A Fun Home library

I just posted my review of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home; one of the principal features of that book is the frequency with which other books appear in it, working as signposts, ciphers, thematic echoes, and ironic commentary. I was fascinated and delighted by this internal library, and decided to go back through after my first read to compile a reading list (with particular personal interest in Alison’s self-education as a young lesbian in the 1970’s).

Here it is! I’ve annotated some of the books with quotes or notes from the book (until I ran out of steam), and included dates where they were topical. They are listed more or less in the order in which they appear in the book.

Any corrections or additions are most welcome. Go forth and read!


Alison’s father’s Cultured Reads

Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina
Kenneth Clark – The Nude (“I was Spartan to my father’s Athenian.” Young Alison plays soldier in the background while her father reads this in the foreground.)
John Ruskin – The Stones of Venice (“But once I was unaccountably moved to kiss my father good night.” Bruce is reading this in bed.)
Rudyard Kipling – Just So Stories (“…some encounters could be quite pleasant.” Bruce reads bedtime stories to Alison.)
Albert Camus – A Happy Death (“A fitting epitaph for my parents’ marriage.” Alison finds it suggestive that Bruce was reading this shortly before his death.)
Günter Grass – The Tin Drum (Father and mother in “expatriate splendor” in West Germany after the war.)
Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby, The Far Side of Paradise (“Such a suspension of the imaginary in the real was, after all, my father’s stock in trade.”)
Nancy Milford – Zelda
Marcel Proust – Remembrance of Things Past
Erick Rücker Eddison – The Worm Ouroboros (“Maybe that’s what’s so unsettling about snakes.”)

— Alison’s childhood reading
Edward Gorey – the Addams Family cartoons
The Merriam-Webster dictionary. (Over the course of the novel, Alison looks up queer, lesbian, eighty-six, seventeen-year locust, father, beget, and orgasm.)
MAD Magazine
Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows
Dr. Benjamin Spock – Baby and Child Care (“I had spent many an hour browsing in that edifying volume.”)
E. B. White – The Trumpet of the Swan
Esther Forbes – Johnny Tremain (read to her by her mother)
Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams – Danny Dunn, Time Traveler

— Alison’s high school reading
J. R. R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring
J. D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye
Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice

— Alison’s academic college reading, as overseen from afar by her father
Albert Camus – The Myth of Sisyphus (“It’s not that I think he killed himself out of existentialist conviction. If he’d read carefully, he would have gotten to Camus’ conclusion that suicide is illogical.”)
Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness
James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (“Good. You damn well better identify with every page.”)
Homer – The Odyssey
James Joyce – Ulysses
Colette – Earthly Paradise (Consider this as part of her queer reading, too.)

— Alison’s college crash course in queer literature and second-wave feminism
(“One day it occurred to me that I could actually look up homosexuality in the card catalog.”)

Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1978)
Radclyffe Hall – The Well of Loneliness
Our Right to Love (1978)
William Masters & Virginia Johnson – Homosexualities
Anaïs Nin – Delta of Venus
Out of the Closets and Into the Streets ( = Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation, 1972 anthology ed. by Karla Jay & Allen Young ? )
E. M. Forster – Maurice
Patricia Neil Warren – The Front Runner (1974)
The Gay Report (1979)
Violette Leduc – La Batarde (1964)
Our Bodies, Ourselves (1971)
Sidney Abbott – Sappho Was a Right-On Woman (1972)
Adrienne Rich – Dream of a Common Language (1978)
Olga Broumas – Beginning with O (1977)
Mary Daly – Gyn/ecology (1978)
Ann Weldy – Women in the Shadows (1959)
Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon – Lesbian/Woman (1972)
Virginia Woolf – Orlando
Rita Mae Brown – Rubyfruit Jungle (1973)
Jane Rule – Desert of the Heart (1964)
Cecil Beaton’s Diaries
C. A. Tripp – The Homosexual Matrix (1975)
Virginia Woolf’s letters
Jill Johnston – Lesbian Nation (1973)

— Alison and her college girlfriend Joan deconstruct children’s lit
A. A. Milne – The World of Pooh
Roald Dahl – James and the Giant Peach

— Alison’s mother: theatrical roles & literary parallels
Ruth & Augustus Goetz – The Heiress (based on Henry James’ Washington Square)
Shakespeare – The Taming of the Shrew
Henry James – The Portrait of a Lady
Wallace Stevens – “Sunday Morning” (“Honest to god, we had a painting of a cockatoo in the library.”)
Edward Albee – The American Dream
Paul Osborne – Morning’s at Seven
Oscar Wilde – The Importance of Being Earnest (her mother plays Lady Bracknell)
Margaret Drabble – The Waterfall (1969) (I think this is the only book that Alison’s mother is seen reading, apart from plays.)

4 thoughts on “A Fun Home library”

  1. I loved the intertextuality of the book too! It’s a revealing list — the first thing I notice is Bechdel has her father reading several male authors who had struggles with male sexuality either in their work or their lives (Ruskin! Have you read Emma Donoghue’s story about his failed marriage?) –although not, interestingly, Henry James. She connects her mother to James instead — her mother as Isabel Archer, a bright young woman smothered by an oppressive marriage, which would make her father Gilbert Osmond. It’s all a bit passive-aggressive!

    1. Yep, her reading choices are certainly partisan. :P I do wonder though whether a subset of them might actually have occurred as depicted, though – for example, the incident where she chose to kiss her father good-night was certainly momentous enough that I could believe she’d remember his exact reading choice. And on the other side of the coin, I’m excited to see what texts she assigns her mom in Are You My Mother

      I have not read nearly enough Emma Donoghue (just one short story and a lazy skim of Room) – a Ruskin story sounds dreeeeamy!

    1. I have not, though I have read a bit about how people position him against the Inklings. Ouroboros has been added to the pile of classic fantasy stuff I haven’t yet ventured into, for the next time I’m in an epic state of mind…

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