If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

78BB304E-DA7D-4F9A-BB17-42DF210C020EHere is yet another book I decided to read right away, because the movie is coming. I have read a little James Baldwin here and there and never been disappointed, but to be honest I was in no hurry to read this book, until I saw the trailer for the If Beale Street Could Talk.

If you’re not familiar with the this novel, here is a brief synopsis for you.

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

This book seamlessly marries a fictional story with very clear and searing commentary on injustice in America. Baldwin never wavers in this convictions about racism and the corruptness of the criminal justice system, however these ideas don’t come at the expense of believable characters or dialogue. The people found in this book embody the spirit of Baldwin’s thoughts and they live effortlessly in his words. The interactions feel authentic and the characters all have agency. They are not puppets for Baldwin’s believes, nor are they just there to move the story along.

If Beale Street Could Talk moves between present day and flashbacks, and is told through the eyes of Tish. Baldwin’s economy of words is beyond impressive, with a less skilled writer this book could easily be over 400 pages, but Bladwin keeps the book short and the emotion charged through out. He knows what he is trying to do an he executes. There are scenes in this book that are so tense that I shrieked out loud and had drop the book and walk away for a few moments to get my heart rate down. That kind of writing is not common, it is extraordinary.

While I enjoyed both the main character Fonny and Tish, the supporting characters were the real stars of this book for me. From both of Fonny and Tish’s family to the waiters at a small Spanish restaurant. The world is made vivid through the thoughts and actions of those who live in and around our young lovers.

The only thing I can say that I didn’t love about this book, is that I thought it got off to a slow start. I wasn’t fully invested in the book until about 50 pages in, and in a book thats less that 200 pages, thats a good chunk. However, once I got in, I was hooked.

You should read this book before you see the movie. I would say you should read this book even if you have no intention to see this movie at all. James Baldwin is considered one of the greats for a reason, his work is great. It is that simple.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Henry VI Part 2 by William Shakespeare

4D9EB7E2-D692-4C3B-B298-41F3BF217869It is time for the August installment of #ShakeTheStacks. This month I read, the second book in the War of the Roses tetralogy, Henry VI Part 2This play sets up the reader nicely for the action of the war itself, and the fall out that is, Richard III.

I have to admit, this is not my favorite Shakespeare play, not even close. The history plays can fall victim of having too many characters, and trying to cram in too much action, Henry VI Part 2, is no exception. There are very few scenes that illicit any emotional response. The play is mostly just a really long prologue for whats to come. It is in both plot and function the set up to the war. Quiet literally picking sides and getting the troops lined up.

My favorite character in the tetrology is Queen Margaret, she is the only chracter present in all four of the plays, and she is a force that shakes up the stage from the moment she enters at the end of Henry VI Part 1 through to her last scene in Act 4 of Richard III. She is smart and politically savvy. She is not afraid of any man, and doesn’t back down from a fight. She also has a soft side, which is seen in my favorite scene from this play, Act III Scene 2. I won’t give anything away, but it is between the Queen and Suffolk, and its tender and tense and romantic and all the things. Not what you expect to find in Shakespearean history play, however they all have these scenes. This kind of scene is what makes Shakespeare one of the best. Intimate scenes between the most rich and powerful people that are explosive.

Again, like with my review for Henry VI Part 1, I don’t know that I would suggest you read this play or see a production of it on its own. I think its best as part of the four play series. Like any good TV show, you want to know how it plays out, not just watch one episode.

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 2/5 stars
  • BuyHenry VI Part 2, on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

IMG_7803This week on The Stacks Podcast, we discussed Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for The Stacks Book Club. I was joined by Jay Connor, a writer, and the creator and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. You can listen to our conversation about the themes in this book right here.

If you’re not familiar with this book, which came out in 2015, here is a small description.

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

To say that this is a good book, is almost trivializing all this book says and does. This is one of those books that changed the way I saw the world fundamentally. It changed how I interacted with the world as a Black woman, and also changed the way I saw other Black bodies. I all of a sudden felt as though I was part of something bigger, and also less a part of a something else.

