Category: Autobiography

Redefining Realness

Cover image for Redefining Realness by Janet Mockby Janet Mock

ISBN 978-1-4767-0913-0

“What I want people to realize is that ‘transitioning’ is not the end of the journey. Yes, it’s an integral part of revealing who we are to ourselves and the world, but there’s more to life afterward.”

In 2011, magazine writer Janet Mock found herself the subject of a profile in a magazine article, rather than the writer. Working with her friend and colleague Kierna Mayo at Marie Claire, Mock stepped forward for the first time to publicly identify as a trans woman. Although everyone in her native Hawaii had known about her past and her transition, it was not something she had shared with the majority of her new friends and colleagues in New York. A number of suicides by trans teens prompted Mock to do the profile, and make an It Gets Better video. However, the Marie Claire profile was framed as a happy success story, one that elided many of the darker realities and challenges of Mock’s early life. In Redefining Realness, she steps forward further, sharing the difficulties she faced to get where she is today.

Mock’s parents were divorced, and she spent her childhood shuttling between them, variously living in Oakland, Texas, or Hawaii with one or the other, as each put their own romantic lives ahead of their children. Mock writes about her parents with love, and compassion for their failings. Of her father she says, “I’ve come to realize that he simply loved me and wanted to protect me, even from myself. He was grappling with fears that involved my safety and how my outward femininity would make me a target of bullying, teasing, and other dangers her felt lay ahead.” Mock, however, does not minimize the resulting damage. “My adult understanding of my childhood with my father doesn’t erase the effects of his policing,” she writes. And those consequences were dire. One of the major omissions in Mock’s Marie Claire profile—one she admits she hesitated to include even in her memoir—is how her father’s gender policing of her femininity led her to hide the fact that she was sexually abused by the teenage son of her father’s girlfriend, for fear that she would “get whipped for acting like a girl again.” She eloquently fights back against any suggestion that the abuse caused her to be trans, arguing instead that isolation and repression made her an easy target.

Mock locates her memoir at the intersection of race, gender identity, and poverty, particularly highlighting the difficulty poor trans women of colour face in accessing the medical services necessary to transition. She zeroes in on the tug of war between pathologizing trans people with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and the reality that such a diagnosis may activate insurance coverage that enables transition. Interspersed with her recollections are asides on the political and social context of transition, gender policing, and the relationship between gender and sexuality. She clearly defines her terms, opening up her memoir to a general audience rather than one that is already educated about trans issues. She is also in a position to share an insider’s perspective of a unique culture.  In the relatively accepting environment of Hawaii—compared to her earlier childhood in California and Texas with her father—Mock began her transition as a teen, had a trans best friend, and a community. “What we were blessed with was being in the right place at the right time,” she writes. “Hawaii’s community of trans women was vast and knowledgeable. There was a deep legacy of trans womanhood passed on to us by older women who had been exactly where we were.” It was this community that provided Mock with the knowledge and the means to transition at a relatively young age.

Mock defies invasive cis interest and the traditional trans narrative by, among other things, refusing to provide before and after photos of herself. She is clear about the desire to tell her story on her own terms. Given this emphasis, I was surprised by the strong focus on bottom surgery in the second half of the book, since trans advocates have spent a long time discouraging prurient interest in such a private decision. However, Mock emphasizes that it was a very important step for her personally, and this focus becomes relevant to understanding a crucial stage of her life. While she was in her first semester of school on a full scholarship at the University of Hawaii, she was also engaged in the sex trade, desperately trying to save up enough money to go to Thailand for surgery. Though Mock describes the decision to do sex work as a “non-event at the time,” Redefining Realness grapples lengthily with the fall out, and how an “entire system that failed us and a society that refused to see us” forced many trans women of colour down this path to transition.

Though the focus on surgery becomes understandable in light of the great lengths Mock went to in order to secure it, the greater disappointment is that, apart from a fourteen page conclusion, Redefining Realness essentially concludes with the operation. Mock briefly circles back to her opening hook, where she met her partner and made the decision to reveal her past to him, but she reveals little about her time at university, or her move to New York to pursue her career. Perhaps these events are still too current for Mock to be ready to write about them, or perhaps she is saving them for another book, but I wanted to read about the “more to life afterward” that Mock so elegantly emphasizes in her conclusion, but ultimately declines to delve into.

