From Etsy sellers to bookstore chains, everyone has jumped on the bandwagon of selling ‘blind date books.’ The concept is essentially buying a mystery book based on a simple, one-sentence summary, without seeing its cover, title, or author. In a time where every bookshop is stacked with fancy displays of bestsellers and book-tok hits, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed by choice. This concept could be the perfect antidote to get you out of your reading comfort zone.
Our very own Blackwell’s on campus has joined in on the trend, with a table of beautifully wrapped books, labelled with cryptic descriptions. We decided to take the plunge and see whether this was just another marketing tactic, or if we could find our new favourite books.
Alice: With Teeth
My mystery book was described on the tag as, “A dysfunctional but darkly funny tale of queer parenting, and raising a ‘problem child’!” Once unwrapped, I discovered it was With Teeth by Kristen Arnett. I had never heard of it, which is understandable considering it was only just published in 2021.
The focus on motherhood and a dysfunctional family with the added layer of the struggles of queer parenting are definitely themes that I was interested in. However, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I chose the label because I wanted a satirical novel. Yet, based on the blurb, With Teeth seemed to lean more towards a psychological drama.
With similarities to We need to talk about Kevin, With Teeth follows protagonist Sammie’s journey through motherhood as she raises her son, Samson. This proves to be challenging at times as she also navigates her crumbling relationship with her wife Monika. It not only explores what it means to be a queer parent but also how Sammie’s own relationship with her mother affects how she raises her son.
Sammie as a character is very problematic, making countless bad decisions especially when it comes to Samson, but she is very aware of her own shortcomings. Having the book told from her perspective was disorientating but ‘darkly funny’ just as the tag suggests.
The queer aspect of the novel is a refreshing take on the challenges of motherhood. Not only does it explore how ostracized Sammie feels from other mothers because she is not in a ‘typical’ heterosexual couple. It also explores the struggles she has with raising a son with no guidance from any men. Her relationship with her wife still adheres to the typical gender stereotypes. Monika acts as the breadwinner, spending little time with Samson, expecting Sammie to fulfil all the household duties. Sammie’s mounting frustration over her marriage and life makes for a tense yet weirdly funny read, making it a book I’d recommend.
Bethan: Mrs Caliban
I chose a book with the description, “A woman begins a secret sexual affair with a man who is half frog.” I unwrapped it to find Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls. The cover and blurb reminded me of something that I would normally pick up – a quirky feminist story with dark and fantastical undertones.
Published in 1982, it follows Dorothy, an isolated housewife stuck in a deteriorating, sexless marriage. Struggling after the loss of her young son, a traumatic miscarriage, and the death of her dog, Dorothy feels like a magnet for death and destruction. Her cyclical days of housework and isolation are broken when a half-frog, half-human sea monster (named Larry) wanders into her kitchen, having escaped from a local scientific institute. The two begin a secret sexual relationship and, as the story unfolds, Larry’s exploration of the human world parallels Dorothy’s own journey of self-discovery.
On paper, the plot sounds ridiculous, but it perfectly balances being fantastical and realistic, funny and heartbreaking, disturbing and enthralling. Dorothy and Larry’s pasts of trauma and repression, both at the hands of American patriarchal society, means they find in each other kindred spirits. This idea of a monster/human love story could easily feel uncomfortable and stilted, but it instead challenges our perceptions of love, sex, and marriage.
At only 117 pages, it feels more like a novella or short story than it does a novel. This does, however, allow Ingalls to maintain an atmosphere of unease and tension. We’re left wondering if the whole saga was real, or if it was all a product of Dorothy’s grief, stress, and declining mental state. The ending is both thrilling and tragic, and has left me thinking about it ever since I finished the book. While it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, one thing is for sure – I’ve never read anything quite like this.
Despite any reservations we had about the concept of blind date books, we found it to be a success. We both ended up with books that we enjoyed, but may not have otherwise read. The idea could work in many different ways – as a birthday present, something fun to do with a friend or a way to get out of a reading rut. Especially for students, it’s easy to feel stifled by academic reading and neglect reading for pleasure. Blind Date Books are a fun way to return to the core enjoyment of reading and discovering new stories.
The ‘Blind Date with a Book’ section can be found in-store at Blackwell’s, and similar products are available on Etsy, eBay and other online retailers.