i’m a fellow!

June 8th, 2011 | Uncategorized

No, I haven’t transitioned.
But I will be transporting myself to Chicago for the fall to be a Mellon Fellow at the new Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago.

(old file photo of me and Hol in Chicago, just for atmosphere)

This is pretty cool. The whole idea of the Center is to mix up practitioners and theorists in various fields. There’s an architect and a physicist, for example. A choreographer/dancer and composers. And me, a cartoonist, paired with my friend the comics scholar Hillary Chute. We’re going to teach a course on autobiographical comics.

I will also be drawing like crazy to finish the book I’ve been working on for the past forty years, a memoir about my mother.

It feels a bit daunting to have all of this stuff colliding, but I feel like I’ve come out of the woods on the book, so maybe it’ll be all right.

I’m kind of psyched about getting to be part of an academic community. I have a recurring dream that I get to go back to college, and it’s always a very pleasant feeling.


82 Responses to “i’m a fellow!”

  1. deb says:


    As per your recurring dream:

    click here for a warning from Avenue Q!

  2. Riotllama says:

    Woah! Congratulations! Is Holly going with you?

  3. Diana says:

    Congratulations, but have a care. A comic creator I know said that when he ventured into academia, he finally found a field that paid worse than comics!
    But hey, I’m a lowly adjunct, so what do I know?

  4. Minnie says:

    Oh what fun! A new chapter in the Adventures of Alison begins, and I hope you thoroughly enjoy it! May it go well. Lucky academia!

  5. Colin says:

    Congratulations! “Mellon Fellow” has a nice consonance to it (kind of like Mello Yello, I guess).

    I became one of the ladies earlier this year*, but it didn’t get me to Chicago.

    (* It’s a long story (& nonsexual), but didn’t involve drag or transitioning.)

  6. Ginjoint says:

    Well dang! Hearty congratulations, Alison! It’s lovely here in the fall, too. Is Dr. Winnicott coming with? (I’m not ignoring Holly – Riotllama already asked about her.)

  7. NLC says:

    Others have asked about plans for Holly and Winnicott moving to Chicago.

    I was wondering about the plans for that third partner of your life, i.e. your studio.

    That is, given 1] the well-described involvement of computers and other technology in your process and 2] your mentioning above that you may well be wrapping up your book during your tenure in Chicago, I can’t help but be curious about how that would work.

  8. lisbet says:

    Congrats! I did my M.A. there and I wish I’d been there when you were teaching. I’d have had to take that class, relevant to my studies or not! Enjoy the windy city more than I did šŸ˜‰

  9. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    That is so great, Alison! YOu’re going to be an academic. I grew up a faculty brat, and it was a wonderful experience. And you’re doing the drawing on your next book. Goddess, you are the busy little multitasker, aren’t you! I like the reference to your third partner above, and wonder what out-there gadget you are going to buy for your tenure in the halls of academe.

  10. Congratulations! This sounds rife with so mabny possibilities.

  11. Hol is staying home with Dr. W. Fortunately, the U of Chicago is on a quarter system, so I’ll only be away for like two and a half months.

    But man, yeah, I’m gonna have to basically move my whole office out there. I plan to make do with just a portable drawing board. But I’ll need my desktop and laptop computers, my scanner, my printer, my graphic tablet…gotta figure out internet. Don’t want to have to bring my wifi setup. I found some tip online about how to set up wifi with a Mac, without using Airport…has anyone tried that? I’ll also need my ergonomic chairs and a couple crates of books. Oh, jeez, and all my paper and ink and …well, it’s very daunting. It’ll be a big disruption at a point where I need to be very focused, but I’ll just have to be flexible and remain calm.

  12. Andrew B says:

    Alison, congratulations on the fellowship. In one sense you certainly will be “out of the woods on the book” next fall!

    Do you mean how to set up wifi without an Airport base station? You could easily do that so long as you have access to a wifi network. Is the University giving you a place to live? An office? These days I would certainly expect an office to have some kind of Internet connection, wired or wifi. Probably a University apartment would have one. Can you get in touch with the foundation or the University to find out what they’re providing?

  13. Ginjoint says:

    You’ve already got it under control – you used the words “flexible” and “remain calm.” You’ve already realized those are key. Should I send you a “keep calm and carry on” poster?

