ARC Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

32920226 Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Pub. date: September 5th, 2017
Publisher: Scribner
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781501126062
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Scribner for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Trigger Warnings: Dead sibling, addiction, cancer, dying family member, drugs

Plot: Jojo and his little sister Kayla live with their grandparents in rural Mississippi, and only occasionally see their mother Leonie. The grandmother is dying of cancer. the grandfather is trying to run the household and teach Jojo life lessons, and Leonie sees visions of her dead brother when she gets high. Then, when Jojo and Kayla’s white father Michael is released from prison, Leonie packs the kids and a friend in a car, and travels across the state to the Mississippi State Penitentiary. a journey that’s full of danger and promise.

It is of no surprise that Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for this novel. She is just such a fantastic writer, and has the ability to make readers of her work empathize with the most flawed characters. Characters who in theory should be the villains of the story, but you end up feeling for them. She makes you ache for them. All of her characters have experienced, or are experiencing an immense amount of pain, and this is reflected in their worldviews, the choices they make, and the lives they live.

The story mainly comes from the perspectives of Jojo and Leonie, who are both people of few words, always on guard, but their internal voices convey everything that they would not say out loud to the reader, and basically set up the entire book. Jojo is coming of age and holds so much resentment towards his mother, who is an absentee parent, while absorbing crucial life lessons from Pop, his grandfather, as he is trying to figure out how to be a man. Leonie on the other hand is the character that put me through the wringer emotionally. She is so deeply flawed, and everything she does or that Jojo says she does or does not do makes you want to hate her, but reading her perspective and what she’s thinking makes you not only empathize, but just ache for her. A drug addict, she’s haunted by visions of her dead brother whenever she’s high, and it’s a punch in the gut to read about it. 

Jesmyn’s skill comes through in how she uses her characters- a lot of them are symbolic to further the story. Her writing makes you feel such pain with a story where terrible things just keep happening and there seems no reprieve, but still leaves you feeling hopeful at the end of it. There is no particularly happy ending, nothing is neatly tied up or resolved. Therein lies its beauty. I honestly could not find a single flaw in this book.

This was my first time reading her full-length novels (I’d previously read her memoir, Men We Reaped, and The Fire This Time), and she has become one of my favorite authors. I’m a total sucker for books that make me feel pain and that just sucker- punch me with all the emotions, and Sing, Unburied, Sing did just that. Devastatingly beautiful prose and an absolutely engrossing story, it is undoubtedly one of my favorites of 2017, and one that I urge you to read if you haven’t already. 

-J

 

 

So…Life Happened

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Retrived from: http://searchwh.com/2017/lifestyle-hobby/advantages-heroism-life/

Hey friends,

Remember me? Seems like I took my sporadic blogger moniker a little far this time. I opened my blog today for the first time since July, which is definitely the biggest break I’ve ever taken from this space. My intention was to write a review and pretend like nothing had happened, but I think I’d like to talk about the last five months and offer you an explanation as to why you haven’t seen new content at all from me in that time.

(Oh, if you follow me on twitter and such you’re totally off the hook for skipping this post because well, I think I’ve whined plenty there about what’s happened)

Trigger Warnings: Surgery, medical stuff, body stuff, fatmisia, lifestyle changes, depression, anxiety, mental health

A lot of you know I’ve been struggling with sciatica for a while now. The last time I was active on the blog, I was in the middle of a really bad flare-up that lasted longer than the usual two-three weeks, and the pain was relentless. I was on bed rest for nearly six weeks, and barely functional. Things escalated, I went in for an MRI, and was told that I had a major prolapsed disc that had probably been around for a few years now (they suspect around the onset of my sciatica three years ago), and I was admitted for surgery immediately. It happened so fast, I only met my surgeon the day after the operation had been performed. Those 36 hours were pretty surreal. I’ll spare you the gory surgical details, but it was a longer procedure than expected. 

Post surgery, here’s where I was: Months (potentially years) of nerve compression had happened leading to some neurological symptoms in my foot and tightness in my legs, and I was looking at about six months of physiotherapy to regain mobility in my foot. My surgery had been successful in that my spine was intact, no other organs or systems were damaged in the process, I wasn’t going to be paralyzed. and the nerves had decompressed.

