The Bog of Lost Scholars

May 2, 2009

Recent Reading: Austenalia, Wrede, and the Bitchery

Filed under: The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 7:46 pm

Fifteen years ago, I was a fairly heavy bookbuyer. But after realizing that yes, one can have too many books (I hear a lot of people hissing, but guess what? When there’s so many books in the house that it’s hard to move around? and there’s nowhere to put more shelves? and more books keep being bought by household members? AND you don’t have the time to read 90% of them, so they’re taking up space without giving you any enjoyment? That’s too many books. When my ex moved out and took his book collection, which was about 75% of the books in the house, I was relieved.)….

Anyway. After realizing that yes, I can certainly have too many books, I became a lot stricter about what books I buy. These days, if I buy a book, it’s either 1. by one of my few autobuy authors (basically, Lois McMaster Bujold or a Steven Brust Dragaera book), 2. a needlework book, 3. a book I’ve already read at the library and liked, or 4. a book I’m buying because I like the author’s work in another context and want to support them with a $0.50 royalty payment, whether or not I turn out to like the book itself.

Josephine Ross’s Jane Austen: A Companion falls into category 3. I checked it out from the library, and while I wasn’t able to finish it before I had to turn it in, I found it interesting and enjoyable enough that I wanted to have my own copy. It’s a very readable look at Austen and her world.

Ross’s Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners and Margaret Sullivan’s A Jane Austen Handbook are shorter gift books, both looking at customs in Austen’s time. I found Ross’s book the meatier of the two, teaching me a few things that I didn’t already know (though on further reading Companion, a lot of the same data is in there). Sullivan’s book is a definite Category 4; I love her P&P/Northanger Abbey crossover, The Firstborn, so this purchase is my royalty payment. Handbook is fun and has an entertaining arch tone, but I didn’t find it as educational; many of her lists are simply examples drawn from Austen’s books, rather than supporting material showing that these really are the customs of Austen’s time. It’s cute, but honestly, if I’d read it at the library, that would’ve sufficed.

Two Category 4s that turned out worth keeping on their own merits: Patricia Wrede’s Thirteenth Child, a fascinating fantasy set in an alternate 19th century United States (where the New World never had human settlers due to big nasty magical critters, until the Europeans advanced sufficiently in magical technology) (stands alone, but I’m anxiously waiting for the next book), and Sarah Weddell and Candy Tan’s Beyond Heaving Bosoms, the book that arose from their blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and a hilarious look at the romance genre.

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