Book Review: Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered The World

Jane’s Fame:  How Jane Austen Conquered The World, by Claire Harman

This book provides a very intriguing account of the popularity of Jane Austen and her works from her lifetime to the present day. A modestly successful novelist in her own time, with a life that even her own family members considered uneventful, her work did not achieve its full measure of popularity until more than 30 years after her death. The book shows how Austen’s work has been re-imagined through the decades and served as the fodder for creative re-interpretations, demonstrating how a deeply private author of ironic and often anti-romantic works has nonetheless inspired the romantic visions of Late Victorians and modern film adaptations. Indeed, each age has projected something of its own sensibilities on the opaque image provided by Austen’s novels, demonstrating that (like Shakespeare), Austen’s work has enduring value among the shifting tides of fad and fashion. It is an irony that Miss Austen herself would have appreciated.

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Book Review: Understanding Shakespeare’s England

Understanding Shakespeare’s England, by Jo McMurtry

This book is an informative and sometimes dryly humorous guide to the England of the late 1500’s and early 1600’s dealing with a variety of issues: English class structure, the Tudors, the genealogies of Shakespeare’s kings, Elizabethan cosmology, money, London, the countryside, marriage, education, literary stereotypes, outsiders, travel, the military, and luxuries. The end result is a book that provides a great deal of context to the life and habits of people in the Age of Shakespeare. Many aspects of the book are intentionally designed for American audiences that may be unfamiliar with the distinctive class culture of England being that we are a (purportedly) an egalitarian people. The result is a useful little book that is of worth to anyone wishing to read Shakespeare’s plays, or the writings of his contemporaries, like Marlowe and Fletcher, a little better.

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Book Review: Tax-Free Retirement

Tax Free Retirement, by Patrick Kelly

This book is, or should be, the model for books of its kind–it is short, filled with practical and useful advice far outside of the realm of retirement planning (including an implicit endorsement of the biblical practice of tithing), and full of useful information about what can be done to reduce or eliminate taxes paid on retirement. Especially useful for entrepreneurs and higher income workers, the book excels in examining the tax implications of IRAs, 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, and life insurance, and should be a must-read for those who wish to maximize the tax saving benefits of retirement planning and have the self-discipline to avoid the traps of present-oriented thinking.

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Book Review: The Novels of Jane Austen: An Interpretation

The Novels of Jane Austen:  An Interpretation, by Darrel Mansell

This book seeks to provide a consistent appreciation of Jane Austen’s novels in which the psychological purposes of Austen’s work in managing somewhat arbitrary points and illuminating the need for education and improvement in order for heroines to find happiness is highlighted. The book is organized by the central concerns each novel is supposed to represent, showing Austen wavering back and forth in an elegant tension between an appreciation of wit and a concern with deep moral certitude, between an appreciation for the creative powers of the mind and a patient and humble acceptance of the real world, and between an idealistic sensitivity to how things ought to be and a pragmatic and even cynical appreciation of what is. These tensions are explored thoughtfully in this excellent work that one wishes were longer and more thorough. In examining these tensions, we are brought to realize that part of Austen’s excellence as a novelist is in her own thoughtful portrayals of the conflicts of her own mind in suitably dramatic form, seeking to create distance between herself and her works while always showing a preference for the interior life of the mind to the hustle and bustle of the outside world.

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Book Review: Am I The One?: Clues To Finding & Becoming A Person Worth Marrying

Am I The One?: Clues To Finding & Becoming A Person Worth Marrying, by James R.Lucas

Part hip how-to-guide to preparing for marriage and part textbook, this slim volume is a useful read for anyone who is either serious about a relationship, or serious about the institution of marriage itself. The book is relatively short (a little over two hundred pages, including the end notes), but filled with a lot of wise questions, timely (and sometimes grim) statistics, and thought-provoking analysis about marriage. As the book is written by a mainstream Christian author of conservative moral standards, its advice on sex is quite biblical. Indeed, the Church of God as a whole could use some lessons from the chapter on sex, both on avoiding sterility and appreciating the joy of sexuality within marriage but also the wise warning to avoid premarital sex and the often-resulting “shotgun marriages,” which are seen not infrequently even among young couples in the Church.

