May 31, 2022

This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch

By Tabitha Carvan
In her funny, thought-provoking memoir, Tabitha Carvan makes an excellent case for figuring out what you like and embracing the delight it brings—no shame allowed.
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When do pleasures become guilty, transforming from sources of pure fun into fodder for defensiveness? And why is it so difficult for so many adults, especially women, to enjoy their interests regardless of what other people think?

Australian science writer Tabitha Carvan found herself asking these questions when, much to her surprise, she suddenly became a devoted fan of English actor Benedict Cumberbatch at age 36. As an overwhelmed and exhausted mother of two young children, she was “stuck in an interminable holding pattern, circling the airport and dumping fuel. . . . I was praying for something to hit me, just to break up the monotony.”

Author Tabitha Carvan extols the importance of completely pointless fun.

Turns out, watching Cumberbatch in the BBC series “Sherlock” was just the thing. But the intensity of her interest confounded Carvan, not least of all because of its similarity to her teenage obsessions with U2 and INXS. She thought she’d left those sorts of fanatic feelings behind, she explains in her clever and charming debut, This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch: The Joy of Loving Something—Anything—Like Your Life Depends On It. And she had no idea why they were surging back in response to this man, at this time.

She dove into Cumberbatch’s repertoire in search of answers, following a “viewing schedule [that] was being determined by Benedict Cumberbatch’s IMDb page like it was the actual TV guide.” Along the way, Carvan found that she felt the need to hide her infatuation, even as it was reviving her sense of self. So she investigated her new dedication to fandom: She read books on identity and fantasy, pondered friends’ comparatively dull obsessions (“that bird was very boring and Benedict Cumberbatch is very interesting”), and interviewed numerous fellow Cumberbatch fans.

Carvan’s candid revelations about the ways in which passion, bias, identity and motherhood intersect are hard-won and insightful, not to mention humorous. As she shares them in This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch, she makes an excellent case for taking time to figure out what you like and embracing the delight it brings—no shame allowed. Plus, a witty, well-researched appendix offers copious information for the Cumber-curious; “Top ten Benedict Cumberbatch characters, hairwise, according to me” is particularly enlightening.

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