The Best Things We Read in 2021

Dear Listeners,

Of all the lists and awards that are reigned down on bookss at the end of the year, this list is my most favrote. I have reached out to past guests from The Stacks in 2021 and asked them to share with us their favorite book they read this year, and the one book in 2022 they’re looking forward to. I love the list because, guests from The Stacks have the best taste in books, and the list is never what you’d expect to see in any other publication. My guests have range.

I hope you enjoy reconnecting with the many voices from our 2021 season.


Deesha Philyaw
Author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

The best book I read in 2021… I could not break a tie between my Duval homegirls’ books, Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz and The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton! Milk Blood Heat is a brilliant short story collection that left me breathless, made me laugh, and made me feel. Dantiel writes with such wisdom and care, on a craft level and on a narrative level. And I love that many of these exquisite stories are set in our hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is a faux oral history about a ’70s interracial rock n’ roll duo, and even though it’s fictional, the chorus of voices are so damn real and unforgettable! I just marveled at how Dawnie created this masterpiece, a sprawling epic full of secrets, pain, grief, and music.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Post-Traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson

Deesha was our guest for Episode 145, and then joined us to discuss The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans on Episode 148.


Kimberly Drew
Co-author of Black Futures

My top read this year was Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford. In the memoir Ashley so beautifully shines and opens a window into her life, while holding each reader so tenderly. I am grateful for her generosity. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez. I was fortunate to get an advanced copy and loved pouring through the rich pages.

Kimberly was our guest on Episode 146 where she discusses her book Black Futures with her co-author Jenna Wortham.


Vann Newkirk
Senior editor at The Atlantic

I fell in love with Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois. It was everything I needed in a pandemic book: it was compelling, beautiful, challenging, and for me it was so vivid and showed so much care for Black life in the South that it eased my homesickness and grief in a year of loss. I’ve never met a book quite like this one, and even now, months after I’ve finished, I keep it on my nightstand to flip through when inspired.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò’s Reconsidering Reparations. I’m fascinated by his arguments situating the idea of reparations in a forward-looking environmental context, and I’m excited to dig in.   

Vann was our guest for Episode 149 , and then joined us to discuss The New Wilderness by Diane Cook, Episode 152.


Mateo Askaripour
Author of Black Buck

The best book I read in 2021? Traci, how could you! It’s tough to narrow it down to one, so I’ll opt to mention a book that I loved and want to get even more shine: Give My Love to the Savages, by Chris Stuck. I read Give My Love to the Savages for a New York Times review of three short story collections, and while I went into the project ready to love all collections equally, man, Stuck’s is the one that blew me away (of course, the others were also powerful). 

With his debut collection, Stuck had me laughing one minute, cringing the next, and deep in thought the entire time. Each of his stories––all with their own original conceits––strike my favorite balancing act of incorporating humor while also having enough courage to not shy away from the truth. I could go on and on, and tell you about the character who wakes up as a six-foot penis, another who gets vitiligo and goes on a cruise, or the young man who’s offered a beautiful home on a lake, if he only has sex with a white man’s white wife, but I’ll stop here and leave it to you to read the rest.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I have a whole shelf full of unread books that need some love, and I’ll probably start with A Drop of Patience, by William Melvin Kelley, before making my way to some nonfiction. Right now, Gordon Parks’s A Hungry Heart, 50 Cent’s Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter, and Will, by Will Smith, are all in the running.

Mateo joined the show for Episode 151 to discuss his debut novel Black Buck.


R. O. Kwon
Co-Editor of Kink

A book I’ve especially appreciated this past year is Korean Art from 1953, a Phaidon survey of Korean contemporary art. It’s a gorgeous book full of art, thought, and history, truly a gift during this time of still limited museum-going. It came as a present from my friend Alex Chee when I was having a hard time, and I keep it on my desk so that I can look through it while I write.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I’m looking forward to so many books that will publish next year, but the only one I’ve already had the luck of reading a couple of times is Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s The Man Who Could Move Clouds, a memoir that could change your life. I don’t say this lightly; it has shifted my thinking on ghosts, power, and afterlives. I’ll say it again: it could change your life.

