Saturday, February 11, 2017

"The Jane Austen Guide to Life" by Lori Smith

It's I Love Austen Week!  Most of the festivities are over on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy, so please check out all the fun stuff going on over there, like the blog tag and the giveaways.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people look to famous persons for wisdom and advice.  We ask actors and actresses for their opinions on every subject imaginable.  We want to know what books and movies our political leaders like.  We ask athletes for their tips on how to exercise or eat or face challenges.  Something about their being famous and successful makes us think they must know a lot, maybe could help us with our own problems.

This probably explains why there are so many books available with titles like Jane Austen's Guide to Dating and Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners and The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After.  I haven't read any of those.  However, I *have* read The Jane Austen Guide to Life by Lori Smith, and overall, I quite liked it!  I don't usually enjoy "self-help" books or books that try to give you advice on how to make your life better/easier/happier/more-Pinterest-worthy.  But this book has no floofy advice about cleansing your inner cupboards or letting go of your fixations or whatever.  This book, like Jane Austen herself, is very sensible, helpful, witty, and fun.  I did not expect to like it as well as I did.  I definitely didn't expect to want to keep it!  But I do!  I thought that I would quick read this and then give it away, but nope, gotta keep it.  Happily, I found a second copy at the used book store, which I'm giving away here, among other things, but my own copy shall remain my own.

The book is broken up into chapters that each deal with a subject, such as "living your dreams" and "finding a good man" and "saving and spending."  I really loved that this book delves into what Austen had to say (in fiction and letters) about every aspect of life, not just about love and marriage or becoming a nicer person.  From "finding joy and laughter" to "enduring the hardest things," from "seeking fame and success" to "cherishing family and friends," it has something to apply to just about any life.  And it does so from a gently Christian perspective, which I appreciated too.

Smith does assume that her readers will be female and unmarried, but I think that men and married people will find plenty to interest, amuse, and teach here.  This is a small book, but it does not contain small thoughts.  

Above all, I liked it as much for its insights into Austen's books as for the way it sought to apply her ideas to modern life.

Particularly Good Bits:

Austen makes it clear that the expectations of others are not necessarily the best guiding force for your life (p. 7).

...there's another subtler success story woven into the background of each Austen novel:  that of a woman coming to know herself, being willing to admit some occasionally great failings, and setting them right (p. 21).

Austen wrote comparatively little about passion and sex, but what we hear from her over the space of the two hundred years separating us is largely a voice of caution and restraint -- perhaps unsurprisingly.  We can't draw out any specific dos and don'ts that apply to modern life, but she urges us to use our minds even in this emotion-charged realm and not allow any form of desire to hold supremacy over careful thought (p. 68).

On the road to marriage, Austen's characters love, but they also think -- mainly about their suitor's character and how acceptable or unacceptable his manners and morals are (p. 111).

...she would tell us that embracing life is just that -- that living a joy-filled life alone doesn't mean you are closing yourself off to any possibilities, it simply means that you relish life and its goodness, regardless of marital status, which may or may not change (p. 170).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for some discussions of sexuality that are tasteful, but not something for kids.

This is also my second book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.


  1. I've not come across that book, yet. It's astonishing how much influence Jane Austen still has on our world - even if through the perceptions of others. If only she had known then, what we know now...

    1. Rosie, that's so true! I suspect, if Jane Austen had known that books like this would exist, she would have gotten a hearty laugh over the idea.

  2. I would definitely skip the parts of the book that would make it PG-13 but overall, this sounds like a book I would enjoy reading.

    1. Ekaterina, they're easy to skip, and really fairly mild -- nothing tawdry, I just wanted people to be aware they're there so they don't, I don't know, give this to a twelve-year-old or something? I hope you like it!


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