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Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels

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An astonishingly nuanced reading of Jane Austen that yields a rare understanding of how to live "About seven years ago, not too long before our daughter was born, and a year before my father died, Jane Austen became my only author." In the turbulent period around the birth of her first child and the death of her father, Rachel Cohen turned to Jane Austen to make sense of her An astonishingly nuanced reading of Jane Austen that yields a rare understanding of how to live "About seven years ago, not too long before our daughter was born, and a year before my father died, Jane Austen became my only author." In the turbulent period around the birth of her first child and the death of her father, Rachel Cohen turned to Jane Austen to make sense of her new reality. For Cohen, simultaneously grief-stricken and buoyed by the birth of her daughter, reading Austen became her refuge and her ballast. She was able to reckon with difficult questions about mourning, memorializing, living in a household, paying attention to the world, reading, writing, and imagining through Austen's novels. Austen Years is a deeply felt and sensitive examination of a writer's relationship to reading, and to her own family, winding together memoir, criticism, and biographical and historical material about Austen herself. And like the sequence of Austen's novels, the scope of Austen Years widens successively, with each chapter following one of Austen's novels. We begin with Cohen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she raises her small children and contemplates her father's last letter, a moment paired with the grief of Sense and Sensibility and the social bonds of Pride and Prejudice. Later, moving with her family to Chicago, Cohen grapples with her growing children, teaching, and her father's legacy, all refracted through the denser, more complex Mansfield Park and Emma. With unusual depth and fresh insight into Austen's life and literature, and guided by Austen's mournful and hopeful final novel, Persuasion, Rachel Cohen's Austen Years is a rare memoir of mourning and transcendence, a love letter to a literary master, and a powerful consideration of the odd process that merges our interior experiences with the world at large.


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An astonishingly nuanced reading of Jane Austen that yields a rare understanding of how to live "About seven years ago, not too long before our daughter was born, and a year before my father died, Jane Austen became my only author." In the turbulent period around the birth of her first child and the death of her father, Rachel Cohen turned to Jane Austen to make sense of her An astonishingly nuanced reading of Jane Austen that yields a rare understanding of how to live "About seven years ago, not too long before our daughter was born, and a year before my father died, Jane Austen became my only author." In the turbulent period around the birth of her first child and the death of her father, Rachel Cohen turned to Jane Austen to make sense of her new reality. For Cohen, simultaneously grief-stricken and buoyed by the birth of her daughter, reading Austen became her refuge and her ballast. She was able to reckon with difficult questions about mourning, memorializing, living in a household, paying attention to the world, reading, writing, and imagining through Austen's novels. Austen Years is a deeply felt and sensitive examination of a writer's relationship to reading, and to her own family, winding together memoir, criticism, and biographical and historical material about Austen herself. And like the sequence of Austen's novels, the scope of Austen Years widens successively, with each chapter following one of Austen's novels. We begin with Cohen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she raises her small children and contemplates her father's last letter, a moment paired with the grief of Sense and Sensibility and the social bonds of Pride and Prejudice. Later, moving with her family to Chicago, Cohen grapples with her growing children, teaching, and her father's legacy, all refracted through the denser, more complex Mansfield Park and Emma. With unusual depth and fresh insight into Austen's life and literature, and guided by Austen's mournful and hopeful final novel, Persuasion, Rachel Cohen's Austen Years is a rare memoir of mourning and transcendence, a love letter to a literary master, and a powerful consideration of the odd process that merges our interior experiences with the world at large.

30 review for Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    I was probably a less than ideal candidate for reading this book. I've struggled with this type of newer nonfiction, a combination of memoir and literary, in the past. Plus, I haven't read Austen since my high school days and wasn't a fan back then. Despite that I was drawn in at certain times to her personnel story, new child, father recently passed, and curious about her literary comments. Interesting to see that Ta-Nehisi Coates, has also written literary criticism of Austen. For three years I was probably a less than ideal candidate for reading this book. I've struggled with this type of newer nonfiction, a combination of memoir and literary, in the past. Plus, I haven't read Austen since my high school days and wasn't a fan back then. Despite that I was drawn in at certain times to her personnel story, new child, father recently passed, and curious about her literary comments. Interesting to see that Ta-Nehisi Coates, has also written literary criticism of Austen. For three years she diligently read Austen, trying to make sense of her own life through Austen's words. I think I would have gotten more from this had I previously reread Austen's more popular novels. Was just too long ago, maybe I would get more from her works than I did reading as a teenager. It did, however, spark my interest in rereading, at least I'll start with one and see how it goes. ARC from Netgalley.

  2. 4 out of 5

    fatma

    My problem with Austen Years is twofold. First, the writing. Cohen's writing is flighty, lacking in solidity. It wants to be poetic and expansive but accomplishes neither. In Austen Years there is always a line or two that disrupts the flow of the entire passage, and oftentimes those lines are ones that are supposed to clinch the passage's point, not obfuscate it. Here I'm talking about lines like, "A kind of rose, but without sentiment, the matter-of-fact, pale, interfused rose that the sun leav My problem with Austen Years is twofold. First, the writing. Cohen's writing is flighty, lacking in solidity. It wants to be poetic and expansive but accomplishes neither. In Austen Years there is always a line or two that disrupts the flow of the entire passage, and oftentimes those lines are ones that are supposed to clinch the passage's point, not obfuscate it. Here I'm talking about lines like, "A kind of rose, but without sentiment, the matter-of-fact, pale, interfused rose that the sun leaves int he sky when it sets at the end of a midwester winter" "You can only be interrupted by someone else, who has been active in other things elsewhere, while you have been doing the thing you have been doing. When someone else demands your attention, it is a sign of the multiplicity of life moving forward." ...what ? It felt like the book was aiming for a style like Mark Doty's in his excellent What is the Grass, but having just read Doty's book only made me more aware of how much Cohen's paled in comparison. Second, the structure. Austen Years sorely needed some kind of narrative cohesion. Each chapter was split into a bunch of subsections, most of which just didn't flow. Aside from all falling under the general theme of the chapter and the Austen novel in question, I didn't at all understand how they were related. I also think that Cohen especially fell short when it came to blending her own life with Austen's works. She tended to write either exclusively about Austen's work/life--in large, seemingly tangential swaths, too--and then to make a hard right into her own life, with nothing to bridge the two. It was jarring to go from one to the other, and it made reading both confusing and frankly not very enjoyable. I love reading about anything, and I mean anything, Jane Austen-related, but even I found it hard to get through the Austen sections. I can understand that writing this book must've been a very personal project for Cohen, given that she goes into detail about her father's passing away and her subsequent grief, but as a narrative it just didn't work for me. Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Flynn

