A Trip to the Emerald City to See William Deresiewicz, Author of A Jane Austen Education

The Wizard of Oz (1939)I have to admit I am a homebody. I like my nest and my creature comforts: my computer, my books, my diet Dr. Pepper, my antique iron bed splayed with pillows, and, my Jane Austen. *sigh*

There is no place like home. So says Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. I could not agree more. Dorothy, her little dog Toto and I would have been BFF’s if we had been cast in the same novel. I would of course introduce her to Jane Austen and she would discover (to my delight) that Lady Catherine de Bourgh was in her story too, but, wore black bombazine and flew on a broomstick.

It takes a lot to pull me away from my comfort zone, especially after a long day at work, AND, one of the ten days of the year in the Pacific Northwest when the sun is shining and it is not raining, (I kid you NOT). However, I was determined to drive into the Emerald City (Seattle) and attend the reading and book signing at Elliott Bay Books by author William Deresiewicz. He was speaking about his new book, A Jane Austen Education, which I had recently read and reviewed. I had been agog with his evangelical Janeism and loved every word of it. No, I didn’t really need to be converted, but reading about a man’s personal experience of being transformed from a Jane Austen naysayer to one of her worshipers was a compelling tale that any literature lover and Janeite could relate too. He also throws in some excellent literary criticism and amusing personal stories that make the book very accessible and humorous.

A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz (2011)I tore myself away from work and hit the road (NO, I did not follow the yellow brick road) in my trusty carriage with detailed Google maps and driving instructions. In the nine years that I have lived near Seattle I have only driven once in the city by myself. I got terribly lost. The wicked one way streets are merciless. This time I made it in one straight shot. Huzzah! The downside was that the parking was $10.00. I hoped the experience would offset the financial setback!

For anyone who has not been to Elliott Bay Books (and I assume that is most of you) it is Seattle’s legendary independent bookstore. Since I work as a bookseller for the world’s largest chain bookstore, we could say that I was walking into the polar opposite in the bookselling universes. It was a refreshing change. The space was open, eclectic and inviting, and, they displayed thousands of books on their cedar lined shelves. Delightful.

The event was about to begin so I rushed up to a friendly staff member who directed me toward the basement reading room. I quickly descended the stairs into a dark cavern room filled with seated attendees and an empty podium. Phew! I had not missed anything. I looked about and immediately recognized the guest of honor standing alone at the back of the room. Bold as brass, I walked right up to him and introduced myself.  (YES! Can you believe?)

Author William Deresiewicz at the A Jane Austen Education Event in Seattle (2011)He was very gracious. My sympathies ran high. Poor authors. They write alone, but must go out into the world to meet their public and promote their books! I imagined all sorts of alarms going off in his head – mostly, over-zealous Jane Austen fan being un-proprietous. All the other attendees were politely seated, patiently waiting for the event to begin, but here I was, a brazen Janeite introducing herself. Shortly into my babbling his face lit up when I said “review on Austenprose!” Big smile. He thanked me for the honor of reading his book and then in turn honored me by saying my review was his favorite so far. He was thrilled that I had totally gotten his message. I blushed, chatted with him briefly, and then took my seat.

The book is broken down into seven chapters. Six devoted to each of Jane Austen’s major novels, and the last is the end of his story of transformation from clueless male graduate student with preconceived notions about silly, boring women’s novels to an enlightened Austen convert applying her lessons to his own life. The author chose three chapters to read excerpts from: Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Mr. Deresiewicz is an academic and a skilled orator, so listening to him eloquently introduce his book and read the passages was a delight. Unlike many in the audience (filled with a majority of ladies) I had already read the book and knew which points he would make for each chapter and what was coming. It did not diminish my enjoyment in the least. I always appreciate listening to an author deliver their own prose. You know that it is as real as it gets – and that is exciting and intimate.

At the conclusion, the author opened up the event for questions and answers. Seated one row ahead of me was a group of ladies who asked the majority of questions. All excellent. All obviously well-read Jane Austen fans. Probably Jane Austen Society of North America members. You could really see Mr. Deresiewicz’s academic training serve him well in his replies. He had the audience thinking and laughing. It must have been a great experience to be one of his students.

