a hat and a review

December 8th, 2006 | Uncategorized

I’m still hanging out at my mom’s. We just went up in the attic to retrieve a hat from her collection. She’ll wear it tomorrow when she greets people at the County Library and Historical Museum as part of the town’s Victorian Christmas shindig. She wouldn’t let me take a picture of her until she has her whole costume on. I’ll do that tomorrow, but for now here’s a preview with me in the hat.

mom's hat
I’m afraid it’s made out of some poor fur-bearing mammal.

On another note, Fun Home got such a lovely mention by Ed Park on Critical Mass, the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors, that I’m quoting it in its entirety here.

Far and away my favorite book this year was Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home — a masterpiece, full stop. I read it in one gulp, starting late in the evening, unable to put it down — and actually thinking, well before reaching the end, This is the best book of the year. Even in the rich realm of autobiographical comics, Fun Home stands out.

It’s not only the story of Bechdel’s unusual, sometimes strained family life (in an impeccably appointed Victorian straight out of Charles Addams, with a closeted father who runs a funeral home and teaches English), but a beautifully written, carefully assembled meditation on life and literature. Bechdel enlists all the heavy hitters — Joyce and Proust and many more — to help tell her tale, but not for a moment does this technique feel ponderous or overdetermined. The connections between their words and her world are so elegant that they seem necessary.

Fun Home is also one of the great book-length uses of the form of comics. It’s hard to imagine this working in any other medium. Bechdel’s often intricate prose, and the long passages transcribed from the classics, require the deliberate pace of the page, but so do her complex images, which swing freely beyond usual figures-in-a-panel to maps and diagrams, a slew of talismanic photos, heartbreakingly obsessive diary pages, and more. The magic is that all of this is immediately comprehensible to the reader, instantly enveloping, so that what we’re left with at the end is a high water-mark of pure emotion.

28 Responses to “a hat and a review”

  1. Feminista says:

    AB–Congrats on another stellar review.

    Your mother’s website is well-written,giving interesting background on the area. You have a very talented family. I hope both of you enjoy the Victorian Christmas event.

  2. Duncan says:

    That’s a lovely review.

  3. eli says:

    a lovely (and well-deserved!) review indeed!

  4. Deb says:

    Hummmmmmmmmmmmm, I’m not sure about the hat, but the review is excellent. Now, Victorian Christmas’ are wonderful too! Maybe the hat will look better on your Mom. You are more of a baseball cap sort of woman………..at least in my opinion. 🙂

  5. Ann says:

    such deep black eyes you have.

  6. Robin says:

    As opposed to some poor scale-bearing mammal? ;o)

    It, um, suits you!

  7. Sophie says:

    Oh, the resemblance with Ellen Day Hale’s portrait is striking!

  8. Deb says:

    I just checked that link…..Ellen Day and you with the hat have a remarkable resemblance.

  9. Michael Vilain says:

    The 50’s tear-drop / dragon-lady glasses must still be in the box. They should be in aqua or turquoise.

  10. Jana C.H. says:

    Naw, Alison’s face is narrower, her chin in more pointed, and her ears don’t stick out. The noses are quite similar, though, and possibly the eyebrows.

    P.S. I want that hat!

    Jana C.H. “The Hat Lady”
    Saith Floss Forbes: If you don’t know the tune, sing tenor.

  11. Straight Girl Fan says:

    Wait — Alison’s mother’s website? What did I miss?

  12. Raffi says:


    It’s been a year or so since a new entry.

  13. LondonBoy says:

    I found Alison’s mother’s website when googling for cake recipes ( entry for 1 December 2005 ). She references the “Rich Witch” cake ( though not by name – it’s the one where you use a tin of fruit salad ), and the legendary tomato soup cake, amongst others. After I saw that article I did mean to ask if Mrs Bechdel would be interested in a recipe for the best, moistest, orange cake ever made. If anyone wants it I can post it here.

  14. RI Red says:

    Congrats on another great (and well deserved) review. I must disagree with Deb, though. I think the hat looks great on you.

  15. Eva says:

    Alison, this is my favorite self-portrait of you, to date. Are you channeling your Victorian antecedents?

  16. Straight Girl Fan says:

    Hey, I just opened the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, and there’s a big full-page ad from Houghton Mifflin featuring three books: the Best American Short Stories, Richard Dawkins’ latest screed, and Fun Home!

  17. connolly.maryann says:

    London Boy – I would never pass up a great cake recipe – Post! Post!

  18. cybercita says:

    hey, londonboy,

    yes yes oh yes! post that orange cake recipe, please!!! and i have a fabulous pumpkin cake you could have in exchange, if you like.

  19. Ian says:

    That looks exactly like something the Hat Sisters would wear. You’ll be making them jealous!

  20. aimes says:

    Groovy pearl things on top.

  21. Silvio Soprani says:

    I second (third) the request to London Boy–Please post the Orange Cake Recipe!

