Celebrating Jane Austen: Reboots and Reimaginings

What to read if you love Jane Austen

This month is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and her novels are as much loved and relevant today as they were in her own time.  Her acute understanding of human nature, her wry observations and her ability to create complex three dimensional characters leave her stories feeling so modern in many ways.  Or if not modern, then enduring… timeless.

Perhaps this is why her books still matter.  Despite the fact that many women today have more agency than they would have had in Regency England, many readers still relate to the dilemmas and conflicts that Austen’s characters face, the internal and external tensions in our lives as we seek the path that is right for each of us.

I’m not a Janeite, myself…  not yet… but my love for Jane Austen and her world is growing, and I especially like some of the modern twists on her writing.  Here are several novels that are Jane Austen adjacent, a contemporary adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a biographical film, and a fantasy film and television show for the Janeite in all of us.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Two researchers from the future travel back in time to 1815, two years before Jane Austen’s untimely death, to befriend the novelist and steal her letters and an unpublished manuscript. Presenting themselves as distant relatives from colonial Jamaica, the time travellers must settle themselves into Regency society and convincingly pass themselves off a brother and sister from that time.  I loved this novel for its insight into a historical period I knew little about, and the many facts that I gleaned about the Austen family and Jane Austen’s life.  While the character depiction of Jane is fictional, it’s a charming way to widen the net cast by her novels and imagine her as a character in her own story.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
An engrossing recentred telling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view.  This novel begins on washing day, when a maid at the Bennett house, Sarah, bemoans the fact that Lizzie Bennet likes to go for muddy walks in the fields – as Sarah is left scrubbing her petticoats. All the action from Pride and Prejudice is still there in this novel, but is off to the side, while Sarah’s life and the interest caused by the arrival of a new footman takes centre stage.  A gorgeous love story set in familiar territory, but seen with new eyes.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A thoroughly modern take on Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary America.  Jane is a 40-year old yoga teacher, Lizzie is a journalist, Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with paleo diets and crossfit, Mary is undertaking her third Masters degree online, and Mrs Bennett has a shopping addiction.  Jane and Bingley met on a Bachelor style reality TV show, the ball at Netherfield is replaced by a particularly crass game of charades, and Lizzie and Darcy keep running into each other while out jogging.  Not one for the purists, but I loved this modern take on a classic (and the plural ways we can find love and happiness that it offers)

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What to Read After Watching Dunkirk

If you Enjoyed Watching Dunkirk, Try Reading...

I have never been very interested in the military side of World War II, but a few novels read recently have captured my imagination with their detailed depiction of the evacuation of British Forces at Dunkirk during the Battle of France.

Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk just premiered in cinemas, and is likely to be one of the biggest films of the year.  Nolan has stated that Dunkirk is not a war film, but is ‘a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film.’  If you find you enjoyed the film and your interest in this era in history has been piqued, here are some suggestions for novels to read if you want to learn more about the Dunkirk evacuation and the experiences of Allied civilians and soldiers during World War II.

Their Finest by Lissa Evans
A wonderful (if more light hearted) counterpart to Nolan’s Dunkirk, as this novel is about a British propaganda film made about the Dunkirk evacuation.  It felt particularly meta and intertextual reading the farce of this filming recently, as promotion geared up for the release of Dunkirk.  A film adaptation of Their Finest was also released in 2017.

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis
In Connie Willis’ novels about time-travelling historians trapped in WWII England, the details of the evacuation at Dunkirk are crucial to the time travellers own evacuation back to the 21st century. The second novel All Clear also has some really fascinating detail about Operation Fortitude and other counterintelligence measures taken by the Allies.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
The hellish experience of being far from home during wartime is captured well in McEwan’s WWII novel, which features Robbie, conscripted into the army to avoid a prison sentence, at Dunkirk – awaiting the evacuation. Robbie’s experiences in Northern France are vividly depicted in the novel, and the evacuation is featured quite prominently in the 2007 film adaptation by Joe Wright.

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot
When a woman unexpected inherits a yacht, she discovers that the boat hides secrets that could shed light on Hitlers darkest schemes. This novel really brings to life the experiences of the soldiers evacuated at Dunkirk.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
This novel doesn’t feature Dunkirk, but it is one of my favourite WWII novels – focusing on some of the counterintelligence that went with the Allied forces cracking the Enigma Code.  This is a big sprawling novel that I think is one of the best post-modern historical novels about WWII out there (a good one to read if you liked Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon or The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan).

If you enjoyed watching Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk, try reading some of the follow novels set during WWII that feature the evacuation of Allied Forces during the Battle of France

If You Liked The Handmaid’s Tale…

If You Liked the Handmaids Tale.. try reading...

If you enjoyed Season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale, you may be interested in trying some of the following novels, tv series and films – many of which raise (still) relevant questions about personal agency, fertility and reproduction, and society (especially when it takes a dystopian turn).

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Children of Men by P. D. James
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
He, She and It by Marge Piercy
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sherri S. Tepper
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Exist West by Mohsin Hamid
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Humans created by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley
Orphan Black created by John Fawcett and Graham Manson
Top of the Lake created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee
Never Let Me Go directed by Mark Romanek
Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Novels to try reading if you liked The Handmaids Tale

What is Bibliotherapy?

ways to read more

There can be an amazing solace in reading the right book at the right time, and bibliotherapy is both a formal and informal way to help readers find the stories or information they need during significant moments in their lives.

In a formal sense, bibliotherapy is a clinical practice that encourages healing through reading and reflection. Expressive therapies like bibliotherapy use the arts and value creative and imaginative processes as paths to healing. By carefully selecting reading materials that may help a client understand or solve an issue that they may be facing at a particular time, bibliotherapy practitioners offer options for personal reflection, assessment and growth.