  14. Meredith says:

    Ohhhhh. You will love the U of C. Just remember that it gets REALLY FRICKIN COLD in the fall-winter quarter.

  15. Calico says:

    Felicitations Alison! Sounds like a lot going on.
    Wanted to let you know that I finished reading “Fun Home” last Sunday and I feel so many things from having read it-too many emotions to get into right now, as I’m still processing everything. What I can say is that it is beautifully and poignantly written and illustrated, obviously having emerged from a deep Heart-place. : )
    One thing I did want to point out is that after I came out in 1990 to my Mom and Dad, Mom was initially ashamed and saddened, and she wrote a furious letter to me that completely is the opposite of how she feels today (together and seperately we have gay friends, and all her friends and our family know I am a lesbian living with my partner of 12 years; I am also Out at work). The whole affair is really a coming-out process for the whole family.
    I think my Dad was quietly stunned at first, but he then bestowed upon me several books about lesbian and straight feminists (Kate Millet included), nad several novels by May Sarton-I think that was kind of his way of saying “It’s OK.” : )
    He passed away in 1997, and I miss him very much.

  16. NLC says:

    Forgive me for going in to geek mode here (but some of us just can’t help ourselves…)

    The picture above of AB+Hol is cool, but I’m fascinated by the object behind them which, I assume, is some sort of huge spherical-ish mirror-ball.

    But note that it’s reflecting the unblocked image of the sun as part of the view. More to the point, the camera doesn’t seem to freaking out, nor –apparently– has the person taking the picture seem to have collapsed to the ground clutching their smoldering eyes?

    So my question is “How does this work”? That is, how does the ball “know” how to “dim” the image of the sun in such a way that people (and cameras) can still look at the cool view[*] while still leaving the rest of the view crisp and clean?

    [* Or, worse, not turn into some kind of solar-focus death-ray straight out of ’50s SciFi flick]

  17. Alex K says:

    Somewhere, in a universe receding from us (until AB hauls it back), Ginger and Sydney have found out about AB’s fellowship — and for different reasons they are both plotzing.

  18. Andrew B says:

    Alison, I should have just emphasized that you will surely have the University’s IT folk to help you set up your Internet connection, rather than lobbing questions at you.

    NLC, two or three points… First, the sun looks like it may be partially blocked by clouds. Remember that the white area in the image is just the area that was too bright for the camera to capture any detail. Both film and digital sensors are only capable of capturing much smaller ranges of brightness (dynamic range) than human vision. That whole white area probably wouldn’t have looked that bright if you were actually there looking at it.

    Second, the person who took the picture was very likely looking at an LCD, not an optical viewfinder. Looking at that scene through an optical VF probably would be uncomfortable at best.

    Finally, I can’t explain the physics to you but both sensors and film are quite capable of having the sun focused on them with no harm done. If you poke around the internet photo sites, you’ll find shots in which photographers have deliberately put the direct sun inside the frame. Technically they’re trying to show off the quality of their lens coatings. Eventually you’d surely overheat the sensor, but not in the time it takes to frame, focus, and expose one shot.

    The only case in which I’ve heard of direct sunlight causing damage is in older cameras with black cloth shutters. If you leave one of those cameras facing the sun with the lens cap off you can burn a hole in the shutter. (I’m talking about rangefinder cameras, not SLRs. In an SLR, the shutter is protected by the mirror.)

    So I doubt the mirror itself has any special safety features. Of course it will be less than perfectly reflective. (Look at the two shadows in the bottom picture.) So you’ll be less at risk from it than you would be from the sun itself.

    Hope that answered your question, at least partially. (Talk about geeking out.)

  19. NLC says:

    Yeah, I understand that the sun happens to be obscured at that moment; and that it’s possible to stop down a device (like a camera) so that it’s not receiving the full intensity of whatever it’s pointed at.

    But in the general case neither of these will be true. To rephrase my question, a view that effectively includes “the sun”, and is accessible to a viewer who just happens to glance that direction doesn’t seem, well, very friendly.

  20. Andrew B says:

    NLC, it’s a oddly appropriate that we should have gone off on this long tangent about the destructive power of the sun just when Calico was talking about having finished Fun Home.

