Friday, June 11, 2021

Nonfiction Reviews: Jane Austen: A Life...


Jane Austen: a Life by Claire Tomalin

Published: 1997
Genre: Non-fiction, history, biography
Format: Hardcover, 347 Pages, Own
Rating: 4 stars

Publisher's Summary:

At her death in 1817, Jane Austen left the world six of the most beloved novels written in English—but her shortsighted family destroyed the bulk of her letters; and if she kept any diaries, they did not survive her.  Now acclaimed biographer Claire Tomalin has filled the gaps in the record, creating a remarkably fresh and convincing portrait of the woman and the writer. 

While most Austen biographers have accepted the assertion of Jane's brother Henry that "My dear Sister's life was not a life of events," Tomalin shows that, on the contrary, Austen's brief life was fraught with upheaval.  Tomalin provides detailed and absorbing accounts of Austen's ill-fated love for a young Irishman, her frequent travels and extended visits to London, her close friendship with a worldly cousin whose French husband met his death on the guillotine, her brothers' naval service in the Napoleonic wars and in the colonies, and thus shatters the myth of Jane Austen as a sheltered and homebound spinster whose knowledge of the world was limited to the view from a Hampshire village. 

My Thoughts:

I picked this one up earlier this year after I listened to a Great Courses lecture series on Jane Austen and her world and her books. I'm so glad I did. I learned so much about her family, especially her parents and her relationship to her sister and her brothers.

Her parents sent the older children away after they were born to local poor families to take care of them until they were old enough to not be such a nuisance in the house. Tomalin speculates Jane ended up not having a great relationship with her mother due to this early arrangement.

She spends a few chapters talking about her books and how things in her life and the people in it may have influenced her writing. Having Tomalin bring it all together really astounds me at what a genius Jane Austen was. There were years where she didn't really have a home after her father died and her and Cassandra were moved around from brother to brother and their families to help take care of children, etc. Yet she still found the time even through all of that to write works of genius.

But it's a tragedy as well. After her death, many of her letters were destroyed or lost even after decades of keeping some in tact. Her niece Fanny destroyed a huge bundle of her correspondence with her brother Henry. And she died too young. 

The Self-Driven Child: the Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson
Published: February 18, 2018
Genre: Parenting, Nonfiction
Format: Kindle, 384 pages, Own
Rating: 5 Stars

Publisher's Summary:

A few years ago, Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson started noticing the same problem from different angles: Even high-performing kids were coming to them acutely stressed and lacking any real motivation. Many complained that they had no control over their lives. Some stumbled in high school or hit college and unraveled. Bill is a clinical neuropsychologist who helps kids gripped by anxiety or struggling to learn. Ned is a motivational coach who runs an elite tutoring service. Together they discovered that the best antidote to stress is to give kids more of a sense of control over their lives. But this doesn't mean giving up your authority as a parent. In this groundbreaking book they reveal how you can actively help your child to sculpt a brain that is resilient, stress-proof and ready to take on new challenges.

The Self-Driven Child offers a combination of cutting-edge brain science, the latest discoveries in behavioral therapy, and case studies drawn from the thousands of kids and teens Bill and Ned have helped over the years to teach you how to set your child on the real road to success. As parents, we can only drive our kids so far. At some point, they will have to take the wheel and map out their own path. But there is a lot you can do before then to help them find their passion and tackle the road ahead with courage and imagination.

My Thoughts:

Stixrud and Johnson carefully take us through each step and the science behind these steps of allowing our kids to be their own decision makers and how we as parents can be in the role of the "consultant."

There's a chapter on homework that I absolutely loved! Especially during the pandemic and homework was something that was a sore spot for awhile. But once I read this chapter I was able to sit down and talk with G and help him decide how and when he wanted to get it done. It ended up being his choice and his schedule. And the last half of the school year went was heaven. G gained a lot more confidence on how to work homework into his schedule. He also learned how to ask for help when he truly needed it and he also decided where he wanted to put his effort and which assignments weren't quite worth it compared to others.

He also talks about stress--"It's as minor as feeling unbalanced and as major as fighting for your life." Sonia Lupien from the Centre for Studies on Human Stress has an acronym to help sum up what makes life stressful--N.U.T.S. Novelty, Unpredictability, Threat to the ego, and Sense of control.

Sense of control really stuck with me. As individuals we don't have a lot of it but how is our sense of control? They say..."if you have confidence that you can impact a situation, it will be less stressful. In contrast, a low sense of control may very well be the most stressful thing in the universe." This whole book is on how we give that high sense of confidence to our kids so they can feel like they have some sense of control over how their lives will go.

This is probably the best parenting book I've read since I was pregnant or right after G was born. I highly recommend it if you're a parent, if you work with kids, if you're a human because these are skills I didn't learn as a kid either and are helping me now!


  1. I find it interesting that the children were farmed out during their early years. I can see where that would not lead to a strong mom-child relationship.

    I am always fascinated with the ways brilliant people find time to do their creative things.

    1. It was really eye-opening. Fascinating look into Austen and her family.

  2. What a shame that all that correspondence of Austen's was lost! Wow. Sounds like a great read though- I've never read her books but have watche several of the film adaptations and really enjoyed them.

    1. It is a shame. I know why some would want to dispose of very personal letters and diaries but overall, I'm sure it wasn't necessary. Austen is a classic. I try to reread her works every few years. Always something new I pull out.

  3. Claire Tomalin's bio of Austen is about my favorite, and I've read a few! Tomalin is one of my favorite biographers anyway, and I tend to like everything of hers that I've read.

    The Self-Driven Child does sound excellent--my kids are grown, but it's still interesting to read about what motivates children and by extention, adults. The sense of control is absolutely essential--when everything feels like it is going haywire, I tend to clean least that I can control :)

    1. Hers is the first I've read because everyone says it's the best! There are a few more recent ones out that I think focus on different aspects so I'm planning of giving those a go soon. But glad you also agree it's a good one!

      I end up just shutting down for a bit and then reboot and realize it's something manageable! But sometimes cleaning is on my list but definitely not like it should


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