The Stacks Book Club — January Books

January is just around the corner, which means, holy cow a new year, and a new month for The Stacks Book Club. The way the weeks shake out, you’re getting three bookclub reads in January. Lucky you.

First up is the 1997, best selling self-help book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Four Agreements is a code of conduct that helps to transform our lives, and encourages deliberate self love to free ourselves from judgement and fear. Our episode on The Four Agreements will air on January 2nd. 

Then, on January 16th, we will discuss Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, the winner of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. This book is a modern day telling of Sophocles’ Antigone. A suspenseful and heartbreaking story of family that is forced to chose between love and loyalty. 

Our last book of the month is Rap Dad by Juan Vidal. In his book, Vidal examines identity, race, hip-hop culture all at the intersection of his own journey into fatherhood. The book is both personal and representative of modern fatherhood and American culture. We will discuss Rap Dad on January 30th. 

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. Don’t be shy, send over your thoughts and questions so we can be sure to include them on the podcast. 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 November books on Amazon:


The Stacks received Rap Dad free from the publisher. 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.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

109E7C7A-C34F-4CBA-AD1C-86315A297A24If You Leave Me was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book in detail with author of The Ensemble, Aja Gabel. If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are plenty of spoilers throughout our conversation. If you’ve not read the book, but want to hear more about it, check out our first ever episode of The Short Stacks (mini episodes focused on authors and their writing processes) featuring the author of If You Leave Me, Crystal Hana Kim. Listen here, and no spoilers.

Here is more about If You Leave Me

An emotionally riveting novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.


What I appreciated most about If You Leave Me is how patient Crystal Hana Kim is with her reader. She allows us the space and time to luxuriate and unpack her novel. The book layers issues, one on top of the other. Kim gives us realistic struggles that are intertwined and complex, subtle and subdued, instead of hammering us over the head with “themes” and “imagery”. In reading this book, you feel the respect Kim gives her characters, and you the reader. She  is entrusting us with her stories. The book is bleak, almost relentlessly so. It doesn’t feel so sad in the reading, but after, you’re hit with the heaviness of what you’ve just read, and what it all means.

If You Leave Me is a story of war and so much more than war, and If You Leave Me illustrates the depth of human struggle and triumph that surrounds war. These little moments that are both monumental and common. Mental illness and distress is a major thread in this book, and Kim isn’t heavy handed. She methodically illustrates grief and depression, allowing the pain to unfold. Kim is barely there. You understand, but she never says it, he characters do not have the words. The same goes for feminism, survivors guilt, and so much more. Kim shows us, but never tells.

The book is told through the eyes of five narrators, and this too is expertly done. Our guides through this narrow landscape age and grow. They change before our eyes, the events her hear about shape them. People I once rooted for were , become reprehensible. You are shown glimpses of these people. This format works to give us a more complete picture of the world without explanation.

While I quiet enjoyed If You Leave Me, it did slow down at points for me. There were moments of  extreme pain, or pleasure, or revelation, and then moments where I felt the momentum stalled out. They never lasted long, but I could sense the absence of movement. The words remained beautiful, but the story dimmed.

This is a book you read in a few days; in front of a fire, on a vacation, uninterrupted. The premise is unlike anything I’ve read, but the story itself feels familiar and accessible. I loved the writing and the simplicity, but also the depth of topics that were woven throughout this book. If you love a rich story with developed characters and plenty of emotion, this is your book. This is the first novel by Crystal Hana Kim, and I look forward to whatever is next from her.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Aja Gabel discussing If You Leave Me

Hear The Short Stacks conversation with author, Crystal Hana Kim

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • PublisherWilliam Morrow (August 7, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on If You Leave Me Amazon

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. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 36 The Stacks Book Club — If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgAuthor Aja Gabel is back for The Stacks Book Club conversation this week. We’re discussing If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. The book follows one woman, Haemi Lee, her life and relationships during and in the years following the Korean War. Our conversation covers what it means to survive, feminism, war stories, and more. There are spoilers this week, but if you want to get to know If You Leave Me better without spoilers, listen to our first episode of The Short Stacks feature Crystal Hana Kim.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

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Connect with Aja: Aja’s Website|Aja’s Instagram|Aja’s Twitter

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

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. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Hear Traci on the What Should I Read Next Podcast

452FE02D-C7E3-4FD6-904D-E25E207B0BE8.JPGI am thrilled to be a guest no this week’s episdoe of the What Should I Read Next podcast, hosted by Anne Bogel aka Modern Mrs. Darcy. Each week Anne helps her guests answer the question, “what should I read next?” by talking with them about their tastes and goals for their reading life.

On today’s episode we discuss some of my most favorite books, my love of nonfiction and true crime, a book I really did not like. And as usually I throw out a ton of other book recommendations to make sure your TBR never gets too short. Then Anne works her magic on me, suggesting some books she thinks I should read next. Tell me in the comments what you think I should read next.