    I wrote the above without checking for new comments, but previewed it before posting. Re 19, we live with the risk of glancing at the sun on every sunny day. Skyscrapers with reflective glass windows create a similar risk. We seem to be pretty good at not looking directly into the sun, even near sunrise and sunset when the sun is close to the horizon. But I don’t know. Could you create a logarithmic filter for light? Or not necessarily a logarithmic filter, but one that would absorb proportionately more energy from a higher-energy source? I have absolutely no idea. I hope hoh or another of the geekier commenters will chime in.

    I still think it’s an interesting coincidence that we went off on this tangent just when Calico was talking about Fun Home. And that reflective ball has a similar effect to a fun house mirror…

  21. NLC says:

    …however window glass in skyscrapers 1] isn’t designed so that any object in the sky is visible from virtually all viewing angles, and 2] don’t have a primary design-function of being looked at. I mean, presumably both of these factors are why this thing is where it’s at and why it’s made the way it is.

  22. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Andrew B (#20)

    Photochromic sunglasses (e.g. Photo Grey, Transitions) do exactly that. Indoor lighting is nearly devoid of higher-energy ultraviolet, so the lenses remain clear inside. Step outside and expose them to UV from the sun, and they darken.

    I don’t know if the sunglass response curve is logarithmic, linear, or something else. Once exposed to and then removed from the UV source, the lenses don’t get back to their standard 85% light transmission for quite some time (hours).

    Since the chemistry behind the photochromics is silver halide (Hello Kodak!), the curve is likely exposure time-weighted on a curve, not linear, just like silver halide film. That’s how they make different speed films from the same chemistry, the halide is “activated/pre-exposed” to get the resulting product further along the response curve, so it takes less energy (light or X-ray) to expose the film when used (i.e. a faster shutter speed).

    Here’s an old article about “automatic sunglasses” which explains the chemistry behind photochromic lenses.


    Note that the article envisions the day when airplane windows automatically darken. That’s been around for quite some time, cockpit windows (and military pilot helmet face visors) are electrochromic, darkened via a simple variable resistor circuit. Of course, it’s trivial to make them auto-electrochromic, simply add a small photocell to the circuit to monitor ambient light.

    BTW, human senses (sight, hearing, and I’m not sure what else) tend to be logarithmic, a light or sound is perceived to be twice as bright/loud when it is actually ten times as bright/loud.

    The camera sensor gets saturated when exposed to an extreme light source, so it will show up as white (all 1s in binary) in the image, no matter if the extreme light source is a flashlight held close or the sun reflected in an orb.

    And since we’re mentioning tangents, note that wherever you see that glint of light on a curved object, you are staring at tan 90, aka infinity. Now we can get ksbel6 and the math geeks in on this to explain.

    (… goes back to her geeky existence …)

  23. Andrew B says:

    Hoh, thanks for that. I was imagining something more exotic, though: a filter that could adapt locally to variations in energy — in this case, one that could darken the sun’s reflection without changing the reflection of the scene around it. (I was trying to elaborate NLC’s suggestion in 16. Not sure I got it right, though.)

    I googled around a little and I think what we’re looking at there is Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. If that’s right, the surface is highly polished stainless steel. According to the Wikipedia article, there were safety concerns around issues of temperature — whether the surface would get too hot or too cold to touch, and whether temperature variations could weaken the structure. In a few minutes’ googling, though, I have been unable to find any mention of safety concerns involving reflectivity. If such issues arose, they and the solutions to them would be interesting.

    Fun Home fans might enjoy reading more about Cloud Gate. The above is a view from one end. The structure actually has an interior, also mirrored. Go read the Wikipedia article. I would just be regurgitating it. And check out the article on Kapoor, and his web site.

  24. Ian says:

    Hearty congrats AB! I’m so pleased for you. It will also open other doors for you.

    Remaining flexible and calm, is definitely the key! That’s quite a journey from Vermont to Chicago.

    Good luck with concentrating on the book.

  25. Pam I says:

    Congrats AB. And you may get to meet V I Warshawski. Woot!

  26. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Andrew B (#23)

    Sure, that’s possible, but the filter would have to be behind the lens atop the sensor/film in the focal plane for that to work. It would probably be easier to implement electronically, digitally twiddling bits when the CCD cells gets saturated. Many cameras twiddle bits to perform automatic red-eye correction, I suppose a “sun view” mode could be added in the same way.

