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Courage And Curiosity: The Best Heroines Of 2012

Dec 27, 2012
Originally published on December 30, 2012 10:45 am

The most dangerous trait a woman can possess is curiosity. That's what myths and religion would have us believe, anyway. Inquisitive Pandora unleashed sorrow upon the world. Eve got us kicked out of paradise. Blight on civilization it may be, but female curiosity is a gift to narrative and the quality my five favorite heroines of the year possess in spades.

These women come to us from history, from a novel, from the pages of a diary and from an ancient poem. They're women who want to know things, who want to devour the world. Refreshingly, they aren't primarily defined by their desire to love or be loved — or even to be especially lovable — these are sublimely stubborn women, frequently at odds with themselves and always at odds with their times. They're on quests. Which isn't to say that these quests are necessarily successful (the heroines of one particular book were flamboyant failures). The outcome is immaterial; the wanting is all.

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Here at WEEKEND EDITION, we've been looking back at some of the best books of 2012. Our final contributor, reviewer Parul Sehgal, chose to highlight not just her favorite books of the year but the gutsy and odd women who stalked those pages.

PARUL SEHGAL: For this year, I chose my favorite heroines from fiction and non-fiction. And in life and in literature, I tend to like nosey women.


SEHGAL: The book I want to talk about today is "Address Book" by Sophie Calle. The story is basically 1983, Sophie Calle's a French artist. She found an address book lying on the street. And she decided to call up as many people who would speak to her and ask about the owner of the address book whose name was inscribed in the front - this mysterious Pierre D.


SEHGAL: She published these descriptions in a French newspaper every day. And, you know, some people were delighted. Pierre D. was outraged and threatened to sue. And finally, only sort of calmed down when he insisted that the paper publish a nude photograph of Sophie Calle. Sophie Calle, by all accounts that I've been able to see, was rather delighted and said go ahead. But they did agree that the book itself would not be published until after his death.


SEHGAL: Sophie Calle is one of my favorite heroines of this year and possibly of all time. She's trouble. Originally, we're supposed to be interested in Pierre D., but slowly - or at least the way I read it - Sophie becomes the person that we're completely fascinated by - repulsed by - because this project is a violation. But at the same time, we can't stop watching. She's completely unique.


WERTHEIMER: Parul Sehgal is an editor at the New York Times Book Review. You can find the rest of her list of the best heroines of 2012 at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.