It is a truth universally acknowledged that Houstonians in the heat of summer are in want of a good book. And it is hard to beat the delicious satire and rapier wit of the inimitable Jane Austen. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Regency writer's death, Houston’s Brazos Bookstore is sponsoring the Summer of Jane Austen with a series of events—ranging from book club to a funerary wake—that begins with a kickoff party June 9 and lasts through August.
The novelist of smart girls, Austen showed that even the most intimate of heartbreaks could reveal something about the wider society around them—for both men and women, the esteemed and the lowly. She was the queen of interior monologue for characters who often had little voice, whether due to social customs or simple reserve. No wonder so many movies have come from her novels—most notably Colin Firth as the Mr. Darcy, of course.
So Austen fans should be thrilled with the Summer of Jane Austen, which extends beyond her books to fashion, film, and even a theatrical performance. Even the bookstore itself has transformed for the occasion; postcards, bookmarks and the window art that faces Bissonnet were all done by the wonderful Jade Young, who works under the moniker Jade O’Lantern.
Sara Balabanlilar, Brazos Bookstore’s marketing director, explains that each summer a different author is highlighted to engage the community in literature. “With our theme this summer, we’re trying to appeal to a pretty wide audience," Balabanlilar says. "People ask if we’re fans of Austen individually as booksellers, and of course the answer would be a resounding yes. However, what’s more exciting about Austen is that everyone comes to her work for different reasons and with different appreciation, and this is what helps bring her work up into a more contemporary context.”
For the opening event, participants are encouraged to wear period costumes at the opening party held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Rienzi House on Kirby Drive. "Rienzi specializes in displaying 17th through 19th century home decor," Balabanlilar says, "and we think it will be the perfect place to launch a summer devoted to Regency Era finery. At the opening party, which takes place on June 9 at 7 p.m., expect a party, refreshments, and an outdoor screening of Persuasion.”
In addition to the opening party, there will be three book clubs (with associated film screenings) focusing on Mansfield Park, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. For in-store events, there is a Jane Austen Ball on June 15 (complete with dance lessons), a Jane Austen Wake on July 18, and a Jane Austen afternoon tea party for kids on July 29, which will feature sweets, surprises and crafts. Guests are encouraged to BYOTC (Bring Your Own Tea Cup).
The entire program is in collaboration with other major arts entities in Houston. “In conjunction with the in-store book clubs (which will be led by local experts and enthusiasts), we’ve partnered with MFAH and Rice Cinema to screen movies associated with the books," Balabanlilar says. "Two film screenings will take place at Rice Cinema (those will be free), one takes place at MFAH. Main Street Theater has been a wonderful collaborator—the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death is coming up on July 18, and they will be providing an in-store performance at 7 p.m.”
“Our main goal with our programming is to get people excited, get people involved, and get people reading,” Balabanlilar says. “Anyone who wears proper Regency-era dress to any of our Austen events will receive 10 percent off. And, as always, we offer an educational discount for students and teachers.”
For more information, visit brazosbookstore.com. Events through August 11.