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Cover image for Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward You  might also like Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped

Cover image for Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Wardby Jesmyn Ward

ISBN 978-1-60819-765-1

“If Demond’s family history wasn’t so different from my own, did that mean we were living the same story over and over again, down the through the generations? That the young and the Black had always been dying until all that was left were children and the few old, as in war?”

Between October 2000 and June 2004, no less than five young, black men died in DeLisle, Mississippi, Jesmyn Ward’s hometown. Of course, there were more than five, but the loss of these particular young men, beginning with her brother Joshua, and ending with her friend Roger emotionally devastated Ward. The causes of death ranged from drug-induced heart attack to car accident to murder, but though they were unconnected on the surface, Ward lays bare the reality of life in the South, exposing the invisible threads of poverty and blackness that unite their untimely deaths. These deaths and a confusing homesickness called Ward home to the South again and again, even as she was trying to escape by attending college on the West coast, and then grad school in Michigan.

Men We Reaped is a series of obituaries, hung together by the context of life in the South, and a deep sense of foreboding about the next inevitable death. Ward begins with her family history, leading up to the marriage of her parents, then switches off to recount the life and death of the final victim, Roger Eric Daniels III. Returning to her own family, she shares her childhood and her parents’ troubled marriage, and continues to switch off biography and autobiography until the two timelines meet, and her story culminates with the first death, the loss of her younger brother, Joshua Adam Dedeaux. This unusual structure means that those who died first are ghosts in the stories of those who died later, but covering the deaths in reverse chronological order has the peculiar effect of bringing those ghosts back to life, only to relive their tragic deaths once more.

Though the litany of deaths make clear the extent of the problem, Ward writes most movingly about her own family’s history, and her relationship with her brother. There is no surprise or admonition when thirteen-year-old Joshua, three years her junior, reveals that he is selling drugs to help make ends meet in their father’s household. It is simply the inevitable stop-gap for most young men in the depressed Southern economy. Ward herself is sixteen at the time, and living with their mother, being slowly lifted away from her brother as she is educated at a private Christian school paid for by the white man whose house her mother cleans. The gulf between them continues to widen until Ward feels like the naïve and sheltered younger sibling in contrast to her hardened and street smart younger brother.

Writing this book is part of Ward’s struggle to make sense of make happened and come to terms with it, and the events are clearly still quite emotionally raw even a decade later. The list of tragedies is grim and unrelenting, “it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time,” Ward writes. The spectre of her own substance abuse—self-medication for grief and despair—hangs over the narrative, but is never completely addressed. But by setting the women of her family—two sisters, her mother, and grandmother—against the short and violent lives of the men in the community, Ward is able to draw an incisive portrait of the gendered consequences of racism and poverty in the American South.

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the-inconvenient-indianYou might also like The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Brain On Fire

Cover image for Brain On Fire by Sussanah Cahalan by Susannah Cahalan

ISBN 978-1-4516-2137-2

Though she attempts to communicate some deep, dark part of herself in her writing, she remains incomprehensible, even to myself.”

In 2009, at the age of 24, New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan seemed to be losing her grip on her life. She found herself suddenly forgetting to do the necessary preparations for her job, snooping through her boyfriend’s things, and having emotional breakdowns at work. All of this was out of character, but then she went suddenly and inexplicably mad, suffering from auditory and visual hallucinations, and paranoid delusions. Her physical symptoms, including numbness and tingling, seizures, and catatonia all suggested that there was something neurological rather than psychological at work, but doctors struggled to find anything physically wrong with her, and a transfer to a psychiatric facility seemed inevitable. Then a new doctor joined her team, and made a life-saving diagnosis of an autoimmune disease discovered only two years before. But when Cahalan finally woke up in the hospital, she didn’t remember any of this, and Brain On Fire constitutes her effort to piece together her own story from the available medical records, videos, and accounts from family and friends, all presented in the clear and straight-forward prose of a talented journalist.

