How to Be a Heroine: Or What I Learned from Reading too Much is part feminist tract, part critical reading of classic literature and part autobiography. Writer Samantha Ellis takes a trip through famous female literature from the early days of England to modern “chick lit” in 200 pages, and what she finds is both beautiful and startling.
Ellis’ biographical sections are some of the most beautiful pieces of the book. Born into a community of Iraqi’s Jews living in London, Ellis felt out of place and homesick. As she describes the writing of other women, her personal experiences of love and loss sneak into the very pages. Her ability to recognize herself in the work of the Brontes, Austin and Plath allows the reader to open up and find their faces staring back at them from the pages of literature.
The book explores the historical details of femininity, marriage and roles throughout the ages. Particularly fascinating is Ellis’ discovery that though the 1930’s had a particularly strong role for women, modern literature chooses to focus on women pining over the lack of a man rather than taking charge for their own future.
Though How to Be a Heroine is a shorter book, the rich details and descriptions take time. I found myself delighting over this book and devouring it slowly, like a rich chocolate cake. For the woman finding her place, or the writer looking to find her historical heritage I cannot think of a better book to lose yourself in.
How to Be a Heroine: Or What I Learned from Reading too Much is available February 11, 2015.