Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Epically Myopic"

There's a reason why I'm legally blind and why, when I'm not wearing my glasses, I mistake the coat closet for my husband. Sure, there's the whole genetics thing. And, okay, maybe I like hugging fleeces and puddle boots. I won't even delve into the illicit dalliance I've been having with a pair of fingerless gloves. It'd make you blush.

However, the fact that my first lover was a book--and what a skanky pleasure-seeker I've become since that first!--is also responsible for my sketchy eyesight. Indeed, many of my best friends are books, to the point that I feel some of them owe me Hallmark cards imprinted with messages like, "Sorry We Sucked Away Your Eyesight and Good Posture, Sis." In particular, I think GONE WITH THE WIND, which I read 26 times in the fifth grade, and THE GOOD EARTH, which I alternated with GWTW that year, owe me at least a lunch at Applebee's (they can present their Hallmark envelopes to me over the Tequila Lime Chicken).

Interestingly, even with the fields of black dots that float around as a daily part of my vision (the optometrist says it's something about snapped, er, filaments), I keep reading. Often, I read crap chick lit. Other times, I read really good chick lit. Interspersed is a wide variety of other genres. I'm an equal-access book whore.

Naturally, some books have separated themselves from the pack of dust-covered johns.

For at least fifteen years, there has been a book I've called my "favorite." Doing this is specious, really, as I can't possibly have a favorite book, when so many are so excellent and do so much so well. However, when people have asked for book recommendations, I've often coughed up the title ANGLE OF REPOSE. I love that book because I love Western stories, and I love books that don't read like "litt-ra-choor" but rather like rousingly-good tales of human beings being human, and I love what Wallace Stegner does with words. In fact, ANGLE OF REPOSE stands out in my reading life because its pages marked the first time I ever wept while reading, wept from the sheer beauty of the prose. Stegner's use of language awed and astonished me; he broke my heart open with it.

But.

Now.

I'm feeling a bit disloyal to the memory of one of America's greatest-ever writers, this Stegner, because he's just been edged out. First, he gets killed tragically in a car crash; then, fourteen years later, this novel of his, so long my favorite, finds itself getting slid over on my shelf...to make room for a newcomer.

Thanks to a gift from one of my best galpals, this last week of reading has caused me to fashion (down in my basement smithy) a new Golden Bookmark to plug into the pages of The Interloper: FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel.

Damn, people, but it's a great book. It's great so jarringly that I found myself complaining to Groom the other day, as he waited for his turn to read it, "I just don't have the right words to tell you how richly and complexly this book is affecting me. I don't know how to articulate my respect for what this Bechdel broad has done." And seriously? I think we all know that even when I can't figure out quite what I want to say, that rarely stops me.

This book has stopped me. I, em, not have way when it comes to analyzing its successes.

Certainly, it's a memoir. And I do love me a life story.

But it's so much more than that. For one, it's a graphic novel.

And, honeychile?

I don't like graphic novels.

I'm pretty sure, somewhere deep in my closet, I have a buried t-shirt that reads "Graphic Novels: How The Robotics Club Amuses Themselves When the Batteries Burn Out in Their Light-Sabers."

Sweet Marmaduke, but I don't even like to read the comics in the newspaper. Just give me some good words, and save your stinkin' pictures.

Unless, of course, you're Alison Bechdel, and your pictures enrich and support and elucidate the writing in ways I hadn't thought possible. On each page, in this amazing book, I found myself reading the text and then diving into the accompanying picture panel for the next beat, urging the rhythm of the story to continue.

Plus, Bechdel manages to tell her story both in linear and circular fashion, coming back on the chronology several times, as she unfolds her realization that she is a lesbian and learns that her father, too, is homosexual.


In the midst of these fairly heavy life events, Bechdel dazzles with her vocabulary (I had to holler loudly one day as I read, "Thank you for using 'prestidigitation,' Smart Dyke Lady!"); her wryness (count how many times the can of Pledge appears in panels, as she hammers home her father's neatnik issues); her unflinching approach (a few libraries in the South, finding their patrons unable to appreciate cartooning of masturbation and girl-on-girl, promptly yanked this book from their collections); her appreciation for how literature can inform understanding of life (for her continued lack of patience with college classes fueled by the pretension that is literary analysis, I kiss her Carhartts).

