Nonfiction November – Becoming an Expert Janeite

Nonfiction November – Becoming an Expert Janeite

It’s Week 3 of Nonfiction November, and I am off gallivanting around England! I thought it would be a ton-o-fun to talk about the inspiration for my blog name, Jane Austen, this week. Despite my love for Austen, I’ve never really done a deep-dive into her life, and I want to rectify that. 

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Week 3: (Nov. 12 to 16) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Julie @ JulzReads): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
Published by Vintage on April 27, 1999
Pages: 341
Buy on Amazon

At her death in 1817, Jane Austen left the world six of the most beloved novels written in English—but her shortsighted family destroyed the bulk of her letters; and if she kept any diaries, they did not survive her.  Now acclaimed biographer Claire Tomalin has filled the gaps in the record, creating a remarkably fresh and convincing portrait of the woman and the writer. 

While most Austen biographers have accepted the assertion of Jane's brother Henry that "My dear Sister's life was not a life of events," Tomalin shows that, on the contrary, Austen's brief life was fraught with upheaval.  Tomalin provides detailed and absorbing accounts of Austen's ill-fated love for a young Irishman, her frequent travels and extended visits to London, her close friendship with a worldly cousin whose French husband met his death on the guillotine, her brothers' naval service in the Napoleonic wars and in the colonies, and thus shatters the myth of Jane Austen as a sheltered and homebound spinster whose knowledge of the world was limited to the view from a Hampshire village. 

I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for over a year. It’s one of the leading Austen biographies, pieced together from various records and accounts. I am sad to think what Austenographies could have been if her letters weren’t destroyed, and diaries had been kept. 

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley
Published by Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. on May 18, 2017
Pages: 352
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Take a trip back to Jane Austen's world and the many places she lived as historian Lucy Worsley visits Austen's childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses--both grand and small--of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life. In places like Steventon Parsonage, Godmersham Park, Chawton House and a small rented house in Winchester, Worsley discovers a Jane Austen very different from the one who famously lived a 'life without incident'.

Worsley examines the rooms, spaces and possessions which mattered to her, and the varying ways in which homes are used in her novels as both places of pleasure and as prisons. She shows readers a passionate Jane Austen who fought for her freedom, a woman who had at least five marriage prospects, but--in the end--a woman who refused to settle for anything less than Mr. Darcy.

Illustrated with two sections of color plates, Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen at Home is a richly entertaining and illuminating new book about one of the world’s favorite novelists and one of the subjects she returned to over and over in her unforgettable novels: home.

I think Jane Austen at Home will be a fascinating look at how the various places Austen lived shaped her views and her writing. 

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz
Published by Penguin Press on April 28, 2011
Pages: 255
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Before Jane Austen, William Deresiewicz was a very different young man. A sullen and arrogant graduate student, he never thought Austen would have anything to offer him. Then he read Emma—and everything changed.

In this unique and lyrical book, Deresiewicz weaves the misadventures of Austen’s characters with his own youthful follies, demonstrating the power of the great novelist’s teachings—and how, for Austen, growing up and making mistakes are one and the same. Honest, erudite, and deeply moving, A Jane Austen Education is the story of one man’s discovery of the world outside himself.

My fellow Janeites tend to be of the female persuasion (see what I did there?). So it will be extremely interesting to see how Austen has influenced men (well, an individual man). Austen’s books touch everyone in different ways, and I always enjoy hearing people’s personal stories with the texts.

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
on November 3, 2016
Pages: 337
Buy on Amazon

A brilliant, illuminating reassessment of the life and work of Jane Austen that makes clear how Austen has been misread for the past two centuries and that shows us how she intended her books to be read, revealing, as well, how subversive and daring--how truly radical--a writer she was.

