More September reads

The idiotic brouhaha at Duke over Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Traficomic increased my interest, so I grabbed a copy. Probably the best graphic novel I’ve read so far. A heartbreakingly sweet and tender exploration of family, diving into her father’s secret past and trying to understand why everyone in the family was so inwardly focused, like living in an artists colony where they only came together for meals. Layered references to literature buoyed my interest, as I looked up titles the characters were depicted as reading – The Worm Ouroboros, The Stones of Venice (Ruskin), The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (Clark), A Happy Death (Camus), Earthly Paradise (Colette). I may have to give Kate Millet’s Flying another chance after seeing its treatment in this work.
It’s been a few decades since first reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, a book that should be required reading for all college-aged folks. I picked it up again and breezed through, admiring the strength of some of the bits and noticing the frayed edges of parts of the plot – the heavy handed switch from NYC gal about town to reminiscing about Buddy, the idiot Yalie who she refuses to marry. The narrator’s fierce commitment to never marry, to keep her independence, is a refreshing bit for the early 1960s. Sadly the novel only got published in America because of Plath’s death. She first submitted the manuscript (which was rejected) in 1962 to Harper, but it was accepted by her London publisher and came out to mediocre reviews a few weeks before her death.
I thought I got tipped off about Amina Cain’s writing prowess via a Kate Zambreno interview in the Believer, but I can’t find it now. At any rate, I’m working my way through a spreadsheet of book recommendations, and was able to score Cain’s Creature from the library, slurping it up in a few hours. At first I was intoxicated by her style, perhaps unfairly, since I was alternating between this and Laura Riding’s collection of stories (that I’m still reading/in awe of). After a few stories, it wore off a bit, and I left feeling less jazzed than at the start, where I had been convinced that it was pure gold. No dog-eared pages, which says a lot for me. Creature is a collection of fourteen stories, mostly strong narrators saddled with flat characterizations of men. A bunch of stuff flashed out at me as similar to my own tastes, “Sometimes I forget the names of books, the ones I like the most. My memory is bad, and I’m also ashamed of what I think about literature…” and “I don’t even know how to write. Maybe I am only a reader…” and “I cannot write anything else except sentences.”
On the comic front, read Nancy Loves Sluggo: Complete Dailies 1949-1951 by Ernie Bushmiller. There are some sly ones in here– like the comic where Nancy rattles off a list of professions to a kid and asks which one they want to be, and the kid says “None, because I’m a girl.” Nancy gets into frequent trouble stealing cookies and jam from her Aunt Fritzie, pals around with Sluggo and gets jealous of his girl-craziness. She has a crush on some random movie star that comes to town. There were a few panels that were complete repeats of jokes from a year earlier– Nancy & Sluggo go downtown to look at tall buildings, in one version Sluggo brings a mirror to look down to look up and not look like a hick. In another version, he goes into a manhole to look up without looking like a hick. Also recycled was Nancy’s inability to sleep during the “dog days of summer” which are actually the cat nights of summer, caterwauling outside Nancy’s window.