Review: The Heroine’s Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore (with audiobook and book club notes)

22 Jul

The Heroine's BookshelfMy rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Summary via Goodreads:

The literary canon is filled with intelligent, feisty, never-say-die heroines, and legendary female authors. Like today’s women, they too placed a premium on personality, spirituality, career, sisterhood, and family. When their backs were against the wall, characters like Scarlett O’Hara, Jo March, Jane Eyre, and Elizabeth Bennet fought back—sometimes with words, sometimes with gritty actions. Their commonsense decisions resonate even more powerfully in a world where women are forced to return to the basics, paring down and shoring up their resources for what lies ahead.

In this compelling book of beloved heroines and the remarkable writers who created them, Erin Blakemore explores how the pluck and dignity of literary characters such as Scout Finch and Jo March can inspire women today. She divides these legendary characters into chapters that pair each with their central quality—Anne Shirley is associated with irrepressible “Happiness,” while Scarlett O’Hara personifies “Fight.” Each chapter includes insights into the authors’ lives, revealing how their own strengths informed their timeless characters. From Zora Neale Hurston to Colette, Laura Ingalls Wilder to Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen to Alice Walker, here are some of the most cherished authors and characters in literature.

This would have been so much fun to use as a guide for a year’s worth of book club meetings! One author a month– either pick one book to read or let everyone choose on their own, then let the content of this book steer the discussion…

But we will be discussing the whole book at once, which should still be interesting. Certainly, reading it was.

My favorite bits were the looks at the lives of the various authors. There is a lot I didn’t know, and it added interesting perspective.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into books I haven’t read– A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been on my list for ages, and the Claudine novels weren’t really on my radar at all!  I’d read 9 of the 12 books discussed here, and all 3 of the others are now on my list.

I wish I’d spent more time on the insights into the books that I’ve read. Pieces like the “literary sisters” (women in other books that share some of the same characteristics) went right by with only passing thought on my part, as the audiobook was on to the next sentence before I’d had a chance to really reflect on each. I think this book needed a little more savoring and stopping and reflecting than I gave it– a downside of the audiobook for me.

Still, I was interested in the attributes the author picked out for each heroine, and in how the heroine embodied that characteristic.  If I re-read any of these books, I will revisit The Heroine’s Bookshelf first, and see how that changes my perspective on the book.

All in all, I enjoyed my experience with it!

Audiobook Notes

Sound Bytes @ Devourer of Books

For more audiobook reviews, check out Sound Bytes

Narrator: Tavia Gilbert didn’t really appeal to me.  I don’t think she did a bad job, I just didn’t love her.  I was impressed by the accents she used, although I’m the wrong person to say if she did them accurately or not.

Production:  No problems, no extras.

Print vs. Audio: I would have appreciated this more in print, I think.  It isn’t that I can’t take the time to pause and reflect with the audio, it’s that I don’t.  I recognize that about myself as a reader.  The good news is that the bookmarks seem to correspond with the chapter breaks (they don’t always), so I can fairly easily go back to refer to a specific section, just like the print version.

For more audiobook reviews. check out Sound Bytes at Devourer of Books.

Book Club notes

To my surprise, my book club didn’t like this as much as I did.  There were five of us at the meeting.  Two of us enjoyed it.  One was very vocal about stopping her reading after the third chapter, because it wasn’t working for her,   The other two fell somewhere in the middle.

The club member that didn’t like it had only read 2 or 3 of the books discussed in The Heroine’s Bookshelf, and furthermore, she didn’t read those type of books.  The author hadn’t made enough of an effort to sell them  to her, and she didn’t feel it worth her time to continue to the sections about the books she had read.

Two members felt that the sections read like high school English class essays (well written ones, they agreed).  One thought this was a good thing, the other much less so.

I’d thought we’d be able to talk about Erin Blakemore’s interpretations of the books we’d all read, but it turns out there weren’t really any of those, and discussion didn’t ever really take off.

I’d say this was not a success for our book club.  I don’t think it has to be that way, and I was disappointed.


Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Book Club, books, M, reviews


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4 responses to “Review: The Heroine’s Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore (with audiobook and book club notes)

  1. bookmagic

    July 22, 2011 at 9:47 am

    I just bought this the other day. I wanted to have it in print form and not as an ebook. I have only been in one book club and it petered out b/c everyone had different reading tastes and people wouldn’t bother showing up to the meeting.

  2. Jen - Devourer of Books

    July 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    That’s tough if people haven’t read the books and aren’t interested in doing so, since the point really isn’t to sell those books as much as to celebrate some commonly-read heroines.

  3. Literate Housewife

    July 24, 2011 at 11:55 am

    I read this book in print on a plane. It was perfect. I didn’t know that it was in audio. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much that way. I would definitely consider re-reading it in print. Sorry this wasn’t as great as it could have been.


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