this is the first comics i read since i was a wee kid (imagine a 30 plus year interval; i swore off comics pretty early on). if i read it now, i'd be...morethis is the first comics i read since i was a wee kid (imagine a 30 plus year interval; i swore off comics pretty early on). if i read it now, i'd be blown away by it. when i read it, i was thrown and confused by a language i thought i had abandoned forever and had therefore removed from my toolbox. i literally didn't know what i was looking at. i didn't know how to read it. i didn't know what i was holding in my hands. it was not like getting on a bike again (you put your feet on the pedals and go). it was like learning to bike anew.
whatever scraps of images and story stay in my memory give me complete assurance that this book is a masterpiece. (less)
this is beautifully constructed and gorgeously executed, just not my cup of bee's nectar. can't argue with tastes. i have a lukewarm appreciation of c...morethis is beautifully constructed and gorgeously executed, just not my cup of bee's nectar. can't argue with tastes. i have a lukewarm appreciation of cartoons, a cool appreciation of mythology, and a negative appreciation of magic. you, though, gene luen yang, most definitely rock.(less)
american representations of adolescents and post-adolescents in films and books have always left me cold, if not alienated. why do i have so little in...moreamerican representations of adolescents and post-adolescents in films and books have always left me cold, if not alienated. why do i have so little in common with these kids? why was my life and the lives of the italian teens i currently know and follow so vastly different? i blame american culture of violence and vice (for lack of a better world), kids' need to find themselves in drunkenness and drugs, when we had... what? what did we have? what do the italian kids i know have?
i think we had, they have each other, large groups of kids roaming the city in various combos, girls, boys, girls and girls, boys and boys. i think we had mobility and cities designed for people not cars. we had walking distance and we had public transportation. also, we had spaces, public spaces, outdoor spaces designed for hanging out -- in neighborhoods (mainly in front of the church), in the city. lots of spaces. plazas, fountains, pedestrian-only streets, small public gardens (italy is lousy with public gardens, unlike its neighbors to the north), benches, stones, steps to buildings and monuments, sidewalks. there are people everywhere, the city is inhabited.
when i see kids represented in american films and books, i see a ton of emptiness. kids hang out in commercial not public spaces, because the concept of a well-tended, well-protected, accessible, attractive public space is pretty much non-existent. in my university, even the box office of the newly renewed football/baseball/whatever stadium is named after a donor. i honestly and sincerely anticipate that soon we'll have to preface a lecture with "this class is brought to you by...".
if you have nowhere to go, and if you can't go there anyway because you have no transportation except your parents, you hang out in malls, diners, ice cream parlors, fast food joints, bowling alleys, or the back of your school. the latter is maybe the best scenario. i cannot imagine a childhood so starkly defined by commerce. i know that kids everywhere breathe commerce, but i cannot imagine a childhood so controlled by commerce that there are literally no spaces that are free of it.
so this book got me down during its first half. i hate empty american cities, big and small, and kids lost in it. i hated the terrible disaffection, rage, and plain nastiness of enid and rebecca. i hate the heavily underscored lack of family life, this eternal american parentlessness -- the trope of the absent parent, independent as it is from the fact of the parent's physical existence.
but then i started feeling tenderness for the two girls, because of their tender love for each other, their tip-toeing around the conventions that allow its various modes of expression, the light narrative touches that convey how straying from the rigid boundaries of these conventions becomes just too much (a closing panel that simply says, "let go of my hand"). i also started feeling tenderness for the way in which the girls talk to each other through boys -- by talking about boys, by passing boys from one to the other, by obsessing over boys, by despising ugly boys. it's such a lonely and doomed love, so unfree to blossom, so constrained, it breaks your heart.
and at the end, of course, it withers and dies, not like a raisin in the sun, but like a dream that was squashed from the start. bleak, man.
i blame this on suffocating locales, sordid city aesthetics, mangled architecture, and a ton of institutionalized loneliness.
i wish our cities, our american cities, the very best, but i don't see how anything short of demolition and stark rebuilding will make them more friendly to kids, less conducive to such a powerful absorption of ugliness that life will be forever marked by it. after finishing the book i slept and i dreamed, as i heartbreakingly often do, of century-layered, beautiful cities, rambling living rooms for roamers, chatters, and lovers alike. (less)
i read it, or looked at it (there isn't a single word in the whole book; wait, there are words, but i didn't have the key). i was disturbed by the fac...morei read it, or looked at it (there isn't a single word in the whole book; wait, there are words, but i didn't have the key). i was disturbed by the fact that the copy i got from the library was all battered. i thought poorly of public library users until i realized that was actually the design. it wasn't battered at all.
