October Books for The Stacks Book Club

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In the month of October we will be reading two books of nonfiction (we have to balance out all that fiction in September). Both books speak to the current moment in American culture, and have received high praise as “must read” books published in 2018.

Our first book is Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, and we will discuss it on the show on October 10th. Bad Blood is a work of investigative journalism that follows the unbelievable rise and fall of Theranos, a Silicon Valley biotech company, and its founder Elizabeth Holmes.

Then on October 24th we will be dissecting How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. In this book, we will learn about democracies of Europe and Latin America that have crumbled and how this systematic destruction comes about and how to fight against it.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. If you’re reading along, send over your thoughts or questions so we can have the conversations you want to hear. 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 October 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.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

IMG_7843On this week of The Stacks podcast, we discussed The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. Our guest for this episode The Stacks Book Club was Becca Tobin, actress best known for her work on Glee, and co-host of Lady Gang podcast. You can listen to our full conversation about The Mars Room right here.

If you’ve not yet heard of the The Mars Room here is a little more information for you.

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

This book is a bleak examination of lives in proximity to incarceration. While the book mostly centers on Romy and her experiences, we do have other narrators, and other characters who steal our focus for moments throughout the book. The Mars Room feels like a much darker and less “entertaining” look at the prison system than what you might be familiar with from a show like Orange is the New Black (Netflix). One of the things I appreciated most with this book was how dark Kushner was willing to go. She romanticizes nothing. It is all bleak and full of despair. I find that choice to be a strong and refreshing choice.

Throughout the book we meet a lot of flawed and interesting and dynamic characters. People who have been dealt shitty hands and lived hard lives and yet have perspective and depth and hope, and sometimes, though not enough, humor. Through these people Kushner asks us to question our own relationship to the incarcerated, our own thoughts on gender identity, racism, and sexual assault, the power of institutions and more. There are moments in this book where Kushner gets caught up in showing us her point of view, that the book does become a little preachy. Kushner uses characters as devices to make larger points, which leads to some characters being full and dynamic and some feeling like they are just there to prove a point (Romy’s son Jackson comes to mind here).

A major problem with this book has to do with Kushner’s choice of featured characters. While she does include Latina and Black characters in secondary roles, none of the featured narrators are people of color, despite there being ample space to allow for their perspectives. In a book about incarceration, our central character is a pretty white woman. This type of whitewashing of a predominately Black and brown space is irritating at best, and something more cynical at worst.

When faced with the choice to leave the reader with hope or not, Kushner mostly choses not. I respect that. I think we are constantly looking for a silver lining, and sometimes when we strip that false hope away we see a picture of reality that can also be comforting. This book addresses this head on. If the reality of hopelessness that so many people live with scares you, or turns you off, this book isn’t for you, and thats OK. Aside from major issues of representation, I enjoyed this book and suggest it to those who are not faint of heart.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Becca Tobin discussing The Mars Room.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition Limited Issue edition (May 1, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy The Mars Room 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. 22 The Stacks Book Club – The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

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Becca Tobin (GleeLady Gang) is back for The Stacks Book Club, and we’re discussing Rachel Kushner’s newest book The Mars Room. This gritty novel tells the story of Romy, a young mother who has been incarcerated for two life sentences. We see Romy in her life leading to prison and the world behind bars with thousands of other women struggling to survive.

There are spoilers this week, so please listen at your own risk.

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

Connect with Becca: Becca’s Instagram|Lady Gang Instagram|Lady Gang Podcast

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.

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.

Hiroshima by John Hersey

EE8E4EB7-0AB7-45E2-95C2-99D93621B76BI have owned my copy of this book for over a decade and never picked it up. It wasn’t until I was sitting in Book Soup for a book event and looked over and saw it sitting there that I decided I should pick it up. I am so glad I did. If you’re not familiar with this classic work of nonfiction, here is more information for you.

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atom bomb ever dropped on a city. This book, John Hersey’s journalistic masterpiece, tells what happened on that day. Told through the memories of survivors, this timeless, powerful and compassionate document has become a classic “that stirs the conscience of humanity” (The New York Times).

Almost four decades after the original publication of this celebrated book, John Hersey went back to Hiroshima in search of the people whose stories he had told.  His account of what he discovered about them is now the eloquent and moving final chapter of Hiroshima.

One of the most horrific acts of war, and one of the hardest to justify, is the killing of civilians. The dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the stories that rose from the ashes, show us why. Hiroshima contains those stories. This book is haunting and powerful and allows the reader a glimpse into what it was like to live through August 6, 1945.

Hersey does little with language, he is direct with his words. There is no sense that this book was written in 1946, nothing that dates Hersey, except of course the subject matter. This isn’t a book full of eloquent prose, or even historical context. This is very much the story of six people who somehow continued to live even after the bomb fell. Hersey talks about his subjects with a distance that allows the reader to imagine themselves in Hiroshima, 1945. I found myself looking up from the page and just shaking my head wondering about the realty of such an atrocity, and also the unimaginable shock and horror that these people witnessed.