Suffice to say my life has dramatically changed and my world has become super small since the first week of August. The first couple of months were…hell. This is actually my second major spinal surgery, but my first one was at age four and I barely remember it, so this is my first time fully experiencing and processing the upward battle that is post-op recovery. It’s this thing where you’re no longer feeling the hellish pain that put you on in the operation theatre in the first place, but your body has been sliced open and the morphine has worn off and you can feel it all. My life was eat, sleep, physiotherapy, and rest. I was too exhausted to hold a book or laptop. I was in a world of pain. PT was frustrating and slow. My incredibly supportive parents’ lives were all about looking after me. Depression and anxiety were constant companions, and I didn’t really talk about it to anyone except the internet. My best friend was my only visitor, he would faithfully spend every weekend with me, even if it meant watch me sleep after my PT sessions because I was too tired, or when I started walking, walk those hundred feet three times a day.

But, sitting and writing this, I realize I’ve come such a long way since then. I went from a walker to using a stick to walking independently. I can now walk longer distances, I’m more functional in terms of being able to stand for longer and sit for more hours. I’ve started going out by myself, and even run a few errands. I don’t have to wear a lumbar support belt anymore, which means I will no longer have to be rude to strangers on the street that stare at me or ask me really personal questions. Our extended family comes down in a couple of weeks to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, and I will be able to sit and be a part of the traditional ceremonies that will be happening. These things I’m infinitely grateful for, because six months ago I didn’t think any of this was possible.

There’s still things that are scary and overwhelming and weigh on me. My foot is still not at a hundred percent, and it scares me to think that if it doesn’t get better than this then I won’t be able to get back to dancing ever again (I’m a trained Bharatanatyam dancer). Somedays, hints of the old sciatica pain come through after an intense PT session and I worry about never not being in some form of pain for the rest of my life. My job-hunt has been on pause for the last six months, and the prospect of having to explain this really long and unexpected break in my career feels daunting. I’ve been told to lose weight so as to take off the pressure from a spine that’s been operated on twice, and I’m dealing with a megaton of internal and external fatmisia while I make some dietary and lifestyle changes. My mental health has definitely seen better days, and now that I’m mobile I need to get around to finding a therapist.

There’s so many uncertain things, and I’m trying not to let them take over, which is easier said than done.

So there, that has been (is) my life. It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster, 2017, but I think the end of the year is looking less bleak than I thought it would be three months ago. I’ve finally gotten my reading mojo back, and am hoping to make my Goodreads goal by the end of the year. I’ve spectacularly failed on my blogging goals, but I’m trying not to beat myself too much about that. I’m working on some academic projects with my friends to stay sharp and have started looking for a job again.

All this to say, thank you so much for still sticking around despite my horrendously erratic blogging this year. Thanks for sticking through all of my promises to be a more regular blogger even when I’m not. Thanks for accepting this explanation for my absence. Thank you for being a source of support in any corner of the internet at any point in time. I’m back right now, I’m feeling excited to talk about books again, and I’m hoping that feeling stays with me, along with you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

So much love to all of you,

-J

 

 

Let’s Talk About (My) Identity

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Image source: Deviantart.com

This post is inspired by my twitter pal Painter McSomething, as well as recent events in the ace and aro communities. My original intention was to do a Twitter thread, but I wanted to go into details and doing that on twitter feels scarier. Plus, this post may be TMI for a lot of folks, and this way the only way to be exposed to the information is to click on it, which is a choice my followers can make actively without being forced to interact with it on twitter. 

So, this is going to get personal. If you’ve had a chance to read Painter McSomething’s thread, they did a great job sharing how their identity as a grey-ace panromantic person works for them. I know there’s been a lot of talk among people both in and out of the ace and aro communities about wanting to learn more, especially in the last few months. Now, there’s quite a few resources for people to check out online (I’ll link some at the end of the post), but I figured it’s also helpful to hear how people ID as ace and aro and what that means to them.

Disclaimer: This is not an educational post on aromantic and asexual 101. I’m going to be only talking about myself. Remember that not everyone’s experiences will perfectly match up to mine, and my experiences don’t probably reflect everything you’ve read online. This doesn’t invalidate either mine or other people’s IDs as aces or aros in any way, shape, or form.

I’m grey-asexual, meaning I fall somewhere on the asexual spectrum. I don’t fall in one particular place, my feelings of sexual attraction and my libido vary all the time, so grey-ace works best for me. I’m mostly uninterested in sex and that works for me. Even as a teenager, I was interested in sex, but not interested in *having* sex with other people. This has not changed thus far. Here’s where the term autochorrisexual comes in. This means I engage in certain sexual activities (choosing to keep the details to myself here), but none of them involve other people. I occasionally do find other people attractive, mostly aesthetically, almost never sexually. I read a crap ton of erotica novels and genuinely enjoy them, and I’m not averse to visual representations of sex in movies and such. Libido is a whole other factor to consider. Again, I’d like to point you towards another thread by Painter McSomething. My libido goes up sometimes, and mostly (but not always) correlates with my reading of erotica. I’m also kinky, but it is a completely non-sexual experience for me. It has more to do with the power dynamics, and helps a great deal with my anxiety. I don’t feel qualified enough to discuss more about BDSM, but this is the extent of my experience with it. 