Listen Now

Apple Podcasts|WSIRN Podcast Website

WSIRN Graphic.jpg


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 1: Crystal Hana Kim//If You Leave Me

ShortStack_Logo_R2Its time for our first ever Short Stack! These mini episodes will come out every other Monday, and feature a conversation with an author about their book and writing process. We are thrilled to have author Crystal Hana Kim for this inaugural episode. Crystal is the author of this week’s The Stacks Book Club pick, If You Leave Me. Crystal shares with us where the idea for this book came from, what it is like to hear from readers, and rituals she has around her writing. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers on any of the Short Stacks, listen and enjoy!

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Crystal: Crystal’s Website|Crystal’s Instagram|Crystal’s Twitter

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

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. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

This was possibly my most anticipated read of the year. I knew of Kiese Laymon’s essays, but had never read any of his books, and many people that I trust ad respect have nothing but the highest praise for him. So, I was eager to read his “American Memoir”.

Here is more about Heavy

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.


Complexity and vulnerability course through the pages of Heavy. Kiese Laymon never strays from a commitment to tell the truth of his story. As we read on, we understand his truth is painful. We learn how Laymon got to be the thorough, confrontational, relentless man that is writing this memoir. He allows himself to unfold page by page, until you feel as if you might actually know this man. Of course you don’t, but his brutal honesty gives a seeming closeness or understanding.

Laymon is a beautiful writer. He captures feelings and emotions in short and specific sentences. He creates worlds and moments with his words. In Heavy Laymon shows how his mother shapes him as a man, and also as a writer, and more importantly a thinker. In all of these things, her influence is not always positive, but it is obviously formative. She is herself a Black thought leader and academic who forces Laymon to confront the need to be excellent from a young age. We also watch as people come into Laymon’s life and influence his mind and his body. Quiet literally shaping him. We learn of his deep commitment to revision. We see how that compulsion towards excellence is pathological and often times destructive.

I knew very little about Laymon when I started reading, and within a few pages I understood that what I was reading was different than other memoirs. It was at once personal and a social commentary. Laymon would expose personal secrets, and also institutional deficiences. Heavy is a deeply intimate account of one man and his relationship to his own identity, and an examination of America and her relationship to her citizens. Racism, discipline, addiction, education, beauty standards and more are unpacked in Laymon’s memoir.

I was beyond impressed with this book.. I learned a lot and felt the wind knocked out of my sails at times. I have been calling it “Coates-ian” (a reference to author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates), except more intimate, more vulnerable, and less of a reflection on the broader racial questions of our time, more an examination of how one experience is inclusive of the larger picture. There have been some amazing reviews of Heavy, and I highly suggest one by Saeed Jones in The New York Times, Jones beautifully expresses the struggle for excellence and what that means for Laymon and all of us. Before I unequivocally suggest to you to read this book, I want to note there are some very graphic scenes of a child abuse in this book, and while that can be triggering for many, it is an important part of Laymon’s history. I couldn’t imagine this book without those scenes. Now, here it comes, go read this book.

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • PublisherScribner; First Edition edition (October 16, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy on Heavy Amazon

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. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Black No More by George S. Schuyler


54CDB2F3-2C1C-4FB6-A29C-9B96A70731DEI picked up Black No More as part of a book club read with my all Black online book club. I wasn’t familiar with the book, and had only barely even heard of the the title, but was excited to read a satire written by a Black man from the 1930’s.

More information on Black No More

It’s New Year’s Day 1933 in New York City, and Max Disher, a young black man, has just found out that a certain Dr. Junius Crookman has discovered a mysterious process that allows people to bleach their skin white—a new way to “solve the American race problem.” Max leaps at the opportunity, and after a brief stay at the Crookman Sanitarium, he becomes Matthew Fisher, a white man who is able to attain everything he has ever wanted: money, power, good liquor, and the white woman who rejected him when he was black.

Lampooning myths of white supremacy and racial purity and caricaturing prominent African American leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois, Madam C. J. Walker, and Marcus Garvey, Black No More is a masterwork of speculative fiction and a hilarious satire of America’s obsession with race.


This book, like so many classic books that discuss the Black experience in The United States, feels relevant today. Schuyler uses Black No More to eviscerate Black and White people, intellectuals and hate leaders alike. He doesn’t hold back on bringing everyone to task. Depending on your own perspective on the world, this book could be interpreted in many different ways.

What I appreciated most about this book was that Schuyler seemed to have no fear about how the book would be received. If he did, he didn’t let that stop him. He created characters that mocked well known Black thought leaders (W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and more) and reduced the KKK to a complete scam. He minimized Black identity to something akin to crabs climbing out of a barrel, and showed that White people just need someone to kick around. He showed the American propensity toward violence, and the shame that so many people carry around due to their family’s history.

What I didn’t like about the book was the tone. It felt old-timey. It read like something from days gone by, and that took me out of the story. The jokes didn’t land. The writing felt dated. I never laughed out loud, and mostly felt detached from the work itself. I wondered if that had to do with the era, or with the genre, as I do not read satire often.

