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STRANGER FACES

A scholarly but engrossing meditation that challenges what we see in portraits—and in our mirrors.

A set of essays reconsidering how we think about faces through the lens of films, books, emoji, and more.

Serpell is one of our brightest new fiction writers and essayists. Her 2019 novel, The Old Drift, which won both the Windham-Campbell Prize and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, addresses colonialism with rare intelligence and sweep while her work for the New York Review of Books makes her a compelling voice on race and Africa in culture. This short book, based on her research, isn’t the easiest place to get to know her, but it’s rich with thoughtful considerations of the human face and how we look at it. In the case of Joseph Merrick, aka the Elephant Man, Serpell is intrigued at how his deformities inspire a host of metaphors, not all involving ugliness and horror. In Hannah Crafts, the cryptic author of the slave narrative The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Serpell finds a trove of subversions of expectations of black and white “faces,” from the narrator’s light skin and author’s plagiarism onward. In a concluding chapter, the author reconsiders the emoji’s role in culture and how the lack of common interpretations opens up the images to playful and nuanced interpretations. That plus two more essays on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man doesn’t add up to a cohesive thesis on faces. Serpell writes that she wishes to “shatter” conventional interpretations of the face, but she isn’t moved to assemble a new one from the pieces. Her discussion of fetishes drifts into academic jargon, and she is, by her own admission, overly obsessed with the role of a mop in Hitchcock’s classic. But in recasting the Elephant Man’s face as a thing of beauty (or at least one with its own aesthetics) and studying digital avatars for multitudes of expression (including blackface), she’s broken ground for further commentary.

A scholarly but engrossing meditation that challenges what we see in portraits—and in our mirrors.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-945492-43-3

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Transit Books

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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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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