Frances O'Connor in Mansfield Park (1999)Since Mansfield Park had not been mentioned much during the course of the evening I felt compelled to not let its gentle heroine Fanny Price slip by unacknowledged and asked him about his chapter on it in the book. It appears that I am definitely in the minority of readers who are intrigued by Jane Austen’s most puzzling work. He doesn’t like Fanny Price either. I was relieved to hear another audience member acknowledge that it was one of her favorites of Austen’s novels too.

All in all it was a wonderful experience. As Mr. Deresiewicz signed my copies of his book, I thanked him for the evening and the pleasure of meeting him. Walking back to my car I harbored no ill will what-so-ever over the exorbitant parking fees or Fanny Price for who she is. She may be a prudish prig, but she’s my prudish prig and I admire Austen for giving me the great experience of the reaction to her character. I think Mr. Deresiewicz would agree with me on that point.

“We have all been more or less to blame,” said he, “every one of us, excepting Fanny. Fanny is the only one who has judged rightly throughout; who has been consistent. Her feelings have been steadily against it from first to last. She never ceased to think of what was due to you (Sir Thomas). You will find Fanny everything you could wish.” Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park, Chapter 20

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

24 thoughts on “A Trip to the Emerald City to See William Deresiewicz, Author of A Jane Austen Education

  1. Love your review of his book and your tale of your journey to Seattle. Sounds like it was fun. I hope it was sunny in Seattle too!
    Now I really have to buy this book!

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  2. How funny to read of Laurel Ann acting like a gushing fan! Were I to meet you in Fort Worth (I hope my finances will allow it), I would be a fan. I am glad to see it all goes around.

    I do feel compelled to read this book and I will walk over to the Tattered Cover, our local independent and justly famous bookstore (three actually in the Denver metro area), and pick up a copy. Actually, that was already my plan before reading this as I had just been urged to by a JASNA member from Colorado Springs to buy Mr. Deresiewicz’s book.

    Is that pronounced DERSH-O-WITZ by the way?

    Jennifer

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    • Jennifer – OK. Now embarassed that I appear to be acting like a fangirl.

      Hope to meet you in Forth Worth too.

      Not sure on the pronunciation of last name, but I think it is a C sound in the middle and not SH.

      Every time I type it out I have to check the cover of the book! Having a difficult to remember last name myself, I always take the extra effort to get spelling correct.

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  3. Dang! I missed this– I have been crazy juggling events– was hoping to run down to have him sign my book too. I was wondering… if this author was married– because when I first read your initial review, before you even met him, I thought you might have a little crush. LOLOLOLOL Forgive me Laurel Ann, the Emma in me can’t help myself…

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    • Christina – I don’t know his current martial status – but the last chapter of the book is devoted to his romance. The last line:

      “Reader, I married her.”

      OK. Now I am really embarrassed that readers think I have turned into a rampant fangirl stalking male authors. ;-)

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      • LOLOLOLOLOL Seriously. I am LOL. Not just typing it.

        Chalk me up as a hopeful romantic– when it comes to OTHER people’s lovelives. And hope I haven’t offended his MrsD too much.

        So glad it was a good trip into the city. I hope you paid notice on book tour life– because that’s gonna be you soon! Your book is going to be quite the Sensation this Fall-Winter Season!

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  4. Wonderful post Laurel Ann! I enjoyed learning about your Seattle Book reading/signing adventure! Ah, if I could only be you! I’m like Jennifer up above, I’m planning to go to the JASNA AGM and I’ll be one of your fan girls!

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  5. I laughed out loud reading your cool and calm celebrity fan attack! I’m so proud and a wee bit jealous of your good fortune! I agree, hearing authors read their own excerpts definitely set the mood when I return home to read them on my own! What a fun day in the ‘city’ you had, thanks for sharing!

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  6. I suspect this is the last place you’d be thought of as weird for indulging in meeting an author on Jane. I’d say we’re more likely to be jealous. Call me a a rampant fangirl any day! BTW, you get to live in Jane Austen’s world and not apologize for it. I’d love to be able just dive in everyday! Thanks for reporting for us! I’m really looking forward to reading the book.

