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Book: The Jane Austen Book Club

June 13, 2009
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I wasn’t going to read this, because I thought it was fluffy chick-lit, and that’s not really my thing.

However, my good friend VB convinced me to read it, said it was charming and quirky and funny and smart and set in the Bay Area, so… I did. I read it. And I loved it!

Cute, cute cute. Light and sweet and funny and quirky and charming and all those things. Kind of like a modern The Enchanted April.” I liked it so much I chose it for our book club pick for this month. I thought it was fun and good summer reading — nothing too taxing, sort of sweet and wistful and unexpected. Kind of like a really good non-alcoholic summer fizzy drink, the kind that has basil where you would expect mint.

So the setup goes like this: A group of women and one man get together (monthly? every so often? Not sure about frequency) to discuss one Austen book each meeting. I believe there are six members total, one per Austen book (Austen-lovers, don’t be angry if I got that wrong!). anyway. Each member is slightly quirky, and if I were more up on my Austen, I’m pretty sure I could align each with an Austen character… as it is, I think I could only identify the “Emma”… clearly I’m not all that up on my Austen (although I love her).

Anyway. One of those sort of meandering books. Each chapter is loosely about each Austen book and the club member who chose it, but everyone’s storylines overlap. The way the book is narrated is interesting. It’s told from a “we” standpoint. As in, “We thought so-and-so was going to be grumpy, it turns out that they were cheerful. We were suspicious. We wondered what was put in the punch.” Etc. Kind of unusual and I liked it. An unusual omniscience.

I know I’m not really saying anything about the plot, and that’s for two reasons. One is that the plot is sort of loose and hard to describe (is there really a plot? I’m not sure) and the other is that each little twist and turn is a delightful surprise and I don’t want to give any of it away.

Suffice to say that each character is interesting and funny, and things are not all wrapped up tidily with a bow at the end, but the end is satisfying. And there are very funny “book club questions” at the end, asked from the point of view from each character, who each had a distinct way in which they viewed Austen (and the world).

One thing I liked, which isn’t giving anything away, is a phrase that is repeated throughout the book, that everyone “has his or her own Austen.” In other words, the way a person reads their Austen book is their own personal slant. One person’s Austen may be all about manners and how people interact and navigate social circles. Another person’s Austen may be about the trials and hardships of women. And yet another’s Austen may be overblown and silly and hard to read.

So that makes me think about how although a certain book may be technically the same each time it is read, each person who reads it brings another dimension to the book: their own experiences. So my “Jane Austen Book Club” is different from YOUR “Jane Austen Book Club.” (when did I decide to start putting quotes around book titles? Gah!)

Of course that makes sense. What is scary to one person might not be scary to another. What is a lovely romance to one person might be sappy mush to another person. But I like to think of each story as our own story. Told to ourselves, by ourselves. Once we’ve read it, it’s ours. It’s a story we can revisit in our heads over and over, as many (or as little) times as we like, embellishing the parts we liked, cutting the parts we didn’t. Creating our own personal library in our heads.

Anyway. I hope the rest of my book club likes this book. I’m planning my menu. Sometimes we model our book club menus on the book, but I don’t think I will. I’m planning Summer Mediterranean. Perhaps we’ll watch the movie as well. Sometimes we do that, if there’s a movie based on the book. I heard the movie based on this was pretty good as well.

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