    Of course I have a soft spot for people named Rachel who are obsessed with Jane Austen, so I cannot be completely objective. This book was a pleasure to read, even though at times it felt a bit scattered. I liked the insights into the novels, and also some of the author's observations about mourning and dealing with the death of a parent. I wished that the biographical discussion had been more rigorously fact-checked (some anecdotes of dubious authenticity are soberly reported as facts, and no on Of course I have a soft spot for people named Rachel who are obsessed with Jane Austen, so I cannot be completely objective. This book was a pleasure to read, even though at times it felt a bit scattered. I liked the insights into the novels, and also some of the author's observations about mourning and dealing with the death of a parent. I wished that the biographical discussion had been more rigorously fact-checked (some anecdotes of dubious authenticity are soberly reported as facts, and no one seems to have realized that "Edward Austen" was in fact Edward Knight, his changing his name the condition of his adoption by wealthy relatives) but it does not, after all, claim to be a biography. I had never before come across the idea, proposed in the discussion of Emma, that Miss Bates would have been about Mr. Knightley's age, and they conceivably could have had a thing, way back. It's a good example of how Emma can yield new surprises however many times you read it -- it's true that Austen never actually says how old Miss Bates is! Here's where she is introduced: "Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body's happiness, quicksighted to every body's merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother, and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body, and a mine of felicity to herself. She was a great talker upon little matters, which exactly suited Mr. Woodhouse, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip." Mrs. Bates is "a very old lady," which to me in 2020 means perhaps 90, but to Austen in 1815 could have meant 60. Miss Bates is in "her middle years" -- again, to me this does not mean what Austen probably meant by it. Mr. Knightley is 37 or 38, as we are told. So, yes, it could have happened. And she is absolutely right that some connection between Mr. K and Miss B. seems to exist -- he's always sending apples and looking out for her -- but I had always put it down to merely his sense of noblesse oblige. So there we are.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gizem-in-Wonderland

    “Austen’s novels offer strange friendship: in their company you may feel more yourself, look out at the world with clear sight.” I am internally flawed in a way that I fall for anything and everything that has the word “Austen” in it. My brain stops working and I am a zombie walking slowly levitating towards the book with one thing in mind: I must read this! I am saying this because it’s apparent I cannot judge a book that has Jane Austen on its title unbiased as I absolutely love everything abou “Austen’s novels offer strange friendship: in their company you may feel more yourself, look out at the world with clear sight.” I am internally flawed in a way that I fall for anything and everything that has the word “Austen” in it. My brain stops working and I am a zombie walking slowly levitating towards the book with one thing in mind: I must read this! I am saying this because it’s apparent I cannot judge a book that has Jane Austen on its title unbiased as I absolutely love everything about the author and her novels. Austen years is the memoir of Rachel Cohen, telling us about her personal experiences of reading Austen. She talks about the period in the her life when she only read Austen novels for a couple of years. Cohen talks about the pain and mourning of losing someone you love and how she found condolence in Austen books during one of the most difficult and challenging periods of her life. Austen Years goes back and forth between Cohen’s and Austen’s life. Each section is dedicated to one of the five core novels of Austen and she associates the novels with her life with a heart-warming account. I especially loved the analogy Cohen created; Austen’s universe with each novel as a planet: “If I picture a map of the five Austen novels in my mind, the first four are like the orbiting bodies of a planetary system, widening outward in concentric circles, from the tight binary star of the two sisters in Sense and Sensibility, to the family of Pride and Prejudice, to the wider ellipse of Mansfield Park, all the way out to the perfectible community resonant in Emma. Persuasion is something like an asteroid that moves, irregularly, repeatedly, among the different spheres.” Overall a good reading experience for Austen fans and her novels. (I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Makenzie

    This book has such a unique grace and sense of time. What a beautiful, meditative read about grief, loss, and rereading. "Most, though not all, of these writers were mourners, most of these rememberers wrote of reading. Language, other people's language, was a rhythm that carried them into the next part of life. There was testimony in their accounts, and there was granular change. But their work was, I thought, not primarily intended either to document or to heal. It was something else, much mor This book has such a unique grace and sense of time. What a beautiful, meditative read about grief, loss, and rereading. "Most, though not all, of these writers were mourners, most of these rememberers wrote of reading. Language, other people's language, was a rhythm that carried them into the next part of life. There was testimony in their accounts, and there was granular change. But their work was, I thought, not primarily intended either to document or to heal. It was something else, much more like the resumption of a conversation they had already been having. The conversation with the dead, and the past, had become a conversation with the reader. And in a way that made a curious place—where the reader was near to inhabiting both the life of the writer-mourner and the lives of the people who had died." "In their mourning, perhaps they also felt, I think they must have, that the ways of life in which they had grown up, with every expectation that these ways would see them through, had, quite suddenly, in the space of two decades, become almost completely unrelated to the world that had come to be. What should they do with all of these habits and ways of navigating, all this remembered life that seemed now like it hardly touched the world moving on." "The shared Mansfield name makes a kind of locus of overlaps where you have to think about history and power, where you must reckon with kinds of restriction, and kinds of forgetting." "On darker days, I think the fact that Anne has to make a declaration—that she has loved, long, when hope and existence are gone—is also a sign that we will never inhabit Highbury. If our experiences are so separate that only by writing memoirs can we join them together, then perhaps that village is gone even from our shared imagination. Emma thinks it is still there, difficult, but still there; Persuasion, I worry, does not. This must have been hard for Austen to contend with. She was ill, the world kept moving on. She had tried balancing factors... and still her form, her beautiful form, the novel, was tearing at the edges, had to be torn."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I was not an ideal audience for reading this book. Prior to reading this book, I wasn't interested so much in Cohen's memoir as I was in what she extrapolated from Austen's novels. Cohen isn't a public figure, nor is she an expert in a subject field and her story wasn't what drew me to her book. After reading the memoir parts of the book, I got the impression that writing this book was a masturbatory exercise. She went off on long and rambling tangents and her language was too obtuse for me. Her I was not an ideal audience for reading this book. Prior to reading this book, I wasn't interested so much in Cohen's memoir as I was in what she extrapolated from Austen's novels. Cohen isn't a public figure, nor is she an expert in a subject field and her story wasn't what drew me to her book. After reading the memoir parts of the book, I got the impression that writing this book was a masturbatory exercise. She went off on long and rambling tangents and her language was too obtuse for me. Her repeated referrals to her analyst, which she partially paid for with funds designated to her by her father for her college education, made it really hard to relate to her. I ended up skipping large swaths of her narrative sections because they were boring me to tears. In addition, I had trouble following the structure of the book. She would start off a chapter with a personal connection to a point in her life, delve into one of Austen's books, revert back to telling more of her personal story, then start discussing another Austen book altogether. The connections between her chosen themes and Austen's stories was lost to me. There was so much jumping back and forth between her personal narrative as well as between Austen's works that I got whiplash. I kept waiting for some great insights about Austen's books but alas, it never happened. The majority of the points she brought up were made by other authors she was referencing. I can't think of a reason to recommend this book to anyone, even if they are an Austen fan.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Natalie (CuriousReader)