In a more informal sense, bibliotherapy is what many of us do whenever we are feeling unsettled, sad, or confused. We reach for a read from our comfort shelf – the books that remind us who we are, and that reinforce our sense of self. New reading can also enrich our lives, providing us with much needed insight and inspiration.

Reading specialists like myself love nothing better than matching the right book with the right person at the right time. Not all readers are the same, and when helping someone work out what to read next, I like to understand the reader – what they like to read and why, and what they don’t like to read and why. I also like to understand if the reader is seeking a new perspective, revitalisation or a renewed sense of wonder, or comfort.

It’s also important to recognise that everyone’s reading choices are valid. There’s no point being snobby about what people read, and we all read for different reasons. I do like helping people read outside their comfort zones from time to time, however, and this is one of the fun challenges you face as a reading specialist or amateur bibliotherapist.

In an informal bibliotheraphy session, I might have a friendly conversation with you, and ask you some questions about your reading and where you are in your life. I may give you some instant recommendations on what to read next, and I may follow up with some suggestions by email after a bit of research or reflection. Because I’m not a psychologist or counsellor, I can’t help you with serious issues that may come up in our conversations, but I do have a great list of services staffed by professional and caring people that I can refer you to.

I’m an ‘expert reader’ at The Mudgee Readers’ Festival in August, in beautiful rural NSW. If you will be in Mudgee during the festival and are interested in having a one-on-one or small group conversation with me about reading, you can book in for a 15 minute bibliotherapy session on Saturday 12 August at Warbehr Design.  These sessions are free, but you must email info@mudgeereaders.com to book your 15 minute slot.

For the Full Festival Program, visit The Mudgee Readers’ Festival website.  The Festival runs from Thursday 10 August to Sunday 13 August, 2017.

What is Bibliotherapy, How can you lead a better life through books, and what should you read next?

Still on My To Read List for 2017

Still lots of books I didn’t get to, and I am ashamed to say some of them I have wanted to read since at least 2015!

Zero K by Don DeLillo
It’s sitting on my phone waiting to be read.  I should probably get myself a paperback.  An unread ebook is one way to immortality, I guess.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Victorian England, Naturalism.  I don’t know much about this book yet, but it popped up on lots of favourite lists at the end of 2016, and those two keywords are enough to pique my interest.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
This seems like a logical next read after The Last Painting of Sara de Vos for anyone who wants more of the Dutch Golden Age.  I am hoping for Dorothy Dunnett meets A. S. Byatt.

The Girls by Emma Cline
Much anticipated in 2016, but didn’t really cross my radar or catch my interest at the time.  Now that I have read and loved Commonwealth, a dangerously edged tale of adolescence at the violent end of the 1960s sounds perfect.

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
To tie me over until The Mirror and the Light comes out, an epic French Revolution tale from a Booker Prize winner sounds wonderful.  Nobody makes historical figures quite so human or vulnerable as Hilary Mantel.

And the ones from last year that I didn’t make it to, but that are still high on my list…

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
A fictional account of the reintroduction of wild wolves in the UK? Wolves, English Gentry and Country Estates, Female Scientist Protagonist, Returning home to family ghosts? What’s still not to love? I don’t know why I haven’t got to this yet, but did make sure I set it for Book Clubs in 2017 (just to make sure I finally read it)

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
One of the most popular science fiction novels in China, and increasingly hyped now that it has been published and widely read in English.  I still hope that the Cultural Revolution background story for this novel will be the driver for some really serious political science fiction.

Best Reads of 2016: Not Actually 2016 Books

Three World War II novels, two modern classics, and one newish post civilisation novel (I can never get enough utopia/dystopia/post-apocalypse) rounded out my list of favourite not so new books read in 2016.

Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
(Kinokuniya)

California by Edan Lepucki
(Readings)

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
(Public Library)

High-Rise by J. G. Ballard
(Public Library)

Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith
(Public Library)

Best Fiction from 2016

2016 was extremely busy.  There was a brand new library that opened in May, and it definitely felt like work took over most of my life for the better part of the year.  I also went back to university and spent a lot of time reading for study rather than pleasure. And I (finally) got my drivers licence and started driving to and from work most days, which put an even larger dent in my leisure reading.

Goodbye reading on the bus! (but I have tried to ensure I have more time for reading at home and love a good cafe date with a book when I have a day off work).  There was a lot of comfort reading this year, and I discovered some wonderful new novels – especially Ann Patchett.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
(Publisher Advance Copy)
A pitch-perfect reboot of Pride and Prejudice, in which the plural ways we can find love and happiness in the 21st century are celebrated.  I wrote a review of Eligible in March.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
(Public Library)
An intensely compassionate portrait of the many ways casual neglect and difficult circumstances impact a generation of children in one blended family.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
(Public Library)
An engrossing novel that bridges the historical and contemporary genres, connecting a female artist in the Dutch Golden Age with a female art forger in New York and Sydney 400 years later.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis
(Publisher Advance Copy)
A highly original and entertaining look at connection fatigue in our modern world.  A romance novel disguised as science fiction or a science fiction novel disguised as chick lit?  I wrote a review of Crosstalk in October.

Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor
(Public Library)
A quirky literary mystery, with many messy layers of personal complexity and a gorgeously casual narrative vernacular.  I loved the New York setting and all the nerdy Dante detail.

Honorable Mention:
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
(Book Depository)
Not quite in my top five favourites as far as new releases go, and far from my favourite Kay, but any new novel by Guy Gavriel Kay is cause for for celebration.