Welcome to Delightful Reads

Welcome to a community of like-minded readers in search of Delightful Reads—that is, books that are either . . .

  • Light but literate (not too superficial) or
  • Serious but not pedantic (not too difficult)

Click here to find out more about what makes a Delightful Read.

The site has three goals:  (1) To provide a resource: Under “Find Books” (at right), you will find a listing of both light and serious Delightful Reads I’ve discovered over the years.  (2) To encourage interaction: Under “Recommend,” you’ll find a link to share titles you have found Delightful.  (3) To provide occasional updates/musings about books (such as the one posted below) which you can sign up to receive, also at right.

Oh, Where Are the Satires of Yesteryear?
July 2018

When it comes to Christopher Buckley, I can’t help feeling like the aliens who appear in Stardust Memoriesand tell Woody Allen, “We like your movies, particularly the early, funny ones.”  That is, I like Buckley’s early, funny satires.

Alas, I couldn’t even finish his two most recent books—The Judge Hunter and The Relic Master—two supposedly funny, but to my mind, boring historical novels.

What a disappointment this new turn in his writing career has been—because his early satires are wonderful! (Warning: they are also full of extremely dark humor.)  I recommend these favorites:

  • Thank You for Smoking: Features the chief spokesperson for the tobacco industry, along with his pals on the M.O.D. (“Merchants of Death”) squad, representatives of the alcohol and firearms industries. Click here for details.
  • They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? About a lobbyist and sexy neocon joining forces to get funding for a top-secret weapons system, by spreading the rumor that China is trying to assassinate the Dalai Lama.
  • Florence of Arabia:  The attempts of state department employee named Florence trying to bring equal rights to a fictional Middle Eastern nation of Matar.
  • I also liked Losing Mum and Pup, a fond and sympathetic memoir about coping with the death of his parents. He is the liberal son of conservative William F. Buckley and Patricia Taylor Buckley, a glamorous socialite.

I’m not the only one who likes Buckley.  Critics have called him:  “One of the funniest writers in the English language.” (author Tom Wolfe); “The quintessential political novelist of our time (Fortune); and “One of the best and surest political humorists in America.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).

If you like wicked satires in general, click here for more recommendations.

Put Meg Wolitzer on Your “Top Shelf”
June 2018

With the publication of her latest book, The Female Persuasion, one of my favorite authors—Meg Wolitzer—is finally getting the attention she deserves.

She has written almost a dozen novels, but as she has pointed out herself in an article entitled “The Second Shelf,” books by women do not get the serious attention that men’s do—and are often demoted to “Women’s Fiction,” that lower shelf in the bookstore where books by women are often relegated.

My favorite of Wolitzer’s (Meg Wolitzer, that is, not to be confused with novelist Hilda Wolitzer, her mother) books is The Position.  This is the funny and moving story of the family complications arise when the children discover their parents have written a best-selling sex manual, full of illustrations of their parents making love.  “Hilariously moving, sharply written”  (USA Today); “novel of sexual politics and family farce. . .  Wolitzer’s comic timing never wavers”  (New Yorker); “Wolitzer is a witty, bold, and upbeat satirist, and this is one scintillating, wily, and wise novel.”  (Booklist)

Another favorite is The Interestings, about the lives and times of a group of friends who meet at art camp.  “Remarkable . . . With this book [Wolitzer] has surpassed herself.” (The New York Times Book Review)“A victory . . . The Interestings secures Wolitzer’s place among the best novelists of her generation. . . . She’s every bit as literary as Franzen or Eugenides. But the very human moments in her work hit you harder than the big ideas. This isn’t women’s fiction. It’s everyone’s.” (Entertainment Weekly)

Her latest book, The Female Persuasion, is third in my gallery of Wolitzer favorites.  In it, a shy college freshman gets sexually assaulted at a frat party then meets a Gloria Steinem-like character who changes her life.  “It’s that sort of fraught, earnest, deeply felt emotion that powers this book, that gives it its beating heart. The politics are more or less incidental, but the ways these characters relate are profoundly moving.” (Vox) “It also takes an unflinching look at the intricate nature of family, the elaborate give-and-take of friendship, and the perils of hero worship.” (The Washington Post)

It has been well documented that books by men are reviewed more and receive more literary awards. If you are interested in the “second shelf” phenomenon for books written by women, see The Second Shelf,The Franzen Feud,” and the VIDA website, which tallies gender disparity in book reviews.

