Jeanette Winterson requests “Dykes” for herself

on reader notshane tipped us off to a post on Alison Bechdel’s blog that pointed to a very funny Jeanette Winterson anecdote about buying The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.

Jeanette Winterson, you recall, is the out lesbian author who wrote, among other things, both book and screenplay for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. (Yes, I know these are vegetables.)

In a recent column for The Times, Winterson recalls that she decided to order four copies of Essential Dykes from her local bookshop, the Borzoi, in Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire. Although the UK has its share of large, all-you-can-read bookstores, the Borzoi is one of those quaint charmers that you see in movies such as 84 Charing Cross Road, “full of retired gentry piling up their biographies of Churchill and taking home multiple copies of Niall Ferguson. Even as I went through the door, some chap was booming away about ordering the Schofield Bible and had they got that ‘Mitford thingy?’” (Yes, this is my second reference to the Mitfords in a week.)

Winterson was a bit nervous about asking for Essential Dykes to Watch Out For in such a genteel setting and so, she said, “I lurked in the poetry section until there was a lull, then I babbled my request.”

The shop did not have the title in stock and wanted to clarify the title. Dykes? Naturally, “at that moment a dozen colonels’ wives appeared at once.” A fast-thinking clerk said, “I will find that book about HOLLAND for you.” And a few days later, she got the message that her books on “Holland” were in and waiting under the counter, in a bag, for her to pick up.

“I went and collected my dykes,” Winterson said, “and just to save face ordered a vastly expensive print-on-demand copy of Ted Hughes Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being … so that I too could boom a title over the counter.”


Winterson goes on to say that she is known as the “homosexual authoress (the only one in the village)” in her town. “I suppose I should be writing racy novels in a tweed skirt and brogues, but then everybody else around here wears those.”

Reading Winterson’s column reminded me how much I love her writing. And remembering to read an author I love is a great way to start the new year.

On a personal note, Winterson’s father passed away Dec. 29. She wrote a warm and thought-provoking tribute to him for her personal website. We wish Winterson peace during this challenging time.

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