Ep. 1 Talking Books with Dallas Lopez

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOn this week of The Stacks we talk with High School English Teacher, Dallas Lopez. He tells us about how he used to hate reading, and how self-help books helped him to find his way into reading. We discuss books that Dallas loves, and books he doesn’t, and books that at one point or another fit in both categories.

This week you’ll get to know Dallas before next week’s The Stacks Book Club conversation about Exit West by Moshin Hamid.


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The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes by Sarah Burns

IMG_5205This book falls perfectly in my wheel house, a book about true crime, a book about racial politics in the United States, and a book about the wrongfully convicted. I already knew a lot about this story, and the facts of this case before reading the book, in fact I had already seen the PBS Documentary.  That being said, if you’re not familiar with this story, here is some context.

On April 20th, 1989, two passersby discovered the body of the “Central Park jogger” crumpled in a ravine. She’d been raped and severely beaten. Within days five black and Latino teenagers were apprehended, all five confessing to the crime. The staggering torrent of media coverage that ensued, coupled with fierce public outcry, exposed the deep-seated race and class divisions in New York City at the time. The minors were tried and convicted as adults despite no evidence linking them to the victim. Over a decade later, when DNA tests connected serial rapist Matias Reyes to the crime, the government, law enforcement, social institutions and media of New York were exposed as having undermined the individuals they were designed to protect. Here, Sarah Burns recounts this historic case for the first time since the young men’s convictions were overturned, telling, at last, the full story of one of New York’s most legendary crimes.

As I mentioned I was already keyed into this story. I had seen the documentary years ago and was really moved by it. This book, is written by the same woman, Sarah Burns, who was a co-creator on the film (her father, legendary documentarian Ken Burns, is also a co-creator). Both the book and film share from one another, and I can only imagine how ground shaking this book would be if you were relatively unfamiliar with this story.

Burns does a fantastic job of detailing not only the events of 1989 and 1990, but also recreating the environment and cultural current of the time. She walks us through how something like this could happen; the media frenzy, the racist attitudes, and so much more. Her writing is straightforward, though also a little biased (and I think rightfully so). This is not a “we need to hear both sides of this story” kind of book. In all fairness, the “other side”, the side of the city of New York, has been driving the narrative on the Central Park Five for the last 20+ years. She is righting a wrong. She is setting a record straight.

You can sense Burn’s frustration with the system through out the book. The Central Park Five is a searing indictment of the way that the NYPD and District Attorney’s office handled this case. Burns does lean in a little deeper and remind us that this case could happen to anyone, as the practices used to convict these young men are still very much alive and well in today’s judicial system.

The only thing that this book lacks for me is a deeper connection to the boys who were dubbed The Central Park Five. I wish Burns dove deeper into repercussions these events had on the five teenagers. At the center of this story is not only wrongdoings by the city of New York, but also the story of those who were wronged. This book is more styled to be a piece of journalism chronicling the events, and less and expose on the lives that were altered. I would have loved for it to have done both things.

If you’re not familiar with this story, or the revelations that have come up in the last 15 years, I highly recommend this book, and the documentary. It is also worth noting that Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time) has signed on for a five-episode Netflix series about The Central Park Five set to film this summer. I’m obviously looking forward to this as well.

If you’re familiar with this story or have read the book or seen the documentary I would love to hear from you. Leave your comments below.

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books (May 9, 2012)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy The Central Park Five 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.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

E685FB9E-B8BD-4102-8343-3F3BD1CA6661I went into this book with high expectations. I had seen it all over the internet and some friends were excited about it, too. I purposely did not read anything about the book, and only knew what I gathered from #bookstagram posts. I knew it was a sci-fi book. I knew it was “mind-blowing”. For those of you who aren’t super familiar with this book, here is a little more about it:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

If we’re being honest, even that blurb doesn’t tell you much about the book. The main thing this book has going for it, is suspense. For the majority of the book you have no clue where its going, and what is coming next. You root for Jason to find out whats going on, and you keep rooting for him as the book unfolds. Sure. The book moves fast enough that you don’t even really have time to decide if you care about Jason. Which, by the end I discovered, I didn’t. I did however want the book to be over, with about 75 pages left. I didn’t care how it ended, I just wanted to know how it ended.

I found this book to be cheap and easy. The writing style is so simple, Crouch barely forms complete sentences. I paused my reading a quarter of the way through to see if this book was Young Adult, because it lacked so much nuance (which I don’t mean as a dig at YA, since some YA books are amazing and subtle). Crouch shies away from developing any of the characters, aside from perhaps Jason. He fares the best, which is good for the reader, since we’re stuck with him the whole time.

Another let down in this book was that it just wasn’t original. Sure this exact story has never been told, but the idea that the choices we make could change our whole trajectory is as old as regret itself. Movies like Sliding Doors or Groundhog Day could fit into this genre. There was a lack of specificity in this book, so the characters and story fell flat. It seemed like a prototype of a genre, verses an actual novel.

I know that I am an outlier on this book and lots of people loved this one. So you might like it too. Its an easy read, and its clever in theory. If you enjoy a light suspenseful book, this could work for you. If you’ve read this one, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below.

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Pan Books (August 24, 2017)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Dark Matter 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.