Imagining Life Behind the Veil
May 2018

I just finished a new novelized biography about the trailblazing and influential Iranian poet and film director, Forough Farrokhzad.  Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik is a debut novel set in Iran before and during the time of the last Shah.  Kirkus Reviews describes the book as “a thrilling and provocative portrait of a powerful woman set against a sweeping panorama of Iranian history.”

As much as I found her story fascinating, reading this book brought to mind several others on the same topic, all of which I found even more powerful and compelling.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a gripping and depressing memoir—ultimately a celebration of triumph over adversity—of an African Muslim turned anti-Muslim.  Ali tells her astonishing life story, from her traditional Muslim childhood (in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya) to her intellectual awakening and activism in the Netherlands, and her current life under armed guard in the West.  Christopher Hitchens calls her “a charismatic figure of arresting and hypnotizing beauty [who writes] with quite astonishing humor and restraint.”

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks, presents the stories of a wide range of Muslim women in the Middle East.  “Powerful and enlightening . . . Brooks presents stunning vignettes of Muslim women . . . and carefully distinguishes misogyny and oppressive cultural traditions from what she considers the true teachings of the Koran.” (Publishers Weekly)  I agree with the New Yorkers’ assessment:  “Frank, enraging, and captivating.”

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson is a heart-wrenching and heart-warming coming-of-age story of a plucky Nigerian girl that deserves to be better known. Winner of the Costa First Novel Award, “Christie Watson’s debut novel, set in the troubled Niger Delta, does what fiction does best, it captures place and characters so well that you feel you are also there,” according to Helon Habila.  Or, in the words of Giles Foden, “An excellent novel. It takes the reader deep into the reality of ordinary life in Nigeria and is also funny, moving and politically alert.”

But I have saved the best for last.  The Cairo Trilogyby Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, is a magnificent epic trilogy of about a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century. According to the New York Times Book Review, the series is “luminous . . . All the magic, mystery and suffering of Egypt in the 1920s are conveyed on a human scale.” In the words of Newsday,“A masterful kaleidoscope of emotions, ideas and perspective. Mahfouz has captured a family and its homeland at one gloriously varied moment in a cycle.”  Start with Palace Walkthe first in the series.

And I can’t resist tacking on one more book here (even though it’s not a novel), for anyone interested in understanding the Muslim cultureDestiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary, is an excellent history, easy to read, that made me rethink and understand Islam in a completely different and enlightening way.

Muslim women and culture are such interesting topics.  Surely, you must have some other books on this topic! Please reply to this email to let me know.

Last month, I asked for your recommendations for “wonderful, but neglected”authors.  In response, I learned of three detective series, the first two both by Michael Pearce: (1) the “Mamur Zapt Series” set in Egypt during the opening of the 20thcentury, (2) “A Dead Man in . . .” series set in various Mediterranean cities before WWI; and (3) the “Maisie Dobbs Series” (by Jacqueline Winspear) about a “psychologist and investigator” in post WWI London.  Although I haven’t read these myself, I am told they are non-violent and suffused with history and culture.

 

The Unjustly Neglected Dorothy Whipple
April 2018

I would like to induct Dorothy Whipple into my personal pantheon of wonderful—but underappreciated—authors of those comfortable, intelligent, well written, and well-plotted books known as “Delightful Reads.”  Whipple joins the likes of Barbara Pym, Nancy Mitford, and Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that Elizabeth Taylor), all of whom were highly successful during the mid-twentieth century, then fell out of favor, and, at last, are now being rediscovered and reprinted.

