Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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Why didn’t everyone I’ve ever known force me in a room and make me read this book? How has it taken me this long to finally pick it up? It is going to take a while for me to forgive myself for being this late to the Octavia Butler party.

Here is the blurb on this book

Dana, a modern Black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the White son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

This was the book I didn’t know I always needed. It has a Black female protagonist, time travel, slavery, interracial relationships, colorism, and so much more. It is Afrofuturist goodness. There is so much complexity and so many levels that are layered in. Butler is deliberate with her work and it pays off. A short book, that packs a huge punch.

This book is mostly set during slavery and takes those issues on head on. The events that take place on the plantation are brutal and Butler does delve into that, if you struggle with graphic descriptions of abuse be cautious with this book. (It is worth stating, that any book that is honest about slavery will have graphic language that surrounds life for Black people in that time.) The genius of this book is how Butler juxtaposes life in the present (1976) with that of the antebellum South. The book is really asking us to explore the effects of Slavery on present day Black Americans. The guilt and obligation of the Black savior. What is the role of the Black woman in relationship to the power of the White man? Is personal good more valid than collective evil? How much do Black people have to give of themselves in order to protect the systems that preserve White supremacy?

I’m not sure that in the end I felt any closer to answering those questions. I’m not sure that in the end I ever really liked the characters at all. I did appreciate them as vehicles to look deeper into what Butler is examining when it comes to race and gender power politics. The book is plot driven, and that makes for a fast-paced book, but it does leave out some of the internal struggles that would have developed more well rounded characters. As much as I enjoyed this book, I did miss having a connection with the characters.

I think this book is important for what it is, (a Black Sci-Fi book written by a Black woman in the 1970’s), and I also think this book is important for what it says and what it brings up. Now that I’ve finally read something by Octavia Butler, I can not wait to read more

Go pick up your copy of Kindred it is a classic for a reason. Enjoy!

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (2003)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Kindred on Amazon

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This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

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I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book. I had never heard of the author and while the subtitle was pretty clear, it also left a lot for me to wonder about. This book is one woman’s, Morgan Jerkins, insights on the intersection of Black female feminism in America.

Here is a little more about this book

From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today.

This collection of essays floats between specific moments from Jerkins life to historical, political, and cultural moments in the history of Black women in America. Jerkins takes us through her personal experiences and uses them to show us what they mean in the greater context of the life of Black women.

Where Jerkins shines most is with her openness about sharing the intimate details of her life. There were even moments where I felt embarrassed by how much she shares, it appears very little is off limits. Her courage when it comes to discussing the most private details of her life allows us to see Jerkins specifically, and black women in general, as more in depth and complex than they’re often presented in American culture.

Jerkins is sharing her personal observations and experiences, and they are unique to her. Like everyone else, her opinions are flawed and contradictory. I didn’t agree with sections of the book, but I did respect her writing and her thought processes. Jerkins harbors some resentment toward Black women, despite her writing this book as a champion of Blackness. Its contradictory and confusing, and ultimately something she is clearly grappling with throughout. Some of the threads in the essays, feel incomplete or in search of a point. The subject matter is complex and it feels as if Jerkins is still working through a lot of it throughout each essay. Some sections really land, and some fall short for me. This is her debut book and I’m excited for her following works.

For the most part I would suggest you read this book. Representation matters, and of course Black women are not a monolith, and that is made very clear in these essays.  Remember to take Jerkins’ work as what it is, one woman’s experience and a opinions on her life to this point. 

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.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Do not judge this small book by its size. It packs a major punch, it is emotional and visceral, and it is enjoyable to read. 

More about this book

The highly acclaimed, provocative New York Times bestseller—a personal, eloquently-argued essay, adapted from the much-admired TEDx talk of the same name—from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author of Americanah. Here she offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman now—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

Simple. Direct. Smart. This book is a taste of what it means to be a feminist. Adichie dips her toe into the most basic tenets of feminism, from equal treatment across the genders to calling out misogyny as it occurs in real time, as well as raising boys and girls to treat each other with mutual respect from a young age.

Adichie is conversational in tone (which makes sense since this comes from a TED talk.) and casual with her stories, yet biting as she articulates her observations of misogyny. The book doesn’t dive deep into any one thing, it doesn’t have time, its 48 pages. But it does cut to the point, women should be respected and should be treated as equal to men, and that both men and women are responsible for making the societal changes. Feminism isn’t only the responsibility of women.

Plus, excerpts of this talk/book are in Beyonce’s Flawless, therefore this book is perfect.

