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Book: How to be a Heroine: Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much by Samantha Ellis
Publisher: Vintage Digital
Publication date: 2014
Source: Borrowed as an e-book from the library
Summary: Samantha Ellis revisits the heroines of her past, rereading her favorite books from Little House in the Big Woods to Valley of the Dolls, to see what she can learn about how to live as the heroine of her own life. The perennial question of the book, as it is for so many readers, is this: Cathy of Wuthering Heights or Jane of Jane Eyre?
Thoughts: Samantha Ellis is a British playwright who grew up in London as part of a tight-knit Iraqi-Jewish community. This memoir is the personal history of Ellis’s relationships with books, their heroines, and their authors. We also get glimpses of her life — what it’s like to grow up as part of an ethnic minority in London, the ups and downs of the writing life and the British theater world, and how to live with a seizure disorder.
Of course, the most fun parts of How to be a Heroine are the ones that cover books I’ve read, but Ellis writes lovely recaps of her selections, so don’t be scared off if your reading list doesn’t match hers. The deeper parts, about how women develop our identities, are relevant even when you don’t have the shared experience of having read the same book.
If I were going to be in London in September, I’d definitely buy a ticket to How to Date a Feminist, the new play running at the Arcola Theatre. The synopsis indicates that it covers some of the same issues as How to be a Heroine.
Appeal: How to be a Heroine will appeal to women who have experienced both pleasure and peril when re-reading books that they loved when they were younger. For me, an American raised as a Christian, I have two books on my list that Samantha Ellis probably wouldn’t have encountered. I tried to re-read Christy by Catherine Marshall once but couldn’t get past the first chapter. I had slightly better luck with The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright. Sammy Lane probably does have a bit of a hold on my personality, truth-be-told, even if I did find the story too sticky-sweet as an adult. That, right there, explains why I’ve always been firmly in the Jane camp.
Have you read this book? What did you think?