Whipple (1893-1966) wrote about 12 clever, character-driven novels about families in turmoil. She was hailed as the “Jane Austen of the 20th Century” by J.B. Priestly and her books are said to “deserve renewed recognition as minor classics.” (The Spectator)

Luckily for us, Persephone Books (publishers of neglected fiction by mid-twentieth century women writers) has reprinted eight of her books. I’d start with my two favorites:

  • Greenbanks: My number one Whipple novel, Greenbanks, is set in the eponymous large comfortable home in the English countryside during WWI. It spans the lives of three generations in the Ashton family. The plot revolves around Louisa, the grandmother and matriarch, and Rachel, her granddaughter—and all the uncles, aunts, and cousins in between.
  • The Priory: Another favorite of mine also happens to be set in a large family country home, this one known as Saunby Priory. There are three intertwining plots, each told from another point of view: the father marrying a spinster/stepmother; the “downstairs” romances; and the daughter Christine.
  • In honor of April Fool’s Day, however, I must add: Don’t be fooled They Knew Mr. Knight, the only Whipple novel I didn’t like. A totally predictable story about a family that gets bamboozled by a bad guy financier.

Can you think of any other authors who deserve to be inducted into the “Wonderful, But Neglected” panoply?

Last month, I asked you for your recommendations on books about inheritance. Here are your suggestions, almost none of which I’ve read: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins; The Other Family by Joanna Trollope; Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie; David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend (and, let’s face it, just about anything) by Charles Dickens; and the one with the most promising title: Robert McCullough’s The Dog Got It All.

 

 

Who Shall Inherit?
March 2018

From Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet to the Victorian Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations to today’s wildly popular Inheritance Cycle, inheritance has always been a popular theme in literature. No wonder. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by identity and control; wealth and power; the Victorian “marriage market”; disinheritance and usurpation; parental love and approval—and plain old luck?

Here are some wonderful novels dealing with this theme.

  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Perhaps the most famous inheritance novel, Bleak House features Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, a tangle of disputed wills and disrupted inheritance that ties up the High Court of Chancery for decades. Two fascinating narrators tell the tale of the long-buried secrets of Esther Sommerson’s life and a generations-long family lawsuit.  A host of unforgettable characters.  Romance, mystery, comedy, and satire.  Read more here . . .  
  • A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Beautifully written Pulitzer Prize winning retelling of the King Lear plot, when a modern-day father decides to divide his farm among three daughters. The New York Times called it “powerful and poignant.” Read more here . . .  (And, for other modern updates of Shakespeare, see Vinegar Girl and Nutshell.)
  • The Witch of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble. Postmodern family drama of a family with a crazy rich mother—full of satire, humor, and self-conscious realism, in which the narrator breaks into the story to comment or offer commentary and alternative plot lines. Delightful characters and rather melodramatic plot.
  • The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.  Debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives. Captivating and funny. “Humor and delightful irony abound in this lively first novel.” (New York Times Book Review)  Read more here . . . 
  • A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass. A world-famous writer dies, leaving his estate to his personal assistant/ caretaker—a richly plotted novel of friendship and love, artistic ambition, the perils of celebrity, and the power of an unexpected legacy. “A fascinating look at a world in which a creative artist becomes a hot property to be both honored and exploited . . . A compelling story with fully realized characters.” (Booklist)  See also . .
  • This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. Hilarious book about a seriously dysfunctional family forced to spend seven days together after the death of their father. “A compulsively readable, laugh-out-loud funny novel . . . Tropper is wickedly funny, a master of the cutting one-liner that makes you both cringe and crack up.” (Amazon Best Book of the Month) And also a good movie. Read more here . . .

These are just a few of my favorite inheritance novels. Check out this website for many more. What are some of yours? And why do you suppose the theme is so popular?

Betcha Nevah Hoida Dese
February 2018

When it comes to light “delightful reads”—that is, intelligent, well-written novels with believable characters and happy endings, books that are amusing and entertaining—writers like P.G. Wodehouse, Jane Austen, and Maria Semple come to mind.

But I have discovered various other authors of such delightful reads—most of them relatively little known.

