Mother, Daughters Encapsulate the Spirit of Being a ‘Janeite’
March 9, 2017 by Cassandra Shofar

Their paradoxical dynamics can be reminiscent of the Bennett family in Jane Austen’s 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice.”

Their paradoxical dynamics can be reminiscent of the Bennett family in Jane Austen’s 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice.”

Sisters Amy Patterson and Beth Dean have even been compared to Austen’s Bingley sisters.

However, their mother, Jennifer Weinbrecht, said the Dashwoods from Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” would probably be more apropos, even if Patterson takes faux-offense to being called the “Marianne” in the group.

Such conversation is a mere glimpse of a normal day in the life of the three women who own Jane Austen Books in Munson Township, the first and only bookstore of its kind in the world.

In fact, the bookstore takes the term “hidden gem” to another level, as it is currently located in the spacious, yet cozy basement of Weinbrecht’s home, tucked away in the woods off of Hidden Oaks Drive.

“It is the only book store in the world, as far as we know, that specializes in books about Jane Austen,” said Patterson, referring to the 18th century English novelist known for her several literary classics including “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility.”

Patterson has been helping her mother run the store since their family took it over in 2008 from previous owner Pat Latkin, of Chicago.

Currently, Jane Austen Books has around 13,000 books in stock, including all of Jane Austen’s books, juvenilia, unfinished works, letters, as well as books written about her, that time period, authors she mentioned in her writings, travel books on sites in England mentioned in Austen’s books, books by Austen-inspired authors and so on.

“That number fluctuates quite a bit,” Patterson said, adding when they go to their national conference, they carry a higher stock.

“When I was a child, my parents used to get classics through the mail for me to read because I was a veracious reader,” Weinbrecht said, as we sat in her basement surrounded by century-old books — many antiques or currently out of print — while a small TV played the 1995 British version of “Pride and Prejudice” behind us.

“And I saw a Jane Austen book within these books. I saw the illustrations and thought, ‘Oh that’s a girlie book, I’m not going to read that,’” she recalled with a smile. “So I finally read it. I think I was 10 or 11 and I became addicted to Jane Austen.”

Weinbrecht read Austen to Patterson and Dean when they were little girls.

“So they had no choice but to be ‘Janeites’ from the time they were little children. It was just sort of in them,” she said.

It wasn’t, however, until Weinbrecht was a student at Kent State University that she learned from her professor, David Richardson, about the Jane Austen Society of North America. Richardson’s wife, Sharon, was one of the founders of the JASNA Ohio North Coast Region, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Weinbrecht immediately joined the society.

“I found out there are countless books written about Jane Austen,” she said. “There are societies all around the world that study her. She’s probably got more written about her than Shakespeare. She’s just a gold mine for historians and scholars of the novel, the development of the novel, that period.”

Weinbrecht soon discovered the JASNA held a convention, called their Annual General Meeting, or AGM, in a different city every year, to which people come from all over the world.

“And the first time I went to one of these conventions, there was this little bookstore there in this room called ‘The Emporium’ where they have shops,” Weinbrecht recalled. “I loved the lectures, I loved seeing people dressed in Regency costumes, but this bookstore, I really loved the bookstore. In 2008, I found out (Latkin) was going to close it down because she was too old to do it anymore. The idea of the bookstore (which Latkin started in 1986) going away just horrified me.”

Patterson chimed in, recalling being seven-months pregnant with her first child while completing a political science degree at Cleveland State University when her mom called her.

“She says, ‘What would you think about buying a bookstore?’ I was like, ‘What?!’” Patterson said with a laugh. “And then I was like, ‘OK.’”

So the three of them rented a moving truck, drove to Chicago and transferred the entire collection to Munson Township.

“We’ve definitely taken the website through a few evolutions,” Weinbrecht said of their store’s online presence — janeaustenbooks.net. “And in the course of doing that, we’ve worked on getting more sales through the website and less through the mail catalog, but we still have a lot of customers who wait anxiously for the mail catalog.”

Patterson said her mother writes all the blurbs for the books in the catalog — which comes out every spring and fall and always has a different theme — and many customers read the catalog like a magazine, learning about Austen through Weinbrecht’s articles.

“We sell journals, merchandise, T-Shirts, magnets, watches, tea towels, playing cards, puzzles, jewelry,” Patterson said. “People will call on the phone and order a book or order online.”

And while Weinbrecht emphasized the bookstore is a separate commercial entity from the nonprofit society, Jane Austen Books is very much a part of the society’s culture.

