Review: Her Body and Other Parties

I have heard all the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them…

If I had to summarize Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection in one word, it would be haunting. I’ve never read anything like most of these stories, which is really exciting as a big reader (my fellow big readers can attest to this feeling). Her stories are imaginative and diverse across subjects, but she always connects back to the female body. The female body is presented as the site of erasure, manipulation, motherhood, sexuality, and abuse to name a few examples.


Photo by Eshani Surya

The collection opens with one of her most popular pieces, The Husband Stitch, which was widely read and shared over social media earlier this year. Her story brought awareness of a medical practice to the mainstream when it had otherwise been erased. The ‘husband stitch’ refers to a practice where husbands/doctors either request or suggest a tightening of the women’s anatomy after the birth of a child (if you want to read more click here). This story sets the tone for the rest of the collection as a fairy tale, horror, Gothic-esque assemblage. There are plagues, dead rabbits, and overall strange happenings. My favourite piece in the collection is called “Inventory”. The narrator provides a list of her sexual partners and context to those sexual encounters during the slow spread of a plague.

Machado has also been nominated for a Shirley Jackson award in three categories (Novelette, Short Fiction, and Single-author collection). I would recommend this collection to anyone who feels like they need some more surrealist female/queer fiction in their lives (which should really be all of us).

The Violent Bear it Away

The world was made for the dead. Think of all the dead there are… There’s a million times more dead than living and the dead are dead a million times longer than the living are alive…

Flannery O’Connor has always been one of my favourite authors. She’s the queen of the Southern Gothic and at one time, she had fifty peacocks on her property. She wrote two novels, over thirty stories and hundreds of book reviews before she passed away from Lupus at the age of thirty-nine.

Flannery O’Connor with two of her peacocks.

I read her short story A Good Man is Hard to Find when I was ten years old (maybe a little too young for such a bleak and violent story) but I fell in love with the dissonance she can create between good and evil. Likewise, The Violent Bear it Away investigates the divide between secularism and fundamentalism, as well as the racial politics which would have been particularly tense the the Southern states in the 1960s. What I find truly remarkable about O’Connor’s work is that the characters that often seem the most rational are the serial killers, the criminals and the liars.

Flannery O’Connor in front of her self portrait

In The Violent Bear it Away, we meet Francis Marion Tarwater, a young boy whose first challenge is dealing with the corpse of his recently deceased great uncle. This is the corpse of a man who stole him from his guardian as a child and brought him up to believe that he was a prophet, effectively nullifying any chance at a normal childhood. When Old Mason dies, Tarwater is unofficially adopted by the uncle he was snatched from. This uncle has fathered his own child named Bishop who is a little younger than Tarwater. It’s important to note that Bishop most likely has Down Syndrome and that his treatment and portrayal are pretty horrific. Bishop becomes the main recipient of Tarwater’s abuse and religious ramblings, as Tarwater becomes obsessed with the idea of baptizing Bishop and to save his soul. Tarwater is the novel’s main character, but he cannot be considered a hero or even a likeable character. Tarwater continually tries save the souls of those around him, despite his uncles best attempts to reform him. As is typical in O’Connor’s fiction, no one really sees redemption in the end, but instead, a grim worsening of their condition.


A Year in Book Reviews

This was probably my best reading year ever. I finished my English Lit degree and suddenly had full control of my reading time. Since it got so cold this year over the holidays, I ended up reading more than usual and managed to beat my reading goal for the year by finishing 60 books. I discovered some new favourite authors like Ali Smith and Kazuo Ishiguro. I read more books from some old favourite authors like Helen Oyeyemi, Susan Hill and Jeanette Winterson. Some of these books made me cry my eyes out, others gave me major creeps, but all of them were amazing. Here’s what I read this year and here’s to another year of amazing books.

