Skip to main content

The Heroines Book Club

The Heroines Book Club

The Heroines Book Club

Would you like to read with me?

One of my earliest, happiest memories is when I discovered that I could read and write. I was five years old, kneeling in a patch of sunlight on the floor of our playroom, and I spelled out r-o-c-k on the chalkboard. I felt a whole world open to me in that moment. I wanted to know things, and books could help me. They could teach me information, such as about animals and illnesses (I wanted to be a veterinarian or doctor). But they could also teach me wisdom, because through books I could both live and observe other lives. Feeling the feelings of the characters and making meaning with them expanded me. Having a bird’s eye view of the story helped me to understand life in general and my life in particular.

This search for wisdom, meaning, and growth is the through line that connects my love of literature with my work as a coach. So, I thought, why not invite clients and friends to do a book club?

We’ll read books that hold a mirror up to life, where everything is believable, the observations are true, and the writing is artful. That means literary fiction, old and new, featuring terrific heroines, and extraordinary nonfiction, that helps you to be a heroine.

We’ll treat this book club as an ongoing series of reads – we won’t necessarily meet every month, and you don’t have to read every book in the series. Join according to your interest and your schedule. Once you register, you can download my reader’s guide to the book.

Interested? Get on the mailing list for the Heroines Book Club.

Out of Africa
by Isek Dinesen

Sunday, July 14, 2024
2-3:30pm CT

“I had a farm in Africa, but I did not own it – the land owned me.”
– Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Out of Africa

I watched the film adaptation of this story when it was released in theaters in 1985, and that line completely hooked me. I was immediately swept up in Sydney Pollack’s lush film of Karen Blixen’s romantic story of tragic love with a dashing pilot and a beloved adopted country. Blixen struck me as a heroine: strong, determined, and sensitive, too. I thought her story would fit our criteria for the Heroines Book Club – and prompt me
finally to read it!

By the way, my favorite way to enjoy a book that has been adapted for film is to watch the film first and then read the book. When I read the book first, the film always disappoints. But if I watch the film first, I can enjoy it on its own terms and then enjoy the book even more, because it’s like an enhanced version of the film. Win/win!

Join us, won’t you? Our discussion will be:

Sunday, July 14, 2024
2-3:30pm CT

Zoom Meeting Details

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 870 7055 0372

Passcode: 120078

One tap mobile

+16699009128,,87070550372#,,,,*120078# US (San Jose)

+17193594580,,87070550372#,,,,*120078# US

Dial by your location

        +1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)

        +1 719 359 4580 US

        +1 253 205 0468 US

        +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)

        +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)

        +1 669 444 9171 US

        +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)

        +1 646 931 3860 US

        +1 689 278 1000 US

        +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)

        +1 305 224 1968 US

        +1 309 205 3325 US

        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)

        +1 360 209 5623 US

        +1 386 347 5053 US

        +1 507 473 4847 US

        +1 564 217 2000 US

Meeting ID: 870 7055 0372

Passcode: 120078

Find your local number:

As always, this is a drop-in book discussion group. You need not have attended any previous discussions, nor does your attendance at this discussion constitute a promise to attend future discussions. Just come if you have read this book and want to talk about it with me and other readers.

Past Book Selections

Expecting Adam
by Martha Beck

Expecting Adam is a memoir that chronicles the heroine’s journey Martha Beck never intended to make.

She was an ambitious young scholar at Harvard, aligned with its values of intellectualism and academic achievement, and believed that would be her life. But then she found herself pregnant with a child with Down’s syndrome. Such a child did not have value in that system, and she was encouraged to abort. What she ended up aborting was the Harvard value system and embracing Adam, the child who ushered magic and healing and wild love into her life.

Martha (I love her too much to call her by her surname) says it this way: This is the story of two driven Harvard academics who found out in mid- pregnancy that their unborn son would be retarded. To their own surprise and the horrified dismay of the university community, the couple ignored the abundant means, motive, and opportunity to obtain a therapeutic abortion. They decided to allow their baby to be born. What they did not realize is that they themselves were the ones who would be ‘born,’ infants in a new world where magic is commonplace, Harvard professors are the slow learners, and retarded babies are the master teachers.