Hiroshima does a wonderful job of zeroing in on one perspective, that of the survivors, and erases almost all other chatter that surrounds the use of the atomic bomb. Hersey does not allow for a debate on weather or not it should have been dropped, who is to blame, what options were weighed, etc. He simply shares the stories of those who survived, if the act was right or wrong does not matter. The book is a reckoning of lived experience, not of tactical warfare. It is a brilliant stroke to isolate the intellectual conversations around the atom bomb from the very real effects its usage had on human lives. There is no rationalizing the bomb when you hear people share the things they’ve witnessed.

In the 1980’s Hersey goes back to Hiroshima and follows up with his six main characters. What he finds out about their lives in the 40 years since the bombing makes up the Afterward of Hiroshima .  This was the section of the book I felt the least connected to. While I was grateful to know what happened to everyone, Hersey seemed to have changed from the man who wrote the initial part of the book. His writing style and point of view were different (as I have to assume anyone would be after living an additional 40 years). He did not have the economy of language that I loved so much in the first part of the book. It was a subtle shift, but one that distracted me.

I am grateful that this book exists and it has inspired me to want to read more on the subject (I plan to read both Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham and Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb by Ronald Takaki). I want to read more about the history of the bombs, how America was able to justify dropping them, and more of the arguments around nuclear warfare. I am glad that my introduction to Hiroshima came from Hiroshima, and started with the stories of those who were bombed, those who suffered the greatest cost. I will carry their voices with me as I continue to learn and understand why this happened.

This book is suitable for all people.  It is appropriate for teenagers learning about World War II for the first time, and adults of any age. It is short and easy to understand. There are a few graphic descriptions of injuries, and while they are hard to read, they are important to fully comprehend the magnitude of this act.

If you do read this book, or you have read this book, please share your thoughts in the comments. I would also appreciate any and all suggestions for other books on this topic.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 4, 1989)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Hiroshima 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.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

C3AC3073-5D3F-4AFD-AE59-A65863E1162FI have had this book by Celeste Ng on my list for a few months, and I finally decided to read it. I knew it had to do with the mysterious death of a teenage girl, and I knew that by the end of the book I would know “who done it”, which was important to me because an unresolved ending ruins my week.

If you’re not familiar with this book here is a little more,

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

This book is really well written. The story weaves through the thoughts and minds of all the members of the Lee family, and dives into their history as individuals and into how they relate to each other. I understand why so many people love this book. For me, it didn’t work, I couldn’t get myself to care about any of them, aside from a general feeling of “thats too bad”. I generally don’t like these types of books, family dramas. I decided to read Everything I Never Told You because of the mysterious death part, which I’m always interested in. I thought solving the mystery would play a more active part in the book. However after reading it, Lydia’s death is more of device to look deeper into the family’s dynamic. A device that gave us flashbacks that went on and on, and often times felt redundant. I wanted more plot and more movement forward.

The Lee family, like every family, has issues, and they are intensified by the racism they face as the only mixed race, Chinese and White American, family in the town. The book takes place in 1977 Ohio, which can only be described as intolerant and racist. In addition to racial taunting there are lots of elements dealing with sexism in this book, Ng questions a woman’s role in the family, and in the world. A lot of the racism and sexism in this book felt unspecific and stereotypical. Not that it wasn’t believable (I find that bigots tend to be pretty uncreative), but more that they are so commonplace they felt unexceptional. Which may have been the point.

The way that Ng writes about the shock and grief of the Lee family, is really well done. It is sometimes subtle, and sometimes not, which is true to how grief can look and feel. She takes care with each of her characters, even though I felt that they all kind of felt like the same voice. I enjoyed seeing the Lee’s carrying on and adapting after Lydias death. That is where I found myself enjoying the book most.

Overall I would say, that this was not the book I thought it was going to be. I wanted a book about the death of a teenage girl and what happens next, and instead I got a book that looked back and inward at a family. It is a solid book. If you like a family drama, if you like multiple perspectives on the same events, if you like flashbacks, this is your book. If you like a little more plot or action, I might skip it, however the writing is good enough to carry you through the 300 or so pages.

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. 21 Talking Fiction & Hollywood with Becca Tobin

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOur guest this week is Becca Tobin. Becca is most well known as an actress and a co-host of the podcast, Lady Gang. Today we walk  about Becca’s podcast becoming a TV show, how reading helped her deal with grief, and her love of fiction that feels a little like a rom-com.

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 Becca: Becca’s Instagram|Lady Gang Instagram|Lady Gang Podcast

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.

Hidrate Spark – for 10% your purchase at hidratespark.com use code TRACI10 (valid through 8/30).

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.

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. 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.

Hidrate Spark – for 10% your purchase at hidratespark.com use code TRACI10 (valid through 8/23).

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.