A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons & Mistletoe, by Carlo DeVito – A Review

A Jane Austen Christmas by Carlo DeVito 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

If you’ve ever wondered how your favorite author celebrated Christmas in the 18th century—or just know someone who has—A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons, and Mistletoe by Carlo DeVito is the perfect package to place under the tree this holiday.

A Jane Austen Christmas takes us through Jane’s life story but focuses only on events that happened around Christmastime. We begin with the holiday season of 1786, when Jane is only 11-years-old and spends time with her visiting cousin, Eliza, and ends with the Christmas of 1815 when Emma is published for the first time. On the way, we get to know more about Jane Austen and her family, read about holiday traditions in 18th-century England, and learn to make some delicious, Regency-era Christmas treats. Yum!

At first, I thought there might not be much to say about Jane Austen at Christmastime. Though all her novels mention Christmas, the season isn’t a big focus, except perhaps as a backdrop for Mr. Elton’s unwelcome proposal in Emma. But, the narrow seasonal scope of this book really makes it an easy-to-read guide to some of the important moments in Jane Austen’s life. Because the author is just touching on Christmas memories, the reader isn’t overwhelmed with tons of details about the author’s life story. We just get to focus on key events in her journey. Continue reading

As If!: The Oral History of Clueless as Told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew, by Jen Chaney – A Review

As If the Oral History of Clueless Jen Chaney 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

In July of 1995, I had just turned 15 when my high school girlfriends suggested we go see the new movie Clueless. At the time, I didn’t know that writer/director Amy Heckerling had based the plot of her movie about a pretty, rich girl from Beverly Hills on Jane Austen’s Emma, but that didn’t matter. My friends and I might not have been “handsome, clever, and rich” like Emma or Cher, but we were absolutely delighted by the message and world of Clueless. My love for that movie has been growing ever since. In Jen Chaney’s book, As If!, mega fans can finally learn all the behind the scenes details about what some folks believe to be the greatest Austen film adaptation of all time. (My apologies to Colin Firth.)

As you’ll see right there in the title, As If! is an “oral history” of Clueless. Basically, that just means that the author has collected interviews with the main cast and crew and patched them together into a readable order. She begins at the beginning, explaining how Amy Heckerling wrote the movie and managed to get backing from Paramount. The longer, mid-section of the book focuses on the day-to-day making of the movie during the two-and-a-half-month shooting schedule. The author ends with various reflections on how Clueless became such a pop culture phenomenon and the ways the movie changed fashion, language, and the girl-centric storytelling for the better. You can preview the basic style of the book by checking out this article Jen Chaney wrote for Vulture about the Val Party Scene.

There are some truly interesting bits in here. The author includes stories about the studios that passed on Clueless (only to really, really regret that later) and the casting process (if things had gone differently, Reese Witherspoon or Angelina Jolie might have been explaining that Amber was “a full-on Monet”). There are scene-by-scene breakdowns of what filming was like. Did you know The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were drunk during Cher and Christian’s first date? And that Donald Faison actually shaved the top of his head at the Val party? Or that the guy who mugs Cher (and ruins her Alaïa dress) was cast only a few hours before filming that scene? Yup, it’s all true and in the book. Continue reading

Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen, edited by Gabrielle Malcolm – A Review

Fan Phenomena Jane Austen 2015 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen fans cannot be filed neatly into a single category any more than Austen’s works can be limited to one literary genre. How might an editor attempt to do justice to the multiplicity of Janeite fandom in a slim volume of essays and interviews? This question was uppermost in my mind as I began reading Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen. The Fan Phenomena series website explains that the goal of the series is to “look at particular examples of ‘fan culture’ and approach the subject in an accessible manner aimed at both fans and those interested in the cultural and social aspects of these fascinating–and often unusual–‘universes’.” 

What is the joy of Jane? What is it about her work that keeps readers, and viewers, coming back for more? Is it the Darcy effect? Is it the irony, the wit, the romance? Or is it a combination of all these factors? Many critics and authors have compiled works to analyse this vast and still growing phenomenon of fandom…This collection offers material about the fans, for the fans, by the fans, and offers a combination of the popular and the academic. (5)

Editor Gabrielle Malcom’s introduction provides a clear description of the purpose and scope of the collection. She acknowledges the differences between mainstream fan culture and the academic treatment of Austen. After setting Austen’s work in its historical context with a few concise and insightful paragraphs, she provides brief descriptions of the essays and interviews that follow. While Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen has the look of an academic journal, its design and use of color photographs creates a visually appealing experience for the reader, with the exception of the excessively small font size used for the text of the essays. Although I suspect that the text format is dictated by the Fan Phenomena series as a whole and not unique to this volume, the cramped appearance distracted me from the content at times. I found the format used in the Fan Appreciation interviews to be much more appropriate and reader-friendly. Continue reading

Jane Austen, Game Theorist, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe – A Review

Jane Austen Game Theroist Michael Chwe 2013 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

According to Wikipedia, game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers.” So, what the heck does that have to do with Jane Austen and her novels? A lot, as it turns out. In Jane Austen, Game Theorist, we explore how Austen’s works tie into contemporary theories about strategic decision-making nearly two hundred years before they came into fashion.

The book doesn’t presuppose any familiarity with game theory. This was a very good thing, as I knew next to nothing about this branch of the social sciences before picking up the book. Really, the simplest way to explain game theory is to say that it’s the study of how people make strategic decisions. Most people will make a decision based on what they would like to do. In other words, they make a personal choice. But, a good strategic thinker will also consider what others might do in turn. Basically, when choosing, you also consider how others will act.

Let’s look at an example from Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the point. Mr. Darcy agonizes over whether or not to marry Elizabeth Bennet, a woman who he is slowly falling in love with despite his best efforts to resist her charms and fine eyes. A choice like this can be represented visually through a decision tree. Mr. Darcy’s would look something like this:

Jane Austen Game Theorist image 1 Continue reading