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The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

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The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

évaluations:
4/5 (19 évaluations)
Longueur:
170 pages
2 heures
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Oct 19, 2010
ISBN:
9780062016645
Format:
Livre

Description

A testament to inspirational women throughout literature, Erin Blakemore’s exploration of classic heroines and their equally admirable authors shows today’s women how to best tap into their inner strengths and live life with intelligence, grace, vitality and aplomb. This collection of unforgettable characters—including Anne Shirley, Jo March, Scarlett O’Hara, and Jane Eyre—and outstanding authors—like Jane Austen, Harper Lee, and Laura Ingalls Wilder—is an impassioned look at literature’s most compelling heroines, both on the page and off. Readers who found inspiration in books by Toni Morrison, Maud Hart Lovelace, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Alice Walker, or who were moved by literary-themed memoirs like Shelf Discovery and Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume, get ready to return to the well of women’s classic literature with The Heroine's Bookshelf.
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Oct 19, 2010
ISBN:
9780062016645
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Erin Blakemore learned to drool over Darcy and cry over Little Women in suburban San Diego, California. These days her inner heroine loves roller derby, running her own business, and hiking in her adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado.


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The Heroine's Bookshelf - Erin Blakemore

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INTRODUCTION

In times of struggle, there are as many reasons not to read as there are to breathe. Don’t you have better things to do? Reading, let alone rereading, is the terrain of milquetoasts and mopey spinsters. At life’s ugliest junctures, the very act of opening a book can smack of cowardly escapism. Who chooses to read when there’s work to be done?

Call me a coward if you will, but when the line between duty and sanity blurs, you can usually find me curled up with a battered book, reading as if my mental health depended on it. And it does, for inside the books I love I find food, respite, escape, and perspective. I find something else, too: heroines and authors, hundreds of them, women whose real and fictitious lives have covered the terrain I too must tread.

Oh, have I needed some heroines in my life.

I needed them when I was eleven years old and my parents had become strangers, my body was going psycho, and my friends had turned into evil junior-high aliens. I needed them when I was adrift in college, unsure of my place in a new city and among new ideas. I need them now as I stand up to big decisions about family, career, what to eat for breakfast. Fortunately, they’ve lined up on my bookshelf, patiently waiting for me to read and rediscover their stories. They’ve been there all along, pegging away at their sewing like Jo March, carrying hods of coal like Sara Crewe, breaking trails through thick snow and bitter circumstance like Laura Ingalls. Some were conceived of two hundred years ago, but the track marks they left on the road are surprisingly fresh. They’ve been there for me through everything adolescence and adulthood have lobbed my way. They’re there for you, too, should you choose to acknowledge them.

I’m not the only person I know who condescends to dive into mere children’s literature (as some have called it) when called to face down adulthood. In winter 2008, as I contemplated my favorite heroines’ takes on financial hardship in the face of a crushing recession, I started to talk to my friends about reading, even the ones who long ago traded screens for pages and BlackBerries for actual conversations. Reading, it seemed, was catching. All at once we were feverishly revisiting books we had neglected for years. Snowbound, edgy, kept inside by colds and coughs and frugality, we turned toward known literary quantities. And the familiar women we found pressed inside the covers—Anne Shirley, Jane Eyre, Scout Finch—had much to add to stories we already knew backward and forward and lessons to impart that may have eluded us when we read them in earlier years. Reading and rereading became a system of emotional mile markers, a you are here to reference as we prepared to travel heroines’ paths.

These paths were not easy ones. As women, we are the protagonists of our own personal novels. We are called upon to be the heroines of our own lives, not supporting characters. We wake up with tasks to do. Sometimes they’re mundane—Pa wants us to stomp down some hay before the winter comes. Sometimes they’re ugly—it’s time to walk away from the man who conveniently neglected to inform us of that woman he’s had locked up in the attic for the past decade. Sometimes they’re scary—a sister lies on her deathbed as a father struggles in a distant hospital.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll falter and balk at these tasks, these markers of a heroine’s path. Luckily, we’re not required to be brave to be heroines… all we have to do is show up for our own stories. Even if the reality is less glamorous than fiction (my inner heroine, for example, sometimes struggles to change out of her workout clothes or make her bed like a grown-up), even when it feels impossible to tap into a spirit that’s bigger and better than you, but IS you, we’re called upon to lead big, sloppy, frustrating lives.

