Subtitled “How Six Novels taught me love, friendship, and the things that really matter,” A Jane Austen Education is partly the story of how William Deresiewicz, now a well-regarded Austen scholar, evolved from being dismissive, to being a true fan.

There are chapters devoted to Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. It’s a close textual study of the best kind, not overly academic and pedantic. He explains why Austen has endured. Not because of the quaint period film adaptations, but because form and style drive Austen’s message.

Long passages in Emma are devoted to trivial matters and gossip. Austen skewers the mundane conversation of characters like Miss Bates, and the cruelty of Emma. She forces readers to confront in themselves  easy and cavalier meanness.

Entwined in the literary criticism, is memoir.  Deresiewicz movingly relates how the novels changed his life for the better. Austen’s message of compassion and kindness improved his relationships.

This all sounds like it would be a tough and boring slog, but it’s actually very accessible – especially for English lit (and Austen) geeks. If you didn’t know what the big deal was before, this is an enlightening read. If you were already a devotee, you’ll enjoy it even more.


why i readIn Why I Read , Lesser draws on a lifetime of pleasure reading and decades of editing one of the most distinguished literary magazines in the country, The Threepenny Review, to describe her love of literature. As Lesser writes in her prologue, “Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it.”

Here the reader will discover a definition of literature that is as broad as it is broad-minded. In addition to novels and stories, Lesser explores plays, poems, and essays along with mysteries, science fiction, and memoirs. As she examines these works from such perspectives as “Character and Plot,” “Novelty,” “Grandeur and Intimacy,” and “Authority,” Why I Read sparks an overwhelming desire to put aside quotidian tasks in favor of reading. Lesser’s passion for this pursuit resonates on every page, whether she is discussing the book as a physical object or a particular work’s influence. “Reading literature is a way of reaching back to something bigger and older and different,” she writes. “It can give you the feeling that you belong to the past as well as the present, and it can help you realize that your present will someday be someone else’s past. This may be disheartening, but it can also be strangely consoling at times.”

A book in the spirit of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and Elizabeth Hardwick’s A View of My Own , Why I Read is iconoclastic, conversational, and full of insight. It will delight those who are already avid readers as well as neophytes in search of sheer literary fun. (description from publisher)

stacks of booksHere’s a beautiful quote, reminding us of the importance of nature. Do you know which book it comes from?

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what they had to teach; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 

Did we stump you? Find the answer here.

stacks of booksWhoa – last week’s quote was a bit of a downer. Did you recognize which complicated Russian novel it was from? Let’s lighten things up a bit – after all, spring starts this week! – and go with something fun.

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”.

Now how could you not want to read this book after an opening line like that? If you’re not sure of the title and want to track it down you can find the answer here.

stacks of booksHow did you do with last week’s quote? Did we stump you or are you a fan of classic horror and recognized it right away? Here’s an easy one that we’ve all heard. Do you know which famous book it’s from?

“Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

Check here to see if you were right.

stacks of booksHow are you doing with our Favorite Quotes? Having fun with them, or getting frustrated? Here’s the last line from a classic we all know, but may not have read….

“He was soon borne away by waves and lost in darkness and distance”.

For those of us unfamiliar with this one, the answer is here.

stacks of booksDid our Favorite Quote from last week stump you, or was it too obvious? Ready to give it another try? Here’s a pretty easy one, from an American classic, a poignant line that perfectly evokes the novel it comes from.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.

Check if you got the right answer here!

stacks of booksIt can be argued that we love to read books because we love the written word. Whether it comes to us by electronic device, or letters on a page, words fascinate us, inspire us, amuse us. A well-chosen quote from a favorite book has the power to evoke fond memories and take you back to that joy of first discovery. Join us as we explore some of our favorites. Do you know what book this quote is from? (we started off with an easy one!)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Not sure? Find the answer here!