In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly--dazzling Jane Austen authority--looks past the grand houses, the pretty young women, past the demure drawing room dramas and witty commentary on the narrow social worlds of her time that became the hallmark of Austen's work to bring to light the serious, ambitious, deeply subversive nature of this beloved writer. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects--slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them--considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman "of information," fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it. We see a writer who understood that the novel--until then seen as mindless "trash"--could be a great art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer up to that time, imbued it with its particular greatness.

I am always excited to read about the various ways writers, actors, playwrights, etc comment on society in any given time period. Once finished, I feel this book will give me a different context to consider during subsequent rereads. 

Are there any other Austen-related books I should add to my TBR?

Nonfiction November: A Victorian Fiction/Nonfiction Pairing

Nonfiction November: A Victorian Fiction/Nonfiction Pairing

Out of all of the prompts for this month, the fiction/nonfiction pairing prompt was the one I was the iffiest on. However, as I occasionally do, I had this brilliant idea while laying awake at 4 am, staring at my ceiling fan. So let’s get into it, yeah?

– This post may contain affiliate links. This just means that if you click a link and make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Your support will help keep this blog up and running, thank you!
– I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

The Prompt

Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves) This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

My Pairing

I am fascinated by Queen Victoria, and always enjoy learning more about her. There seems to be so much information available, and I want to learn EVERYTHING. So I thought for this prompt, I would give you the pairing that I actually want to read. I talked about how I want to read Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird during NonFiction November, but then I picked up Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson off the sale shelf at Politics and Prose over the weekend and NOW I DON’T KNOW WHICH ONE TO READ FIRST. But since I made this pretty graphic above that includes the Wilson biography cover art, that’s the version I’m going to give ya.


Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson
Published by Penguin Books on November 24, 2015
Pages: 656
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A. N. Wilson's exhaustively researched and definitive biography includes a wealth of new material from previously unseen sources to show us Queen Victoria as she's never been seen before. Wilson explores the curious set of circumstances that led to Victoria's coronation, her strange and isolated childhood, her passionate marriage to Prince Albert and his pivotal influence even after death, and her widowhood and subsequent intimate friendship with her Highland servant John Brown, all set against the backdrop of this momentous epoch in Britain's history--and the world's.

This book is hefty. Like, door-stopper hefty. Thank goodness I got it in paperback. I am particularly interested in reading Wilson’s biography of Victoria as I want to read his “companion” biography, The Victorians (also hefty, at 760 pages). My time at the University of Liverpool involved a lot of reading about the Victorian era in my history classes, and found it supremely interesting. I look forward to continuing my self-education. 


Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 26, 2017
Pages: 432
Buy on Amazon

Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world. Despite her age, however, the young queen is no puppet. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.

"I do not like the name Alexandrina," she proclaims. "From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria."

On June 19th, 1837, she was a teenager. On June 20th, 1837, she was a queen. Daisy Goodwin's impeccably researched and vividly imagined new book brings readers Queen Victoria as they have never seen her before.

I’ve heard many good things about Goodwin’s novel, Victoria. Seeing as I have a very delinquent ARC review of this book in my backlist, now seems like a very good time to read it.

Bonus: TV Show

PBS Masterpiece’s Victoria is based on Daisy Goodwin’s novel. Likely because Goodwin is the creator and head writer for the show. Jenna Coleman plays the Queen, a solid choice if I may say so without having watched a single moment of the show. YET. I have Season 1 queued up on my iPad for my travels to England this month, with a somewhat fluid plan to watch Season 2 when I get home. Season 3 premieres on January 13, 2019.

BONUS: A Sleep Story

The Calm app has a large library of sleep stories, including this Alan Sklar narrated story about Queen Victoria. I probably listen to this story at least once a week (remember how I am prone to lay awake staring at my ceiling at all hours of the night?). I never get bored because I never make it to the end. Which I guess is kind of the point. Unfortunately, this sleep story is behind the paywall. However, if you have the $60/yr to spare for a subscription, I highly recommend this app.