Luckily, the road ahead has been traveled before, trudged through by heroines with singed hems and snow-clotted boots. Our favorite authors and their plucky protagonists have much to teach in times of strife, even when our own heroic spirits have been dampened and deflated. A bit of literary intervention can give your inner heroine the guts she needs to keep pedaling when the entire concept of fitness seems daunting, to confront a disrespectful supervisor or survive formative and miserable life crucibles like childbirth or end-of-life care. Literary heroines face things like judgmental neighbors and bumbling proposals of marriage with aplomb. And they were given these qualities by women writers, some long-dead, real women with bills to pay, relatives to appease, children to feed and educate, and selves to discover. Just like you.

Wait, you say. The kids are crying, the phone is ringing, and I’m dead tired from putting in my hour on the elliptical. My mom has cancer, and I’ve got a headache; what if it’s a tumor? I can’t handle being asked to do one more thing, ever. Surely I have nothing to give to a book. And a book can’t possibly have anything to give to me.

I am here to posit that it’s exactly in these moments of struggle and stress that we need books the most. There’s something in the pause to read that’s soothing in and of itself. A moment with a book is basic self-care, the kind of skill you pass along to your children as you would a security blanket or a churchgoing habit. It’s a pair of glasses you let sit on your nose for a few stolen hours, coloring your familiar living room and the blustery world outside with the lens of another woman’s experience. It’s a familiar book, rediscovered and dusted off, cracked open at random until you’re sucked in again. It reads differently at different junctures in your life, but that’s part of the fun. Time travel, redemption, escape, and self-knowledge are all neatly bound and sewn into the modest covers of the books we pass from hand to hand, library to purse, mother to daughter, where heroines’ lessons live long after they’ve gone out of print or disintegrated from love and wear.

As an inveterate, useless, cranky, committed, and unabashed bookworm, I’ve had ample opportunity to call on the lives of the heroines as I negotiate my own path. At the darkest times of my life, I’ve turned to the books that are my oxygen. I was a freaky, hyperactive, and hyperbolic child, a kid who needed more friends than she was dealt. And I found them pressed into the pages of lopsided library books and the cheaply bound novels I hoarded my allowance to buy at the school book fair. I read standing up and lying down, in secret and during loud public gatherings. Others obsessed about painting their toenails in two strokes instead of three or spent their time teasing their bangs into the perfect late 1980s fall-with-pouf. Meanwhile, I laced up my inner corset and tackled the harsh world of unforgiving moors and unrelenting stepmothers.

My literary companions would never live in the ranch house with the atrocious rust-red carpet my parents couldn’t afford to replace, but no matter. They accompanied me to my first kiss and my first breakup, through college and into the weird uncharted territory of quarterlife crisis and grown womanhood. Somehow, painfully, I came closer to myself with every book I read, even—especially—the ones that took place in far-off and inaccessible lands.

This wasn’t as much about becoming a cliché or a walking ad for libraries as it was about getting through my life. And it still is—only now I know I wasn’t the only one with a parallel existence led while sitting on schoolbuses and airplanes or standing in line at the post office. I was accompanied by thousands, millions, of other girls and women like me, the women who join me and these heroines and authors daily. These heroines had much to teach when we were girls bursting out of ourselves, and they have even more to offer the women we’ve become: would-be heroines with the inconvenient mission of facing everything a protagonist’s path has in store.

Reading books used to be just as transgressive as writing them. After all, good books sow the seeds of future actions. They feed us when we get divorced, walk out on jobs or unequal relationships, raise uppity daughters, and demand our due. They comfort us when we’re lonely and give us the words we crave. Don’t we owe the women who dared to provide them a bit of our undivided attention?

