Do you only read non-fiction? Or are you always on the look-out for the best new voices… or the latest memoir? Are you a devout true crime reader or just want to escape science fiction? It’s time to limber up. Together we’ll leap from genre to genre on a journey that might just change your mind.
We’re spotlighting some of our favourite authors, genre by genre. Fall in love with a new style or stay in your literary safe place. This week, we get In Deep Lit with new releases that fearlessly reimagine literary classics and invigorate the canon.
Literary classics have accompanied generations of readers, writers and thinkers as they navigate the world. In an age of information abundance, what stays lodged in our minds is a marvel unto itself, making the permanence of classics even more special.
Two authors making their own stamp on the work of literary giants are Ruth Wilson, an Austen devotee who received her PhD aged 88 and Rebecca Solnit, renowned essayist, author and activist. Their works are not only a testament to the endurance of great literature, but suggest that a book’s meaning is not fixed, but constantly in flux as we adopt new lenses, frames of mind and perspectives.
Ruth Wilson read her first Jane Austen novel in 1947 after watching Pride and Prejudice in a Griffith theatre with her parents. In 2021, she received a PhD from the University of Sydney, which proposed a new model of teaching literary fiction at school, using Austen’s six works as a case study. Invoking an age-old literary tradition, Ruth invites us to read aloud, to listen and feel an author’s prose.
Approaching 70, Ruth faced recurring dreams in which she lost her voice. Followed by an unabating sadness, she up and left her ordinary life to live alone for a decade, during which she resolved to reread all of Austen’s stories.
“Jane Austen often sat with her parents and siblings in the evenings, reading for pleasure. She would have read her chapters aloud to gauge how they sounded and how listeners responded. She possibly adjusted spaces for pausing, tone of voice and emphasis in her writing. It’s as if she wants us to read them aloud.”
The Jane Austen Remedy is an ode to the restorative powers of reading. Published in 2022, the year Ruth turns 90, the life-affirming memoir explores melancholy, the strictures of convention and restoring self-belief. Ruth generously retraces her initial steps through Austen’s literary world, a world which would ultimately restore her voice.
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Redefining a classic will always ruffle a few feathers, though you would be hard pressed to find a writer as well equipped for the task as American essayist, author and activist, Rebecca Solnit. With an oeuvre as diverse as it is brimming with depth, Rebecca has written on feminism, politics, social change and insurrection, popular power and wandering and walking.
“To be hopeful, means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart.”
Impearled with wit and warm reflections, Orwell’s Roses teases out the links between George Orwell as the polemic political writer and Orwell as a gardener with a particular affinity for flowers - plants grown only for beauty’s sake. Starting at the remains of a collection of roses planted by the writer at his Hertfordshire home in 1936, Rebecca meanders through his works to find that even Orwell’s darkest writings “have moments of beauty; his most lyrical essays nonetheless grapple with substantive issues”.
Although Rebecca’s focus lies primarily with Orwell’s lesser-known essays, Orwell’s Roses revisits the cautionary tale of 1984 to reiterate that cultivation, be it writing or gardening, is an act of hope.