Nonfiction November: My Year in Non-Fiction

Nonfiction November: My Year in Non-Fiction

After an unexpected month and a half without a post, I am back! Life has been a bit crazy (more in my upcoming October In Review post), but it’s now slowing down a bit. But just a bit. And I figured Nonfiction November was a great way to jump back into things. But first:

-This post may contain affiliate links. This just means that if you click a link and decide to buy a book, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Your support will help keep this blog up and running, thank you!

Nonfiction November — hosted this year by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), and Rennie (What’s Nonfiction) — is a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction. Each week, there will be a different prompt about reading and loving nonfiction. Kim is hosting Week 1:

Week 1: (Oct. 29 to Nov. 2) – Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?… so far

nonfiction november elephants

Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Dame Daphne Sheldrick. I loved reading about life in Kenya and how she cared for all the animals with her family. Elephants are my favorite animal, so this was both a lovely read, while also being heartbreaking. There is a lot of death, both natural and through poaching, in this memoir. By the time I had finished, I had fostered two orphans at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescue, and planning my future visit to meet my babies. This is one of the few physical books that I acquired and kept this year, rather than passing it on once I was finished reading.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

Not really. As you can see from my list below, my non-fic reads have been all over the place, from nature to politics to memoirs to true-crime to feminism to diplomacy and international relations.

I’m Judging You: A Do Better Manual (audiobook) by Luvvie Ajayi
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying (audiobook) by Nina Riggs
You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
We Should All Be Feminists (audiobook) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (audiobook) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Foreign Service: Five Decades on the Frontlines of Diplomacy by James Dobbins
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer (audiobook) by Michelle McNamara
Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Dame Daphne Sheldrick
Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham
The Art of War by Sun Tzu (does this really count? *shrugs*)
A Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.
So You Want to Talk About Race (audiobook) by Ijeoma Oluo
Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump by Dan Pfeiffer
War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (audiobook) by Ronan Farrow
Outside the Wire: Ten Lessons I’ve Learned in Everyday Courage by Jason Kander
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Stephen Brusatte
The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O’Connell

I used several of these books to check off 2018 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge prompts!

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 

nonfiction november i'll be gone in the dark

It’s one of the more popular answers this year, but I tell pretty much everyone to read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. It’s fascinating, engaging, and has an intriguing story behind both the story and the author. I am likely going to re-read this sometime next year now that we have the hindsight of knowing the identity of the Golden State Killer and seeing just how much was accurate in McNamara’s theories. Just… don’t read/listen to it right before bed. 

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I am always looking for books to add to my Goodreads TBR and some new bloggers to my Feedly Queue. It would also be a lie if I said I wasn’t hoping to get my little own corner of the interwebs out there, seeing as this is a pretty new blog.

I am also hoping to knock out a few nonfiction books on my TBR this month. With transatlantic flights, and several train rides while on vacation, this should be a very reachable goal. On deck, I have:

nonfiction november to be read

If You Ask Me: Essential Advice from Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt (edited by Mary Jo Binker)/ I am already half way through this book, and planning to finish it up this month.

The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker / Another in-progress book I plan to finish this month.

Victoria: The Queen – An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird / With a trip to England this month, and it seems like the perfect time to read another biography about my favorite monarch.

Becoming by Michelle Obama / I miss her, so, so much.

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomlin / I am currently in the process of selling my condo, and this is one of the few hard copy books I kept on my bookshelf for staging purposes, in the hopes that I would FINALLY read it.

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony / Another book I kept on my bookshelf while my condo is on the market, although more recently acquired. Whenever I see a book about elephants I haven’t read at the Friends of the Library Bookstore, I grab it.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch / I recently finished my international relations class, and wrote a paper about human rights violations in Africa. Then Humans of New York did a series on Rwandan survivors. A friend mentioned this book around the same time as the series was going on, so I also grabbed it during a recent trip to the Friends of the Library Bookstore.

Make sure you head over to Kim’s post for Week 1 to see what others are reading for Nonfiction November!

What great non-fiction have you read this year?