The Heroine's Bookshelf
by Erin Blakemore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Heroine's Bookshelf / 978-0-06-195876-2
In this book, the author has skillfully collected little vignette biographies (no more than 15-20 pages each) of 12 classic authors - all women, who wrote about women. In addition to the author biographies, author Blakemore also engages one of their famous heroines, and then passionately sets forth a case as to what life lesson we can still continue to derive from said heroine, and draws analogies to other similar heroines, ripe for the re-reading. The authors and characters featured here are:
1. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. Janie Crawford from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
3. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
4. Celie from The Color Purple by Alice Walker
5. Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
6. Claudine from The Claudine Novels by Colette
7. Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
8. Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
9. Laura Ingalls from The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
10. Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
11. Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
12. Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Author Blakemore does a superb job in setting out the mini-biographies of the authors. Opening each chapter with a tie-in to her own personal life, she segues smoothly into the life, times, and tribulations that each author faced in her personal journey to publication. There's a great deal of information packed into a satisfyingly tight package - even devoted fans will likely learn something new about their beloved authors. The comparative and contrasting life lessons embodied in the heroines is also set forth compactly - each heroine is given no more than 2 direct quotes from the source material; the bulk of her personality and relevance to modern readers is instead set forth in Blakemore's own words.
In her introduction, Blakemore asserts that these classic books are as much for re-reading as they are for initial readings - and I suspect that is as good a guide as any as to whether readers will individually enjoy "The Heroine's Bookshelf". If you've read and enjoyed the books on this list - and particularly if you like to *re-read* them, then you'll cherish the delight and meaning that this companion book heaps upon them.
If, on the other hand, you've never read some or all of these books, then "The Heroine's Bookshelf" could serve as a valuable guide to whether you might enjoy the works, and how to approach them - with some valuable insight, as well, on the author and her state of mind at the time of writing.
However, readers who did not much prefer the given novels, or who don't take especial pleasure in re-reading them will probably not find much here to delight their senses. This is not a work that celebrates life lessons and uses literary figures to illustrate them; this is a work that celebrates literary figures and uses life lessons to characterize them - both are very valid and useful approaches to writing a book, but the latter will have a very set audience, and the above list should allow readers to know going in what to expect.
I enjoyed "The Heroine's Bookshelf" - the author biographies are gripping and surprisingly vivid, and the celebrations of literary characters was enjoyable, even for the novels that I hadn't read recently enough to remember well. The book is very short - just under 200 pages - and you can rip through it in a short evening, but I don't think this is a book that's intended to be read in one setting. The format puts me in mind of the "daily devotionals" we used to read in the mornings, right down to the "lessons to consider" and "similar works" lists at the end of every chapter.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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