So. I did something that I really don’t like to do. I rarely do it. I started a book and chose not to finish it.
Usually when I start a book I force myself to finish, whether I like it or not. Something that I’m beginning to realize is that a)my life is not infinite so b)my time to read things is, similarly, not infinite. I have to be choosy with what I read.
Sometimes I’ll read the first few pages of a book and if I know I’m going to absolutely hate it the whole way through, I won’t finish. I had that experience with a kids’ book earlier this week; I will gladly read (and mock) all manner of terrible YA fiction because I’m interesting in seeing what is trending in teen fiction, but kids’ books that essentially serve as one big fart joke…I have no time for that.
I got through 110 pages of Jon Spence’s book Becoming Jane Austen. I wanted to love this book, truly. Spence was the historical authority for the quasi-autobiographical film Becoming Jane, which was based on his book.
Guys, I absolutely detested this book. I love Jane Austen because Jane Austen is masterful and powerful and perceptive and expresses passion’s necessity and passion’s limits. I don’t read Jane Austen because she writes “love stories.” I was interested in this book because I wanted to see what Spence had to say about Jane’s love story with Tom Lefroy, which was basically the entire plot of Becoming Jane. Even the description in the book’s inside cover told me that it was an account of the love story that influenced all of Jane’s writing.
In the first hundred pages, Spence makes a lot of nice points about Jane’s writing, but then, around page 90, he introduces Tom Lefroy. I was genuinely interested in this because I wasn’t aware that he played such a huge role in her life. Then, around page 105 when Tom Lefroy makes his exit, I realized that I was right and he didn’t play a huge role in Jane’s life.
Spence’s argument revolves around the idea that Jane was an extremely calculating writer and that she put aspects of her life and what she viewed in her family’s life into all of her works. And this might be true, except I don’t think that gives Jane Austen enough credit. She’s not just some woman writing about what she sees around her. She’s also not some woman who would be so heartbroken over a short romance that it would affect her and her writing for the entirety of her life. I obviously don’t know Jane Austen personally, but I think most people who read her and study her can acknowledge that they have a sort of understanding of who Jane is. This book refutes that. This book tries to make a huge something out of nothing. It was well-written, sure, but extremely boring and extraordinarily frustrating.
Spence has a clear admiration for Austen, but this book is silly. It’s serious and slow-moving and is not about what it says it is. I finally had to stop when I realized that this book had me in a reading slump-I have legitimately been avoiding reading at all because I’ve been struggling through this. Books like this, I am sad to say, make me forget why I love reading. Not anymore. I’m forgetting this and starting with a new book.
I wouldn’t read this. Read some of Austen’s actual work instead.
recently read: The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love, by Rosie Rushton.
I bought this book when I was thirteen or fourteen and thought, “Oh! This is going to be great!” It wasn’t terrible, but then again, it wasn’t great. It’s a nice idea: basing a teen novel off of the Dashwoods from Sense and Sensibility, but in execution, the sisters can’t rise above stereotypes: one sister is dramatic and romantic, another taciturn and strong, and the third a tomboy. The “secrets” are nothing more than maxims like, “There is nothing more painful than a broken heart.” The whole thing is silly and vapid and it misses its one serious emotional opportunity- the family coming together after the death of the girls’ father.
I wouldn’t recommend it and I don’t think it was worth my time reading, but there’s worse teen fiction out there.