I’m grey-romantic, which means I fall somewhere on the romance spectrum. To be honest, I’m ninety-nine percent “no thanks romance”, but I have commitment issues, so I prefer ID-ing as grey-romantic. I have no interest in a singular or multiple romantic partners, and definitely prefer the idea of queerplatonic relationships. I have had crushes in the past, but have had no interest in any sort of romantic or sexual involvement with them. I value friendships deeply, and have a small number of extremely close friends. I have one or two people in my life with whom the relationship goes a lot deeper than traditional friendship, but is still strictly platonic and (so far) has no labels, and I like it that way. Even if I were to ever be in a defined QPR, I don’t think monogamy is my jam, and that’s okay. My (hypothetical) queerplatonic partner’s gender does not factor into this, in that I’m not strictly queerplatonically attracted to a specific gender. I value close emotional commitments. My feelings about physical behaviors like hugging, kissing, hand-holding, spooning, etc. really depend on the person. I don’t identify as touch-averse, but I definitely have a preference about whom I engage in these behaviors with. 

I’m going to talk about gender identity for a second here. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I’ve landed on identifying as demigirl. “Cis” has not felt comfortable to me for a long time, but neither did going with nonbinary or trans. Some days I feel femme, somedays nonbinary. This reflects in my emotional responding, how I connect with people, how I want people to see me, my hair, my clothes, my makeup, my everything; the lines are very blurry. I’m still working out how this works with my aroace-ness, and some days feel very conflicted. I am not comfortable with female-specific words like “woman”, “lady”, “queen”, etc. My pronouns are she/her

This is all I have for now. Again, this is all just me, and how I identify as a grey-ace, grey-aro demigirl. These might reflect other people who share these identities, or they might not at all, and that’s okay. None of this also means that I’ve figured everything out about myself. I’m comfortable with evolving IDs and values, and I’ll just keep checking in with myself from time to time. This does not mean I don’t have days where I’m wondering if I’ve just all this up about myself, or days that I don’t feel like an imposter. I absolutely do. But that’s when I reach out to some lovely hearts for validation, and work through it.

So, I hope this helps you some, whoever is reading this. Whatever I know about the ace and aro spectrums I know from my own experiences and my research when I was contemplating these IDs. I’m always willing to share, and always open to chatting with anyone, or answering any questions you may have. I also don’t have all the answers, and I will be honest with you when that’s the case. I’m also linking some resources below, but these are not exhaustive at all. The best way to learn more is by talking to people within the community, especially those who are constantly advocating, but please remember not to demand anyone’s time and emotional labor. 

Thanks so much for making it to the end of this. This was not easy to write. Being this open and vulnerable here is terrifying, but I also know this was necessary. I hope this helps anyone out there, and I apologize if I inadvertently hurt anyone with anything I’ve written in this post. 

P. S. I’m still not out to a lot of people that I know in real life, and I don’t feel comfortable being out to most people outside of the internet for now. So, if you’re reading this and you happen to know me outside of the interwebz, please check-in before discussing any of this with me in-person. I am not in a place where I can or want to be accidentally outted. I appreciate the support. 

Resources:

AVEN: http://www.asexuality.org/

On aro/ace jargon 101: https://theacetheist.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/how-to-not-to-do-101-on-asexuality-sex-repulsion-and-sexual-activity/

On using allosexual: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/why-i-use-allosexual/

On allosexual: https://aroaceyellspace.tumblr.com/post/158869186213/honestly-i-have-no-idea-what-the-fuck-peoples

On allosexism: http://asexualityexists.tumblr.com/post/29138181610/on-allosexism

On inclusion: https://vaspider.tumblr.com/post/157183577991/okay-but-if-someone-doesnt-experience-homophobia

You Might Be Aromantic If: http://anagnori.tumblr.com/post/69145328274/you-might-be-aromantic-if

The Asexual Journal: http://theasexual.com/

The Ace and Aro in SFF database: http://claudiearseneault.com/?page_id=1320

 

 

 

#24in48 Readathon: July 2017

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Heyo, it’s that time of the summer again, #24in48 is back!

I think I’ve been pretty vocal about my love for all things readathon before, and I stand by them all. Squaring away some quality reading time with a bunch of other bookworms all over the globe is just as amazing as it sounds. I can’t get enough of it. As most of you know I’m currently laid up in bed, so this readathon couldn’t come at a better time for me. Not only does it keep me occupied the whole weekend, but a whole lot of other people will be pretty much doing what I’m doing, and we’ll all be revelling in the joy, which I’m really looking forward to. 

