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ON WOMEN

A potent Sontag capsule compounded of legendarily smart prose and clever editorial decisions.

A crisp new collection of early Sontag pieces on gender, sexuality, and feminism.

The energetic pacing and well-chosen variety of pieces (kudos to editor Rieff, the author’s only child) highlight both Sontag’s ideas at the peak of the women’s movement and the breadth of her boldly ranging rhetoric. “The Double Standard of Aging” reads like a transcript of ambient social attitudes: “Society is much more permissive about aging in men,” while “everyone finds the signs of old age in women aesthetically offensive.” In “The Third World of Women,” Sontag speculates about the means and possibilities of gender and class revolution. “The liberation of women,” she writes, “is a necessary preparation for building a just society—not the other way around, as Marxists always claim.” Writing about “Fascinating Fascism,” the author advances an argument about the lingering endurance of fascist aesthetics with an engrossing evidentiary walk-through: Leni Riefenstahl’s public comeback via a popular paperback on SS uniforms glimpsed at an airport newsstand. Later, in “Double Standard,” Sontag writes about how “beauty, women’s business in this society, is the theater of their enslavement. Only one standard of female beauty is sanctioned: the girl.” Trading open letters with Adrienne Rich, the author is forcefully eloquent. “Virtually everything deplorable in human history,” she writes, “furnishes material for a restatement of the feminist plaint (the ravages of the patriarchy, etc.), just as every story of a life could lead to a reflection on our common mortality and the vanity of human wishes. But if the point is to have meaning some of the time, it can’t be made all the time.” To move through this collection is to watch Sontag practice what she also preaches to cultural critics and to liberated women: “lead the fullest, freest, and most imaginative life she can” and always maintain “her solidarity with other women.” Merve Emre provides the foreword.

A potent Sontag capsule compounded of legendarily smart prose and clever editorial decisions.

Pub Date: May 30, 2023

ISBN: 9781250876850

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023

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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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