Like Taking a Jane Austen Masterclass: A Jane Austen Education
I'm going to admit something right from the start: I don't think I was the target audience for this book. I absolutely love books and reading, but I wasn't an English major, I am horrible at critiquing literature, and I couldn't write a decent intellectual argument regarding the themes of a novel to save my life. That said, while I can't say that William Deresiewicz's A Jane Austen Education was one of my favorite books of late, it certainly taught me more about writing, literature and how they affect our lives than any other book I've ever read.
Truth be told, I've never read a Jane Austen book. I've seen all of the movies, however, and do have a basic understanding of most of the plots and characters and relationships. Luckily, never having read the source material doesn't hinder the reading of A Jane Austen Education in the slightest. The book is half literary-criticism, half-memoir, in which the author uses his knowledge and understanding of the Austen books to describe how reading the novels affected his life profoundly. I particularly appreciated that Deresiewicz managed to be as descriptive and captivating as he was without spoiling major plot twists or endings for those of us who haven't read all of the novels, without making the reader feel like they were missing out by not having read the novels first.
As well-written as this book is, it contains a lot of information to process. Knowing that Deresiewicz was an associate Yale professor and well-published book critic, reading this book made me feel as if I was sitting in on an Austen masterclass. More than anything, I appreciated the author's ability to associate the each Austen novel with stories from his own life. This created an immediacy and accessibility that I appreciated. The novels became living works of art that could affect my day to day life (as they had his).
In truth, though, I would only recommend this book to a few of my friends who love Austen and love books almost as much as the author does. I can't say this book is for everyone, and I admit I probably wouldn't have read it, but since it has me curious to read the Austen books, I'd have to say I'm glad I did.