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Cover for How to Be a Heroine

How to Be a Heroine

Or, What I've Learned from Reading too Much

Samantha Ellis


List Price: 14.95*
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While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirtysomething playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she's been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre.

With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today. And, just as she excavates the stories of her favorite characters, Ellis also shares a frank, often humorous account of her own life growing up in a tight-knit Iraqi Jewish community in London. Here a life-long reader explores how heroines shape all our lives.

Praise For How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading too Much

“An honest and open-hearted book by someone whose life has been informed and enriched by her reading.” —Susan Hill, The Times (London)

“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 literary journey to self-discovery. . . . As Ellis shows in this charming, gracefully written memoir, literary heroines revealed to her new life stories, new selves and her own power to invent her life.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The best kind of book: one that I gobbled up . . . 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, The Independent on Sunday
“A delightful and hilarious memoir.” —The Economist

“A winning memoir. . . . This is a book for book lovers, who will likely come away with a fresh take on old favorites from Ellis’ endearing but exacting examinations. Although Ellis’ own story of growing up in an Iraqi-Jewish community in London and becoming a playwright is specific, her enduring love for her literary role models is universal. The book could equally be titled How to Be a Reader; Ellis is passionate and engaged, railing against writers who shortchange their creations and celebrating those whose characters represent their best selves. . . . This is a rousing call for women to be the heroines in their own lives, and it’s good fun, to boot.” —Booklist (starred review)

“[A] warm-spirited biblio-autobiography. . . . [Ellis] is endearingly open about her vulnerabilities, superstitions, love tangles and defeats and is adept at droll asides.” —The Guardian
“My new best friend in book form . . . like stumbling into the kitchen at a party and discovering everyone you liked in one room.” —Sam Baker, Harper’s Bazaar
“All the books I love, remembered.” —Nigella Lawson
“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, The Sunday Times (London)
“Ellis is delightfully honest and warmly funny about where and how her life has gone wrong and right. By the end of this charming book, she has used female fictional characters to explore religion, love, marriage, sex, spinsterhood and work.” —Daily Mail
How to Be a Heroine happily reminds all bookworms of years of their life spent in the company of Scarlett, Katy, Jane Eyre, the March family and all those wonderful friends that only really exist in our hearts.” — Shirley Conran, author of Lace
“Pithy, funny and poignant.” —Jewish Chronicle
A real treat.” —Good Housekeeping
“[How to Be a Heroine] 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

“This is quite simply a genius idea for a book. . . . A fantastically inspirational memoir that makes you want to reread far too many books.” —The Observer
“[A] jaunty, witty book.” —The Daily Telegraph
“Ellis proves funny and thoughtful, alive both to the indulgence of reading (preferably in the bath, with a glass of wine) and to her own capacity for false enchantment. Her synopses are always lively and perceptive but she’s at her best when she gets stuck in to interrogating her characters. . . . [She] not only makes you want to go and re-read your own teenage canon but to recapture that mode of absorbing novels.” —Evening Standard
“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 . . . as we grow out of them. At its heart is an exploration of the way women read: diving in with abandon, losing ourselves in words, collapsing into characters, only ever half returning to real life. There are bits of us left behind in every book we have ever loved. . . . Wise, courageous and endlessly generous, Ellis is something of a heroine herself.” —Literary Review
“[A] warm, witty memoir. . . . [A] life-affirming feminist text, but one delivered with such dexterity and sly humour that it never feels like a polemic or a prescription, making it well worth your time.” —The Scotsman
How to Be a Heroine is the book I feel like I’ve been waiting for since I was 16.” —Viv Groskop, Red magazine

Vintage, 9781101872093, 272pp.

Publication Date: February 3, 2015

About the Author

Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist. The daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees, she grew up thinking her family had travelled everywhere by magic carpet. From an early age she knew she didn’t want their version of a happy ending—marriage to a nice Iraqi-Jewish boy—so she read books to find out what she did want. Her plays include Patching Havoc, Sugar and Snow and Cling To Me Like Ivy, and she is a founding member of women’s theatre company Agent 160. She lives in London.