Austenacious
Jane will keep us together.
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This August, Action Jane and I took a field trip to the homeland. I know what you’re thinking: the Jane Austen action figure factory? 

YES!

…No. Actually, I spent two weeks in England and Scotland, meeting some new-to-me relatives and taking in the sights. Action Jane traveled with me, wrapped in a sock and stuffed into my purse for safekeeping. And let me tell you: that plastic quill pen was not meant for sock travel, and it does not go gently. Oh, the holes in my protective sock-case! Anyway, part of my travels took me to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which, by the way, you should all visit sometime. It’s fantastic.

Now. Not gonna lie: I saw an original Austen-themed musical on the schedule, and I wasn’t going to go. Can’t a lady vacation with her Jane Austen action figure in peace? Apparently not: I was on my way out for my last evening at the festival—to something completely different, I’ll have you know—when somebody on the street pushed a leaflet into my hand. The final Edinburgh performance of Austen, the musical, started in fifteen minutes, right in front of me. I can take a hint, universe. Jeez. 

And you know? It was good: an honest examination of the trials of being an unmarried lady and a writer, rather than the Jane/Tom LeFroy fanfic I feared at first. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I just choose not to partake.) LeFroy is the just the first of several men whom we know passed through Austen’s life, and they’re all represented here. It was a simple one-hour production with a cast of four, a single musician, basic costumes, and no sets to speak of, but also a small raft of original songs that I’m not exactly still humming ten days later, but enjoyed heartily in the moment. I left with fond thoughts toward the cast, particularly Annie Kirkman as Jane and Toby Osmond as several characters of varying levels of goofiness. I could have done without the frame story, but the leads ultimately sold it; also, the references to specific lines in the Austen canon, but I get it. I’m not mad. I’d go again.

If you’re in the UK, it looks like the next performance of Austen is September 19 at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Wherever you are, check it out! Maybe Austen will come to a stage/hotel conference room near you. Tell them Action Jane sent you.

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Readers, when I die and go to the big Austen-blogging convention in the sky, I really only have one request of you all: please don’t let anybody make a waxwork figure of me. It’s a nice sentiment, and I appreciate it. (A nice bronze piece would be just fine.) But wax? Even the best wax figures are eerie. The bad ones are downright…blobby. No, thank you.

Still, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath recently unveiled a waxwork figure of Jane, claiming to be “the closest anybody has come to the real Jane Austen for 200 years.” The piece was three years in the making: forensic artist Melissa Dring made a new portrait based on the classic likeness by Cassandra Austen, plus written descriptions of Jane by her contemporaries, then sculptor Mark Richards translated Dring’s painting into 3-D.

What do you all think? I like it, more or less—for all my aversion to waxwork, I think this is pretty good, and admirably un-creepy. I might have gone for slightly rounder cheeks (they come up in every description of Jane’s face), but I like the long nose. She resembles Cassandra’s drawing, except like a real person. Does she look like the real Jane? I guess we’ll never know—but this seems like a reasonable guess, and I like that somebody’s still trying. Incidentally, according to the ladies over at Austenblog, actress Anna Chancellor—you know her as Caroline Bingley in the 1996 BBC Pride and Prejudiceis descended from Jane’s brother Edward and may, as they say, express a bit of a family resemblance (see: round cheeks; long nose). Who knew?

What’s your take on the Austen super-techno-waxwork? Also, please share your favorite good/bad waxwork figure. I’ll start:

Kate, nooo, that guy has too much hair and not enough dorky charm to be Wills! ABORT! ABORT!

 

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If you hadn’t heard, several contemporary authors have been busily reimagining Jane Austen’s novels as part of The Austen Project. Two novels have already been released, and Curtis Sittenfield is currently working on Pride and Prejudice. The Atlantic notes that Jane Bennet has to be almost 40 (quelle horreur!) to be believable as a spinster worthy of her mother’s desperation to get her married off. Sittenfield says, “Jane is about to turn 40—which is the age people pressure women, in the most extreme form, to be married.” On the surface this sounds right. But, as the resident Austenacious spinster-in-her-40s, I’d say the pressure is more internal. I’m talking heart, mind, and ovaries all taking turns to egg us on.