The Dream is what Coates refers to when he talks about this notion of White exceptionalism or supremacy at the cost of the marginalized (and in this book more specifically Black folks). The Dream is the force that fights against Blackness. It is exclusionary, violent, and forgives all sins that are perpetrated in its name. To Coates, The Dream is how we can exist in a world with racists, but no white folks know any racists. The Dream is how we can excuse the horrors of slavery to the point that we have stripped the slaves of their humanity, even in the history books hundreds of years later. The Dream is what protects and defends Whiteness, and Coates calls this all to task. This book is not to make you comfortable, it is to make you think and understand how America functions.

Coates asks the reader to think and analyze ideas we often take for granted. To deeply question convention. One of his most controversial points is leveled around 9/11. Coates discusses why he is conflicted about the hero worship that came during and after September 11, 2001. He notes that this same neighborhood, Lower Manhattan, was home to the site of slave auctions and much plunder perpetrated against the Black Body. Its thoughts like this, really unpopular to many, that elevate this book. Coates is not sentimental, he is not afraid to speak his truth. And this is not the only moment that he confronts the reader on their beliefs.

Coates expertly weaves his own thoughts and feelings with the greater context of violence, racism, and hatred. However that is not all this book is, it is also a celebration of Blackness. Coates just as carefully reflects on the power of his time at Howard University, and how that time showed him the vastness of the Black cultural landscape. The diversity in the Black community, and the influence that had over him. This book is a master class in writing a thoughtful cultural critique. It blends the scholarly with the personal in both nostalgic and objective prose.

Most people could benefit from reading this book. Especially those people who live in The United States. What he is discussing and presenting the reader is a valuable perspective on race, violence, and Black bodies throughout the history of America. Read this book, please.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Jay Connor discussing Between the World and Me.

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (July 14, 2015)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Between the World and Me on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 20 The Stacks Book Club – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgWe’re thrilled to have writer and host of The Extraordinary Negroes Podcast, Jay Connor, back with us this week for The Stacks Book Club,  discussing Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This episode is spent talking about the three major themes from the book: race, violence, and the Black body, and how those themes are ever present in American society. There are no spoilers this week.

We cover a lot of topics, and you can find links to everything below, in the show notes. Use the links when you shop on Amazon and iTunes to help support The Stacks.

Connect with Jay: Instagram|Twitter

Connect with The Extraordinary Negroes: iTunes Podcast|Android Podcast|Website|Facebook|Instagram|Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram|iTunes|The Stacks Website|Patreon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show.

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth

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The Stacks received this book for free as part of a giveaway from the publisher. See Disclosures.

This book has been on my radar for a while, but with the BlacKkKlansman movie coming out I decided I had to read the book. The book is very short, so it wasn’t intimidating at all. If you don’t know the story of Ron Stallworth, the Black Klansman here is a blurb to catch you up:

When detective Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, comes across a classified ad in the local paper asking for all those interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan to contact a P.O. box, Detective Stallworth does his job and responds with interest, using his real name while posing as a white man. He figures he’ll receive a few brochures in the mail, maybe even a magazine, and learn more about a growing terrorist threat in his community.

A few weeks later the office phone rings, and the caller asks Ron a question he thought he’d never have to answer, “Would you like to join our cause?” Ron answers the caller’s question that night with a yes, launching what is surely one of the most audacious, and incredible undercover investigations in history. Ron recruits his partner Chuck to play the “white” Ron Stallworth, while Stallworth himself conducts all subsequent phone conversations. During the months-long investigation, Stallworth sabotages cross burnings, exposes white supremacists in the military, and even befriends David Duke himself.

I found this book a little boring. Which was shocking to me, because the idea of a Black man in the Ku Klux Klan seems explosive and exciting, and it is a pretty crazy story. However there really isn’t a plot. The title pretty much explains the story, a Black man infiltrates the Klan. There are details that come out, of exactly how, but once I got that information, I was ready for the book to end.

One of the things that really irritated me about this book, is that Stallworth seemed to feel like he had an obligation to be fair to the KKK. He would talk about something heinous they would say, and then remind us that David Duke is also a great father and husband. Or, he would talk about how dangerous groups who were protesting the Klan were. As if he, the man being called a “nigger” had to defend the humanity of members of the KKK. I think it took away from the vulnerability and authenticity of his story. I would have much preferred to hear how he felt, and not diplomatic responses.