R. O. was our guest on Episode 154 to discuss her collection Kink which she co-edited with Garth Greenwell.


Mary H. K. Choi
Author of Yolk and Emergency Contact

My personal favorite book of 2021 was The Turnout by Megan Abbott. I can’t help it, unhinged, female ambition is so soothing for the way my operating system is set up. First of all, hi, it’s about ballet. Not only ballet but ballet-teacher sisters who grew up in total dysfunction in the long shadow of their ballet-teacher mother. It has basically all the things I think about this time of year—pain, sex, mental health issues, betrayal and The Nutcracker!
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I Guess I Live Here Now by Claire Ahn. It’s about immigrant parents who make good on the threat of: “If you don’t shape up you’re getting shipped back to TKCOUNTRYOFORIGIN.”

Mary was our guest on Episode 155 to discuss her book Yolk. We also discussed Mary’s book Emergency Contact for The Stacks Book Club on Episode 178.


Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Professor and Author of The Disordered Cosmos

One of the best books I read in 2021 was Elissa Washuta’s White Magic: Essays. There’s a lot that could be said about the content: a reading of pop culture — from the Oregon Trail to Twin Peaks — through the lens of a Cowlitz woman who is in search of love and a sense of self. And I learned a lot. But there is another layer of brilliance to this book: Washuta is a goddess of lyrical essay, and much as I was caught up in what she said about how she sees the world, I also found myself wanting to study how she said it. Plus, White Magic is a beautiful book, not just as a text but also physically. I loved the use of white text against black pages, and the gold-embossed cover. I cannot more highly recommend this book.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I’m super excited about Jean Chen Ho’s work of fiction Fiona and Jane.

Chanda was our guest on Episode to discuss her book, The Disordered Cosmos


Clint Smith
Author of How the Word Is Passed

It’s impossible to pick one but one of the best books I read this year was Reuben Jonathan Miller’s Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass IncarcerationMiller is a professor of social work at the University of Chicago and his book is written like a sociological memoir. Grounded in qualitative research on people coming home from prison, the book also weaves in deeply personal reflections about Miller’s relationship with his brother, who for years was in and out of prison. Miller’s proximity to the subject matter adds an invaluable layer of human texture to the story. It’s excellent.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I hear Patrick Radden Keefe has a new book coming out which means it’s immediately going to the top of my list.

Clint was our guest on Episode 168 to discuss his book How the Word is Passed.


Mira Jacob
Author of Good Talk

The best book I read in 2021 was Kaitlyn Greenidge’s Libertie, which shows the inner life of a free-born black woman in the Reconstruction Era who isn’t trying to be anyone’s role model–a premise so loving and revolutionary that it has changed the way I read and write.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Okay, I am cheating with two. In my defense, I am looking forward to reading about 49 books in 2022. Alison B. Hart’s The Work Wife, which pulls apart female complicity in the cesspool that is Hollywood, and Sarah Thankam Matthews’ All This Could Be Different, which looks to be all the things I love–a running-off-the-rails queer immigrant love story. 

Mira was our guest on Episode 171 and returned to discuss The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui on Episode 174.


Nichole Perkins
Author of Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be

The best book I read in 2021 was My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. It’s a riveting debut collection that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, leaning into each story.
Book I’m looking forward to in 2022: Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn 

Nichole was our guest on Episode 184 and returned to discuss Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan on Episode 187.


Dawnie Walton
Author of The Final Revival of Opal and Nev

Between distressing news headlines and the rollercoaster of emotions that is publishing a debut novel, I frequently felt scrambled throughout this year. Brilliant new story and essay collections were my cure for getting over reading slumps (shout out to Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz, The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, and A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib). But the book that is currently pushing me out of a writing slump is Toni Morrison’s classic Song of Solomon, which I read for the first time last month (coincidentally, for The Stacks Book Club — thank you for the nudge, Traci!). Within this story Morrison leaps over years in the span of a sentence, experiments with a blend of seemingly disparate genres, and digs into the legends of several characters at once…and yet, the center always holds. As a reader I was enthralled by its wildness, and as a writer I am inspired to be braver, to roam in fresh and unexpected directions.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Finding MeViola Davis’ memoir, and The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan.

Dawnie was our guest on Episode 189, and she joined us to discuss Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison on Episode 191.