    In Austen Years, Rachel Cohen takes us through her years reading and rereading five of Jane Austen’s novels over periods of grief and transformation. What follows is a mixture of biographical paragraphs on Jane Austen’s life, exploration of the author’s life in particular chronicling the passing of her father and becoming a mother of two children, as well as literary criticism of Jane Austen’s writings. From the start I found myself pulled into the way Cohen thinks about her experience with read In Austen Years, Rachel Cohen takes us through her years reading and rereading five of Jane Austen’s novels over periods of grief and transformation. What follows is a mixture of biographical paragraphs on Jane Austen’s life, exploration of the author’s life in particular chronicling the passing of her father and becoming a mother of two children, as well as literary criticism of Jane Austen’s writings. From the start I found myself pulled into the way Cohen thinks about her experience with reading Austen and how it has transformed as her life circumstances, and she in turn, have changed. The reader coming to a book with their own emotional baggage, previous literary history, preconceptions, mood, state or point in a journey changes the reading we do. This much is probably not revelatory, yet I found the actual journey of following a reader examining the way this had happened in a concrete sense rather thought-inspiring. So much so that I wrote an entire post about my own journey into Austen (though I have only read them through once). Cohen writes about seeing different things in Austen’s literary worlds depending on where in her life she has been; how Austen writes children, how she writes about grief, war and politics more broadly, home and house, even plays – particularly connecting this theme discussion to Mansfield Park in which the cast spend several pages preparing for a performance and in which the play itself has plot and character importance. With every point, she explores her status as a reader changing and noting on what she is seeing in Austen’s books, she takes us on various bypasses, not necessarily leading to a main street but rather allowing us to experience her mind wandering and taking organic steps in a journey. Full Review on Curious Reader!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    As an author myself, I rarely, if ever, give a bad review. So I’ll only place stars if this site forces me to do so. I know how hard it is to create solid work—and I never want to do harm. I am, like Cohen, a deep reader of Austen, and I lost my adult son when he was 47 years old in 2017. So I bought this book in the hope that Cohen’s grief would infuse the intellect that drives the book. I also attended a theoretical q&a (Questions seemed pre-prepared to make sure she had some.) reading and tal As an author myself, I rarely, if ever, give a bad review. So I’ll only place stars if this site forces me to do so. I know how hard it is to create solid work—and I never want to do harm. I am, like Cohen, a deep reader of Austen, and I lost my adult son when he was 47 years old in 2017. So I bought this book in the hope that Cohen’s grief would infuse the intellect that drives the book. I also attended a theoretical q&a (Questions seemed pre-prepared to make sure she had some.) reading and talk by Cohen via Zoom at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore via the University of Chicago. I was struck while reading and even more so during the two-person plus Cohen-panel and a moderator, who did quite little, if anything, in these ways: What makes the potential for this book so great is that Cohen chose to address her grief on the dying and death of her father by rereading Jane Austen. She is a solid scholar, for sure. But what the book lacks is the power of grief and what the book exhibits is a decided unwillingness to share the emotion that clearly spurred the making of the book. I ended up decidedly bemused. If you want to learn about Austen’s time in history, colonialism, slavery and the fact that Austen lived while Napoleon attacked Britain, even some guesses about her thinking on that subject, go ahead: You’ll find much to chew on. But if you expect to be moved and if you hope this author will dare to leap, hold your breath.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    One of those books that you know you'll read again, alongside the novels by Jane Austen that Cohen close-reads. The bibliography and endnotes alone could keep me happy and busy for years. Stellar writing, raw and elegant, and so many insights about Jane Austen that it will take me until the paperback edition appears to think things through. One of those books that you know you'll read again, alongside the novels by Jane Austen that Cohen close-reads. The bibliography and endnotes alone could keep me happy and busy for years. Stellar writing, raw and elegant, and so many insights about Jane Austen that it will take me until the paperback edition appears to think things through.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Very, very beautiful about Austen; hugely worth reading slowly and savoring the prose. The writing on Austen is going to stay with me for a long time, and I can already foresee how it's going to positively impact and even shape my own reading of her in future. I've copied down some of the passages to save and come back to as I think about and read about Austen again. However, my interest in the more directly and traditionally memoir aspects of the book -- the author's psychoanalysis, etc. -- was Very, very beautiful about Austen; hugely worth reading slowly and savoring the prose. The writing on Austen is going to stay with me for a long time, and I can already foresee how it's going to positively impact and even shape my own reading of her in future. I've copied down some of the passages to save and come back to as I think about and read about Austen again. However, my interest in the more directly and traditionally memoir aspects of the book -- the author's psychoanalysis, etc. -- was..... much less.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    It has taken me MONTHS to read this book. And after all that I'm still not sure why Cohen was only able to read and re-read Austen's novels for a number of years. Some of her thoughts about the books are interesting, and she writes beautifully about her father, but it's such a scattered book that I couldn't follow her thesis. It has taken me MONTHS to read this book. And after all that I'm still not sure why Cohen was only able to read and re-read Austen's novels for a number of years. Some of her thoughts about the books are interesting, and she writes beautifully about her father, but it's such a scattered book that I couldn't follow her thesis.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Julie Olver

    I find anything Austen-related to be irresistible, so I was excited about this book. It felt timely, because I'm going through a phase where I am constantly re-reading Austen in between other books. But this was scattered and redundant and just didn't work for me. I find anything Austen-related to be irresistible, so I was excited about this book. It felt timely, because I'm going through a phase where I am constantly re-reading Austen in between other books. But this was scattered and redundant and just didn't work for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Enchanted Prose

