20 February 2015
How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirtysomething playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she's been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre.
With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today. And, just as she excavates the stories of her favorite characters, Ellis also shares a frank, often humorous account of her own life growing up in a tight-knit Iraqi Jewish community in London. Here a life-long reader explores how heroines shape all our lives.
I was at work exactly 3 minutes before one of the merch managers tossed me a book: How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis. It was going in the Discover Great New Writers bay. I bought it on break. (My fellow booksellers know me well.)
Ellis's examination of her favorite childhood heroines intercut with a memoir of growing up in an Iraqi-Jewish community in London was really, very interesting. I'd been thinking recently about how favorite books shift and change as I grow up and have new experiences (how I think about Jo from Little Women is a good example) so the fact that Ellis and I are approximately the same age, and that we'd read almost all the same books, was so timely. And besides, where else can you read about someone's reading life stretching all the way from Anne of Green Gables to Pride and Prejudice to Ballet Shoes to Jilly Cooper's Riders to Scheherazade?
(Side note: In the eternal Jane vs Cathy debate I'm firmly in Jane's corner. Jane saves her own backside and gets the happy ending; Cathy is a twit.)