In our travels around the web this week, we at the Jane Austen News found an article by Jennifer Finney Boylan for the New York Times which talked about the best age at which to read books. Are there some books which are best read when you’re older? Is a book like War and Peace best not opened until you’re 25+?
It’s a knotty question. Some people have reading ages far beyond their years, and some readers are happy to read books which explore deep philosophical questions before they’ve even sat their GCSEs. Then again, some visitors to the Jane Austen Centre explain that, having been taught the likes of Dickens at a young age at school, they’ve been put off ‘classics’ almost for life.
Reading age aside though, the question can be approached from a different angle: do some books come with an ideal reading age? By this we mean, an age at which the book will best resonate with its reader, and an age at which it has the best chance of bringing a fresh perspective to the reader’s life.
Some examples which were suggested were:
• The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle — before the age of 18. In order to learn that some mysteries, including the ones inside your own heart, really can be solved by logic and reason.
• Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges — in your 20s. In order to learn that the best mysteries can never be solved at all, even with logic and reason.
• The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald — in your 40s. In order to understand, during the age of midlife crises, that reinventing yourself comes at a price.
• The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger — in your 50s. To be reminded what a jerk your younger self was, and not to get all sentimental about your lost youth.
With this in mind then, is a book like Persuasion best read when you’re older and may have experienced lost love and so the promise of “it’s never too late” shines brighter? Is Northanger Abbey better read when you’re in your teens and going to your first parties, are obsessed with romance, and are more susceptible to losing yourself in fantasies? Even more potent a question: does having read a book like Persuasion in your youth take away from the power it may hold for an older reader who hasn’t read it before? Tough questions!
Most of us have a “to-read” pile of books (in a way we’d feel bereft without one), and Charles Darwin was no exception.
In an article for The Independent, Alex Johnson, author of A Book of Book Lists, this week revealed that besides the likes of Humboldt’s New Spain, Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, and Richardson’s Fauna Borealis, and lots of other in-depth scientific papers and anthropological texts, Darwin also made the odd exception for some novels of note. One of these exceptions being Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.
Doesn’t sound like much of a distinction? While on board HMS Beagle Darwin had a library of around 400 volumes housed in his own cabin. Of these the percentage for different genres goes thus:
Travel/Voyages 36 per cent
Natural history 33 per cent
Geology 15 per cent
Atlases/Nautical 7 per cent
Literature 4 per cent
Reference 3 per cent
History 2 per cent
That’s not a lot of literature. Clearly Darwin considered Austen to be an author of real note.
He had one shelf on which were piled up the books he had not yet read, and another to which they were transferred after having been read, and before being catalogued. He would often groan over his unread books, because there were so many which he knew he should never read.
Francis Darwin, Charles Darwin’s son
A question recently posted on Twitter by Scott Wilson, who is training to become an English teacher, made us stop and look again at our secondary school (high school) reading lists.
Wilson wrote that he only now feels qualified to look back and reflect on his own high school education. In his six years, he read two female writers, both of whom were poets: Lochhead & Duffy. “Did anyone read novels/plays by female authors at school?”
It’s not something which struck us at the time, but now that we think about it, there was a real dearth when it came to female authors we at the Jane Austen News were asked to read. Quite a few respondents agreed:
So, how did your school do when it came to studying a diverse range of writers?
Mother’s Day in the UK may have been and gone (for us it was on Sunday 11th March), but that doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten about our mothers again, or about Lizzy Bennet’s mother in particular.
Mrs Bennet has to be one of the most famous mothers in literature. She’s hard to forget, what with her attacks of nerves and over-zealous approach to all things marriage, but despite this, she’s endearing.
Pride and Prejudice and Mrs Bennet feature in the list of the best books about mothers and their children, as compiled by Anne O’Neill in honour of Mother’s Day. So if the relationship between Mrs Bennet and her daughters is one of the things you really love about Pride and Prejudice, these other books from O’Neill’s list might be of interest:
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Mother: Eva Khatchadourian)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Mother: Emma Bovary)
Room by Emma Donoghue (Mother: Ma)
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (Mother: The Bolter)
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (Mother: Sophie Portnoy)
Sophie Portnoy is probably the mother who most closely resembles Mrs Bennet; she’s so invasive in her son’s life that she is said to be “one of the outstanding producers and packagers of guilt in our time”.
The full article can be found here.
In Expedia’s recent survey, over 78% of respondents have said that books have inspired their vacations. We have to say that that is a wonderful thing to base a holiday around! We’re also happy to say that Bath has been listed as one of the top twenty must-see literary destinations in the world by Expedia’s travel blog:
Bath has been the center of attention both in real life and in the pages of fiction, and readers will recognize it from many scenes in Jane Austen’s oeuvre. The whole southwestern region of England is of a literary state of mind, with strong historical roots and exciting current activities, so schedule some time to explore the International Agatha Christie Festival in Torquay and the Fowey Festival to honor Daphne du Maurier.
Places and events of note:
Jane Austen Centre in Bath pays homage to Austen’s life and times, and true lovers of her work should not miss out on the costumes, readings, and revelry that the annual Jane Austen Festival has perfected.
Continue the book-loving festivities at The Bath Festival, a multi-arts event featuring music and literature. Or, visit late September for the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, the largest of its kind in Europe.
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