“We do local events with our Jane Austen Society region and go to the conferences,” Patterson said, adding they have customers all over the world, including the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Africa, Japan and Holland.

“Sometimes people are looking for things that are obscure for a thesis paper for their doctorate,” Weinbrecht said, adding people contact them when they have books to sell or donate, or she and her daughters will buy people’s collections when they’re downsizing They also keep an eye on publisher’s magazines and other scholarly publications.

Dean, whose husband is from England, will often go book shopping while she’s there visiting her in-laws.

“We’re the place people know to look for Jane Austen books,” Weinbrecht said. “(Stores) know that, so they’ll sell them to us.”

For Weinbrecht, the adventure of owning Jane Austen Books has been fulfilling in many ways, especially the balance it offers her life.

“I’m in aerospace. That’s my career. So I’m very much involved every day in a very technical, scientific world … we overhaul jet engine parts and we keep aviation safe for people, so I’m very much involved in that world every day,” she said, adding she works for Component Repair Technologies in Mentor and has been there since 1985, when it was founded.

“So I’ve been very much a part of this world where we’re doing machining and welding and I love it, I really do … I just love the really nerdy involvement with the regulations,” Weinbrecht said. “To be able to be in that world, but to also be heavily involved in the world of arts and literature, it’s very fulfilling to me to have that other opposite life. (However) to me, the same kind of intelligence and creativity and passion about what you do is involved in the aerospace world and the world of literature.”

For Patterson, the bookstore has taken her down an entirely different path than she had intended.

“When we did our first conference in the Chicago … this guy who ran (“Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine”) came over and asked us if we’d like to do something with the magazine,” she said, adding the next year, they talked more and she learned the publisher, Tim Bullamore, had written an obituary on Douglas Adams, which is Patterson’s other favorite author.

“He asked me to write a piece in his magazine,” she recalled.

Patterson wrote a piece comparing Douglas Adams’, Jane Austen’s and P. G. Wodehouse’ writing. Since then, she’s been a contributing editor and writes yearly features for the magazine.

“So it’s been professionally fulfilling to me. I was looking at going into a career in politics. I even took the LSAT and I’m glad I didn’t for multiple reasons. I probably wouldn’t have any hair left,” Patterson said with a laugh.

The most fulfilling part of this family journey for Dean has been the places they have traveled for the conferences, the stories they’ve heard and even the familial bickering they consistently take part in during each trip.

“I couldn’t see doing this with people I’m not related to because we can get so crabby with each other, but then we’ll be fine,” Beth said with a laugh. “We can all take it, we can all give it.”

She added, “(The conference) is a big huge burst of activity, but it’s fulfilling at the same time when you’re finding things for people, when you’re able to follow this thread of what they’re looking for and then, ‘Oh there’s the book about it,’” Beth said.

Amy added some people will get emotional when they find a book that brings a nostalgic memory back to them.

“You feel like you know the people, kind of, because you have this thing in common with them,” Beth said. “So no matter where they’re from … you have this common bond with them. It’s like, you have all these crazy books and they’re all over these tables that we haul from across the country wherever the AGM is … and this person from India or Pakistan walks in and finds exactly what they’re looking for. It’s really cool.”

Amy joked the society is a like a cult.

“We have this whole language. I say I’m a Marianne and (a customer) knows exactly what I’m talking about,” she said.

Beth added, “Even though (the books were) written 200 years ago, you can identify people in your life who are totally these characters and that, I think, is another big reason why so many people all over the world … why you feel you have these things in common with people.”

Perhaps one of the biggest accomplishments for all three women, however, was rallying to get an AGM in Cleveland.

“I’ve been pushing for it for a really long time,” Patterson said.

Between Cleveland’s art culture, Amish culture, and its recent renaissance — especially hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention — Patterson, Weinbrecht and Dean had leverage to wield.

And they were successful, having recently solidified plans to bring the JASNA AGM to Cleveland in 2020, Oct. 9-11, at Hilton Cleveland Downtown Hotel.

“Amy and I have been petitioning for this for awhile. The Cleveland Museum of Art has the largest collection of Regency Arabic miniatures. We have such great arts here and such a great culture … Amish Country, where you can actually see a carriage being made. I thought more and more this would be a great location for an AGM,” Weinbrecht said. “We’re very excited.”

Those interested in purchasing books, merchandise or would like more information about Jane Austen Books can visit janeaustenbooks.net, call 440-655-6000 or email austenbooks@gmail.com.