Monday, March 7, 2016

How to Be a Heroine; Or, What I Learned from Reading Too Much

Reviewed by Ambrea

After having a conversation about some of literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, Samantha Ellis, a playwright based in Lond, suddenly has a revelation:  her entire life, she’s wanted to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights fame—and, really, she should have been trying to model her life after Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.  Wielding this new insight into her life and her reading habits, she embarks on a journey to reread and reevaluate the literary ladies, both the characters and writes, that she’s loved.  And, along the way, she delves into her childhood within her Iraqi Jewish neighborhood, how it and her favorite heroines helped shape her life.

As an English major and lover of literature, I thoroughly enjoyed Samantha Ellis’ fun and quirky memoir.  Clever, clear, and comical, How to be a Heroine:  Or, What I Learned from Reading Too Much was an absolute gem, and I’m glad I discovered it.  It’s perfect for the reader who simply loves to read—or loves the idea of a strong, female protagonist who can hold her own in a story.

I especially loved the insights that Ellis offered about her favorite heroines, her hopes and her fears in taking to heart the lessons of these amazing ladies in literature.  She’s candid about her reservations, insightful in her exploration of literature, vivid in her descriptions and her examinations of both author and characters, and she’s just plain fun.  Ellis is a wonderful writer, an excellent storyteller, and a fantastic scholar.

I mean, even if you aren’t an ardent fan of classical literature, Ellis makes her book—and, subsequently, the books she reads—accessible to a larger audience.  She succeeds in making literature, even the dry and boring parts, truly fun.  And, while I might not have always had experience with the novels she read (such as Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë), I found I was able to clearly understand the story and appreciate the opinions Ellis formed.

I only have one complaint about Ellis’ memoir:  spoilers.

If I were ever going to read Wuthering Heights or Anne of Green Gables or The Bell Jar, I found my perception of each novel irreversibly altered.  Ellis takes a long, hard look at some of the most important and dynamic pieces of literature and, in her exploration, she examines everything from character, plot, writing devices, and more, which I certainly appreciated and even enjoyed.  However, she also told me how each would end—which I didn’t appreciate quite so much.

I won’t say Ellis ruined the ending of several books in my To-Be-Read Pile, but I will say I’m just a little less motivated to read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

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