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Lighthouse Books’ queer book club reads ‘Meaty’ by Samantha Irby: a review

As a lover of literature, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t attended many book clubs before. Perhaps because I, like many others, enjoy reading as a solitary activity to escape having to interact with other people. But last week I attended the lovely Lighthouse Books’ queer writing book club, ‘Other Fruit’. 

This week’s book was Meaty, an enormously praised collection of essays by Samantha Irby about her identity as a Black woman, being a carer for her mother, and Crohn’s disease-friendly brunch recipes. 

In 2009, Irby set up her blog bitches gotta eat, sharing anecdotes on all things revealing. On learning some of the tragic events of her life, you might assume that this blog was born out of a desire to destigmatize some of the issues she faces. However, Irby reveals that the reason behind the inception of her successful blog was to impress a guy she wanted to date. It is Irby’s unfaltering humanity and remorselessness that makes her so charming and readable. 

Meaty perfectly captures the zeitgeist of 2012 social media culture, packed with internet slang that, in 2020, is a mixture of cringy and nostalgic. The first couple of chapters were difficult to get through, but when I arrived at chapter five, ‘My mother, my daughter’, I understood the hype. Maybe because it was sandwiched between chapters filled with scatological humour and awkward dating stories, this chapter felt so raw and heartbreaking. Irby tells the story of caring for her mother who suffered with MS, whilst also balancing her childhood. It is a beautifully written chapter in which Irby manages to express the discomfort and awkwardness of being a carer, a daughter, and a teenager.

Unfortunately, most of the other chapters in Meaty are pretty similar, (with the exception and honourable mention of the hilarious chapter, ‘The Triplets’) filled with more of the same oversharing and shocking sense of humour. Irby recognises this though, and describes her ‘childlike need to be shocking and provocative’. Despite this, Irby’s charm is inescapable. She writes ‘compliments are the currency of womanhood’. So, from one woman to another, Irby’s beautiful writing saves Meaty from just being a book of blog posts. Irby has a massive amount of self awareness, wit, and wisdom.

Armed with these opinions, I logged on and joined the book club. I was expecting an awkward zoom-call setup where people were either talking too much or not at all. However, it was incredibly informal. Instead of picking apart the book, it was more akin to a group of literature-loving friends laughing and discussing their thoughts. I was pleased to discover how easy it was to criticise the book as well as praise it, which we all did with enthusiasm. Book clubs are often inaccessible and off-putting, organised by academics using complicated jargon and referencing confusing Russian literature to make their point, but ‘Other Fruit’ is nothing like this.

In the hour or so that we talked, we discussed issues such as misogyny, ableism, and a lack of transgender/non-binary visibility, as well as the chapters we were disgusted by and the ones that made us cry-laugh. When the book club’s pick for next week was revealed, I was happy to see that even within a queer book club, the diversity of authors chosen is incredibly valued.

Overall, ‘Other Fruit’ was such a joy to attend. As well as being one of the events that actually does very well being virtual, it is a really inclusive and friendly space for book lovers.

Image: cactusbones via Flickr