“Girls With Grit in Lit”

By Brittany Tate The Brunswick News, Ga.

Ann Mason knows how important it is for young girls to have strong female role models. And some of them can be found in books.

Beginning Friday and continuing through Jan. 24, Mason will moderate four discussions entitled, "Girls with Grit in Lit: From Elizabeth Bennett to Katniss Everdeen and Everyone in Between," to kickoff this year's Big Read initiative that encourages reading.

The first discussion will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Brunswick-Glynn County Library, 208 Gloucester St., Brunswick. Centered on Charles Portis' 1968 novel, "True Grit," the narrative focuses on Mattie Ross, a stubborn, 14-year-old girl who, through heavy-handed tactics and relentless bribery, entices the help of one-eyed, hard-drinking U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn -- and later Texas Ranger LaBoeuf -- to track down her father's killer in Indian Territory.

Though Mason had not read the Western prior to its selection for the Big Read, she says it gives a nod to exceptional and inspiring female characters, who are too often considered supporting roles to men in leadership positions.

"'True Grit' features a strong female character, and I thought it might be interesting to hold a couple of book discussions where participants can talk about other strong female characters in literature, both classic and popular," Mason said, who is the former adult education program instructor for McIntosh County.

"Historically, female writers and characters are often overlooked as influential, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to give them some of the spotlight."

Some of the female characters, Mason says, are ones that "take control of their destinies, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges."

They include Elizabeth Bennett from "Pride and Prejudice," Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games," Lisbeth Salander from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Scout Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird," Celie from "The Color Purple," and Anna Pigeon from author Nevada Barr's mystery series.

"(They) take control of their destinies, which is a vastly different model than the helpless female characters we often see in books, television and movies: characters who are wholly dependent upon others for rescue and fulfillment," Mason said.

"The women mentioned and, presumably, others that we'll discuss at the events, are positive role models, because they are 'take-charge' characters who think for themselves and overcome adversity.

"They may not win every battle they face, and they may not do everything alone, but they are heroines willing to take risks to get the lives they want."

With the film industry presently emphasizing female power, Mason says "True Grit," which was made into a movie, also gives young women another reason to stop and take notice.

"What's interesting to me right now is that at the theater we have a super popular female character in Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series, the animated film, 'Frozen,' with strong female characters, and a memorable, nearly solo performance by Sandra Bullock in (the movie) 'Gravity.' It just seems like the time is right to be talking about the girls with grit," she said.

Highlighting strong female role models also holds true in her family life.

"I have a 3-year-old girl, and I am very careful about what she is allowed to watch and read, particularly when it comes to how women are represented. She doesn't yet know much about the famous princesses," she said. "I do love the fairy tale stories, and they were a big part of my childhood, but Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Ariel the mermaid have a lot in common: they're pretty helpless until they're rescued by a handsome prince.

"More modern animated heroines have a bit more grit, and as she grows older, I'll be interested in sharing with her new characters that she may consider role models."

Though Mason is expecting a good, mixed crowd of men and women, she hopes that participants are prepared to bring some of their favorite female characters into the conversation.

"'True Grit' is going to be a fun book to discuss, because it's unique. It's full of action and drama, but also lots of comedy. I'm looking forward to hearing what people thing about it."

Heather Heath, executive director of the Big-Read-sponsoring Golden Isles Arts and Humanities, shares in her sentiments.

"'True Grit' is a great book, and it's better than the two movies -- one from 1969, the other from 2010 -- because they don't capture the sense of humor that the book did. And I think that residents are going to enjoy it," Heath said, adding that like many, she didn't know it was novel.

"The main purpose of the Big Read program is to encourage reading for pleasure, because it's vitally important, especially for these younger people that are distracted by all these devices. It's a great way for communities to come together, reading and talking about the same thing."

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