Five Favorite Books is a special feature at the LA Books Examiner in which our favorite authors share and discuss their five favorite books within a category. In this edition, author Shelly Rachanow discusses her five favorite books with fearless female characters. Shelly is the author of What Would You Do If You Ran the World? and If Women Ran the World Sh*t Would Get Done. Shelly also writes a blog called Celebrating the Wonderful Things Women Do.
Five Favorite Fearless Literary Women…At Least, This Month by Shelly Rachanow
I’ve been around strong, smart, sassy, amazing women my entire life. My grandmother raised four kids on her own and worked outside the home at a time when women weren’t supposed to do either. My mother routinely fought for better sidewalks, programs, and laws for the disabled while still managing to have time for her children (not to mention dinner on the table) every night.
Think for a moment about the women you know today. How many of them have baked, raced, ran, or walked for hours, days, or entire weekends for important causes and cures? How many have taken food to a sick neighbor, or sent money to help a poor child halfway around the world? How many have hopped on a plane and traveled there to help feed that child themselves?
Women are amazing in life and in books. And while it’s impossible for me to narrow down my list of favorite fearless literary females to just five, I can share my five favorites this month, given what I’ve been reading lately. Come September, I may very well have a new (or at least a bigger) list!
1. Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Stieg Larrson (2009)
I heard about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for nearly a year before I finally bought the book and read it, and I’m so glad I waited. Not because I didn’t like the book – I loved it, in fact I devoured all three books in the series. By starting the series a few months ago, I finished the first and second book after the third book was already released. Which is a good thing, because having to wait months for the third book would have been torture!
One of the central figures of the series is the girl with that titular tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, who is unlike most any female character I know of. A genius and high-level computer hacker, we learn early on that Salander’s childhood was traumatic, with a period that “all the evil” happened. Salander also suffers from Aspergers syndrome (or something similar) and that combination means she doesn’t trust or connect with many people (though the people who are loyal to her are fiercely loyal). Through all three books, Salander is resourceful, feisty, and has no mercy when it comes to taking revenge on people who have wronged her (like tattooing “I am a sadist, a pervert and a rapist” onto the stomach of one such person).
Despite her tactics, despite numerous actions against the law, I cheered her every step of the way, flipping hurriedly through sections wanting to make sure she succeeded. I’ve never felt more fiercely protective of a character in any book I’ve read…ever! Sadly, author Stieg Larrson passed away in 2004, with a fourth book nearly completed (rumor has it he had plans for ten books in the series). I will miss the chance to enjoy what would surely have been even more late-night page turners.
2. Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling (1998-2007)
How I wish the Harry Potter books were around when I was little – being a smart kid would have felt so much cooler! Hermione Granger is not just smart, she’s the smartest witch or wizard in her generation. But she’s also so much more than that. She’s a wonderful example of what it means to be loyal and compassionate towards others.
Along with Ron Weasley, Hermione is one of Harry Potter’s closest friends and throughout the seven books of the series she champions those who are less able to stand up for themselves (be it the house elves at their school in Hogwarts, Hagrid, Neville Longbottom, and many others). Hermione does so much more than bury her head in her books and ace her exams. She shows young girls that it’s cool to be smart, and it’s even cooler to stand up and make a difference.
3. Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith (1998-2010)
Starting your own business is a challenge for anyone. Even more so for a woman in Botswana, Africa like Precious Ramotswe. But that didn’t stop her. Precious opened her country’s first (and only) female-owned detective agency. Why? Because she loved her country and the people there. As she says in the book, “It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.”
And that she does, from helping a woman named Happy prove a man impersonating her father was a phony to finding a child feared killed by a witch doctor. In doing so, Precious says something that should be a motto for all of us: “There was so much suffering in Africa that it was tempting just to shrug your shoulders and walk away. But you can’t do that…. You just can’t.”
Read the rest of Shelly's picks at Frank Mundo's LA Books Examiner