Sunday Post #37: Complete

Sunday PostI didn’t post last Sunday because I was returning for my favorite conference, the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention. It was great. I picked up some excellent free and cheap books and enough book recommendations to keep me busy for a long time.

NaNoWriMo is going well, word-count wise. I think I’ll finish. I’m not excited about the book as I’m nearing the end. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a fanfic or if it’s because I’ve run out of steam. I was delighting myself writing it at the beginning, but I haven’t even wanted to read what I’ve written lately to my husband. Still, I’m making myself plug away and finish it. Even if I’m not enjoying it as much as I was, the story is still coming remarkably fast. One thing I think I’ve learned this month is that I have a lot of stamina and speed when I give myself permission to write a crappy first draft and turn off my internal editor.

I have completed my goal of reading 52 books for the year. In fact, I just finished the 53rd. In the last week, I’ve finished five books and reviewed four:

Today, I finished listening to an audio book of Amy Snow by Tracy Rees. I was torn over this one for a long time. It was okay, not great. It’s actually a bit over-the-top campy at times, and I think somewhere near the beginning, I realized that Rees was writing a send-up of those overwrought Victorian novels (or I hope she was; otherwise, oh dear). Mrs. Vennaway should remind just about every Brontë fan of Aunt Reed—horrible to a child for just about no reason. In fact, Amy Snow does owe a bit of a debt to those other books. The main character’s self-deprecation is grating, though, and she never becomes as strong or interesting as Jane Eyre. If you read it with an eye toward thinking of it as an homage, then it’s fine. I finished it, more to discover the ending to the novel’s puzzle than anything else, but I found the ending unsatisfying, even if fairly complete. Still, if it’s an homage, it’s a fairly clever one. For a light read, it was well-researched, at least. The setting managed to intrigue even when the characters didn’t.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I’m counting Amy Snow as my Surrey book, since that’s where the Hatville estate where Amy comes from is located.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

Review: Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel

The day before yesterday, I posted my review of Alison Bechdel’s first memoir, Fun Home. That memoir focuses on Bechdel’s relationship with her father. Are You My Mother?, naturally, focuses on her relationship with her mother. I picked it up as soon as I finished Fun Home. Bechdel’s relationship with both parents is complicated. Bechdel’s mother in particular is a complicated individual. She’s talented and beautiful, but she lives in an age when it’s difficult for a woman to pursue much beyond being a wife and a mother, and it’s not clear that Bechdel’s mother wanted to be either a wife or a mother very much. Frequent allusions to the works of Virginia Woolf, in particular, A Room of One’s Own, underscore the ways in which Bechdel’s mother was held back by her times. Bechdel also weaves in her readings of the work of psychologist Donald Winnicott, and the memoir that emerges is part self-psychoanalysis. Bechdel frequently describes and interprets her dreams and weaves in memories of her therapy sessions.

Perhaps every woman’s relationship with her mother is somewhat fraught. I was particularly touched by a question Bechdel asks her mother near the end of the memoir: “What’s the main thing you learned from your mother?” I won’t give away her mother’s answer here, but it struck me that in some significant ways, women repeat the experiences they have had with their own mothers. We establish cycles. Our mothers socialize us to be women, and their ideas of what is acceptable for women are passed on to us. It took me a long time to grapple with some of these ideas. In some ways, it might be a kind of conditioning that we undergo. I’m not sure. I’m still thinking about it. I’m not sure if men experience the same things with their fathers or not.

I am definitely a fan of Bechdel’s work. I’ll read any future books she writes for sure. She’s a smart writer, and the way she connects ideas is fascinating. I envy her mind quite a lot. As an English teacher, I especially appreciate the way she looks for connections in literature. She strikes me as a person who truly sees literature as a way for us to understand ourselves. Reading her makes me want to ask her for a recommended reading list so I can immediately go out and read everything on it.

Rating: ★★★★★

Review: Fun Home, Alison Bechdel

I just returned from the annual National Council of Teachers of English conference. Alison Bechdel was a keynote speaker Friday morning, and she spoke about her two graphic memoirs, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, as well as her other work in comics. Her parents had both been English teachers, and she had much to share with us about encouraging writers and the ways in which her own parents shaped her as a reader and a writer.

Fun Home centers on Bechdel’s relationship with her father, who likely committed suicide in 1980, right after Bechdel came out to her parents. Her father was a somewhat distant and arguably abusive man who was plagued by his own struggles with his sexual identity. Bechdel chronicles the family’s difficulties with her father, whose passion was restoration. His preoccupation with appearances profoundly affected Bechdel. She grew up in a very cold home.

Panel from Fun Home

But Bechdel’s father influenced her as a reader and writer.

Panel from Fun HomeFun Home is packed with literary allusions, from her own identification of Bechdel’s father and herself as Daedalus and Icarus to her connection of her father to F. Scott Fitzgerald to finding herself in the writing of Collette and other LGBT writers. There is a good interview with Bechdel on NPR you might want to check out if you want to learn more about her and also about the Broadway musical adapted from this book.

I truly enjoyed this book. I read it while waiting in the airport to return home from the conference and finished it on the plane. It’s a quick read, but an absorbing and very deep read. It’s a well-written memoir on top of being poignant. There are moments of levity, even in panels in which Bechdel is dealing with her father’s death.

Panel from Fun Home

If you are not familiar with Bechdel’s work, you probably have at least heard of the “Bechdel Test,” which is a criterion for determining whether a movie has some consideration of women as fully realized characters to the following extent:

  1. It has to have at least two women characters
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something other than a man

I was fortunate to be able to meet Alison Bechdel at the conference, and she signed my copy of this book.

Alison Bechdel and DanaIt was wonderful to meet her and hear her speak about her reading and writing life.

Rating: ★★★★★