I am a Jane Austen fan. I am slightly obsessed with her books and movies based on the books, to which I get plenty of eye-rolls from the men in the house. So stumbling upon William Deresiewicz's book on how Jane Austen changed his life was such a refreshing change! A male perspective on Jane. A positive male perspective! I was shocked and pleasantly surprised.
Mr. Deresiewicz takes Austen's six books and briefly describes what each book taught him. From the back cover (so it's not a spoiler!):
EMMA: Pay attention to everyday things.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: You aren't born perfect.
NORTHANGER ABBEY: Stay awake; don't take things for granted.
MANSFIELD PARK: Being entertained is not the same as being happy.
PERSUASION: Be honest with your friends.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: Love is about growing up, not staying young.
The chapters aren't as simple as these one-line descriptions. He expounds, he relates the lessons to his personal life and helps show how it can make yours a bit better. It was the perfect book for me to read. I have been recently lamenting the loss of manners, courtesy and politeness, only to discover, hey, not alone. There are other people who want those things as well.
Some of my favorite ideas:
On Friendship: True friendship is not "about unconditional love and support." "True friends do not shield you from your mistakes, they tell you about them: even at the risk of losing your friendship - which means, even at the risk of being unhappy themselves." I would also add that this does NOT mean you can be mean about it. I cannot abide people who will tell someone something mean and brutal and hide behind "I'm just being honest, if you don't like it, too bad," or "I'm sorry, but.." NO buts! Help your friends, do not tear them down.
On Being Good and Useful: "Usefulness - seeing what people need and helping them to get it - is support and compassion. Loving your friends and family is great, but what does it mean if you aren't actually willing to do anything for them when they really need you, put yourself out in any way? Love, I saw, is a verb, not just a noun - an effort, not just another precious feeling." A-MEN!
On Every Day, Every Small Detail Mattering: "Pay attention to the thing we usually miss or don't accord enough esteem, in novels or in life. Those small, "trivial," everyday things, the things that happen hour by hour to the people in our lives: what your nephew said, what your friend heard, what your neighbor did. That, she was telling us, is what the fabric of our years really consists of. That is what life is really about." In this hurry-hurry, that-post-is-so (literally)-1-day-ago-old, super information, low attention span world, this is truly refreshing for me to read.
On Growing Up: It isn't about knowledge and education. It's about making mistakes and LEARNING from them. Growing from your experiences, learning to not make the mistakes, understanding the humiliations, these make you grown up.
On Love: There is no "love at first site." You don't meet your soul-mate. It isn't this BOOM. "Love isn't something that happens to you, suddenly or otherwise; it's something you have to prepare yourself for." "Love at first site is a contradiction in terms." Lust at first site, yes. Love, no. Love takes time. Love takes friendship. Love is learning about the other person. That person can't be exactly like you, because then where would you go, how will you grow more as a person and as a couple if you're not learning from each other, over and over, even through fights and disagreements? Love creeps up on you and all of a sudden, you're IN love. You didn't "fall," you were all of a sudden THERE. And sadly, you have to also learn that sometimes, there are people that are just not capable of it; of loving.
If you're a Jane Austen fan, I believe you too will enjoy this book about Mr. Deresiewicz journey through growing, living and loving, as seen through Jane's books.