When I read classics, I save the introduction for after I’ve completed the text. In the case of Black No More, the introduction is by author Danzy Senna (Caucasia, New People), a mixed race woman who is very fair and often presumed white. She does an excellent job with the forward, and helped me put the book in context. It was worth it to go back and read her words.

In the end, I am glad I read this book. I haven’t read much from the 1930’s and Schuyler paints a searing picture of race in America that is prescient beyond belief. The book is a great work of speculative fiction, even if the satire didn’t work for me. I would love to see this book turned into a film, does anyone have Ava DuVernay’s number?

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher:Penguin Classics (January 16, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Black No More Amazon

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. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

This is not the kind of book I normally pick up. It is character driven literary fiction, about a topic I have little to no interest in, classical music. But, because the author Aja Gabel was going to be a guest on the podcast (listen to our conversation here), I read The Ensemble and it is proof that I know nothing about my own reading taste.

Here is more information on The Ensemble

Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; on the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest and an angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness Quartet. After the group’s youthful, rocky start, they experience devastating failure and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty. They are always tied to each other – by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry, by choosing each other over and over again.


The Ensemble isn’t real life, its stylized life, life the way you wish it played out. Gabel’s characters say all the things you wish you’d thought to say in a fight, or right before a kiss, or in the throws of grief. They say what you wish you’d thought to say if you weren’t so overwhelmed. Jana, Brit, Henry, and Daniel aren’t common they’re normal with a splash of special. They are precise and piercing. Even their missteps are admirable and attractive. The Ensemble is reality plus. I couldn’t help but think what a great TV show this book would make, filled with gorgeous musicians, emotional outbursts, and a soundtrack that mixes Beethoven with acoustic Prince covers. Shonda Rhymes wishes she wrote this book, it is Grey’s Anatomy but with a string quartet. I mean all of this with such high praise. Sometimes reality isn’t enough. Sometimes you want to be around the beautiful people and watch them be sort of perfect, in failure and success.

Gabel knows her characters. She writes their relationships with a confidence you only gain from knowledge. She understands everyones weaknesses and motivations, who they are, and why. The dialogue and inner monologues are fantastic. She knows how to push their buttons how to turn them on, what makes them tick. As moments unfold, they feel right, I never once thought “Jana would never say that”, because of course she would say that. That is just so Jana.

The plot, which is minimal, doesn’t have its own life. It is the character I am missing in the book. I don’t know that Gabel cares to give us much plot, instead we get glimpses of our quartet. It could be any moment, and Gabel picked this one, and here we are. Sure some are major life moments, but some others feel small and benign. The plot feels a little but like an afterthought in this book. It wasn’t the focus and it wasn’t complex. The book doesn’t really have a start or a finish, we just stop getting invited back. This is the kind of book that many people love, character driven, a study of relationships. And for that, it is done extremely well. I would have loved more events. More action. More.

Oh, and then there is the music. Exactly as it should be. In the background, and sometimes loud and mostly soft and just right.

The Ensemble is simultaneously intimate and vast, with rich writing and complex characters. This book centers the realities of life, but with style. I’m glad I read this book. I never felt Gabel was trying to teach me anything, she didn’t attempt to change the way I see the world. Instead she wrote a beautiful small book about relationships and humanity, and gave them the best words to say, and let me do my thing.

If characters and life and small moments excite you. This is your book. Even if they don’t you still might enjoy this book. It has a magic to it, mostly its simple. What a refreshing thing to be in 2018.

To learn more about Aja and hear her on The Stacks click here.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • PublisherRiverhead Books; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 15, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on The Ensemble Amazon

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. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 35 Prodigies, Time Machines, and Beautiful Writing with Aja Gabel

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgThis week on The Stacks our guest is author Aja Gabel. Aja’s debut novel, The Ensemble, came out in 2018, and she talks with us about writing her book, cover design, which writers inspire her, and why she got a PhD in creative writing. We also talk music prodigies and time machines, which is to say, we talk about a little of everything.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

BOOKS

EVERYTHING ELSE

Connect with Aja: Aja’s Website|Aja’s Instagram|Aja’s Twitter

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

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. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Hear Traci on The SSR Podcast

Guess what? I was invited on someone else’s podcast. That’s right, you can hear me on The SSR (Sh*t She Read) Podcast, hosted by Alli Hoff Kosik. The show is all about adults reading and discussing favorite books from their tween and teen years, mostly to see if they hold up and what they notice from their new (older) perspective. I’m on as part of “New Reads November” to talk about the modern classic, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The book follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, a Black girl, as she navigates life after her friend, an unarmed Black boy, is murdered at the hands of a police officer, and she is the sole witness. The book engages with many topics that surround the Black Lives Matter Movement, code switching, racism, anxiety, and more.

We discuss the book in detail (yes, spoilers) and I give my honest critiques of why I liked, but didn’t love, this book that has become a “must read” for many. I THUG this book back in February of this year, and you can read my full review here.

Listen Now

Apple Podcasts|SSR Podcast Website

Traci Thomas%2FThe Hate U Give.png


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.