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Jane Austen presaged the current obnoxious teenage girl, equipped with walks down country lanes rather than cell phones, and letters instead of text messages, in most of her stories.  Clearly part of her popularity today is due to the fact that movies (like Clueless) can be made from her work that appeal to the modern teenage audience.  She’s certainly the least painful of high school reading assignments.

Though Emma  is her most finely drawn version, Northanger Abbey gives us Catherine, who is probably the worst uber-teen there is.  She would have done well with Bratz dolls and Juicy sweatpants.  Without a wit of commonsense and a lack of wit to boot, she’s the epitome of flighty, willfully silly girl.  She’s got a brain she just won’t use,even when her future husband points the obvious out to her.  One wonders how quickly the appeal of this student/teacher relationship will last.  Poor Henry (and poor Catherine) in the age of no divorce, once her girlish charms become churlish wifeliness.

Jane Austen is famously attributed to have said that girls are no use to anyone until they grow up.  And though she illustrates this opinion broadly in Emma and specifically in Pride and Prejudice (especially with Lydia) there is no other book that tops the sneering, snarkiness of Northanger Abbey.  It is called her most lighthearted book.  But I think it her darkest, in the sense that she lets her real opinions on girls out.  It is humor, but humor at someone’s expense.

This is the book in which I wholeheartedly embrace what I see as the real Jane Austen.  The girl who saw other women’s mistakes and grew up to be the woman who did not repeat them.  She chose not to get married to save her self and she chose not to tolerate the foolishness of others, regardless of gender. 

Though she makes Catherine likable enough to keep the reader interested (she uses her heavy artillery on Isabella) she is almost certainly laughing at loud at her own creation’s naivete.  

And that makes me like Jane all the more.

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I’ve been reading like crazy lately, so it seems strange that I haven’t had time to blog.  It looks like I haven’t done anything, if I assume that anyone’s actually reading this.  I may have been quiet, but I was cranking through some serious bookage these past weeks.  Unlike the industry, which seems to think that summer reading is more prolific, winter is, for me, the best time to stay inside and warm, snuggle up with some good stories (besides I hate sand in my books).

Here’s a quick summary to keep you posted:

I’m not a huge fan of what may be called Chick Lit, but I did read two books lately which could be considered as such.  One is a charming little fantasy novel called Garden Spells.  Though it probably borrows too heavily from Like Water for Chocolate and often seems to be a new rendition of the terrible movie Simple Irresistible,  it is a cute read, worth it if you borrow it from the library or from a friend (sorry, I gave mine away already).    The other, is a deceptively simple novel called The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.  I read this book in an afternoon and enjoyed this story of two sisters and a granddaughter.  The Esme of the title resurfaces into society after 61 years in a mental institution, but it’s not about her reintroduction to the world, it’s about delving into the past to see how she got there in the first place.  The desultory ramblings of her sister, well within the iron fist of Alzheimer’s, adds the necessary counter opinion.  This book is good in the reading, but where it hits you is later, when you’ve put it down and tried to move on.  It just won’t leave you. I found myself thinking about the implications of this books for weeks afterward.  Is that what reviewers mean by “haunting?”

In retrospect it seems I was trying to cleanse all that estrogen by picking up Dennis Lehane next.  He’s someone I summarily dismissed for many years because he’s so popular and well, I’ve seen the movies.  But Sacred and A Drink Before the War were all the fun of watching a movie without the $10.00 ticket fee (or Sean Penn’s ugly mug).  Lehane obviously writes in a certain genre, with movie dialogue, but I can embrace a good PI story, especially one set in my home state. 

Finally I picked up Anna Quindlen.  I just finished her book Good Dog.  Stay. and of course bawled my eyes out when the dog dies (I didn’t ruin it for you, of course it’s coming).  I’ve decided I want her career of writing small books that capture people’s emotions.  How Reading Changed My Life isn’t so much about how it changed her life as how it forged her life.  In this Anna and I have much in common.  We’re both that girl who would rather squish into an over-sized armchair with a book about far off place, then squashed into a plane seat on our way to said faraway place.   She’s the kind of reader I was and am and will be and it’s good to know that there are more of us in the world.

Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading

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