Flashback: 2011, Jonathan Ross interviews Benedict Cumberbatch right before “Cumbermania” swept the internet. The cheeky chat host requested the rising star to do his best Alan Rickman impression. Without missing a beat, the sharp-jawed Brit did so in a Rickmanesque baritone to the utter delight of the audience. I can still remember the exact video clip because I spent one night watching it on loop for hours. have been caught in the cumber-riptide of his fandom since I bought bootleg copies of “Sherlock.” For cumber-research purposes, I happily slid from one rabbit hole after another to another to understand the grip he has on me. (It’s the cheekbones. I am a sucker for sharp cheekbones.) “Is this real,” I ask myself. Did I join a fandom right before I turned 30? Well, a couple of years before 30. Yes, I did, and without an ounce of regret.
Anonymity is a power afforded to most internet users. So, unsurprisingly, not once did it occur to me that there are older members (mothers, included) in the fandom. Tabitha Carvan, the author of the heartfelt and hilarious memoir This is Not a Book about Benedict Cumberbatch, is a mother and a cumberbabe (Benedict thinks cumberb*tch is a bit rude.) In her debut book, she shares the surprising journey of a mother-turned-Cumberbatch fan. But since this is not a book about Benedict Cumberbatch, she explores adolescence and motherhood. Divided into three parts (“Cumberbatched”, “Benediction”, and “Unencumbered”) and 12 chapters, This is Not a Book about Benedict Cumberbatch, is an honest reflection of the crushing social expectations we place on our mothers and daughters.
Nothing prepares a person once the fan life hits because it’s an all-consuming fire in need of eternal fuel. In the case of our author, it’s a bit different. Yes, the cumberlife burned her, but it also lit her up. In the first chapter, she concedes that motherhood is monotonous and boring. To quote Carvan, “But motherhood doesn’t have a moment of impact. Instead, you’re stuck in an interminable holding pattern, circling the airport and dumpling fuel.” Whew. That is such a visceral tell-us-how-you-really-feel moment. The first part chronicles a mother discovering, fearing, and feeling remorseful about her latest passion. There is an element of loneliness throughout despite the author’s sense of humor. The palpable intimidation she felt upon realizing her admiration for an actor has taken space in her life as a mother is quite heartbreaking.
Going from adolescence to womanhood is special, and, to outsiders (read: men), a mysterious pilgrimage. Women undertake this quest in a patriarchal society determined to keep us from deviating from our intended path (read: motherhood). Carvan tries to understand the source of her fear in the second part of her memoir. Citing different experts ranging from sociologists, feminists, and pop culture connoisseurs, she tackled parasocial relationships, feminine attributes, and the “shattering” of motherhood. Littered throughout the four chapters are, in Oprah's parlance, “aha moments” about girlhood and motherhood. The highlight is a chapter entitled, This is Not a Chapter about Police Academy, where she unearthed memories about her childhood best friend — a boy. (I may or may not have called it a “highlight” because the “Police Academy” film series was a constant presence when I was growing up.)
I knew from the get-go that this book is about the broken promise of motherhood. In her desire to understand the “obsession,” she made several realizations about motherhood and personal happiness (laid out in the last three chapters). We have failed our mothers so hard that their happiness is a source of confusion.
Reading This Book is Not about Benedict Cumberbatch is quite a trip. Any fan will find joy in this delightful memoir. Fandoms have been part of popular culture since, well, Sherlock Holmes. (The “Sherlockians” is considered the first modern fandom.) The author delivered a sociological examination of modern fandoms and a feminist treatise of motherhood. More importantly, she wrote about her happiness.
(Leaving the cumbercollective is painful. I was a fierce cumberbabe for one whole year until I saw his friend Tom Hiddleston.)
Jowana applied as a research assistant for Hogwarts but was rejected because her natural sarcasm is considered a form of dark arts. She has since harnessed her powers working as a social media manager for almost a decade. Books keep her calm from the madness and the sameness of life. You can find her on Twitter @jowanabueser.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]