    Newfound perspectives on Jane Austen’s novels during life-changing events over years (Boston and Chicago, 2012 to present-day): How do you cope when your “world shattered”? If you’re Rachel Cohen, a widely-read scholar who grew up as a “lonely, reading child,” when she was going through a period of traumatic events later in her life, she became consumed reading novels that gave her things she didn’t have: “definiteness, endings known, bearable, even triumphant.” But unlike millions of readers pas Newfound perspectives on Jane Austen’s novels during life-changing events over years (Boston and Chicago, 2012 to present-day): How do you cope when your “world shattered”? If you’re Rachel Cohen, a widely-read scholar who grew up as a “lonely, reading child,” when she was going through a period of traumatic events later in her life, she became consumed reading novels that gave her things she didn’t have: “definiteness, endings known, bearable, even triumphant.” But unlike millions of readers passionate about Jane Austen, this University of Chicago English professor of creative nonfiction – “biography, art history, the lyric essay, literary criticism, and memoir” – was “appalled” her reading life had narrowed exclusively to Austen over many years, especially since she’d considered Austen’s works less complex than she discovered upon further study. The Austen Years tracks Cohen’s seven-year journey when she “repeatedly” re-read five of Austen’s six novels, leaving Northanger Abbey out because Austen hadn’t “solved it to her satisfaction,” which matched Cohen’s view that it was “opaque.” These were years of personal upheaval, when the dad she was so close to was hospitalized and then passed away a year later around the same time she gave birth to her first child, a daughter she calls S; later a second child, a son, T. Two extreme emotions – grief and sadness, joy and the daunting responsibilities of motherhood – drove Cohen to seek out qualities and characters in Austen’s world that were comforting. She wasn’t expecting guidance, rather, understanding. Austen “is often not going to be guidance,” she says, but “understanding,” which actually takes “a long time.” Cohen’s inward journey began sometime after 9/11 when the world we knew also shattered. The author is intellectually patient; asks us to be too. She’s a deep thinker who offers new perspectives on Austen’s appeal and timelessness. Unless you’ve recently read most of Austen’s novels so they’re fresh in your mind, expect to miss some of the memoir’s richness of thought. Still, you’ll feel energized by what you learn and glean. In an excellent article, psychotherapist and English professor Wendy Jones, who wrote Jane on the Brain: Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence with Jane Austen, asks, “Why so many people love Austen so intensely, and in such a personal way?” She offers insight into the allure for Cohen going through enormous emotional turmoil as a “profound need for empathy, that we’re not alone.” Empathy, more specific than comfort, better explains what Cohen found. Interestingly, Jones describes our need for empathy as not just during our “sorrows,” but “our joys” too. This illuminates the unusual aspect of Cohen’s memoir, the dual perspectives of Cohen’s relationship to Austen, which mixes seeing things in Austen’s world Cohen wished she had with seeing similarities in her life in Austen’s novels and life. Jones calls these “two kinds of empathy, of recognizing and feeling recognized.” The Austen Years is probably the least understood book I’ve reviewed that I’ve enjoyed so much. Cohen has devoted a lot of time analyzing a great 19th century British writer resonating so well today, so she has a lot to say. Our tendency may be to put down a book we don’t fully understand, but you don’t feel that way at all. Instead, you’re compelled to take in as much as you can. As for similarities between Cohen’s world and Austen’s, there’s many, starting with balancing darkness and lightness. Cohen sees the same in Austen’s novels: “Jane Austen wrote in alternation, darker books and lighter ones, dimmer ones of sorrow and bewilderment next to brighter ones of comedy and clarity.” Austen’s novels may be on your bucket list of classics you want to read/re-read, so it’s likely the memoir will encourage you to do so sooner than later. If so, Cohen suggests beginning with Sense and Sensibility since it’s “a little easier to find the beautiful rhythm that comes in the rest of the books.” That does not mean it’s her favorite. Hands down Persuasion is, including the main character Anne Elliott, whom she loves. The attraction is seen when Cohen writes “nearly everyone in her book [referring to Persuasion] is mourning, in different ways”; and when she characterizes Anne as “quiet, modest, passionate, and alone,” which is how Cohen comes across grieving the loss of one life while bringing a new one into the world. Readers devoted to re-reading Austen, the Janeites, attest to how many times you can re-read her novels and discover something new, like Cohen. She admits she “missed huge parts of the plots” on the first go-arounds, attributing that to knowing “little of what other people had found in Austen. I had not worked at history, interpretation, biography. I had been too much alone.” Her memoir does not make the same mistake, as her interpretations included consulting a multitude of resources – books, articles, essays, letters, literary critics, historians, writers, friends. Enough to fill fifteen pages in her Notes and Bibliography. These references are printed in a tiny font, which makes them feel even more exhaustive. One writer she consulted may surprise you, Ta-Nehisi Coates. We associate him with his award-winning books on racism, not the genteel world of Jane Austen. Coates is also a columnist for The Atlantic magazine, who wrote an article in 2011 saying: “I think Austen erects the most gorgeous and intricate sentences. They move with force in one direction, and with an incredible suddenness turn back on themselves. You think you’re reading one thing, when in fact, you’re reading something else.” This, of course, is Cohen’s takeaway too. A good example is Sense and Sensibility. She’d thought it a “romantic comedy” – like most of us likely do – but upon closer examination concluded it’s also a “novel of grief.” Reflecting on mourning, Cohen says “grief runs through the whole of life and leaves nothing untouched.” So, it runs through the whole of her memoir, giving it a melancholy tone, despite the wonder of motherhood. Cohen goes so far as to count how many times crying appears in Sense and Sensibility: twenty-three. That statement alone speaks volumes about the integrity, the thoughtfulness, of her efforts. This may explain why she doesn’t name her daughter, her son, and her husband, M. These impersonal attributions may make her family feel distant and put you off a bit since we want everything to feel intimate, but you do sense she’s given the same seriousness to protecting her family as she gives to the rigor of her work. Note: she dedicates her memoir to all three family members by name, so they’re not really hidden. She’s a serious person. That doesn’t mean parts of her memoir aren’t intimate, like her long years of her uneven relationship with M before they married. She’s kept her family at a distance since her memoir is focused mostly on her relationship, her journey, with Jane Austen. The one family member she wants us to know is the wonderful man she’s mourning: her father, Michael Cohen. He’s full of warmth, fun, and intellectual curiosity. We see how he instilled in his daughter the same curiosity and excitement for the exchange of ideas. He was “beloved” as a professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. An esteemed expert in organizational theory, particularly the “character” or culture of organizations. Michael Cohen’s daughter wants us to understand the loss of a great man as much as the greatness of Jane Austen. Lorraine (EnchantedProse.com)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I absolutely loved this book! I need to own a copy. It is a gorgeous meditation on Jane Austen's books and her life. Each book, each character is held and savored...I can't imagine reading Jane Austen again without Rachel Cohen as my companion. It isn't a book for everyone. It helps if you love Jane Austin's novels and the characters who people them. I do. I'll share a few passages that I love, but there are too many to copy. So I'll note the pages that I've covered with post it notes and when I I absolutely loved this book! I need to own a copy. It is a gorgeous meditation on Jane Austen's books and her life. Each book, each character is held and savored...I can't imagine reading Jane Austen again without Rachel Cohen as my companion. It isn't a book for everyone. It helps if you love Jane Austin's novels and the characters who people them. I do. I'll share a few passages that I love, but there are too many to copy. So I'll note the pages that I've covered with post it notes and when I buy my own copy, I'll savor them again, and reread and underline and then read Austen's books. What a treat is in store. As Rachel Cohen's father dies, "My mother and my sister and I were all there, around him. We were tender with one another and with him I have the sense of us circling around him, and also the sense of us fading. I have sat at three deathbeds and I have noticed each time, as I try to be with the inner life of the person going out of the world, a faint inversion in the atmosphere. It is as if I and the other people around the bed are wraiths, our hands and voices but dimly perceivable. There is a tilt to the world--it slides toward the world of the spirits--and the sense that we are become the intangibles. 47 Jane Austen's novels often end a bit unexpectedly, and there are generally clues near and at the ending, last notes to the reader about what she herself has though the book to be about and how to let it go on in your mind. The two main characters almost always take a walk together and arrive at a form of mutual understanding that fits their characters and their novel. After many days of frustration, Elizabeth and Darcy manage to escape her mother and her siblings and be alone together. 131-132 and both Darcy and Elizabeth fault themselves for their misunderstandings. "Perhaps it is easier for Austen to consider the workings of gratitude without slowing down for a critique o Walter Scott and a history of Bonaparte because gratitude is not like progress in time, byt like a rhythm in time. Claudia Rankine had said the condition of black life is one of mourning....137-8 The world of each Jane Austen novel, permeated, saturated with an environment, qualities, concerns that she had culled from years of her experience and observations--has a principled consistency. The more intensely you read each one, the more firmly they insist that you learn to see the relationships between ideals and enclosed possibilities. My father believed that small things, a little group of people acting together, a way of walking, a dream through which all the larger forces of the world and time that contain them. He thought you could see in our steps and stumbles what the world meant to us and what we were trying to mean in the world. Theseus' argument to Hippolyta about why the theater is meaningful: And as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen Turns them to shapes and give to airy nothing A local habitation and a name. 219 Emma, like Napoleon, susceptible to "insufferable vanity" to the grandiosity and "unpardonable arrogance" of attempting to "arrange everybody's destiny." 225 Mr. Knightley...knows that Miss Bates leading people to think well of one another is necessary to their small kingdom 227 Woolf compares the way Eliot writes Mrs. Casaubon and the way Austen writes Emma 229 The humorless prig Mr. Collins compared to Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley through his lack of sensitivity as a dancer. 231 Reading this for a second time as I read Pride and Prejudice for, I think, a fifth time, is sheer joy. I recently read some scathing Good Reads reviews of Austin Years. It baffled me. Anyone who loves Jane Austin would have to appreciate the artistry of this book (imho). I remembered why I had loved it so much on first reading. Yes, it moves from literary analysis, to memoir, to delight in Austin's complexity and brilliance. I am enjoying the book as much this time as I did the first. Darcy and Elizabeth's cluelessness about each other, immediate "prejudice" against each other, and gradual revision of their impressions are utterly magnificent. Cohen's examination of her own life, in the context of Austin's novels continues to move me in my second reading. The author "wanders"??? Yes, she wanders into her own life as she thinks about this life in relation to the unfolding characters in Austin's novels. I find the journey mesmerizing. 23 "Vriginia (Woolf) wrote about Austen in every form and at every stage of her writing life--in letters, diaries, essays, in her own first novel. Some nights she immersed herself in Austen, other times she read her in fragments, "two words at a time." As Woolf's own craft matured, there emerged for her a sense of Austen's revisions and where, in Persuasion, Austen might have been going. 24 Woolf wanted the reactive, various Austen, not staid lives of Austen, but lives with Austen.She knew, I think, that we could never run out of reading any writer willing to combine with us to make these rare shared substances. "For books continue each other," she wrote in "A Room of One's Own," in spite of judging them separately." 25 In recent years, it has become common practice to write fragments of memoir every day, to share pictures and written notes of experience with an audience of friends and strangers...Of course this is different from trying to be kind, or from trying to shelter one's family; sometimes it is neither kind nor sheltering, but it is its own imperative, to make sense. 26 Austen reading the words that would become Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice to her family, and delighted in their delight. She had become a practicing writer. Then one day her father decided they should leave their home....(I felt it as a physical injury...) Rachel Cohen 27 Jane Austen felt that habits were the inward structure of character, and this understanding continued in her family...(Jane) resumed the habits which had been formed in her first, and continued them to the end of her life. 91 I suspect that Austen learned to revise differently between the reworking she gave to Elinor and Marianne and the one for Elizabeth I guess at this from brooding over the way her characters think about changing their lives, which is the experience in the life of a character that is most like an author's experience of revision. 92 In her last speech, Marianne might have been heading in this direction" "I considered the past," she begins. Elizabeth will be the first to be explicit about revision, and she is so explicit that it is as if Austen is drawing a line under each part of her thinking. 102 Woolf said it was remarkable that, Austen, living when she did, could have written "without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching." Woolf said that it is as if Austen wasn't naturally as good a writer as Charlotte Bronte, but Jane Austen did not get angry and Charlotte Bronte did and this distorted Bronte's prose, whereas Austen's prose came out sparkling and unmarred. 108 The book begins in exposition, but quickly comes to movement in space, at the fateful ball when Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth and refuses to ask her to dance. The refusal is immediately a wonderful story, one Elizabeth tells while still at the ball: "She told the story however with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous." 111-112 Austen wrote to Cassandra, "The work is rather too light, &bright, & sparkling; it wants share;--it wants to be stretched out here & there with a long Chapter--of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense--about something unconnected with the story."This stretching out, putting in chapters of sense and solemn nonsense, "would bring the reader with increased delight & Epigrammatism of the general stile." Variety of pace would have given the reader a sense of history and time passing, and might have helped readers see that they were to learn to live with Elizabeth over time. 122 Rachel discusses her fear of endings: Her therapist says, "It's time to end," when the hour passes. Rachel sees this as pratice for death, for the end of the story she and her therapist create. She was afraid of staying and going...she felt this way about marriage: her refusal was actually about the prolonged intimacy, the endlessness. 124 Austen read Samuel Johnson, who warns that like Swift, are too given to thinking the qualities of character in opposition, or that certain virtues are inevitably accompanied by corresponding faults. One must be more precise, more variegated, more attentive to interaction...to the way qualities expand within a life. "Pride, which produces quickness of resentment, will obstruct gratitude." The workings are clear, and must have stayed in Austen's mind when she came across this line: It is very unlikely that he who cannot think that he has received a favor will acknowledge or repay it. Qualities of character are not seen in opposition, or on a continuum. Q. don't interrupt or obscure each other, they exist together. 130 To revise, well, whether the revision is of your own writing or the life you are living, is to be able to see with someone else's eyes, or from care for someone else. (This passage continues to explore how Darcy and Elizabeth have changed. "With gratitude as foundation, affection will blend through and soften interruption, become capable of revision, continue in time." Ta-Nehisi Coates "Snobbery" in The Atlantic. Why he wants his own Pride and Prejudice and won't watch movie adaptations.......Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own: p. 45

