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DEVIL'S CONTRACT

THE HISTORY OF THE FAUSTIAN BARGAIN

Simon is an erudite, insightful guide to a story that spans centuries but still speaks to our times.

Devilish deals always end badly, but people continue to make them, according to this wide-ranging study of the Faust legend.

Most readers are familiar with the story of Faust, the scholar who makes a pact with the devil, trading his soul for knowledge, power, and riches. Simon, an essayist and editor-in-chief of Belt Magazine, believes that many people don’t fully understand the story’s depth and complexity, and this extensive cultural history goes a long way to prove his point. While the first appearance of Faust as a character was in 1592, in a play by Christopher Marlowe, the idea goes back much further, and Simon tracks through the antecedents, including the temptation of Christ. Goethe’s version, the first part of which was published in 1808, was enormously influential, sparking many other tales that picked up the theme. Thomas Mann reinvigorated the story as a novel in 1947, using the concept of a satanic pact to try to explain why the German people followed Hitler. In Roman Polanski’s 1968 movie, Rosemary’s Baby, a struggling actor offers his wife to be the bearer of the devil’s child in return for fame. Simon argues that the Faust legend draws its modern resonance from the idea of the contract—not just as a legal agreement, but as a moral choice. In the closing section of the book, the author suggests that some of the problems of the contemporary world, from screen addiction to climate change, represent Faust-style bargains. In this section, the logic is unclear, and there is a sense that Simon might be stretching the metaphor too far. Nonetheless, the book is an undeniably fascinating read, as the author weaves literary and intellectual strands into a colorful tapestry.

Simon is an erudite, insightful guide to a story that spans centuries but still speaks to our times.

Pub Date: July 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781685891046

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2024

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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