We discovered something wonderful on our running route … honeysuckle vines. Loads of them. I noticed that distinctively sweet, floral scent the other day and couldn’t find the source. This morning the juicy blossoms were everywhere. It’s hard to pull out the goodness without breaking stride, but it’s worth pausing for. The risk of losing the one drop is too high and the rewards for slurping it up are great. Energy gels and chews always left a weird coldness in my throat and chest so I usually rely on simple water and fruit for fuel. Honeysuckles are an energizing treat. The flowers also make delicious iced tea. It’s not often I go on a run in Brooklyn and return with fixings for tea!
What goes better with tea than a good book?
You’ve likely heard of Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club or its film adaptation. I haven’t seen the movie, but the novel’s been on my to-read pile for a while. This is the kind of book to hold on to until you’re in the right mood for it, which could be said of most books, I guess. I picked this up wanting something small, thoughtful and well written.
Jocelyn starts a book club specifically to read the Jane Austen romances with five friends ranging from their 20’s to 60’s – Bernadette, Slyvia, Allegra, Prudie and Grigg, the lone male. Bernadette’s Austen is funny, fitting for a wacky gal who danced through life. Allegra, a beautiful lesbian, reads from a feminist perspective, often resenting the financial undertones driving female characters’ obsession with marriage. The members of this group each experience Austen differently because they’re different people who experience everything in life differently. Put all these differences together in the same room every few weeks and something interesting has the potential to happen.
The chapters correspond with the theme of that meeting’s book and the member hosting its meeting. We get brief glimpses of what their lives are outside of books. Fowler digs around relationships between a grown mother and daughter each separated from their partners, a woman grieving the loss of her mother and another wondering why she’s never fallen in love.
Book club discussions compose a small fraction of the overall story. Banter and small jealousies bubble up and I began to understand why fans are so passionate about Austen. I read the books in school, but have never re-visited them as an adult. Still, I found this to be an inclusive read. You feel like you’re there with them, wondering where’s your glass of wine. You find yourself forming opinions on their opinions of Austen’s choices and why some of her “good” male characters are wholly undesirable. Fowler’s characters live ordinary lives that in a way run parallel to the relationships in Austen’s romances, which are more complex than a bunch of women in a frenzy to marry. They wind up spending four seasons reading and discussing Austen, re-reading in most cases.
There’s not a lot happening here, but I enjoyed the slice-of-life tone. That there’s little to recall in terms of plot is by design, I imagine. The structure feels more like opening a window into characters’ lives and seeing what you see whether it’s “plot worthy” or not. I do think readers who liked this book would enjoy Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients. Replace the book club with a cooking class and more fully developed characters and you’ll have a good idea what it’s like.
While I enjoyed this story overall, I’m also really glad I don’t belong to a book club and still have no urge to re-visit Austen. Maybe someday.