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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Recommended reading

In a world with so many books and so little time, reading recommendations--from critics, bloggers, celebrity talk-show hosts, friends–provide a handy tool for cutting through the cultural noise to find the next page-turner. And of course I nod approvingly whenever Jane Austen turns up on those lists, as she’s been doing recently:

* Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Guardian asked eleven writers, plus the actor Stanley Tucci, to pick their “favorite romcom books.” The millennial Irish novelist Naoise Dolan chose Pride and Prejudice.

I too was ready to bristle at the pigeonholing of Our Jane in the romcom category, but quicker than you can say “social satirist,” Dolan gets there first, noting that the Austen novel that seems like a romcom to a thirteen-year-old offers a multitude of new perspectives on every re-reading.

“It is wise to make an acquaintance with Jane Austen at the tenderest age you can, the better to revisit her evermore,” Dolan writes. Amen to that.

* OK, sometimes when Jane Austen turns up on a recommended reading list, I do not nod approvingly. Sometimes I’m too busy rolling my eyes.

As, for instance, when the website of an Indian radio network runs a piece purporting to link book preferences to astrological signs.

According to this delightfully ridiculous article, those born under air signs—Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius—are likely to enjoy “books with social satire and those with protagonists or narrators who comment upon the world of which they are a part,” whereas those born under water signs–Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces–will prefer books with “a central protagonist who undergoes various trials and tribulations in the course of the narrative.” (A capacious category, that one!)

So which are the Jane Austen readers, would you guess? If you picked those Librans and Aquarians—nope! You’re wrong! Those people are supposed to stick with P.G. Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett. Apparently, it’s the Cancers and Scorpios who will enjoy “fiction from the 19th Century Victorian era with authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen to start with.” (I could point out, once again, that Jane Austen wasn’t a Victorian, but—why bother?)

In case you were wondering, I’m a Sagittarius. We’re supposed to stick with “travel memoirs” and the novels of Taylor Jenkins Reid. Who, from my limited acquaintance with her work, certainly seems to write often about “a central protagonist who undergoes various trials and tribulations in the course of the narrative.” But hey—thanks for the recommendation!


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