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

 

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

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I was very nervous to read this book. When it came in the mail, it was huge, and that really freaked me out. I should have expected a huge book given the fact that racist ideas in America are almost never ending, but actually seeing this book and holding it in my hands was intimidating. It sat on my shelf for about six months before I actually started it.

More on this book

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Ibram X. Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

This is one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read. Kendi is taking on racist ideas in America, and that is no small task. He expertly guides the reader through debates about race taking place at any given time in the US. He presents the different sides, and exposes the thinking that has shaped American culture since its earliest days.. His ambition pays off, not only is this book detailed and expansive, it is clear and direct. Kendi won The National Book Award for Non-Fiction with Stamped from the Beginning, and it is well deserved.

At the risk of sounding cliche, and in all earnestness, this book is eye-opening and life changing. It is an academic exploration of things we’ve come to know anecdotally as residents of the United States, but have never truly grappled with. This book gives background to standardized testing, affirmative action, popular films and so much more. Kendi is relentless in his dissection of racist ideas and the cultural importance they have had. For example he spends time talking about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to illustrate how pivotal these books were in spreading ideas about Black Americans across the country and the world.

Kendi is patient with his reader and explains things in detail. Dissecting key moments in American history, both culturally and legislatively, to develop the progress of racist, assimilationist, and antiracist thoughts over time. From the start of slavery through to the presidency of Barack Obama there is never a dull moment for the reader or for racist ideas. Kendi is there to help the reader make sense of it all and give ideas their proper context and in turn show the extent of their reach.

This book was challenging to read. I struggled and reread many passages to make sure it was all sinking in. That was part of the enjoyment of this book, really being challenged to grapple with the ideas and the text.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone. Especially if you consider yourself an antiracist or an ally in the fight for equity in this country, or if you’re interested in learning more about Blackness and anti-Blackness.

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Stamped from the Beginning on Amazon

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

Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong by Raymond Bonner

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This book belongs in the sub-genre of Black man convicted of a crime where there is minimal evidence, goes to death row, gets new lawyers and continues to fight for justice. This story has been told countless times, and that in and of itself is a searing indictment on the American prosecutorial system.

Here is more on this book

This is a lucid, page-turning account of the trials and death row appeals of Edward Lee Elmore, a quiet and mentally challenged African-American man accused of the brutal murder of an elderly white woman in South Carolina in 1982, and the remarkably dedicated legal team that fought for him to have fair representation in court after three separate, grossly mismanaged jury trials. Led by Diana Holt, a lawyer whose own turbulent youth contributed to a fierce commitment to her client, Elmore’s defense winds through nearly three decades of legal maneuverings as suspenseful as the investigation of the mysterious crime itself.

Bonner is skillful in crafting a well researched and thorough narrative to tell Elmore’s story. He won a Pulitzer for this book, so to say its well done is an understatement. Bonner’s style is journalistic, he is direct and presents the details without manipulation. This works well for this book. I want the story and the facts, you can leave the feelings for me to develop on my own.

The only place the book really misses, is that I knew where it was going. Bonner is very formulaic. There is no room for surprise. The book feels more like a train coming down the tracks at you. It keeps going and getting faster, but there is no finesse. It’s all impact. And there is a lot of impact to be had, the law enforcement involved are incompetent (at best) and Bonner relies on that to engage the audience. It leaves the reader enraged, but it doesn’t do much for narrative nuance. If you’re familiar with this genre, you’ll feel like you’ve read this book before, it just has new details.

If you’re new to the genre, it should be pretty captivating. It is also infuriating. That’s the point. Our system is broken and Anatomy of Injustice  is a reminder that there is work to be done.

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 8, 2013)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Buy Anatomy of Injustice on Amazon

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

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

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Before we dive in, here is a little information on this book.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

I enjoyed the book and also I didn’t quite get it.The book is short and yet feels almost never ending. Ward creates a world that seems so close to reality and yet also seems so unreal, so magical it couldn’t be the real world.

When boiled down this book is a black family drama set in the deep south. The family is haunted by their grief and their ghosts (both literal and figurative). That is about as simple as it gets. From there Ward adds layer upon layer. There is of course the plot. There are the characters. And then, she adds the recurring themes. The jealousy and neglect of close family bonds, the rage of racism, the scars of death come too soon, the denials of drug addiction. Between these layers is where the book is found. Ward’s ability to add complexity and subtlety to the tropes we come to expect is what lifts this book up.

The book misses for me in some of these layers. I don’t fully buy into the relationship of Jojo and his sister Kayla. It bothers me. It feels too saccharin. Too easy. Another miss for me is in the supernatural elements. I wish Ward took more time to craft the rules of the world we’re in. More structure. Something to anchor the mystical.  