Another thing that comes up a lot in Black Klansman is the idea that the members of the Ku Klux Klan as so dumb for being duped by a Black person. I think this is also a dangerous game, it allows those folks in the KKK to be dismissed as idiots, and not as clever spin artists who can manipulate public opinion about entire groups of people, and get elected to public office. The idea that those who spew hate are unintelligent is dangerous and lets that hatred off the hook.

There were moments that were interesting in this books. Particular details of how Stallworth pulled off his infiltration. I also loved that he had so much detail from the investigation, direct quotes and dates and more. It really lent credibility to the story.

This book is fine, but it is nothing special. The writing didn’t work for me, and I didn’t feel like I learned much about Stallworth, or the Klan, or even the time period in Colorado. I would say, if you were really curious about the story, you could read this one, but if you’re just medium on the idea I wouldn’t read it. Either way, the book is short, which is usually a good thing.

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books (June 5, 2018)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Black Klansman on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Ep. 19 Writing, Podcasting, and Books with Jay Connor of The Extraordinary Negroes

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgThis week our guest is Jay Connor. Jay is a writer, and the creator and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Jay discuss his winding life path through many cities and many careers. We also talk about what books Jay is into and what writers he admires.

We cover a lot of topics this week, and its all in the show notes below. Use the links below when you shop on Amazon and iTunes to help support The Stacks.

BOOKS

EVERYTHING ELSE

Connect with Jay: Instagram|Twitter

Connect with The Extraordinary Negroes: iTunes Podcast|Android Podcast|Website|Facebook|Instagram|Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram|iTunes|The Stacks Website|Patreon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show.

Thank you to this week’s sponsor Audible. To get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club September Books

51A119E3-B576-4C05-8FB4-5B0A3767316AIts time to announce our September book club books. We have two acclaimed novels in September and we could not be more excited.

We will discuss our first book of the month, Motherhood by Sheila Heti on September 12th. Motherhood is a novel that examines what is gained and what is lost when a woman becomes a mother.

On September 26th, we will be discussing this year’s Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction, Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Less is about a struggling novelist who decides to travel the world instead of subject himself to the awkwardness of attending his ex’s wedding.

Here is how The Stacks Book Club works, you read the books and we talk about them on the podcast. If you ever have questions you want answered, send them our way, and we’ll do out best to include them in our discussions. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our September books on Amazon:

If you want to have input on future books we discuss on this show, become a member of The Stacks Pack by clicking here.

The Stacks received both of these book for free from the publishers. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

36922D01-B023-4B1F-AC4E-F05F66D934D3I picked up this book because I wanted a pep talk. I felt like I needed to hear how awesome I am. So, I said, why not listen to Jen Sincero tell me.

Here is more about You are a Badass if you’re not familiar with this book.

In this refreshingly entertaining how-to guide, bestselling author and world-traveling success coach, Jen Sincero, serves up 27 bitesized chapters full of hilariously inspiring stories, sage advice, easy exercises, and the occasional swear word, helping you to: Identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want, Create a life you totally love. And create it NOW, Make some damn money already. The kind you’ve never made before.

By the end of You Are a Badass, you’ll understand why you are how you are, how to love what you can’t change, how to change what you don’t love, and how to use The Force to kick some serious ass.

I listened to You are a Badass via audiobook, Sincero narrates, and I like her voice. It is straightforward and unpretentious. Her reading fits the tone of the book. This is a total self-help book, titled and marketed as straightforward and unpretentious, but don’t let that confuse you, it is completely and totally full of all the self-helpy things you find in self-help books. If you’re into that genre, you’ll probably enjoy this book. If you don’t, you might not like it so much.

The structure of the book makes the book move quickly. Most chapters are short and consist of an idea, some examples, and then a list that helps the reader to strategize how they can implement that idea in their life. Again, it is straight forward and unpretentious.

I thought the book was fine. It hit all its marks, and provided some insights, it didn’t offend it didn’t excited. As I listened, I found myself zoning out, and then not caring enough to go back and hear what I missed. There were some parts that resonated with me. The section on time, and utilizing one’s time spoke to me most. When it came to time Sincero had a different and specific approach that I appreciated. I also liked the way she talked about forgiveness and money, and also how she talked about the people we find most irritating in our lives. She verbalized things I’ve thought of and heard before, but in a new way.