Laurie Colwin wrote delightful comedies of manners and morals with characters who tend to be good-hearted, sane, and, well, happy. Critics say: “Colwin writes with . . .sunny skill and such tireless enthusiasm.”  (The New York Times Book Review);  “Colwin’s novels have great charm—a charm that comes from a calm, witty and observant world view and her engaging writing style.”  (Buffalo News)

Colwin wrote five novels. My favorites include Happy All the Time and Goodbye Without Leaving.

Emily Eden: The New York Times says it all: “The only thing more gratifying to find than a good book is a good book which has been neglected. The Semi-Attached Couple, written in 1829, published in 1860, popular for years, then largely forgotten, is a comic gem about how difficult it can be to get used to being married, even if you are young and beautiful and your husband is rich and titled. Along with Emily Eden’s only other novel, The Semi-Detached House (some readers will find this one even more delightful), it has now been reissued in paperback in the Virago Modern Classics series, which seems to specialize in buried treasure.”

Personally, my favorite of the two is The Semi-Detached House, about the unlikely conjunction of two families of different class backgrounds, but I enjoyed The Semi-Attached Couple as well.

Alexander McCall Smith: Well, of course, everybody knows about the well-loved “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series. However, McCall Smith has written numerous other series as well, most of which I find pretty bad—especially the “Professor Dr. von Igelfeld Entertainments.” Ugh.

However, I find the characters in one other of his series, “44 Scotland Street,” to be almost as endearing and funny as those in the “Ladies Detective Agency.” In “44 Scotland Street,” a group of residents and neighbors in Edinburgh come to life in “gently satirical, wonderfully perceptive novels, featuring six-year-old Bertie, a remarkably precocious boy—just ask his mother.”

Start with the first book, also entitled 44 Scotland Street.

Laurie Frankel is a younger writer, having published her debut novel in 2010. She also describes herself as “the parent of one child, the minder of one border collie, the partner of one husband, the denizen of one city (Seattle), and the reader of tens of thousands of books.”

The Atlas of Love is the charming story of three graduate school roommates with very different backgrounds who agree to tri-parent a baby named Atlas, featuring literary theory to think about, many great characters, and nice turns of phrase. “This beautifully written debut novel offers something for everyone—humor, richly drawn characters and a tender exploration of love, friendship and food.” (LA Times Magazine)

OK, now you know some of my favorite “light but literate” novels, I’d love to hear some of yours.

 

 

Best Books of the Year
December 2017

Time once again for holiday shopping! And “it is a truth universally acknowledged” that holiday shopping means shopping for books. Here, then, are some books to consider, all published within the past year. Well, OK, year and a half.

  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. An uproarious novel (“Both heart-piercing and, crucially, very funny,” NYT) about the challenges of a good marriage, the delight and heartache of raising children, and the irresistible temptation to wonder about the path not taken.
  • The Golden House by Salman Rushdie. Crazy story of a mysterious Indian family who moves to New York City. “Each sentence seems to be composed with pixie dust, fairy dust, angel dust, fennel pollen and gris-gris powder, poached in single-udder butter, fried and refried, encrusted with gold as if it were a Gustav Klimt painting, and then dotted with rhinestones.” (NYT) Even better, see also…..
  • Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marçal. Excellent critique and debunking of all economics, from a feminist as well as many other perspectives. Very conversational, breezy, easy to read. Says what many of us have always suspected, but with better arguments and evidence.
  • Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Adrundhati Roy. Sprawling, labyrinthine, and lively, this novel is centered on two heroines: a transgender woman and a rebellious architect in love with a freedom fighter. The violence, killings, and strange relationships in the plot are leavened by Roy’s irony, satire, and humor. Even better, see also…..
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. The lives of two “blended families.” Goes back and forth over five decades, shifts perspectives among family members. “Patchett gives us funny, flawed characters, and the rich reward of Commonwealthis seeing their lives unfold…” (Houston Chronicle). Even better, read Bel Canto, one of my all-time favorite books, the story of the relationship between the captors and the captives in a South American kidnapping.
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. Half of the chapters are the memoir of a woman in geobiology and portrait of a longtime friendship, and the other half are fascinating chapters on leaves, soil, and seeds. “Alternately funny and moving, whether she’s writing about deciduous trees, her marriage, her lab partner or her childhood.” (Time Magazine)
  • Mary Astor’s Purple Diary written and illustrated by Edward Sorel. Short and charming biography of the 1940’s movie star Mary Astor and her many affairs and scandals. Includes over 60 illustrations by caricaturist and cartoonist Edward Sorel.
  • Legacy of Spies by John le Carré. A prequel of sorts for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, recounting the tale of spies crossed and doubled-crossed. Great plot twists and moral sensibility.
  • Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe. A delightful story of growing up and of growing old, about a young teenager who takes a job in an old folks’ home full of eccentric characters.  The book is an “original blend of compassion and dark comedy.” (Irish Times)  Even better, see also….
  • The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.  Debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives. “Humor and delightful irony abound in this lively first novel.” (New York Times Book Review)

