Make this summer an Austen summer

After all, this summer will mark the 200th anniversary of the great author’s death, and thus the perfect time to celebrate her life. Here’s an idea that sounds to us like Jane Austen heaven: 200 Years of Persuasion: The Jane Austen Summer Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, from June 15-18, 2017. You don’t have to be a scholar or even a student in order to attend; all are welcome. According to the program’s site, it is open to “anyone with a passion for all things Austen.” 

Every year, The Jane Austen Summer Program at UNC Chapel Hill focuses on one of the author’s works. This year, it explores Austen’s last finished novel, Persuasion (which happens to be my personal favorite, though I can discuss the various merits of each of the author’s precious novels with fellow enthusiasts for hours, months, and years and never get bored).

Here is one of my favorite testimonials from past participants of The Jane Austen Summer Program“All the professors I met were so friendly and welcoming, so I never felt intimidated talking with such impressive scholars.  It was a totally comfortable environment for all!” Read some more of the glowing testimonials yourself, and you’ll be filling out that registration form before you can say “You pierce my soul.” 

A gift of love: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

If you’ve ever thought that love passed you by, or you’re just feeling blue, do something nice for yourself: read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. In the Austenian tradition of “three or four families in a country village,” author Helen Simonson takes a keen-eyed look at the flaws and glories of human nature and the never-ending quest for love.

Major Pettigrew is a relic of polite gentility in a brash world, a lonely widower getting by with what passes for friendships in his little Sussex village. He takes comfort in his books and his garden and his memories, and now and again indulges in the vain hope that his clueless London-banker son will someday grow a conscience. The rest of life is just, well, as Miss Austen put it, “a quick succession of busy nothings.” And then, a simple act of kindness from Mrs. Ali, proprietress of the village convenience store, changes his life forever.

I won’t say more, except to encourage all who have ever wished for a second chance at life to run out and buy this triumphant, life-affirming novel. It is one that I know I will re-read many times. (BTW right now the Kindle edition is only $1.99)

And happy Valentine’s Day.

The Cate Morland Chronicles: a web series

Just watched the first episode of The Cate Morland Chronicles, and looking forward to more. It’s a reimagining of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey with a Catherine Morland as the ultimate fangirl. Sweet.

Thinking Ahead: Sing Street is my Valentine’s Day movie pick

Whether you’re going it alone this V-Day, cozying up with a friend, or have a significant other, consider setting the perfect mood with Sing Street. This wonderful film set in 1985 Ireland is a touching, funny, and utterly romantic coming-of-age story that’s all about the transformational power of music and having the courage to follow your heart in life and in art, whether that means telling the girl/boy of your dreams he/she is everything to you or standing up to the bullies of the world. I absolutely loved it. So fight the power, find your voice, tell fear to take a hike, and enjoy!!

The performances are stellar, and so is the music.

What I’m Reading: On Writing by Stephen King

I loved every page of this book, which I listened to on audiobook. Stephen King generously (those darn adverbs!) shares his insights about and faith in the magic of storytelling, the nuts and bolts of the writer’s toolbox, his own creative process, and the life events that shaped the writer he is today. He does all of this with the combination of compassion, encouragement, and straight dealing from the b.s.-free zone that I adore about this master wordsmith. A thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating read, with excellent narration by the author himself

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Contribute your story: The Dear Jane Project

Calling all Austen Addicts: Gabrielle of a new blog called the Dear Jane Project wants to publish your personal stories of what Austen means to you and how her works have touched your life. Simply submit your story in the form of a letter to Jane Austen at dearjaneproject@gmail.com, and Gabrielle will post them on the blog.

Photo by Cathryn Lavery

Here’s what Gabrielle says about her vision for the Dear Jane Project: “Hopefully, this project will allow fans from around the world to share their stories, and create a community…Each one of us has a story, and my goal is for us all to be able to share them. I think it is a great way to commemorate the life of Jane Austen as we approach the 200th anniversary of her death. What would you write to Jane?”

Reading for Writers: The Cormoran Strike Series

I’ve always been a voracious reader. I read for pleasure, relaxation, inspiration, and insights. I’ve also discovered that for those of us who are writers, there’s a bonus feature baked into every great book: a master class on writing.

I enjoy exploring an author’s sensory descriptions, seamless transitions, witty dialogue, deft handling of POV, and judicious sprinklings of humor. I’m fascinated by the sleight of hand that plants foreshadowings and the skillful ways in which the writer made me lose sleep for turning pages late into the night. And, perhaps most important, I am always in awe of the keen eye that shines a light on the manifold facets of human nature.

Jane Austen is one of those authors with an unflinching eye for human nature at its best and its worst. So are Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith, J.K. Rowling, and Aurelia Haslboeck, whose debut novel, The Journeys of John and Julia: Genesis, exemplifies why I return to the works of these authors again and again. I re-read them for pleasure, inspiration, and to marvel at the sheer brilliance of their writing.

Recently, within the space of two weeks, I devoured the first three books in J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike detective series, which she writes under the pen name Robert Galbraith. Here’s a brief clip of Rowling talking about the creation of her series:


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Sense and Sensibility: Throwing Shade Edition…& a Giveaway!

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In honor of Austen in (mostly) August, one lucky winner will win Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries plus signed copies of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. Giveaway ends Sept. 10 at 11:59PM EST. Head over to The Book Rat to enter this giveaway. 

Every year, Austen in August has an irresistible array of fun activities and an opportunity to connect with fellow book lovers, some of whom are longtime readers of Austen, some of whom have never read Austen and are curious to try. You can join read-along discussions of this year’s featured work, Sense and Sensibility, decide if Jane Austen’s world was really as attractive as you may have imagined, discuss your favorite film and TV adaptations, rank your most beloved and most hated Austen characters, participate in Twitter parties, enter giveaways, and much more.

And if you’ve ever wished your favorite Austen characters could say something like this:  

via GIPHY

then check out my guest post, Sense and Sensibility: Throwing Shade Edition.