Title: Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan
Author: Ted Scheinman
Pub date: March 6, 2018
First impressions (ha!): the book is excessively diverting (double ha!).
I recently decided to get my reading lists in order. Between books I’ve bought, books I check out from the library, and books I review for No Flying, No Tights and NetGalley, my reading list is a hot mess and I tend to return tons of books I never got around to reading. So one day I sat down and drew up a list of what books I had in chronological order from whom they were from and when the books were due. Not surprisingly this list has been instrumental in finishing titles in quick succession and it was even more helpful when I took MegaBus to Chicago last weekend for C2E2.* As the adventure was 14 hours round trip, I downloaded nearly 20 ebooks for reading. What can I say, I can comprehensively read on average of 75 pages per hour and I was ambitious.
An hour before I arrived in Chicago, I started Camp Austen and found myself surprised we were at the bus stop in what seemed like minutes. While the prose teetered between academic and layman’s terms, Scheinman is at first an academic, this did not deter the book as an engrossing read. While he does make use of popular vernacular such as “Lizzy Bennet dropping the mic on Lady Catherine in Volume II of Pride and Prejudice,” I did not find distracting or out of place and it seemed appropriate in Scheinman’s balance between pop culture with a bit of high brow thrown in since some academics who write books to appease the general populace tend to get caught up in their $5 words with disregard to their audience. This is not Scheinman as he presents, and sometimes worships, Austen as a lingua franca: that commonality between the academics and fans where scholarship can expand (and yes fun can be had). Scheinman goes on to say he has no desire to protect Jane from the masses nor the masses from her. Take that crusty academics.
The story is thus: Scheinman finds one of his mentors wants to do Jane Austen Summer Camp (inspired by the Dickens Universe at UC Santa Cruz) where there would be a week of lectures, balls, and other refinements. Additionally, Scheinman’s mother is well thought of through the Austen world and since she was laid up for most of Scheinman’s time with the Janeites with bad knees, Mrs. Scheinman’s popularity granted Scheinman himself easier access to the upper echelons of Janeiteism for this project that may not have been accessible to him without that introduction. Scheinman also splices his easy entryway into the story and is upfront about his easy admittance and it’s clear while he’s doing his mother a favor, he does indeed find himself as an “accidental superfan.” With that in mind, Scheinman as well juxtaposes his work with the camp with his introduction to Austen, via his mother, Austen’s works, and his travels to AGMs which is all research for a series he’s writing on Austen superfans for a magazine (he doesn’t say which).
While Scheinman admits he’s stepped back from the Austen world since his days of dancing and playing Mr. Darcy, he writes about Janeites with much respect while poking a bit of fun on the superfans who take on Janeitism to a whole new level. He provides the example of an Austen themed tea company whose slogan was a cheeky take Austen was a loose woman (referring to Austen liked her tea loose) and one Janeite proclaimed haughtily how DARE the tea company imply Jane was “loose” (in regards to her morals). Even I rolled my eyes at that one and Scheinman agrees even Jane would have rolled her eyes as well.
Another pleasing theme that runs through the course of the book is Scheinman’s recounting of Austen’s history both personal and professional. He recounts a story of John Wallop, 3rd Earl of Portsmouth, a most unsavory character, who may have been the basis for a few of Austen’s villains in her novels. I did not know this. While granted I am not at a superfan level, I do take pleasure in knowing much about Austen’s personal history so reading Camp Austen was a history lesson that turned out to be much desired and fulfilling.
A day or two into C2E2, I found myself awake before my roommates so I headed down to the lounge with my iPad and to get coffee and I then proceeded to finish the book as the sun rose in Chicago. It wasn’t too long before the book was finished and I then closed the Kindle app with a sigh. This is the one failing of Camp Austen: it’s only 160 pages long so it makes for a quick read but additional detail would simply be filler.
I give this book a 5/5 and I heartily recommend it to anyone who is an Austen fan or has a passing interest in Austen since it’s a good introduction to Austen’s world and history coupled with a light critique and observation of the world of her fans and admirers. It’s got something for everyone.
*C2E2 is a comic-con held in Chicago every year and with the exception of 2017, I’ve gone every year since 2012. I’ve only cosplayed once (as the Ninth Doctor from Doctor Who) but I am thinking if one of my BFFs and I don’t go as Good Janet/Bad Janet from the TV show “A Good Place” next year, I’m going to see if I can get my druthers up to go as Lizzy Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (and yep, I do adore the movie of the same name).