, Tor 2012, ISBN: 9780765329479
Fiddlehead – cover art by Cliff Nielsen and cover design by Jamie Stafford-Hill, Tor 2013, ISBN: 9780765334077

Book Review: Emma

Emma
By Alexander McCall Smith

My Edition:
Paperback, 361 pages
2014, Anchor Books
ISBN: 9780804172417

Emma Woodhouse has grown up on her father’s large estate, complete with a governess. She’s just finished school and decided to start her own interior design business, but finds herself more interested in the doings of her friends and neighbors. She starts with her governess, Ms. Taylor and after taking credit for successfully fixing her up with family-friend Mr. Weston, Emma decides matchmaking is her new business. She begins sticking her nose into everyone’s business and soon learns that they don’t view her as helpful, but rather meddling and snobby.

I’m now all caught up on the books in this modern Austen project and I’m satisfied with how they’ve all turned out. Despite each novel having its own author and varied voices, I still think they have all captured the spirit of Jane Austen’s novels and feel like a series that belongs together.

Smith’s Emma stands out as more of a spoiled, meddling, brat than the original (though I didn’t dislike her and was naturally excited to see her character growth) and I think that’s because our modern language and times allow her character to be depicted more bluntly. As a result, I think her change of heart and her efforts at self-improvement stand out more as well.

Mr. Woodhouse is a charming hypochondriac and his constant worries about the air quality of London (where Emma’s sister resides with her husband and growing brood) and the evils of microbes had me chuckling. George Knightley was less developed than I would have expected however; he doesn’t play a large part in Emma’s life until the latter part of the novel and I had been hoping for a bit more of a build-up in regards to their relationship.

The ending wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking, but overall this was a cute, contemporary take on the classic. As with the others, I recommend it if you enjoy Jane’s work – really, if you haven’t read any of her work, these modern adaptations might be right up your alley, to give you a feel for her stories without the potential intimidation of an older writing style.

You can check out Smith’s website or Tweet him or visit his Facebook page.

Book Review: Sense & Sensibility

Sense & Sensibility
By Joanna Trollope

My Edition:
Hardcover, 362 page
2013, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780062200464

Recently forced to vacate their long-time home after the death of Mr. Dashwood, the four Dashwood women must rely on the goodwill of a cousin and settle into country life with more limited means than they’re accustomed to. Elinor, eldest of her three sisters, struggles to keep her over-emotional family together while also managing the bills and working to support their income. Drama ensues as new friends and potential lovers enter their lives and the family tries to find their way in the world.

This is the third book of the modern retelling “series” that I’ve read and I enjoyed it just as thoroughly as I enjoyed Northanger Abbey and Eligible. Trollope successfully brought the Dashwood family and all their friends and enemies into the 21st century and crafted a mostly believable version of a beloved classic.

In this version, there is still a trouble with inheritance that causes the Dashwood’s to have to leave their family estate because after the death of Henry Dashwood, the estate falls to his son from his first marriage, John. This is due in part because Ms. Dashwood never actually married Mr. Dashwood and partly because of some old inheritance traditions and I found this to be a believable modern take on the issue.

Sense & Sensibility lacks the sometimes drastic character changes employed by Eligible, but I still found all the characters enjoyable. Marianna is wonderfully annoying – she is a complete brat, totally over dramatic, and I mostly wanted to slap her. But she does exhibit character growth and her severe asthma condition fleshes out some of the drama she tends to create. Wills is a perfect modern cad, gold digger and general d-bag.

I especially enjoyed the sibling-esque relationship that developed between Colonel Brandon and Elinor. It’s been ages since I read the original, but Trollope seemed to do a better job of convincing me that Brandon cared for Elinor and the rest of the Dashwood family and not simply because he loved Marianne.

I read this in two days and I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of the original.

You can check out Joanna’s website here.

Judging A Book By Its Cover: The Night Circus

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

I already owned a copy of The Night Circus (which I’ve actually read and absolutely loved) but when I saw one of my Instagram buddies tweeting about this Vintage Classics copy…well…we know it doesn’t take much to convince me to buy a pretty book!

