Book Reviewlets: The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

You, like me, were wondering. Every night, the salty breezes blowing across the bow of your yacht. Wondering while savoring the peaty elmish notes of scotch.

Scratching your chin stubble and wondering.

What’s the best way to relive the Iraq War?

Through Rachel Maddow’s and Errol Morris’s investigative cinematic journalism?

Through dinner parties where everyone comes dressed as their favorite CNN hologram?

Through nightmares of Abu Graib?

Man. What a bummer. Except for the hologram.

Thinker for Hire, are CNN holograms the only answer?! They CAN’T BE?!?!

They’re not, young sailor.

Alison Bechdel is the answer. Often the only answer.

You guys, I’m neither queer nor graphic. Neither a dyke nor essential. Nothing to watch out for around here.

But this book is such a gift—for me, for you, for everyone we know.

Now, I’m somewhat sure that most of you aren’t all that keen to live through the Bush II years. The torture revelations. The butchery of our language. The sense of endless, inevitable war that would only compound global insecurity. The disillusionment about the long-term viability of hip hop.

Nothing at all like the Obama years.

But Bechdel’s work, a compilation of decades of her famous comic strip, rewrites those years as a blip. A spike in the long tail of political history. And what’s most remarkable about this compilation is how nattily it outlines our intellectual, political, and economic history since the 80s, while building a community of friends around me helping me cope with it all.

Bechdel’s characters seem like my own friends: academics, activists, bookstore workers, students. Folks genuinely depressed about the state of the world but nonetheless able to muster enough optimism to fall in love. Couples that cheat, marry, break up, procreate, and roll their eyes at each other’s florid neuroses/radical lefty rants/laments about not getting laid. Couples that stay together. Couples that don’t. Not necessarily in that order.

The comics form is episodic and sprawling. Narratively modular, creatively chronological. By the requirements of the form. But Bechdel’s comic strip, as compiled in this book, feels much more like a novel than I expected. A queer generational novel, following the travails of the characters’ chosen family as they deal with their social milieu–in this case, the cultural transitions from essentialist queer radical dyke culture to the spectrums of sexuality and gender. Politics from Reagan to Clinton to Bush. Economics from the  indie bookstore to “Bunz and Noodle” and whatever funny way she euphemized Amazon.com. (I rushed so fast through the story I forgot so many jewels!)

Protagonist Mo, the Bechdel stand-in, rants better than me. And I have some practice. She also kvetches better than me. She also manages her disdain of academia better than me–having partnered with a professor who manages to be significantly to the right of her, politically. And kind of insufferable, syntactically. A lot of jargon, I’m saying. Mo is my favorite.

So what I really want to say about this book is that, though it’s comics, it reads like a novel I could not put down. It layers enough visual complexity to shame my logocentric desire for narrative resolution into resting my gaze on a picture once in a while. It’s really, really smart. And it’s frickin hilarious.

Seriously. Anyone who thinks that feminists aren’t funny sh0uld be exiled to an island with nothing to read but Dykes to Watch Out For and their own laments scrawled in sand.

I laughed out loud. Alone in a room. Frequently.

Queer, straight, cis, trans, Asian, white, Latin@, black. Even the neurotic effeminate straight Jewish dude in your life (in the book, he’s named Stu): all of you will love this book.

And this review is my my love letter to the person who bought me this book for Valentine’s Day. Thank you.

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One thought on “Book Reviewlets: The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

  1. […] the misty distance of zero years, it’s time for us to revisit, once more, the Iraq war […]

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