Jane Austen rescued her: A memoir about reading and solace

Steve Donoghue in The Christian Science Monitor:

Even though the year is only a little more than halfway gone, 2020 has understandably been filled with talk about the “solace” of reading. More so than in any previous year in living memory, readers have been diving into books in order to escape the harsh realities of the outside world. In her new book “Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels,” award-winning author Rachel Cohen writes of exactly this kind of solace-seeking. While dealing with her father’s death and the birth of her daughter, Cohen found herself in a readerly relationship with the novels of Jane Austen that was more fixed, almost more compulsory, than anything she’d previously imagined for herself. In the opening pages, she muses that “if you had told me that years were coming when I would hardly pick up another serious writer with any real concentration, that the doings of a few English families would come to define almost the entire territory of my reading imagination, and that I would reach a point of such familiarity that I would simply let Austen’s books fall open and read a sentence or two as people in other times and places might use an almanac to soothe and predict, I would have been appalled.”

Her readers will be more forgiving on that point. Many of them have likely experienced the same degree of beneficial concentration in times of stress or sorrow, whether it’s Austen or the Brontë sisters or Shakespeare. But they also won’t find anything appalling in these pages. Cohen has taken her fascination with – and personal dependence on – one great author and transmutes it into something any reader in the world will find downright marvelous.

More here.