Jane Austen, Reading Ladders, and What to Read Next...

I'm rereading Pride and Prejudice. Again.  I've lost count how many times.  The things is Austen only wrote 6 novels (not counting her juvenile works or unfinished works, of course).  And after you've read them, you've read them.  So, you either start over and try to find something like Austen, which, of course, can't really be done.

Austen combined a satirical wit, romance, and commentary on everyday life that has never been matched.  She was the first to use natural conversation.  But of course, it's not natural, is it?  It's much better.

But every now and then you'll see a list of "Authors to read after you have read Jane Austen."  The problem with these lists is I don't know why the person who compiled them likes Austen.  Now, I love Austen and I love the Brontes, but they are not in the same genre. Charlotte Bronte said some rather harsh things about Austen, such as:

" anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstration the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outre and extravagant."

And you have to admit, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester would hardly have gotten along.

So, what do you read next?  That brings me to Teri Lesesne and the concept of the Reading Ladder.  Parents, pay attention to this because it is genius.  Lesesne writes about reading motivation in adolescents.  Her idea of reading ladders came about because students get stuck on certain books.  For example, let's say you have a 6th grader who is stuck reading Captain Underpants and you want him to begin to explore more complex books.  First, you figure out what is most appealing to him about these books.  Is it the humor or the graphic novel?  Once you determine this, you create a top rung.  So for humor, your top rung of the ladder may be something like Korman's No More Dead Dogs.  If it is the graphic novel, look for books like American Born Chinese for the top rung. You then fill in the rungs, increasing the complexity as you go.

Now for an adult, we might think of them less as reading ladders as reading pathways.  We're not trying to increase our reading level per se.   So, when recommending a book because you like Austen, my first question is why do you like her?

Her wit:
Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford

Gaskell is regularly on lists of books to read if you like Austen, and rightly so.  The thing is she wrote a wide variety of kinds of books, even ghost stories.  This book is perhaps her funniest.

Barbara Pym Excellent Women

This book could also work for the "novel of manners pathway."  However, It is also very funny in a gentle, subtle way.

The romance:
Well, the Brontes did fit in here.  Not Withering Heights because there is nothing romantic about that book (see my older post on that), but the other books by the other sisters.  But here are some others:
Elizabeth Gaskell North and South

This novel parallels Pride and Prejudice (which will probably be another blog entry someday).  However, even with all the similarities, don't read it thinking it's the same thing.  Pride and Prejudice is a light-hearted, even sparkling novel.  North and South deals with unions, strikes, and class relations.  However, it's also a beautiful love story.

L.M. Montgomery The Blue Castle

While North and South is a very serious novel about very serious problems, this is a fun little read when you're just in the mood to watch two people fall in love.  It's overly-contrived and the plot is ridiculous and it is absolutely delightful.

Novels of Manners:
Elizabeth Gaskell Wives and Daughters

This is quickly becoming not only my favorite Gaskell novel, but one of my favorite books.  It is subtle, charming, complex, and romantic.  And like Austen, Gaskell can make the intricacies of a card party utterly fascinating.

E. M. Forster A Room with a View

I use to say this book made me want to fall in love or move to Europe.  It's a book where people talk and don't say what they mean.  And isn't that a lot of Austen's characters?

Now, if you want all of these items combined, well... do you remember that conversation in Pride and Prejudice where Caroline Bingley tells her brother he should build a house just like Mr. Darcy's and Mr. Bingley tells her, "I should think it more likely to get Pemberley by purchase than by imitation."  There are some things that just can't be imitated.  So, wait a while and read them again.

Are there books or authors that you have to reread because there's nothing else quite like reading them?  What reading pathways could you create from those books?