Where Ward shines is in her ability to display the pain that is passed down through the generations. The inherent grief of living Black in America. The experiences of Jim Crow as they evolve and morph over time. This is handled delicately and gracefully. The racism is breathed into the book and allowed to float in the air. It is masterful.

There is much to unpack in this book. I recommend you read it, if only for the experience of something so unique. Something magical and heartbreaking.

  • Hardcover: 285 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (September 5, 2017)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars
  • Buy Sing, Unburied, Sing on Amazon

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

Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot

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As a San Francisco Bay Area native, I’m a little embarrassed to say I’d never heard of this book. However once it was brought to my attention it moved to the top of my TBR list immediately. If you’re unfamiliar with this book, here’s a little blurb for you,

In a kaleidoscopic narrative, bestselling David Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 & 1982—& of the extraordinary persons who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth & triumph.

This book attempts to discuss and explain some of San Francisco’s (and the country’s) most important people and well known incidents. While Talbot does manage to cover a lot of ground, from Janis Joplin to Jonestown, from Patty Hearst to Harvey Milk and beyond, he is unable to dive into the complexity and nuance that is required to chronicle such important figures and moments.

A lot of the sections of this book fall short. Not only because Talbot doesn’t have enough time or space to give detailed and analytic explanations, that moments like the start of the AIDS epidemic deserves, but more so because his tone is glib and condescending and he often misses the point. When discussing the AIDS crisis at the end of the book, he uses it as a catalyst for The City’s deliverance from the rocky decade preceding. This is dumb. This is also truly offensive considering how many people died.

Talbot has his opinions, and his puns, and his glibness that carry him through this book. His best decision was picking this era filled with interest and intrigue to carry the reader through. I found a lot of Talbot’s point of view and word choice to be off-putting. It was almost as if he was joking around with a pal, instead of documenting a major U.S. city during a tumultuous era.

The part of this book that is most enjoyable is chronicling all of the events and iconic moments that took place in such a short period of time in one city. San Francisco has lived many lives, and if you’re not familiar with late 1960’s to the early 1980’s, this is a great book for you. You will have to ignore some of Talbot’s bad behavior. Which is actually easier than you would think given the subject matter.  

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

 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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This book, has been with me since I read it a few weeks ago. I’ve been reflecting a lot about my thoughts and feelings while reading it. Before I dive in here’s a little more about the book.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

This book felt like a modern day heartbreaking fairytale. Though the  characters exist in a place, New York City, they exist without time and context. There is no mention of real life events, like 9/11, that these characters would have experienced. The book relies on stock character types, but heightens them with emotional events and situations.

I was warned about this book, that it was going to make me cry. Which I brushed off cause  I like dark books. I like reading about struggle and loss and the human response to these things.  However this book is bleek. There is not a lot of redemption. I remember looking up about a halfway through the book and just thinking, “this book is the epitome of sadness for sadness’ sake”.

For me this became very challenging. Not because of the sadness, but, because I felt as a reader I was being manipulated. Of course I’m going to feel things if all I’m presented with is the darkest depths of human capability. The most unrelenting tragic events. Sorrow. Destruction. Brutality. It felt like I was being forced to be sad, because how can you not be after all that you’ve read? While reading and feeling (and crying), I could step outside myself and note that I my emotions were being taken advantage of.

The book gets away with this manipulation because it is so beautifully written. Yanagihara creates moments that are full of life and breath and are just beyond moving. To me, that is the greatness of this book. She narrates through different characters points of view which  works incredibly well.  A Little Life is certainly a book that will stay with me, and that is in no small part due to the world that Yanagihara created.

One thing worth noting, is that the revelation of the title of the book is fantastic. That’s all I’ll say.

I think this book is worth reading, if the 800+ pages don’t freak you out. If you’re uncomfortable or triggered by child, mental, physical, or sexual abuse this book may not be for you. It goes there, and it doesn’t let up.

  • Paperback: 814 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 26, 2016)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Buy A Little Life on Amazon

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

WELCOME

Hi All!

My name is Traci and I run The Stacks. We’re a book podcast and blog focused on giving you real life conversations about all things book.

The Stacks Podcast is the book club you’ve been waiting for. Each month we’ll pick a book, and then get to talking. Not just about the book itself, but also about what the book means in the greater picture of life and culture. Get ready for conversations that are relatable, thoughtful, funny, and maybe even a little messy.

The Stacks will also be a place to find book reviews, recommendations, listicles, and other bookish thoughts in addition to The Stacks Book Club pick of the month.

I’m a newbie to the book (and blog) community, but I have a passion for good books and hot takes. This should be fun.