This is Not a Book about Benedict Cumberbatch: The Joy of Loving Something—Anything—Like Your Life Depends on It
by Tabitha Carvan
reviewed by Seana Graham
This offbeat book might initially seem to be for a niche audience, because, despite the title, it is very much about Benedict Cumberbatch. The author had been an itinerant blogger for many years, writing about the various exotic places in which she’s found herself. Marriage and motherhood caught up with her later than it does for some, and the drastic shift in her role in the world, especially finding out how all-encompassing motherhood is, caught her by surprise.
I looked around for pieces of myself I recognized, and tried to fit the component parts back together, but nothing fit the same way anymore. The original form was quite gone. The new composition I made in its place was rough-hewn, with exposed cracks and gaps. That’s how Benedict Cumberbatch found his way in.
At first, Carvan worried about her newfound obsession. She was happily married and loved her kids. She sought out both explanation and reassurance from any number of sources (she was used to doing research, after all). She soon learned that she was far from alone in her obsession with Benedict. It’s a common enough phenomenon that there are a whole group of women like her who refer to themselves as “Cumberbitches” (an unfortunate name, perhaps, but that’s the one that stuck). Many of these women were not in the first flush of youth and some were quite a bit older than the author. The common denominator seemed to simply be a renewal of passion.
Carvan examines her own life and realizes the gaps and cracks were already there. She looks at the moments when she felt she had to put some “childish” thing aside, like the rock band t-shirts she wore in high school but didn’t feel would be appropriate to her new identity in college. This leads her to think that the common adage that girls grow up faster than boys might just be because they’re compelled to. She cites a work of Carol Gilligan’s, The Birth of Pleasure, which discusses the way in which girls may lose track of their authentic self as they become teenagers, feeling the pressure to conform. In many ways, loving Benedict Cumberbatch seems to be a way for women of whatever age to reconnect to their true selves and passions.
Some of the most interesting parts of the book for me come when Carvan expands on her thoughts about her own life into a larger picture of the passionate life. For example, she muses about the ways boys seem to be more able to retain their enthusiasms well into adulthood, sports being a prime example. She accepts that many women are passionate about sports as well, but points out that people are often surprised when they find themselves enjoying women’s sports, the reason being that we are unused to seeing women having fun.
One of the hardest lessons she learns from her observations is to allow for passions in others she is not entirely comfortable with. It is easy for her to embrace her son’s love of all things that move mechanically, but is at first embarrassed that her daughter is a true girl’s girl—a lifetime as a feminist makes Carvan think that she has somehow let her daughter down when she wants to dress up or decorate her room with unicorns. But by the end of the book she understands that whether it’s Benedict Cumberbatch or princess outfits, it amounts to the same thing. We love what we love and the only crime is in not embracing it.
There are many more reflections on girls and women embracing their passions rather than running from them in this idiosyncratic work. I encourage you to pick up a copy and see for yourself.
And for those who do pick up the book and are disappointed that this isn’t a book entirely devoted to Benedict Cumberbatch, don’t worry—there is an appendix that you’ll find more than gratifying.
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She has also reviewed for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. The recent anthology Annihilation Radiation from Storgy Press, includes one of her stories. Santa Cruz Noir, a title from Akashic Press, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides.
Get This is Not a Book about Benjamin Cumberbatch at Putnam (Penguin RandomHouse)
Interview with Tabitha Carvan at BookPage
Tabitha Carvan interviewed by Book Passage On YouTube
Publishers Weekly interviews Carvan
Five Questions with Tabitha Carvan
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