Cahalan initially reported on her own story in the New York Post in an October 2009 article entitled My Mysterious Lost Month of Madness. Brain On Fire expands on this telling, with considerably more polish and detail than the original article, with Cahalan delving deeper into records of her illness. Some of the memories reported in her initial article turned out to be hallucinatory or misremembered after further investigation. Though she had made leaps and bounds in her recovery at the time of the article, her increased re-mastery of language is evident in Brain On Fire. The only drawback in comparison to the article was that the nearly three hundred page book didn’t contain many more direct quotes from her friends and family. Although Cahalan’s own descriptions are incredibly emotionally resonant, her family remains somewhat at a remove as a result of this choice.

Cahalan’s story is a real-life episode of House, complete with misdiagnoses and unsuccessful treatments.  One of her early doctors, assuming that she was lying in her medical history, estimated that she was drinking several bottles of wine per day, and was thus suffering from alcohol withdrawal and job-related stress. However, what is most incredible about Cahalan’s story is the number of pieces that had to fall into place in order for her tale to be inspirational rather than tragic (though it is frightening regardless). Cahalan is candid about how lucky she was to finally receive a correct diagnosis. Just three years earlier, no one would have known what was wrong with her, despite the fact that doctors believe her disease is not a new one. Even after the disease was discovered, only those up to date on the most current medical literature would have read about it. She also had medical insurance to cover her one million dollars of medical expenses, and a supportive family that fought to ensure that she received the best treatment when she was unable to advocate for herself.

Although the dark part of this tale is supposed to be the threat of misdiagnosis and slipping through the cracks of the system, another feature was more disturbing. Working beneath the surface of this narrative is an incredible fear of mental illness. Cahalan recounts incidents in which her parents positively bristle at the suggestion that she might be mentally ill or developmentally disabled. Yet in her case, and some others, it was the right thing for her parents to fight against a psychiatric diagnosis. After writing about her illness, Cahalan received letters from another family whose daughter was saved by their refusal to believe their child had schizophrenia after reading about NDMA autoimmune encephalitis. Despite the evident stigmatization of mental illness, Cahalan’s diagnosis also hints at the as-yet undiscovered physiological causes that may underlie some of these conditions, and perhaps ultimately lead to better treatments.

Heads in Beds

Cover image for Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky by Jacob Tomsky

eISBN 978-0-385-53564-9

That was the first time I heard the term ‘heart of the house,’ which refers to the back offices and hallways, the storage closets and freight elevators, the white-painted rooms filled with dirty off-white sheets to be cleaned, as opposed to the ‘front of the house,’ meaning the polished marble foyers, vacuumed Oriental rugs, gold-plated railings shined to perfection, and the lobby’s center table sagging with fresh-cut flowers that cost the hotel thousands of dollars a week.”

As a rootless military kid “Tommy Jacobs” was perfectly suited for the hospitality industry. Hotels provided the familiar sense of movement, but allowed him to stay in one place. Starting out in New Orleans as a valet, then a front desk agent, and finally a housekeeping manager, he learned the many ins and outs of the business. Initially bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and dreaming of becoming a general manager, the demands of middle management began the slow decline into disillusionment and drinking, so he dropped everything and moved to Europe for a year. When the money ran out, he moved to New York, and tried desperately to get any job outside of hospitality. But when the bills came due, back to hospitality he went, only to find that the New York hotel business was leaner and meaner than anything he experienced in laid-back New Orleans. Heads in Beds takes us into the “heart of the house,” allowing travelers to catch of glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors.

Tomsky offers helpful tips, hair-curling horror stories, and hilarious anecdotes in this no-holds-barred memoir. You’ll learn what to do and, more importantly, what not to do to ensure you receive the best service on your next hotel visit. There are a lot of things a hotel agent can do to make your visit better, but a complimentary bottle of wine or a free upgrade hardly compares to the subtle and imaginative vengeance an angry agent can exact upon you without ever leaving the front desk. While Tomsky dishes some anonymized dirt about quirky hotel guests, the bulk of the narrative concerns the hotel staff, such as the female co-worker who cornered him in the men’s room and forced him to sign the union card which later saved his job. He names only a couple of celebrities, and his attitude towards Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is almost paternal—protective rather than gossipy.

