A Jane Austen Reading Calendar

Yesterday my mom called me to ask which Jane Austen novel her book club should read for October. This juxtaposition of author and month inspired me to try to match each of the six Jane Austen novels with the best time of year to read them, so I'm taking a brief break from working on my sermon (latest theme: "I Have No Idea What I'm Talking About, But God Loves Me Anyway") to post this here.

N.B.: If you're interested in Austen as a writer rather than as an author -- how she developed her style, her skills, her subject matter and themes -- the best way to read her is chronologically: the juvenilia, NA, S&S, P&P, MP, Emma, and Persuasion. (This is how I read her complete works for my Austen class in college, and it was amazingly instructive.) But if you're rereading, or just reading for pleasure, you might try the calendar below.

January-February: Northanger Abbey. The first of Austen's novels chronologically, NA is all about the pleasures of fiction -- reading it, imagining yourself into it, escaping to and from it -- so it's perfect for winter, when you want to insulate yourself against the dark and cold with hot chocolate and a hilarious book.

March-April: Mansfield Park. This most divisive and least read of Austen's novels is about purity and rebirth: holding fast to your principles in the face of temptation, and the moral rights and regeneration earned through that principled stand. If worst comes to worst and you loathe Fanny Price, you will have the pleasures of spring to help you through it.

May-June: Emma, so you can eat fresh strawberries while you read the Box Hill scene. (Mom's book group eventually settled on this one.)

July-August: Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen chick lit, the novel most likely to have hot pink type and a brooding hottie on the cover . . . because it is great fun, "light and bright and sparkling," as the author herself said. Read it by the pool with a fruity drink.

September-October: Sense and Sensibility. There is a sharp and at times almost bitter tang to S&S: For long stretches of the book, nearly everything that can go wrong for these girls does, and every person who can be cruel to one or the other (intentionally or not) is, and they are so alone and so poor against the forces of their society . . . You can feel the autumn wind blow through its pages. But S&S is also about maturation: coming to flower, learning and accepting your limits, and letting go towards peace.

November-December: Persuasion. The last of Austen's novels chronologically is also the most suffused with feeling -- with tiny moments that make all the difference -- as gentle Anne Elliot, locked in emotional winter, receives a second chance to bloom. A book to warm you in the cold.