This Is Not a Book about Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan

This Is Not a Book about Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan is totally a book about Benedict Cumberbatch, but all within the context of finding something to be passionate about. You see, Carvan was embarrassed (and ‘….afraid, guilty…ashamed’) of her ‘obsession’ with a celebrity, and the book came about after she decided to explore where and how her obsessive thoughts/ shame came from.

What am I doing in the spare room, lit only by the laptop’s false dawn, while my family sleeps? Why am I, a wife and mother, creeping off in the dark to think about celebrity thighs? Why am I, a grown woman, sticking up pictures of a heart-throb on my wall? Not even in nice frames, but torn out of magazines and stuck on with Blu Tack! It will ruin the paint…

Fandom is nothing new – apart from notable movements such as Beatlemania and the Directioners, I remember my own teenage years (Rob Lowe! Michael J. Fox! Kirk Cameron!). Apparently there’s a group that identify as the Cumberbitches, although Carvan states that at the beginning of her obsession, she distanced herself from said group –

Brené Brown would say that the reason I squirm at the sight of the Cumberbitches isn’t because I’m embarrassed; it’s because I’m ashamed. They have put themselves out there, made themselves vulnerable and open to mockery. They have let themselves be seen, and to make myself feel better, I act like I’m cooler than that…

Carvan delves into the phenomena of teenage fans; the role of fan-fiction; and the fandom linked with motherhood (which is about renegotiating identity after becoming a mother). Each section weaves pop-psychology with Carvan’s own experience.

I mean, riddle me this: when something as objectively meaningful as motherhood left me feeling unfulfilled, why did I turn instead to something as gobsmackingly unimportant (no offence) as Benedict Cumberbatch? Of all things, why was that the trade I made? I had no time and space to progress anything of any substance in my life, and now, all of a sudden, I’ve made eight hours available to listen to Benedict Cumberbatch doing the voice of Rumpole of the Bailey on audiobook? Of course it felt wrong: it felt like being a bad mother. That is what it feels like to want more.

I found that the most interesting sections of the book examined the gendered approach to leisure and how we use our ‘spare’ time. Carvan draws on the work of Brigid Schulte, who coined the term ‘invisible leisure’, which she describes as leisure that is –

…productive, socially sanctioned activities like quilting bees, canning parties, knitting circles, or book groups which are, she says, truly ‘the only kind of acceptable and industrious leisure time most women have ever known’. Invisible leisure is typically task-oriented, often domestic, and ‘purposive’, she says, directed to meeting the needs of family, friends and community. You might look like you’re having fun…but you’re still on-call.

She goes on to say that the true test of leisure is not what activity you’re doing, but how that time feels.

When it happens, ‘pure leisure’ should feel like play, not work. You won’t be worried about whether everyone else is having a good time; you won’t be lumped with the labour – physical, mental, or emotional – of planning, delegating, and cleaning up; you won’t be doing it out of obligation, because you know it’s good for you. Pure leisure requires a deliberate choice to carve out non-purposive time just for yourself.

‘Pure leisure’ for women, Schulte explains, is ‘…nothing less than a courageous – subversive almost – act of resistance.‘ Carvan notes that generally speaking, ‘… men have done a much better job – a phenomenal job, really – of protecting play as part of their lives … I know men who take all-day fishing trips, and half-day bike rides, and overnight excursions to collectors’ fairs.’ Hmmm. I know lots of men who do these sorts of things every weekend.

I found something absorbing ten years ago when I started this blog. It is an absolutely delightful time-suck. I started it after reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (probably the only self-help book that I found ‘life-changing’, and after reading it I re-evaluated how I used my time). I think my blog fills the criteria of ‘pure leisure’. Equally, I have an annual trip to the beach for some concentrated pure leisure. Interestingly, this book helped shed light on why, when we are at the beach, I get very cranky when my husband schedules in multiple activities and visitors. I usually say to him that I need more ‘unstructured time’, but I might start calling it pure leisure.

It’s hard to slot this book into any particular genre – it’s part memoir and ever-so-slightly self-help, although Carvan does not have a barrow to push, or even checklists or suggestions of ‘what to do’. Rather, she uses her Cumberbatch obsession to say quite simply, find something you love and absorb yourself in it.


I received my copy of This Is Not a Book about Benedict Cumberbatch from the publisher, Harper Collins Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

No food in this book, but I do like Carvan’s comment on Cumberbatch’s Vanity Fair cover – .’s the most horizontal that a man could look in a vertical position.



6 responses

    • The idea of pure leisure is the main thrust of the book – I think we can all appreciate its importance, but the challenge is in the doing and the maintaining!

  1. Hmpf… I miss the ‘invisible leisure’ that I used to do when the TV was on. I used to love knitting stunning jumpers and cute baby clothes, and I loved embroidery too. My eyesight is too poor to do either now, and my hands get restless. Not because anyone is going to approve or not, and not because I’ve been socialised into it, but because I liked the creativity of those activities.

  2. That idea of “pure leisure” as it pertains to women is fascinating. I’d never thought about it like that but it explains a lot about the ways women (especially mothers) feel guilt around their free time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.