Woven into Tomsky’s more humourous tales are the darker notes of his job. He’s seen mean parents, bratty children, controlling spouses, and racist guests who expected his sympathy as they disdained coloured cab drivers. There are guests who don’t understand the difference between service agents and servants, and management companies that are hostile to unions. Tomsky simultaneously displays questionable ethics—this book will help you steal from the mini-bar, dispute your pay-per-view charges and acquire extra amenities—and admirable loyalty to his fellow hotel employees. This part of his book is more plea for respect for your fellow human beings than entertaining memoir, but it also lends greater substance to what would otherwise be a purely fluffy book of humour. You will definitely think twice about declining to tip a bellman or raising your voice to a desk agent on your next hotel visit, and the service industry will thank Tomsky for it.

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Already read and enjoyed Heads in Beds? Check out these other humourous memoirs: Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff and A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein.

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2013eclecticreaderThis title fulfills the Humour requirement for my participation in the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out. (Others may wish to use it to fulfill their memoir requirement).

 

A Queer and Pleasant Danger

Cover image for A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornsteinby Kate Bornstein

E-ISBN 978-0-8070-0166-0

“I don’t want to lie, so before I sat down to write the first full draft of this book, I got five words tattooed onto the back of my right hand. They’re done in white ink, with shadowing the colour of dried blood. They look like they’ve been carved into the back of my hand and health up as scars: I must not tell lies.”

To say Kate Bornstein has had an interesting life would be an understatement to the point of inanity. Yet Bornstein manages to  neatly sum up the basics in the subtitle of A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today. Of course, the reality is even more complicated. Along the way, Bornstein married a fellow Scientologist, and fathered a daughter who she hasn’t spoken to in thirty years.  And although she transitioned to, and lives as a woman, Bornstein conceives of herself as more of a “gender outlaw,” the title of one of her other works. Bornstein’s daughter and her children remain members of the Church of Scientology, so A Queer and Pleasant Danger is Bornstein’s way putting her story on the public record in case they ever want to find her. Luckily for the rest of us, we can all read this illuminating exploration of faith, gender and parenthood. Indeed, the only criticism I can offer of this book is that it occasionally feels as if we are intruding on Bornstein’s personal conversation with her daughter.

Bornstein’s journey through Scientology is in fact intimately tied up with issues of gender identity; the concept of being a genderless being called a thetan helped Bornstein find a modicum of relief from the confusion of our cultural gender binary. That said, A Queer and Pleasant Danger is not primarily a story of scepticism or religious doubt. Scientology was merely a stepping stone on Bornstein’s gender journey, but ultimately it was not able to offer answers or acceptance—Bornstein’s gender-bending behaviour was one of the factors that led to her departure from the Church. Nevertheless, it proves an interesting prism through which to examine issues of sex and gender.

Bornstein’s writing style is open and conversational, often running off into tangents and side stories. She speaks to the reader in a manner that is very similar to her It Gets Better video—open, honest, and funny, even about the dark things. Bornstein lays herself bare in sometimes excruciating detail in her quest to tell her story honestly. As she relates in the book, she had “I must not tell lies” (a Harry Potter reference) tattooed on the back of her hand before she began writing. Out of courtesy to the reader, she offers the option to skip over some of the more detailed portions, with the e-book providing a direct link to the next part for those who prefer to skip the smutty/gory details. Some of the sections—from suicidal ideation to cutting and sadomasochism—are difficult and potentially triggering reading, but it is that commitment to honesty that makes this book shine.

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2013eclecticreaderThis title fulfills the memoir requirement for my participation in the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out. (Others may wish to use it to fulfill their LGBT or humour requirements).

Top 5 Non-Fiction Reads of 2012

These are my favourite non-fiction titles read (not necessarily published) in 2012. Click the title for links to full reviews, where applicable. You can see my top 5 fiction titles for the year here.

Quiet (978-0307352149)

Cover image for Quiet by Susan CainThis title is at the top of a number of booklists for 2012 with good reason. Bookish folks, myself included, related powerfully to Susan Cain’s passionate message about the undervaluation of introversion in Western culture. The book cuts a broad swath, from outlining the rise of the extrovert ideal, to the psychological roots of introversion, to the perception of introversion in other cultures, to tips on how introverts and extroverts can work better together. Cain strips away the cultural stigma attached to introversion and examines the unique and underutilized skills of the quiet folks. This title was incredibly well written and researched, and Cain’s voice is passionate and compelling. You can watch Cain’s TED Talk on the power of introverts here.

