Friday, June 29, 2007

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Recommendation by: Crissy

Quick recommendation: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. It's an autobiographical graphic novel, on a million best books of the year lists (2006), and I somehow missed it til this past weekend. Highly highly recommended.

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This autobiography by the author of the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys). Fun Home refers both to the funeral parlor, where he put makeup on the corpses and arranged the flowers, and the family's meticulously restored gothic revival house, filled with gilt and lace, where he liked to imagine himself a 19th-century aristocrat. The art has greater depth and sophistication that Dykes; Bechdel's talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man's secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter's burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide. The recursively told story, which revisits the sites of tragic desperation again and again, hits notes that resemble Jeanette Winterson at her best. Bechdel presents her childhood as a "still life with children" that her father created, and meditates on how prolonged untruth can become its own reality. She's made a story that's quiet, dignified and not easy to put down.

Online it's available at:,, or

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Welcome to the new Oprah Schmoprah blog!

Recommended by: Jen

I didn't want to leave the blog blank, so I thought I'd post my first recommendation: Catch-22. I read this book during one summer when I was in high school, and then it played a prominent role in the most recent season of Lost so I went back to read it again. And it was even better the second time around.

This is a book of the insanity of war and human nature. The main character, Yossarian, is a bombadier in WWII stationed in Pianosa, Italy. Everyone thinks he's crazy because he insists that whenever he's in battle, everyone's trying to kill him, but he's right, and everyone else in his squadron — who ARE crazy — laughs at him like he just said something psychotic. Yossarian's nemesis is the evil Colonel Cathcart. This man doesn't want to get rid of any of his men, so he tells them they have a requisite number of missions they must fly. If he sets the number at 40, and someone reaches 40, he raises the number to 45 or 50 before they can get their papers, and now they have to go fly more. He will always raise those numbers, and Yossarian begins to believe he's going to die, so he fakes illnesses and stays in the hospital.

The title of the book comes from the opening discussion he has with the doctor, when he asks Doc Daneeka to ground him. Doc says he does have the ability — the duty — to ground a man if he's insane. But Catch-22 states that the person must ask for it. If he asks to be grounded, then he must be sane, because only a sane man would want to be grounded, and therefore he can't ground them. Yossarian just stares at him, and says, "That's some catch, that Catch-22." Doc smiles back and says, "It's the best there is."

The whole book is full of little Catch-22's and circular reasoning, most of which is laugh-out-loud hilarious. But by the end of the book Heller's genius is to take all of the comedy we've been watching (think M*A*S*H set in WWII) and show us the reality of it, and the horrors of war. The final three chapters will haunt you.

I cannot recommend this book enough! Online it's available at or, or in the US at