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    “If I picture a map of the five Austen novels in my mind, the first four are like the orbiting bodies of a planetary system, widening outward in concentric circles, from the tight binary star of the two sisters in Sense and Sensibility, to the family life of Pride and Prejudice, to the wider eclipse of Mansfield Park, all the way out to the perfectible community resonant in Emma. Persuasion is something like an asteroid that moves, irregularly, repeatedly, among the different spheres.” “If one we “If I picture a map of the five Austen novels in my mind, the first four are like the orbiting bodies of a planetary system, widening outward in concentric circles, from the tight binary star of the two sisters in Sense and Sensibility, to the family life of Pride and Prejudice, to the wider eclipse of Mansfield Park, all the way out to the perfectible community resonant in Emma. Persuasion is something like an asteroid that moves, irregularly, repeatedly, among the different spheres.” “If one were to attempt to locate Jane Austen among the elements in the periodic table of authors, there would be a difficult choice. On the one hand, she is, I think, like what are called the noble gases--unreacting, impervious, clear, and continuous in the air above. On the other, she seems like those most reactive metals that scarcely exist independently in nature, so fast are they to combine with other elements.” Austen’s books serve as a stairway helping Cohen navigate her father’s death and daughter’s birth, and Austen becomes a sort of bibliotherapist as Cohen reconciles her lament through literature. Cohen substitutes the emotionally fraught term “counseling” with the more scientific “analysis.” “What else could you call it, the relief of telling someone the things within yourself that had isolated you and that you had found terrible, and of finding that you and they were still there?...It was painful to think that...one of these days it really would end. But it was worse to think that things would never change, that I would just go on coming into the office in the same way, talking of the same things, three days a week forever.…My father said he was glad I had done analysis…He said I had become much less anxious, and...that it had changed the way I sat in a chair.” Thus the overlay of the sketch of a chair on the book cover’s pastoral painting. Cohen’s memoir compelled me of the value of rereading, “the moment of reversal, the throat of the hourglass through which the whole novel passes, and from which it issues out with everything in opposite form.” As she astutely observes, happy endings are not in weddings; “instead, the real endings point toward adjustments that make away.”

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    I wanted to like this book so much. That's probably most of the reason for the low rating; I had such high expectations. To me it read like a collection of term papers on Austen excerpted and grafted on to the author's memoir... which, I have to add, I found, well, tedious. She held the reader at arm's length. I think she aimed for literary and for me it came off as pretentious. She also seemed to expect her readers to have studied Austen as throughly as she, whereas I am an Austen reader who lo I wanted to like this book so much. That's probably most of the reason for the low rating; I had such high expectations. To me it read like a collection of term papers on Austen excerpted and grafted on to the author's memoir... which, I have to add, I found, well, tedious. She held the reader at arm's length. I think she aimed for literary and for me it came off as pretentious. She also seemed to expect her readers to have studied Austen as throughly as she, whereas I am an Austen reader who loves her work but who hasn't delved deeply into the scholarship. The only book I haven't read is Mansfield Park which I intended to read this year but in this book it sounds so dreary that I'm having second thoughts. Of course in her retelling most of them sound dreary. I was hoping for insights, to feel a connection with both Austen and the author but I didn't come away feeling that. After the author's admission that she hoards books and refuses to return books to friends--even books she knows are important to them-- that we could not be friends. (I understand forgetting to return a book; I don't understand knowing and not returning. Buy your own copy.). I know I'm in the minority here, as most found this to be insightful and poignant. What can I say? I'm just a reader not a scholar.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Rachel Cohen's "Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels" was enjoyable in various ways, informative in other ways. I could relate to her deep affinity with an author (for me, Lillian Hellman) and the comfort that reading and re-reading brought her during dramatic, painful years of transition. I further appreciated her numerous scholarly resources presented at the end of the book, yes, but also throughout all of the narration. In fact, I jotted various notes along the way. Noticing how Cohen wove h Rachel Cohen's "Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels" was enjoyable in various ways, informative in other ways. I could relate to her deep affinity with an author (for me, Lillian Hellman) and the comfort that reading and re-reading brought her during dramatic, painful years of transition. I further appreciated her numerous scholarly resources presented at the end of the book, yes, but also throughout all of the narration. In fact, I jotted various notes along the way. Noticing how Cohen wove her own memoir with periods in Austen's life and then with Austen's characters, I looked up the author and discovered "A Chance Meeting" about authors from different times meeting each other; it's now on my "Want to Read" list. I liked reading this, yet I did not experience moments of delight, shock, or deeper insight. By no means am I going to dismiss this book; it is Cohen's personal memoir about dealing with loss, and her profession is an English and Literature professor. Both of these are presented in this book. A friend recommended this to me, and I genuinely look forward to our conversation when we meet and can discuss this. Listening to her insights and ideas, I may choose to revisit this for a second reading.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carin

