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Saturday, August 31, 2013

AMONG THE JANEITES by Deborah Yaffe | Review

I wanted to start this year's AIA with Among the Janeites, Deborah Yaffe's recently-released non-fiction look at, um, us, and I wanted to make sure to end with it, too. It just seemed like the perfect bookend, really, as in the beginning you were finding yourself among the Janeites, and now, for the last 2 weeks, you have been among the Janeites.
Yeah, I'm clever like that...
Anyway, here's what I thought of
Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe
Get It | Add It
272 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Mariner Books
For anyone who has ever loved a Jane Austen novel, a warm and witty look at the passionate, thriving world of Austen fandom

They walk among us in their bonnets and Empire-waist gowns, clutching their souvenir tote bags and battered paperbacks: the Janeites, Jane Austen’s legion of devoted fans. Who are these obsessed admirers, whose passion has transformed Austen from classic novelist to pop-culture phenomenon? Deborah Yaffe, journalist and Janeite, sets out to answer this question, exploring the remarkable endurance of Austen’s stories, the unusual zeal that their author inspires, and the striking cross-section of lives she has touched.

Along the way, Yaffe meets a Florida lawyer with a byzantine theory about hidden subtexts in the novels, a writer of Austen fan fiction who found her own Mr. Darcy while reimagining Pride and Prejudice, and a lit professor whose roller-derby nom de skate is Stone Cold Jane Austen. Yaffe goes where Janeites gather, joining a pilgrimage to historic sites in Britain, chatting online with fellow fans, and attending the annual ball of the Jane Austen Society of North America—in period costume. Part chronicle of a vibrant literary community, part memoir of a lifelong love, Among the Janeites is a funny, touching meditation on the nature of fandom.

I think Among the Janeites is a book that belongs on many-a Janeites shelves. The casual Janeite, the one who just likes a swoony read staring a certain Austen hero from time to time, may not feel so compelled to have this book, but for the rest of us (the ones who would totally dress up for a JASNA ball, or have watched every adaptation more than once, and are ready to debate any aspect of Austendom at the drop of a kidglove), this shouldn't just be a wanted addition to our shelves, but a needed one. 'Cause the thing is - this is about us. You will recognize yourself in these pages. And Among the Janeites isn't some stuffy outsider's look at "those crazy/lonely women" who "sit at home with the pause button on Colin Firth in clingy pants." It was written by one of us.

Well, I should clarify a touch - Deborah Yaffe is most assuredly a lifelong Janeite, but there is an occasional sneering quality to the writing (in the beginning, especially). This at first kind of bothered me, but then started to really amuse me - in a weird way, it felt really true, and since it changed as the book progressed, losing some of its biting edge, it started to represent the journey of becoming a full-fledged, card-carrying Janeite. By this I mean, in the beginning of the book, as we're learning about Yaffe herself and why she decided to write the book, there is occasionally this judgmental tone that creeps in: an, Oh, you're one of those Janeites... That tone that says, You don't really like Jane, you don't really understand her - you just like wet-shirted Colin Firths and I ♥ Darcy coffee mugs. That tone that says, I would never lower myself to dressing up in an Empire-waist dress and frolicking about a ballroom. That tone that says, I would never read all those fan-fictions with their inappropriate Darcy/Lizzie sexytimes and their mangling of Austen's language and stories. That tone. It wasn't over-riding, but it was there.

But then, Yaffe did read the fanfictions. She did order a custom-made Empire-waist dress. She decided, if she was going to do this, she was going to do this, and she dove in head first. And That Tone started to slip away... And this was so very perfect a representation of the trajectory of a "typical" Janeite - that haughty, "no one can love her like I love her" air, sliding into shameless fandom - that I was positively tickled. I've been that sneering Janeite; most of us have, and some of us will never stop being that Janeite. Some of us even shudder at the very word Janeite, for fear that we'll be lumped in with THOSE PEOPLE. (But then, some of us take our Jane Austen action figures on vacation with us, so...) But as Yaffe learned,  there really is room for all types within the fandom, and as crazy as we are, we all bring a little something to the table. And that slightly-judgy tone in the beginning of the book didn't really bother me so much anymore because, hell, been there, done that. If you'd asked me 6 years ago if I would ever read a Jane Austen fanfiction, I'd have laughed in your face. Needless to say, times have changed. ;) (Not about the dressing up part, though, because I have always and will always be down for that.)

I love how Yaffe dove in and did all those things she never thought she'd do. I love how she committed and tried everything, talked to everybody. And I love all the people she met, how very different they all were - the only thing most of them have in common, really, is their passion, and I love that some of those people maintained their academic, somewhat sneering attitude, but it didn't mean they love Austen any less (or any more), just that they love her differently. We all do, in our way. That's what's so amazing about Jane Austen, about her as a fandom - there are so many ways to love her, to lover her stories, her characters. There are so many ways to be a Janeites. I met a lot of fellow Janeites in the pages of this book, and I felt like I knew them, different as they all were. They felt homey to me, and some of them I wanted very badly to meet (or, you know, be for a bit. Why didn't I help starts a bajillion-dollar networking company, and then use my money to freaking buy Chawton Great House, and also Urban Decay? A) Why wasn't I aware that the founder of one of my favorite makeup brands was a massive Janeite, and B) How do I become this person?)  I learned things about Austen and about the fandom that I never knew. I added to my list of Janeite Things I Must Do.  And more importantly, since this is first and foremost a book, I was amused while doing so. The writing is engaging, thorough without being bogged down, passionate but with enough reserve to assess and describe a situation. It works equally-well as a piece of non-fiction and as an enjoyable read, and I have to praise Yaffe for that.
Like I said, it's a book that deserves a spot in your Janeite collection.
(Which is why you should enter to win it, maybe... ;P )

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1 comment:

  1. I can relate to some of the things mentioned too. Thanks for sharing your review thoughts. I'm definitely putting my name in the hat to win a copy.


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