I have a lot of routines. Don’t we all? They’re the ordinary sort– wake up, get ready for work, come home, do all the little fidgety things that make up an evening, go to bed, and repeat over and over again. There are routines within the daily grind, as well, like the Tuesdsay evening jaunt to the coffee shop for tea and pastries or the trip downtown for dinner and a movie on Friday night. Mundane, overall, and interrupted by the occasional vacation or otherwise unexpected event.
And we look at blogs or Facebook pages of people constantly on the go- London one week, then off to Rome or Shanghai or Sydney. Adventurers with their world travels, rock climbing, or paragliding in exotic locales. Or cultured jet-setters with the clothes and the name dropping and all that stuff, and we wonder, “Why can’t I be like that? Why does my life consist of domestic trivialities?”.
William Deresiewicz wondered things like that as a graduate student of English Literature in New York in the 1990s. At 26, he was an arrogant know-it-all who wanted to be the sort of beatnik literati who decode the wisdom of James Joyce and Henry James to undergrads and bystanders alike. He mostly came off as an insufferable twerp who hadn’t figured out what growing up was all about.
Then he was assigned Jane Austen’s Emma. He was dismissive of it at first. What, he mused, could the stories of dancing, gowns, and card games have that The Greats didn’t have? Then about halfway through, he realized something: Emma wasn’t very nice. Then he realized that he was just like her- a know-it-all who trampled over other people’s feelings while she tried to engineer their lives.
So Deresiewicz took a closer look at Emma at the same time he decided to re-examine his own life. Thus began his journey through the rest of Austen’s work and his efforts to reform himself, how he viewed other people, what true friendship should be, and what family and friendship really meant to him. All of it while trying to complete his doctoral thesis and figure out how to be an actual adult.
His book, A Jane Austen Education: How Six Books Taught me About Love, Friendship, and The Things That Really Matter is the result of that. It is not a charming book like many other books about books I’ve read, but it is engaging. Deresiewicz tells his story without trying to build himself up into a wonderful, brilliant person. He admits his flaws and tells us how he learned to accept being wrong while explaining how Jane Austen’s novels helped him become a better person.
It made me think about my own life, too, about the ordinary things I do everyday, and how I interact with people- even on a minor scale- gives life meaning and is worthy of attention. After all, it’s not the big events from my travels that I remember, it’s the little things. Drinking coffee and people watching in Hyde Park; the sound of water tumbling over rocks in a Colorado mountain stream; the way the light of a Minnesota sunrise fell on wild raspberries.
I’ve made a few changes around here. It seemed like it was due. The set-up has been the same since I started this blog a couple of years ago, and I was getting a little tired of it. I’m trying this theme on for size. Maybe it will change. Maybe I’ll keep it. All things change from time to time. It’s not a bad thing.