The Week in Books #62

14/14 ✅

The week in books! I finished this stack, at last, and am feeling accomplished haha. Lots of good ones here; standouts were My Dark Vanessa and A Little Life, even though they were also the most disturbing of the pile. Least favourite was Sarah Canary. I really enjoyed most of these books, actually. It was a good pile!

1. The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker. A good source of information about asexuality and some of the other orientations (demisexual, greysexual, etc). Overall was pretty repetitive, the main takeaway of the book is that some people are asexual (don’t feel sexual attraction to anyone) and there’s nothing wrong with that. The format of the book is helpful if you know someone who is asexual and want to support them, and also if you may think you could be asexual and want more information. There are answers to frequently asked questions and lots and lots of incredibly specific terms to identify different types of attraction, if that’s your thing. I personally don’t like labels and am not 100% sure it’s necessary to “come out” as a specific label, but I know it’s important to some people and they deserve understanding and acceptance. I’m not asexual and I haven’t ever met anyone who used that identifier but I feel prepared to say “That’s cool” to anyone who wants to talk to me about it (I already was, of course, but the book was informative none-the-less). This was a book club selection from literally years ago that I never made the time to read so I’m glad to finally mark it off the list.

A growing number of people are identifying as asexual. They aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and they consider it a sexual orientation—like gay, straight, or bisexual.

Asexuality is the invisible orientation. Most people believe that “everyone” wants sex, that “everyone” understands what it means to be attracted to other people, and that “everyone” wants to date and mate. But that’s where asexual people are left out—they don’t find other people sexually attractive, and if and when they say so, they are very rarely treated as though that’s okay.

When an asexual person comes out, alarming reactions regularly follow; loved ones fear that an asexual person is sick, or psychologically warped, or suffering from abuse. Critics confront asexual people with accusations of following a fad, hiding homosexuality, or making excuses for romantic failures. And all of this contributes to a discouraging master narrative: there is no such thing as “asexual.” Being an asexual person is a lie or an illness, and it needs to be fixed.

In The Invisible Orientation, Julie Sondra Decker outlines what asexuality is, counters misconceptions, provides resources, and puts asexual people’s experiences in context as they move through a very sexualized world. It includes information for asexual people to help understand their orientation and what it means for their relationships, as well as tips and facts for those who want to understand their asexual friends and loved ones.

Skyhorse Publishing

2. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. This was in Indigo’s top 10 sellers in 2020 and almost every email I got from them over the last year has included it somehow haha. I came across a copy at value village and grabbed it so I could see what the hype was all about. It was very good, but also pretty disturbing. I thought it was important that Vanessa struggled to accept that Strane was a predator. She felt she consented to the relationship (though at times it didn’t seem like she was actually consenting or enjoying herself) and in her mind that meant he wasn’t a monster. This book did a decent job of illustrating how complex the relationship with an abuser can really be. I remember when the Jian Ghomeshi trail was happening and some of the women accusing him of assault were dragged for admitting they had continued to have contact with him following the assault (this also happened with the Weinstein cases), as if that somehow proved consent in some way. Abusers are incredibly manipulative and get in your head to the point where you feel for them in the way Vanessa did with Strane but that doesn’t change the fact that abuse happened. Very worth the read.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Harper Collins

3. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin. Technically this is a reread for me as I listened to the audiobook version back in 2015. I must not absorb audio the same way I do when I actually read a hard copy of the book though because I remembered almost none of what happened. I love the world building of this book. I noticed on goodreads that my ex read this book and gave it one star, commenting that the second person narrative made it an “unwieldy and unpleasant reading experience” but I totally disagree (we never liked the same books anyways haha). It was a great read, it even won a Hugo! I’m looking forward to finishing the trilogy (the next one also won a Hugo so I’m thinking it’s good too.)

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

New books!

A few new books this week because it’s my birthday! My mom gifted me God Shot, Leave the World Behind, Hood Feminism, and The Girl with the Louding Voice (plus a couple more that haven’t arrived yet). I gifted myself the next book in the series from Tade Thompson and also a gorgeous box set of books from Octavia Butler; Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. This edition is soooo beautiful I couldn’t resist! Then yesterday I picked up The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker and The Illegal by Lawrence Hill at value village. Good scores!

This week I start a new stack, next up is Gods of Jade and Shadow. Woo!

Up next!

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