When my roommate gave me “The Heroine’s Bookshelf” for my birthday, I was intrigued by it and excited to check it out, but I had no idea what to expect. When I dove into it, what I found was the reflections of a woman on the lessons she learned from some of the most beloved books by female authors, mixed in with the histories of the authors themselves and how those backgrounds influenced their works.
Some of the books were ones I haven’t read (yet), such as “Gone With The Wind.” (It’s been on my bookshelf since I was like nine…I’ll get to it eventually.) And others are some of my all-time favorites, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Little Women.”
I appreciated Erin Blakemore’s ability to weave the histories of the authors with the stories of the heroines, all while giving her personal experiences with the books and the lessons she learned from them.
From the books I have read, I think she really pulled out accurate life lessons from them. For example, we learned about compassion from Scout Finch, simplicity from Laura Ingalls, and steadfastness from Jane Eyre.
But as I approached the end of the book the other night, I found myself dog-earring one page in particular. In reference to Jo March of “Little Women,” Blakemore writes the following:
Ambition is a heroine’s trait only when it adds to life instead of detracting from it. Louisa [May Alcott] would be proud and happy to see that a modern woman can choose any avenue for her life’s work, that our road is easier than the one she trod so resolutely and so ruefully. But fewer obstacles doesn’t mean fewer obligations. Though we have it relatively easy, we still face the challenges of being taken seriously, of proving that our efforts have some meaning and worth. It takes guts to show up for life, to tackle what we are handed. And it takes even more strength and courage not to confuse self-sacrifice with self-sustenance.
I couldn’t help but reread those last two sentences over and over again.
It takes guts to show up for life. What a powerful statement. Life is a funny thing. It’s forced upon us in a lot of ways. We’re dealt good and bad cards. We can either just float through life taking what’s handed to us without asking questions, or we can truly show up. Be present. Be active. Have the guts to show up and participate in our own lives. Tackle what we are handed.
Things are going to be hard every once in a while. They’re going to suck. But if we truly show up for our lives and tackle them head on, we’ll be better off for it in the end.
I think that’s what I’ve been trying to vocalize for myself the past couple of months, but I didn’t know how. I wasn’t showing up for my life. I sure as hell wasn’t standing up for my life. I was just letting things get thrown at me without tackling them. Now, I’m taking it all on. I have guts. I’m showing up. I’m shuffling the cards I’ve been dealt and I’m making the best hand I can out of it. I’m growing and I’m learning. And every day is a struggle in some way, but I’m really making a true effort to show up every single day.
But as Blakemore reminded me, “A heroine’s work — growth, self-definition, barrier-smashing — is never really done.”
I wasn’t expecting to file this read under The Self-Help Files, but I don’t think I have a choice now.
I’ll leave you now with one last passage from this chapter:
Let us heed Louisa’s warning and do as Jo does, taking up the work that’s right for us instead of that which we feel obligated to pursue…
Here’s to showing up for life, to having the guts to do what is right for you, and to learning lessons from the heroines we’ve been blessed to have in our lives, both real and fictional.