Categories: Psychology

Joseph Anton (978-0812992786)

Cover Image for Joseph Anton by Salman RushdieSalman Rushdie thinks of himself first and foremost as a writer, but for over a decade, his life was dominated by disparate public perceptions stemming from the aftermath of the fatwa in which Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death sentence for the blasphemous contents of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie gives a compelling account of his struggles to hold on to his identity as a writer, and to continue to produce fiction under the incredibly trying circumstances of a protection. He filled many roles during this time, planning safe houses, engaging in free speech advocacy, lobbying the British government to intercede on his behalf, and struggling to secure a paperback edition of the book. I picked this book up because I admire Rushdie’s commitment to intellectual freedom, but I came away with much more respect for his integrity and determination as a writer, even as I felt I had seen the darkest and least flattering parts of the man.

Categories: Autobiography

The Portable Atheist (978-0306816086)

Cover Image for the Portable Atheist by Christopher HitchensStretching from Greek philosophy to contemporary humour and science writing, The Portable Atheist contains a broad selection of essays chronicling the evolution of atheist, agnostic and humanist thought in Western culture. The essays are selected and introduced by “New Atheist” writer Christopher Hitchens, but the pieces demonstrate that some of our currents ideas about atheism have very old roots indeed. This volume was slow, hefty reading, but extremely rewarding.

Categories: History, Philosophy

Elizabeth the Queen (978-0812979794)

Cover image for Elizabeth the Queen by  Sally Bedell SmithWhether you are a royalist, and abolitionist, or simply indifferent to the British royal family, Elizabeth Windsor has had a long and interesting life and reign, presiding over six decades of rapid change. Queen Elizabeth II is simultaneously one of the most public figures in the world, and yet intensely private, so it is fascinating to catch in glimpse into her world, particularly in a way that so humanizing. Sally Bedell Smith profiles the Queen with the same attention to detail she is known for in her previous works on the Kennedys and the Clintons. This title focuses on Elizabeth’s time as queen with little attention to her childhood, and the author is certainly friendly to her subject, but overall this was a well-written and informative read.

Categories: Biography

The Storytelling Animal (978-0547391403)

Cover Image for The Storytelling AnimalThe storytelling phenomenon appears across time and cultures, raising the questions of what purpose, if any, it serves in human evolution. Gottschall examines contexts in which our desire to impose narrative order on the world is useful (recognizing patterns) and detrimental (eyewitness testimony is unreliable due to the plasticity of memory). Dreams and daydreams, the pretend play of children, and the relationship between empathy and fiction are all examined in this brief and tantalizing introduction to the neuroscience behind our narrative impulses.

Categories: Literary Criticism, Science

 

Joseph Anton

Cover Image for Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdieby Salman Rushdie

ISBN: 978-0812992786

“Art was strong, artists less so. Art could, perhaps, take care of itself. Artists needed defenders. He had been defended by his fellow artists when he needed it. He would try to do the same for others in need from  now on, others who pushed boundaries, transgressed, and, yes, blasphemed; all those artists who did not allow men of power or the cloth to draw lines in the sand and order them not to cross.”

“When life was a series of crises and emergency solutions, it was normality that felt like a luxury—infinitely desirable, yet unobtainable.”

On Valentine’s Day 1989, British Indian author Salman Rushdie received not a valentine or a love letter, but a death sentence in the form of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini because his novel, The Satanic Verse (1988), had been deemed blasphemous by the Iranian theocracy. What followed was a decade under the protection of British special police, moving from house to house in armoured cars in constant fear of his life. The author Salman Rushdie disappeared into the persona of Joseph Anton, the alias he was forced to assume even in his own home. A combination of the names of Anton Chekov and Joseph Conrad seems appropriate, as Rusdhie takes us into his own personal heart of darkness. In the outside world, Salman Rushdie the author also disappeared, as the press constructed alternate images of a blasphemous infidel and cultural traitor or a brave hero struggling against censorship. Joseph Anton chronicles Rushdie’s struggle to hold on to his identity as a writer, even while his daily life was being consumed by the details of living under protection, fighting with the British government for assistance in having the fatwa lifted, and coping with his crumbling personal life.

