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Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan

Ted Scheinman is a journalist and academic who—thanks to his mother—has grown up in the world of Janeites, fans of Jane Austen that include everyone from fanfic writers and bloggers to Regency cosplayers and literary scholars.

While a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, he is recruited to help organize the first Jane Austen summer camp in the city, as well as play the part of Mr.Darcy—suitable attire and dancing required.

Part memoir and part ethnography, Scheinman details his own thoughts and experiences with Austen’s works, what it means to share this interest with his mother, as well as focusing on the conference and the Jane Austen fandom.

The Pros: I mostly enjoyed the nods to Carolina and Chapel Hill, where I also got my master’s degree (while I was also in the journalism school, Scheinman and I never crossed paths and are not acquainted).

The small interactions and anecdotes involving other Jane Austen fans at the conference—like the discussion on risqué fan fiction and what is most appropriate for Austen—stuck with me the most and provided some life to the narrative.

Scheinman also had a few lines that I particularly liked in regards to Janeites and the fandom.

“Part of being a fan means recognizing that Austen belongs equally to all of us even as we feel viscerally that everyone else has got her utterly wrong. Like all fans we are by necessity irrational creatures.”

“Janeism is a religion only in these two respects – reverence for the God head and adherence to the text.”

The Cons: Apart from the portions mentioned above, I felt like the language was difficult to get through. Overly academic and full of jargon, it came off a bit pretentious. I don’t know if it’s because I literally spend my days trying to translate jargon (as a science writer), but I couldn’t keep myself from editing each sentence in my head to be clearer and more concise.

While reading, I was mostly bored, but there were just enough lively scenes or entertaining tidbits peppered throughout to keep me from putting the book down.

While the author refers to himself as an ‘accidental superfan’ this book definitely reads more as an outside observer looking in on one part of the fandom; and it was hard to tell what (if anything) was mocking judgment versus genuine observations.

3 of 5 stars