Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

 

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When I picked this book to be covered on The Stacks Podcast (episode 4) I didn’t think much of the selection. I hadn’t heard people really talking about the book, but Sarah (my guest) and I agreed it seemed like something we’d both be interested in. I have to say, that honestly, I have never been more pleased with a decision to pick up a book in a long time.

Before I move on, here is a little bit about this book.

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life―to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth―and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

I found Men We Reaped to be one of the most powerful and moving books I’ve read in the last five years. The writing itself is beautiful and fluid. Ward takes her skills in writing poetic prose from her fiction work, and melds that with her life story. It reads almost like fiction, but better. She shares her own story with us chronologically, and then tells the story of each of the men who died, in reverse chronological order. These stories are woven together though the book. It is the only way the Men We Reaped could work, and it works beautifully.

This book is dissecting what is means to be young, black, and poor, in the American South. What is your life worth? Ward comes to some devastating conclusions there. I would argue that what she comes to, is bigger than just Southern life, this book could be set anywhere. It isn’t, because it is Ward’s story, but what she discovers touches on universal themes in the Black American experience. I would put this book alongside James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time or Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ward’s Memoir is telling of the greater history of what happens to Black folks in this country. Her message is loud and clear.

I would be remiss not to mention that this book is also about what it means to survive. Ward writes this story, because she can, because she is alive. She is surrounded by the women of her family, and it becomes clear that the history of the Black matriarchy is no accident either. The strength of the women in this story is unparalleled.

This book is a wonderful gift that Jesmyn Ward has shared with us. It is deeply personal, and still finds a way to be universal. It is at once poetic and direct. I feel honored that she chose to share her words with the world.

I have recommended this book to just about everyone I know, and have yet to hear a bad word back (I’m waiting though, you know there are always the haters). If you haven’t read it, you should move it to the top of your list. It is that good. Then give The Stacks Episode 4 a listen. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

  • Paperback : 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (September 16, 2014)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Men We Reaped 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

Ep. 4 The Stacks Book Club – Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

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On this week of The Stacks, PhD candidate Sarah Fong is back, and we’re talking about Jesmyn Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped
 
Our conversation dives into the deaths of five Black men in Ward’s life, and what these deaths say about the greater experience of Black people in America. We discuss substance abuse, mental health, grief, systemic racism and a lot more.
 
There are spoilers in this episode, so if you’ve yet to read the book proceed with caution.

 

Here are links to the things we mentioned this week:24A574D7-9E32-46CB-A662-5096F00885A3

 

Connect with The Stacks: iTunes| WebsiteInstagramFacebook | TwitterGoodreads |Traci’s Instagram

Connect with Sarah: Instagram

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

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.

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 Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

B8907752-52E3-464B-9511-5AE9C5DB5DDAWould you believe me if I told you I never read A Wrinkle in Time as a child? Most people freak out and act as if I told them I’ve never had a sip of water. I don’t know. I guess it just never made its way into my hands. If you’re like me and have never read this book, and don’t know the story here is the gist of this classic children’s novel.

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. 

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

I have to be honest. The only reason I picked this book ups was because of the Ava DuVernay movie adaptation. This movie has a star studded cast, including Oprah. I just felt like I should read the book and then go see the movie.

I read the book. It was a book. There was so little that felt special or exciting to me about this story. The one thing I appreciated was the permission that was given to Meg, the young protagonist, to be her full self. She was encouraged to lean into her vices and trust her instincts. Empowering a young girl to be as moody, angry, and impatient as she wants is wonderful. We need more of that in the world. We should all give ourselves the freedom to feel our feelings fully, and to be where we are. There is no virtue without vice.

The rest I found to be mediocre at best. I didn’t really follow the science fiction parts. Ideas we just thrown out, but not worked through. The book builds toward a climatic ending, and then resolves itself in a about eight pages. There is a romance that is totally superfluous, especially in a children’s book.

The part of the book that I found to be the most off putting was the presence of a very pro-christian outlook. I know L’Engle was a Christian, and her believes of course informed her work. In this story, its seemed unnecessary. It didn’t add value or complexity, it just felt like an opportunity for proselytizing.

It is worth noting that the most powerful part of this book is its place in its own historical context. A sci-fi children’s book with a female protagonist and a woman author written in the 1960’s is so rare it is important by virtue of existing. That so many people, male and female, connected with it over the course of decades speaks to its power. That so many people found this profound in their own lives is meaningful. It is an important step for literature, a huge step in the “representation matters” movement. I do not want my personal opinion of the book to take anything away from what the book is, and what the books means.

I wonder if I had read this book as a child how I would connect to it. I wonder this often about books, not just children’s books. After reading a New York Times op-ed on the best ages to read certain books, I couldn’t agree more. We grow and we change and we develop, and so does our understanding of the world. It makes sense that I might not be able to suspend my disbelief in the same way a ten year old can. And that is okay.

