Favorite Fictional Girls Who Love Reading

Austen & Alcott

The dim, dusty room, with the busts staring down from the tall bookcases, the cozy chairs, the globes, and, best of all, the wilderness of books in which she could wander where she liked, made the library a region of bliss to her.
—Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I am currently reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for the first time. Somehow it is a book I never got around to when I was a kid even though I have seen a film version of the story. Alcott’s novel was inspired by her own youth with her sisters, and the character of Jo is based on her. As is demonstrated in the description of Jo in the quote at the top of this post, she is an avid reader, so it is no wonder that she grows up to be a writer just as Alcott did.

Reading about Jo got me to thinking about the many other fictional girls who love books. In pondering my favorites, I cannot help but feel that there is a sort of literary sisterhood of fictional and real readers who share their love of books by connecting through the very medium itself. Here are a few of my favorite fictional bibliophile friends.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series

Honestly, am I the only person who’s ever bothered to read Hogwarts, A History?

Aside from being an amazing and brilliant witch, JK Rowling’s Hermione Granger is a voracious reader, and she does such awesomely bookish things like buying special homework planners for Harry and Ron when they are studying for their Ordinary Wizarding Levels (OWLs) in the fifth installment in the series. Not only do I love books, but I also love calendars and notebooks, so I quite enjoyed this nice, little moment. And let’s not forget how many times all the knowledge she gained from reading helped save the day.

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

Jane Austen’s heroine is a well-loved fictional book girl, and I think she would end up on many lists like this. Of course, Austen offers up a number of avid readers in her novel, so one could find a fictional friend in the pages of her other novels as well.

Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird

Until I feared I would lose it. I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

With a father like Atticus Finch, it is no wonder that Harper Lee’s Scout Finch is a reader. As demonstrated in the quote above, reading is just a natural part of Scout’s existence. Even with the older version of Scout in Go Set a Watchman, we see she is just as feisty as her younger self. With so much attention on Atticus in Watchman, I think many readers missed out on just how wonderful Scout is as an adult.

Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.

Like Little Women, I did not pick up Betty Smith’s story of Francie Nolan until recently. I cannot believe this book escaped me for so long. Despite all the hardship Francie faces growing up, books are a constant companion. Her reading ultimately leads her to pass the tests that gain her admission at the University of Michigan.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list—just a few of my favorites. Please feel free to share your favorite fictional book girls in the comments.

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Reading in the New Year

Typewriter new

It has been awhile since I last wrote a post for this blog. Participating in (and winning!) my first NaNoWriMo in November used up most of my words, and, aside from a few HR articles and employee handbooks, I have been slow to get back to my writing. I suppose it is a time of year that I should be thinking about resolutions and getting to work on revising my NaNoWriMo novel, but really I am just thinking about books.

I am starting off the year with a reread of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Many people think J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is my favorite. While I do love Rowling’s books, Pullman’s trilogy has always resonated more with me. I have read and listened to the audio versions of his story of Lyra, Will and parallel universes a number of times, and it just gets better each time. With so many unread books, it is a bit weird to think about rereads, but going back to a favorite book is like a visit with an old friend.

A friend recently got Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It is a book that I have been curious about for a while, and I look forward to diving into it later this year. I would also like to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams—it is one of those series I really feel like I should have already read.

I always enjoy setting a goal for myself in the Goodreads reading challenge and set my goal at 30 books for this year. Book Riot has a “Read Harder Challenge” that pushes readers to read books in 24 different categories. What I like about this list is that it pushes readers to move beyond their normal fare and sets them up for a diverse reading list for 2016. I am not sure if I will complete all the categories, but it seems like a nice way to find inspiration for my next read.

May 2016 be filled with lots of books. Happy New Year!

The Problem with Literary Genres & Categories

Books sign

Humans seem to like categories. We sort and label all over the place, including bookstores. Walking around any bookstore, you would think each story could be neatly classified: science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, history, humor…the list goes on and on. But in reading books, it is easy to see how many stories defy conventional genres and categories.

Several years ago I went to a talk and book signing by Jasper Fforde. Fforde is best known for his Thursday Next series where his main character can jump from book to book, easily transgressing genres. To make things more interesting, this is a skill Thursday Next hones under the guidance of Miss Havisham, a character who originated in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Throughout the series, Thursday interacts with characters from books that span multiple centuries and genres, which, as Fforde pointed out in his talk, complicates things when trying to classify his books. Are his books fantasy because they contain minotaurs and fantastical worlds? Are they science fiction because of the time travel? Or maybe they belong in mystery because many of the plots center around Thursday solving some sort of literary crime. For this reason, Fforde pointed out that he was partial to doing away with genre classifications because many books do not in fact fit neatly in the categories we have set up.

Labeling books by genre is often limiting. For example, I stayed away from Stephen King for a long time because I always thought of him as just a horror writer. It was not a genre that interested me, but after picking up King’s On Writing, I was inspired to delve into his fiction. I started with Carrie and soon after found myself devouring whatever King fiction I could get my hands on. Even though many of his books do have a strong horror element, they could also be classified in other ways. Take IT, for example. Of course this book fits neatly in the horror genre, but it is also a coming-of-age story, and I think it is that element more than the evil Pennywise the Clown that drew me into the book. It makes me wonder what other gems are hiding in sections like horror and mystery—areas of the bookstore I do not often visit.

Branding a book as Young Adult (YA) fiction is another way we may limit readership. YA is a huge category in bookstores right now. It seems that the Harry Potter series ushered in a new wave of YA writers. It is not that writers for the YA market did not exist before JK Rowling’s boy wizard arrived on the scene, but it was a moment where those in publishing seemed to finally take YA fiction seriously. But, YA readers are not just teens; adults are also diving into YA fiction. This raises a question: what makes a book YA? One thing that YA books tend to have in common is a main character who is a child or a teen. With the cross-generational appeal of books like Rowling’s and Pullman’s, it seems to me that having a young main character does not necessarily mean that a book is just for a young adult audience even though this seems to be the way the publishing industry markets such books.

The YA label once again points to just how limiting genres and categories can be when it comes to books. I still have friends who refuse to read the Harry Potter series because, “Those are kids’ books.” I find this to be similar to my initial aversion to Stephen King. If I still held that attitude, I would have missed out on many good books.

Reading should be about connecting with a variety of characters—not just people that are like us. For example, when we label a book as women’s fiction because it features women characters and experiences that are seen as common to women, it’s as though we are sending a message that such stories do not warrant an audience beyond women readers. The reality is that many readers enjoy books with all kinds of main characters. There have even been pushes to stop labeling kids’ books as being for boys or girls—just call them books. Compartmentalizing kids’ books by gender bothers me because it seems to imply that we should only read stories suited to our gender. Does this mean a girl cannot enjoy Tom Sawyer and a boy cannot enjoy The Hunger Games because the main character’s gender is not in alignment with their own?

When we limit what we read to narrowly defined categories, we are missing out on a lot of stories that overlap multiple genres. Often a kids’ book is not just a kids’ book, and a horror story is not just about things jumping out and saying, “Boo!”