During each of the past few years, I’ve undertaken a year-long reading project. In 2021 I read War and Peace at the rate of one chapter per day for 361 days. In 2022 I read all the works of Shakespeare at a pace of three pages per day in my anthology. In 2023 my goal was to read all the works of Jane Austen.
I calculated that this would mean reading 10 pages per day, as the 7-book Jane Austen collection I bought on Amazon had approximately 3000 pages (per the marketing material) and then I needed to read a few other pieces that weren’t included (mostly the unfinished stuff like Sanditon and The Watsons). A little ways in, however, I learned that this page count included a lot of opening material and notes for each book, which did not all need to be part of the project.
Net result: I finished reading everything Jane Austen wrote about a week ago, with about a quarter of the year left to go. Oh well!
I’m glad I did it. I like being familiar with this well-known cast of characters and stories. Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility felt the most compelling to me, and I imagine to lots of folks, which explains why they are her most widely read books (though I know Emma and Persuasion have their fans!). Especially in reading unfinished works like Sanditon and The Watsons, I could see Austen’s careful scene setting and character development. Parts of her early writings (bound together in the 7-book set in a collection called “Love and Friendship,” after one novella) were hilariously satirical. I enjoyed when some of that humor came back out in parts of Pride and Prejudice.
On the other hand…I didn’t really fall in love with Jane Austen’s books. I started this project truly hoping I would. I appreciate them, for sure, and how they show the limited (if changing) world her female main characters inhabited. I can understand, on an intellectual level, that the passive, quiet Fanny Price shows the challenge of trying to maintain your dignity and integrity in a world that gives you little control of your life. I can be grateful my world is different! But it was hard to stick with that passiveness for 450 pages. Elizabeth Bennet, of course, and Elinor Dashwood, to a degree, feel like more modern heroines. Still, the pace for the first 100-plus pages in many of the Austen books was challenging. That’s why I needed a project like this, where I read a little bit each day, so I didn’t give up. That way I could appreciate some dialogue, or a description, for the craft and for what they were, rather than wondering where this was going.
Anyway, I’m going to re-read a few Shakespeare plays over the next few months, before I start 2024’s project, which I think will be a little different — listening to all of Bach’s music. (I might re-read P&P too.)
In the meantime, if you have a favorite Jane Austen book, let me know which one and why! (Maybe someone’s is Lady Susan, who knows…) And if you have read all of them (or all but one or two) I’d love to hear about that as well.
In other news: This week’s Before Breakfast podcast will be sharing a few of my favorite non-fiction writing tips. Today’s is to ask “Do you come out for it or against it?” Please give it a listen, and then look for the next four tips over the next four days.
In other other news: Last week I went to Portland, Maine for business and then to Boston to meet up with SHU. I did decide to drive, as I’d mentioned a few months ago. The drive to Portland on Tuesday was…long. I mean, it’s long anyway, though theoretically with no traffic it can be 6.5-7 hours. But I got stuck behind a bad crash on the Tappan Zee/Cuomo bridge (which I’d taken, ironically enough, to avoid some jam-ups around the George Washington bridge…). There was nothing to do about it, as by the time it happened I was in the approach to the bridge and so I was there for an hour or so. I had some lovely runs along the water in Portland in the mornings, and then it was fun to be in Boston for a bit too. Sarah and I ran along the Charles and enjoyed a beer at a chilly outdoor beer garden. Fall is definitely here in New England! The drive home Saturday was relatively swift except for the torrential rain. But there’s a reasonable chance that would have delayed a flight too, so hard to know.
Last night we hosted a small crowd of 8th graders for my second child’s 14th birthday. These young men were all nice enough — the most challenging part was keeping the 3-year-old (and to some degree the 8-year-old) out of their hair. The little guy kept trying to go play with them!