- The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (October 19, 2010)
Back-of-the-book blurb: An exploration of classic heroines and their equally admirable authors, The Heroine’s Bookshelf shows today’s women how to tap into their inner strengths and live life with intelligence and grace.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review: This delightful little book is part biography, part memoir, part a visit with old friends (the female authors and their literary heroines we’ve loved – Jane Austen with Elizabeth Bennet, Louisa May Alcott with Jo March, Harper Lee with Scout Finch), and part inspiration.
Each of the twelve chapters is named for a personality trait; Blakemore examines a character who she feels exemplifies this trait, pulling information from the author’s background, and offering parallels from her own life. The chapter ends with suggestions of the circumstances in our modern day that might have a reader reaching for this book, and offers ideas of books with similar themes or heroines.
For example, the chapter “Dignity” looks at Alice Walker and her characters in The Color Purple. Blakemore begins with a sketch of Alice Walker’s personal life, uncovering a history of events in the author’s biography which showed her own sense of dignity – a family barely surviving the Great Depression, an accident which left her temporarily disfigured and blind in one eye, an interracial marriage that lacked support from her family and the law.
Celie, the main character in The Color Purple, is a poor black woman who has suffered injustice her entire life, physically and mentally abused. Blakemore makes a case for the universality of Celie’s struggle for self-acceptance, her success – ultimately – in announcing, in words, in actions, and with dignity, “I’m here.”
In an easy conversational style, Blakemore draws a line between this literary heroine and our lives – those of women of today, from all walks of life. She explains what she strength she has found in Celie, and makes a case for us to see a bit of Celie when we look in the mirror.
The chapter ends with bullet-point lists of when to read this book (“When complacent or a bit too contented” and “Before … contentious board meetings”) and
Celie’s literary sisters:
- Sethe in Beloved, by Toni Morrison
- Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
- Idgie Threadgood inFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
Each chapter follows this structure; it’s a book to turn to when you need an introspective look at self (Pride and Prejudice), happiness (Anne of Green Gables), family ties (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), etc. A dozen heroines and their strengths are explored; I found it most interesting that so many authors shared similar traits with their main characters.
The Heroine’s Bookshelf is an appropriate gift for sisters, girlfriends, mothers, and aunts – those women who you’ve lent you their favorite books over the years.