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WOMEN AND OTHER MONSTERS

BUILDING A NEW MYTHOLOGY

A sparkling and perceptive critique of ancient ideas that still hold women back.

A witty and erudite exploration of the enduring influence of the female monsters in Greek myths.

Electric Literature editor-in-chief Zimmerman blends memoir and cultural criticism in a wide-ranging feminist analysis rooted in her youthful love of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Drawing on accounts by Homer and others, she argues that female monsters like Medusa and the Harpies have inspired more than a Versace logo and a metaphor popular among right-wing critics of Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. The fearsome creatures have fostered “a suspicion of women in general” and sounded a warning: “Beware their ambition, their ugliness, their insatiable hunger, their ferocious rage.” A graceful stylist who casts a wide literary and geographical net, Zimmerman can make nearly anything interesting. She begins a chapter on the Sirens by reappraising Aerosmith’s “Crazy” video and one on Scylla by describing the Josephinum medical museum in Vienna, which displays oddities such as wax bones. The author avoids academic cant and shows a disarming willingness to acknowledge her own vulnerability to damaging messages. Her musings on the Sphinx recall a college affair with a professor whose rundowns of her flaws became “a daily referendum on my specific insufficiencies” that at times caused her to retreat into a Sphinx-like self-imposed silence. Not everyone will accept her argument that the traits that made monsters dangerous “are actually their greatest strength[s]” and can be turned on their heads: “When you embrace your imperfection, your imperfection stops consuming you.” Nearly every page, however, brings fresh insights into age-old myths or tragicomic observations on 21st-century womanhood: “How do you cope with a day that might include a guy catcalling you on your commute and a murderous cop going free and a nationwide attack on reproductive rights—and an army of Twitter trolls telling you that all of this is good, actually, and anti-fascism is the real fascism?” This book is excellent armor for the battle.

A sparkling and perceptive critique of ancient ideas that still hold women back.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8070-5493-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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