    (… goes back to her darkroom memories of burning and dodging and exposure times, Photoshop having taken all the fun and mystery out of printing photos…)

  27. Ginjoint says:

    We just call it The Bean. Don’t ask me how the hell it works. It brings in tourism dollars, and I’m happy with that. It reflects the city around it and folks like to take their picture with their hand against it. However, the other week some friends and I were walking by it, and there was a guard preventing people from touching it because there was lightning going on. What an awesome photo op! Can you imagine? A shot of someone being struck by lightning via The Bean.

    *ahem* I mean, yeah, tragedy and all, but still…O.K., sorry.

  28. Kate L says:

    Congrats, A.B.! šŸ™‚

    Andrew B (#23) Ginjoint (#24) Danger, Danger! (Kate whirls her arms like the robot on the hit 60’s sci fi sitcom, Lost in Space). Kapoor’s Cloud Gate is really the entrance to a transdimensional warp field!!! Being a construct in higher 11-fold dimensional space, this interstellar transport mechanism can be approached in any of our three dimensions, hence it appears to us as a sphere. Danger! Danger!

  29. Dr. Empirical says:

    Hey Ginjoint! I’m going to be in Chicago later this month. Would you like to have dinner and stick a big corporation with the bill?

    email me at dr.empirical(at)gmail(dot)com.

  30. Kat says:

    Wow, Alison, what an interesting project! I hope that the reality is as cool and thought-provoking as the description!

  31. Ginjoint says:

    Dr. E: yeah, baby! Watch for my email tonight – once again, I’ve spent too much time reading the morning papers online & have to jump in the shower to get ready for work.

    And Kate? That would be so cool. And, more tourist dollars! Maybe my property taxes would go down. (Har! As if!) Or perhaps our infamous 9.75% sales tax. (Used to be 10.25%.) Sure you want to come here, Alison?

  32. Andrew B says:

    Ginjoint, 27, I almost spit my coffee on my keyboard. I agree that the aesthetic possibilities (of a lightning strike-via-Bean photo) are intriguing, but I’d be worried about cutting into the tourism revenue. Here in NH, where we have state liquor stores on all major highways just inside our state borders, we are big fans of getting neighboring states to pay for our government welcoming our dear friends from out of state.

  33. Fester Bestertester says:

    “The problem is not that we have too many fools,
    it’s that the lightning isn’t distributed right.”
    – Mark Twain

  34. ready2agitate says:

    Did Ginjoint already explain that the Bean is in Millennium Park? It’s a lot of fun, that park, after years/decades/controversy/disruption, from what I hear. Kinda like Boston’s “Big Dig” (and subsequent Rose Kennedy Greenway).

    Mazel tov, Alison. Stay focused. Enjoy!

  35. meldyke says:

    Oh wow – I’ve missed y’all! I’ve been away too long.

    AB – many congratulations on your fellowship. Good luck with the move. My only suggestion: re: packing ink: bubble wrap and ziplocs.

    My favorite part of the bean pic above is the perspective – I do believe the lovely couple is at one end of the bean (rather than on the side). Do beans have butts?

    Despite having been to Chicago and Millennium Park many times, I only learned of the bean when some Swedish friends showed me their travel pics there. Amazing the things in our own country we don’t see/know about etc.

    Glad to see/read y’all again! šŸ™‚

  36. Ginjoint says:

    Hey Andrew, I wasn’t aware that NH did that weird state liquor store thing. I mean, it’s weird to me, having grown up in an area where booze is sold in grocery stores, pharmacies, and of course independently-owned stores. Shamefully, I was well into adulthood when I learned that this was not the case all over the U.S. Yeah, I’m provincial, I’ll own it, jeez.

  37. Kate L says:

    Ginjoint (#36) Here in Kansas, liquor stores used to be compelled by state law to display only the name, “State Liquor Store”, on the outside of the building. So much for a red state’s love of free enterprise. Can’t make those dens of iniquity seem too inviting, after all. Imagine my surprise when I moved to New Orleans, and found that drive-through daiquiri stores were all the rage!