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  7. Though I like–sometimes love–being at home, I also love to travel–when I can do so in relative comfort, at least these days. I junketed around in Western Europe for about 10 years. Not constantly, since I had to earn a living and the amount for the fares. Now I’d rather travel with someone since I’m no longer all that steady on my feet or able to lug suitcases around. I love seeing historic places and immersing myself in history. Not for me the bars, casinos, or the like. But I did enjoy scrambling around old ruins or up a small mountain.

    Of course, I’ve also gone to a few places noted for authors or the books they’ve written. One was seeing Twelfth Night at the Avon Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon in Britain, as well as other Shakespeare plays in the Stratford-on-Avon in Ontario known for Shakespeare and, yes, Justin Bieber. It’s about an hour from here.

    I’ll see if I can find A Jane Austen Education. Another book to add to my TBR

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  8. How wonderful that you had “the experience of a lifetime”, in meeting, face to face, the author of this fine book!
    Given that nearly all your intercourse with fellow Jane Austen enthusiasts takes place in cyberspace, it must have been delightful to be meeting and talking with the author in real time and in the flesh!
    The role reversal, too, must have been so exhillerating, and I can well imagine why Mr. Deresiewiez valued your review of his book, A Jane Austen Education! If it has had the same affect on others, as reading this post has had in motivating me to run out immediately to buy this book, then it is priceless, indeed!
    Mr. Darcy said it best:
    “Your good opinion is rarely bestowed, and, therefore, more worth the earning!”

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  9. I’m so glad you made the journey into Seattle & went to the reading! :) So nice that you were able to introduce yourself to him and talk about your wonderful review… I bet that made his day!

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  10. I loved your review, Laurel Ann. I know what a big deal it was to make your way to Seattle — when I visited there, my husband were more than happy to walk rather than rent a car. Your review caught my eye because I had just seen a column in the Wall Street Journal (May 13) by William Deresiewicz, titled “How Jane Austen Taught Me to be a Man.” It was enlightening and refreshing; you normally don’t see men admitting any interest at all in Jane Austen. He was so open and forthright. I would say that your meeting Mr. Deresiewicz was worth the $10 parking fee. Well done!

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    • Thanks Ritamaie – I am happy to see Mr. Deresiewicz getting so much media coverage this month for the book. I hope its message reaches many Austen fans and inspires new readers. It is a great read. Take care, LA

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  11. Thanks for sharing journey to the Emerald City! And bravo to your gumption… wouldn’t have expected less from you, Laurel Ann. =) It must have been thrilling to hear him say yours is his favorite review so far. Huzzah!!!

    I’m halfway through reading this novel and am loving it… where are the Mr. Deresiewicz in my area???

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  12. Sounds like you had a great trip and a great time. I just wanted to say that I like Mansfield Park the best out of all Jane’s novels. It’s the most complex of her novels with such a wide variety of personalities that it never gets dull. And I don’t hate Fanny for being so everlastingly right all the time. She had her own problems that pretty much offset the moral correctness of her character. And she never tried to force her own opinions on the people around her (not that they would have listened) which I consider pretty much a saving grace for her character.

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    • Hi Melissa – I think that I am intrigued by Mansfield Park because I do not entirely understand Austen’s message – yet I trust her implicitly as an author. The novel became a challenge to me as I continually attempt to delve deeper to understand it. It might keep me guessing for the rest of my life. Thanks for sharing your support.

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  13. What a wonderful way to spend an evening! Author signings are such fun, and I’m also enamored with hearing writers read their own work. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Laurel Ann!

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  14. Excellent post Laurel Ann! – very happy you were able to be there and meet WD and hear him discuss his book – you are correct – there is nothing better than hearing an author’s words direct from the source!

    I am almost finished with this book – it is a delight to read, each chapter showing how the truths in each novel have made him understand himself and others so much better… Emma leading the way – it brings Austen into the real world in such a powerful way – what we all say – she has changed our lives! I too was disppointed that he never could warm up to Fanny, but even so MP had much to teach him – I’m with you about Fanny! – so we will stand united and carry on!

    Thanks for sharing Laurel Ann – terrific story!
    Best,
    DEb

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  15. Thank you for the great post! After reading about your joy over this book I just had to order it. I can’t wait to get it in the mail!

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  16. What a wonderful post! I wish I could have joined you on your journey to the Emerald City. I loved A Jane Austen Education. I love that you were able to chat with him and introduce yourself. I’m always too shy when I go to author events and am scared to say anything!!

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