In 1983, cartoonist Alison Bechdel started self-syndicating Dykes To Watch Out For, a comic strip that offered one of the first ongoing representations of lesbians in pop culture. Now a beloved feminist touchstone, it’s also the origin of the so-called “Bechdel test,” a measure for evaluating gender inequality in fiction.
Bechdel published Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic in 2006, a seminal LGBT book chronicling her childhood and complicated relationship with a closeted, suicidal father. Books are a major theme in the graphic memoir – serving to mark different stages in Bechdel’s life, and providing a means to communicate with hyper-intellectual parents. A companion piece titled Are You My Mother? was released in 2012.
In a reading list for NY-based bookstore One Grand, Bechdel shared her ten all-time favorite books, including work by Audre Lorde, Jane Austen, Jack Kerouac, and Virginia Woolf. Find her recommendations below, and dive into the bookshelves of other iconic artists right here.
“I’d definitely need some Jane Austen on a desert island, so I choose her most complex book. Lots of people (including Austen’s mother) find the heroine Fanny “insipid,” but as a shy person I identify with her and love how she learns to speak up for herself.” -AB
Possession by A.S. Byatt
“I am a sucker for campus novels, and this is one of the best, even though it has some pretty scathing things to say about feminist literary criticism.” -AB
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
“I found this really unnerving when I first read it at age 8. There’s a lot of talk lately about ‘kids’ books for adults.’ But this is an adult book for kids — a realistic, complex and not-at-all-dumbed-down look at a girl who wants more than anything else to be a writer. When I grew up and learned that Fitzhugh was a lesbian, that explained a bit more about why Harriet resonated so much for me.” -AB
Amphigorey by Edward Gorey
“This is actually 15 of Edward Gorey’s illustrated masterpieces in one. My favorite is ‘The Unstrung Harp,’ about a novelist writing his biennial book — the funniest and most accurate description of the creative process I’ve ever seen.” -AB
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
“This has been on my list forever, but it’s been getting a lot of attention lately because of Todd Haynes’s excellent movie adaptation, ‘Carol.’ It was the first novel about lesbians to have a happy ending, but it’s also a really unnerving and propulsive story, like all of Patricia Highsmith’s books. She originally published it under a pseudonym so it didn’t wreck her career.” -AB
“This is a great book about Kerouac and his disguised but easily decrypted Beat pals hiking in the Sierras and discussing Buddhism back in the days when nobody did that.” -AB
Martin Bauman: Or, A Sure Thing by David Leavitt
“I love this book almost as much as I hate it. Martin, a thinly disguised version of Leavitt himself, describes the “brat pack” of young writers he was a part of in the New York literary scene of the mid-1980s. It’s sort of like watching a train wreck, fascinating and horrifying at once.” -AB
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
“I read this in my early 20s when I was voraciously devouring autobiographical books about lesbians and gay men. Lorde’s examination of her multiple outsiderness — black, female, queer, West Indian, poet — pried my sheltered mind wide open.” -AB
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
“I love all of Sarah Waters’s historical fiction, but this is my favorite novel, set during and after World War II. It starts slow but picks up insane momentum, using reverse narration to follow the characters backward in time to the explosive wartime scenes that shaped them.” -AB
“I reread this book every once in a while, and every time I do I find it more capacious and startling. It’s so revolutionary and so exquisitely wrought that it keeps evolving on its own somehow, as if it’s alive.” -AB
(via One Grand Books)