anyway, i'm done. it's taken me two renewals and a starbucks' latte's worth of late fees. once i actually cracked it open it took me only maybe a week. it's a beautiful book and the drawings are astounding. when i was very very little i would have liked them. when i was a little older i would have briefly considered trying to copy them.
now please, oh ye graphic freaks, leave me alone for at least another decade. (less)
what i managed to read seemed fabulous but i simply cannot do comics. well, i can do comics if they are really short, but more than a hundred pages of...morewhat i managed to read seemed fabulous but i simply cannot do comics. well, i can do comics if they are really short, but more than a hundred pages of comics... that would take me years. (less)
ETA i'm reading around in GR, checking other reviews of this book, and there are SO MANY that are SO GOOD and make points that are different from mine...moreETA i'm reading around in GR, checking other reviews of this book, and there are SO MANY that are SO GOOD and make points that are different from mine, or points that are similar to mine but say it better. great literature produces great responses!
this is the best memoir i have read. in fact, it is one of the best books i've ever read period. i tried to think of other books that would compare to it in beauty, creativity, intelligence, complexity, and depth, and i think i'm going to have to place Are You My Mother? among my top ten. if i spent the next 5 years re-reading it, over and over, daily, continuously, it would be satisfaction enough for my intellect and my soul. i am an awe of alison bechdel for having written and drawn this book. i can't imagine what it must have taken. but then i think i know what it took: a genius only some of us possess. genius in conception, preparation, working through, execution, and getting it done (so many of us out here with fabulous ideas, deep thoughts, complex plans, and not enough persistence or courage or solidity of self to bring it all to completion).
and this is such a unique book. in order to painstakingly write it, page after bloody page, and then put it out there for all to see, she must truly have believed -- in it, in herself, in the world.
i read the entire thing so fast. i need to re-read. it's not an easy book but it was an incredibly compelling book to me. i think i drank it. i dreamed it. i thought about it nonstop and still am. it changed my life.
i haven’t read many reviews of it but in one of them bechdel says that she wasn’t thinking of her mother when she first conceived of the book. she wanted to write a book about relationships. this makes sense to me. if you are drawn to write a book about relationships and all their immense complications and you are alison bechdel you will necessarily be drawn to this most central, first, primordial, paradigmatic relationship: the relationship with your mother.
but let me try to bring some order to this brilliantly interwoven work of art. there are many genres and many stories that intersect in Are You My Mother? one strand is a pretty scholarly (but of course bechdel endeavors to make it fully accessible to everyone) exposition of the thought of british psychoanalyst donald winnicott. winnicott is the guy who invented the transitional object and the good enough mother. more significantly, he developed and added his original insight to the idea that what happened between a mom (or a primary caretaker) and her baby in very early stages of childhood shapes the baby in a fundamental and lasting way. also famously, winnicott said that there is not such a thing as a baby, meaning we cannot conceive of a baby in isolation: the rapport with the mother is essential to the baby's existence.
i love psychoanalysis and winnicott is a particularly lovely representative of it. his work is key to a lot of contemporary psychoanalysis and a serious and compelling argument in favor of not judging psychoanalysis only based on the work of freud, as many still do. winnicott's psychoanalysis is sweet and passionate. he was a child psychologist and worked all of his life with kids, often very disturbed ones. bechdel is clealy in love with him too. beside discussing his ideas (and, charmingly, telling us the story of her engagement with his work and the evolution of this engagement, sticky points and all) she also talks about him, the man. since she's a comics artist, she can do that. sometimes (not sure if in relation to winnicott or at other points, but still) the text in the square boxes and what happens in the panels seem to go their separate ways, as if they were talking about entirely different things. the effect is stunning, like hearing a voice over in a movie during a sequences that doesn't quite illustrate what the voice over is saying.
this should give you a sense of the complexity of this text. as she talks about psychoanalysis, bechdel gives us a dense psychoanalytic text, in which free associations appear in the flow of the narrative, in the juxtaposition of stories, in the juxtaposition of drawings and words, and in just about everything. this is why i could spend the next five years reading it.
anyway, winnicott. being so in love with his work, bechdel falls a bit in love with his story. i love the passages dedicated to his personal story. this simple man, with his issues and his troubles, sitting on the floor talking to kids, healing kids, or lying on the couch talking to his own analyst -- so brilliant, so revolutionary, so human. beautiful.
