So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fun Home

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
I decided to read Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic novel Fun Home because, after it was chosen by Duke University as the summer reading book for the incoming class of 2019, one student decided to say on Facebook that he would not read the book because it contained graphic visual depictions of lesbians engaging in oral sex which he felt were immoral. On reading the book I did find one page (p. 214) where cunnilingus occurs but only pubic hair is graphically depicted, and another (p. 81), without visible pubic hair, of nude females. On both pages, a female nipple is depicted. This whole thing reminds me of the furor 25 years ago over the Where's Waldo nipple depiction. I don't see why the student could not just skip those two pages since he was clearly aware of their existence.
What upset me most about this book is the depiction of 60 book covers with visible titles and authors on over 85 pages of the text, turning this graphic novel into a graphic bibliographic review of what the young college age student should be reading. Since many are depicted without comment, I feel the author did us an injustice by not provided an annotated bibliography. Characters are depicted sitting reading these books, taking them off bookstore and library shelves, handing them to each other, and stacking them up for later reading. Is it possible that Duke chose the book as a way to get awareness of these 60 books into their students' minds?
Actually the story of the book is very compelling. It is an autobiography of a daughter and her father, each dealing with their homoerotic feelings, that depicts the amazing change in attitudes that have occurred in a single generation. The father, coming of age in the 1950s, hides his homosexual feelings, marries, and has three children. While the daughter "comes out" in college, and much of the depicted bibliography are classics of homosexual biography and theory. In the middle of the book (p. 104) is a depiction of the teenage Alison walking past the location of the Stonewall riots during a visit to New York City that shows how this turning point in the gay rights struggle marks the difference between her's and her father's experience of their sexuality. This difference between the societal repression and its internalization experienced by the father, and the daughter's societal acceptance and her resulting self-awareness is at the heart of what makes this book great.
To help out Ms. Bechdel I am providing the following bibliography to the books depicted in Fun Home (with page numbers to where they appeared in the text), including links to the Wikipedia or Amazon entries.

The Stones Of Venice by John Ruskin (p. 19)
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (p. 21)
A Happy Death by Albert Camus (pp. 27, 48)
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus (p. 47)
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (pp. 61, 200)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (pp. 61, 64)
The Far Side of Paradise by Arthur Mizener (pp. 62, 65)
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare (p. 69)
Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (pp. 74, 75, 203)
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (pp. 75, 205)
Our Right to Love: A Lesbian Resource Book by Ginny Vida (p. 75)
Homosexuality in Perspective by William H. Masters (pp. 75, 76, 207)
Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin (p.76)
Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation by Karla Jay (p.76)
Maurice by E. M. Forster (pp.76, 207)
The Gay Report: Lesbians and Gay Men Speak Out About Sexual Experiences and Lifestyles by Karla Jay (p.76)
The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren (p. 76)
La Batarde by Violette Leduc (p.76)
Our Bodies, Ourselves (p. 76)
Roget's Thesaurus by Peter Mark Roget (p. 76)
The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977 by Adrienne Rich (p. 80)
Beginning with O by Olga Broumas (p. 80)
The World of Pooh by A. A. Milne (p. 80)
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (p. 81)
"Sunday Morning" by Wallace Stevens (p.82)
Zelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford (pp. 84,86)
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (pp.92, 119)
Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon (p. 107)
The Wind in the Willows Coloring Book Toad's Adventures by Kenneth Graeme (p. 130)
The American Dream by Edward Albee (p. 131)
Morning's at Seven by Paul Osborn (p. 132)
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock (p. 138)
Complete Works of Oscar Wilde by Oscar Wilde (pp. 154, 165)
The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble (p. 185)
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (p. 198)
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (p. 198)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (p. 199)
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (p. 200)
Ulysses by James Joyce (pp. 202, 204, 206-208, 226, 228)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (p. 202)
Dubliners by James Joyce (pp. 203-204)
Earthly Paradise by Colette (pp. 205, 229)
Lesbian/Woman by Del Martin (p. 205)
Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf (p. 205)
Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule (p. 205)
Self-Portrait With Friends: The Selected Diaries of Cecil Beaton, 1922-1974 by Cecil Beaton (p. 205)
The Homosexual Matrix by Clarence Arthur Tripp (p. 205)
Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution by Jill Johnston (p. 207)
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (p. 207)
Our Right to Love: A Lesbian Resource Book by Ginny Vida (p. 207)
Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton (p. 207)
The Letters of Virginia Woolf by Virginia Woolf (p. 209)
Flying by Kate Millett (pp. 217-219)

Thursday, August 27, 2015


God by Alexander Waugh
God by Alexander Waugh takes on the question of who (or what) is God by going to the source, what God himself has said about himself or done in sacred texts. From the God of Adam and Eve to the present, he looks at how God acts and describes Himself to his faithful. Knowing that humans are fallible but that God must by His very nature be infallible, Waugh hopes to find the truth in this manner. He finds that the Old Testament God and Jesus are irreconcilable and different beyond justification. This leaves the reader to decide if the question of the nature of God is unanswerable, or if the author is, as his high school teacher said, suffering from "presumptuous arrogance."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Barefoot Gen: Life After The Bomb. A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, Part 3 by Keiji Nakazawa

Barefoot Gen: Life After The Bomb is volume three of a four part series. The atom bomb has been dropped on Hiroshima, destroying most of the city, killing many people, and causing others to become sick with radiation sickness. Gen's hair is falling out from radiation exposure. He, his mother, and his newborn sister have to leave to survive. His mother can think of only one person to turn to, Kiyo, her childhood friend in the town of Eba. But the people of Eba are afraid the Hiroshima survivors have a strange contagious illness. Kiyo's family and the whole town treat them with suspicion and contempt. As refugees, Gen and his mother have to find food, money, and shelter in a hostile environment. He takes a job caring for a rich man's brother who has been quarantined and left to die by the family because he has radiation sickness. Gen's compassion, humanity, and determination make this an inspiring book about the strength of the human spirit. The close loving values of his family are in sharp contrast to the narrow-minded self interest of the people in the Eba community. The work has been wonderfully translated from the Japanese original: Hadashi no Gen. It was originally published in serial form in 1972 and 1973 in Shukan Shonen Jampu, the largest weekly comic magazine in Japan, with a circulation of over two million. The drawings are all in black and white. This US edition was published as part of a movement to translate the book into other languages and spread its message. It is a powerful testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the horrors of nuclear war. There are a few introductory essays at the front of the book that help to put this book into perspective. It is a tragic but uplifting story that I highly recommend for anyone interested in the topic. This and the other volumes in the series are important books for their message on the dangers of nuclear war.