3 books on Jane Austen

July 29, 2011

One could be forgiven for assuming that 1995 was the “Year of Austen,” when no fewer than three major film adaptations of her novels were released. Yet readers are more captivated than ever with the 19th-century writer and her slim, brilliant body of work — witness the cottage industry of prequels, sequels and monster mash-ups. For still-eager readers, here is a bit more of that Austen ambrosia.

1. A JANE AUSTEN EDUCATION: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter, by William Deresiewicz (Penguin Press, $25.95). The central message of “Emma” — “pay attention to everyday things” — irrevocably changed Deresiewicz’s life, kindling a humble self-awareness and sensitivity to others in this once-pompous blowhard. He charts his career, love and marriage through the prism of Austen’s novels and describes the singular education he took from each of them, reminding us of Fay Weldon’s delectable epistolary novel, “Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen.” Like Weldon’s fictitious niece who complained about having to read Austen’s “irrelevant” novels, Deresiewicz came to learn much about life — and himself.

2. JANE AUSTEN: A Life Revealed, by Catherine Reef (Clarion, $18.99). Aimed at young adults, this biography of the revered writer begins with a fragment of Austen’s unfinished novel, “Sanditon.” That provides a launching point to ruminate on how it could have ended and on the true character of Austen herself. Both these subjects have mostly been a matter of speculation, but that doesn’t prevent Reef, a local writer of numerous books for adults and children, from creating a lively account of what we do know about Austen, interspersed with passages from her letters and novels and peppered with period illustrations and contemporary stills from the Hollywood films that have mined her work.


(Geraint Lewis/AP)

3. TEA WITH JANE AUSTEN , by Kim Wilson (Frances Lincoln, $19.95). This enchanting book puts you in Jane Austen’s milieu through the ritual of tea. In the early 18th century, tea was still a luxury, and its possession (along with its accoutrements) was an indicator of social status. Enlivened with sumptuous color illustrations and snippets of Austen’s letters and novels, the book includes historical recipes and a trusty guide to brewing the perfect cup. Readers should also take a peek at Wilson’s companion volume, “In the Garden With Jane Austen.”

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