    Just after Rachel had her first baby, her beloved father's illness returned and he died. She found throughout the period in which she had two children and lost her father, she could read nothing else but Jane Austen. She returned over and over and over again to her five novels (not Northanger Abbey which is a farce of a Gothic novel.) At different times, different novels spoke to her. She could pick them up anywhere and just read a few pages and put them down. Reading them was more of a form of Just after Rachel had her first baby, her beloved father's illness returned and he died. She found throughout the period in which she had two children and lost her father, she could read nothing else but Jane Austen. She returned over and over and over again to her five novels (not Northanger Abbey which is a farce of a Gothic novel.) At different times, different novels spoke to her. She could pick them up anywhere and just read a few pages and put them down. Reading them was more of a form of meditating, rather than novel reading. She wasn't reading for content or critique, but for comfort and reassurance. Much like H is for Hawk, this novel is about how grief renders one utterly shocked and unable to cope in their usual ways--therefore glomming on to a talisman that seems to make some sense of the new world. At times the book made me sad. Rachel's father sounds delightful. I have a professor father myself, but we never go on walks (unless you count golf in which case on vacations we often go on walks.) It's a fascinating idea, for one who hasn't reread a book in years, to consider rereading and rereading and rereading. What new insights would one get on the 20th rereading? The 50th? Would I one day grow to like, or at least appreciate, Mansfield Park? Unlike other readers I've always liked Emma--would I perhaps grow frustrated with her? Anne is so passive and so sad, but has been my favorite heroine--would she stay that way? And the silly Marianne, would I perhaps appreciate her emotionality more? Alas, I don't see me finding out, but I do, in my own way, revisit Austen's novels over and over, through pastiches, retellings, biographies, hagiographies, and other variations on this theme. This likely will be a lifelong pastime. And it it calming to read this quiet meditation on Austen, on her life and her heroines, during a difficult time in someone else's life, and how Austen provided solace and comfort. Each of us will deal with grief in our own time and our own way, and I hope I can do it with as much grace and thoughtfulness as Ms. Cohen.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ellen H

    2.5. This book really disappointed me. The book was about some years while the author's father failed and died and she married and had two children, while she -- ostensibly, but, as it turns out, not really -- read only Jane Austen. Frankly, neither she nor her father were interesting enough to balance out whatever interest there was in her descriptions and analysis of Austen's life and works. I just didn't care, and her sanctifying of her father and his work and the coy tone with which she refe 2.5. This book really disappointed me. The book was about some years while the author's father failed and died and she married and had two children, while she -- ostensibly, but, as it turns out, not really -- read only Jane Austen. Frankly, neither she nor her father were interesting enough to balance out whatever interest there was in her descriptions and analysis of Austen's life and works. I just didn't care, and her sanctifying of her father and his work and the coy tone with which she referred to her relationship with her husband and her children -- down to referring to them only with the initials of their first names, as if she were so important that if she wrote out their full names they'd have to go into witness protection -- actually made my lip curl.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    A graceful and deeply introspective memoir written by a woman who reads and rereads Jane Austen to help her confront the changes occurring in her own life, and learns that her personal experiences give her a new lens to explore the meaning of Austen’s novels. See full review here: https://openlettersreview.com/posts/a... A graceful and deeply introspective memoir written by a woman who reads and rereads Jane Austen to help her confront the changes occurring in her own life, and learns that her personal experiences give her a new lens to explore the meaning of Austen’s novels. See full review here: https://openlettersreview.com/posts/a...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    This is part memoir, part literary criticism, and part history. And I loved it. The author spent years reading only Austen's five novels (she doesn't count Northanger Abbey, arguing that Austen wasn't really done with it), years of some turmoil in her personal life as she experienced her father's death and started a family herself. My favorite elements of the book are the literary criticism and history. I know Austen's novels well; Cohen assumes this of her readers, and the book is probably less This is part memoir, part literary criticism, and part history. And I loved it. The author spent years reading only Austen's five novels (she doesn't count Northanger Abbey, arguing that Austen wasn't really done with it), years of some turmoil in her personal life as she experienced her father's death and started a family herself. My favorite elements of the book are the literary criticism and history. I know Austen's novels well; Cohen assumes this of her readers, and the book is probably less enjoyable for those more unfamiliar. Though each Austen novel is given space, Persuasion is incorporated throughout. Cohen's perceptions and connections regarding grief, friendship, reading, writing, forgetting, and imagining in the novels--along with many detailed observations of novel-specific events--delighted me. Cohen also considers history and how world events might have influenced Austen's writing. On my next reread, there will be lots to think about. The book is driven by impressions; the lack of narrative didn't bother me. I read with a pencil at hand, savoring the gorgeous writing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kate Richey

