Alison Bechdel: TOP TEN BOOKS


Photo courtesy of Michael Sharkey

Certifiable genius Alison Bechdel (she won the MacArthur “Genius” Award in 2014,) is an American cartoonist best known for the beloved syndicated strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For.” Her contribution also includes the Bechdel Test, which measures gender bias in film. After putting the long-running “Dykes to Watch Out For” on hiatus, Bechdel released the graphic memoir Fun Home, later adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical in 2015. In 2021, she published a long-anticipated follow-up memoir, The Secret to Superhuman Strength.

Below are Alison Bechdel’s favorite books, available to purchase as a set or individually.


Mansfield Park

Jane Austen
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.
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The Price of Salt

Patricia Highsmith
This has been on my list forever, but it’s been getting a lot of attention lately because of Todd Haynes’ 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.
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The Night Watch

Sarah Waters
I love all of Sarah Waters’ historical fiction but this is my favorite novel, set during and after WWII. 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.
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Martin Bauman: Or, A Sure Thing

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.
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Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

Audre Lorde
I read this in my early twenties 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.
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Edward Gorey
This is actually is fifteen 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.
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The Dharma Bums

Jack Kerouac
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.
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To The Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf
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.
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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.
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Harriet the Spy

Louise Fitzhugh
I found this really unnerving when I first read it at age eight. 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.
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