The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Erin Blakemore – A Review

Behind every unforgettable heroine stands her remarkable creator. Debut author Erin Blakemore explores this theme in The Heroine’s Bookshelf, twelve essays devoted to her favorite literary heroines and the unique correlation between their writer’s life and the character she created. From Jane Austen’s spirited impertinence of Elizabeth Bennet, to the effervescent optimism of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne Shirley, to the dogged determination of Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlet O’Hara, anyone who has ever sought solace in the pages of a classic novel or inspiration for new perspective during troubling times will be enthralled by every essay in this book.

Literature is comfort food for me and there is something inherently reassuring about reconnecting again with the books that we read for the first time during our childhood and early adult years. Blakemore and I share this affinity which she elaborates upon in her introduction.

“Call me a coward if you will, but when the lines between duty and sanity blur, 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.”

The twelve heroines and their authors she chose to evaluate and share with us are several of my favorite too. Some fight physical hardships, poverty and hatred, snobbery and prejudice and emotional insecurities, and others the foibles and follies of human nature. Each is memorable to me because they faced struggles and challenges, confronted them boldly and creatively, and emerged victorious; a stronger and better person for their endeavor. Just their names alone: Scout Finch, Jane Eyre, Francine Nolan, Mary Lennox, Jo Marsh and Laura Ingalls evoke nostalgia, sending me in an instant to a faraway happy place of comfort, adventure and romance. In addition to revisiting my favorite heroines, my pleasure was heightened by knowledge of their author’s lives that I had not previously known, giving me a deeper understanding and respect for each of the heroines and their creators.

Besides blogging about Jane Austen, I am a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. Occasionally, when a book just bowls me over like The Heroine’s Bookshelf, I select it as my staff rec and talk it up amongst my fellow booksellers. A group of us were seated in the break room yesterday afternoon; ladies who are passionate about reading and love classic literature. As I lifted up the cover and firmly told everyone that this book is a must read,  I proceeded to list all of the twelve heroine’s discussed. The ooo’s, ahh’s and immediate enthusiastic chatter that erupted sent shivers up the back of my neck. Just the mention of each heroine’s name sparked such vivid and happy memories. Everyone had their favorite heroine and a personal story to go with it. It was like a drug, a literary endorphin rush! I asked who wanted to read my copy next and a unanimous reply of “me” resounded like the joyous hallelujah chorus in Handle’s Messiah!  Sweet music for a passionate reader, joyous bookseller, and dedicated book blogger.

The Heroine’s Bookshelf is a frothy literary latte; rich and sweet and deeply satisfying. Beautifully designed, it will make the perfect gift for the literature lover in your family or circle of friends. I wholeheartedly praise it to the skies and recommend it to all who wish to become the heroine of their own life.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lesson’s from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Erin Blakemore
HarperCollins (2010)
Hardcover (200) pages
ISBN: 978-0061958762

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