The fatwa threatened to steal Rushdie’s voice, both as a writer and as his own defender. As a novelist, he struggled to continue writing when his hours were absorbed with the search for his next safe house, or struggling to arrange his next visit with his young son. Both he and his book were banned from his native India, the source of much of his inspiration. He feared that writing about India when he could not travel there would cause the setting to ring false. In terms of his self-defence, Rushdie was advised by many to keep silent, since his “unrepentant” attitude towards his novel was perceived as aggravating the situation. However, as chronicled in the pages of Joseph Anton, Rushdie came almost uniformly to regret those decisions which erred on the side of silence or compromise. Joseph Anton is unabashedly honest, even in the places where it reveals Rushdie’s darkest moments from blackest rage to morbid humour. If Rushdie is sure that he was right, he is equally certain that he was not always good during these years. After so many years of silence and repressing his opinions, they flood out here in full force. Some are vitriolic and uncharitable, but perhaps needed to be said.

As discussed in The Storytelling Animal, humans have a strong tendency to impose narrative order on our lives through storytelling. Rushdie performs this act quite deftly, demonstrating the split between Salman Rushdie and Joseph Anton by writing his memoir in the third person, in effect novelizing his life. Joseph Anton is a vast document, chronicling Rushdie’s early life in India, his British education, and his rise as a novelist, in addition to the years living under the fatwa. In size and scope, it is similar to many of his novels, broad and brimming with detail. The fatwa dragged on for many years, and it weighs, not inappropriately, on the narrative momentum as the days and years slip into one another. Real lives are messy and do not easily fit into the forms we prescribe for fiction. From a remove of twenty-plus years, Rushdie is also able to contextualize the events that followed the fatwa into the larger political and cultural conflicts that followed, noting that “the wars of ideology and culture were moving to the center of the stage. And his novel, unfortunately for him, would become a battlefield.”

What Joseph Anton decidedly is not is story of espionage. Although the security precautions and risk assessments—in the early years of the fatwa Rushdie fell only one level below the queen herself—necessarily play a part in the story, they are not as central as those outside the protection might expect. Rushdie notes that while the memories of his friends during that time were all of police officers and safety measures, the moments he clung to were the few bits of normalcy he was able to glean. Joseph Anton is a darkly affecting chronicle of a man who chose to be a father and writer, but who was also cast into the roles of villain, heretic and free speech advocate.

Are You My Mother?

Cover Image for Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdelby Alison Bechdel

ISBN 978-0618982509

In interviews about her first autobiographical comic, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel was often asked how her mother felt about the book, which revealed that her father was a closeted gay (or possibly bisexual) man who may have committed suicide after two significant family events; Bechdel came out as a lesbian, and her mother asked him for a divorce. Her newest book, Are You My Mother? is the extended answer to this much-asked question, as well as exploration of her overall relationship with her mother. Although her father is infrequently depicted in this sequel, his sexuality and his death, and Bechdel’s subsequent decision to write about them, loom over the narrative.

As in Fun Home, Bechdel makes unusually textual use of the graphic novel form. She painstakingly renders and even highlights typed pages, books, and computer screens. There are entire panels filled with text when there is too much for a caption. Literature and literary theory formed a core part of Bechdel’s development of her understanding of her sexuality in Fun Home, and in Are You My Mother? it is psychological theory which performs a similar role, framing the narrative and causing it to cohere. This is a more difficult task than in Fun Home, which was written after her father’s death, and on which Bechdel could retroactively impose order. Bechdel’s mother is still alive, and the process of writing a book about their relationship necessarily had an effect upon it. Bechdel also repeatedly casts her therapists as replacement mother-figures, further complicating the role of psychology in the narrative.

Bechdel’s mother uses the term “metabook” to describe Are You My Mother? and reviewers would be hard pressed to come up with a better description. As evidenced by this review (and many others), it is difficult to discuss one without reference to the other. It is indeed a book about the process and consequences of writing another book, and thus cannot be fully understood without having read Fun Home. This dependency is further complicated by the second sense in which it is a metabook; the process of writing Are You My Mother? itself is chronicled in these pages. As a standalone narrative, it coheres only loosely and relies too heavily on psychology and literature to give it form. However, for those who read Fun Home and wondered how and why someone would feel compelled to write about private family affairs, Are You My Mother? is required reading.