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How To Be A Heroine: Or, what I've learned from reading too much Hardcover – 2 Jan 2014

4.4 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (2 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701187514
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701187514
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 2.6 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 300,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"Any woman with a remotely bookish childhood will find great pleasure in How to be a Heroine... like Ellis, I find it reassuring that Lizzy Bennet can admit that she was wrong about Darcy, have used Scarlett's indomitable mantra in times of adversity, and have every sympathy with the women who keep their bank accounts separate as in Lace" (Daisy Goodwin Sunday Times)

"This is quite simply a genius idea for a book.... A fantastically inspirational memoir that makes you want to reread far too many books" (Viv Groskop Observer)

"Brilliant... From Lizzy Bennet to 'go-getting Judy Jordan' from Lace, Samantha Ellis did what we all do, mostly without realising: tried other people's lives on for size in literature" (Red)

"The best kind of book: one that I gobbled up, wanting to go slow to savour it but unable to stop reading until it was all gone. One that made me want to run to the bookshop to buy copies of novels I’ve never got round to reading and devour those, too" (Rebecca Armstrong Independent)

"Delightfully honest and warmly funny" (Eithne Farry Daily Mail)

"It's not so much self-help as shelf-help, as Ellis applies fresh insights to her own life dilemmas and proffers some inspiring solutions to everyday problems. A truly brilliant read" (Marie Claire)

"A delightful and hilarious memoir" (The Economist)

"A treasure-trove of once beloved characters, if you spent your childhood and adolescence with your head in a book, you'll love How To Be A Heroine" (Lucy Scholes Independent)

"An honest and open-hearted book by someone whose life has been informed and enriched by her reading" (Susan Hill The Times)

"Samantha Ellis, a playwright brought up in London in an Iraqi-Jewish family, offers herself up in this warm-spirited biblio-autobiography... She is endearingly open about her vulnerabilities, superstitions, love tangles and defeats and is adept at droll asides" (Claire Harman Guardian)

"This warm, witty memoir is perfect if you're the kind of woman for whom the Louisa May Alcott quote, "She is too fond of books and it has turned her head" reverberates... At the end of the day, this is a life-affirming feminist text, but one delivered with such dexterity and sly humour that it never feels like a polemic or prescription, making it well worth your time" (Scotsman)

"It fizzes along, thanks to Ellis's warm humour and interesting back story... Plus, how could we resist a book that reminisces about Judy Blume novels?" (Glamour)

"Ellis not only makes you want to go and re-read your own teenage canon but to recapture that mode of absorbing novels... If this is a defence of "reading for wisdom", then the wisdom in her own writing makes an eloquent testimony" (Joanna Thomas-Corr Evening Standard)

"A real treat" (Good Housekeeping)

"How to Be a Heroine is an honest, warm and readable book about the plots we follow in order to make sense of our lives, the selves we adopt as we grow up and the selves we shed... Wise, courageous and endlessly generous, Ellis is something of a heroine herself." (Frances Wilson Literary Review)

Book Description

A funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A great read what more can you say other than why so many words to leave any comments so why ?
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Format: Hardcover
Oh how I wish I'd written this! Though I'm not nearly as well read as Ellis, it was lovely to travel with her through her own personal history of books and watch her struggle to amalgamate the best of their heroines into her own self.

Very honestly, she paints a portrait of herself as a youngster and through to adulthood, the mistakes she made, the chances she took, and the books she read as she lived.

This is one that will appeal to women especially, as it is all about female characters - from Anne Shirley to Elizabeth Bennett, Katy Carr to Jane Eyre (and a lot of modern characters I'll admit to never having met myself) - and the effect they've had on her life. I especially like the way in which Ellis discusses how her younger self viewed these characters and how she views them now as a mature adult with life experience. It made me think about my interpretations of some of them.

I don't know if I'm one of many or on my own when I say that I never tried to take cues from literary heroines or learn from their fictional lives - to me they were always fiction and I enjoyed their stories, not trying to base my own personality and choices on them (thank goodness - What Katy Did is horrific!), but I admire her honesty, and really loved what the author had to say.

She's a talented writer as well, drawing comparisons and chapters around related characters or themes, in what must for her be a very full and twisty literary landscape.

It's a good book for reminding yourself why some of your favourites will always be your favourites, but also because Ellis covers plots of the books she discusses, a great way of discovering literary heroines you've never come across. Though she will never persuade me to read Jackie Collins, I think I understand why the books have appeal now.

Just loved this, could hardly bear to put it down, knowing which childhood nostalgic reads were coming up next.... Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Finding "How to be a heroine" was, for me, one of those serendipitous moments that come along every so often in the life of the bibliophile. There I was in Waterstones Piccadilly fully intending to spend a couple of hours browsing shelves and deciding what to spend a book token on when suddenly a phone call changed all that ..... Daughter on the way.... Definitely will not want to browse in a bookshop ( being dyslexic) but I am here, I am here, I must choose some new books.... I cannot leave with nothing......

So here's to the wonderful staff who lay out their current favourites on tables..... Thus my eye was drawn to Samantha Ellis' book and the, for me, very significant sub-title .... " Or what I've learned from reading too much".......

"What I've learned from reading too much." .. The words bore into me.... I wonder..... Shall I?

Yes! The decision was made and the journey began.

Now this book is not about the conventional heroine..... Those brave women who have managed to insert themselves so memorably into the history books and who often found themselves there because a man simply was not available..... Boudicca, Grace Darling, Elizabeth I Joan of Arc, etc. these are the women who stood high on my heroine list...

No these are not the heroines Samantha Ellis is talking about. She is talking about the women who get under our skin, who slide into our minds, whose influence is subtle and unspoken and insidious even, the heroines of the fictional stories and novels we read or had read to us from an early age. Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Anne of Green Gables, most of us are familiar with these three at least. Ellis has thought deeply about this...
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Format: Paperback
In a way, this book of literary autobiography is the sort of book that many of us could have written. It goes through books, novels, which have been significant in the life of the playwright, Samantha Ellis. Its subtitle, “Or what I’ve learned from reading too much” rings a bell with many of us, as we have endured comments about our heavy reading habit since childhood. This is, however, a book of autobiography which is honest and moving in recalling a childhood in a family of Iraqi-Jewish refugees in London. This is in no way a miserable book as each novel is devoured by a girl seeking a way of living amidst a family keen to encourage a normal life of marriage and family. Instead it is a funny book with a realistic and sometimes frank view of love, life and literary role models.
The first book, or story, the Little Mermaid, causes the realisation that the heroine is willing to give up so much for the chance to win the love of the prince that its sadness is not in the original ending of the tale, but in the suffering that she endures. Anne of Green Gables has enormous dreams and a desire to write that transforms her life as well as those around her, but eventually gives up writing for domestic reality. Ellis asks about the role models that these heroines present, even though they are undoubtedly inspiring and entertaining. Lizzy Bennet gives more hope, while Scarlett O’Hara becomes a role model in for what she does not do, and say, as Ellis realises that she loves and acts on many levels.
I think that why enjoyed this book so much is that it follows my own favourite book list and discoveries that Flora Post, of Cold Comfort Farm is a funny book about those who want to solve people’s lives, and there are female characters who work together to change what is happening.
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