A recent Salon article discusses the fetishization of Jane Austen's work since approximately the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a Colin Firth vehicle, noting that the infatuations for it actually extend to well before that. I know when I first read her work in the '70s she did not seem to loom much above the surface of college literature survey courses. I started on her because I read how Joseph Heller mentioned in an interview that he was making a project of reading her, so I did too. At the time, I was impressed with the clarity of her language and her brisk, straightforward plotting. More recently, reading this again as backgrounder for a look at last year's fleetingly brilliant concept of taking Austen's public domain text and incorporating zombie battles, I was impressed by the many levels on which it works (and subsequently have postponed the zombies version. Maybe I'll see the movie). The language is plainspoken and direct as ever, continually advancing a neatly complex story, but it's also much more acerbic and knowing than I had noticed in my 20s. More importantly, the characters are genuine, palpably human and flawed, funny and curious and charming and repellent. Best of all, Austen not only inhabits them believably, but renders their various changes of heart with unerring veracity. It's startlingly contemporary in its ability to strip away the unnecessary and concern itself only with what matters. It even made me blow my nose in a couple of places; for a book, that's really something.
In case it's not at the library (as if it wouldn't be, but you might like your own copy).