    On another note, I was just at my locally-owned, fair trade and free range coffee shop near campus. I used to drink mui grande – size coffees all day long, but lately I’ve found myself ordering hot jasmine green teas more and more often, even in summer. I was first introduced to hot, green tea in San Francisco, following something of a forced-march from the BART station, up Knob Hill and over to China Town. Despite the long walk, I found myself drinking cup after cup of green tea, and finding it refreshing. Anyway, I told the young woman who waited on me today at the local coffee shop that I was like Janeway, liking coffee, black when she was a captain, then switching to tea when she was promoted to admiral! Well, I’m like Janeway, except for the promotion part. The young woman just looked at me blankly, and asked who Janeway was!!! I now fear for the future of today’s youth!

  38. Hey! That’s great news. Congratulations.

  39. Alex K says:

    Yesterday’s TIMES (London) invokes the Bechdel Test (AB, you eponym you!) in relation to TWO films. BRIDESMAIDS, of course, but also HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART II. It seems that in one scene Helena Bonham-Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) have a conversation about something other than a man. Bellatrix is torturing Hermione at the time.

  40. Andrew B says:

    GJ, 36, the thing that makes it particularly ironic is that there’s a strain of NH conservatism that contrasts our solid-as-granite values, including low taxes, to the moral softness of our neighbors. And what makes those values fiscally possible? (1) A state-imposed monopoly that (2) sells booze along the highways. But single payer health care? That’s for those hippies over in Vermont.

    Alison, I hope Professor Chute will do all the grading. Read the papers and comment on them if you like, but let her do the grading. Trust me. Grading is the worst.

  41. […] Alison Bechdel posted iā€™m a fellow! […]

  42. Calico says:

    I swear this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen/read. Enjoy!

  43. Ian says:

    @Alex K: It technically passes the Bechdel Test, but they are talking about a Wizard’s sword …

  44. Kate L says:

    Hey, all, what sort of eerie parallel universe have we fallen into when there is a sports-related riot in Vancouver, B.C. (Canada)? šŸ™ The transdimensional rift that we perceive as the Bean in Millennium Park must be responsible for this, somehow!

  45. […] Bechdel is going to be serving as a Mellon Fellow at the new Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago; she will be co-teaching a […]

  46. Andrew B says:

    Ian, 43, hah. One of the great things about the original comic is Alison’s movie posters.

  47. cd in Madison says:

    @ Calico #42, the woman who writes hyperbole-and-a-half is brilliantly funny, isn’t she? Sometimes i have to stop reading for a minute so i can catch my breath from laughing.

  48. Calico says:

    #47 – Yes, she is-this is a new blog for me, and I laughed more reading that dog/moving post than I have in six months.
    There’s another entry that tells of her losing Simple Dog for a day-check it out. : )

  49. Feminista says:

    Alison: Congrats! Now everyone sing: For she’s a jolly good fellow (sister?)

    Some good news: There was a discussion on author Marge Piercy’s Facebook Wall about her most recent historical novel,SEX WARS,which addresses issues of gender,class,and immigration in the post-Civil War era. I mentioned that I’d written a book review in my contribution to the discussion. Imagine my surprise and delight when Marge replied that she’d like a link to the review! And here it is: http://www.theportlandalliance.org/2006/mar/sexwars.htm.

  50. Feminista says:

    50. P.S. Today I got an email from Marge saying she liked my review! This means a lot to me. I’ve read Piercy since 1974,and have taught two of her books (Woman on the Edge of Time and Gone to Soldiers).

  51. Kate L says:

    “Sister, Sister, It’s Quite A Twister.”

    All summer long here on the High Plains, we’ve had storm front after storm front move through the area every few days. Always with the threat of tornadoes and damaging hail. I tell you, it’s unnerving to keep track of local radar, and see your possible doom sweeping hundreds of miles across the prairie to your location. Please send me your good DTWOF psychic energy so that our disturbed atmosphere becomes tranquil, and I can spend this evening hearing that nice, young Dr. Rachel Maddow tell me the day’s news. Instead of fearing for my life. šŸ™

  52. Dr. Empirical says:

    I just visited The Bean. It is truly magnificent. The concave part reminds me of the old thought-experiment: If you’re floating in zero gravity inside of a perfect sphere with perfectly reflective walls, and you turn a light on, what do you see?

    I saw a free concert in the glorious bandshell next to The Bean, and now I’m ready to plan my Tuesday conference. Plans will revolve mostly around deciding which part of the conference I can I blow off to visit the Art Institute.

