I have finally finished A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz. You’ll understand the “finally” here in a moment. I first became aware of this book from one of my Barnes & Noble emails back in April. Living in a removed town for some time will drive you to internet shopping which will inevitably put you on plenty of retailers’ email lists. In fact, my inbox became so crowded that I have formatted them to go straight to their own folder. This unclutters my inbox & removes the temptation. I only look in there when I am already planning to shop for something. So, before that, I saw the book in the email and surely thought to myself: “What is this? A man giving credit to Austen in a stylishly clad book? I must have this.” Luckily, I no longer lived in that small, removed place and picked up a copy the next time I made my way to B&N. It then got added to the pile of books to read. Unfortunately, that pile is big and two-parted; there is the pile to read that I own and the pile to read that I am borrowing. The second pile is mostly fed by my mother and gets the priority of the two, so I can make sure and get her books back to her. It also is practically never ending because I was a late bloomer when it came to reading for enjoyment, and Mom really likes to catch me up on her favorites. Despite being slow to the reading party, Austen has always had a special place. In fact, I think Austen was the first real books that I read without being assigned them and truly enjoyed. There are so many layers to her books that I continue to enjoy them. My young self was drawn to the romantic aspect of them, in plot & setting. Her wit & cleverness became more clear & entertaining, and more recently, the deeper lessons of her tales are only beginning to dawn on me, helped along greatly by this book. Yes, the book, so, I didn’t get around to reading the book until our Hawaii trip in October. I read it while we were traveling, but once we hit the islands, we were continually occupied. I took it with me when we hopped over to Kauai and stored it in a shopping bag with a few other things to keep handy that was then tossed into the trunk of our rental car. I was hunting the sunscreen when I discovered the tragedy: my charming little book had fallen prey to the depressed nob of a continuous spray SPF and was drenched & stained. I was so distraught! This was a book that was chosen not only for its content but also its style. It was meant to be informative and cute, and the latter was ruined. I was so upset by the sticky, yellowed mess that I knew I would have to replace it, but you will not find me so silly as to throw away a perfectly good book. It was dried, wrapped, & taken home to be given to my mother. My mother’s home is a safe haven for books with plenty of space to be stored and no fast-approaching moves to worry about. I knew she would figure something out; I was right because I saw it on my sister’s bedside when I visited her a couple weeks ago. The Mom Loaning Library is always at work. I had to order a replacement copy as our new B&N didn’t have it in stock. Silver-lining, I only had a little more to spend to get free shipping, so I justified throwing in a book about Audrey (Hepburn, of course). So, here we are, about 7 months after buying my first copy, and I’ve finally finished.
The premise of the book is what one man learned from each of Austen’s novels. Bill was an intellectual elitist who looked down his nose at Jane, like most men tend to do. He supposed her trivial, boring, & unable of teaching such a smart man anything; however, being forced to study her works in graduate school proved him wrong on all counts, and like a real man, he’s going to admit it…to the whole world… Did I say real? I meant, ideal. He goes on to tell how each of Austen’s books brought him greater understanding of himself & the people around him, how they helped him grow up & into a better man. He seamlessly weaves his findings with the tales of his journey and the story of the author, herself. How wonderful! If you like Austen at all, you must read it. It will give you a greater understanding of the author, her works, and the meanings & messages she meticulously yet subtly laid out for us as she tells her characters’ stories. I see my favorite tales in a new light. It makes me want to read them again and pay more attention to every word, as nothing was placed by chance but with purpose. Deresiewicz’s style is thorough enough to bring us through his many realizations, but with enough feeling to keep us interested. He is unreserved in the telling of his own story and doesn’t take himself too seriously, which I can always respect.
Bottom line is that I enjoyed it, and if you like Austen or even if you don’t, I think that you’ll enjoy it, too.