Amanda Montell
Author of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

The book that resonated with me most in 2021 was probably Milk Fed by the singular voice that is Melissa Broder. I don’t read a ton of fiction, so this was a wild card, but I think it’s just one of those books that arrived in my life right when I needed it. I’d describe it as a creamy, steamy, devourable novel about deprivation and desire in which a 20-something woman trapped in the prison of her own self-loathing learns to set herself free through sex, food, and spirituality. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety by Georgia Pritchett

Amanda was our guest on Episode 190, where we discussed her Cultush: The Language of Fanaticism.


Andrew Ti
Creator and co-host of the podcast Yo, Is This Racist?

Wow, do I feel uncomfortable saying “best” here, but the book I enjoyed the most was probably There There, by Tommy Orange. It’s a cool Native thriller that’s both literary and cinematic, and it just fucking dope.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: A comic book series, The Good Asian by Pornsak Pichetshote. 

Andrew was our guest on Episode 192, and he joined us to discuss A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib on Episode 196.


Lupita Aquino
Reader behind @lupita.reads on Instagram

The best book I read in 2021 was…..how dare you make me pick just one?!….The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan! It’s a book I think about often even though I finished it months ago. Traversing from the US, Lebanon and Syria to Palestine this novel at its core is a family saga that illuminates the way a family’s history/possible fated destiny becomes broken and changed by war. Captivating and beautifully written Alyan captures the realities of family dynamics through such a raw perspective which will leave you thinking the ways displacement ripples through every relationship we build. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos! 

Lupita was our guest on Episode 195, discussing the best books of 2021.


Traci Thomas
Host and creator of The Stacks

The best book I read in 2021 was A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib. The book is a nuanced and layered analysis of Black performance in America. I was taken with Abdurraqib’s ability to weave history, pop culture, and personal experiences into each essay, and to complicate my understanding of what it means to “perform”. This is one of those books that I just want to gush over to everyone I meet. A really special read.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: South to America by Imani Perry, and I’m very intrigued by Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley.


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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The 2021 Stacks Book Club Battle of the Books

Its back! The 4th Annual The Stacks Book Club Battle of the Books!

We did it in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and honestly, its the best tradition and I hope you’re all as thrilled for round four as I am.

To refresh your memory, The Battle of The Books is a March Madness style bracket where you vote to pick the book club book of the year. You also get a chance to win one of TSBC books by predicting the most accurate bracket over on https://challonge.com/thestacks2021 or click here. You create your account put your predictions in for who you think will win. Then on The Stacks Instagram Stories, you’ll vote (starting 12/23) for your favorite books in head to head battles, until we crown one winner, The Stacks Book Club Book of the Year. The results of each round will be updated over on Challonge (our bracket site) and on our Instagram @thestackspod.

You have until Thursday, December 23nd at 8:00am PST to put in your predictions. The winner will be whoever has the most accurate bracket, and they will win one of our TSBC books from 2021 (winner’s choice). Be sure your bracket name is your IG handle, email, or name, so you are easy to find upon completion of the tournament. We will announce the winner of the tournament and the winner of the giveaway on Friday, December 31st once all the results are in.

Here is the important stuff.

  1. Make sure you’re following The Stacks on Instagram @thestackspod.
  2. Register for the bracket if you want to be part of the giveaway CLICK HERE
  3. Vote in each round on our Insta Stories,  starting Thursday December 23rd . All voting on Instagram!
  4. Spread the word!

If you want all the nerdy details of how the seeding was figure out, you’ve come to the right place. Mostly I created a bunch of my own calculations to rank the books based on many factors. The rankings are full of biases and assumptions, and honestly, thats what makes this fun. You all ultimately get to vote, which means you get to decide. Here is how I ranked these books, and below find a more detailed description of what that means. 

  • Podcast Downloads– Raw number of downloads that episode received according to my data (I know older episodes will be at a disadvantage as the podcast grew over time, but also newer episodes suffer because they haven’t been up as long, I’m hoping it all evens out). It is worth noting that I excluded A Little Devil in America from this calculation since that episode is not out yet.
  • iTunes Episode Popularity– iTunes lets me see how popular each episode is. Its slight different than raw downloads, because they take into account listeners at the time of recording, but they also only include people listening through iTunes. Again, A Little Devil in America was excluded from this category, see above.
  • Goodreads Scores– I looked up each book on Goodreads and took that score.
  • Goodreads Reviews– I took the raw number of Goodreads reviews for each book.
  • Test of Time– The older a book is, the more credit it got, because it has withstood the test of time. 
  • Social Media Input– I’ve asked The Stacks Instagram followers to tell me their favorite book we read this year, and those responses are incorporated.
  • Traci’s Personal Ranking– Thats right, I’m influencing this competition a little. Its my podcast, so why not?

