Jane Austen July TBR & How I plan a reading month

Planning is the absolute favourite part of my reading process. This might sound weird to you: why do I like planning so much? Why do you even need planning as part of the reading process? Surely you just read whatever you feel like? Of course you can. But I do plan quite heavily.

Reason 1: there are so many books out there, even if I could read eight or ten hours a day for all the rest of my life, I wouldn’t make a dent in the mountain of literature, even just English literature. Reason 2: I don’t read for leisure or entertainment only, I want to learn, so I prefer reading good books, books that can teach me, make me a better and wiser person.

So life is short and books are many, I want to spend my short life reading good books, and reading with meaning and purpose. So planning is absolutely essential.

Reason 3: someone said I can’t remember who – the better you plan, the better you read. I have experienced this many times. If I have a potential list for the month, as soon as I finish one book, I can get on with the next one. If I don’t have the list ready, there are usually two scenarios.

In the first scenario, it’ll take me a while, even a few days to decide what to read next, then I might have to order it. If it’s from Blackwell’s, it might not arrive until next month. I waste a lot of time. In the second scenario, I’ll grab something random from the shelf and it’s never as coherent. I can always feel it at the end of the month.

So I plan and decide what titles to read at the begining of the month, and then I work my way through them.

Lastly, I just love doing research! I can spend hours searching on the internet, in Kindle bookstore, in my local library catalogue and on my own shelves. I can turn my own living room into a giant sweet shop.

So today we’re planning for Jane Austen July, I’m very excited. There are seven challenges. I’ll talk you through my process.

1. Read one of Jane Austen’s six novels

I’m going to read Pride and Prejudice, or rather, I’m going to listen to Pride and Prejudice. The reason is straightforward, I read all of the other five major novels last year but I haven’t re-read Pride and Prejudice for a while.

So that one’s easy. I’m aware there’s a Pride and Prejudice readalong but I might not join that. I’ll tell you why when we get to challenge three.

2. Read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her main six novels

I have also decided on this one. I’m going to give another go at her letters. I’ve failed it once. This will be a good opportunity to try again. I know exactly why I failed last time so I’m not going to repeat that mistake. Last time I read the letters without context and it was to be honest a bit boring. It’s like listening to one half of a telephone conversation and you don’t know what they’re talking about.

So that’s how the next book is I hope going to help.

3. Read a non-fiction work about Jane Austen or her time

I’m going to read Jane Austen at Home, again. It’s a biography of Jane Austen. I liked it when I first read it and it referred to Jane Austen’s letters a lot. I expect the letters and the biography are going to improve the reading experience for both; they will help each other. How?

On one hand, the biography gives bigger context to the letters, for example, when Austen wrote this letter to her sister, how old was she? Where did she live? Who did she live with? Was she on holiday? This might help make sense of the things Jane Austen talked about in her letters.

And on the other hand, the letters might give clues to specific events mentioned in the biography. For example, if she met a ‘special friend’ on this date, surely she would write about it after this date? Is there anything we can detect between the lines? We might or we might not. For one thing, her sister Cassandra and the family censored and destroyed some of her letters!

Another non-fiction book I’m very interested in is What Matter in Jane Austen, the reason is this seems to be the only non-fiction book that analyses Austen’s works rather than her person or the historical period she lived in. I’m tempted to read this one as well. If I do, I will read this before I re-read Pride and Prejudice, so I can come to the novel with new insights and perspectives. And that’s why I’m not likely to join the readalong.

4. Read a retelling of a Jane Austen book OR a work of historical fiction set in Jane Austen’s time

I’ll probably go for historical fiction set in Jane Austen’s time. There are some major historical events that happened during her lifetime and there’s a lot of social unrest and wars. Austen was 14 when the French Revolution started in 1789. Four years on, Britain was at war and most of Europe was at war all the way to the Battle of Waterloo and the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. She died two years later, age 42. That explains why there are so many soldiers and military men in her novels.

Here are a few options:

Since the French Revolution is the event that dominated much of her lifetime, A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel I heard is an excellent historical novel about the French Revolution and I loved Wolf Hall.

I’ve been wanting to read one of Tracey Chevalier’s historical fiction for a long time, people keep talking about how good she is at recreating the historical details. Burning Bright is set in the late 18th century in London which is exactly the right time period. Another thing attractive about this book is that this book features a historical figure William Blake. The story is about two children making friends with William Blake.

I found a 20th-century writer called Georgette Heyer who wrote historical romance novels set in the Regency and Georgian eras and was apparently very good with details. So I did some digging. Heyer was born at the end of the Victorian era and died in the 1970s. I was initially very interested but the book covers give me the vibe of sugary romance. I’m a bit torn, I’m curious about the 20th-century point of view, and I love novels written between the two World Wars. I read a few reviews, they are apparently lighthearted and aim to entertain and pass time, but I’m just a bit worried it’s going to be too sweet for my taste? But at the same time, maybe my reading is too heavy in general? I could do with a sweet romance when I’m on holiday why not. If I do, where shall I start? She wrote a lot. The good thing is the Kindle books are not expensive.

5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen

For this challenge, two options popped into my mind. The first is a book that shows me Jane Austen’s world, about similar things but from a different voice and perspective.

An obvious choice would be Frances Burney. I read her Evelina recently – it really gives some context. But I don’t want to read another Frances Burney so soon. Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda is a more likely candidate. It was published in 1801, about women and marriage etc. But it’s over 500 pages!

When I read Jane Austen at Home for the first time, I remember it says for prose Austen’s favourite was Johnson, for poetry Cowper. So the second option is that I’ll read some essays by Johnson and some poems by Cowper.

There are two more watching challenges that I probably won’t take part seriously.

So that’s quite a few books. The plan is, I’ll start with the collection of letters and the biography, What Matters in Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, Johnson’s essays and Cowper’s poems. When I finish those, I’ll see how many days are left in the month, then decide if I should go on with a Tracey Chevalier or a Georgette Heyer, or Belinda.

That’s my Jane Austen July planning done! Let’s see how I execute it. Happy reading!

Cover photo by Elaine Howlin on Unsplash.

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