Across the Page: 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

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This month’s Across the Page features new books by the

iconic cartoonist Alison Bechdel, nature poet Mary Oliver, and writer and

performance artist Miranda July, to help complete your holiday gift guide.

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel (Houghton

Mifflin)

For your friends who are still mourning the end of Alison

Bechdel’s classic series, pick up the newly released The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. This beautifully bound

collection features sixty of the newest unpublished strips with selections from

the previous eleven volumes.

Dykes to Watch Out For

has been syndicated in fifty newspapers over the last twenty-five years. The Essential includes an inspiring

introduction by Bechdel and a hilarious Index &#8212 with graphics, of course &#8212 that

references everything from “Beefcakes” to “Golf, Lesbian Predilection for,” and

“Oxford Cloth Fetish.”

Bechdel’s introduction opens with the line “Good God” and

reveals how and why she began the strip back in the early eighties.She describes pushing through the pile of

rejection letters (including a pointed one from the poet Adrienne Rich) to

develop her voice and craft.

Bechdel charts how she moved from a basic desire to

“capture” the people that so engaged her in New York City to the comfort she

found in seeing “my queer life reflected back” on the page to the fear that in

her attempt to represent she has made lesbians seem “conventional”

or &#8212 gasp &#8212 “boring.”

In the end, Bechdel poses the question to the reader: “Have

I churned out episodes of this comic strip every two weeks for decades merely

to prove that we’re the same as everyone else?”

I tend to agree with Rich, who later became of fan of

Bechdel and describes Dykes to Watch Out

For
as work that explores the humanity of a community long disregarded &#8212 with

humor, insight and intelligence.

The Essential Dykes to

Watch Out For
is absolutely addicting.

Whether you came of age alongside the motley crew of friends featured in

Bechdel’s strip or you’re meeting them for the first time, it’s impossible to

stop reading their stories of politics, work, sex, and love.

The Truro

Bear and Other Adventures
by Mary Oliver (Beacon)

Lesbian poet Mary Oliver’s exceptional new collection, The Truro Bear and Other Adventures,

features thirty-five of her most well-known poems, two short essays, and ten

new poems.

Oliver has won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize

for Poetry, and is one of the best-selling poets in the country.She has published seventeen books of poetry,

five books of prose, including one with photographs, and an audio book.

As with most of Oliver’s work, the pieces featured in The Truro Bear and Other Adventures

focus on nature and animals. The speaker

in many of the poems struggles for connection and to understand his or her

place in the world.

The poem, “Toad,” begins with the hauntingly simple line “I

was walking by.He was sitting

there.” The speaker reveals its thoughts

about the world to the Toad &#8212 “About this cup/ we call a life” &#8212 and wonders aloud

how their perspectives must be different.

He might

have been Buddha &#8212 did not move, blink, or frown,

not a tear

fell from those gold-rimmed eyes as the refined

anguish of

language passed over him.

In the poem “Coyote in the Dark, Coyotes Remembered,” the

speaker tells of an afternoon when it overheard two voices in the woods and was

“thrilled/ to be granted this secret,/ that the coyotes, walking together/ can

talk together.”

Even when it turns out that the voices actually came from

two women, the speaker holds to this moment of faith:

And it has

stayed with me

as a

present once given is forever given.

Easy and

happy, they sounded,

those two

maidens of the wilderness

from which

we have &#8212

who knows

to what furious, pitiful extent &#8212

banished

ourselves.

The expansive poem, “The Summer Day,” begins with the line

“Who made the world” and ends with the personal: “Tell me, what is it you plan

to do/ with your one wild and precious life.”

The world seems to slow down in these poems as Oliver takes

a closer look at everything we’re too busy to see, let alone appreciate.

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