It has become the "Year of Jane Austen."  Becoming Jane, a Hollywood movie about her life, starring Anne Hathaway, opened in August.  In September, the best-selling novel The Jane Austen Book Club, will be released as a major motion picture.  Masterpiece Theatre will run adaptations of all six novels (four of them new) along with a biopic in their “Complete Jane Austen Season” beginning in January.

Then, of course, there are books—everything from biographies to fan fiction (including a travelogue by yours truly).  Want to understand Austen’s world? Read Margaret Sullivan’s Jane Austen Handbook or Joan Klingel Ray’s Jane Austen for Dummies.  Want to follow a modern heroine time-traveling back to Austen’s England?  Check out Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict.  Or want to follow an ardent fan visiting a faux Pemberley, complete with actors in the role of Mr. Darcy?  See Shannon Hale’s Austenland.  You can even create your own Austen adventure in Lost in Austen or read a novel of Jane’s own life with Nancy Moser’s Just Jane.  Or travel to the places Austen lived and loved in my own A Walk with Jane Austen.

Austen truly is everywhere, which has fans giddy, and everyone asking: Why?

I adore Jane Austen. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that I, like so many of my friends, believe Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy is the ideal man. (My apologies to Matthew MacFadyen, who puts on his best high-and-mightiness for the role in the newest, big-screen version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley.)

My own Austen adorations began when I was in college and picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice at a used book sale somewhere. I was in full-on crush mode at the time—a crush with particularly Austenian themes, in that I didn’t think the guy was all that attractive until I got to know his character and realized what a great guy he was, rendering him incredibly desirable.

I moved on to read the rest of the novels and eagerly await the various film adaptations. Austen’s works, and the movies based on them, became the things I returned to whenever I needed to escape the world around me, the literary equivalent of comfort food. Once, when I was suffering with a four-month-long exhaustion the doctors could only describe as “a mono-like virus,” I pulled out my VHS copy of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (the one with Colin Firth) only to find that the pictures had been worn out and I was left with just sound. I watched it anyway—five hours of gray static—listening to the sound and imagining the scenes in my head. Admittedly, I was sick.

But the adoration hasn’t waned over the years, which leaves me with some troubling questions. What motivates this devotion to all things Austen? Is it simply the appeal of fairy-tale romance, or is there something more redeeming here?

There are so many answers to that question.  I’m sure the romance is a big part of it. The falling-in-love journey, with all of its miscommunications and setbacks, can be an awful lot of fun, as Austen captured in what was essentially the beginning of chick lit.