On the other hand, the book is full of tropes and ideas you’ve heard a hundred times before about, loving yourself, taking a risk, behaving the way you want to be perceived etc. I don’t fault Sincero for including this stuff in her book, my guess that it works, thats why you hear the advice so much. However, these suggestions felt redundant and were the moments I most found myself zoning out.

If you’re going through a major life change, or feeling like you need a boost, this book might speak to you. This is one of those books that could mean a lot to you depending on when you read it in your own journey. You might hate it today, and in ten years think its the best thing ever. It didn’t do much for me, at least not right now.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

I had a great time with Ashley North as we discussed Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes for The Stacks Book Club. You can listen to that full episode here. The book is an exploration of what happens when you start changing your habits through positivity and affirmation.

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Get your own Ashley North Candle at www.shopanstyle.com

If you don’t know about this book here is more information on the premise.

She’s the creator and producer of some of the most groundbreaking and audacious shows on television today. Her iconic characters live boldly and speak their minds. So who would suspect that Shonda Rhimes is an introvert? That she hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? That she suffered panic attacks before media interviews?

With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

This book is written like it is straight out of the mouth of one of Shonda’s characters from her TV shows. It moves between short quick sentences to longer rolling monologues with tons of repetition of phrases, its very Scandal. It is conversational and performative. It feels like Rhimes is acutely aware of her audience and isn’t fully comfortable with us being let in. This approach to writing sometimes got in my way of enjoying the book, and trusting that it wasn’t all an act. I felt like I was consciously being entertained, which I rarely feel in memoirs (unless it is a comedian’s memoir).

The first part of the book was slow for me, it took a while for Rhimes to get into the actual “year of yes”, and getting used to the style of writing also slowed me down. However, once she gets into her story, the book picks up pretty quickly. The middle of this book is really great. Her struggles with anxiety, and guilt of being a mother who works, and her commitment to getting fit were all thrilling to read about. The topics felt universal and also uniquely Shonda. Its a hard balancing act to get people to relate to the most powerful woman in TV, and she pulls it off.

This book felt like a practical application of an earlier The Stacks Book Club pick, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The Power of Habit uses scientific studies and examples from society to explain how habits work and how we can change them. It was a pop-psychology approach to changing behavior in businesses and individuals. Year of Yes was one woman’s account of how she changed the way she approached the world. I found myself noticing keystone habits and other ideas that came up in Duhigg’s book, which made me enjoyYear of Yes in a whole new way.

The ending of Year of Yes fell a little short for me. She loaded the earlier sections of the book with the most powerful transformations, and the ones that came toward the end felt less meaningful and crucial to the story. Just as the book started off a little slow, it also fizzled for me toward the end.

I have to admit, I was inspired to start my own year of yes, after reading about Rhimes’ journey. I think there is a lot to be learned from her experiences. Her perspectives are thoughtful and she does a superb job of extrapolating her lessons and stating them clearly for her reader. That is no easy task, especially when one is reflecting on their own struggles and successes. I think anyone could benefit from this book, while the style of the writing may not be for you, the content of the book is worth thinking about.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Ashley North discussing Year of Yes.

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Year of Yes on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Ep. 18 The Stacks Book Club – Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgStylist and CEO Ashley North is back this week for The Stacks Book Club and our discussion of Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. The book is Rhimes’ memoir on the year she decided to say yes to everything and use the power of yes to change her life. The book brings up topics surrounding the desire to be professionally successful and personally fulfilled. We talk about motherhood as a “job”, the myth of doing it all, and if we would ever do our own Year of Yes.

We talk in detail about the book, but this book doesn’t really have spoilers. However, if you’re wanting to go on Shonda’s journey along with her, you should wait to listen until you’ve read the book.

Here are all the things we talked about this week

Connect with Ashley: Instagram|Ashley North Style|Shop AN Style

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram|iTunes|The Stacks Website|Patreon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show.

Thank you to this week’s sponsor Audible. To get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.