Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Two Guys Read Jane Austen" by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill

This is certainly an enjoyable approach to literary criticism!  Two writers who have been friends since childhood read Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park and exchanged a series of emails and letters regarding the books.  Hill had read Austen's books before, but Chandler had never read any of her works, which led to some very interesting discussions.  

Of course, they discover that Austen's books are not "woman's fiction" or "chick lit" at all -- I myself have read enough history about her books to know that it's only in the past 70 years or so that Austen's books have been categorized as "girly."  According to Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures, during WWI, soldiers read her in the trenches.  During WWII, British people of both genders turned to Austen for a reminder of why they were fighting so hard to preserve their country.  When the books were published, men read them as avidly as women, so it is only now that the idea of two guys reading Jane Austen would be regarded as weird.

I was a little disappointed that they chose to read Mansfield Park for their second book, as it's my least-favorite Austen novel.  Still, I did acquire some new insights into it that, if I can remember them, will make another read-through of MP more interesting if I ever decide to undertake such a thing.  

The authors digressed a lot, mentioning or discussing things like baseball, their wives, and popular culture too.  They watched some Austen-related movies too, and talked about those a bit.  But all in all, this was a fast, fun book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys learning about other people's perspectives on books.  

(I won this book in a giveaway on Reading in the Dark.  Thanks again, Hannah!  This was such a fun book!)

Particularly Good Bits:

By illuminating what happens inside the human mind when it believes narrow things, Jane Austen is as good as War and Peace (p. 32) (SC)

And to those macho guys who are too ough to read anything softer than a violent crime thriller I say you are missing a lot if you don't read Jane Austen (p. 38)(TH)

A good book in a quiet room is still the most profound experience known of one person's art being downloaded into another human being's mind.  Nothing compares (p. 38)(TH)

I am amazed at how much I loved reading pride and Prejudice.  I also was sorry it had to end.  In some ways it's a shame that so many good movies have been made of the Austen books.  Because they give the impression that she is all about love and romance and clolorful flirting and manners.  What the movies cannot get to -- or do justice to -- is the intelligence.  And not just the flashing sarcastic wit of Elizabeth and her father.  But deeper still into intellectual courage and character (p. 50)(SC)

So what characterizes Jane Austen for me is that she is a novelist of the mind.  A writer who captures beautifully the interplay of intelligences when they are challenged by love and status and money.  (p. 51)(SC)

Jane Austen allows male readers a secret look into the minds of brilliant, creative, virtuous women.  one heroine (Elizabeth Bennet) outgoing, another (Fanny) introspective.  But Austen's heroines are each true to themselves and win in the end.  Classy women who combine high intelligence wtih inner strength and virtue (p. 122)(SC)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  Not Rated.  It's like a PBS documentary, kinda.

This is my third book read for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! As you know, it's currently one of my favorite nonfiction pieces!

    1. I can see why! I can imagine having a similar experience if a friend and I undertook this sort of long-distance book discussion.

  2. How interesting - all of it. I like it.

    On the subject of Austen, last night I watched The Jane Austen Book Club. Have you seen this?

    1. I haven't seen that, but I read the book it's based on, and it was entertaining. What did you think of the movie? They discussed it here and there in this book.

  3. Wow, this looks like so much fun! Mansfield Park is one of my favorites; either way I suppose it provided interesting contrast to the spunk of Pride and Prejudice. Austen is much more political and, well, preachy in "Mansfield."

    I've always been curious as to men's perspectives of Austen when they exist (our two cousins love her works, and the movies that accompany them.) Wasn't it "Cults and Cultures" that talked about Winston Churchill reading Austen during the war? Men need to give it a try more often. =)

    Love that quote about the movies not doing justice to the intelligence of the books. It definitely is nigh-on impossible to translate, and adds so much depth to the story and its characters.

    Might have to add this one to the "to read" list!

    1. Yes, they did talk a lot about the contrasts between P&P and MP. Especially in how the heroines were so very different. And I do seem to recall something about Churchill from Cults and Cultures, though not any particulars.

  4. Very interesting! (I saw it on your sidebar and was looking forward to your review. :-) ) I haven't read this one, but another neat book on Austen from a man's perspective is Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter J. Leithart. It's a fairly short, easy, deeply thought-provoking read and I highly recommend it. Used on Amazon, it's quite inexpensive. Anyhow, it's one I go back to often and well worth a read. ;-) I do hope you can check it out!

    1. That sounds cool! Looked it up on Amazon (of course my library doesn't have it -- grrr) and I like the description, so have added it to my wish list. Thanks!

      And I'm glad to know people look at the sidebar and see what I'm reading -- I've sometimes wondered if that was interesting/helpful at all, or if I should quit spending time on it. This is the first time anyone's mentioned it, believe it or not.

    2. I love your sidebar and look at it frequently! I'm sure lots of people notice it.

    3. Hey, thanks! Very good to know. I'll keep on changing the "what I'm reading" widget then :-)


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