Steve Chandler and Terry Hill have known one another a very long time–since 1955, as they mention in their e-mails to each other. That is the format of their book, Two Guys Read Jane Austen: two guys reading two of Jane Austen’s novels and e-mailing each other about it. It sounds simple, and in some ways it is: the guys’ observations are the thoughtful insights of intelligent, experienced readers, but not really groundbreaking; nonetheless, it makes for an absorbing read.
For those of us who have participated in online discussions or in book groups, the format feels quite familiar. In fact, the familiarity engenders our biggest frustration with the book: we must have our share in the conversation! Not only because it’s interesting, but because we long to correct some of their misapprehensions (guys, Elizabeth objects to Charlotte Lucas’ marriage because she cannot respect Mr. Collins, not just because Charlotte is marrying for money–Elizabeth sees Charlotte repeating her father’s mistake; indeed, that’s why she refused Mr. Darcy’s first proposal), or at least direct their auxiliary reading (D’OH! Not that biography! Or at least read some others along with it! We’ll make you a list!) Really, if they had just consulted us, we could have been ever so helpful. 😉
Steve and Terry read Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, discuss what they find interesting about them, and relate them to their own lives, and in the process, they reinforce the universal nature of her novels. Their comments about the novels are slotted into their e-mail exchange along with the exchange of news and remember-whens engendered by decades of friendship, and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. In fact, it feels not unlike reading Jane Austen’s letters to Cassandra, full of inside jokes and references to friends and family.
If you’ve ever wondered what two smart guys who wonder about the Jane Austen thing might think of her work, here’s your answer. Rest easy: they are smart guys, and recognize her genius. Welcome to Janeiteville, guys.