I work at one of the branches of the Mercer County Library system and when I saw that one of the book discussion groups was reading this book I reached out and asked if they would be willing to write a review for us. Much to my surprise the member writing the review is in another book club that I am also a member. I would like to thank her and the book group for their help. - Amelia
Ten years ago, area Jane Austen readers started the West Windsor Library Book Group. Over the years, its members have read and discussed all her books. Today we have moved on to other classic and contemporary writers. However, we still read a Jane Austen novel or Jane Austen related book just to bring us back to our roots. In this case we read and discussed Jane Austen by Carol Shields from the Penguin Lives series.
At face value, it may seem impossible to encapsulate the life of the celebrated author in only 185 pages. But as the saying goes “Don’t judge a book …”. This “pocket” biography is a delight for fans. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carol Shields concisely lays out Jane’s life from childhood to end with the enthusiasm of a fellow fan. The influences of the time, family, and education had on Jane and her work are discussed through what is known about Jane, the society in which she lived and her surviving letters.
As the book is divided into chapters chronologically following Jane’s life and works, the reader is given insights on what were Jane’s influences and her place in the world as she wrote each book. As we went around to each member they discussed how the chapters following their cherished Jane Austen novel brought new pleasure into their favorite book. Moreover, the group agreed that reading this biography resulted in a new perception into and new admiration to some of the characters and books that were not so favored. We all treasure Ms. Austen’s work so much more.
Having read the world that surrounded Jane: her interests, her disappointments, her relationships led us to be amazed by the artistry in her writing. These are not simple novels, but true reflections of life in that time and of the human condition. Two hundred years later readers still admire her dialogue and relate to the authenticity of her characters.
Our members agreed that the brevity of the biography was in its favor. Concise, intelligent insights were more appreciated than long winded conjectures. Overall the biography made us all want to re-immerse ourselves in Jane Austen’s work.