When I was in my 30s, Persuasion was always the Austen novel that resonated the most with me because Anne Eliot was wasn’t as young as the other Austen leads. Anne was in her late 20s and had matured and grown in many ways since her teenage years when she had a marriage opportunity. (Ew, just thinking “marriage” and “teenage years” in the same sentence gives me the willies. I know there are young couples that love each other and want to build lives together, but I was far too much of a selfish knucklehead to have been able to handle getting married then.) I empathized with Anne’s maturity and realization that she had been manipulated as a young woman and was, in her “later” years, better able to speak her own mind and could determine for herself what was important.

In my 40s, I don’t feel any real pressure from my family (though, to be fair, it’s entirely possible that they don’t want to put up with my thinly veiled annoyance should they nag me). In my 20s and early 30s, I definitely felt the societal expectation. There were waves of weddings—a handful of just-after-college-graduation weddings, a big surge of 25-27-year olds getting married, and then the early 30s celebrations. In our 40s? Not so much. If anything, my 40-year-old girlfriends and I talk about whether or not our fading ovaries have any say in the discussion. “Is this my last chance to have a baby?” “Do I even want to have children?” “CAN I even have children?” “Holy crap, are your ovaries taking over your brain and making you want to have babies when you’ve never felt that way before?” Of course, we still talk about whether or not a potential partner is handsome, but we’re more impressed by a guy who can cook a good meal or fix the leaking faucet rather than someone who looks dashing in his military duds or has £10,000 a year.

Maybe I’m just lucky that I know some awesome women in their 40s who have gotten past the notion that they’re expected to be married and have children and are just living their lives. Sure, there’s still some financial discrimination in the workplace. (I’m talking to you, nonprofits—stop treating women as volunteers who don’t need to be paid well because their husbands can support them. That’s BS, and you know it.) And of course there are many who would love to be married. But it just feels like less big of a deal now. If you live—really live—instead of pining away for what might have been, being unmarried is actually pretty good. And that’s not something that will end up in a reimagined Austen novel. Though I sort of wish someone would make Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mary Bennet fun-loving singles. Ditch the sickly daughter, give Mary a personality, and then have the dynamic duo of Widow de Bourgh and Spinster Bennet solve crimes with and run witty circles around society! Anything is better than single women sitting around waiting for something to do.

(Image borrowed with kindness from http://www.rottenecards.com/)
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Over the past few weeks, the Austenacious Google Alerts have been packed with reviews of the movie Bellethe biopic of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an eighteenth-century English noblewoman of mixed race. I only see the reviews that mention Jane Austen, of course—otherwise they wouldn’t ping my Google Alert—but a whole lot of people seem to agree: Belle is a lot like an Austen adaptation.

I know what that means, and I also don’t know what that means. What makes something “like” a Jane Austen novel?

To me, Jane’s work feels incredibly specific in nearly every way: time period, setting, sphere of knowledge and influence, sense of humor, style, voice. I see Jane as her own genre. After all, who else would we group with her? Who else was writing at the same time about the same subjects, and is still in print? Who sounds like her? The closest colleague I can think of is Elizabeth Gaskell, and can we really say Dickens’s and Charlotte Bronte’s Victorian social-novelist BFF is “like Jane”? I don’t expect the general movie-going public to sort 19th-century English women writers into subdivisions—I’m all for “People in Olden Times Having Romantical Problems” (TM the Fug Girls) myself—but I also can’t go so far as to say they’re all comparable. If anything, in writing from an exclusively female perspective, without a social or moral agenda (ahem, Gaskell and George Eliot) or stalking dramatically about the moors (heyyy, Brontes!), Jane was the odd woman out.

(I’m not actually saying Belle isn’t Austenacious in nature. In fact, the real Dido Elizabeth Belle was a slightly earlier contemporary of Austen’s and lived with her uncle, the first Earl of Mansfield, whom I think we can assume had a notable ha-ha.)

