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

The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder
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The concept of THE HEROINE'S BOOKSHELF by Erin Blakemore is terrific: utilize the lessons of various beloved heroines/protagonists to inspire you. The author has chosen 12 particular qualities and uses 12 female protagonists written by 12 different women authors to illuminate them.
The qualities are Self, Faith, Happiness, Dignity, Family Ties, Indulgence, Fight, Compassion, Simplicity, Steadfastness, Ambition, and Magic. The protagonists range from Elizabeth Bennet from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Self) to Celie in THE COLOR PURPLE (Dignity). Each section includes examples of how the protagonist exemplifies the particular quality, some biographical information about the author that evinces the quality, along with times in your life when you might most want to read the book. Blakemore then lists three "literary" sisters of the protagonist/heroine, a kind of "If you liked Elizabeth Bennet, you might like..."
It didn't hurt my appreciation of this book that Blakemore's protagonist pool is one with which I am very familiar. I have read all the books she includes, and Elizabeth Bennet, Anne (Shirley) of Green Gables, Francie Nolan (from A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN), Scout Finch (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), and Jo March from LITTLE WOMEN are some of my most beloved and revisited heroines. I enjoyed reading about them and their creators. In many cases, I knew a great deal about the authors but in others (in particular, Frances Hodges Burnett), I now want to read and learn more about them. I love books that stimulate the passionate reader in me.
However, not all is paradisiacal in the heroine's bookshelf. By assigning a beloved character a particular quality, it puts her in a sort of box. Yes, Elizabeth Bennet has a wonderful and flexible sense of self--she knows who she is and she is willing to examine her own frailties and prejudices. But her connection to family ties is at the heart of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and she certainly shows fight in her dealings with Lady Catherine. One of the things that makes Lizzy so delightful is her humor and there's no section on that particular quality. This seems a grievous omission to me. ("I dearly love a laugh.") Also, occasionally the author's biography and the quality of the protagonist don't flow naturally, and at times the comparisons seem forced.
I also disagree with some of Blakemore's choices of literary sisters--she sometimes confuses her authors with her protagonists. The depressed, erratic Esther Greenwood from A BELL JAR a literary sibling to Jo March? I think not. Cathy Earnshaw is NOT Jane Eyre's sister, even though Cathy's creator is Jane Eyre's author's sister.
However, this book offers a delightful path to revisiting some favorite characters and, even if you disagree with some choices, it's a wonderful starting off point for you to assign your own literary inspirations.

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