In this Oct. 21, 2016, file photo, Books fill the book shelves at the South Side branch of the Bethlehem Public Library.

Jane Austen Book Club creates community in Bethlehem

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Members of the Bethlehem community met at the Bethlehem Area Public Library for the Jane Austen Book Club to discuss this month’s read, “Northanger Abbey,” on April 18.

“’Northanger Abbey’ is the one book Jane Austen has written that both celebrates and criticizes 18th century Gothic literature,” said discussion leader Laura Kremmel, an English professor at Lehigh. “That’s my specialty, so I jumped at the chance to lead a discussion on this piece.”

Megan Bruening, a doctorate student, also lead the club’s discussion with Kremmel.

“’Northanger Abbey’ is one of my favorite books of all time, but when we had to read it for class, nobody else really liked it. It was nice to come to a discussion where people shared my opinions as well,” said Maisie Evans, a junior at Liberty High School.

Professor Michael Kramp of Lehigh’s English department is the organizer of the Jane Austen Book Club. He said the club is only the beginning of a larger project to honor the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, which will happen this fall.

The club is free and open to all members of the community. Kramp stressed the importance of community and literature, which is why he chose for the club to meet off campus.

He said the goal of the book club is to collaborate with the Bethlehem Public Library to develop community outreach and interest in Austen’s books.

“So, we are reaching out to our local community partners and community members to help draw fellow interest in the symposium,” Kramp said. “It’s a great way to come together.”

The book club will continue to meet on a monthly basis throughout the rest of the summer and will end Sept. 19. Each month will feature a different book and discussion leader with an academic perspective on each given text.

“I certainly hope to expose students, and the community as a whole, to the ways of which serious academics are studying Jane Austen,” Kramp said. “I hope they’ll appreciate the community members who are no longer college students, but still maintain an interest, an importance interest, in literature. And, perhaps most importantly, I hope the book club and symposium highlight and emphasize the important public role that literature plays in society.”

Many of Jane Austen’s best-sellers will be the topic of future discussion, including “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park,” “Emma” and “Persuasion.”

On Sept. 22, Lehigh will host a one-day symposium in Williams Hall. Kremmer and Kramp said they are both hoping for a few renowned scholars to speak at the event.

Prior to the club meeting, Kremmel said she knew many of her colleagues in the English department would be in attendance to the discussion group, but the club is a community event. She said Lehigh has done a great job working with the Bethlehem branch of the organization Friends of the Library. The school is hoping for a large turn out at the symposium in September.

There will also be other events leading up to the Jane Austen symposium such as a film series to be held in July.

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