Fun Home.

Last month ktschwarz quoted Alison Bechdel’s use of obtunding in her widely praised graphic memoir Fun Home, adding:

Fun Home is in the genre of in-direct-conversation-with-Ulysses (her father’s favorite book), with the last chapter drawing multiple parallels between her/her father and Stephen/Bloom as relationships that are profoundly connected yet incomplete. Also in direct conversation with Fitzgerald, Camus, Colette, and many others including the Merriam-Webster and American Heritage dictionaries—look out for the appearance of the Appendix of Indo-European Roots in a sex scene.

When I expressed interest, kts was generous enough to send me a copy for the holidays, and having just finished it, I enthusiastically second all the praise and recommendations — it’s certainly one of the best books I’ll read all year, and of course its use of dictionaries makes it prime LH fodder. But in the note that accompanied the book ktschwarz wrote: “Can you spot the [dictionary] where she used artistic license and did *not* copy it exactly as it is?” Alas, the edition of the unabridged Websters in the book is neither the Third International that occupies a majestic place on my shelf nor the out-of-copyright one that’s available in full at Google Books, so I can only hope someone will enlighten me. And thanks again, kts!


  1. 2¢: Fun Home is great. Didn’t read Are You My Mother? And, The Secret to Superhuman Strength is quite a letdown.

  2. A few years ago* a translation of Ulysses was published in Bulgarian.

    * 18? O.K… Time flies.

  3. Didn’t read Are You My Mother?

    I’m hoping I get a chance to do that.

  4. I admit it was one of my favorite books when I was young, but…

    (The plot summary in the wiki contains significantly more words than the book.)

  5. Glad you enjoyed it! See also Stan Carey’s post on “eighty-six”, with the page where Bechdel passes on the story deriving it from a bar at 86 Bedford Street in Manhattan, which is not true; can’t blame Bechdel, though, since she is just quoting the American Heritage Dictionary (*they* should have known better). As I commented at Stan’s post, I love how every written word quoted in the book is a material object, with typefaces and handwriting traced, linebreaks reproduced exactly, and often with pages curved and hands holding the book in frame. You can tell from the linebreaks that she is indeed reading her father’s old copy of Ulysses, not the corrected and re-set edition that was in bookstores when she was in college.

    The “mammoth” family dictionary is, as you guessed, Merriam-Webster’s Second Unabridged; on Bechdel’s own blog, she tells how she once met AHD’s Patrick Taylor and Steve Kleinedler, who “were able to ascertain with a few questions that it was the Second.” I’m sure it was the prominence of dictionaries in this memoir that got her invited onto AHD’s Usage Panel.

    (The Second Unabridged is from the 1930s, at a nadir of text availability. Fortunately, I live near a university library that has it, so I could confirm the page. Seven more years until it’s out of copyright.)

  6. So where was the artistic license? I’m all ears!

  7. By that I meant the third featured dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate from the 1960s, which is where the shorter definitions come from. Like the others, this one is drawn with absolute fidelity, except for one panel: the definition of lesbian, where the caption narrates, “I first learned the word due to its alarming prominence in my dictionary,” drawing it as a guide word at the top of the page — but in that edition it wasn’t, it was almost a quarter of a page down from the top. It *was* a guide word in M-W’s previous Collegiate edition, from the 1950s, but with a different definition. Maybe she had a strong memory of the older one, but only had the 1960s one for visual reference?

    (Dictionaries do make slight changes between printings — Kory Stamper’s podcast has the ugly details — but changes to pagination would be extremely unlikely. I searched for any other printings of the Seventh to see if there were any differences, but all the ones I could find were the same.)

    And this is a great caption to another panel drawn from the same dictionary:

    I didn’t need to know phonetics to recognize the approximant liquid of that “or,” the plosive “ga,” the fricative “z,” or the labial, nasal, sigh of the final “um.”

    She may not have known phonetics as a teenager, but she does now: all 6 technical terms there are correct!

  8. Thanks!

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    ktschwarz’s Jan. 17 post prompts me to ask the denizens of the Hattery a practical question. I am in possession of my father’s purchased-as-an-undergraduate (late 1950’s) copy of Ulysses, which I read of my own volition in high school and then took away with me to college where it was on the syllabus for a class I took freshman year. Its binding has recently collapsed. I am thus interested in recommendations for any artisan in the NYC metro area who might competently re-bind it (enough to be functional, not necessarily to look pretty or good-as-new), recognizing up front that this would almost certainly cost more than the cost of the nicest currently-in-print copy I could find and would thus be an expenditure motivated purely by sentimental concerns. I feel like 20-odd years ago there was a place fairly high up Lexington Ave. that looked like it did that sort of thing but I would not bet much money on it still being in business at the same location.

  10. Good lord, the world is chock full of coincidences. Forty years or so ago I myself had a purchased-as-an-undergraduate (late 1960’s) copy of Ulysses, whose binding collapsed after being thrown in anger by a person other than myself, who then repented and had it rebound. Alas, I fear whatever NYC artisan did the job is likely no longer practicing. But surely there is such another…

  11. i feel like i should know an nyc bookbinder to recommend, but i don’t. however, the need for one came up in another context entirely recently (reassembling a book that was unbound to be scanned for a reprint edition), so i’ll be asking around, and will do my best to remember to report back in here if i find someone!

  12. Once again the Hattery hangs together to promote the greater good.

  13. John Cowan says

    A friend-of-a-friend recommends Judith Ivry, 25 East 4th St., 5th floor, just around the corner from me. The contact page says: “By appointment only. Phone: 212-677-1015, Email:

  14. thanks, JC!

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