In her stunning 2017 debut Her Body and Other Parties – a dreamlike collection of cryptic fairytales, blending beautiful prose with urban legends and horror stories – Carmen Maria Machado delivers incisive commentary on navigating the world in women’s bodies. Her 2019 memoir In The Dream House delves into the dystopian world of domestic abuse in queer partnerships, screaming into the archival silence and breaking new ground in the form.
For Electric Lit’s Read More Women series, Machado selected five books by women authors that most impacted her life and work. From Shirley Jackson’s haunting Hill House to an exploration of society’s suppression of women’s lit, find Machado’s recommended reading list below. Complement with the bookshelves of Margaret Atwood, N.K. Jemisin, Ursula K. Le Guin and Roxane Gay.
The Haunting of Hill House by 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.)” -CMM
How to Suppress Women’s Writing by 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.)” -CMM
Mama Day by 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.” -CMM
Stranger Things Happen by 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.” -CMM
Tender by 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!)” -CMM
(via Electric Lit)