Choosing the Right Book #2: Fun Home

Reading Guy  Yesterday two different designers showed me their layouts for the postcard announcing the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club. Both postcards were handsome, and both hammered home to me the same message: these particular books and these particular dates were about to be written in stone. Once the postcard goes to press, I’m committed for twenty-five evenings and six titles in one irreversible order. So, of course, I wouldn’t be who I am if I weren’t doubting and re-evaluating every decision, trying to conjure up the ultimate first six books to perfectly launch this new reading group.

Is it just fussing, or does it really matter?

What called all my decisions into question was a conversation I had last Thursday with a lesbian bookseller who’s a voracious reader. I showed her my choices for the first six months, and she wasn’t that impressed by my two choices for women.

“What would you suggest, then?” I finally asked.

“What about Fun Home?” 

Fun Home  It took my breath away. Why hadn’t I thought about Alison Bechdel’s mindblowing graphic memoir myself? It was a Nick’s Pick at University Book Store when it first came out, before it went on to win Book of the Year awards at Time Magazine and The New York Times Book Review. Not only is it brilliant and complex and hilarious and heartbreaking, it’s one of the very few books that contains a believable portrait of both a lesbian and a gay man.

So my list has changed. I realize that my June slot, the book club selection for the month filled with Gay Pride activities, will now be the festive, funny, celebratory Fun Home. Which means something has to come off the list, either Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt or Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man.

Single Man  More and more decisions, and the clock is ticking. And I’ve got to remember, the best books don’t always provoke the best conversations.

Breakfast with Scot  I’m beginning with Breakfast with Scot by Michael Downing, the lightest of the titles I’ve chosen. I’m hoping it will be less threatening to discuss. It takes on gender roles in a refreshing way. Downing has a tight, clean style, if occasionally smartass, and though the plotting is sometimes a little busy and the book’s dramatic arc only lasts for thirty pages, the book’s heart is simple and clear and funny enough to endear it to straight people as well as gay. (Nagging doubt: wouldn’t Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story be a classier way to begin the club?)

I’ve decided to drop Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle from the list. At first I thought it would be ideal, those opening chapters are so startling and funny. But Molly Bolt gets a little full of herself in the second half, and the quality of writing descends to arch chattiness. Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina also used to be on the list. Though many women praise it highly, one too many has described it as “the most depressing book I’ve ever read” for me to be eagerly diving into its three hundred pages. So it’s been moved back a bit, waiting for its time.

Each of the first six selections gets four Wednesday meetings, but just due to the way the calendar falls, the April selection gets five. Which book warrants that extra day? I’ve got Gore Vidal slotted there. We can use the extra day to show a documentary, or maybe his excellent screenplay for Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer, or even a fun evening watching the film of Myra Breckinridge.

City and the Pillar  Interestingly enough, had Gore Vidal retained the original horrific 1948 ending to The City and the Pillar, I wouldn’t have chosen it. The Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club will be reading his 1965 revision, which brings the novel to a very realistic, non-sensational ending. But I suspect we may be able to persuade the book club’s literary historian, Brad Craft, to educate us with an interpretive reading of that hair-raising original climax.

Price of Salt  The biggest question for me now is whether to keep Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man as the May book, or Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt. The Isherwood is arty and lovely and intellectual, the Highsmith is a romantic lesbian thriller. The Isherwood is shorter, the Highsmith easier reading. The Isherwood has a nice documentary to go with it. The Highsmith evens up the reading list, three gay book and three lesbian books.

I’ve got about twenty-four hours to make up my mind.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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