Let me know some of your favorite new books from 2017 and I’ll share them in the January posting.

Delightful Delightful Reads
October 2017

As those of you who have perused my website may know, “Delightful Reads” are intelligent, well-written, well plotted novels with convincing characters. They hit that sweet spot between being too superficial and too difficult. Delightful Reads come in two flavors: “Light but Literate” and “Serious but Not Pedantic.”

Although they are hard to find, I have been—well, delighted—to have come across several recently published books that perfectly exemplify my “Light But Literate” genre—truly “Delightful” Reads.

  • Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  A lighthearted and lovely story of a 30-year-old woman, just dumped, who comes home to take care of her father who has Alzheimer’s. Told in diary format, in spare and startling prose, a quirky, heartwarming story of love, loss, and memory.
  • Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel. A wise and witty tale satirizing the crazy world of Manhattan private schools, competitive parenting, clueless kids, and dealing thoughtfully with how people cope with rejections.
  • They Don’t Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine. An intergenerational comedy of manners about family, loss, aging and resilience. Full of astute psychological perceptions and humor to leaven heartbreaks.  See also . . .
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Rather whimsical story of a Russian aristocrat, who becomes a “Former Person” in the USSR and is sentenced, improbably enough, to house arrest in Moscow’s luxurious Metropol hotel, where, notes an NPR review “he lives out his days decorating the dining room with his bon mots and dashing around like Eloise, if Eloise were set in a twee version of Stalinist Russia.” Towles’ book, Rules of Civility, is even better.
  • Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe. A delightful story of growing up and of growing old, about a young teenager who takes a job in an old folks’ home full of eccentric characters. The book is an “original blend of compassion and dark comedy.” (Irish Times) Stibbe’s previous book, Man at the Helm, is even better. Read more here.
  • Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. As part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series of novels based on the major plays, Anne Tyler has tamed the Bard’s shrewish battle of the sexes into a far more politically correct “screwball comedy of manners that actually channels Jane Austen more than Shakespeare.” (NPR)  See also . . .

I would love to hear of any other “Light but Literate” books you can recommend!

 

Capturing the Immigrant Experience
September 2017

As Franklin Roosevelt once famously reminded the DAR: “Remember, remember always that all of us . . . are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” Here are some wonderful—but very different kinds of—novels that can help us understand what it is like being an immigrant, ranging from an introspective and highly individualized view to a panoramic and global viewpoint.

  • One person’s story: Chemistry by Weike Wang. Short, intense, and funny memoir-like novel about a Chinese graduate student dealing with intense parental pressure, appreciating the elegance of science, and living with uncertainty and indecision.
  • Four people’s stories: Still Here by Lara Vapnyar. The intertwined lives of four Russian friends who are immigrants in New York facing mid-life, death, the digital age, ambition, and the grass is always greener.  See also…
  • Two families’ stories: Digging to America by Anne Tyler. The story of two Korean orphans adopted by very different American families, exploring themes of home and homesickness, belonging and individual freedom.
  • Panoramic story of Los Angeles: The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar. The story of a Mexican immigrant housekeeper and her rich employers. Grand sweep of Los Angeles and the problems of immigration, somewhat reminiscent of Bonfire of the Vanities.
  • Panoramic story of the U.S.: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color. So many different genres: coming-of-age novel, romance, comic novel of social manners, up-to-the-minute meditation on race, as well as the immigrant saga.  See also…

There are so many good books on this topic.  What are some of your favorites?