There are 12 books in the competition, so in each of those categories the books are rated on a scale of 1-12. Each book received a score from each category, 1 being the best, 12 the worst. I then tallied all the scores and divided by 7 (in the case of

I know that sounds like a lot, but just trust me, it makes sense. Here are the rankings based on these calculations, and their total overall raw scores, remember lower is better. Where there was a tie, I broke the tie.

  1. Blood in the Water – 4
  2. Song of Solomon – 4.42
  3. The Best We Could Do – 4.57
  4. The Office of Historical Corrections – 4.85
  5. Anna Karenina – 4.85
  6. A Little Devil in America – 6
  7. Emergency Contact – 6.42
  8. Waiting to Exhale – 6.85
  9. The New Wilderness – 7.14
  10. The Undying – 8
  11. The Tradition – 8.42
  12. Every Body Looking – 10

Voting begins Thursday December 23rd, shortly after 8:00am PST for the first round, and will follow the schedule below. Remember you vote on The Stacks Instagram stories. You just click your favorite book in each round’s head to head matchup. Once the results are in, I’ll share the winners with you and we get ready for the next round. The schedule is below.

Round 1 – December 23nd – Play in Games

Round 2 – December 26th – Elite 8

Round 3 – December 28th – Final 4

Round 4 – December 30th – Championship

That feels like a lot, trust me, it’ll be fun and worth it.
Here is the important stuff.

  1. Make sure you’re following The Stacks on Instagram @thestackspod.
  2. Register for the bracket (with a recognizable name) if you want to be part of the giveaway CLICK HERE
  3. Vote in each round on our Insta Stories,  starting Thursday December 23.
  4. Spread the word!

For those of you curious who won in previous years, 2018 was The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, 2019 was Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, 2020 was The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. Who will ascend the throne in 2021?


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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Top of The Stacks — November 2021

I am writing this to you at the end of the month feeling so confused that the month is already over. I feel like I did nothing all month, and yet I went to NYC (where I made my pilgrimage to Books are Magic), was on NPR again, hosted a Thanksgiving, and of course recorded a whole bunch of great episodes. So yeah, what do I know? Anyway, here are a bunch of things I was super into this month.

First off, I dropped a massive gift guide for the book lover in your life. These are all book adjacent gift ideas that are not actual books.

I have been living in this Target bra and legging set. I am obsessed. There is also a bodysuit, that I have, and love.

Today is also Giving Tuesday, so I rereleased this list of literary related nonprofits for you to support.

This endive and blue cheese salad is so good, and I don’t even like salad.

We lost a titan of the theatre this month, Stephen Sondheim, and this obituary was the best I read.

I got invited back to NPR’s It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders, except this time Sam was gone and I got to talk to the incredible Ayesha Rascoe about banning books. I loved this conversation.

The movie of Passing is finally out, what did everyone think?

I know we’re over turkey now, but this year I spatchcocked my bird and used this recipe from Sohla El-Waylly and it was per-fec-tion. Now you’ll be ready for next year. Oh, and I had the butcher at the grocery store do the spatchcocking for me, so it was even easier.

I talked Bachelorette Michelle on the Love to See It podcast with Claire and Emma. It was great.

I also bought these leggings this month. I live in leggings.

I got to co-host on one of my favorite shows, Yo, Is This Racist? again. It was a blast. We talked blackface on Halloween.


WHAT I READ IN NOVEMBER

THE STACKS NOVEMBER EPISODES


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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Nonprofit Organizations That Support Literacy

This is a rereleased and updated list, it was originally published in December 1, 2020.

Today is Giving Tuesday where folks turn their holiday spending toward nonprofit organizations. I’ve compiled this list of some of my favorite organizations that promote and foster literacy in our communities. I have also included organizations submitted by The Stacks followers on Instagram. I encourage you to use this as a jumping off point and do your own research to find nonprofits that are doing work you wish to support and promote. This list is by no means comprehensive, but its a great place to start if you’re in a place to give! This list is presented in alphabetical order.

