One of the best feelings a bookseller can get is when a customer says, "I wouldn't have read this book on my own, but I did because you recommended it, and I loved it." Well, multiply that by seven and you've got the in-store lit group's reaction to Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.
We wound up meeting at 5:30 pm so that attendees could also hear Bechdel talk about her new graphic memoir, Are You My Mother? The earlier time meant that several of our regulars could not attend, due to still being at work. For just about everyone attending, with the exception of S. and myself, this was the first graphic literary work completed.
Most of us had read overcoming obstacle memoirs, and quite a few had tackled coming out stories too. But Bechdel connects the stories in an interesting way, and the drawings create a very different narrative. It's sort of like having footnotes integrated into the text. Sometimes the characters' faces would display a very different truth from the text. J. noticed the foreshadowing used in the story, with several instances of Sunbeam bread making an appearance.
There was lots of discussion about the use of literature in the book, both as a bond of Alison to her father Bruce, as a tool of Alison's coming out, and as a source for references in the story. We talked a little about therapy, which plays an even larger role in the new book. Several attendees wondered where Mom was in all this, but with the publication of the companion volume, that complaint has less oomph.
The biggest disappointment with Fun Home came from S., who felt that perhaps (and this is tough to paraphrase) the text used the pictures as a bit of a crutch. She had also read a lot of other coming out stories over the years, and so perhaps was inured to the charms of that genre. I have found that newly out LGBT people, at least in the past, couldn't get enough, but with the normalization of the journey, there doesn't seem to be as much interest.
The evening wasn't over yet because we still had our evening talk and slide show. We had a great turnout of about 150 people, and Bechdel was super charming. Some folks would say I bought just the right number of books, as we sold our last copy just minutes before 9. I would have liked some signed copies for stock, but not to worry. I've cooked up a plan to source more.
Upcoming in-store lit group discussions:
Monday, June 4, 2012, 7 pm:
Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward.
I'll be in New York for our book convention, so I'll miss this discussion about a poor rural family in the days leading up to Hurrican Katrina. Who knows? Maybe I'll phone in.
Monday, July 2, 2012, 7 pm:
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker and winner of the Governor General's Award, this novel that is said to be a genre-bending Western. The group had an interesting discussion of how much violence we can handle. This led to a side discussion of Aryn Kyle's The God of Animals, a wonderful novel that we hand-sold very well at Schwartz, which nonetheless was rejected by some because of at least one bad horse scene.