  53. Kate L says:

    The positive DTWOF energy caused the severe storms to miss Smallville! Thanks! šŸ™‚

    Say, have you noticed how the Rachel Maddow Show has really gotten into the Beat scene recently? Check out this video clip!

  54. Kate L says:

    … please forgive the Exxon-Mobil commercial at the start of the above clip! šŸ™

  55. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    So Alison, I clicked on the Hilary Chute link way back in an early post, and my God, the woman is GORGEOUS! I hope she’s not your type, heh heh.

  56. Very cool, Alison. Aaron and I were “Visiting Scholars” at the U of C Hillel in February and had a fantastic time. Seriously quirky students, and they liked us! We’re hoping to work with them more in the fall and forever. Wish I could take your class!

  57. Aunt Soozie says:

    Hi Alison and friends. Haven’t posted in a long time but I know I can count on this community for the answer to this question. My daughter is starting high school in the Fall and needs to choose two books from the following list. (she tested into the highest reading level:) I’ve read some of these but not all of them. She was turned off in general by the plethora of themes on death and despair. She was hoping for something a bit more uplifting. Right now she is leaning towards Confessions of Nat Turner and Prozac Nation. Any suggestions? I shared a synopsis of The Metamorphosis with her and she found it horribly bleak… so she nixed that one. Okay… share my friends! We want your input!! Thanks! Aunt Soozie ( Alison… Congrats on the fellowship… sounds like total fun. Hope you don’t mind me usurping your blog for my own purposes.)
    The End – Lemony Snicket
    The Good Earth – Pearl Buck
    Donorboy – Brendan Halpin
    The Confessions of Nat Turner – William Styron
    Jarhead – Anthony Swofford
    Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
    Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer
    Alive – Piers Paul Read
    The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
    Prozac Nation – Elizabeth Wurtzel

  58. Aunt Soozie says:

    Oh… I meant to say that she needs to choose two for her summer reading

  59. Andrea says:

    This is amazing! Our city will be nicer with you in it.

  60. Andrew B says:

    Aunt Soozie, 57, what a strange list. I haven’t read enough of them to make a helpful general recommendation. I would read Into the Wild before Into Thin Air. The latter is pretty largely just a report of a specific incident. The former gives some pointers to the wider literature around the themes of renewing oneself or taking refuge in “wilderness”. (I have to add, two books by Krakauer?!? He’s a good, solid journalist who finds interesting topics, but I wouldn’t have thought of him as a really crucial writer.)

  61. Aunt Soozie says:

    Thanks Andrew. Strange list indeed. The school uses a system called “lexile” where books receive a number ranking that coincides with the kids’ reading levels. I suppose they provided all of the English teachers in the high school (9th – 12th grades) with a list of books that are at each reading level and or referred the teachers to a website with ranked books and each teacher gave some suggested books for each of seven reading levels that the kids at the school generally fit into. That’s why it’s so random… from Kafka to Lemony Snicket. Thanks for your recommendation about Into The Wild. I found Into Thin Air riveting but the kid doesn’t savor spending her whole summer reading about death. Maybe Into The Wild has a bit more of a hopeful spin?? How to survive? Why it isn’t the best idea to wander off into the Alaskan wilderness alone and not quite prepared? šŸ˜‰

  62. Minnie says:

    A course on autobiographical comics, by Alison Bechdel and Hillary Chute?

    Where was I? Ah.
    O that it could be developed into an online course…

    In bocca al lupo, Ms. Bechdel!

  63. Feminista says:

    Aunt Soozie: I read The Good Earth on my own in high school and would recommend it. I haven’t read the Lemony Snicket but saw a video which was creative and entertaining.

  64. Aunt Soozie says:

    Thanks Feminista. I’ll pass your recommendation onto the child!

  65. Alex K says:

    Aunt Soozie, as Miss Prism said about her own novel, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” By that criterion does the list contain any fiction at all?

    Your daughter is entering high school — yes, perhaps still with fresh thoughts, still too young to deal with Goldengrove’s unleaving.

    John Cheever: “…and through the prudence and shrewdness of Helen’s broker they got richer and richer and lived happily, happily, happily, happily.” Let her hope for that a little while longer.

    She will have to come to terms soon enough with her own series of unfortunate events.