I'm not necessarily recommending that you gallivant out to the book store or library and grab this book. It might not be your style. Maybe you don't read much. Maybe you have other priorities, like seeing which couples are "safe" on DANCING WITH THE STARS or, um, playing solo fooseball, racing back and forth from side to side to make the little men spin. Or maybe you do read, but you just like your Louis L'Amour.

So read it or not.

All I know is that I, a prodigious book-devourer, have had the enormous pleasure of apprehending, this past week, that my best reading isn't behind me; that there are whole new ways to read that I've never before relished; that, at age 40, I am still plenty limber enough to kowtow before an author of greatness.

As I lay here on the floor before her, clutching her book to my bosom like a talisman--and wondering why I don't bother myself to chase after the dust bunnies with a broom more often--I tell you this:

Alison Bechdel has left me humbled and breathless.

31 comments:

Princess Pointful said...

Wow.
When something so outside your typical genre grabs you so much, it is saying something.
Plus, I tend to assume those who write well read well too. Or something like that.

kimber the wolfgrrrl said...

I, too, am a proud and half-blind book whore, and always on the lookout (which, for me, is a distance of about five feet) for something new to inspire, excite and enliven.

With such a glowing recommendation, I'm adding this book to the top of my list.

geewits said...

When you said:

...because its pages marked the first time I ever wept while reading, wept from the sheer beauty of the prose

I totally got that. That's how I felt when I discovered Pat Conroy. When I read The Prince of Tides I would read certain passages over and over like one would savor a scent or a lovely melody. Good for you for finding something like that. It really soothes the soul doesn't it?

(And please do not encourage people to spin the men in foosball - that's one of my biggest pet peeves!)

Star said...

When I was 11 I read Gone With the Wind for the first time, from cover to cover, in one day. I cracked open my library book one summer morning, and did not leave the chair in the corner of the living room until I was done. My mother, wisely recognizing that I was totally immersed in the book broke a house rule, and brought dinner to me.

AmyTree said...

I am definitely adding that one to my wish list! I love graphic novels almost as much as I love regular ones...
I read the unabridged Les Miserables, cover to cover, when I was about 12. Being known as a prodigious devourer of books from an early age, I learned to play to this image and carried around the biggest, baddest (in all senses of the word) books I could find. Anything under 800 pages wasn't considered a challenge... It must have been a bizarre sight, 13-year-old me sitting at a rural bus route in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for the bud whilst balancing a huge, hardbound copy of Stephen King's It on my knees...(and, I seem to recall, scaring myself witless - best not to read Mr. King with one's back turned to a cornfield...)

Karen said...

Oh Jocelyn. A fellow bookworm and you DIDN'T join our fall reading challenge???? How sad do I look right now...

lime said...

and here is where, at long last you and i digress....

gone with the wind????????

i can remember arguing with my 8th grade teacher about its merit (or lack thereof) and telling her how stupid i thought rhett was for taking as long as he did to realize scarlett was absolutely not worth it. i think i had my teacher in tears wailing the rhett would come back.

nonetheless my esteem for you is undiminished and i would consider this graphic novel.

oh, and your comment on my hnt this week....i don't care who else says what...you win, you win, you win for sheer comic value in speaking truth!

Jeannie said...

Here's what I find interesting - although I devour books - and also loved Gone With the Wind - I think because it is really a tragedy - I am not so much about the prose unlike so many other avid readers. Mostly, I just like a good story. There has been the odd book (and damn me, I never keep track) where the atmosphere created is remarkable.

Jazz said...

Well, after this review it's not like I have any choice in the matter of going out to get this book. 'Cause a book whore's gotta do what a book whore's gotta do.

Steve said...

That's one damned good book review. It's on my list that I never get to, but hope springs back like an old sofa.

BTW, I was ignorant of the severity of your myopica. We'll have to compare more notes!

Em said...

Well, with a recommendation like that, I feel moved to read a book I would otherwise never even glanced at.

And I'm mighty curious to know more about that fingerless glove. :)

rak said...

i'm suddenly drawn to this book, and may even make the time to pick it up and open it... or maybe just purchase it and let it hang out with the rest of 'em that are waiting for me to have time for them... thanks for sharing and great review!

suburbancorrespondent said...

