how to be a heroineHow to Be a Heroine, or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much is a mix between memoir and literary criticism as author Samantha Ellis realizes that maybe the heroines she modeled herself after when she was younger were not the best choices.

As a young child raised in an Iraqi-Jewish family in London, Ellis describes herself as someone who devoured books as a way to judge the characters in them for characteristics and actions she wanted to emulate. Reading this book, I found myself identifying with Ellis as I, too, looked to books as a way to test out new identities without having to fully behave the same way. Ellis realized that she had perhaps chosen the wrong heroine to try to become, so she decided to look at the female characters and writers that she had loved since childhood. What followed became this book.

As she examines these characters, who range from books such as The Little Mermaid, Anne of Green Gables, The Valley of the Dolls, as well as characters Franny Glass, Scarlett O’Hara, Lizzie Bennett, and the authors Austen, Woolf, Forster, Plath, and the Bronte sisters, Ellis realizes just how they all influenced her life and how some still do. Many other characters, authors, and books are also examined. Throughout this journey, Ellis dissects each heroine in an intriguing format that that pulls readers into both her life as a child and her life now. As she reevaluates these heroines, Ellis interjects stories from her childhood and eventually figures out just who she feels she should have looked up to back then and who she looks up to know.

Heroines, Ellis realizes, have shaped all of our lives, whether positively or negatively, and it is important to remember that growing and finding new heroines to model ourselves after is perfectly okay.

“Remarkable” can describe many things in this novel – the remarkable time period (the early 1800s) when the pursuit of science became the rage, the remarkable fossils being discovered and studied, and the two remarkable women – based on real people – who did so much to uncover the fossils that challenged the beliefs of the time.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is set in Lyme-Regis, on the southwest coast of England. Spinster Elizabeth Philpot and her two sisters have been forced by reduced circumstances to leave their comfortable life in London and move to a smaller, less expensive house. Their new location suits Elizabeth; she has no hope of suitors and soon becomes addicted to searching for the fossils that can be found along the sandy beaches. It is here that she runs into Mary Anning and a friendship, spanning social status, age and circumstance is quickly forged. Mary has a gift for finding the half-hidden fossils – sometimes complete skeletons – and these remarkable discoveries eventually attract the attention of the scientific community at large. The attention brings much needed income and (some) credit to the women, but it also causes tension, misunderstandings and finally a falling out. This remarkable friendship, with it’s ebbs and flows and eventual  renewal, form the core of this fascinating story.

As expected, Chevalier does a wonderful job of setting the time period and creating a believable atmosphere. Her characters are also carefully drawn, each with their own complex motivations, from the various scientists that visit them to the townspeople who snub them, and she brings this fascinating story of the past alive again.

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Happy Columbus Day, where we celebrate the discovery of the North America by Christopher Columbus. Of course, there are many theories about other people that may have gotten here first, and there are several Native American groups that would have an argument about how great this was, but tradition (and the lure of a three-day weekend) keeps us setting aside the second Monday of October in observance of the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

Many government offices, banks and schools are closed today, but your Davenport Public Library is still open! We’ll be open our regular Monday hours – 9:30am to 5:30pm at Fairmount, and 12 noon to 8pm at Main for all your information and reading needs, Christopher Columbus-related or not.