If you are ten, or you have a child, especially a moody little girl, this book seems like it would be a hit! Its a classic for a reason, even if its not for me.

  • Hardcover : 216 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 1, 1962)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy A Wrinkle in Time 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

 

Broken Bananah: Life, Love, and Sex… Without a Penis by Ross Asdourian

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This book doesn’t fall into my normal reading habits, as a matter of almost fact, I don’t like comedy books. I don’t use my reading time for laughter. However, I picked this book up cause I know the author, and can say I actually experienced part of his journey with him. Not in the way you’re thinking.

This book tells the story of Ross Asdourian, a single man in his 20’s, who breaks his penis during sex. It sounds like a joke, but its not. I won’t talk too much about the details, because the details are what make this book special. You feel like you’re right along with him through it all, even when you wish you weren’t.

Asdourian does an expert job of weaving his personal life, his sex life, and his many past lives together in this memoir. You meet characters along the way (one of which is named after me, so yes, I’m bragging) and they are all quirky and hilarious. I guess when you read a comedy book, you should expect a little hilarity.

That being said, this book isn’t all funny. Broken Bananah also offers a (very) unique perspective on what is important in life and love, and that things could always be worse. Its hard to imagine worse than the potential loss of your main sex organ, but Asdourian puts it all in perspective. He gets vulnerable and honest in a way you don’t typically see in these types of books.

I have to admit, I had very low expectations for this book. When I think of self-published books, I usually think of something close to unreadable. Turns out I don’t know anything and there are plenty of great books that started out by being self published.

If you’re not one for graphic details on sexual intercourse, porn, masturbation, blood, and medical procedure, I can not in good conscious recommend this book to you. This book relies heavily on a good pun for the male anatomy, and is a little crass, which I’m sure you guessed given the title.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think you might too. It isn’t anything I would normally read or enjoy, but turns out I can surprise myself sometimes. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book.

  • Paperback : 182 pages
  • Publisher: Self Published (April 9, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Broken Bananah 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

 

Ep. 3 Talking Books with Sarah Fong

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOn this week of The Stacks we are joined by Sarah Fong, a PhD Candidate in American Studies. Sarah is currently writing her dissertation on U.S. practices of social welfare, particularly as they relate to histories of slavery and colonization. This week we talk about the writing process, reading for work vs. reading for pleasure, and the power of books to teach us new things, and allow us to make changes in the world.

Get to know Sarah this week, before next week’s The Stacks Book Club conversation on Jesmyn Ward’s  Men We Reaped.

Here is a list of all the books mentioned on this week’s podcast:

 

Here are some other things we talked about this week:

Connect with The Stacks: iTunes| WebsiteInstagramFacebook | TwitterGoodreads |Traci’s Instagram

Connect with Sarah: Instagram

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.

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

#diversiFIVEbooks Round Up

70F30DF8-45D8-4F42-BEA5-255411607B13Its been one month since the start of the #diversiFIVEbooks challenge to bring a little more diversity to the online book community. You can read all about that here.

I wanted to give you all a round up of the books that were mentioned in the last month. This way you can add them to your physical or online to be read list, or just have them all in one place.

The list is organized by prompt. Which means if a book was listed in different categories it will show up twice. If a book was listed more than once in the same category, I will also note that as well. However once in the prompt they’re not organized at all.

If you’ve yet to participate, go join in the fun on your Instagram. And make sure you’re listening to The Stacks Podcast to hear how our guests answer their own #diversiFIVEboooks challenge.

Now on to the round up, be fair warned, its whole lot of books. Enjoy!

A book you loved before you joined Instagram/Bookstagram

A book you love by an author from a different ethnicity than you

A book you’re excited to read by or about people of color

A book you love that you rarely see on Instagram/Bookstagram

A book in a genre you don’t normally read that you ended up loving (and the genre it comes from)

I hope this insanely rich and diverse list inspires you when you need it most. I know I’m looking forward to reading many of these books. If you do pick any of these up let me know what you think.

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.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

IMG_4493This book is very special to me, as it is the very first book we covered on the podcast, as part of The Stacks Book Club (TSBC). You can hear my conversation about this book, with my guest, Dallas Lopez here on the second episode of The Stacks.

If you’re not familiar with this book here is a little blurb about Hamid’s work:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

There is something so unique and moving about this book. I noticed it right away. The first sentence of this book is powerful, and yet still tender. Hamid crafts his sentences to unfold in front of your very eyes. You think you know here he is going, and yet still you never quite see the end of the sentence coming. At the risk of sounding cliche, the writing in this book is beautiful. It is a thread that is present throughout the book, and is what gives this book its heart.

The premise of Exit West is genius. Following two young refugees who have recently come together is unique. This is not the story of the family of five picking up and leaving home. This book allowed me to think about migrants we rarely think of, young lovers. Those deciding to make a go of it. It gave a new face to the struggle for freedom and equality.