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July’s Thrifty Book Buys

I’m a BIG fan of books and I’m an even bigger fan of used books on sale. A lot of my books come from scouring the Good Will, Fair’s Fair books, or Better World Books (I have a blurb about them at the end of this post). There are a couple in this pile that I’d almost bought for full price over the last few months, but I managed to snag all of these for under eighteen dollars! Here’s what I got:

cat and books.jpg

Hundreds and Thousands: the journals of an artist – Emily Carr

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Amsterdam – Ian McEwan

Moloka’i – Adam Brennert

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

Jazz – Toni Morrison

Skin Divers – Anne Michaels

Himself – Jess Kidd

Of Bees and Mist – Erick Setiawan

One my favourite book retailers is, a not-for-profit started by a few friends from college. The concept is that for every book you buy, one book is donated to someone in need through hundreds of different charities and organizations (talk about validating my book obsession with charity). They support of ton of local libraries around the world and they even tell you which library your purchase will be supporting. Not to mention they’ve have worldwide free shipping and almost every book on the planet. Definitely check them out!

Pictured is my cat (AKA Peanut) who loves to read almost much as I do, and usually over my shoulder.

an unconventional (and unorganized) summer of reading

jwRight now, I’m between degrees and only working in the archives part time, which means that I have more time for myself than I’ve had in years. The biggest trademark of my English degree was the way it structured my reading and not always in great ways (hello, Chaucer) but now I have full freedom to choose what I want to read and when. This is the perfect opportunity to work through my unruly TBR pile that has been steadily growing for years. Since at any given moment I’m either reading a book, looking for books or talking about books (sorry), I want to document them all in one place and keep myself accountable to keep going. I’ll be posting reviews and musings about the books I read, and I’ll also be using the public library as much as possible to save both my bank account and my poor overworked bookshelves. Please send me all of your book recommendations too! I’d love to know what you’re reading.

What I’ve read so far this summer (fun fact: 9 start with the prefix the)

  • The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse
  • Little Sister – Barbara Gowdy
  • Restlessness – Aritha van Herk
  • I’m the King of the Castle – Susan Hill
  • Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
  • The Romantic – Barbara Gowdy
  • The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The World According to Garp – John Irving
  • The Bear – Clare Cameron
  • The Girls – Emma Cline
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson
  • The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  • Even this page is white – Vivek Shraya

Fiction I need to read (fun fact: only 11 begin with the but 3 are about birds!)

  • The woman who gave birth to rabbits – Emma Donoghue
  • The Afterlife of Birds – Elizabeth Philips
  • The Genius of Birds – Elizabeth Philips.
  • The End of the Story -Lydia Davis
  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  • Villette – Charlotte Brontë
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison
  • Ulysses – James Joyce
  • Astray – Emma Donoghue
  • The Back of the Turtle -Thomas King
  • The Waves – Virginia Woolf
  • The Studhorse man – Robert Kroetsch
  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  • Swing Time – Zadie Smith
  • Ophelia’s Muse – Rita Cameron
  • Agnes Gray – Anne Brontë
  • The obituary Writer – Ann Hood
  • Moonglow – Michael Chabon
  • Angela’s ashes – Frank McCourt
  • The Break – Katherena Vermette
  • The way the crow flies – Ann-Marie McDonald
  • Son of a Trickster – Eden Robinson
  • Moshi Moshi – Banana Yoshimoto
  • Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon – Nicole Brossard
  • Ana, Historic – Daphne Marlatt
  • Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
  • The Falls – Joyce Carol Oates

Poetry I need to read:

  • Nets – Jen Bervin
  • Recyclopedia – Haryette Mullen
  • Joy Kagawa – A Garden of Anchors

Non-fiction/biography I need to read:

  • Shirley Jackson, A Rather Haunted Life – Ruth Franklin
  • Virginia Woolf, A Biography – Hermione Lee
  • Charlotte Brontë – Clare Harman
  • Anais Nin, A Biography – Deirdre Bair
  • Bad Feminist – Roxanne Gay
  • How to Build a Woman – Caitlin Moran

This list is probably about one hundredth of the books I want to read, but it’s a good start! Please send me book recommendations (especially for new poetry). I’m always up for something new!