Read this astonishing, heartfelt, and hilarious memoir with me, won’t you?

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë

When I was in the Navy in my 20s, I was sad. I was a terrible fit for the work and the culture, so I took refuge in books in my time off. 

Noticing my reading habit, my friend Elizabeth asked me what I thought of her favorite novel, Jane Eyre.

“I’ve never read it,” I confessed.

She was aghast. “A reader like you – an English major – who hasn’t read Jane Eyre?”

Reader, she gave me her copy.  

I quickly understood why she was so passionate! Jane Eyre, the eponymous heroine of this 19th C British novel by Charlotte Brontë, is passionate and inspires passion. First, she tells her own story. The first-person narration invites the reader directly into Jane’s experience and feels intimate and immediate. And it is a doozy of a story, with Jane being orphaned, cruelly mistreated, traumatized, haunted, wandering the moors of Yorkshire and nearly dying from exposure…and everyone tries to tame her, but she will not be tamed! She is wild and fierce. 

But is she a heroine?

The Women’s Room
by Marilyn French

This is what Barbara Kingsolver, 2023 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, has to say about our January 2024 read:

The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French, might be the first book that made me feel powerfully seen. I’d grown up with a claustrophobic despair over being female that I couldn’t really name. That book gave me the words and turned my despair into an engine that’s been running ever since.

Join us on Sunday, January 28, to discuss The Women’s Room. From Amazon’s description: “[French] tells the story of a suburban 1950s housewife named Mira who divorces her loathsome husband and returns to graduate school at Harvard. Loosely based on Marilyn French’s own life, the story of Mira and her friends offers wry, piercing insight into the inner lives of a generation of American women. A powerful indictment of the patriarchal social norms of the time, it caused an uproar when it was first published in 1977, changing the course of the feminist movement forever. Today, it remains timely and eerily relevant—a courageous novel infused with revolutionary fervor that examines the world of hopeful believers looking for new truths.”

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed

What is a heroine, after all? 

At the beginning of her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found of the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed definitely doesn’t seem like one. 

Undone by grief at her mother’s death from cancer, we meet 22-year-old Strayed as she is taking a wrecking ball to her life. She cheats compulsively on the husband she loves and breaks both their hearts. She leaves college one class shy of her degree, breaking a deathbed promise to her mom. She shoots up heroine with a lost, blue-haired punk and blows out all the veins in her arms.

She doesn’t really know why she does these things, and she doesn’t really know why she is drawn to hike the Pacific Crest Trail 500 miles, alone, from the Mojave Desert to Washington. Nonetheless, one day she finds herself beginning that hike, staggering under the weight of an overstuffed backpack and mentally and physically wholly unprepared for the journey.

And she carries on.

That’s it for me – the essential heroine spirit: she carries on. Whether by choice or compulsion, in spite of profound challenges, she keeps going.

Wild fell into my hands at a used bookstore in Seattle, where I was dropping off my baby at college, and feeling raw with emotion. I knew it was the next Heroines Book Club read when I came across this line: What felt profound, she says, “was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay.”

Read this poignant, fierce, and transcendent memoir of healing and discovery with me, won’t you?

by Maggie O’Farrell

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and
The National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 2020.

This is another story from the margins. In this case, a life imagined from the scant historical fragments of William Shakespeare’s biography. This much is known: that Shakespeare had a son, Hamnet, who died when he was 11 years old. Four years later, the playwright wrote his masterpiece of grief, Hamlet. Shakespeare’s wife, Hamnet’s mother, was called Ann Hathaway. This is their story.

Hamnet took my breath away. It has everything I look for in fiction. It is richly imagined, true to the historical record and true to life. The prose is lyrical, and the story is intricate and well-plotted. It also features a powerful, nonconformist, heroic female protagonist.

Circe, by Madeline Miller

This Heroines Book Club read features an actual heroine – as in, from a Greek myth. The novel is Circe, by Madeline Miller. The eponymous heroine, a sorceress who turns men into pigs, is a minor character in Homer’s Odyssey.

But who doesn’t want to know more about a sorceress who turns men into pigs? Miller, a classicist at the University of Pennsylvania, finally made Circe the protagonist of her own story.

