ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Writer Mary Curtis is a big fan of strong women. And that's her theme for today's installment of Three Books, that's our series in which writers recommend a group of books on a single theme. Curtis' three books each offer a variation on the powerful heroine.
Ms. MARY CURTIS (Features Editor/Columnist, Charlotte Observer): You may not like her, but you do what she wants. She's a tough chick, a woman with attitude and an instinct for survival. She's quick with a quip and totally in charge of herself and those around her.
Curled up on a couch in a fuzzy robe and slippers, book in hand, I don't feel so indestructible. That's why I look for my tough chicks in literature.
Elmore Leonard is the king of wise-guy dialogue. In the book, "Out of Sight," he created Karen Sisco, a woman every bit equal to the Detroit lowlifes she encounters as a federal marshal. Guns? Oh, she's got them, from a pump-action shotgun to a sexy Sig Sauer, held snug against her thigh. Even when pushed tight against an escaping bank robber in the trunk of a car, Karen's dressed sharply and talking coolly. She earns the bad guy's respect - and yours.
Muriel Pritchett is the opposite of Karen Sisco. She's a mess. A divorced dog-trainer with frizzy hair, pointy, painted fingernails and a son who wheezes. At first, this whole package repels Macon Leary, "The Accidental Tourist" of Anne Tyler's novel. Macon is playing it safe after the death of his son and his marriage.
Then Muriel crashes into his life, trailing chaos. But there is good in her ? heart and soul and, yes, resilience. In a childhood picture, Macon sees it. It was her fierceness - her spiky, pugnacious fierceness - as she fought her way toward the camera with her chin set awry and her eyes' bright slits of determination.
The demons Ida B. Wells faced down were real. She was nobody's chick, but there's no denying her resolve. Wells was a civil rights crusader, journalist, and suffragist in the late 19th and early 20th century. Her true story is told in "Ida: A Sword Among Lions" by Paula J. Giddings.
This Mississippi-born child of former slaves always stayed one step ahead of angry racists. When Wells was dragged off a first-class railroad car reserved for whites, she sued. She campaigned against lynching and wrote editorials in a Memphis newspaper.
In old photos, you see the intelligence and the fire in her eyes. Yet, in the hands of Giddings, we see a Wells that could be insecure, image-conscious, and far from perfect, which only makes her fight for justice more impressive. Wells has never gotten the recognition she deserves ? a price strong women often have to pay.
For a woman looking to make her mark, there's no list of rules as these real and fictional characters reveal - whether they're cuffing a bad guy, soothing a lost spirit, or leading a nation to fulfill its promise. Just show me an obstacle that can stand up to a well-placed kick from a high-heeled boot.
SIEGEL: Mary Curtis is a columnist at the Charlotte Observer. Her picks again are "Out of Sight" by Elmore Leonard, "The Accidental Tourist" by Anne Tyler, and "Ida: A Sword Among Lions" by Paula J. Giddings. You can find more out about these books plus reviews and author readings in the book section of our Web site, npr.org.
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