If I’m going to make comparisons with Austen, they’re likely to be with writers who channel the Austenian sensibility of narrow focus, gently astringent humor, and telling the truth about humans—not necessarily period pieces, and not necessarily the “chick-lit” that’s so often assumed to be her legacy (mostly due to Bridget Jones’s Diary). When I think of writers and works who are “like Jane Austen,” I think of Penelope Fitzgerald’s tart little small-town novel The Bookshop, and of the Emma-ness of Flora Poste in Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, and of Alan Bennett’s charming and economical The Uncommon Reader. I think of Margaret Atwood, whose politics and feminist dystopian sci-fi work Jane would never have imagined, but who I think inherited a certain rhythm from her anyway. It’s about voice and view point more than about demographics, I guess.

Readers, what about you? What makes something “like” Jane Austen for you?

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Readers, we had a party without you.

I’m sorry. Is that rude? Should I not be talking about this? It’s just that Mrs. Fitzpatrick just got her first tattoos—the only tattoos among the Austenacious staff, unless Miss Osborne’s kidding-not-kidding about the “I <3 Simon LeBon” on her butt—and, well, celebrations ensued.

Mrs. F’s forearms are now all about these lovely abstract designs based on the Battersea Shield. Contouring to come. She’s all healed up and ready for the admiration of her peers!

In tribute, Miss Osborne whipped up a batch of her famous cream puffs—traditionally reserved for Easter celebrations chez Osborne—and got her hands on some Jane Austen temporary tattoos for the less decisive types in the room.

What’s that on Mrs. F’s decolletage, you ask? I think you’re going to like this.

Temporary. (FOR NOW.)

Miss Osborne’s left wrist belongs to Mr. Darcy.

But her left bicep is all about Knightley. You guys, it’s a fight!real fight!

GANGSTA.*

Austen Nation, do any of you have Austen tattoos, either permanent or temporary? Either way, have a cream puff and join the party.

 

 

*Until it rubs off on my pillow in a few days. PILLOW STOP RUINING MY STREET CRED, JEEZ.

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Oh, man. OHHHH, MAN. We are going to get so much less done around here. Consider this your apology in advance, Austen Nation.

Here’s the thing: Austenacious is now on Pinterest! You can find us at pinterest.com/austenacious. Let’s be friends!

Not gonna lie: there’s a lot of banality under the search term “Jane Austen.” But there’s also some really cool and interesting stuff, and we think it’s a pretty good way to explore the wide world of the Jane Austen Internet (and curate the good stuff, as well). Aside from a number of future boards the Beloved Sisters are carrying around in our heads, we also plan to archive our own Austenacious material there. All this to say, when Action Jane takes over the Internet, you’ll know. And if you’ve got suggestions, just send those pins right over!

We’ll get to them riiiight after we do this twelve-second ab workout/finish making this low-cal low-fat grain-free paleo cheesy bacon ranch bread. Those are the same thing, right?

Austen Nation, do you use Pinterest or other social media to feed your Austen habit? Is there anything we should know about? Fill us in?

 

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Welcome to my living room! My bookshelves start in the corner of the living room with fiction, alphabetized by author, natch. (None of this pretty, color coordinated stuff for me!) This bookshelf holds A through K, with miscellaneous plays and such on the bottom shelf, which is too small to hold anything upright. The corner is one of those places that causes my friend Jeffrey to say, “Miss Osborne, you’ve got a book problem.” (Note: I sort of, maybe agree with him, but when I mentioned it to Miss Ball, she was pretty peeved and huffily told me that I’m a grown woman and I should do what I want with my apartment. Clearly, domestic book eradication is one of those topics that upsets certain people.) Those two piles have been reduced from what they were before a recent purge. But I think it may be time to invest in another bookshelf. Or start making Esty-worthy art projects out of the books.

  

K–Z in fiction continues into the dining room, hanging out with my Scotch, bourbon, and wine. As it should be. Though I’m mildly embarrassed that I have yet to rearrange my shelves so that the continuation of fiction shelf is on the left. You see, when I move I like to get everything put away the day I move in. I can’t deal with clutter. But somehow I managed to reverse those two shelves. The shelf on the left is the start of my non-fiction, which is starting to be heavily weighted toward Mary Roach and biographies. (If you haven’t read Mary Roach, I highly recommend everything she’s written. Her books make me laugh out loud, and I—temporarily, anyway—learn stuff! If you’re looking for a biography, one of my favorites is My Life in France, by Julia Child—and what portions of the movie Julie & Julia were based on.) There’s also a subsection of books about Arthurian legends. And British history.

