A Little Jane Austen in a John Wayne World, or How Good Manners Make Better Relationships

My mother is the one that deserves the credit for this analogy. While on the phone with her one evening, she remarked that while she knew that the type of books I enjoyed reading were Jane Austen, I often found myself writing for an audience that preferred living like John Wayne or Zane Grey. How very true, mum, how very true. I write about nasty bacterial infections and equine care and cattle, but I read Jane Austen and Edith Wharton and lovelovelove A Room with a View. Like Elizabeth Bennet, I’m more often than not found with a book nearby, but with a dog under my hiking-boot-clad foot. I am nothing if not an enigma wrapped in a conundrum on stage as a pun.

Fast forward to this past Sunday, when Joel and I were making a very targeted run at Costco before returning home after a friend’s wedding in Houston. I needed some ground bison, tortillas, and some produce. I swore to deny myself the glories of the cheese aisle, but we really should look at those lovely roses just before the checkout lanes.

“Do you want to go down the book aisle?” Joel ever-so-thoughtfully asked.

“No,” I said, and then hooked a sharp right to peruse the stacks anyways. You never know what you might find. There was the latest in Diana Gabaldron’s Outlander series (already have it, need to get cracking on that to find out how Jamie and Claire are doing), some other books I’d already read, and several that I passed over. I know that I am something of a literary snob. Except when I am desperate, and then the very worst bodice rippers will work just fine.

And then I saw them, the brightly colored jewels of leather-bound classics. I first saw these editions in the Austin airport on a Friday evening. I was headed up to Montana and had forgotten to pack a book (so unlike me, I know). I hit the airport’s BookPeople store and despite owning a tattered copy of Sense and Sensibility, I bought it again. I couldn’t resist that beckoning turquoise cover and the insightful engraving. I was already more than familiar with the story of the Dashwood sisters, of the dashing Willoughby, of constant Edward, of admirable Colonel Brandon. I clutched that soft, velvety book to my chest and spent a happy evening in seat 23A, revisiting them all again.


This is just a long way of saying that I found Pride and Prejudice housed in a delightful pink leather in the Costco stacks. And yes, I bought it, to my very great delight, which runneth over once we walked through our front door. Saturday’s mail had contained a card from my friend Mary, and it was Jane Austen herself!

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A friend once remarked that good manners make good relationships, and she is so, so correct in that they do, be they learned from John Wayne or Emily Post herself. Good manners mandate that I close every gate that I open, that I bring dessert when invited to Sunday dinner, that I hold the door open for someone who needs a hand. While some may think that manners and fences can be binding, I find that they provide the path of least social resistance. They give me freedom and the suitable space in which to live my life. That is undoubtedly the root cause of why I read eighteenth- and nineteenth century stories of life and courtship and social conventions. Well, that and the fact that I love a good story.

I must confess that I’ll be stalking the Costco racks a bit more frequently, looking for Emma, for Persuasion, for Mansfield Park, and–dare I hope–for Little Women. While good fences make good neighbors, I undoubtedly need to brush up on my own manners.

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