When Alison Bechdel came out to her parents as a lesbian her announcement was somewhat overshadowed by the discovery that her father was gay too, and had had numerous affairs with men including the family's male babysitter. This memoir, in graphic novel format, tells the story of growing up with her eccentric father, around a funeral home (the "fun home" of the title) and the effect his sudden death had on her family. It's a very personal, moving, story, interwoven with literary references and wry observations about the Bechdel family and life in general, set against a backdrop of historical events of the seventies and eighties.
The art brings the Bechdel family's obsessively restored gothic home to life. It's full of tiny, fascinating details, making the book take longer to read than you might expect given the relatively small amount of text compared with an ordinary novel. I devoured it greedily in about an hour and three quarters but I think I will go back and read it again a couple more times since it leaves you with so much to think about.
I chose to read Fun Home
this month in the lead up to Banned Books Week
because it's one of numerous comics and graphic novels to have been repeatedly challenged by members of the public. In 2006 a woman named Louise Mills tried to have it, together with another graphic novel, Blankets
by Craig Thompson, banned from the public library of Missouri, on the grounds that they were "pornography". Both books were temporarily removed from circulation but eventually restored following an objection by the National Coalition Against Censorship
. In 2008, Fun Home
was challenged again by a student of the university of Utah who objected to being assigned the book to read for English
. He was offered an alternate assignment and despite an internet petition against the book's inclusion on the syllabus the objection went no further.
You can find a list of other banned or challenged comics on the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund page
about it. In many cases the books were challenged because of people's mistaken perception that all comics or graphic novels are intended for children and therefore shouldn't contain adult content. Fun Home
is not meant for children, not just because it contains nudity and sexual references, but because much of the content (references to Proust, James Joyce and the Stonewall riots) would go straight over their heads. In any case, the book has literary merit and people have a right to read it. It's a shame when people who object to a book try to take away from other people the freedom to choose whether or not to read it, or allow their children to read it.
Fortunately, and ironically, the fact that someone tried to ban a book can add to its appeal, giving it the enticing air of the forbidden. I know I enjoy choosing books to read from the Banned Books Week list
. This isn't always the best strategy for finding good books (last year's list contains Fifty Shades of Grey
) but they're usually interesting.
Whether you're interested in stories about coming out, growing up and coming to terms with the fact that your parents are human, or just want to stick it to the people who didn't think you should read it, Fun Home
is well worth a look.