On top of the bookshelves I have a portion of my art books, mostly from exhibitions I’ve seen. To the right are cookbooks, my enormous binder of recipes that I’ve collected from the Internet and friends, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes boxed set. (Should you have a craptacular day, the best way to get over it is to go home and read Calvin and Hobbes for a few hours. Or watch Anne of Green Gables. Life is instantly better.)

The little bookshelf when you enter my bedroom is where I keep a random assortment of young adult or children’s books (mostly because they’re smaller and fit on the smaller, unmovable shelves) as well as reference books for copyediting (note that I still hold only to my Chicago Manual of Style 14th ed., which I think is the best one) and miscellaneous books that will eventually be inserted into the fiction and non-fiction shelves. I’m proud to say that a few books on this shelf were illustrated by friend-of-Austenacious, Mrs. Light. (aka Kelly Light, author and illustrator extraordinaire. Go pre-order her newest title Louise Loves Art. Right now!)

And the last bookshelf is the keeper of photo albums, Oakland A’s bobbleheads, travel books, and the rest of my non-fiction, heavily weighted toward medieval history. A prized possession on the second shelf is my copy of the Bible. Right after graduation, my college roommate suddenly was offered a job by CNN and packed up her beat up old Volvo and left for L.A. She also left a ton of stuff, including a pile of textbooks destined for the trash. I told her if she threw out a bible (from her World Religions class) that surely she burn in hell for eternity. She told me that if I was so worried for her immortal soul that I should keep the bible. While irritated because I had my own packing up to do, I took the bible. Whether from fear of the wrath of God or inability to see a book go to waste, you’ll never know.

There are other miscellaneous piles of books around—on the nightstand, below the coffee table, and in corners around the house. I’m saving things for the day when I get to move into a house with a library like this:

(Above image borrowed with love from http://www.weirdlyodd.com/10-interesting-libraries-around-the-world/)
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Sometimes I think we give you the impression that all we think about is Jane Austen. This is not so! We think about Colin Firth… and shirts…. and… other things….

Yes, other things! Austen fans are many-sided people, and we intend to prove it to you! That’s why we’re taking this grand tour of the bookshelves of the Beloved Sisters. I could call this Spring Cleaning or Self Discovery or something, but come on. We all know we just want to talk books here. And hey, maybe I like something that I never thought of as being part of my Austen fandom, but you’ll like too!

First stop: The Kitchen

 

I keep my travel books with my food books, and they all live in the kitchen. This makes sense, right? Cooking is very similar to travel, but, like, imaginary—? I’m not sure if Pemberley is listed in the Dictionary of Imaginary Places or not. But I am proud of my food/books/teacups mélange because I like to think it’s how people lived in Jane Austen’s day. I keep it real.

Next door is my portfolio bookshelf: books I’ve edited, written for, etc. They are just math textbooks, mostly. But they are also mixed with teacups and little things. I shan’t recommend any of these math books for you (but email me if you’re interested!). There are more in the bedroom anyway.

Second stop: The Living Room

I’m actually in the middle of rearranging my books and china because I love to play with them. Here are many of my favorite series and “books by authors that write a lot of books.” Agatha Christie, Jasper Fforde, the Judge Dee books by Robert Van Gulik, Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and more Terry Pratchett. Mystery and wacky alternative-world fantasy comedy are my two basic genres.

Of all of these, I’m actually going to recommend Judge Dee for you. Judge Dee was a real person who lived and detected in 7th-century China. These books are made-up cases from ancient Chinese detective stories translated and added to by a 1950s Dutch diplomat named Robert Van Gulik. I have no idea why I think Judge Dee fits with Austen—I just do. These are crime story books. They have murder and torture and weird sex (off-screen) and almost no romance. On the other hand, there is a lot of tea. Far more than in Jane Austen, actually. And Van Gulik has a simple, clear writing style like Austen, and focuses on daily life in ancient China. So there’s that.

