5 Incredible Books by Women That Influenced Carmen Maria Machado
The author of “Her Body and Other Parties” makes her picks for our Read More Women series
Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties was shortlisted for a National Book Award despite being a debut short story collection—and as soon as you read her first story, “The Husband Stitch,” you’ll understand why. The collection is beautifully atmospheric and weird, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking—and full of knife-sharp commentary on living as a woman in the world. (Electric Literature’s most-read story of 2017 was an essay about “The Husband Stitch” and the way women are consistently gaslighted.) If you like eerie, slightly magical fiction that disregards the boundaries of the plausible, or if you love books with a bull’s-eye understanding of feminism, you’ll love it—and you’ll also love Machado’s five picks for Read More Women.
Read More Women is Electric Literature’s series, presented in collaboration with MCD Books, in which we feature prominent authors, of any gender, recommending books by women and non-binary writers. Twice a month, you’ll hear about the five non-male authors who most influence, edify, and delight your favorite writers.
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
Forget the schlocky, sentimental ending of the Netflix series; The Haunting of Hill House is chilling, gorgeous, devastatingly real, and has an utterly fearless relationship with its genre. The perfect novel is one of the rarest beasts around, but here — sentence by sentence, brick by brick — Shirley Jackson built it. (Arguably, she did it twice — We Have Always Lived in the Castle is its own massive achievement — but Hill House is still my favorite.)
How to Suppress Women’s Writing, Joanna Russ
The only work of nonfiction on this list, and a book that, in a just world, would be assigned in every writing, literature, and art class, and handed to every single high school and college graduate. Here, Joanna Russ clearly and articulately lays out the ways in which culture devalues women’s art and cites generations of women writers along the way. It’s one of the most elegant books of feminist criticism I’ve ever read, and I return to it often. (You can read a longer essay I wrote about this book here.)
Mama Day, Gloria Naylor
A teacher handed me a copy of Mama Day when I was a teenager, and — to put it mildly — I was not ready. Some of it tapped into narrative pleasures I already loved: multi-generational stories, dark forces, mysterious illnesses. Some of it created new obsessions: magic, fictional islands, tragic endings. Some of it went right over my head. (Shockingly, at fifteen I didn’t quite have a grasp on the perils and pitfalls of trying to be a modern woman.) But there’s no doubt that Naylor’s witchy and beautiful novel created a desire in me to write stories that evoke such a singular mood, hypnotic and unforgettable.
Stranger Things Happen, Kelly Link
When I was a baby writer, a friend recommended I check out Kelly Link’s stories, and it changed my life. I don’t mean that hyperbolically: if you are a reader who loves my work, you have Kelly Link’s mind-bending, genre-smashing, so-good-you-want-to-die fiction to thank. An entire generation of female fabulists have been profoundly influenced by her, and she was also my gateway drug into some of my other favorite authors: Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber), Kathryn Davis (Duplex), Shirley Jackson (Haunted of Hill House), and so many others.
Tender, Sofia Samatar
2017 might seem like a pretty recent year for a book to have influenced me, but Sofia Samatar has been publishing these stories in magazines for ages, and they haven’t lost an ounce of their magic or eeriness. Samatar is best known for her secondary-world fantasy duology A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, but this collection of short stories occupies a different, more liminal space. Samatar’s keen and nimble mind, gorgeous sentences, and incredible imagination are on full display here; she balances beauty and horror in a way that thrills and inspires me. If you love Helen Oyeyemi (What is Not Yours is Not Yours), Karen Russell (St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves), or Kij Johnson (At the Mouth of the River of Bees), you need this book. (Bonus: It was published by Small Beer Press, owned by Kelly Link and her husband, Gavin Grant. They publish tons of amazing fiction, much of it by women. Check them out!)