Rebecca's Reviews > How to Be a Heroine

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha    Ellis
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bookshelves: read-via-edelweiss, writers-and-writing, memoirs, feminist, bibliophiles-delight, bibliomemoirs

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 also makes parallels throughout to her own fascinating Iraqi-Jewish family history, which infuses the book with a canny familiarity.

My favorite chapters were “Franny Glass,” with its theme of women’s faith and doubt narratives (my MA dissertation topic), and one on women’s mental health crises that includes Sylvia Plath and What Katy Did. The former helped me see why so many people adore Salinger (even though I don’t get the appeal of Franny and Zooey myself), and also introduced me to Antonia White’s autobiographical quartet that began with Frost in May (1933), which I’m reading now.

It’s not just highbrow literature, though; The Valley of the Dolls and Jilly Cooper also come up for consideration. As in Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, Ellis ponders what lessons particular books have taught her, wondering especially how these have varied at different points in her life: “I’m beginning to think all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need from them at the time...maybe it’s by appropriating our heroines that we become heroines ourselves.”

I was reminded of the first line of David Copperfield; Ellis might tweak it slightly to read, “Whether I shall turn out to be the heroine of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
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Reading Progress

January 5, 2014 – Shelved
January 5, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
September 29, 2014 – Started Reading
October 1, 2014 –
page 48
October 9, 2014 – Shelved as: read-via-edelweiss
October 9, 2014 – Shelved as: writers-and-writing
October 9, 2014 – Shelved as: memoirs
October 9, 2014 – Shelved as: feminist
October 9, 2014 – Shelved as: bibliophiles-delight
October 9, 2014 – Finished Reading
December 14, 2014 – Shelved as: bibliomemoirs

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate This looks really fun! I will look forward to your review. : )

message 2: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Hmmmm...looks and sounds good. So many books to read!

message 3: by VWoolf (new) - added it

VWoolf the title, I think, refers to the perception which existed many years ago. Women who read much were seen as damaged, it was thought that too much reading will damage or spoil them. For example a common explanation to Madame Bovarys behaviour was assigned to her reading habit.
The titel is ironic, of course.

message 4: by Mir (new)

Mir Sounds good, but think I need to read some more novels first ;)

message 5: by Bonnie (new) - added it

Bonnie How to be a heroine will give you a reading lust!

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