On Monday night Alison Bechdel came to Boswell Books, a lovely independent bookseller in Milwaukee, for a reading of her latest graphic memoir, Are You My Mother? I was introduced to Fun Home, her first novel, in an American Women's Writing class. We started with the traditional classics and progressed into contemporaries and then finished with Bechdel's Fun Home. I'm not sure I would have picked this one up on my own; it was my first graphic novel and at that point I didn't consider them "real" books. It turned out to be a longtime favorite that I lent to friends and family. I was quite excited about her new book and even more excited when I found out she was coming my way for a reading! My sister read Fun Home as well, so she joined me for the reading which was awesome since I normally go to these things on my own.
In person, Alison Bechdel is brilliant. She articulates herself so well and precisely that it's just a joy to hear her speak. Her love of books doesn't just come through in her work, rife with countless literary allusions. Prior to the reading, she was browsing the shelves of the bookstore. After she was introduced and before the reading began she discussed her book, telling us that the relationship with her mother was just one of the many strands of the book. It's also about the self and how we think about our own self. The book is preoccupied with Virginia Woolf, who makes an appearance as a character, and her connections between her diary, memoir and writing, and fiction writing. As a whole, Bechdel explains, the novel is internal, recursive, and interior.
When asked during the Q and A what her mother's reaction to the book was, Bechdel said her first response was, "Well, it coheres."
I didn't get any pictures of the actual reading, because no one else was taking pictures or even had their camera out and I didn't want to be that person. So the photo you see above is from a completely different reading at Politics and Prose in DC. But, you know, it's similar. I did manage to snap a stealth photo on my phone while waiting in line to get my book signed. Like the Eugenides reading, I was nervous to meet such a talented writer. I wasn't as nervous as I was for Eugenides, when I was literally shaking.
I'm about halfway through Are You My Mother? and while it's much different from Fun Home, in many ways it's also similar as it focuses on finding one's identity and looking back on the self. If you haven't read any Bechdel, I really recommend you get your hands on Fun Home! I really don't think you'll be disappointed.