How cool is that? When I was in college, these were called “stories from the margins,” and I loved them. Yeah, I thought. What about all those minor characters, whose only job is to support the arc of the hero? I want to know their stories, too! Miller fulfills my wish in Circe.

And she’s a great writer, too! This book is a triple treat: compelling premise, gripping plot, excellent prose style.

Learn all about it – praise for the novel, interviews with Miller, plans to turn this into a film, and a reader’s guide – at Miller’s website.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

In 2023, the Heroines Book Club will focus on contemporary novels, starting with Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. The 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner in the Letters, Drama, and Music category, Olive Kitteridge is book of interconnected short stories grounded by the presence of the eponymous heroine, Olive Kitteridge.Or is Olive an antiheroine? Olive is discontent and doesn’t hide it! But she is one of the most vibrantly alive literary characters I’ve encountered in recent years, and her journey into deeper understanding of herself and life is moving and compelling. I predict a lively conversation!

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Our next read will be our lightest, easiest read so far, with the most uncomplicatedly endearing heroine: Anne Elliot, of Persuasion, by Jane Austen. 

At 19, Anne fell in love with Frederick Wentworth, a young naval officer. “He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling. . . It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest.” 

But it wasn’t to be. Anne allowed herself to be persuaded by her snobbish relations to give up their engagement because Wentworth had not yet made his fortune. Wentworth leaves hurt and angry, and Anne comes to regret her decision. She never stops loving him. When he returns unexpectedly to the neighborhood eight years later, successful, wealthy, and looking for a wife, she wonders, can he forgive her? Can they try again?

This novel is characteristically Austen in its breadth of wonderfully drawn, interesting characters, witty dialogue, and tight plot. What sets it apart is the maturity of her lovers: they are adults who have lived, loved, and lost. The story proceeds, accordingly, with greater caution, over more time, from autumn to autumn, which makes the Austenian happy ending even more satisfying! 

But I love it best of all her novels because of Anne. “There is no one so good, so capable, as Anne,” Wentworth says of her in a moment of crisis. Good, capable, and also loyal, generous, and funny Anne.

I was first introduced to this story through a perfect film adaptation by the BBC starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. It’s available to stream on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99. I highly recommend it.

As for the book, I am reading the Annotated Persuasion by Anchor Books.

Howards End, by E. M. Forster

“Only connect.”

Those words are the epigraph of the novel Howards End, our next pick for the Heroines Book Club. I’ll never forget the moment I encountered them for the first time – it was summer, in my parent’s back yard, and I was settling into a lounge chair for an afternoon of reading. I was captivated: what did they mean? Connect what? Who?

The search for connections guided my reading of this novel. Set in early 20th Century Britain, the novel explores the relationships (connections) between people and between people and things – social class, money, real estate, business, art, aspirations. I admire the novel’s thoughtfulness, but it is in my top three favorite novels because of its heroine, Margaret Schlegel. I love her. Intelligent, curious, compassionate, practical, vulnerable, and principled, she is always trying to do the right thing – for me, this is the essence of a heroine. I love being with her as she tries to “only connect.”

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life

Our first read will be my favorite novel, Middlemarch, by George Eliot. The storytelling is wise, witty, and humane, and the prose is sublime. The more I read it, the more I love it. In fact, I was re-reading it last year and talking about it with some friends, when one of them said, “I want to read it, but I want to read it with you.” Then there was a vigorous nodding of the other heads present and a heart-warming chorus of “Me, too!” and the Heroines Book Club was born.

The novel is set in the 1830’s in the fictional town of Middlemarch, in England, and centers on two inhabitants who yearn for epic lives, Miss Dorothea Brooke and Mr. Tertius Lydgate. It examines the ways people try to do good and achieve their ambitions; the temptations, mistakes, and discouragements that undermine their efforts; and how the courageous recover. George Eliot creates a world that pulses with life and characters so real you can almost touch them. She offers penetrating insights into human behavior with deep compassion, philosophical humor, and artistry that will take your breath away.

Because of its length and richness, we’ll take our time and read Middlemarch over three months.

Craving inspiration?

Want fresh inspiration and practical advice on how to feel better, no matter what? Fill out the form below to subscribe.