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2017 Reading Challenge

Jill Elizabeth has read 2 books toward her goal of 150 books.

Ladies’ Choice

So last week we talked about my favorite male characters.  Today, it’s ladies’ choice.

Everything I said about heroes and villains still holds true.  There are other interesting quirks and tidbits in strong female leads – the good and the bad – though that I think bear mentioning.  Strong female characters have traditionally had a tough time of it – much like strong females in the real world.  If they’re too strong, they’re bitchy or mean; if they’re not or if they pick their battles, then they are compromising or wimpy.  Sigh.

They just can’t win.

So strong female characters tend to be relatively few and far between in my experience.  And my reading experience is pretty sizable.  Sure, there are a lot of women who are strongly written – or even strongly described in one element or another – but that’s not really the same thing.  It’s a difference of degree.  Strong writing can convey strength of personality, and at its best it does.  But it can also “just” be a way of describing characters that we as readers can imbue with our own set of characteristics of strength.  That is a way of letting readers enjoy strong women in their stories – but it is not really writing them, so much as working with the reader to create them.  That type of writing may be harder (and probably in fact is), but it’s also subtly different than actually devising one’s own strong character.

Why is that, you ask?  Let me tell you what I think…

Strong female leads are difficult to write, I suspect, because we don’t know what we really want from them.  As with strong women in the real world, we don’t quite know how to describe this type of strength – it’s like a legal obscenity definition, we know it when we see it, but can’t really pin-point what “it” is.  They have to be able to handle anything that’s thrown at them, but can’t be made of stone; they have to be relatable, but can’t be too simple/need complexity also.  It’s tough to write that, believe me, I know.  It’s even tougher to be that – again, believe me…  😉 (teehee)

Anyway, enough rambling.  Without further ado, here’s my list of top female characters.

A Random Sampling of My Favorite Female Characters in Fiction (in no particular order)

  • Thursday Next (Thursday Next series, Book 1: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde) – I want to be named for a day of the week – and to have my name reflect British linguistic colloquialism…  Oh, and to travel into books as a literary detective and to meet famous book characters and be mentored by Miss Havisham and to have terrific adventures and a dodo for a pet.  Who wouldn’t really?  Thursday is sassy, smart, and the savior of literature – what more could you ask for in a heroine?
  • Elphaba (Wicked series by Gregory Maguire) – I love love love the concept of shifting perspective to retell a story, and Maguire’s first real run at it was a huge hit to my mind.  The next few, well, not so much.  But let’s leave them aside for now.  Elphaba is a stunning character, verdigris notwithstanding.  She overcomes what can only be described as a less-than-stellar childhood and bizarre familial relationships to leave an entire world quaking at the thought of her and her “wicked” ways – and manages to do it while simultaneously remaining human and sympathetic (at least to me), and without actually hurting anyone.  Impressive work indeed.
  • Miss Pettigrew (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson) – I first came upon Miss Pettigrew through the movie version of Watson’s incredible book.  Once I found the “real” thing, I loved her even more.  She is tough, capable, and adaptable.  Her self-doubts and willingness to set her own fears aside to defend her friends at any cost also make her eminently lovable – as do her occasional silly moments and naivete.  She is a delight of a character in a perfectly delightful book.  Now if only Watson’s others weren’t all out of print…
  • Izzy Spellman (The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz) – Teehee.  Izzy is brilliant and scheming and paranoid.  Although it may not really count as paranoia, because people really are out to get her.  At least, she things they are.  And by “they” I mean her parents.  And by “out to get her” I mean concerned about her mental and physical well-being enough to want to prevent her from taking ridiculous risks in the name of detective-ing.  The Spellman books are hysterical, Izzy and her ridiculous (in the best possible way) family – especially kid sister Rae who is almost as great a female character as Izzy herself – are constantly out-doing one another with insane feats of espionage that will leave you rolling on the floor, panting for breath.  Big big fun…
  • Lisbeth Salander (The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson) – Talk about your bad-ass anti-heroines…  Lisbeth has been through it all – literally, unfortunately; her parade of horribles stems from early childhood and never abates throughout adolescence or early adulthood.  Yet somehow, she winds up almost well-adjusted by the end of the trilogy – despite a series of unfortunate events that should be utterly unbelievable but somehow, extremely unfortunately, seem all to possible in the modern world.  The books are not for the faint of heart; they are graphically violent and occasionally sexually explicit, but the characters are strong and their world is stark and harsh and dog-eat-dog in the best possible story-telling way.
  • Mrs. Which (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engel) – Of all of the witches, I like Mrs. Which the best because she is the most enigmatic.  She is also the most dependable, the most sensible, and the most magical.  As a result, she is the one I want on my side when I’m preparing to battle the forces of evil on “dark” planets or inside my little brother’s mitochondria…  Mrs. Which is the penultimate exemplar of “tough but fair” – she never gives the children more than they can handle, but then again, her idea of what they can handle and theirs are rarely in sync.  Which means she constantly (and consistently) pushes them far beyond what they believe they are capable of, and into the realm of what she knows (rather than believes) they can do.  Like all the best teachers and role models.  Hence my love for her…  J
  • Case (Voice by Joseph Garraty) – I believe I’ve already stated my undying love for Case on here, but she’s so great I feel compelled to do it again.  She kicks ass, plain and simple.  She is tough, physically and mentally.  She plays a mean axe.  She can sing.  She can handle demonically possessed lead singer prima donnas.  And she does it all while wearing leather pants.  Come on, how can you not love that?!
  • Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen) – I know, I know.  Blah blah blah, predictable, blah blah blah, P&P/Jane A. is boring.  I don’t believe a word of it so don’t even waste your breath.  Sure, Lizzy is a product of her environment and at times falls prey to the man-hunting sentiments of her mother/time period.  But by and large, she manages to maintain a sense of humor, of herself, and of the ridiculous in a world predominantly focused on weddings, babies, and subordination.  And she does it all without falling pretty to silliness or pettiness or self-pity, despite the best efforts of her sisters to drag her into all three.  And she likes to read.  ‘Nuff said…  😉

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2 comments to Ladies’ Choice

  • Another great list – I love Thursday Next, also! I’d love to see someone attempt to put those books on film, but so many of the jokes are written so that they just wouldn’t translate well. YOu have to see the words on the page for them to be truly effective.

    • Why thank you Amy! I LOVE her – I quite want to be her, actually. I would also love to see movies made, but only if they were made well – and let’s be honest, given translation issues you pointed out plus the general tendency to louse up book-to-movie transfers, well, perhaps it’s best that no one try… Unless someone Indie did them – then it might work. They’d probably have to be indie, right, because what would the audience be – about 12 people across the country who actually read enough to get the references?? 🙂 Ah, how I love being a literary snob… (teehee)

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