This book had been on my ‘to buy’ list for ages and I’ve chatted with Samantha Ellis on Twitter quite a bit- mainly about the Brontes (like me, she was a late convert to Jane Eyre and saw it in a similar way to me.) A memoir centered around reading appealed to me- after all, I can measure my own life in the books that I’ve read and the cover of this book shows me that I share quite a few books with this author too.
Each chapter takes a character from a novel as a starting point- Scarlett O’Hara, Cathy Earnshaw, Esther Greenwood and more- and is deftly woven into the story of Ellis’ life. Ellis grew up in an Iraqi-Jewish family in London and this book is as much about her search for her identity as it is about the books she read. And yet, both things are linked. Like many girls and women, Ellis used books to help her understand the world- even if they didn’t exactly reflect her life. I found this to be really moving; it’s sometimes forgotten how important reading can be to children finding their way in the world (my big example was reading Matilda as a badly bullied seven year old and finding solace in the tricks she played on her tormentors. Oh, what I would have given to have had the powers of telekinesis and a handy newt hanging around.) This book was the rare memoir that really resonated with me. I also liked reading how these books shaped Ellis’ work as a playwright, as well as helping her navigate both the world psychologically and physically.
Another enjoyable aspect of the book was that it reminded me of books I’ve read and loved- and encouraged me to re-read them. I now have copies of Valley of the Dolls and The Bell Jar to look at again; both are books I feel will benefit from reading again now I’m older (although as I’ve already read Gone With The Wind twice, I think I’ll skip that one…) There were also books I’d never read, which I’m not going to name because it will cause the same howls of ‘HOW COULD YOU NOT?!’ that happens every time I admit I’ve never seen Star Wars and only watched the Back to the Future films in 2012. But it has added a few books to my ever growing list of books to read. Who knows, it may even persuade me to pick up a Jilly Cooper!
I am recommending this book to all of my bookish friends. I think you should read it too- I think you’ll like it.