Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Emily Bazelon, NYT, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Clark Kent had Superman. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has Notorious R.B.G. For 80 of her 82 years, the Supreme Court justice was known for being brilliant, reserved and a little dry. Then in 2013, the Internet gave her a super-hip-nerd alter ego. On a Tumblr created by a law student, Shana Knizhnik, fans posted photoshopped tributes to Ginsburg. In one frequently shared image, she wore a crown with the caption “Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth.” She also appeared as a bobblehead doll, a tattoo on a bicep, a decal on a fingernail, and a baby wearing a huge pair of glasses.
Notorious R.B.G. refers to Notorious B.I.G., the young rapper who was killed in 1997. The unlikely comparison gave Ginsburg’s fans the perfect vehicle for turning her precise lawyerly voice into a cultural roar. ***
Knizhnik has teamed up with Irin Carmon, an intrepid MSNBC reporter, to turn the Tumblr, which is still up and running, into a book. Turning the pages, I felt as if I were on a tour of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Museum with two conscientious and loving young curators. They show off Ginsburg, in old photos, at every age. They give us her workout, her favorite of her husband’s recipes (pork loin braised in milk, maybe the most un-kosher dish ever), and the intensely moving letter he wrote to her before he died.
Ginsburg and her family clearly embraced this project, a gain for the reader and for the justice. We get up-close details, like Ginsburg’s reaction to her granddaughter Clara’s nose ring: “She kept calling it ‘that thing on your face.’ ” And Ginsburg gets help reaching readers who aren’t lawyers. Carmon, who wrote the text (Knizhnik chose the images), deftly annotates sections from Ginsburg’s major opinions, adding color, humor and context with a red pen.