Two hundred years ago, the mothers of the books we take for granted were lumped together in the same lowly category as factory workers, governesses, and prostitutes. A respectable woman didn’t write, she took care of her household: if she were rich, she oversaw a staff of servants and entertained for a living; if she were poor, she carried out endless labors punctuated by births and deaths. Jane Austen had to publish her books anonymously at a time when women were lucky to be taught to read. Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte Brontë both published under male pseudonyms, their writing the only vent for their active minds. Even Margaret Mitchell was the subject of scandal and derision in the twentieth century for her decision to pursue a newswoman’s career. Like their heroines, these women writers had much to endure. Some wrote against incredible odds or in secret; others faced down prejudice or poverty in their pursuit of a better life.

When I started looking into the stories of the authors who mean so much to me, I didn’t know I was in for a few shocks. I can’t be the only person who was initially disheartened to learn that Little Women was a labor of practicality, not love, for Louisa May Alcott. Written in mere weeks and considered lesser literature by Alcott herself, it was quickly finished and even more quickly turned into groceries and clothing for her struggling family. Frances Hodgson Burnett was just as famous for her inappropriate affairs as her timeless children’s books; Margaret Mitchell was almost barred from polite society for her wild behavior. How dare I enjoy, even learn from, the fruits of these female authors, especially the books I now know to be distractions from adult literary careers and happy lives, written under duress and in grave emotional pain?

But even if Alcott meant not a word of her most beloved book, its pages contain the truths I need to face the horrors of being a restless worker and a disappointing daughter. Sure, it’s moralizing and artificially cheerful, but the power of its message is underscored by its author’s story. Embedded inside the books I love, even those written by unwilling hands, are the stories of women’s struggles to survive, to define themselves as authors and as human beings whose worth went beyond a paycheck or a byline. These heroines’ messages couldn’t exist without the strife from which they were written, and the power of each story is magnified by the triumphs and failures that followed. Knowing the rest of the story deepens the act of reading itself.

Writing a book about reading at a time when the practical is the popular has been a rare challenge. Surely there’s always something better to do than revisit women who’ve been dead for centuries. As I wrote this book, I reread my childhood favorites and encountered new voices and stories, supplementing the books themselves with a rich selection of biographies and archival materials. In the course of its composition, I’ve moved from awe (total absorption in story and narrative) to obsession (the fun stage in which I read lengthy descriptions of a debutante year or make up my Little Women name) to guilt (who am I, a writer assisted by Diet Coke and Google and inexpensive transcontinental communications, to even pick up a book written with a quill pen before a wood fire?). After a while, even my breaks fed the book, every pause bringing a reminder of the enduring quality of my heroines and authors, from the distinctly Scarlett-like charm of a youth-obsessed Madonna to familiar notes of Frances Hodgson Burnett in the downfall and deaths of celebrities like Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Brittany Murphy.

As I befriended the women behind the books, I was reminded that they were as human as any modern woman. Louisa May Alcott? Testy morphine addict. Betty Smith? Chain-smoker with a terrible knack for picking the wrong men. Like their heroines, the women behind some of literature’s most important

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3.9
19 évaluations / 14 Avis
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  • (4/5)
    [The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder] by [Erin Blakemore] explores how our admired literary characters can be examples for us when life gets tough.There are 10 chapters, each with a different topic. There is Self (Lizze Bennett), Happiness (Anne Shirley), Family Ties (Francie Nolan), etc. The concept is great but while I enjoyed reading it (and I read it over several months) Blakemore's comments are often mundane.
  • (2/5)
    Gave up two chapters in - pretty disappointing, not terribly insightful, and targeted toward people who *don't* think that fictional characters are good role models. Not for me.
  • (3/5)
    3 and 1/2 to 4 stars. Really good. Very reflective. Clearly, this was a labor of love, written with care - something appreciated by any booklover. Maybe a little over the top sometimes, but that's about all the negative there is, unless you don't agree with the author on certain points, but that's par-for-the- course, isn't it?

