By the Book

A Book Club Recommendation!

About The Book

An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancé has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancé—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past...and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for By the Book includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Anne Corey, an English professor in California, is determined to achieve the coveted tenure track at her liberal arts college, Fairfax. But she’s having trouble securing the book deal she needs signed before her contract is up. Then Adam Martinez—her ex-fiancé from her days at Princeton—shows up as Fairfax’s new president.

Anne keeps herself distracted with her book, her aging father, and a romance developing with Fairfax’s new writer-in-residence. But as the school year advances, Anne finds herself further entangled with Adam and other old friends from her college years. She is constantly questioning the choices she’s made since her broken engagement. She’s always done what’s best for her career, but is this a second chance at love? This is a modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion, and the idea that the demons of our past may not turn out not to be so bad, after all.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The first man Anne introduces us to is Larry, who provides much of the comic relief in this novel. What else does he provide for Anne? How do his relationships connect her with other people? She doesn’t think the acknowledgement to him in her book captures their relationship. Do you agree?

2. Dr. Russell forces Anne to evaluate her post-grad options. She bluntly states, “When I think of the advantages women of your generation have had . . . I don’t understand why you would throw all of it away.” What hardships did women Dr. Russell’s age face when trying to have a professional career? What problems have women of later generations faced? Has having had more options led to greater happiness?

3. Because Adam agrees with Dr. Russell (that Anne should go to Yale), Anne has a moment where she believes “I could have a fulfilling professional life and a fulfilling personal life. I could have it all.” Why doesn’t it turn out that way? How much responsibility lies with Adam? With Anne? What family and social pressures were they each dealing with?

4. Anne feels her father treated Adam poorly and looked down upon her decision to acquire a PhD and so much student debt. But by his funeral she chooses to read Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays.” Why do you think Anne chose this poem? How has her view of her father changed over the course of his illness?

5. At the beginning of the book Anne feels that her sister, Lauren, also looks down upon her lack of financial security. As their father grows ill and dies, does the dynamic of the sisters’ relationship change? Why do you think sisters have such a natural inclination to compare and compete with each other?

6. Anne reconnects with Bex at Lauren’s book club. That night Anne tells her she could have been a great professor. While she means it as a compliment, she realizes Bex thinks she’s judging her for deferring to her husband’s career. Why do women do this to themselves? And why are there some women who would judge Bex? Is there any way to have it all?

7. Anne’s book is an academic novel, but even her publisher notes it ties in with the current popularity of authors like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. Why do you think their novels have had such staying power?

8. Anne tries to teach her students that nineteenth-century novels about marriage “weren’t about love. They were about money, and power, and imperialism, and real estate.” While this makes a strong academic argument, do you think Anne truly believes it? Why is her favorite novel still Persuasion?

9. Anne has never read Rick’s books, so at first, she doesn’t believe the accusations of plagiarism. Then she stays with him because she’s worried for his mental health. But after she speaks to Emily, she cuts off all communication with Rick, going so far as to get a restraining order. What did you think of Anne’s relationship with Rick prior to the plagiarism scandal? How do you feel about how Anne handled the end of their relationship? How did it compare to her break-up with Adam?

10. Anne sees Emily as the “younger, better, more hopeful version of myself,” and feels terrible for introducing her to Rick. Should Anne feel so guilty? Is there any way for a college-aged woman to see relationships in the same light as a thirtysomething woman?

11. The author uses the barrage of email Anne receives to give us insight into both Anne’s professional and personal life. Did you enjoy the switch from Anne’s direct narration? What significance does it take on given that Anne studies authors to whom letter writing was so important?

12. At graduation, Larry and Anne discuss how men handle break-ups verses women. Anne admits that the way she handles them is for self-preservation. Why was it so important that she admit this to herself? That she say it aloud?

13. Adam’s letter to Anne is a direct reference to Persuasion. But his two proposals to Anne are unique to this book. How to they compare to each other? Did you enjoy the first, second, or both?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. By the Book is based on Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion. While not Austen’s most well-known work, it is a fun read if your group wants to directly compare and contrast the two novels. Make it a proper British evening with tea, scones, finger sandwiches, and “biscuits,” as the English like to call cookies. Some interesting points of comparison are how and why Sonneborn updated the Musgrove family from Persuasion into several different characters for By the Book. And who is worse—Mr. Elliot or Rick—may lead to some very personal takes on exes!

2. Jack is starring in the film Jane Vampire, a nod to the current trend of taking classic literature into the zombie and vampire genres. Even without these genre-specific reboots, modern adaptations are tremendously popular. Clueless was a high school take on Emma. Bride and Prejudice is a Bollywood take on Pride and Prejudice, while Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern British update of the same story. Austenland imagines a modern-day Jane Austen, while Becoming Jane is a loose biopic of the author. How many members in your group have seen these film adaptations? Is there a favorite you would like to watch together?

3. The night of the gala Larry recites “The Wild Swans at Coole,” which is available to read at:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43288/the-wild-swans-at-coole.

Read the poem and discuss how its themes tie into the themes of this novel. That night, Larry tells Anne “Your heart’s grown old . . . So has mine.” Is that true? What kind of emotional growth does each character experience from the gala to graduation?

4. Anne says the hardest part of her book to write was the acknowledgements. If you had the opportunity to thank the people in your life, who would you choose and why? Have your group try writing your own book club acknowledgments!

About The Author

Lauren Hurt

Julia Sonneborn is an English professor and a Los Angeles native. After heading east for college and graduate school, she hightailed it back to California, where she now lives with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a dog. When she’s not reading, writing, or talking about books, she enjoys trying new restaurants, reading online gossip blogs, and throwing dinner parties. She is the author of By the Book.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (February 2018)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501175190

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Raves and Reviews

"This utterly charming novel is, above all else, immense fun. The shade of Jane Austen and Julia Sonneborn have collaborated to produce a deftly-crafted tale full of romance, ambition, and wit. The result is a complete delight.” 

– New York Times bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith

"Julia Sonneborn’s witty and wise retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion is a refreshing tale that had me in its spell from the first page to the last. Spunky, relatable, and adorably flawed, heroine Anne Corey is balancing professorhood, sisterhood, and an aging father—and two irresistible men who love her and hate each other. A good dose of humor and a dash of drama make this a compulsively readable, utterly charming debut."

– Kristy Woodson Harvey, national bestselling author of Slightly South of Simple

"Sonneborn handily translates Austen's tale [Persuasion] into a modern context, creating a light, bright revision with quirkily compelling characters… This decidedly filmable update of the classic romance will charm lovers of Jane Austen and chick lit alike.”

– Kirkus Reviews

"Sonneborn’s first novel updates Jane Austen’s Persuasion with lots of appealing, cozy details, old college architecture, a romantic rival (who’s really more of a Wickham, but whatever), a gay best friend, and lots and lots of libraries... readers of light women’s fiction with likable heroines will connect with the book-smart but not so love-smart Anne. Give this to fans of Shannon Hale’s Austenland (2007) and unapologetic lovers of the Hallmark Channel."

– Booklist

"Entertaining, romantic, and smart, this debut is a clever reinvention of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and a delightful way to spend an afternoon.”

– Library Journal

"Sonneborn delivers a novel filled with a touching understanding of love and loss that probes some of our most vulnerable moments while also delivering a conclusion of the highest, squee-inducing order."

– Entertainment Weekly.com

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