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How to Be a Heroine
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How to Be a Heroine

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  4,140 ratings  ·  795 reviews
While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirtysomething playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she's been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre.

With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 2nd 2014 by Chatto & Windus (first published 2014)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  4,140 ratings  ·  795 reviews

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this is a wonderful book. it's 3/4 memoir, 1/4 lit crit/feminist studies, all laid out in this charming, self-reflective way that's not shrill and agenda-laden; just one woman revisiting the heroines that shaped her life along her reading journey, and reevaluating them as an adult to see if her admiration of them has held up. in many cases, it has not.

i was a little apprehensive at first, reading the table of contents:

The Little Mermaid
Anne of Green Gables
Lizzy Bennet
Scarlett O'Hara
Franny Glass
Well, the subtitle (“Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much”) is just preposterous; there’s no such thing as too much reading. Setting that aside, however, this bibliomemoir is terrific fun. It’s not literary criticism so much as personal enthusiasm, but that’s no bad thing. The early lit crit lite (of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, for instance) is pretty poor, in fact, so it’s for the best that Ellis highlights many less well-known titles with female authors and/or protagonists. She als ...more
Branwen Sedai *of the Brown Ajah*
Loved this book! Although I'm not sure who ended up loving it more; me or my kitty, Kairi! ;)

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Jan 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Those who don’t enjoy reading may assume it’s a solitary activity, and they’d be partly correct because page turning (physical or virtual) is usually done alone. But we literature lovers crave community as much as any social animal. It’s why we join book clubs and haunt web sites like GoodReads, BookLikes, and of course Austenprose. We love to connect with other readers to share passions, recount experiences, and exchange opinions about books. And reading about reading is an irresistible meta-pl ...more
Jan 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, liked-it

A bookish memoir of sorts about Samantha Ellis's complicated and changing relationship with fictional heroines.

-Good chunks of it were engrossing and fun to read, mainly when it was centred on books I knew. Other parts I wasn't as interested in, like when books I was unfamiliar with were discussed or when the author banged on and on about which heroines to look to for advice/inspiration/aspirations/mimicry.

-Found the parts about Samantha's family, her religion, and culture the most inte
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing

One of those books you wish you could have written. Full review to come shortly!

Update: This book and I just clicked. As both a feminist and an avid reader of classics, I simply can't comprehend my love for Samantha Ellis' brilliant, beautifully written and unbelievably insightful read. In many a sense, the only way I can begin to describe How to be a Heroine is that it's like having a tea party with many old friends: at points the book was informal, at times you began to rejudge a character, bu
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Samantha Ellis decides to revisit the books she loved in her youth. The result is a very amusing, often moving memoir - I loved the mix of her own life with that of her literary heroines.

Ellis grew up in England as part of an Iraqi-Jewish family - something she often felt very claustrophobic about and longed to escape. Her family had rigid expectations for her which they were not afraid of expressing and against which she battled. She often looked to her heroines for inspiration - and guidance.

Girl with her Head in a Book
By title alone I was always going to want to read this. Reading the synopsis turned it into an over-whelming need, particularly since nearly all the books on the cover were all ones that I had adored passionately too. I wanted this book so bad I didn't even wait for the paperback. Having finished it, I just want to invite Samantha Ellis round for a cup of tea so we can talk things over further. I would even be prepared to bake for the occasion (I really like baking so that isn't a hardship but m ...more
Panda Incognito
This book is part memoir and part literary analysis, and I enjoyed what the author had to say about her personal experiences and how books have shaped her. The first few chapters, which were related to characters I grew up with, resonated with me and gave me some new insights. I agree with the author's criticism of "Little Women," but think she was too hard on L.M. Montgomery's Anne. The argument is that Anne lost herself in adulthood when she started a family and gave up her writing, but person ...more
Feb 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved this, exactly as I knew I would.