    I only read about half as I haven't read some of the books, but I will probably continue when it become pertinent. (ie, when I've read the books and/or develop a sudden interest in the characters despite not having read the books)
  • (4/5)
    Read from January 10 to August 27, 2011I started this book months ago. I wanted to read the book before reading the corresponding chapter. That didn't happen. However, I've read several of the novels highlighted and I'm familiar with all of the heroine's mentioned so I made it a goal to finally finish up. So glad I did.Many of Blakemore's literary heroine's are mine though I didn't call them that. However, they're the women I go back to when time's get rough. Lizzy Bennett has helped me get over heartbreak, Scarlett O'Hara has reminded me that me my life's struggles do not compare to surviving a Civil War, and Daisy Fay Harper (a literary sister to Scout Finch) taught me that life isn't perfect, but you can make it what you want.Each chapter includes a little biography of the author -- each one a heroine writing of heroines, whether they meant to or not. I learned a lot about these extraordinary women that I never knew before. I'm actually quite surprised by the bitterness in so many of their lives, but yet they still managed to write these amazing stories of love, loss, magic, and, sometimes, scandal (I'm still a little shocked by how scandalous Claudine is). I've been introduced to stories I never knew (The Complete Claudine), reintroduced to tales I had forgotten (Their Eyes Were Watching God), and inspired to finally give Jane Eyre another try.Whether you've read these novels before or not, this is a great book! And it would make an excellent gift for a reader in your life...just saying.
  • (5/5)
    Whenever life hits a bump in the road or I find myself stressed out the first thing I turn to is a book. Books ground me and give me a form of escape from my present circumstances. They let me take a step back and look at my problems from another point of view and provide a much needed mental health break. While I have done this all my life I have often felt very alone in my solace in fiction, until I discovered the internet anyway. But a print book, in IRL, now that’s a different sort of validation and this is why The Heroine’s Bookshelf is ranked among my top reads this year.In her book Erin Blakemore showcases twelve books with their fantastic heroines and authors and shows how each one can help inspire and improve our lives in different ways. She covers everything from faith to dignity, compassion, ambition… even magic. Each chapter covers one theme and talks about how both the heroine and the author embody that theme in their lives and in their books. Laura Ingalls Wilder embodies Simplicity, Charlotte Bronte and her heroine Jane Eyre show steadfastness, while Margaret Mitchell and her heroine Scarlett O’Hara fight every step of the way.I loved how each chapter covered not just the literary heroines and their themes and adventures but also took the time to research each author as well. Often the history of an author proved to be surprising and very relevant to both the heroine they would go on to write and the theme that both they and their heroine would represent. Both Lizzy Bennet and Jane Austen were true to themselves against great financial and societal odds. Both Celie and Alice Walker led lives of dignity in impossible circumstances. It surprised me as well how many of these great female authors were forced to publish anonymously or under male pseudonyms and often led lives of poverty and degradation because they wanted to be true to themselves and write.What I loved most though was how reading the chapters dedicated to my favorite books offered me insight into my own life that I hadn’t considered before. The lines she draws are fascinating to follow and I really felt like I learned a lot about my favorite literary heroines, about my beloved female authors and, within this new context, myself as well.Highly recommended reading for bookish types, The Heroine’s Bookshelf offers more than life lessons, it offers new insight into favorite characters, great authors and even yourself.
  • (4/5)
    I am ashamed to admit that half the stories in this book have yet to be read by me. That IS something I intend to fix (and one reason why this book should be sitting on your shelf – it has a fantastic list of titles inside that should make up an important part of your TBR list).So, I did not read every essay – mostly because I don’t want to spoil the stories. I did, however, read every essay of the books I’ve read and I found them enchanting.One of the things I’m learning in school is how important it is to look at everything when it comes to literature, because of all the different ways literature can be interpreted. I mean – Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice.. she embodies grace and fire and I loved reading, and re-reading about her as a teenager – and still do as an adult. But not once did I think about her as a picture of what it means to be sure of ones self.I don’t want to go into detail about each essay, because they should be read, taken for what they are worth, and allowed to inspire the readers to dive more through re-reading the classics they talk about (or read for the first time). I’ve found that older books have this amazing way to become incredibly relevant to life, and when things are down in the dumps, I remind myself that at least, my hair isn’t green like Anne Shirley’s, or I haven’t had to verbally lash a conceited, backhanded proposal given by a man who thinks himself better than me, like Elizabeth Bennet.I think this book is going to be featured on my lists of good books to give for Christmas. It’s the perfect size, and the essays are short and feature quite a bit of material about both the books and authors highlighted. And… it’s just plain fun.