And remember to check out delightfulreads.com for many more book recommendations on many more topics.

 

 

The Joy of Jane
August 2017

This year is a special one for Jane Austen fans. She is being thoroughly celebrated in this 200th anniversary of her death—with the release of the Jane Austen £10 pound note (making her the first woman besides the Queen to appear on the country’s currency); an anniversary service at Winchester Cathedral; a 10-day festival in Bath; a huge convention of the Jane Austen Society in California; and the unveiling of a £100,000 pound statue near her childhood home.

Austen’s bicentennial has also been marked by the publication of a slew of new books on the author’s life and afterlife. Various analyses prove beyond doubt that she was a patriarchal conservative, a liberal suffragist, a demure spinster, a social powerhouse with an eventful life; that her writing is gentle, that it’s cruel; that her novels are light-weight chick lit; that they’re formidable, profound masterpieces—and on and on.

Or perhaps you’d prefer to choose from among very large slew of sequels, prequels, or adaptations—including comic books, video games, soft-core pornography, fantasy, and horror (e.g., Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

And, as if that wasn’t enough, how about watching one of the apparently ceaseless movie adaptations of her books.  Personally, I am a purist.  I refuse to see any such movies, preferring to my own visual images of the characters intact. (No doubt Colin Firth is handsome and talented, but in no way does he look like Mr. Darcy!)

As you may have guessed, I would recommend you skip all of the hoo-ha and celebrate in the best way possible: reading or re-reading one (or, indeed, all) of her books. Here’s the line-up, in order of my favorites. All of them are superb comedies of manners, arch and ironic in tone, about love and marriage, with a variety of compelling female protagonists.

  • Pride and Prejudice. Plot: A family with five marriageable daughters, one of whom is particularly lively and has a particularly lively courtship. One of the most popular and best-loved novels in English literature. Heroine: Elizabeth Bennet, the most endearing, engaging, witty, and feisty of Austen’s heroines. In Austen’s words: Elizabeth had “a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.”  Read more here.
  • Emma. Plot: A confident young woman tries to play town matchmaker with surprising results.  Along with Pride and Prejudice, Emma is usually considered one of the greatest English novels.  Heroine:  Emma Woodhouse: witty, charming, egotistical, and used to doing what she wants—with no guidance but her own.  In Austen’s words: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition.”
  • Persuasion. Plot: A formerly engaged couple meets again after having no contact for seven years. Austen’s last work, the book has a more mellow character and autumnal tone than her others. Heroine: At 27, the most mature, perceptive, responsible of Austen’s heroines. In Austen’s words: “Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding.”
  • Sense and Sensibility.  Plot and heroines: The story of loves, romances, heartbreaks, and joys of two sisters—Marianne, overly emotional and romantic, and Elinor, sensible, thoughtful, and exemplary. The most biting and satirical of her novels. In Austen’s words: Marianne: “her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation.” Elinor “had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong: but she knew how to govern them.”
  • Mansfield Park. Plot: The story of an impoverished girl living with her wealthy relatives. Heroine: Unlike Austen’s active and spunky heroines, like Lizzy Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, Fanny Price is shy, timid, and either (1) judgmental and self righteous or (2) principled and steadfast—depending on how you choose to view her. In Austen’s words: “extremely timid and shy, shrinking from notice.” (I found it hard to appreciate this book until I read A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz and Lot’s Daughters by Robert Polhemus.) Read more here.
  • Northanger Abbey. Plot: the coming-of-age story of a seventeen year old Gothic novel aficionado as she visits Bath for the first time. The first of Austen’s novels to be completed and a satire of Gothic novels. Heroine: Catherine Morland, the youngest of Austen’s heroines, is hapless, naïve, overly-imaginative, and sometimes a bit ridiculous, yet kind, sweet, sincere, and ethical. In Austen’s words: Catherine “was affectionate” with a “disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation.”