A memoir need not be completely truthful for me to enjoy it, but it does have to offer some insight into a life that I would not otherwise have been afforded. Lies themselves can often offer that insight. One point with which I agree in A Jane Austen Education is that sharing personal stories can be a gift to others, a sign of trust, a peek into an extended view of humanity. The share need not be large. Tell me about your crazy dream life or what you wanted to be as a child. Just don't manipulate your rather ordinary rites of passage through life to correspond with your reading schedule through Jane Austen. It will not sit well with me.
Former literature professor, William Deresiewicz, breaks his memoir into seven sections - one for each of Jane Austen's novels plus a conclusion. The premise is that he learned an important life lesson from each of Austen's novels at just the right time in his life. The portions that discuss just Austen's books were of some interest to me, but without much depth or anything I did not already know about Austen. Just a pleasant reminder of why Austen still sits atop the canon despite an occasionally underestimated simplicity to her work. But the rest of the book annoyed me. More than a little in parts.
Is a man reading Austen such a rarity that we celebrate it in entire books? Does an appreciation of modernism automatically exclude an appreciation of Austen? Are life lessons like "Pay attention to the everyday things" and "Be honest with your friends" only learned through Austen? The author would have come around to these things eventually with or without her. We can only hope. This book strikes me as an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Austen, and as obvious pandering to legions of her fans. Nicely packaged, well-written, but perhaps he should have utilized his obviously extensive knowledge of Jane to better end.
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