the book, inevitably, becomes a self-analysis. in fact, it is a self-analysis from the very first panel, as it starts with a dream bechdel goes on to interpret. so this is another strand. but this strand is aided by the fact that, before she wrote the book and while writing the book, bechdel is herself in analysis. a lot of panels are about her sessions with her analysts (she saw two). these panels are strangely and compellingly dynamic, in spite of the fact that they portray two people sitting in a room, because bechdel draws the analyst as sitting very still while she manages to give a sense of her own inquisitiveness and restless curiosity. she is always drawn sitting with her elbows on her knees, leaning forward. she scratches her head. she looks intensely absorbed in the difficult process to understand.
to summarize, so far: we have bechdel's study of winnicott; we have bechdel's analytic sessions; we have bechdel's self analysis. the last is aided by the first two. the whole book is an intense, incredibly artful, incredibly and beautifully compressed yet absolutely absorbing effort on the part of bechdel to understand what went on between herself her mother.
which brings me to strand number four, which is all the time and physical space (literally! this is a comic book! the space is bidimensional!) bechdel devotes to her conversations with her mother. busy as she is working, studying, analyzing, and having a life, bechdel talks on the phone to her mom every day. as we saw in Fun Home and as we see here too, bechdel's mom was not exactly a fountain of warmth and tenderness. she was probably a good enough mom when alison was very little, but later her (frustrated?) artistic interests turned her into a rather cold and detached figure. when alison was 7 mom told her she was too old to be kissed goodnight. her younger brothers continued to receive their goodnight kisses.
the profound disconnect between alison and her mother continues in adulthood. alison is always the one who initiates the calls. their "conversations" consist of mom talking and alison listening. on the occasions when alison needs to make herself heard (like, say, to ask if it's okay that she's writing this book!), she needs to insist. conversations about alison seem to last only two or three exchanges. mom is none too happy that alison is writing about her family but then alison does it anyway and mom seems to take it in stride. mom is also unhappy that alison writes a (successful) comic strip about lesbians ("what am i going to tell the family?").
this detachment is obviously and glaringly in contrast with the fact that they talk every day. why does alison keep calling this woman who doesn't truly accept her and is not overly proud in her? the discrepancy is complicated by the fact that at some point (maybe in order to write this book) alison starts typing up the conversations she has with her mom while they are happening. so imagine panel after panel of alison wearing earbuds and typing away while mom is off screen (so to speak: there must be a way to say this for comic books but i don't know what it is) talking about art, literature, the theater, and her life.
bechdel is a compulsive record keeper, but this seems deeply meaningful beyond that. it's as if typing up what her mother says a) gave alison something to do while mom goes on about herself b) gave alison agency in this interaction (she, not mom, captures and will be the custodian of mom's words) and c) upset the balance of power and powerlessness between them (these words will end up in a book in which mom doesn't look too good and over which she has no control*).
finally, there is the strand of alison's relationships with her girlfriends, presumably the point from which everything started. this part goes by quickly so i don't remember it too well; or maybe i was more interested in other parts. it seems anyway secondary, as if the true, the important relating were happening in the analysts's offices, in alison's office at home while she talks to her mom, in alison's mother's house (where she seems so very young), in alison's head, in alison's fabulous real-time reflections on the book she's writing.
i have left out so much. there's a lot of virginia woolf here, especially her journals, and there's a very astute reading of To the Lighthouse; woolf is another woman whose mom never quite loved her right, and bechdel shows the immense therapeutic value woolf got out of writing To the Lighthouse, where she puts her feelings towards her parents to rest. and there's a lot about alice miller's psychoanalytic book The Drama of the Gifted Child, which bechdel discusses gorgeously and in which she finds endless comfort.
but i have to stop. i'm using too many words. i have so much more to say but my words seem already to be more than all the words of Are You My Mother?
i cannot say that this book is for everyone. some people are bound to find it difficult.** but if you had a complex relation with your mom, give it a try. and if you love literature, and words, and ideas, and the magic that books can spin, definitely pick it up and read it. go slowly. savor the panels, savor the words, try to understand. and if you are interested in psychoanalysis, about how healing through a deep relationship with another who sits with you and listens to your story happens, this book is totally for you.
i don't want to make this book sound forbidding, but Fun Home was a breeze and this isn't a breeze. it's a book in which so much is packed. it's a deep book about someone who is trying to find her roots, not only through emotions but also through a lot of thinking and looking at others who did the same. this is deeply moving but the thinking can get a bit hard to grasp fully. still, it is so worth it, so so worth it. this is destined to become a key text of the american literary canon.