    Since Michael mentioned “dragon lady” earlier, I think it would not be too off-topic for me to refer back two blogs ago and thank Colino for the name of that movie–The Shanghai Gesture!” I always forget to check back once a new blog gets posted, and I just saw your post, so I have added it to the movie list.

    My computer connection is unfortunately so slow that I could not play the movie clips in this decade, but thanks anyway–I liked the still photos even if I could not make them move.

    Ellen Day Hale looks like she would fit right in today. Like someone you might see in a bookstore… I had not heard of her, so thanks for the reference, Lisa!

    Speaking of Victorian Christmases, it is time for me to take the pumpkin and skeleton out of the front window of my Baltimore row house and haul out the Mrs. Claus animated centerpiece and Babo Natale (Italian Father Christmas). Must keep the front window current!

  22. Colino says:

    My pleasure Silvio.

  23. Silvio Soprani says:


    Just returned from the Library. Got it!
    Gene Tierney’s picture is on the front of the video box-she plays the daughter estranged from “Mother Gin Sling” (Ona Munson–she with the wild hairdos!!)

    Then there is Victor Mature (in a Fez–looking the LEAST Chinese of any character I have ever seen in a movie!)
    (For those who just walked in, I am talking about “The Shanghai Gesture.”)

    By the way, WHAT is a “Shanghai Gesture?” (I know one of you will know…) I have watched the whole movie (months ago) and I did not notice anyone making any gestures.

    Asking a question on this blog is like Aladdin rubbing the Magic Lamp: soon, in a puff of smoke, will appear just the right answer. (And sometimes poems, jokes, links, and other lovely embellishments!)

  24. charlotte says:

    That review sums it up nicely. I am a librarian who just bought your book for the university’s collection. I loved it. There is already a waiting list among the students, and as it is finals week, that’s really saying something! Keep up the great work!

  25. Andrew O. says:

    But did the hat come with two pairs of pants?

    The Dragon Lady is a character in the fabulous comic strip, Terry and the Pirates. Highly recommneded for its artwork though its politics and racism will probably drive most of Alison’s readers crazy. Just think of it as a period piece.

    Tomato soup cake is from the estimable Joy of Cooking, for course.

  26. Virginia Burton says:

    Ellen Day Hale’s ears are freakishly low. Did anyone else notice that? I share the affliction. Also, I’m an optician, so I have to deal with fitting glasses around problem features.

    Last night I dreamed that Alison came into my shop and I got to introduce her to all my customers. It was a wonderful dream and I woke myself up laughing.

    Alison’s ears look a bit on the low side, as well. But that’s probably a function of Photo Booth. I’ve got a MacBook, too, and haven’t seen it take a flattering picture of anyone.

  27. LondonBoy says:

    Sorry for the delay. Here’s the recipe…

    Moist Orange Cake

    This works by starting with a simple cake, already moist because of the almonds instead of flour, and then makes it moister by adding moisture (in the form of a fruit syrup) after cooking. The one drawback is that you have to make it the day before you want it.

    Cake Ingredients
    1.5 oz breadcrumbs (a bit stale is good, or dry the bread slightly)
    3.5 oz ground almonds
    7 oz caster sugar
    1.5 tsp baking powder
    4 eggs
    7 fl oz sunflower oil (or, if you’re rich, 1 fl oz almond oil and 6 fl oz sunflower oil)
    Zest of 1 large orange
    Zest of 0.5 standard/large lemon

    Syrup Ingredients
    juice of 1 large orange
    juice of 0.5 standard/large lemon
    3 oz caster sugar
    2 cloves
    1 cinnamon stick
    (optionally, 1-2 stars of star anise, if you like the taste, and a dash of orangeflower water)

    First, invoke the goddess Rotunda, because she’ll surely be visiting you soon.

    Mix the dry ingredients, beat in the oil and eggs, and then add the zest. Put the batter in a pre-oiled 8 inch cake tin. Put into a cold oven (not preheated) and turn the heat to 375 degrees, baking for about 45 minutes. Use a cake skewer to test that it’s done – if it’s not , it soon will be. Leave it in the tin to cool for a few minutes, then turn it onto a high-rimmed plate (you’ll see why when you do this!).

    About 10 minutes before you take the cake out of the oven, mix the fruit syrup ingredients in a large saucepan (except the orangeflower water), and melt them together over a medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes, then allow to cool a little, while you test the cake and put it on the plate.
    If you’re adding orangeflower water to the syrup, do it now.
    Use a skewer to make holes in the cake, and, while cake and syrup are still warm, pour the syrup over and into the cake, aiming for the holes so the syrup permeates the cake. (Leave the cinnamon stick etc in the pan, of course.) As the cake cools it will start to leak a bit: baste it, so as much of the syrup is soaked up as possible. This can take ages, and you might be left with some syrup that just doesn’t get soaked up. Eat that, or add it to fruit salad.
    Finally, put foil over the top of the cake, and leave it in the fridge overnight, to let the flavours settle. It keeps well, too (provided you put it at the very back of the fridge behind an uninteresting salad and don’t let your boy/girlfriend see it). Serve still slightly cold, sprinkled with a little icing sugar.