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As Wonder Woman might say, Suffering Sappho! This book is fascinating, fun, and consistently enlightening.

From Penelope and Pandora to Katniss Everdeen and Lisbeth Salander, the "hero's journey" gets a much-needed makeover.

In her latest, Tatar—the Harvard professor of folklore and mythology and Germanic languages and literature who has annotated collections of classic fairy tales, Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, among others—begins by pointing out that all of the faces of heroism discussed in Joseph Campbell's influential book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), are male. To correct this requires a revision of the concept of heroism itself, rooted in numerous foundational texts. Starting with Greek mythology and Scheherezade and moving through the centuries all the way to the Game of Thrones series and The Queen's Gambit, Tatar incisively explores women's reinvention of heroism to embrace empathy, compassion, and care, often to pursue social justice. Among the many high points in this engaging study: an analysis of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables as autofiction, Jurassic Park as a reimagining of “Hansel and Gretel,” Harriet the Spy as an antiheroine, and a deep dive into the backstory of Wonder Woman. Receiving their own chapters are female sleuths such as Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, and the less well known characters of Kate Fansler, an academic, and Blanche White, who is Black. The book really takes off when it gets to contemporary culture, particularly in a section that identifies a female version of the "trickster" archetype in Everdeen and Salander. Of this lineage, among the shared interesting traits not traditionally associated with women characters is a prodigious appetite. "Like Gretel, Pippi Longstocking, and Lisbeth Salander before her,” writes Tatar, “Katniss gorges on rich food yet her hunger never ceases." The text is illustrated with many reproductions of paintings and other artwork—including a postcardworthy panel from the original Wonder Woman—that add much to the text.

As Wonder Woman might say, Suffering Sappho! This book is fascinating, fun, and consistently enlightening.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-881-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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An unflinching self-portrait.

The tumultuous life of a bisexual, autistic comic.

In her debut memoir, Scottish comedian Brady recounts the emotional turmoil of living with undiagnosed autism. “The public perception of autistics is so heavily based on the stereotype of men who love trains or science,” she writes, “that many women miss out on diagnosis and are thought of as studious instead.” She was nothing if not studious, obsessively focused on foreign languages, but she found it difficult to converse in her own language. From novels, she tried to gain “knowledge about people, about how they spoke to each other, learning turns of phrase and metaphor” that others found so familiar. Often frustrated and overwhelmed by sensory overload, she erupted in violent meltdowns. Her parents, dealing with behavior they didn’t understand—including self-cutting—sent her to “a high-security mental hospital” as a day patient. Even there, a diagnosis eluded her; she was not accurately diagnosed until she was 34. Although intimate friendships were difficult, she depicts her uninhibited sexuality and sometimes raucous affairs with both men and women. “I grew up confident about my queerness,” she writes, partly because of “autism’s lack of regard for social norms.” While at the University of Edinburgh, she supported herself as a stripper. “I liked that in a strip club men’s contempt of you was out in the open,” she admits. “In the outside world, misogyny was always hovering in your peripheral vision.” When she worked as a reporter for the university newspaper, she was assigned to try a stint as a stand-up comic and write about it; she found it was work she loved. After “about a thousand gigs in grim little pubs across England,” she landed an agent and embarked on a successful career. Although Brady hopes her memoir will “make things feel better for the next autistic or misfit girl,” her anger is as evident as her compassion.

An unflinching self-portrait.

Pub Date: June 6, 2023

ISBN: 9780593582503

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023

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A master class in how gender has been weaponized in support of conservative values and authoritarian regimes.

A deeply informed critique of the malicious initiatives currently using gender as a political tool to arouse fear and strengthen political and religious institutions.

In their latest book, following The Force of Nonviolence, Butler, the noted philosopher and gender studies scholar, documents and debunks the anti-gender ideology of the right, the core principle of which is that male and female are natural categories whose recognition is essential for the survival of the family, nations, and patriarchal order. Its proponents reject “sex” as a malleable category infused with prior political and cultural understandings. By turning gender into a “phantasmatic scene,” they enable those in positions of authority to deflect attention from such world-destroying forces as war, predatory capitalism, and climate change. Butler explores the ideology’s presence in the U.S., the U.K., Uganda, and Hungary, countries where legislation has limited the rights of trans and homosexual people and denied them their sexual identity. The author also delves into the ideology’s roots among Evangelicals and the Catholic Church and such political leaders as Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán. Butler is particularly bothered by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), who treat trans women as “male predators in disguise.” For the author, “the gap between the perceived or lived body and prevailing social norms can never be fully closed.” They imagine “a world where the many relations to being socially embodied that exist become more livable” and calls for alliances across differences and “a radical democracy informed by socialist values.” Butler compensates for the thinness of some of their recommendations with an astute dissection of the ideology’s core ideas and impressive grasp of its intellectual pretensions. This is a wonderfully thoughtful and impassioned book on a critically important centerpiece of contemporary authoritarianism and patriarchy.

A master class in how gender has been weaponized in support of conservative values and authoritarian regimes.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780374608224

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2024

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