When I received my copy of Meaty at an event for the ALA conference, I knew I was in for a different kind of reading experience. She signed my copy with fair warning that she likes writing dirty messages: “your vagina smells amazing. love, Samantha.” This is just a small sampling of the type of writing that you’ll see in her essays. Creator of the blog “Bitches Gotta Eat,” Samantha Irby tells it like it is, whether through the gritty details of her Crohn’s disease or through her unfiltered rantings of men and sex. It is written very informally, following the aesthetic of her blog, and inviting readers in as if Irby is personally conveying her stories and thoughts to them.
“So let’s talk some shit,” she says in the beginning of her essay “The Many Varieties of Hospital Broth.” She gives the inside scoop of what it’s like to be hospitalized for Crohn’s disease. But this doesn’t come without Irby’s wit. When her disease stops acting up, she links this to the fact that she hasn’t been dating anyone: “Celibacy cured my shit disease. Alert the New England Journal of Medicine. Seriously, man. It can’t be a fucking coincidence! . . . Swapping raggedy knuckle-dragging assholes for a clean bill of health for my own precious asshole?! YES, PLEASE.”
Irby, jaded by the “assholes” she has dated, has a romantic fantasy that has nothing to do with sex:
I don’t sit around fucking daydreaming about a dude going down on me for nine hours (BARF) or about riding some massive titanium cock for days at a time (GROSS). What gets me hot is all of the other shit. Dreaming about someone whose allergies I need to remember when I’m at the grocery store: that’s where the real romance is. Because I’ve had sex before. What a fucking snooze, my dude. Sex is so dumb and boring and unless you’re in really incredible shape or you have a ridiculous imagination and are into some really freaky shit, what you do and what I do is limited to a handful of very similar things. . . . Why don’t we instead dream up some motherfuckers who will set up the automatic renewal on our magazine subscriptions?
In addition to shit, men, and sex, Irby also frequently touches on the topic of food because, after all, “Bitches Gotta Eat.” One essay, “The Tapeworm Diet,” outright makes fun of various diets by first giving three reasons why she is a “massive, gigantic person” and then breaking the essay into diet plans ranging from the Twinkie diet to the baby food diet and finally concluding, “Don’t try any of this crazy fucking shit.”
Irby uses several different forms starting with an ode to her 30th birthday in which she lists all the things she can’t do, hasn’t done, should do, needs, and wants. She has an essay with a Q&A of questions asked on a first date (with very honest answers), an essay to an ex-boyfriend, a letter to a new boyfriend, a screenplay for the pilot episode of a made-up television show, and, in the end, even a few recipes (“Spiced Pork Tenderloin, omg”; “Beef Taco Casserole, WHAT”; “Skillet-fried Chicken, swoon.”).
But while her rants and quick-witted tongue are highly entertaining and often insightful, some of the most memorable pieces for me involved those where she reveals unique stories from her past, such as when she attended a dating class for black women and when she had to go to a kissing party in fifth grade dressed in a red dress with puffy sleeves, hiding a bag of off-brand Oreos under her coat. “My Mother, My Daughter” shows a more intimate side of her past as she explains that when she was nine years old, her mother got into a car accident, making her the one that needed taking care of:
I brought my baby home from the hospital a few days later swaddled at the wrong end, head and neck wrapped in thick white gauze and cotton pads. There was a long, red, angry-looking scar snaking its way from the left side of her forehead over her ear and coming to an end at the base of her skull. I would learn over the course of the days, weeks, and months to come how to mask how much I was hurting. . . . I was living with a person who could no longer properly take care of me. [The social worker] pushed me to betray a woman trapped in a baby body she couldn’t use who had done nothing but love me and try her hardest to make me feel special . . .
This collection has heart and humor, and Irby doesn’t hold back, not for a second. If you’re ready for something different, something gutsy, something not embarrassed by itself, definitely pick up a copy of Meaty.