Sunday, September 27, 2015

I Read Banned Books: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

This year for Banned Books Week I read Fun Home: a family tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, a graphic novel which has lingered on my TBR (to be read) list for almost a decade. A combination of recent controversy, an award winning Broadway adaptation, and some friendly encouragement finally tipped the scales.

Fun Home was first published in 2006, and was almost immediately challenged in a Missouri public library. Due to the images depicting sexual acts, specifically sexual acts featuring LGTBQ participants, there have been several other challenges over the years. You can read more about its controversial history in this article from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Fun Home is a memoir about Bechdel's relationship with her father, his death, and her journey to understanding her own sexuality. It is not an easy read. This book is dense with complicated emotions, not uncommon when considering how our relationships with family change as we grow older. However the added tragedy of her father's sudden death (or possible suicide) hard on the heels of Bechdel coming out as a lesbian and the revelation that her father had spent his life in the closet, creates a sort of drama that colors every other aspect of their relationship. She examines her memories for hints and signs overlooked, unable to continue their conversation directly.

In the most recent controversy, students at Duke University objected to Fun Home's selection as a title all incoming first-year students were encouraged to read. As far as I know, no one has called for Fun Home's removal from the library shelves or syllabi at Duke. However, it's interesting how several of the students who refused to read this book said that they would've read it in print, but the graphic novel format made the content too objectionable. It's not uncommon for a challenge to a graphic novel to be based in part on the fact that the objectionable material has been illustrated, rather than simply described in words.

There are three graphic novels on the American Library Association's list of Top 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books for 2014:
Like those Duke students, I avoided reading Fun Home -- not for some moral reasons, but simply because I knew this wasn't a fun book and I prefer happy endings in my books. However, it is important to push myself outside of my comfort zone sometimes because each time I have, I've discovered something wonderful. That said, I'm glad I waited until I was ready to read this book, and I'd reached a point in my life where I had the perspective to really appreciate Bechdel's memoir. Nine years ago I might have fixated on the tragedy and missed the quieter advice that it is damaging to force yourself to live within the confines of expectations, even your own.

~Sarah, Adult Services

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