In case you’re new around here or to the bookish internet in general, 24in48 is a fun weekend readathon organized by Rachel Manwill. The “aim” is to read for 24 hours over the course of a 48 hour weekend. I say aim, but really, it’s about chalking away some time for yourself to read, a break from the humdrum and chaos that is life and such. It’s also a great time to stuff your face with snacks and beverages, discover readers from all around the world, squee about books and bookishness, and have a grand time. Super low key, super chill. If you haven’t signed up yet or are looking for more information, you can check out the official site

Here’s my stack of reading material for the weekend. Plenty more than I’ll actually get through, but I like having more options than not:

Anyone notice a theme here?

I’m pretty much most active on my Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat (jananivaidya), and Litsy  (@theshrinkette) during readathon time, because those are quick and easy places to update my progress and what I’m doing throughout the weekend. This time, just to make things easier, any readathon updates I make will be within this post itself, including a wrap-up at the end. 

That’s all I have for now. Sign up if you haven’t already, and drop me a line to let me know if you’re participating so that I can keep an eye out for your social media posts. Cheers!

Day 1:

Typically I try and get in about 15 hours of reading on the first day, when I’m super pumped and motivated by the challenge. This time around, I had a couple of commitments, and an unexpected visit from a friend, so I was able to read for about only 10 hours. Luckily for me, I started the challenge at the official readathon start time, which gives me till about Monday morning 9.30 a.m. to get in my 24 hours. Here’s my reading stats so far:

Time Read: 10:00:51

Books read: The Liberation of Sita by Volga, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, and The Duchess War by Courtney Milan. 

No. of pages: 771

-J

Mini Reviews: Books With Aro and/or Ace Characters

Wishing you a Happy New Year full of love, light and laughter!

Thanks to making more friends in the ace and aro communities on Twitter, I’ve gotten the chance to read books representing these identities. They’re usually ownvoices and SFF and indie/self-published, which has also been a great way to diversify my reading from just traditional publishing. It’s so cool that there’s authors out there not waiting around for traditional publishing to catch up, otherwise we’ll be waiting a lot longer for representation. I thought I’d do quick reviews of three books I read and loved recently.

34337959 No More Heroes by Michelle Kan: There are Vigilantes with special Abilities all over the world who patrol the streets at night to keep the peace. However, a series of Vigilante deaths ensue- the identity and the motive of the person responsible for these deaths are unknown. Three young Vigilantes have no idea what they’re getting into when they get involved, and team up with a bunch of older Vigilantes to solve the mystery.

This is a fast-paced urban fantasy that features a diverse cast of characters and high stakes adventure time. I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing, the mystery, the action sequences and the Abilities were really cool. I could almost visualize it all. I loved that the author focused on friendships and fostering teamwork among these characters, a lot of whom were essentially just introduced and getting to know one another. It also features Fang, a genderfluid aroace character, which is a huge bonus. The only thing I’d have liked more was character development. There were a lot of characters and we really didn’t get any background on anyone but Fang. However, the author has been mentioning a sequel, and the book seems to be set up that way, so I’m hoping we get to know them more then. 

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The Trouble by Daria Defore: Danny Kim, lead of a Seattle indie rock band called The Trouble, embarrasses himself by rudely hitting on a cute guy Jiyoon, who attends one of his band’s shows, only to find out that the guy is the TA of his Accounting class. However, events occur and soon a friendship is formed between Danny and Jiyoon. 

I always lean towards realistic fiction over fantasy, and was delighted to find a contemporary fiction book featuring an aro character. The author did a really good job establishing and developing Danny and Jiyoon’s relationship, and how Danny navigates it as an allosexual aromantic person. This is not a “romance is a cure” storyline at all. Danny is firmly aro-spec, and there’s great scenes discussing what that means, both their expectations from their relationship, and establishing boundaries. I also loved that Danny is extremely close to his bandmates, and that relationship status doesn’t change regardless of whatever is happening with Jiyoon, which I especially appreciated. If you’re looking for aromantic rep in contemporary fiction, you should definitely pick up this one.

34031351The Traitor’s Tunnel by C. M. Spivey: This novella features a brother-sister duo in the city of Arido who are estranged- Bridget is a robber, and Theodore is the apprentice of a well-renowned city engineer, on his way to his dream job as the Lord Engineer of Arido. The two of them cross paths accidentally, and must reunite to stop a traitor and save their city and the empire.

