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

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WOMEN AND OTHER MONSTERS

BUILDING A NEW MYTHOLOGY

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: N/A

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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