Jane Austen’s Emma, and Reading What You Love

Progress on Alternate: 29,020

So hey, this isn’t so much a review. The book I’ve just finished reading is Jane Austen’s Emma, and to be quite frank I’ve been trying to get myself to enjoy Austen for a long time. To understand the appeal of her as a writer. I know many people who adore her novels, but no matter how many times I read them I feel they’re not quite for me.

The book has its good points. We get to watch as our heroine tragically misinterprets event after event, and get a snapshot of the era from the book. However to me it’s so much about intrigue, about socialising, about who desires whom, that I just can’t bring myself to get so excited.

And it just made me think about the amount of times these books have been recommended to me as somehow intellectually superior to the sorts of books I so often love. I mean, I am a walking contradiction. I love Byron, Wilde, Swinburne, Baudelaire, some Dickens… I love social commentary like Evelyn Waugh… I love the Beat Generation… Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg. But I also love what a lot of people like to call ‘trash fiction’, and I love my genre fiction. I like Devon Monk, Lev Grossman, Kevin Hearne, Patrick Rothfuss, George R R Martin, Rob Thurman. I love Tamora Pierce, and enjoy Cassandra Clare (something that often surprises people).

The point is, I CAN love all of those. I don’t have to like Austen to be a wonderful literary reader, I can like what I like. I won’t stop trying to see the beauty in the things other people like, or even reading them, but there is such meaning and purpose in genre fiction that I firmly believe that those who like it are just the same as those who like reading other works… and often, people like me like both!

People read about things that strike a chord with them. I read things that speak to the human emotion in me, or things that simply take me to another world. I read about magic and wonder, about worlds within this one that I can never experience. I read about things that will take me away from this world. But I also read a lot about mental illness. About addiction. About pain. About lives that hurt and wound the owner. About people who think differently, about people learning to deal with that. I read about sarcastic heroes and heroines, morally-grey anti-hero types, people who feel like outsiders, odd or unusual. I read real life stories, that speak to my heart. And I think everyone should take that stance. Read whatever it is that speaks to something in you. Whether that something is a need to escape, or a feeling you’re having right then and there. Words have power. Let them work their magic.

-K Hart


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