"How to be a Heroine" is partly a memoir, and partly a literary analysis of a wide range of some of the most beloved novels. From Andersens "The Little Mermaid" and Brontës "Wuthering Heights" to Shirley Conrans "Lace", Samantha Ellis explores the books that she has loved throughout her childhood and adult life. She returns to "Anne of Green Gables" only to find that Anne Shirley's courage has gradually faded away, and she returns to Jane Austen and find h
Reet Champion
Fictional heroines have inspired girls for generations and generations as well as amassed their own large fandoms. Their wit, their charm and their ability to come through (and not) the most challenging things has even proven helpful in helping some of us soldier through as we learn from their fictional examples that at times prove painfully true in reality. Samantha Ellis takes readers to reexamine their roles and shed a different light on some the world's favorite characters.

Like a lot of thin
Rashmirekha Basu
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Some books sing to you. Some books you devour because , as you turn the pages, rapt and eager,you are amazed by the truant familiarity of it! This is the book you would wish you could have written ; that,in your less pragmatic moments, you think you could have written. If you have a friend who was infamous for reading novels surreptitiously during class, who is never without a book and who explains her emotional frame of mind using fictional characters as points of reference, gift her (and it HA ...more
Jul 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Samantha Ellis has chosen a magnificent concept for her new book. Literature has had a great impact on her and she has used characters to understand her own life and find solutions. The book mixes characters from different books and time periods, and Ellis herself is one of them. Her own life is woven into the fabric. The reader gets to know how her parents wanted her to marry a Iraqi-Jewish man. How she struggled to be able to leave her home and go to Cambridge – where Sylvia Plath once studied ...more
Krisette Spangler
Feb 11, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This book was a huge disappointment. I was expecting a fun book about some of my favorite characters from classic literature, but instead all I got was a lesson on how oppressed the women from these great books were. It was really frustrating to read a book by a woman who professes to love literature, but proceeds to break down all of the reasons these women were not the heroines we believe they are. I realize she is a feminist, but does she realize there were and still are a lot of women who ar ...more
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-bookstores
[3.4 stars] I enjoyed reading about the impact of novels on the author's life. I especially liked her writings about re-reads of books that she loved as a child and how she thought about them differently as an adult.

But....I thought Ellis followed her "What I've Learned from Reading" premise too literally, approaching novels like instruction manuals. Her "lessons learned" felt forced rather than truly heartfelt. For every important decision, the author apparently has followed the directive of a
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My AMAZING AMAZING friend Yusra gave me this book, marking out a special section for me to read. Before I knew it I had finished half of it in (mostly) long, languorous sittings in the Islamabad sun.

This beautiful book does literary essays on plucky heroines like Anne Shirley, Elizabeth Bennet (DUH), Cathy Earnshaw and Jane Eyre. While these are the usual suspects I found out about other awesome heroines in books from other decades like Flora Poste, the women of Lace and The Dolls of the Valley.
Apr 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Samantha Ellis is nothing if not disarming. “After three years of English at Cambridge, being force-fed literary theory, I was almost convinced that literature was all coded messages about Marxism and the death of the self,” she writes. “I crawled out of the post-structuralist desert thirsty for heroines I could cry and laugh with. I was jaded, I craved trash. So I picked up Jacqueline Susann’s salacious 1966 bestseller Valley of the Dolls….”

How to be a Heroine is a memoir told via books and the
Reading Ladies: Imagine you could isolate the part of yourself that is really passionate about books, that has been really passionate about books since you were but a wee girl, that’s spent years and years turning over pages of the books in your hands and then turning over those pages still more in your mind. And then, imagine that you could clone this part of yourself.

Then – imagine that this clone of yourself got bitten by a radioactive spider, and then imagine that radioactive spider just ha
Jan 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks, library_books
Initially, I was leery of this one being described as "feminist", but wasn't much of a problem as it turned out. More of an issue was that I hadn't read the books she focused on, or didn't recall many details if I had (common with me); so, a grounding in Little Women, Jane Austen, etc. would help. Her Iraqi Jewish background is also part of the story (she's actually a first-generation native Londoner). Other reviewers have said that they disagree with her perspective, which is fine; I found the ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jun 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Samantha Ellis is a reader. And not just any ol’ reader...she’s a fabulous reader, a careful reader, a thoughtful reader. Just the kind of reader you’d love to have as a friend. Or in your book club. Or as the author of a book.