My new copy is on the left, published in 2016 with a cover illustration by Kate Forrester (whose work is awesome) ISBN: 9781784871055. As with my anniversary edition of Locke Lamora, I wish this edition had a few more special features on the interior, like illustrations.

My original copy is on the right, a 2011 First Anchor Books edition with silhouettes by Vania Zouravliov and tent by Helen Musselwhite, ISBN: 9780307744432.

Book Review: Eligible

Eligible
By Curtis Sittenfeld

My Edition:
Hardcover, 492 pages
2016, Random House
ISBN: 9781400068326

The Bennets have come to modern America, Cincinnati, to be precise. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet reside in a crumbling old Tudor, with Mary: currently unemployed and working on yet another Master’s degree, Kitty: currently unemployed and attending a local CrossFit gym with Lydia, and Lydia: currently unemployed and attending a local CrossFit gym with Kitty. Liz and Jane have managed to escape to New York where they work as a magazine writer and yoga instructor respectively. But their father’s recent heart attack has brought the eldest daughters back home where they meet Chip Bingley, recently finished with a stint on a reality dating show and working with Fitzwilliam Darcy at a local hospital.  

I wanted to kick off Austen Month with a retelling of my favorite Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. I’ve heard this book has mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it immensely and while it wasn’t perfect, I think it’s a fantastic modern adaptation.

I think Sittenfeld did a great job of keeping the tone of the original, while updating both characters and situations to suit current times – some scenes felt more realistic and developed than the original. While the bones of the story are the same, Sittenfeld added many little twists to make this story her own and I appreciated most of them.

Liz and Darcy’s relationship feels a little more natural, if not slightly more awkward thanks to Liz’s big mouth (which I found funny) and there’s finally some action! –wink wink- Jane is pushing forty, single and trying to have a baby via artificial insemination. Chip Bingley spent time on a Bachelor-esque show trying to find love and Darcy is a neurosurgeon. Kathy de Bourgh shines as a feminist icon and (sadly) Mary is more selfish and annoying than I’ve ever seen her portrayed before. Sittenfeld even includes some LGBT characters.

I wished Mary had been likable (for once!), but overall I was happy with how all the characters played out and the pacing kept me saying “just one more chapter” over and over – it helps that the chapters aren’t more than a few pages each.

I do think the story concluded on a weird note. Not the actual plot of the ending, but the last two pages had an odd tone that didn’t feel like a conclusion for me and brought the focus back to Mary, rather than Liz and Darcy. Rather than finishing with a smile I was left scratching my head.

I recommend this to anyone looking for a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, if only for some scenes where Liz and Darcy actually make physical contact! Jokes aside, this is a solid adaptation and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the updated rendition of Northanger Abbey.

You can visit Sittenfeld’s website or chat her up on Twitter.

January Wrap Up

monthlytotals

January!

I kicked off the year by reading 11 books for a total of 3,648 pages and a reading average of 118 pages per day. A few books were flops for me, but Warbreaker makes it all ok because it’s now one of my all-time favorite books!

Reviewed:

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
First Sentence: It’s funny, Vasher thought, how many things begin with my getting into prison.

Dark Castle, White Horse by Tanith Lee
First Sentence: Half an hour before, the sun had set, and the iron bell had rung in the bell tower.

Space of Her Own by Various Artists

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
First Sentence: Ingrid hated her shoes with the same unholy passion she hated corsets, chewing tobacco and men who clipped their fingernails in public.

Gemina by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman
First Sentence: …over seven hundred thousand employees across dozens of colonized worlds.

A few thoughts on Goodreads:

The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell
First Sentence: It began with three ships

Rat Queens vol 1-3 by Kurtis Wiebe

Books of Elsewhere: The Strangers by Jacqueline West
First Sentence: Houses are good at keeping secrets.

Review to come:

Strange Magic by Syd Moore
First Sentence: She hadn’t been idle, no sir, but the Devil sure had found work for her hands.

Judging A Book By Its Cover: Vixen

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

Vixen was a book that caught my eye somewhere on Instagram, so I decided to pick it up. The cover is lovely (though I might have seen a different edition first, can’t recall) and it’s that sort of matte/soft material. Fun to touch but the black does show fingerprints, which is a bummer. But there’s a map inside! The cover art is by Lindsey Carr (you can even buy her work on Etsy) and it’s a 2014, Borough Press edition, ISBN: 9780007492800.