I received an advance copy of this novella in exchange for an honest review.

Although the events in this book occur several years before the ones in FROM UNDER THE MOUNTAIN (which I haven’t read), it works great as a standalone. I had no issues following the plot or the worldbuilding. Two specific things I loved about this were: 1. the main characters are siblings, not romantic partners (or to-be romantic partners), playing to a great family dynamic, as well as alternating POVs. 2. Theodore is an established panromantic asexual character. His relationship with Leander is explored and fleshed out not only from his perspective, but from Bridget’s as well. Bridget’s own relationship with Keaton isn’t super defined, which fits in naturally with her personality. The world-building is solid and I had no trouble following it at all, it’s such a well-structured plot. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’m definitely picking up From Under The Mountain soon. 

P. S. If you don’t already follow Claudie Arseneault on twitter, you really should. She’s created a great database for SFF books featuring ace and/or aro characters, and is always happy to chat about them on twitter as well. 

-J

Social Justice Book Club: Updates and August Selection

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Hey friends,

I know it’s been a while from both Kerry and me on the SJBC front. For those of you new here, this was a monthly book club co-hosted by us over on Slack, where we picked and chatted about books that covered several different social issues. Our last selection was Evicted: Poverty And Profit In An American City by Matthew Desmond, which just won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction this year (absolutely well-deserved). 

Unfortunately, both Kerry and I have had unexpected things happen in our personal lives which didn’t really allow us to devote the kind of time we wanted to devote to the club, so we decided to skip the months of June and July, brainstorm and figure how we wanted to proceed. We will be going back to a bi-monthly rotation of the book club. It gives us time to actually do things like come up with discussion questions and foster conversations, which was pretty much the intention of putting together the club in the first place. It gives members time to acquire the book selected, and to read over a decent time period. We’re hoping this will be amenable to current and future members of the group.

25942967Our August pick: Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano.

From Goodreads: “In the updated second edition of Whipping Girl, Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist, shares her powerful experiences and observations—both pre- and post-transition—to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole.” 

 

We will be kicking off on August 1st with this pick. For those of you who are interested in joining us over on Slack, you can fill out the form below, or drop your email in the comments, and we can add you!

-J

Mid-2017 Evaluation: Where Do I Go From Here?

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I’m a little stunned that we’re already in the middle of 2017. It is friggin’ July, this is wild. What even is time? It is ridiculous how fast it flies. So much has happened in the last six months. I don’t think I am where I wanted to be at this time when the year began, but it isn’t the worst place to be. 

I went back to take a peek at my 2017 blogging resolutions, and so far, haven’t done any of them justice. I’m way behind on my Goodreads goal, I haven’t made or stuck to a blogging schedule, I took on extra reading challenges and didn’t manage to keep up with them, I fell behind on the Social Justice Book Club, and I haven’t really discussed any books with problematic rep on my blog. I had to scale back on the layout of this space because I couldn’t afford full membership, but needed some modicum of self-hosting control. All of this is getting me down. These all seemed like reasonable goals at the beginning of this year, but I definitely didn’t anticipate how much of my time would get sucked in our giant move in the first half of this year. I didn’t anticipate the toll it would take on my mental and physical health. I’ve experienced more identity crises in the last 11 months than ever before. I’m still looking for full-time employment. The world seems to be even more of a shitfest than before. These aren’t really excuses, nor am I looking for condolences or sympathy, they’re just things I didn’t anticipate happening or affecting me as much as they are.

Some good things happened too- My Chicago vacation and the annual professional conference I attended went super well. I took on some projects I’m really excited about, and I’ve got clearer career and academic goals in mind since then. Living in India definitely offers me more freedom in terms of movement and having close friends in the same city. My reading pace has picked up in the last couple of weeks, and I feel good about that. 

Given all of these things, I’m taking another stab at my 2017 resolutions:

  1. Blogging schedule: I’m going to set myself a goal of publishing once a week. It doesn’t seem like a lot, and it’s fairly low response effort, but right now consistency is key. If I do more, great, but if I do at least one, it’ll be better than month-long breaks.
  2. Social Justice Book Club is coming back in August- I’ll be announcing the details of that this weekend. We’re going back to a bi-monthly schedule, so hopefully that helps.
  3. I’m going to work on really, really evaluating the time and space I have available before participating in reading challenges.
  4. Catching up on ARC reviews, and cross-posting on Amazon and Goodreads. 

I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but I’m sincerely grateful for every person that follows my blog, reads my stuff, and takes the time to comment. I’m always shocked when anyone visits this space, given that my content is so erratic. Please know that I value each and every one of you. Thank you.

-J