The book itself is organized in twelve chapters with a very short introduction and concluding epilogue, and four parts in between. Part One examines the solid foundation for relationships in general, with four chapters on the issues of “having fun,” becoming a person worth knowing and marrying, finding a person worth knowing and marrying, and avoiding “dumb dating.” Part Two examines the sober realities about relationships and marriage, with chapters on avoiding turning marriage into a hanging, exploring twelve lousy reasons to marry, and twelve types of “problem people” to avoid. This last chapter within the section, which explores the need to avoid people with anger problems, addictions, a history of broken relationships, manipulative personalities, score keeping tendencies, war making tendencies, pride, greed, worry, judgmental attitudes, a lack of discernment, and hypocrisy, are valid not only for marriage but any kind of relationship. Part Three examines the more pleasant aspect of recognizing a good match for a great marriage (the part all of us who are single want to get to), with chapters on the best reasons for getting marriage (including benefits to spiritual life and a reciprocal recognition of mutual love), the twelve things to be sure of before getting married, and ten ways to know you have found “the one.” These three chapters are particularly useful for those in a serious relationship and examining if it is “the one.” Part Four closes on celebrating singleness and its God-given purposes (which can be neglected by some singles) as well as the previously mentioned chapter on the unavoidable subject of sex. Each chapter closes with discussion questions for each reader to answer alone as well as “together” (with the assumption, not always accurate, that the reader is involved in a relationship), and some that are supposed to be discussed with a pastor, who is presumably counseling the couple for marriage. The book therefore is designed to provide the reader/couple reading together with a sense of accountability to themselves, to each other, and to their Church.

As is the case with many books, the last words in this book provide the true summation of the point of the book, which is: “The quote at the beginning of this chapter said, “No one has ever loved anyone the way everyone wants to be loved.” If you do life right, you can be the one to love that way. And to be loved—the way you want to be loved.” Indeed, the purpose of reading a book like this, and in spending the time to answer for yourself its many and penetrating discussion questions, is to make sure that you develop into the sort of person who can love someone the right way, and because you wish to be loved that way yourself. Isn’t that the reason we prepare for marriage anyway?

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Book Review: End The Fed

End The Fed, by Ron Paul

This small, lively, and informative book combines several interrelated themes with a very obvious aim: to get rid of the Federal Reserve. The book serves in part as a mildly populist and strongly economic libertarian revisionist history of banking in the United States, in part as a political memoir of Ron Paul’s own relationships with past and present Fed Chairmen and the Fed as a whole and in the political price of independence, and in part as a policy recommendation on how and why the Fed should be ended in moral, constitutional, economic and political cases. The parts work well together and the result is a compelling and well-researched book that serves to introduce its readers to the broader Austrian School of Economics that it reflects in its perspective. It is, in short, a masterful piece of political economics.

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Book Review: Jane Austen: A Life

Jane Austen:  A Life, by Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin offers an intuitive interpretation of the life and works of Jane Austen in this superb biography. Looking far beyond the surface, and admitting the difficult task of examining a life on the slender basis of a few novels and a small collection of remaining letters and reminisces of friends and family members, this book manages to present a portrait of a witty author whose biting wit covered a wounded heart, and whose struggles with depression gave her comedic writings a melancholy undertone. Given the limited materials available, this biography does an excellent job examining Jane Austen’s work in the context of her family and society, and how she carefully choose what to represent in her novels from her own personal background. The result is an insightful examination of a life that her own family members considered uneventful and unimportant, providing a tentative answer to the puzzle of why this spinster became one of the best novelists of all time.

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