December 15, 2010
Book Learning

I’m reading a little book with a lot of “food for thought” – The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore.

The 12 chapters of this book delve into the lessons that Blakemore has learned from the heroines and authors in such literary classics, often read by girls, as Jane Eyre, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. Each chapter has a theme that sums up the lesson of that novel. For example, the chapter on Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is entitled “Faith.”

I was curious to see what Blakemore found so significant in these well-known and well-loved books. A chapter I particularly enjoyed focused on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. My husband and I once read the entire Little House series aloud to our daughter, and I would agree that The Long Winter is the most memorable of them all.  

Blakemore points out that Wilder began writing the series when she was in her 60s, at the start of the Great Depression. Like our present times, people then were cutting back on material possessions and rediscovering the kind of lifestyle that Laura’s pioneer family had to follow due to severely limited resources. As the Ingalls face deprivation and even starvation, the family works together to keep their ration of brown bread and potatoes on the table. Yet they survive. Blakemore says of the Little House books:  “they reach across history and tap into a universal longing for calm, serenity, space, and simplicity.”

That is the title of the chapter – Simplicity. Blakemore demonstrates that we can also learn about Fight from Scarlett O’Hara,  Ambition from Jo March, and Magic from Mary Lennox (The Secret Garden), among other lessons that come in handy at unexpected times and places.

This What-Are-You-Reading-Wednesday post was written by Nancy Conner, director of grants at the Indiana Humanities Council, and coordinator of Novel Conversations. The Novel Conversations collection includes the following books mentioned in The Heroine’s BookshelfPride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, and The Secret Garden.

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