    Easily the most boring book I’ve read in a decade. And I LOVE Jane Austen. I don’t know how the author manages to present personal anecdotes - that would otherwise be exciting chapters of a life in a memoir - in writing that is generic, plodding, self-important, and vacuous...but it was managed expertly. Navel-gazing award of the century. This book felt like running into a passing acquaintance at the grocery store, who talks to you like you’re their closest friend, and won’t give you an out in t Easily the most boring book I’ve read in a decade. And I LOVE Jane Austen. I don’t know how the author manages to present personal anecdotes - that would otherwise be exciting chapters of a life in a memoir - in writing that is generic, plodding, self-important, and vacuous...but it was managed expertly. Navel-gazing award of the century. This book felt like running into a passing acquaintance at the grocery store, who talks to you like you’re their closest friend, and won’t give you an out in the conversation to exit politely. Just awful. Of all the books on Goodreads that I’ve been surprised had higher ratings than they deserved - this one is by far the most shocking. Did the author just invite everyone they knew to give 5 stars? Or pay people to rate it? Have mercy on yourself and go read another book. HURRY.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I’m strangely drawn to a weird niche category of books where the author takes up a particular—and often unusual—hobby to deal with grief after the loss of a loved one. Helen Macdonald’s “H is For Hawk” falls into this category, as does Katie Arnold’s more recent book about ultrarunning, “Running Home” and So Litt Woon Long’s memoir, “The Way Through the Woods,” in which she describes being drawn into the world of mushroom hunting after the sudden death of her husband. I also really enjoy books t I’m strangely drawn to a weird niche category of books where the author takes up a particular—and often unusual—hobby to deal with grief after the loss of a loved one. Helen Macdonald’s “H is For Hawk” falls into this category, as does Katie Arnold’s more recent book about ultrarunning, “Running Home” and So Litt Woon Long’s memoir, “The Way Through the Woods,” in which she describes being drawn into the world of mushroom hunting after the sudden death of her husband. I also really enjoy books that combine memoir with literary and biographical exploration of a particular author, like Rebecca Mead’s “My Life in Middlemarch,” which I absolutely loved. Rachel Cohen’s “Austen Years” combines the two, as she deals with the loss of her father by dedicating herself to years of reading only Jane Austen books. I should say from the start that if you don’t like Austen, you probably won’t like “Austen Years,” as it includes quite a bit of textual analysis and assumes a familiarity—and indeed a great appreciation—of at least five of Austen’s six completed books. (Early in the book, the author recounts a joke about the philosopher Gilbert Ryle: “Someone had asked Ryle if he ever read literature in addition to philosophy. And Ryle replied, ‘Of course, I read all six every year.’”) And, much like grief itself, this book is not particularly straightforward or linear—it digresses and winds back on itself in a ruminative, wistful way. But if you are an Austen fan and if, moreover, you are comfortable allowing a book to unfold at a contemplative pace, “Austen Years” will be a quiet treat. Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    In the past, as I had worked on writing my first book, and on different series of essays, if anyone happened to ask me what I was reading, I was relieved. To say “I’m reading James Baldwin,” or “I’m reading Russian poets,” was to give the truthful answer one never does to the polite question “How are you?” I had meant, among other things, “I’m paying attention.” Now I sat on the bus that went across the river, with a finger holding a place in Persuasion, and heard again in my mind the sound of t In the past, as I had worked on writing my first book, and on different series of essays, if anyone happened to ask me what I was reading, I was relieved. To say “I’m reading James Baldwin,” or “I’m reading Russian poets,” was to give the truthful answer one never does to the polite question “How are you?” I had meant, among other things, “I’m paying attention.” Now I sat on the bus that went across the river, with a finger holding a place in Persuasion, and heard again in my mind the sound of the coming baby’s heartbeat. On the pages, there was asperity, definiteness, endings known, bearable, even triumphant. Still, 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. “Comfort reading,” one intellectual said briskly when I, some springs ago, after a little hesitation, once again confessed that Austen was all I read. It is another kind of comfort, not, I think, the kind my friend meant, that the people who live in Austen’s rooms know that much of the time will is all one has to work with, that there is often not going to be guidance, that one will wait a long time for understanding to come and will have acted, over and over and probably not for the best, before it arrives. These are repeated lessons of being a parent and of watching a parent sicken and die. But in that conversation at home, something else happened. We came to the end of what we could say, and I stood and faced him. Something moved. It might have been that he reached to grab my arm, but I think it was just a look, like a mask across his face, that stayed for a prolonged moment. An expression I could not place, in the vicinity of anger, passion, and doubt. It had to do with the way he was leaving me, and us, and the world. It was as bleak and impassioned as I ever saw his face. It seemed that he had a feeling to which he could not put words, and which might have meant that, as he made his reckoning with the universe, the final abandonment was grim. Looking back at myself in earlier rooms, I think I would say that, in the evenings, studying the shards of meaning that remained after similar days, I was not primarily reading Austen either to accept, or to hide from, a new life, but because it gave me room for thought. Austen’s rooms, like a stage set, are actually mostly empty—there are basic pieces of furniture, books, a plant or two. She does not describe clothes or carriages, but how her characters think about their things. Her characters are worried about money and time. In her rooms, as in ours, people live under great pressure. Time bears down upon us. The world is raging, and we have each of us but a tiny sphere of activity. We are subject to constant interruption, and we must nevertheless exert ourselves to make sense and to become coherent. One lives with one eye on the laundry and one eye on the reckoning. We kept “honor,” took out “serve,” we chose “as long as we both shall live.” When we came to the remarks Matthias would make about the state of marriage we were to enter into, Matthias thought Hegel might be grounding. The two philosophers said, a little wryly, that according to Hegel, once married, we would become one substance. I said fuck that. In their mourning, perhaps they also felt, I think they must have, that the ways of life in which they had grown up, with every expectation that these ways would see them through, had, quite suddenly, in the space of two decades, become almost completely unrelated to the world that had come to be. What should they do with all of these habits and ways of navigating, all this remembered life that seemed now like it hardly touched the world moving on. Over time, even the memories of this winter walking got blended into the round. The hardest memory, the one that refused obstinately to become a part of the circle, that if I thought of it would always catch me and tear me away, was the one of my last walk there with my father, in the autumn, when he told me to teach, which I thought meant to stop doing the writing in which I was getting lost. One thing I think now is that my disquiet on that walk was from a misunderstanding that went even deeper. As we went, up and down the slopes, over the graveled part and the paved, I was worried in a molecular way that I’d never experienced before: there was a strange faltering in the pace of walking next to my father. I knew I was angry with myself for not quite being able to love a walk together, one I could not say to myself might be among the last we would have. I didn’t know that my body was registering a truth—we had already lost walking next to each other. On the last day, shortly before the morphine began to take effect, I asked my father whether he had any messages for people. He said that he had tried to write to some of his closest friends but had found it impossible. I said I would tell people that he had always hated goodbyes. And I added, tentatively, that I thought he would say to them that he would be satisfied to feel—and I tried to get the words he would use, and I knew to say—that life was going on. He made a sign that indicated that this was a right expression. Then I said to my father that people would be acting in his honor and thinking of his memory. He shook his head. He said: “It all going on is miracle enough.”

  25. 4 out of 5

    T.

    Review essay here: https://mereorthodoxy.com/book-review... Review essay here: https://mereorthodoxy.com/book-review...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lili

    I found this book on the list of nonfiction books to be released in 2020 in one of the Publisher’s Lunch Buzz Books editions last year. At the time, the publisher’s blurb on Goodreads convinced me that this was a book that I had to read. Since I wasn’t successful in getting an advance reader copy, I put it on reserve at my local library to read after I finished reading Pride and Prejudice for my work book club. Austen Years is an unusual book. It took me almost two weeks to read the first half, b I found this book on the list of nonfiction books to be released in 2020 in one of the Publisher’s Lunch Buzz Books editions last year. At the time, the publisher’s blurb on Goodreads convinced me that this was a book that I had to read. Since I wasn’t successful in getting an advance reader copy, I put it on reserve at my local library to read after I finished reading Pride and Prejudice for my work book club. Austen Years is an unusual book. It took me almost two weeks to read the first half, but just a few days to read the second half. That’s how long it took me to learn how to read the book and acclimate to its slow pacing. The book is a curious mix of plot summary, literary analysis, history, biography, and personal memoir. There are sections where the author lays out the major plot points and characters of a particular Jane Austen novel; there are sections where she analyzes and critiques a novels or does comparative analysis across novels. Sections provide historical background on the era in which Jane Austen was writing, while other sections provide biographical background on Jane Austen herself as well as the Austen family and close friends through contemporary letters written by or to Jane Austen. These sections are woven together by the author’s struggle with her experience with and grief over her father’s death from cancer, which pulls in autobiographical notes about the author’s childhood, marriage, and motherhood. The transitions between these sections are uneven. Sometimes the are very poetic and lyrical; other times they are jarring non sequiturs. The spacing and subtitles help with the signaling, but don’t always ease the transition. Ostensibly, each chapter is centered around one of five canon Austen novels. Sandition, the unfinished novel, has its place at the beginning of a much later chapter. Northanger Abbey, the Gothic novel, is never mentioned. At all. Persuasion is the author’s clear favorite, as it overflows from its chapter into the beginning chapter and the closing chapter, as well into other chapters as a foil to the primary novel being discussed. However, because of the summaries and analyses woven into the discussions of the novels, it isn’t entirely necessary to have any familiarity with any of the novels in order to follow the threads of literary discussion. There is very little of the author herself in the book, despite the extended discussions of her relationship with her father and her grief over his death. The author herself is a liberal bisexual Jewish writer, which one only learns from context clues. In a few places, she makes her political views very clear, especially in her characterization of the 2016 election in the United States. Very near the beginning of the book, the author glides over that she’s had relationships with men and women before marrying her husband at age thirty-nine. Briefly, she discusses how a serious relationship with a woman ended because of her inability to deal with her father’s cancer diagnosis. There are references to her relationships with men and women sprinkled throughout earlier chapters, but none dwelled upon as much as the slow burn relationship with her current husband. Unfortunately, it is with barely thirty pages left that she casually mentions a favorite family photo at Hanukkah on the stairwell, and even later that she mentions a family gathering for Rosh Hashanah. Overall, if you’re willing to put the time into learning how to read the book, this one can be a lovely experience, especially when paired with an Austen novel. If I had to guess, readers who appreciated the slow deliberate and meditative pace of A Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard would enjoy Austen Years. I believe the inverse to also be true.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Desirae