Diesel's right again - you are also loony (but coherent).

When I was in 6th and 7th grades, I read The Winds of War 25 times. No wonder I had hardly any friends. Never got into Gone With The Wind, though. Ever read All the King's Men? I love that one.

Karen MEG said...

O mighty book review! Came by via Diesel. And very glad I did. You're hilarity!
I just borrowed the Historian from the library and think it will make a great paper weight in the meantime.

Tai said...

As you, as Kimber, as am I, a half-blind book whore.
Now THAT was a review!!

Guess I'll be burning up the pavement to the bookstore for that one, whew!

Tina Rowley said...

Well, that was totally coherent and super charming!

Gallivanting is EXACTLY my style and I will do it, I will gallivant on over and pick up that graphic novel. Which is amazing, that you persuaded me to read a graphic novel. You're convincey!

I wrote a sequel to GWTW when I was eleven, as soon as I finished the book. It only took up one sheet of yellow legal paper. Scarlett was like, aw, Rhett, c'mon. And Rhett was like, oh, all right.

Jamie said...

Posts like this make me want to start reading again. Oh, how I wish I had the time....

Mother of Invention said...

I'm in a doldrums lately and am not into anything so maybe I'll give this book a try! It must be wonderful for a person who has read so widely as you have to favour it.

(GWTW 26 times in Gr. 5? I was probably just getting out of Beezus and Ramona!!!)

frannie said...

I love what YOU do with words.

cindra said...

Woweeeee. That is one big giant kudo to that author. I don't know if I would read it, but I adore books like you and let the dust bunnies play. I'm nearsighted so don't really see them that well, anyhow!

You write well. I'll visit again. Diesel sent me.

Hey, you write so well you should play TGQDC.

Sorry, I didn't come here to pimp the game, really. Your writing just made me think of that.

Ta ta!

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heartinsanfrancisco said...

I will read it. I devour books and also was incredibly disillusioned by pretentious college lit classes (and professors) whose passion for one-upping others seemed to be an endless game of Boticelli.

I take a recommendation from one who writes as wonderfully well as you do most seriously, Jocelyn, for you always humble me.

Claire said...

Great review. I'm a total book whore as well. Graphic novel? About a lesbian? phew! I wouldn't even take a second look. But I will now, because of you and the strength of your opinion. I keep a list in my bag of possible future books of interest. I pick the title to read according to mood. I always have books of many genre hanging out in the wings waiting for their chance to grace my gray matter. Thank you!

Shari said...

Seriously? Reading a lot causes damage to your eyes? Is that why nerds wear glasses. (Oohh, do not get the word out...kids will not want to read then.)

You're one well-read chick, 26 times over.

Read on. Just roll your eyes around when those floaters attack.

Theresa said...

Oh, so that's why I need glasses. And I thought it was a genetic thing, but still I would never have given up reading to save my eyesight. If I ever come across that book here in Spain, I'll have a look, it can't be bad with a recommendation like that.

furiousBall said...

I love your blog, but your RSS feed has been broken too long and that makes me all crying on the inside (and outside too as if that matters, fine). Can I fix it for you please? I find my new postings from my Live Bookmarks in FF. Please, it's all broken, just like me without your feed...calm fitter, healthier and more productive a pig in a cage on antibiotics

Franki said...

Don't you love it when FuriousB let's you know something's wrong with your blog that you don't know what the hell he's talkin about? He and his comments are the best.

And since I'm halfheartedly reading 5 books, I'm gonna go find this one. Thanks for the wonderful review...with all the words.

Pendullum said...

I remember going to a book reading...
Where the best of my country were reading...
And I had to laugh as one of my favourite authors... Rohinton Mystery read from my favourite book , A Fine Balance...
I have never seen so many women swoon and sigh... And he truly needed handlers at the end of the evening... as everyone wanted to huddle up to and listen to his prose through the night and into the morning...

cathy said...

ENJOY!!!
FELLOW BOOK LOVER.
My hubby wanted to throw some of my books away, do you still think I should keep him? LOL.

urban-urchin said...

I too was disllusioned by college lit professors. I'm not a huge graphic novel fan but loved the persepolis series.

Glamourpuss said...

What an eloquent review , you make me want to become a Smart Dyke Lady when I grow up.

Puss