Austen Month

It’s February once again, so that means it’s Austen Month. Why? Because I started focusing on Jane Austen’s work in February two years ago and now I’m just going to keep doing it…until I stop! This year I’ve picked six books (though Austenland is really just an optional re-read, so it’ll be last on my list) that include modern retellings, a paranormal reimagining, and non-fiction.

Netflix has decided to pull almost everything Austen related (grrr!) so my movie options are limited but I’ll probably rewatch Austenland and Clueless (it’s Emma!) and Becoming Jane. I might watch Death Comes to Pemberly, but I’d like to read the book first, so we’ll see.

As usual, I’ll be using #AustenMonth on Instagram and Twitter. Feel free to join me!

I’m also participating in a read-along of Gone with the Wind with some lovely ladies on Instagram, so you might see some posts about that as well.

Book Review: Gemina

Gemina
By Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman

My Edition:
Hardcover, 659 pages
2016, Knopf
ISBN: 9780553499155

Gemina’s plot overlaps some of Illuminae, but now we’re introduced to the residents of the Jump Station Heimdall and the difficulties they face as the Hypatia makes its way towards them, still fleeing BiTech Industries. Hanna is the station captain’s daughter and her dealings with Nik have been primarily to score dust for her and her friends. But BiTech Industries isn’t finished with their recent attack on Kerenza and now they’ve arrived at Heimdall to finish the cleanup and Hanna and Nik must team up to try to save their home and everyone in it.

I won’t say much about the plot here, as this book is relatively newer and I’m likely not the last person on Earth to have read Gemina (or Gemima as I keep writing and saying aloud), as I was with Illuminae.

Once again, we have a book made up of found documents, primarily chatlogs and write-ups of video feeds from various cameras across the jump station, compiled by the all-seeing Illuminae group. So let’s talk format first. I did still enjoy the documentary style and found it just as engrossing as the first book. The actual layout of the pages was slightly problematic though. There are significantly more graphics in this book than the first, including some sketches from Hanna’s diary, which I enjoyed, and chatlogs with dark backgrounds that made the text incredibly hard to read, which I did not enjoy. I think they tried a bit too hard or went a bit overboard with the design, as there were many more pages with spiraling text or sentences that zigged and zagged across multiple pages. Turning a nearly 700-page hardcover this way and that isn’t easy and it became tedious to keep up with some of the designs.

Now for the characters – Hanna was likable, though very similar to Kady in some ways. Her father is the captain of the jump station (while Kady’s is a chief officer or something similar) and she’s tough, determined, physically fit, smarter than most of the adults around her, etc. However, despite this, I liked her. She wouldn’t make a top list of characters for me, but she added to my enjoyment of the story. Nik was dull, considering his criminal background and I never got much of a feel for his cousin, Ella. The BiTech mercenaries were numerous and often referred to as both their real names and their call signs, so with the exception of a core few, I never had any idea who the story was talking about. I also thought that Hanna, Nik and Ella’s conversations had a bit too much levity considering the amount of danger they were in and the numerous deaths they experienced once the BiTech group came in. I know there were comedic moments between Kady and Ezra in Illuminae (and maybe there’s an equal number in each book) but Gemina felt like it had too many. Never having been in a life-threatening situation before, I clearly can’t speak from experience, but I don’t feel I’d joke quite so often.

I keep mentioning Illuminae and while reading I couldn’t help but notice that Gemina hits many of the same beats as its predecessor. Again we have:

  • Smart, talented teens holding their own against trained military personnel with little to no help from adults
  • A twist on who the main antagonist is (though with Gemina this twist was so confusing I had to backtrack to the near beginning of the book to wrap my head around it and it killed any shock I might have experienced)
  • A young, hacker extraordinaire
  • An extra element of danger (here we have aliens instead of zombies)
  • Character death fake-outs
  • Convenient ending is convenient (though Gemina takes the cake between the two)

Despite some tedious graphics and familiar plot points, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it over the course of two days. I wouldn’t rate it as highly as Illuminae, as the shine of the new experience has worn off, but I can’t wait to read the next book. If you liked Illuminae, it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy Gemina as well.