  • Athens Books to Prisoners – a volunteer run organization that sends free books to prisoners in Ohio upon request.
  • Behind the Book – inspire New York City public school students to love reading by bringing accomplished authors and their books into classrooms.
  • Blue Stoop – a home for literary Philly, Blue Stoop’s mission is to support writers, foster creativity, and build inclusive literary community.
  • Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) – Assisting Bookstore Employees & Comic Retailers Facing Hardship & Supporting Career Development
  • BookGive – We distribute new and gently used books from our service station to individuals, schools, and nonprofits throughout metro Denver.
  • Books to Prisoners – a Seattle-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster a love of reading behind bars, encourage the pursuit of knowledge and self-empowerment, and break the cycle of recidivism.
  • Coaching for Literacy – sports teams, athletes, and businesses take part in the #Fight4Literacy promoting childhood reading in their communities.
  • Ferst Readers – children in their literacy program receive a bookstore-quality, age-specific book and resources mailed to their home every month until their fifth birthday.
  • First Book – matches nonprofit organizations with local classrooms and programs serving children in need.
  • Free Minds Book Club – uses the literary arts, workforce development, and violence prevention to connect incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youths and adults to their voices, their purpose, and the wider community.
  • Freedom Reads – This is the organization formerly known as Million Book Project (where The Stacks community donated close to $100,000 in 2021). Founded by friend of The Stacks, poet, and MacArthur genius, Reginald Dwayne Betts. Their mission is to bring books into prisons to combat what incarceration does to the spirit.
  • Imagination Library – Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school, no matter their family’s income.
  • Indigenous Literacy Foundation – Australia based organization that aims to make a difference in the lives of Indigenous families by gifting thousands of new culturally appropriate books – with a focus on early literacy and first language.
  • Inside Books Project – inside Books Project is an Austin-based community service volunteer organization that sends free books and educational materials to prisoners in Texas.
  • Kid’s Book Bank Cleveland – foster improved literacy and a love of reading by providing free books to children in need through collaboration with community partners.
  • Lambda Literary – nurtures and advocates for LGBTQ writers, elevating the impact of their words to create community, preserve our legacies, and affirm the value of our stories and our lives.
  • Liberation Library – provides books to youth in prison to encourage imagination, self-determination and connection to outside worlds of their choosing.
  • Literacy First – makes sure that children in Central Texas develop the reading skills that allow them to realize their full potential with regard to education, economic opportunity, civic engagement, and personal development
  • Make Way for Books – an early literacy nonprofit that provides proven programs, services, and resources to 30,000 young children, parents, and educators throughout southern Arizona each year
  • More Than Words – is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business in Boston, MA.
  • National Book Foundation – to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.
  • Open Books Chicago – Open Books is a nonprofit that provides literacy experiences for tens of thousands of readers each year through inspiring programs and the creative capitalization of books.
  • Prisoners Lit Project – An all-volunteer grassroots group that sends hundreds of free book packages to needy prisoners in the United States every month.
  • Read to a Child – foster a love of reading, improve literacy skills, and empower underserved children by inspiring adults to read to them regularly.
  • Reading is Fundamental – inspiring a passion for reading among all children, providing quality content to make an impact and engaging communities in the solution to give every child the fundamentals for success
  • Ready Readers – prepares preschool-age children living in low-income communities to become readers by reading aloud to them, providing high quality books, and offering literacy-related experiences.
  • Room to Read – seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income communities by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education.
  • Rx for Reading – expand access to high-quality children’s books and support families in reading with their children in Detroit, MI.
  • Smart Reading – literacy nonprofit that serves kids in Oregon’s with two ingredients critical for literacy and learning success: one-on-one reading time and access to books.
  • The Conscious Kid – an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth.
  • The Book Thing of Baltimore – put unwanted books into the hands of those who want them.
  • The Book Truck – give thousands of free books to foster care, homeless, and low-income teens throughout Los Angeles County
  • The Bronx is Reading – promote literacy and foster a love of reading among children, teens, and adults. They are currently doing a drive to bring a Children’s and general interest bookstore to The Bronx. You can support that drive here.
  • The Maryland Book Bank – The Maryland Book Bank is a nonprofit organization committed to cultivating literacy in children from under-resourced neighborhoods.
  • Traveling Stories – empowering kids to outsmart poverty by helpinng them fall in love with reading.
  • We Need Diverse Books – non-profit and a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.
  • Women’s Prison Book Project – providing women and transgender persons in prison with free reading materials covering a wide range of topics, all-volunteer, grassroots organization.

