December 19, 2014

Addicted to Austen

Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret Sullivan

Release Date: November 11, 2014
Publisher: Quirk Books
Pages: 224 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; Hardcover
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Jane Austen’s six novels are true classics, still immensely popular some 200 years after their first publication. But although the celebrated stories never change, the covers are always different. Jane Austen Cover to Cover compiles two centuries of design, from elegant Victorian hardcovers and the famed 1894 “Peacock” edition to 1950s pulp, movie tie-in editions, graphic novels, foreign-language translations, and many, many others. Filled with beautiful artwork and insightful commentary, this fascinating and visually intriguing collection is a must for Janeites, design geeks, and book lovers of every stripe.

Thoughts on Jane Austen Cover to Cover
When I was doing research for BEA, I came across a reference to Jane Austen Cover to Cover. I didn't investigate any further, but a few months later I saw the gorgeous cover highlighted on Austenprose. I knew immediately that I had to read it! I started out collecting copies of Pride and Prejudice, but I realized recently that I've bought multiple editions of Austen's other novels, too. So, basically, I'm just an all-around Austen fangirl.

As you can probably imagine, a book about the history of Austen book covers is right up my alley. While I think it might appeal to other types of readers, it has to be said that I'm the IDEAL AUDIENCE for this kind of book. I'm already a casual collector of Austen's works, but I'm also an avid reader of everything about Austen. Spin-offs, sequels, retellings, biographies, literary criticism... You name it, I want to read it. When Quirk tweeted asking for people interested in reading it, I jumped at the chance. And then I laughed as a handful of bloggers tagged me to make sure I'd seen it. They know me too well!

Starting with the original covers and moving forward to the present day, Jane Austen Cover to Cover compiles two centuries of cover designs. I started this book expecting to learn because I've never read anything about Austen from a design / book cover angle. What I did not expect, but was pleasantly surprised to discover, was the absolutely loveliness of the book itself. Quirk put so much time and attention into the design, layout and details of this book. It's evident on every page! Everything about this book is gorgeous... and just begging to be given to an Austen lover.

Jane Austen Cover to Cover doesn't depict every Austen cover that's been published, but Sullivan does a wonderful job curating the highlights. The first four chapters are divided based on the year: 1811-1818, 1832-1920, 1920-1989 and 1990-2015. Within these chapters, especially the one covering the most recent Austen covers, are subsections that discuss e-book editions, Austen for little readers, complete volumes and more! There are two additional chapters - one focused on movie editions and another on foreign editions. Finally, the Appendix provides helpful additional resources: advice on collecting Austen and summaries of each of her books. I thought the flow of the book made perfect sense, and it made it easier to notice different trends or details that were likely influenced by the time period in which each edition was published.

Sullivan hasn't just curated the covers - she's also done extensive research into the subject. I loved how she put each book into context, and her commentary was both scholarly and seriously delightful. She managed to make the text totally approachable while still conveying her authority on the subject matter. And she throws in some witty quips that I have no doubt would make Austen herself proud! It didn't take me long to read through the book, but I still felt like I was able to savor the experience. I adored seeing editions that I already have on my shelves and had serious envy over the editions I don't.

I'm so happy that I get to add this book to my shelves. It fits in quite nicely with my growing collection of Austen-related books! I had high expectations going into it, but it still managed to surpass them all. It's the perfect kind of coffee-table book: interesting, informative, and visually appealing! It's a niche read, yes, but the Austen lovers in your life will just adore it!
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

2 comments:

  1. This reminds me, have you ever read any of David M. Shapard's "Annotated Austen" series? I've only read THE ANNOTATED PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, but it's among my top ten favorite books of all time. It's just the text of the novel, but with wide margins alongside, in which Shapard discusses how that text relates to the time period, the politics, the geography, etc. It makes the story pop for me, understanding it in a detailed historical context. For instance, when Bingley returns Mr. Bennet's call for the first time, he doesn't get to see the famous pretty sisters, but they have "the advantage of ascertaining, from an upper window, that he wore a blue coat and road a black horse." I never thought the blue coat was anything more than just a description, but it turns out that this was just the moment in the Regency when fancy city men were starting to wear brighter colors than black. So Bingley's blue coat shows the women that he's one the cutting edge of fashion. And when Lady Catherine invites Elizabeth to walk through the "prettyish kind of little wilderness" on the Longbourn grounds, she's subtly demeaning the size of Mr. Bennet's estate, implying that her Rosings has a very grand "wilderness" (an area pruned to offer more natural, winding, secluded walks). Anyway, it's an Austen-nerd delight you should read, if you haven't already!

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  2. Love this. I asked for it for Christmas and hope I get it. We have some of the same "obessions" - collecting Pride & Prejudice copies that turned into collecting other JA books and all things JA. Plus our love for Anne of Green Gables.
    Great post. Am excited for this book!

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