  66. Andrew B says:

    Alex K, 65, you reminded me of the very end of Maus, where Vladek and Anja find each other and Vladek tells Art something like, “We lived happily, happily ever after”. It’s poignant because we know how very false it is. And yet… they both survived Auschwitz. They found each other again. They had another child. He did something with his life. I just think it’s a little too easy to say that’s what fiction means.

    Aunt Soozie, others have probably been restraining themselves because it’s just so obvious, but self-restraint has never been my strong suit. Eight out of ten titles by men, and of the eight there are one combat memoir, three stories of wilderness survival ranging from the somewhat gruesome (freezing to death) to the extremely gruesome (cannibalism), and one story of violent rebellion. And I don’t know who Brendan Halpin is, but I’m pretty sure everybody else on the list is white. I think maybe that English department bears some watching.

    I think Into The Wild does have a kind of hopeful spin, but to see it you have to ask yourself questions like, why did Krakauer write this book? And what does it mean to define oneself in a meaningful way? That last question certainly would be relevant to a kid entering ninth grade, but it would be asking a lot to expect her to think about the book that way. I know I couldn’t have done it at that age. Honestly, I’m not sure that Krakauer intended the book the way I take it, although I would (arrogantly) defend my reading even against him. The problem with Into The Wild is that taken at face value, it’s just the story of a romantic numbskull who goes off unprepared into the Alaskan bush and starves to death. I wouldn’t blame your kid for being disgusted with it if she couldn’t contend with the more abstract questions.

  67. Jardley says:

    Cannot wait for the book. Loved Fun Home.

  68. Alex K says:

    @66 / Andrew: MAUS as hopeful, the quest for meaningful self-definition despite mono no aware… This blog slides a nail under all my scabs and levers them off slowly, one by one. And I’m bleeding again.

    Every real story is an arc, and the arc is always concave downward. Everything ends unhappily. We all die.

    At the beginning of ninth grade we may not know that yet; or, better put, may not feel that yet.

    A bit earlier than ninth grade, but —

    Lucy: “Sometimes I get discouraged.”

    Charlie Brown: “Well, Lucy, life does have its ups and downs, you

    Lucy: “But why? Why should it? Why can’t my life be all UPS? If I want all UPS, why can’t I have them? Why can’t I just move from one UP to another UP? Why can’t I just go from an UP to an UPPER-UP? I don’t want any Downs! I Just want Ups and Ups and Ups and Ups!”

    And Miss Prism, in the background, quietly says again to Cecily Cardew, pointing at Lucy the invigilator’s finger: “That is what Fiction means.”

    It was in rehearsing THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST with her mother that AB began to see some of the sham in her parents’ lives. I wonder how that play will be refracted through the memoir now crystallising.

    Aunt Soozie’s concern that the books on that list will end her daughter’s innocence — in respect of this particular sorrow at least — a little earlier than need be… Well founded, it seems to me.

  69. Jain says:

    The Good Earth would be my number one on this strange list. Big, big ideas, some history of China, beautiful writing.
    Definitely not Into the Wild, under she’s made of tougher stuff than me. I’m still haunted by it, after 7 years. (Easy to date, since my little boy called after talking with the financial aid people before his junior your at college to report, mournfully, that he’d miscalculated what he was supposed to have been providing and would need help to finish. “It’s OK!” I assured him. “We’ll think of something! Don’t go to Alaska!”)

  70. shadocat says:

    Yay New York! I might go there and get married next summer!

  71. shadocat says:

    Sorry—off topic. Just excited. Another brick in the wall…

  72. Kate L says:

    shadocat (#70, 71) It’s wonderful that it’s now going to be legal for same-sex couples to marry in New York state, but with increased freedom comes increased responsibility. And increased pressure from your mother to marry your long-time partner. Just read this article ripped from the electronic pages of The Onion (“America’s Finest News Source”).

  73. Aunt Soozie says:

    Thank you all for the thoughts and discussion… AB’s blog always delivers more than I could hope for… that’s her and all of you!! Hugs!

  74. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Shadocat (#70,71)

    Isn’t Iowa closer to home for you than NY? Or perhaps the idea of marrying in Iowa doesn’t seem quite as exciting?

    Gender-neutral marriage will be legal in 30 days from enactment (21 July), an eyeblink to wait for those who’ve wanted to tie the knot for ages.

