Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Samantha Irby is one of the most mentioned authors in Shelf Life—all three of her essay collections (Wow, No Thank You, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and Meaty) make other authors laugh out loud. No doubt you’ve read her (Lizzo profile for Time, maybe?), but if not, get a sense of her vibe from her Bitches Gotta Eat! blog or substack, where she recaps reality court show Judge Mathis episodes, lists work distractions (a fourth essay collection is scheduled for a spring 2023 release), and chronicles the slow decaying of her body.
Born and raised in Evanston, Illinois and based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the New York Times-bestselling author and Lambda Literary Award winner is a writer’s room habitué, having written for HBO Max’s And Just Like That, Hulu’s Shrill (the “Pool” episode); Showtime’s Work in Progress; and Adult Swim’s Tuca & Bertie (voiced by Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong), the third season of which premiered this month.
She worked at an animal hospital for 14 years, has been in a Warby Parker campaign, is an Aquarius, was a USA Today crossword puzzle answer, has a dog named Abe among many pets, and a tattoo of a Chicago hot dog among many tattoos.
Likes: Jo Malone, Drunk Elephant, and beauty products in general, print magazines, Zingerman’s pimento cheese, room temperature salad. Loves: Dave Matthews, fish. Dislikes: Moderating book group, traveling, wine.
Good at: Making playlists. Bad at: Drawing.
The book that:
…kept me up way too late:
Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna. I saw this on a shelf at my local bookstore and bought it based on the title/cover alone. I love a thriller, and this one is good as hell, and Louisa somehow created the most interesting and compelling hero/heroine duo I’ve ever read. There are three books in the series (so far!), and I am desperate for more.
…made me weep uncontrollably:
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. Oh man, ripped my heart right out of my chest.
…I recommend over and over again:
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder. Love a hot book about hot babes loving each other and feeding each other that is also heartbreaking and hilarious.
…currently sits on my nightstand:
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. I’m a third of the way through and I really love it, my favorite kind of book is the kind where normal people are doing normal stuff like eating food and texting their friends and getting into ~situations~ and Emma writes that exceptionally well.
…I’d pass on to a kid:
Cheeky by Ariella Elovic. It’s a full-color graphic memoir written and illustrated by a hilarious young woman about her body and all the weird and gross ways she has to grapple with it. I wish I’d had it while growing up!
…I’d gift to a new graduate:
Getting to Center by Marlee Grace. Mar is a dancer and quilter and teacher who writes beautifully about developing your own personal practices and is just generally a good advice-giver for anyone trying to live a creative life.
…I last bought:
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley. Teenage girls writing books that get Thee Oprah Winfrey’s attention??????? HOW COULD I NOT.
…has the best title:
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder. I MEAN, COME ON.
…made me laugh out loud:
Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen. Is this dude maybe the funniest writer alive? Probably! I’ve read everything he’s written and it’s all screwball hilarity, I am an evangelist for the comedy stylings of Carl Hiaasen. And I’ve never even been to Florida, so that’s saying something.
…describes a house I’d want to live in:
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. This book was my first experience with magical realism and I remember being totally floored when I read it in high school.
…should be on every college syllabus:
Weird in a World That’s Not by Jennifer Romolini. Honestly I didn’t go to college so please do not take a single word of academic advice from me, but this book teaches you some of the stuff about jobs that you’re never gonna learn in school, like how to deal with shitty office politics and awkward networking events. It’s an indispensable guide to navigating a workplace as a young weirdo!
…I’ve re-read the most:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I’m absolutely obsessed with this book, still. I remember starting it while living in my friend’s guestroom one summer and totally opting out of all of our plans so I could stay home and read. I’m a real dumbass, so I absolutely did not see the twist coming and believe I shattered my bottom jaw against my breastplate when it was revealed.
…I consider literary comfort food:
Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult. I feel like people clown these kinds of books or pretend it’s not cool to like them? Which is probably veiled misogyny but so what, all of her books are compulsively readable and feel like they’re about real people; Jodi truly has a gift for making her characters feel lived in, it’s like reading a story about your neighbors or something. This one is my favorite, about a group of witchy teen girls and an ex-con, and it rules.
…features the coolest book jacket:
Made For Love by Alissa Nutting. The cover looks like it was made by the finest airbrush artist at the county fair, and it is glorious.
…everyone should read:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett. No real reason other than that it’s incredible and you probably already read The Vanishing Half so what’s the problem, get cracking.
…I’d want signed by the author:
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. Grady is so good, and his imagination is so wild, and I would die to meet him and babble incoherently about my love for his genius while sobbing as he looks on in bewilderment.
Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be:
Women and Children First in Chicago. I mean, I know everybody there and I feel like they’d make it really cozy for me? Plus it’s really close to my old apartment and a ton of good coffee shops and restaurants. Like what’s the point of living in a bookstore if you can’t dip out for a cocktail and a pizza between books?
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