“Refuse to live your life by the book,” pronounce the posters for “The English Teacher,” the indie feature debut from television director Craig Zisk. Julianne Moore stars as said English teacher, who, when we meet her, has been doing just that. A little mousy, a lot lonely, Linda Sinclair lives her life by rote, only really coming alive when discussing Charles Dickens or Gabriel Garcia Marquez with her high school students. But Ms. Sinclair begins to deviate from her script when one of her favorite former students, Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano) returns to town, having tried his hand at playwriting in New York. Unwilling to let his talent fester, Ms. Sinclair hatches a plan to produce Jason’s unwieldy tale of magical realism at the school — a plan that quickly veers off course.
But even as she ceases to “live by the book,” Ms. Sinclair never stops being bookish, referencing writers, delighting in perfect prose, enjoying the cozy quiet of a great independent bookstore. And so in honor of “The English Teacher,” which hits theaters on May 17, we thought we’d take a look at some of our other favorite bookish women on film.
Hermione in the “Harry Potter” series
If Harry Potter is the boy who lived, Hermione is the girl who read, and read, and read. And not to knock our bespectacled hero’s powers, but how many times do Hermione’s bookish tendencies save the day? As Ron says of her in The Chamber of Secrets, “That’s what Hermione does … when in doubt, go to the library.” And whether she’s figuring out the secret of the Sorcerer’s Stone or cooking up a mean batch of polyjuice potion, Hermione proves over and over that the book is as mighty as the wand.
Marian in “The Music Man”
She’s Marian the Librarian — of course she was going to make our list. With her thick glasses and tight bun, Shirley Jones, who stars as the literary leading lady in this 1962 adaptation of the Broadway musical, nails the staid, buttoned-up librarian archetype. But her Marian also shows us how brave bookish types can be, passionately advocating that her patrons check out the “dirty books” and ultimately selling her skeptical neighbors on the works of Chaucer, Rabelais, and Balzac.
Kat in “10 Things I Hate About You”
What a person reads for pleasure tells you so much about her, and so the second she picks up The Bell Jar in this 1999 teen rom-com, we know exactly what Kat, played by Julia Stiles, is all about. After all, what else would any self-respecting, snarky, misunderstood alt-girl read but Sylvia Plath’s beloved, depressive tome? It’s the perfect literary choice for this raging modern-day version of Shakespeare’s shrew Katrina, and interestingly, the book that Stiles has been working to bring to the big screen for years.
Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”
To the villagers in her poor provincial town, the cerebral Belle, with her nose habitually pressed to the page, may be a “most peculiar mademoiselle,” but to literary-minded girls everywhere, she’s not just a beauty of the book, but also a total beast when it comes to devouring story after story. We like to think that it’s years of throwing herself into other people’s narratives that gives the heroine of this 1991 animated classic the courage to rescue her bumbling scientist father and the empathy to fall in love with her Beast.
Annie in “Misery”
In this 1990 Stephen King adaptation, Kathy Bates, as Annie, the self-proclaimed “No. 1 fan” of a series of schlocky romance novels, takes her favorite author (James Caan) hostage and threatens to maim him and more unless he comes up with a better ending for his latest book. Sure, she takes it a little too far, but you’ve got to admire Annie’s passion for a satisfying story.
Jo in “Little Women”
Whether played by Katharine Hepburn (1933), June Allyson (1949), Winona Ryder (1994), or even Susan Dey in the short-lived 1978 television series, we’re hard-pressed to come up with a more literary-loving character than Jo March, who when not curled up reading Shakespeare or Dickens, is doing her best to imitate their authorial voices, penning wildly melodramatic plays for her sisters to star in. And where so often bookishness is used to telegraph timidity, Jo is anything but. Her hunger for great storytelling fuels her search for true adventures in her real life, making her the hero of bookish girls (and boys) everywhere.
Mae in “A League of Their Own”
“All the Way” Mae Mordabito, Madonna’s hard-drinking, hard-sliding taxi dancer-turned-center-fielder may not be your typical bookish broad in this 1992 Penny Marshall comedy, but she knows that the best way to pass the time on those long team bus trips is to curl up with a good read. And she’s willing to share the wealth, teaching her illiterate teammate Shirley the pleasures of the page by helping her sound out a tawdry bodice-ripper. The other players may be scandalized by her pedagogical choice, but Mae responds with the reader’s creed, “What difference does it make? She’s reading, okay. That’s the important thing.”
Annie in “Bull Durham”
Another baseball movie with some bookish cred. Along with handcuffs, Annie Savoy, the sexy minor league groupie played by Susan Sarandon in this 1988 comedy, uses the allure of poetry to seduce and inspire her flavor-of-the-season, reading Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to her young, impressionable ballplayer paramours. She wins bonus points for teaching Tim Robbins’ Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh that while Walt Whitman would have been a great name for a shortstop, he had other contributions to make to American culture.
Suzy Bishop in “Moonrise Kingdom”
You gotta love a girl whose version of packing for a runaway rendezvous in the wilderness entails stealing her favorite books from the library so that she can read from them along the way. Like many a great bookish heroine, this younger, slightly more optimistic version of Gwyneth Paltrow’s literary Margot in director Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” uses reading as a means of escape in Anderson’s 2012 release, but she earns a spot on our list for knowing that even once you run away in real life, you’re still going to need something good to read.
Kathleen Kelly in “You’ve Got Mail”
Sure, with its meet-cute in an AOL chat room and a big, bad conglomerate bookstore poised to take down the neighborhood shop around the corner, this 1998 romantic comedy is showing its age. But the snappy script by Nora and Delia Ephron holds up, and as Kathleen, the owner of a cozy Upper West Side kids bookstore, Meg Ryan achieves a perfect cozy bookishness — we’d take her recommendations on the next Eloise or Ferdinand the Bull anytime.