Thursday, June 28, 2007

Austen's Powers

One of my bookseller missions is to gently press Jane Austen onto some of my rabid romance readers to wean them off of authors like Mary Wainscoting and Thelma Bodice-Hopper, but it is a tough sell. The language and manners of 18th century England and the long descriptive passages in Austen's books are deterrents for many from vaulting into her lushly romantic novels. Sometimes I try the movie hook, "Hey, did you check out that recent remake of "Sense and Sensibility"?; "How about that smoldering, hunky Colin Firth as Mr. D'Arcy in the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice"?, as a way of introducing some of my romance ladies to a higher level of literary swooning. As of yet, I do not think I have any converts.

Now that so many romance writers are crossing over into the mystery genre, I've tried getting people hooked on Austen through Stephanie Barron's excellent mystery series featuring Jane Austen as a detective/British agent. But it is still swimming upstream for the Book Trout. All this genre hybridization makes for slower bookshelving, but the trick is to stick with cover art clues: black covers go in mystery (unless vampire on cover, when it gets shunted to horror) and pink covers go in romance. Although now there are time-traveling vampires in love, so sometimes they get flung into fantasy.

I remain an Austen missionary, however, and recently enjoyed Park Honan's exceptionally detailed biography, Jane Austen: Her Life ( NY: St. Martin's Griffin, 1987). It's a book to savor over a long period to avoid being Austen-overpowered, but for the devoted fan, 454 pages are a treat. There are illuminating references to the various persons in Austen's life who appear piecemeal as characters in her novels and good descriptions of historical events and places in the English landscape to provide further elucidation. Recommended highly for the Austen lover.

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