Third stop: The Bedroom

This bookshelf is in flux (and in the dark apparently). Otherwise, it would never have an empty shelf. What kind of book-hating infidel do you think I am? Above we see my old diaries (awww) and my almost complete collection of P.G. Wodehouse. . .

ALL OF YOU, especially all of you who love funny writing, but ALL OF YOU: Put down this post and read some freaking Wodehouse! Now!! Yes, I mean it. I’ll wait. GOOOOO!!!!!

Are you done? That was fast. OK, when you need another fix, try the short story “Uncle Fred Flits By.” Meanwhile, this bookshelf also has Harry Potter, Elizabeth Peters, Gabriel Nix, a few of my children’s books, and, sigh, the 1888 Chamber’s Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge I bought for Mr. Fitzpatrick as a Christmas present before we were even engaged. He used to post entries from it online under the name of Vickipedia. (I named it that.) If you go there, you can read the entries hosted on that site, but not the ones he moved to his website, multipledigression.com, because that site no longer exists. And now I feel sad.

My beloved Mr. Fitzpatrick gave me a lot of my books. Let me tell you about just one of them: an original British edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I already had my copy of this book with the American title, Sorcerer’s Stone, but as someone with an interest in history, magical thinking, secrets, etc, he abhorred the change in the title. (J.K. Rowling didn’t make up the philosopher’s stone—it was the goal of alchemy.) And he had heard that the original had text differences as well, and he knew how I always want original sources. So, he ordered it from England for me. Alas, there are virtually NO differences* :-) but of course I’ll always keep it.

This corner has everything else! Even some non-fiction, believe it or not. Old friends like Laura Ingalls Wilder, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ramona Quimby, a ton of Madeleine L’Engle, Anne of Green Gables (all 8), Narnia. . .. Nestled cosily into these are my books on origami, math, grammar, neuroscience, art, physics, and fashion. And my Jane Austen books! You can find them at the left, third shelf up, under the math and origami.

What do I recommend for you here? Wow. . . Let’s go list form!

  • Mathy Austen fans (yes, this is a thing, you guys): Pearls in Graph Theory by Gerhard Ringel has Austen’s beautiful simplicity. And I’m excited about tackling Geometric Folding Algorithms by Erik Demaine.
  • Anglophilia maniacs: I think you will love E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series. These are about middle-class English daily life in the 1930s and they are wickedly funny.
  • Mystery fans: If you have not read Dorothy L. Sayers, why have you not read Dorothy L. Sayers? Lord Peter Wimsey! Harriet Vane! These books are . . . also about middle-class English daily life in the 1930s. But not so funny and with murder and romance. So I run to type a little. Sue me.
  • Grammar geeks: You really can’t go wrong with Karen Elizabeth Gordon. The Bad Girl of Grammar! Vampires and corsets! But, you know, before that was cliché.
  • And of course, all y’all should read MOAR Austen! The minor works! Sanditon! Lady Susan! The History of England! Good times.
  • I’ve also heard there’s this book called Pride and Prejudice. You should check it out.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this tour through one Jane Austen fan’s bookshelves. What do you ladies and gentlemen read? Show us your diversity!

Next stop: Miss Osborne! Thank you for traveling with Austenacious.

 

*The main difference is that Dudley’s first word is “shan’t” rather than “won’t.” And this was before they’d twigged that Americans can handle kids calling their mothers “mum.”

Photo credit: All photos ©2014 Heather Dever. If you really want to share them, um, be my guest.

 

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Austen Nation, it’s time to talk bookshelves! Unanimously, the ladies of Austenacious love snooping through other people’s bookshelves—at parties, we’re the ones you’ll find furtively adding things to our to-read lists—and we assume you share our “healthy interest” (read: complete nosiness) in this area. So this week, and for the two following weeks, you’re invited to join us for a guided tour of our personal collections.

I’ll start!

 

This is my main bookshelf, located in my living room; it’s not all of my books, but it is a lot of my books. Specifically, it’s most of my paperbacks, the prettier/older/classic-er hardcovers having been poached for decorative purposes around the house or shelved elsewhere for space reasons. But if you’re looking for a book in my house, statistically, it’s probably here.