  • (2/5)
    The author has selected 12 books that were important to her at different times in her life. She discusses the author’s life and the main female character in the book and then provides suggestions on when to read the books (you’ve lost a job; you’re mad at your parents; you feel bored with your life, etc.) and suggests similar books to read. I’ve read 7 of the 12 books: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Long Winter, Jane Eyre, Little Women, and The Secret Garden. I enjoyed reading about the books I’ve read, but the author’s comments on the books I haven’t read didn’t make me want to read them. The other books were the following: Pride and Prejudice, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Anne of Green Gables, The Color Purple, and Colette’s Claudine novels. I think her descriptions of the author’s lives were better than her discussions of the books. Her writing was just not that exciting. After I finished reading Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life, was ready to read War and Peace and several other novels I’d never considered reading, but Blakemore’s writing style just wasn’t as good.
  • (4/5)
    The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, is a series of essays on life lessons to be gotten from classic, well-loved novels. For example, we learn to have a sense of self from Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice; we learn about the importance of happiness from Anne of Green Gables. Each essay is short, only about ten pages or so (and this is physically a small book), and gives at the end of each bullet points for when to read the book and characters from other novels who are similar.As I’ve said, each chapter is short, and there’s not a lot of character analysis (probably purposeful, if the author wanted to only focus on one virtue for each character). The novels are all well known, and the author assumes that her reader has read all of them (personally I’m 10 for 12; The Secret Garden and the Claudine novels are the exceptions). The author’s writing style is engaging and precise, and she gets to her point pretty quickly.At certain points, however, the lessons to be learned are over-simplified. I also wish that the author had written more about her experience reading these books and how they affected her. However, I liked how the author tied each novel back into the authors of these books. And this book did inspire me to revisit some of my old favorites—currently I’m re-reading Anne of Green Gables, forgotten on my bookshelf for years. You won’t find any literary or in-depth analysis here, but this is a fun book that takes a look at some old classics. It’s a quick read, too; I finished it in only a couple of hours.
  • (5/5)
    This book's subititle, "Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder" exactly describes this delicious little gem. Each chapter is devoted to the life lessons that Blakemore, and millions of other readers have gleaned from a literary heroine such as Jane Eyre, Jo March, or Scout Finch, and her author/creator.From the very first words of the introduction I identified with the author. Again and again this book resonated, and I found myself mentally crying out an emphatic "Yes!".At other times, I was delighted to gain a new perspective of an old friend.I suppose that it would be a bit redundant to say that I LOVED this book and that I highly recommend it. It's being added to my list of favorites, for sure!
  • (5/5)
    In simple explanation the author, Erin Blakemore, takes character traits (such as dignity and compassion) and pairs them with a classic of literary fiction (such as _Jane Eyre_ and _Little Women_). Blakemore then proceeds to explore the character trait through the lens of the book's main character. What results is a delight.A combination of memoir, literary commentary, psychological profile and author biography, this book blends all these facets together flawlessly. In an era of girls/women behaving badly, Blakemore introduces us or re-acquaints us with heroines worthy of our time and emulation - using both a book's characters and their creators. But this is not some 'sweetness and light' exploration; Blakemore does not shy away from the flaws and imperfections of those she writes about. Instead she frames these flaws as obstacles to be overcome and tools to transformation.Timely yet timeless, this book has something to offer any woman, from high school student to senior citizen. As the book chapters are named according to the profiled trait you can immediately find and read the section you find most interesting and/or pertinent although my recommendation would be to read the book cover to cover at least once. Each chapter concludes with a short 'read this book (when)' bibliotherapy section and a list of books that further address the character trait. This book is a gem. Recommended for gifting to any woman you hold dear (including yourself) and one I'll be referring to (and referring others to) for years to come.Disclosure: I received this book as part of the Members Giveaway program - thank-you for this gift.