    2.5 I struggled with this, and I can see other readers did the same. I found myself asking: “Why?” quite often. On the surface this is a memoir of grief – the authors father having passed away shortly after the birth of her daughter. Through that lens of grief, however, the author explores Jane Austen. Contextually speaking this format does not work. When I think of Jane Austen, I don’t think of sadness or turmoil or bereavement, even though those novels deal with that subject matter. When I thin 2.5 I struggled with this, and I can see other readers did the same. I found myself asking: “Why?” quite often. On the surface this is a memoir of grief – the authors father having passed away shortly after the birth of her daughter. Through that lens of grief, however, the author explores Jane Austen. Contextually speaking this format does not work. When I think of Jane Austen, I don’t think of sadness or turmoil or bereavement, even though those novels deal with that subject matter. When I think of the novels I’m left, relatively happy. I would imagine that Cohen, in her mourning, would do the same. I honestly can’t think of anything more calming than creaking open Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility on a rainy autumn day. Jane Austen is a mood, and a vibe, all her own. I could, in theory, have understood how Jane Austen helps Cohen navigate through her grief, but to hear her tell it the opposite is true, with the prose moving her further and further into dismal introspection. The book never truly decides on what it is. Although her research and notations about Austen are fascinating, I found myself disinterested in Cohen’s inner struggle. I also can’t imagine anything more pretentious then waxing poetic about how you were psychoanalyzed. She tried a bit too hard to make this something that it was never destined to be. You can take courage and inspiration from a literary heroine, but to somehow juxtaposition yourself into these novels felt wrong and I daresay inappropriate. One good thing to come out of this, though … Once I turned the last page on this book, I immediately picked up Jane Austen.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Magali

    If Rachel Cohen and I share one thing, it's our love for Jane Austen... But I'm not sure if we have anything else in common. Not because what I've read about her in this book made me think we are very different but because I'm not sure I really know her at all... This after listening for hours to her memoirs. To me it's an issue. I'm not saying I should know everything about someone after reading their memoirs, but I should at least feel like I know who they are. It wasn't a bad book. I've enjoy If Rachel Cohen and I share one thing, it's our love for Jane Austen... But I'm not sure if we have anything else in common. Not because what I've read about her in this book made me think we are very different but because I'm not sure I really know her at all... This after listening for hours to her memoirs. To me it's an issue. I'm not saying I should know everything about someone after reading their memoirs, but I should at least feel like I know who they are. It wasn't a bad book. I've enjoyed listening to it. But I was waiting for it to get very real, to go deeper, and it never really did, whether it was about the grief of the author after her father's death or about her love for Austen and her kind of obsession for those books. Because, she basically only read Austen for years. It takes obsession to do that. I love Austen but I couldn't re-read her constantly. I need other books. Other voices. And I was very interested in how you can be so obsessed with half a dozen books. But Cohen never really goes into that. She describes it like it's something people do. Like it's not something extra-ordinary. Like it's not obsessive at all. And I felt like she should have gone more into that. I liked how she talked about Austen but there again it felt very surfac-y. Felt like I was reading a biography on Austen but nothing that much deeper. I don't regret reading the book. But I regret its lack of substance. I know I'll have forgotten everything about it in a couple months. Which is sad. Because a memoir in five Austen novels should be unforgettable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Linda Hutchinson

    This book is a compilation of the author's thoughts having only read Jane Austen’s novels for 7 years in conjunction with the passing of her beloved father. This book is a loving reflection of Cohen's relationship to all things Jane Austen and also to all thoughts of her dad, Michael Cohen. I doubt my review can do it justice as I try to describe this book but it was so lovely and so well written and so moving mostly because I see where she’s going with her story and I can empathize with her tho This book is a compilation of the author's thoughts having only read Jane Austen’s novels for 7 years in conjunction with the passing of her beloved father. This book is a loving reflection of Cohen's relationship to all things Jane Austen and also to all thoughts of her dad, Michael Cohen. I doubt my review can do it justice as I try to describe this book but it was so lovely and so well written and so moving mostly because I see where she’s going with her story and I can empathize with her thoughts. I vividly remember my father telling me that after he was gone, he did not wish for me to mourn. That is simply not possible. A precious young friend of mine lost her dad yesterday as he skipped the veil between this world and the next leaving her bereft. I honestly don’t think anyone ever truly forgets love and those who have loved well. I do think Jane Austen lived a life that understood this which was then translated into some of the most beautiful stories ever written. This is not an easy book but I highly recommend it for anyone who understands that there exists a thin line between sorrow and hope. Bravo. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ #rachelcohenauthor #austinyears @fsgbooks #memoir . . #reading #books #bookstagram #book #read #bookworm #booklover #bookish #bibliophile #reader #novel #booksofinstagram #booklovers #book #lindaleereads2020 #mmdbookclub #idratherbereading #readinglife #mmd #fallreading #modernmrsdarcybookclub #fallreading #janeausten

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ann Joyce

    This book--- half memoir, half an analysis of five of Jane Austen's novels--- was a big disappointment. I bought the book because I had read an article, which I think was the nucleus of the book, in the New Yorker. The article was apparently the best of the book. The memoir part of the book was much more than I anticipated. The memoir form has its strengths and weaknesses. One of the principal weaknesses of the form is that there is a lot in most people's lives (even interesting people's lives) This book--- half memoir, half an analysis of five of Jane Austen's novels--- was a big disappointment. I bought the book because I had read an article, which I think was the nucleus of the book, in the New Yorker. The article was apparently the best of the book. The memoir part of the book was much more than I anticipated. The memoir form has its strengths and weaknesses. One of the principal weaknesses of the form is that there is a lot in most people's lives (even interesting people's lives) that is mundane. The author's memoir focuses on the death of her father with some side trips to her therapy. These are mundane topics. Most people suffer the loss of a parent. A lot of people go into therapy. While these topics can be made of interest to others, this author really doesn't provide us with any insights into losing a parent or therapy. The lack of insight made this portion of the book heavy going. The other portion of the book is the author's analysis of Jane Austen. Like the memoir portion, the author doesn't really provide any significant insight into Austen's work. In fact, she gets some of the details of the novels wrong, which is quite annoying. Finally, the author writes in a pretentious academic style. She strings thoughts together without punctuation like she is James Joyce or something. She is not James Joyce and this book is not worth the time. Read Jane Austen and draw your own conclusions.

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