    Surprisingly, even here on Pride weekend, there isn’t all the grand hoopla and whoopie I expected over the law. I guess that’s because we’re in close geographic proximity to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, all of which have previously legalized gender-neutral marriage. New York State legally recognized these out-of-state marriages, so many folks did the nearby marriage tourism trip, Ć  la Toni and Clarice.

    One notable couple who waited for the law to pass is NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her partner Kim Catullo. Quinn refused to get married anywhere but New York City. She’s got a good shot at becoming the next mayor when Bloomberg finally steps down, especially now that Anthony Weiner went wiener-up on Twitter (I couldn’t resist, sorry).

    It will be a good day when the first female mayor of New York City also happens to be a lesbian. Quinn has rather famously done battle with the St. Patrick’s Day parade folks, who banned gay groups from marching. She’s boycotted the parade, and it will be quite an interesting situation for the parade folks when the first Irish mayor in decades, and the first female mayor, tells them to F- themselves in Gaelic.

    (… goes back to fending off all those marriage proposals [NOT] …)

  75. Kate L says:

    hairball (#74)

    Hairball, hairball, it’s always been you hairball! šŸ™‚ Tell me you love me, too!

  76. hairball_of_hope says:

    Well, I have to say the euphoria about the marriage bill overwhelmed the Pride parade today. Gov. Cuomo got a hero’s welcome, and lots of folks had signs which read “Promise Kept” and “Thank you Gov. Cuomo.”

    Of course, there’s money to be made on New York nuptials, and the city’s tourism agency is now promoting a “NYC I Do” campaign to lure folks to the Big Apple to tie the knot.

    No doubt the divorce attorney lobby is also waiting for their payday a few years hence. šŸ™

    (… goes back to a bit of pride about Pride …)

  77. Mentor says:

    [From Slate: AB, Matt Crowley, David Rakoff, Dan Savage, and others: [Here] –Mentor]

  78. Kate L says:

    If schadenfreude is taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, what is the opposite of schadenfreude? I take pleasure in the success and celebration of the LGBT folk in New York State, at the same time that I live in another American state where protection for LGBT folk was just taken off the books here in my college town, and the head of the state association of district attorneys is convinced that state anti-LGBT laws are still on the books (and they are… even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled them all unconstitutional years ago). And, don’t get me started about what LGBT folk in some other parts of the world go through. But this week, although we may not get to the mountaintop with you, we can all at least see the Promised Land!

  79. Diamond says:

    Kate L, 78: Buddhism uses a handy Sanskrit word, mudita, as an approximate opposite of schadenfreude.

    Mudita (pronounced MOOditta) broadly means experiencing genuine joy in another person’s happiness or success, even when you don’t share in it. One of the Six Perfections, its cultivation is regarded as an important element in the path towards letting go of emotional suffering. Makes sense to me.

  80. Alex K says:

    The SLATE article — my first gay bar —

    oh dear. I don’t remember. I eventually learned that gay bars were programmed activities, with rules, but when I was dipping my toe into the love pool, importantly, fourteen-year-old horned-up chicken wasn’t allowed in. However: I wanted, WANTED sex, dammit. So the older folks! twenty-one, twenty-four! passed me from hand to hand (stop that sniggering, you in the back) for a couple of weeks, couple of months, at a time. Alleys, back seats, beds. And other places. I suppose that that had rules too but does the fish understand a life apart from the water? It was what it was.

    When it finally happened, going to a gay bar must have been nothing all that special. Or my hippocampus may be raddled with gin, one of those nickel-a-play dusty yellow gameboards that hang over the barback, most of the holes punched out. Including the First Gay Bar Experience prize, unroll it and collect a quarter, a drink, a wink from the barback, a stumble off the barstool and a trip to the ladies’ for some wabble-legged fun. Probably both.

    I hit the highway, caught me a truck
    Nineteen and seventy, when the times was tough
    I didn’t know no better
    Oh boys
    In my girlish days.

  81. […] year. So my editor suggested gently that considering how much work I have left, perhaps going to Chicago for the fall semester was not the best idea, and could I maybe switch my visit to the […]

  82. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Alex K (#80)

    I wondered about those song lyrics (and your bit of artistic license in changing the year). Penned and sung by Memphis Minnie, there’s a good bit of info about her and her music on the Prairie Home Companion website: