Books I Have Been Reading: Books By Ladies About Ladies That Other Ladies Told Me To Read Edition


Kate Z first told me to read Bhanu Kapil a million years ago when I was working as an office manager for conceptual poets and I couldn’t bring myself to do it because the word “experimental” made me think immediately of people not paying their bills on time whilst the office manager wept and pulled her hair out by the roots, etc., but then J gave me Treinte Ban this last winter and I read it all in one huge greedy gulp and of course Kate Z was correct and Bhanu Kapil is not that kind of “experimental” at all. Right now I am reading Christine's copy of The Buddhist and I just got to the part where Dodie Bellamy talks about being jealous of Bhanu Kapil, how she was talking to an acquaintance who had just seen Bhanu and how he lit up, his whole being, when he was talking about her, how “people get this far away look in their eyes, like they’re in love” when they talk about her: “and every time it happens I feel jealous, and then I feel pangs of guilt for feeling so petty, because I myself love Bhanu.” “If I were a loving person,” Dodie Bellamy says, “people would glow when my name was mentioned,” and it made me laugh (“you’re difficult but loving,” her partner says, and that made me laugh too) because, you know. Sarah is very assertive, but the sound of her name does not make people glow. Anyway that doesn't have anything to do with Bhanu Kapil's books, which are brilliant. I read Treinte Ban and then Humanimal and then Schizophrene and then Incubation and then Ban or Banlieue, and I also read this great conversation between Jenny Zhang and Sofia Samatar and Kate Zambreno and Amina Cain and Douglas Martin at the Believer, and Bhanu Kapil's books are very useful if you are a girl trying to find a way to write about monsters or not write about monsters or write around monsters or become a monster, and they are useful also for people who are negotiating borders and crossings. How to make a book that is more than a book and also not a book. You don’t have to read them all but I think you should.

Elana Arnold
200pp. Carolrhoda Books.

Kelly told me to read Infandous and she was also correct and if you like girls and really fucked-up fairytales--and who are you kidding, those of you who are still reading this blog regularly after five years (!!) (wait, is it six? who knows), obviously you like girls and really fucked-up fairytales or you wouldn’t be here--you will find her to be correct as well. I have this Thing with LA Girlhoods that is obviously rooted in but not solely explained by Weetzie Bat, to the extent that I assumed when I went to LA last summer that I would find my Spiritual Home and be obliged to move there like everyone else from New York, and it turns out I don’t like the real LA at all but I still quite enjoy reading about it, and Infandous is like a dream-date mashup of FLB and White Oleander as narrated by a surf-rat working-class Lolita (I KNOW!!! At least one person reading this just totally freaked out, right). Here you will find a liberal dose of the best, creepiest bits of the Metamorphoses (a lady after my own heart, clearly!!! And here I was thinking I was the only person who loves the super-charming bloodbath that is the story of Procne and Philomela), good art, sketchy sex, difficult charismatic supermodel moms, and peacing out on the beach. My only complaint about Infandous is that it is not, like, 500 pages longer, because I could read about tough heartbroken scrapper Sephora Golding all week.

Caitlin Kiernan
The Drowning Girl
352pp. Roc.

Sofia told me to read The Drowning Girl and you should always listen to Sofia about everything and you should also read her book, and then all the books she tells you to read, because spoiler alert! Sofia is a genius. I didn’t read The Drowning Girl and Infandous back-to-back, I read a lot of things in between them, but I think they would make a nice pairing, like bourbon and bad decisions, or maybe bourbon and expensive cheese on a day you are feeling tame and placid. Anyway The Drowning Girl is bigger and sadder than Infandous but it is interested in the same kinds of questions and the same kinds of fairytales and the same kinds of darkness, and it is also difficult and beautiful and does not lend itself to easy characterization or tidy resolutions, and it’s about girls doing girl things like surviving and falling in love with each other and being legit crazy and trying to negotiate how you go around in a world that does not love or hold space for girls or crazy people. It also has mermaids in it. And unreliable narrators. Did I write about this one already? I can't remember, which feels appropriate.

Marie Redonnet
Forever Valley
117pp. University of Nebraska.

Anna told me to read Forever Valley, which is also the best kind of fairytale, which is to say pitch-black and creepy as all hell and full of bad men and worse women and a Young Girl who is not really what she seems, all told in a cool deadpan voice stripped so completely of metaphor that it becomes itself a kind of poetry. "In the end, the father knows nothing at all about the dead. He is depending on me. He must think I have a plan since it is my project. He is wrong, I don’t have a plan. But I have my instincts. And it is better to have instincts than to have a plan."

Saidiya Hartman
Venus in Two Acts

Mairead told me to read this one. "Unfortunately I have not discovered a way of deranging the archive so that it might recall the content of a girl’s life or reveal a truer picture, nor have I succeeded in prying open the dead book, which sealed her status as commodity. The random collection of details of which I have made use are the same descriptions, verbatim quotes, and trial transcripts that consigned her to death and made murder 'not much noticed,' at least, according to the surgeon. The promiscuity of the archive begets a wide array of reading, but none that are capable of resuscitating the girl." Like standing next to a blazing fire: it hurts, but it has the power to reshape you.