  • (5/5)
    Erin Blakemore had a wonderful idea when she set out to write about some of her favorite literary heroines and their authors. The best part of this idea was the way she translated it into print for her readers. I got so much from this book. Each chapter gave me the opportunity to relive my first experiences with Jane Eyre, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jo March, Janie Crawford, Celie, and Scarlett O'Hara. What enriched the experience was the background on the authors. Who they were, how they lived, and why they wrote what they wrote. The Heroine's Bookshelf is a wonderful tool to begin thinking more deeply and critically about your favorite literary heroines - if you want to. Erin Blakemore certainly knows what it's like and what it means to get competely lost with your heroines.I haven't yet met all of the heroines Erin Blakemore explored in The Heroine's Bookshelf. Half of them were new to me, such as Anne of Green Gables and the works by Collette. As much as re-encountering some of my old favorites was, I wanted to get to know these new heroines as well. I'm not the only one. Janel at Bibliophibian is hosting a reading challenge.My favorite feature of this book is the reading suggestions at the end of each chapter. They provide suggestions as to what type of situation is most conducive to reading a heroine and similar literary heroines if I'd like to explore a little more. As such, it was my favorite Christmas gift this year, especially for young women. Wouldn't it be nice to have such a resource when you're first finding yourself and can use guidance from someone else who has been there?I read The Heroine's Bookshelf on the plane on my way to Chicago in November. It made for the perfect travel read. Each chapter is self-contained and you can read them in any order without changing its impact. I did read it in order even though I was jonesing to dive straight into Scarlett O'Hara's chapter. The anticipation and the self-control made it that much better.If you ever find yourself in need of some building up in self, faith, happiness, dignity, family ties, indulgence, fight, compassion, simplicity, steadfastness, ambition, and magic, be sure to pick this book up. There's nothing a literary heroine can't help you work through or overcome. You might as well pick up two copies. You'll be giving this one away as gifts without a doubt. It's a precious gift because it helps you see more clearly the heroine within.
  • (5/5)
    This book is a delight! Erin Blakemore has done a fabulous job gathering some of the most beloved women characters and their authors to point out their strengths and how they relate to us today. I especially loved the chapters on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jo of Little Women. I found each chapter full of insights that I had never thought of previously. At the end of each chapter are suggestions as to when to read the book, some of which I found most hilarious. I love a good sense of humor and Erin Blakemore seems to have one. Also are other book suggestions at the end of each chapter. I found this delightful little book full of encouragement, inspiration and a few laughs too. I highly recommend this book! It would make a fabulous gift for fellow readers! This book has found a permanent home on my bookshelf. It's a keeper!
  • (5/5)
    What a lovely little book. It was like reading into the souls of some of the most renowned women authors. A few of the authors I have not read. Now after reading this book , I will be heading to the library . When one book can expand ones reading,isn't it great ?
  • (4/5)
    Twelve books written by women with strong female characters make up what the author calls The Heroine's Bookshelf. Children's titles like The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables made the list, as well as adult titles including The Color Purple and Pride and Prejudice. The author explains how the heroine can help with different life challenges such as: Compassion, Fight, and Faith, and gives related books/heroines that also exemplify that characteristic. I found the insights into the books and what we can learn from them interesting, but what I enjoyed even more was the information about the authors and how the author's experiences shaped the characters in the books. There were several books profiled that I haven't read, but are now on my "to read" list . . . as well as several I want to reread. This is a great little book.