In case you missed it, we announced in mid-October that Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is the 2019 One Book, One Philadelphia selection. We’re now in the heart of the reading period. Many of us are already deep in the titillating novel, but if you’re not, don’t worry! You still have plenty of time to read before programming starts and the One Book season ends.
Devouring a new book is incredibly satisfying—getting to know the characters, falling into each scene, and holding your breath during the tense moments. Stories fill the soul.
Simply enjoying a story is wonderful, but it’s also fun to look closer at a book’s powerful themes, intricate symbolism, and complex ideas. There’s so much to take in, from the characters’ emotions to their surrounding world that reflects both beautiful and difficult realities.
When reading Sing, Unburied, Sing, consider keeping some of these themes in mind:
- Power of the natural world
Ward expertly brings nature and human life together in many instances. Think about the connections between healing, life, and protection via animals, herbs, and other aspects of nature. Consider what kind of power nature gives to the characters and how the two elements interact with each other. When encountering vivid details of animals and plants, reflect on how they play roles in nurturing and depicting cycles of life.
- Concept of home and homecoming
What makes a home? Perhaps a home does not necessarily have to be a place, but it is often shown as such. "Home" refers to connections with a space and the individuals that surround a person. Home means comfort—a state of peace. Think about what it means to "come home," what creates a sense of home for each of the characters, human or ghost, and whether any of them have found it—either in physical spaces, people, or relationships.
- Familial bonds
When people think of "family," they often think of blood relatives. Is it only blood that makes one a part of your family? Most people would say no. A lot of weight is often put into lineage and ancestry. But, what about the people that one meets that aren’t linked by blood? What connects individuals? Note the nontraditional and multigenerational aspects of family in Sing, Unburied, Sing—how do they affect the development of the characters and the story? Ward writes of complicated familial relations as well as intense connections between characters that aren’t related by blood.
There is a sense of hunger that appears throughout the story. From the physical need to eat to the desire for love, each character craves a type of nourishment that seems to be missing in his or her life. But, when does this need for fulfillment represent sustenance and when can it become poisonous? Think about how each character satisfies their hunger for more, whether literally or metaphorically, and think about how it affects their lives as well as their relationships.
- A haunting past
All of the characters are haunted by the past—whether it’s through painful memories, past relationships, or their ancestry. Sometimes this haunting becomes so overt that it appears in the form of ghosts. How do past memories affect the individuals? Consider how some of the characters’ past speaks to their present and how they directly, or indirectly, affect each of the characters.
Now, onward! Continue reading (or re-reading) and discover the many details that make Sing, Unburied, Sing powerful, relevant, and unique.
And, make sure you don’t miss the One Book, One Philadelphia Kickoff Event with Jesmyn Ward on Wednesday, January 16!