Here she takes us on a journey through the books that have influenced her life. All the books she shares here contain heroines, and some of them have been strong and happily influential and some of them have not.

I loved this book. A nice trip through some great literature
Interesting, comforting, familiar, useful. I want to lend this out to everyone, regardless of gender.
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This much more than a book about books, it is a work of feminism, literary criticism and memoir – and it is a book about books. I loved every bit of it, meeting up with my own literary heroines, and encountering new ones or ones I had forgotten about.

The book started life as a conversation between the author Samantha Ellis and her best friend Emma. On a trip to the Yorkshire moors – Bronte country – they were arguing about whether they would rather be Cathy Earnshaw or Jane Eyre, Samantha had be
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and devoured it in one large gulp. Author Samantha Ellis takes us on her journey of trying to make sense of her life through her reading of novels and trying to figure out what or who a heroine is. Starting with a debate with her best friend about literary heroines, she comes to the realization that she's been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights .

This leads her on a retrospective look at the literary characters whom she has loved from childhood. Starting with Sleep
Apr 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"All my heroines, yes, even the Little Mermaid, even poor dull listless Sleeping Beauty, have given me this sense of possibility. They made me feel I wasn't forced to live out the story my family wanted for me, that I wasn't doomed to plod forward to a fate predetermined by God, that I didn't need to be defined by my seizures, or trapped in fictions of my own making, or shaped by other people's stories. That I wanted to write my own life."

Saggio molto interessante: l'autrice prende spunto da una
Dec 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
So feminist. So thought provoking. So wonderful.
Samantha Ellis' How to Be a Heroine is one of the most inspiring books I've read in a long while. You should be able to come out of every book having learnt something, and here I learnt some amazing things.
As Ellis ends with, there's no formula for being a heroine, but you are heroic by being free, and uncaged but unapologetically you. There are so many heroines in this book, who after all really aren't entirely heroic, Jo from Little Women stops w
Feb 28, 2015 rated it liked it
It made me laugh a couple of times, and brought back girlhood reads of similar imaginings. In some ways you learned as much about Samantha Ellis as you did about relative psychological applications for our bookish heroines. She's a honest person, seems more truthful than she needed to be. Also in each chapter lots of feminist application, nuggets of insight to our icons of literary heroines. It was fun, but to paraphrase it into her own language re a couple of her females with bleak ends, also " ...more
Theodora Goss
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. So much fun to read, and it reminded me of my own heroines. I loved how Ellis wove her own life into the book and her reading, and talked about herself in relation to the books she'd read, the heroine's she'd admired or had problems with. I really recommend this one! It's both thoughtful and fun at the same time.
Feb 07, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The title drew me in to this book but as I settled down to read I realized I'd made a big mistake. I did enjoy the author using the 'heroines' from various books, but overall was very 'talky', the substance was hidden from view a lot of times for me. Just did not like it.
Dec 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good autobiographical look back at some of the author's favorite heroines from when she was growing up - I really liked how she explained what each heroine had meant to her as a kid and what she saw now, upon rereading.
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
All the spoilers were worth it!
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Ticket to Read Bo...: How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned 3 5 Apr 22, 2018 10:25PM  
Literary Exploration: First Impressions *No Spoilers* 2 18 Jul 29, 2015 09:13PM  
Literary Exploration: Final Thoughts *Spoilers* 1 7 Jul 03, 2015 04:02AM  

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Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist. The daughter of Iraqi Jewish refugees she grew up in London. Her non-fiction books are How to be a Heroine (2014) and Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life (2017). Her plays include Cling to me Like Ivy, Operation Magic Carpet and How to Date a Feminist. She has written prefaces for Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey (Vintage Classics) and Amber Reeves' ...more

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