While I did feel the book was full of amazing ideas, and it forced me to confront so many stereotypes and so much of who I would like to think I would be in the face of a crisis. The book doesn’t do much in the way of plot. It is mostly there to stir up ideas. To ask us questions. To reflect a certain version of the world and to see how we respond.

The last fifth of the book fizzled out a bit for me. I wanted so much for the end of this book to be as spectacular and emotional as where it started, and it didn’t deliver in that. I have come to think though, that my desire for an explosive ending says more about me than the book. Hamid carefully crafted this story, and he made sure the ending fit the larger metaphor he was sharing with his readers. I was just too caught up to see it at first. The more I think about this book the more I have come to love the ending.

I really enjoyed this book. It was special and magical and gorgeous and maybe even a little bit sexy. I would suggest it for just about anyone, in fact I did, thats why it was my very first TSBC pick.

If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you think of it. If you’ve listened to the podcast, I’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation.

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (March 7, 2017)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Exit West 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.

Ep. 2 The Stacks Book Club – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOn this week of The Stacks, high school English teacher Dallas Lopez is back, and we’re talking about Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

This is our very first The Stacks Book Club (TSBC) episode. Join us as we discuss the fears of leaving your home behind, the power of the human spirit to 
carry on, who we think should be in the movie, and a lot more.
 
There are spoilers in this episode, so if you’ve yet to read the book, listen at your own risk.

 

Here are links to other things we mentioned this week:

 

 

 

Connect with The Stacks: Blog | Instagram | Facebook | iTunes|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

Connect with Dallas: Instagram

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.

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 Stack Book Club May Picks

9C906095-2029-4717-8A2A-A1A8DE58C4B1We are excited to announce our next two books for The Stacks Book Club. These books will be covered in the month of May on The Stacks Podcast. Make sure you read the books and then join us for our in depth conversations.

On May 9th we will discuss James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. This book is set in the 1950s Paris and follows an American expatriate, as he finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. James Baldwin delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

On May 23rd join us as we talk about Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth. This books covers serial killer Andrew Cunanan, his unwitting victims, and the moneyed world in which they lived, and of course his final murder, that of Gianni Versace. This book is the basis for the second season of FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.

As will always be the case with TSBC episodes, we will be exploring all elements of the books, so please note there will be spoilers.

Once you’ve read the books, don’t be shy. Please send over your thoughts and questions so we can incorporate them into the podcast. You can leave a comment here, or find us on our Instagram @thestackspod.

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 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

F511F697-6F50-4094-8953-629BD40E493AI grew up in Oakland, CA and had never heard about this story. It is a true one, from 2013, and it is pretty heartbreaking. If you have never heard about this book or this story here is a little more information for you.

One teenager in a skirt. 
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

This book was originally an article for The New York Times. I’m glad its was turned into a book. I’m glad this book exists. It is a Young Adult Non-Fiction book, a genre I had not been familiar with before reading this book. The book is mostly written in a straight forward journalistic style, but there are moments of poetry woven between the reporting. It allows for a little reflection and processing.

The 57 Bus does an amazing job of breaking down the different terms and pronouns to use for all gender and sexual identities. Sasha’s process is complicated and nuanced, and Slater really takes the time and care to present Sasha fully, without judgement. Sasha is presented as so many things at once, a complete and complex individual.

When it comes to Richard, Slater does a good job giving us the context of his life, however I do feel that there is not the same care paid to him. I don’t know if there should be, given the circumstances. I do feel she attempts to treat both teenagers as equal, both trying to navigate the world and move into adulthood. However the subtleties and complexities of being young, black, and male in a city like Oakland are not fully dealt with. Richard feel incomplete.

For example, when Slater attempts to explain how we arrived in a place where juveniles could be prosecuted as adults and receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, she spends a few pages discussing “super predators”. A racist term created in the 1990’s to scare people into thinking that young black youth would become more violent, which led to the stricter imprisonment laws. Then at the end of this section, Slater just says, “super predators” were a myth. And like that, she dismisses this idea she has spent time setting up. That is not adequate. Especially as this is a Young Adult book directed at audience that were not alive during the time of “super predator” fear and anxiety. A more equivocal dismantling of the myth was needed.

These small slights toward the black experience in this book left me a little frustrated. Knowing that many young adults are not fully versed in the racial politics that lead to the label of black youths as bad, in need of special education, and eventually to incarceration. More could be done to give the context of the systemic racism that black youth face.

I would certainly recommend this book. Its an interesting story, and a good reminder that we’ve got to teach our children better. I would suggest reading it with a critical eye. It would be especially powerful for young people with an interest in social justice.

Tell me what you thought of this book in the comments.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 17, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The 57 Bus 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.