Friday 1 June 2012
Devouring Books: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
But first, a quick note on Fun Home- I read it twice in like a week (partially because I did have to pay 50p to reserve it at the library, but also because, well, to properly get graphic novels, I feel like you need to read them more than once, because, you know, hidden picture clues!) which clearly means it's awesome, and also, if you want a memoir that's also a comic book that's also a way of coming to terms with the author's closeted father's probable suicide, then you should definitely read this. And if you also want to read a coming of age memoir about one lady's experience of discovering she's a lesbian, then you should also probably read this. I apparently only want to read lesbian memoirs at the moment (I'm currently reading Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson) so this was clearly perfect for me.
So, now, let's deviate from the main point of Fun Home for a little bit, and let's talk about books. I know, I bet you thought we were doing that already, huh? Well this shit's about to get meta. So in Fun Home, Bechdel talks a lot about books that have a connection to hers and her father's lives, her father having been a High School English teacher and her being, well, a reader and stuff, plus she's written (and drawn) a book. So she talks about quite a lot of books in passing, and about how when she was in high school she was in her dad's class, and it was one of the only ways she could connect to him, AND about how she basically learnt about being a lesbian from basically alllll the books in the library. Fun Home is really a book filled with loads of other books, and, well, I really like that kind of thing.
There are two books that Bechdel really talks about in detail in Fun Home; Remembrance of Things Past by Proust, which her father started reading not long before he died (apparently as evidence of some kind of mid-life crisis since, apparently, middle-age is when you accept that you'll never read that book), and Ulysses by James Joyce, which appropriately involves a lot of talk and subtext about fathers and stuff. And here's the thing about her talking about these books- it made me really really really want to read them. Do you ever get that? Like when you're reading a book and it talks about these other books really appealingly, and you think, I really want to read that now? That's literally the only way I used to read actual good books- I remember vividly that there was this one Sweet Valley Twins book where Lila did a book report on The Great Gatsby, and literally, it made me read The Great Gatsby! So it's good to know that I still do this, even when the books mentioned are built up in my brain as the hardest EVER.
Because really. Remembrance of Things Past seems like the longest and most difficult thing ever, but reading Bechdel's descriptions and analyses of it (in relation to her own experiences, which makes it even more appealing because WHAT IF PROUST CONTAINS THE MYSTERIES OF MY LIFE?) just make it sound interesting and challenging but totally worth it. And also, you don't even know how terrified I am of Ulysses, but everything Bechdel says about it (which, again, is of course related to her dad, but still) just makes me stroke my imaginary beard and just think 'hmmm, interesting' rather than OMG I AM SCARED OF JOYCE BECAUSE HE IS DIFFICULT. Which is good because I really hate thinking in capitals. It makes my brain hurt.
So, to sum up: books that I like make me think that other books that are mentioned in them are a good idea to read. And that's probably true- I can never ever remember The Great Gatsby, but I know I enjoyed it, and you know what? Possibly it's more life enriching than that one Sweet Valley Twins book. BUT: I'm not saying that Remembrance of Things Past or Ulysses are necessarily going to be more life enriching than Fun Home was, and nor am I saying that all I got out of Fun Home was a book recommendation or two. It's really an excellent read, and if it leads me to more excellent reads, well then, good. But honestly, it's enough just by itself. Read it now.