Honestly, for reasons of economics and moving every year and a deep affection for the public library, I don’t buy a lot of books. I like having a certain size of print library around (and I don’t own an e-reader), but I don’t necessarily want to commit too much space to books I don’t really love, and I’m definitely not opposed to the occasional purge. I read a lot of classics, in part because I get overwhelmed by the sameness of contemporary “literary” fiction—I read contemporary lit, but I tend not to buy it unless I’m really confident I’m going to want it around long-term—so you’ll find a lot of “hey, I read that in high school!”-type books on my shelves.

My books are organized by section—novels and creative nonfiction, travel, editorial reference, enormous horse books, hardcover children’s classics, Calvin and Hobbes treasuries, things too big to fit elsewhere—and sorted alphabetically by author for easy finding. The stacks on top are mostly borrowed books waiting to be returned: a few to the library, a few to friends and relatives, and Miss Osborne’s copy of Middlesex, with which I absconded when my own copy was out on loan.

I don’t style this shelf, per se (and let’s be real: can I really call myself a blogger if I don’t organize my books by color?), but here we have Action Jane and Sense and Sensibility: An Opposites Primer, written by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver, and given to me by Dear Friend of the Blog Miss Tarango. Also, a beeswax candle in the shape of an artichoke, as you do.

And now we come to the Austen section. What’s that you say? You only see two of Austen’s novels snuggled in between the Atwoods and The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing?  It’s true. My secret’s out: I don’t keep the complete set of Austen’s novels around. Someday! It’s an issue of pickiness, really: I’m waiting for my own ideal edition of each to arrive in the world, and simply haven’t committed to lesser ones (except in the case of Persuasion, oops). Even better, maybe one day I’ll find a matched set! In the mean time, when I need them in print, I raid Miss Osborne’s shelves or go to the library. If it’s just for reference, they’re available searchably and for free online, which is tremendously useful.

What I do have is one paperback copy of Persuasion, which I acquired at some unmemorable time and in some unmemorable place, and two hardcovers of Pride and Prejudice. The first is the 1995 miniseries tie-in version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle on the cover, and I believe my parents gave it to me for my seventeenth birthday. The second is a beautiful Everyman’s Library edition—I love Everyman’s Library, as well as Modern Library—that I bought at Strand Books in New York a few days after Hurricane Sandy. For awhile, I had a third copy, an enormous edition with a slipcover given to me (thoughtfully, and also with excellent attention to my affection for You’ve Got Mail) on a first date. It didn’t work out with the guy, though, and I decided my Everyman’s Library needed no further competition, and passed it on to somebody else.

And that, my friends, is the guided tour of my bookshelves. Stop by next week for continued adventures of the Austenacious Bookshelf Tour!

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It’s Publishing Day on Austenacious!

First of all, we offer our congratulations to one of our own: Good job, Karen Joy Fowler! You got an award!

Karen Joy Fowler, who wrote The Jane Austen Book Club back in 2004 and has and remains an active figure in Austeniana, won the fancypants PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction yesterday. Her novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves tells the story of a woman raised by scientists who adopted a chimpanzee as a sibling/science experiment. (Hey, I heard that episode of RadioLab!) The ladies of Austenacious have seen Fowler in person a couple of times since the site began: once on the Jane Austen A Go Go panel at Litquake a few years back, and once in conversation with Bill Deresiewicz at a bookstore in Berkeley. Both times, we’ve agreed that she was thoughtful, well-spoken, and an all-around delightful conversationalist. And it’s always nice to see a fellow Janeite succeed so spectacularly. Well done, Karen!

Have any of you read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves? Please respond with a report on the thematic similarities and differences of living with a chimp for a sibling and negotiating relationships through a book club featuring Jane Austen. Much obliged.

Also, over on The Billfold: How Much Was Jane Austen Paid for Some of History’s Best Books?

Not much, it turns out. (SURPRISE!) But this piece is an interesting look at creativity, generational wealth, and the concept of “a room of one’s own.” Read it!

Ladies writin’ books and putting them out into the world. It’s a good thing.

 

 

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