In her book How to be A Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much, Samantha Ellis lets me read a dozen books that I’ve never picked up or else have never finished. She discusses Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights; Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie; Valley of the Dolls and Lace. This book reads like a personal literary analysis, or a memoir told through her views of fictional characters.
What caught me first was the color: dark purple with gold lettering. And I never would have found this book if it’d been labeled Memoir, because it would have been lost amidst the biography books in the library. I found it in the literary section among the books about how to write.
I’d never heard about Ellis, a playwright, before picking up this book. Although we have wildly different backgrounds and family structures (she hails from an Iraqi-Jewish family with tons of members, whereas I am a mostly non-religious woman with very limited family contact) I can relate to her feelings about these characters whom I’ve never met.
The book begins with an argument with her friend: Ellis has always preferred Cathy Earnshaw, but Emma says that she’s more like Jane Eyre. This conversation prompts Ellis to wonder if her friend is correct; maybe she is more like Jane Eyre than she realized.
She tells us about the melodramatic romances and relationships she learned about through books. Lately, in my second-to-longest relationship ever (16 months; my longest was 18) I find myself frantically scanning my favorite books and watching westerns, trying to figure out why this love doesn’t feel complete to me. When I tell my friend Stacey that I don’t know how to date a person who doesn’t like to do any of the things I like to do, and that there are no characters I can learn about this from, she tells me that we’d drive each other crazy if we were the same, and that characters are made up, a concept I have difficulty accepting. Like Ellis, I continue to pine after make-believe relationships—even when I know that romance itself is a fiction.
Ellis’s book is doing exactly what a good book ought to: it’s making me think about my own circumstances with relationships, life, and reading, and I can’t put it down!
Which books do you rely on for real-world issues? Who are your favorite characters that you borrow strength or brilliance from daily?