Books for Women #1 Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Picking up the  ‘100 books to maketh a man’ debate ( how many and which books maketh a woman? ) I see @thereaderorg has kicked off a  list for women with Middlemarch – of course,  of course. Completely agree but  surely that comes in (in a reading life chronological order)  at about  number 90?

So I am  thinking, what would be my 100 books? And can I do them in order?

For a woman of my age it’s got to start with Heidi – but I wonder does anyone read that  book any more? It’s got some lovely stuff in it.

My friend, and massive supporter of The Reader Organisation, author Frank Cottrell Boyce, tells a great story about meeting a woman in the Sarajevo war zone who had spent her early years in a loveless Romanian orphanage and was now working as a rescuer of orphans in the war… How had she learned to care about people, Frank asked. Heidi, she explained, she had had a copy! And thus she had had a story which made her feel that there was love in the  world, that you might be loved.  Can it be that simple? I think it can.  Human beings are made of stories – that’s what we are. (Try  Heid at

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read it but maybe in a Ladybird type version when I was   8? Later I had a bigger version of it, more text, fewer pictures. I loved it because I had a loving close relationship with my own grandfather, and because Heidi was a girl, and I was a post-war kid, born just after rationing, so it was great to read about all the food in the book – all that creamy milk and those lovely fresh white rolls. Heidi was younger than me –  I thought of her as almost a baby – and I identified also with Clara ( her older friend) and with Aunt Dete ( not easy to love). But maybe what fed me wasn’t identifying, so much as simply feeling – sorry to be corny – the power of love.

But I also learned there was an inner life, and a way of talking about, of writing about feelings. I learned that that inner self could be badly damaged  – Heidi’s unhappy sleepwalking was  truly disturbing –  and that ordinary, kind, good love could heal that damage. For an eight year old whose parents  were about to divorce, and whose life  was about to descend into a long sad  chaos caused by  badly broken adults… Heidi was a good piece of kit  to have in a girl’s kitbag.

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