Blurring the line between biography and memoir, these essays consider the power of public personalities to illuminate one’s...


Eight writers reflect on women who fascinate them.

“Who do you think about (maybe a little too often), who challenges, inspires, or outrages you? Who are you obsessed with?” These questions inform this collection of essays, edited by Feminist editorial director Scholder (editor: Dr. Rice in the House, 2007, etc.), about famous women whom the writers see as personal icons. As they investigate the women’s lives, the essayists reflect on their own identities and what motivates their attractions. Novelist Mary Gaitskill writes about porn artist Linda Lovelace, whose public persona, Gaitskill believes, has been bowdlerized. Herself a victim of a violent rape, Gaitskill feels a visceral understanding of the “hellish combination” of anger and fear that Lovelace is likely to have experienced. “As much as anything,” she writes, “her story is about enormous loneliness and the struggle to survive, a condition so much bigger than how she was seen.” Writer and gardener Jill Nelson is incredulous that young women today have no idea who Aretha Franklin was—a woman who, for Nelson, embodied “liberated empowerment or broke down heartache, with a sultry dose of lust thrown in.” Historian, classical singer and restaurateur Hanne Blank is fascinated by food writer M.F.K. Fisher, who represented “style and self-assurance” and “sensual, unpretentious worldliness.” Blank continues: “Calm assertion is nine tenths of authority. Emotion is more potent without melodrama, or even exclamation points.” Justin Vivian Bond focuses on supermodel Karen Graham, the advertising face of Estée Lauder, to explore her own identity as “a small-town transperson…sure that what I wanted was to escape into a world of glamour and elegance, taste and refinement.” Other contributions include Rick Moody on singer Karen Dalton, musician Johanna Fateman on Andrea Dworkin, and novelist Kate Zambreno on Kathy Acker.

Blurring the line between biography and memoir, these essays consider the power of public personalities to illuminate one’s deepest sense of self.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55861-866-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?