It’s Friday once again! And that means it’s time for another installment of #FridayReads, where our Associate Editor, Kristin, will take us to Austenland!
Happy first day of spring! You’ve heard of eating with the seasons—I like to apply the same concept to reading. It was an idea introduced to me when I was a college student working in my spare time at my local bookstore by one of its managers. I was having a difficult time getting into Middlemarch, which I was reading for pleasure that summer, and she explained that focusing on the great works in July is a self-defeating task. She recommended saving the epic tomes for winter and picking something more appropriate for the beach in the meantime. (Some hundreds of pages are a burden in a beach bag.) I’ve been reading with the seasons ever since.
For spring, I like to pick a transition book, something that is both literary and beachy. I cheated a little earlier this week when the city was experiencing unusually warm weather and started Austenland by Shannon Hale, author of the Newbery-honored Princess Academy. An homage to the enduring work of Jane Austen—or rather, if the main character of the novel, Jane Hayes, is being honest, an homage to the swoony movies her work inspires—it’s a romance set in an Austen-themed resort. It met both my requirements for a spring read.
Like the start of so many rom-coms, Jane is a thirty-something single woman in love with Colin Firth and ready to swear off men…when a distant relative dies and bequeaths her a trip to the aforementioned resort. Anyone who’s ever considered a vacation to Lyme Park or Chatsworth House or even Highclere Castle can relate here! Is it a dream come true…or a confession of obsession? Jane decides to go, determined to find her happy ending there or give up her romantic hopes for good. Throw in some dashing actors pretending (…or not pretending?) to woo the resort’s guests, and hilarity ensues as Jane maneuvers the maze of her fantasies and reality.
As I’ve gotten into the book, I’ve realized it’s not the Jane Austen references that make the book literary, but the strength of Shannon Hale’s writing. The story reads like a beach read, but it’s sophisticated stuff. Hale exposes and finds the humor in the truths universally acknowledged by Jane Austen fans. The book pokes fun at romantics but sympathizes with them too. It is the Northanger Abbey of romances. Jane is a heroine more like Bridget Jones than the composed Elizabeth Bennet. She’s wholly believable and relatable and utterly charming, and that’s what makes this a terrific spring read. I can’t help but cheer—er, tally-ho—her on in her misadventures.
Will Jane find her Mr. Darcy? …Will I ever finish Middlemarch?