* this is also complicated. alison mails to her mom drafts of both her books and waits very anxiously for a response.
** i'm not some kind of genius or anything, but i know a bit about psychoanalysis. (less)
this is so good. so so so good. i'm going to say, first of all, that the quality of the artwork is amazing. great drawing, sometimes really simple, so...morethis is so good. so so so good. i'm going to say, first of all, that the quality of the artwork is amazing. great drawing, sometimes really simple, sometimes really complex, with great utilization of über cool graphic devices (notably, a spiral notebook that seems like the real thing, ellen's real notebook, photographed, and may or may not be).
when i first got the book i quickly scanned it and saw that it dealt with bipolar disorder solely in medical terms, i.e. as something the only effective treatment of which would be the right medication cocktail. now, i don't like that. at all. i really believe that mood disorders are a very complex mixture of genes and environment -- i believe that in everything human you can never take the environment out of the equation -- so i was sorry to see that the book kind of sold medication as the only approach to ellen's terrible pain.
the book sat on my shelf for a while and then it sat in a friend's house for another while and now i read it, and it's really not like that. i mean, it is like that, but, also, it isn't. yes, ellen only sees a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist's only overt contribution to her well-being is finding the right meds (which she eventually does). but the book is also very complex about the relation between ellen and karen, the psychiatrist, in that they have regular sessions for 13 years (and counting, i suppose), and in these sessions ellen really finds an anchor, a warmth, a haven of acceptance, love, and help.
also, the whole role of medication is problematized, analyzed, discussed, investigated, studied. this is cool.
ellen definitely comes out in this extraordinary memoir as well-rounded, interesting, and intriguing. this is the perfect companion to Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?: bechdel approaches her pain through psychoanalysis, fornay through medication, but there is the same level of complexity, engagement with one's life, and intelligence. seriously, this is brilliant and captivating and it was hard to put it down.
it seems to me increasingly important, as i think about these issues, to understand that there are things that work for someone and things that work for someone else. there's a strong strain in the "survivor" community that is virulently anti-drugs. i think it hinges on some people's disastrous experience with drugs. drugs can have terrible consequences on some bodies, and positive consequences on some other bodies. when you are someone whose life has been ruined by psych drugs, you tend to totalize your experience and proclaim them the devil. but they are not the devil for everyone. there are people whose life has been saved by psych drugs.
the other thing is that ellen's experience of psychiatry is incredibly gentle. her psychiatrist seems absolutely fabulous. this is not a common experience. many psychiatrists (all too many) are dismissive, arrogant, and belittling of their patients. this happens all the time. so if you work on getting better with a psychiatrist who actually listens to what you say, takes in what you want, and honors your experience with respect to what does and does not work for you, medication might be a much better experience than if you deal with a psychiatrist who simple decides what you should take/do/feel/etc.
i had a student once whose psychiatrist regularly mocked her. whenever she had something to say for herself, he'd say that she was being manic and to calm down. this was a kid. a college kid. i told her, why don't you change psychiatrist? but when someone gets into your head and makes you feel that he is god and you are an ant, you keep going back.
anyway, great book. thank you ellen for writing it. i don't know how you guys (you, alison, etc.) do it. this stuff must be harder than hell to put down on paper. so, again, thank you. (less)
this book is beautiful. the kids are gorgeous. cleo is deeply compelling and her friends are deeply real even though the whole thing also has a surrea...morethis book is beautiful. the kids are gorgeous. cleo is deeply compelling and her friends are deeply real even though the whole thing also has a surreal, fantastic, haunting quality.
i love the way in which RC draws and details the girls' bodies. they are all in some state of disarray, with gothicky torn clothes and gothicky street-kids haircuts; most of them are on the chunky side; their bodiness is palpable and luscious and lovely. there's a lot of attention paid to butts straining into tight jeans, hips overflowing shirts, breasts compressed into bodices. gestures are also given great attention: cigarettes held in left hands, feet trying to find solid place on the ground, toilets, vomiting, hands clutching stomachs, manifestations of exhilaration, manifestations of distance, crying.
i like that some characters are fully drawn while others are more sketchy. boys are almost all sketchy, while girls are full and deep and intense.
there is no real story except for the anguish of being newly alone at college in run-down and filthy facilities (the janitors are apparently on strike), and the daily dealings of kids trying out adulthood while being still unbearably young.
cleo is so alone. youth is so full of pain. do we ever outgrow it? we just learn to hide it better. (less)