Maine Reading Retreat

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I visited Maine this weekend for a reading retreat with four of my girlfriends who also work in publishing. We rented a beautiful beach house that overlooked the ocean on one side and the Saco River on the other. It was a beautiful house and we sat near the fireplace, read books, cooked together, and had the most amazing time. Compared to living in the city, it was so quiet and peaceful—perfect for getting a lot of reading and writing done! Here are some of my reading highlights from the trip:

  • Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich: This was my first read of the weekend and it’s this beautiful, profound, haunting story of loss. Twelve years ago Kei’s husband, Rei, disappeared and she was left alone with their daughter. Now we watch Kei struggle to move on and put the past behind her as she’s haunted by ghosts both figuratively and literally.
  • The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert: I loved this book! It’s a dark, clever, startling debut and its got elements of fairy tales and Alice in Wonderland. I was lost in it for hours, absolutely enthralled by the writing and the beautiful design.
  • Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot: Heart Berries is a powerful memoir of Terese Marie Mailhot’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. The memoir is one of struggle, as she details her dysfunctional upbringing and challenges indigenous women face, but ultimately one of strength and will.
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Remembering Jane

Jane Austen, one of England’s foremost and most beloved novelists, died 200 years ago today, July 18, 1817, at the age of 41. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral where thousands travel every year to pay their respects. Five years ago I went there myself, chasing Jane. I’ve chased Jane for much of my life, loving the wit, depth, and challenge of Jane Austen’s novels since day one. I studied abroad in the spring of 2012 in Bath, England, taking classes through Oxford and interning at the Jane Austen Centre. Living in Bath was a dream come true for a Janeite. Every day, I walked by places she lived and buildings and pathways she describes intimately in her novels. I explored who I was, the things I loved, and when I returned to New York I changed my major and embraced my desire to work in book publishing.

And now, dear readers, how could I possibly leave you without a list of books to satisfy all of your Jane Austen desires?

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

One of the most well-recognized biographies of Jane Austen’s life, it’s also my favorite. It’s a vivid and immensely rich portrayal of Jane Austen, dismantling the image of Austen as a sheltered spinster. It’s not a light read by any means—Austen’s life was filled with tragedy and frustration—but it’s so worth the time. I’d also recommend Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye.

 

Longbourn by Jo Baker

“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.”

I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Jane Austen spin-offs and retellings available but if I could only read one it would be Longbourn by Jo Baker. It’s a downstairs retelling of Pride and Prejudice and while it has all of the romance and drama of the original it also captures the daily life of the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars. It adds this level of grit and nuance to the original that is fascinating.

 

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz

Don’t let anyone fool you—men love Jane Austen too! A Jane Austen Education by book critic William Deresiewicz is part memoir and part analysis of all six of Austen’s novels. Deresiewicz looks back at the arrogant young man he was when he first read Austen and details the lessons he’s taken away from each novel (Northanger Abbey: learning to learn, Persuasion: true friends.) It’s honest and moving and has this sweet, poignant ending that I just adored.

 

Other fun (and some bizarre, but hey I’m no purist) related titles that I recommend:

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Bridget Jones’s Diary: A Novel by Helen Fielding

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Jane and the Damned by Janet Mullany

Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen by Arielle Eckstut and Dennis Ashton

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters

(Cover picture is from Penguin Books USA, shared on their Twitter. Isn’t it beautiful?)

Literary New England

I loved visiting Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount, and as promised here are some equally cool literary landmarks in my loose definition of New England. There are so many others in the Northeast and all over the country and world. Check out this list from Flavorwire.

Mark Twain’s House and Museum in Hartford, CT

Herman Melville’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY

Emily Dickinson’s House and Museum in Amherst, MA

The Mount: Edith Wharton’s House and Museum in Lenox, MA

The Scribner Building and Charles Scribner’s Sons Building in New York, NY

H.P. Lovecraft’s Providence in Providence, RI

Walden Pond in Concord, MA

Washington Irving’s grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, NY