Note: The language for each nonprofit was taken directly for the organization’s website.


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. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Gift Guide for the Book Lovers in Your Life

If you’re anything like my family you’ve got a book lover in your life and you’re too scared to actually buy them any books, because of course they’ve already read everything. I’m here to help you find the right book adjacent gifts for the book lovers in your life. If you’re stubborn and dead set on getting them an *actual* book, check out my favorite books of all time list, and the best books I’ve read this year, plus other curated lists of books I love. Or, you could get really presumptuous and preorder a book coming out in 2022 for them, here are a few 2022 releases I’m excited about.


  1. I love black, gold, and white, so this mug is an obvious, yes please.
  2. Do you need to gift a coffee subscription? Yes, you most certainly do. This is an easy gift for a person close to you or a coworker you barely know.
  3. If it’s a read on the go situation, you’ll need a way to transport your reading beverages, this bottle and mug combo is perfection.
  4. This Stagg electronic kettle is for all you coffee lovers, it allows temperature control and a variety of settings (oh and it’s good for tea lovers too).
  5. I love this Ember Temperature Controlled Mug because it keeps my tea warm while I read and doesn’t get between me and a good book.
  6. A gift Mr. Stacks got me that I loved was a very pretty Royal Albert Tea set, if you’ve got a tea lover in your life, this luxury only ups the reading experience.
  7. Gift a monthly tea subscription from Plum Deluxe, a family owned tea company.
  8. This is my favorite tea, it is a rose flavored black tea and it is perfect.
  9. A monogramed mug? Say no more.
  10. People ask my about my milk frother all the time, so here it is. Also worth noting, it was a holiday gift from my brother a few years back and I still love it!
  1. Are you even a book lover if you don’t have a favorite reading light? I love this light because it is rechargable, has multiple brightness settings, and is super easy to pack for trips.
  2. Mouth is the best snack delivery box, the food is gourmet, and they have so much variety. It is perfect for any book lover because they can graze on the goodies while they read, plus when you finish it, it’s gone, which means its not taking up precious bookshelf space.
  3. I swore I would never read on a Kindle but now I do and I like it a lot. It’s easy to travel with, and I use it to read at night so I don’t have to wake up Mr. Stacks if he’s asleep.
  4. Get this “book people” puzzle for the audiobook lover in your life, then they can do the puzzle while they listen to their new favorite book through Libro.FM.
  5. But did you know you could send ice cream in the mail? Jeni’s ice cream can be delivered and this holiday flavor way is legit.
  6. These noise canceling headphones are perfect for audiobooks, or just reading in peace. 
  7. This sweet treat salted caramel is perfect topping for any reader with a sweet tooth.
  8. Libro.FM is an online audiobook store that allows you to purchase audiobooks through your favorite indie bookstore. You can also give memberships to the readers in your life. They are a great company that cares deeply about supporting bookstores and local communities. 
  9. I do a lot of reading in the bath, and I love to throw these bath bombs in with me to set the mood. They smell great and they aren’t too oily.
  1. What kind of shameless self promoter would I be if I didn’t suggest some The Stacks gear? I mean we have very cute sweatshirts, hats, totes, and if the book lover in your life isn’t listening yet, tell them to check out the show!
  2. You’re not a real book lover if you don’t have a cozy cardigan. This one from Madewell is my most favorite these days, but honestly they have SOOOOO many you can’t go wrong.
  3. If all else fails, pick out some cute merch from your favorite bookworms, favorite indie bookstore.
  4. These slippers from Madewell are so cute and comfy. I love a leopard print, but they do come in other colors too.
  5. Not a book t-shirt that also supports a good cause! That’s exactly what this The 1619 Project tee does. 50% of all sales go to the African American Cultural Heritage Fund.
  6. Reading in bed wrapped up in a snuggly robe is certainly my happy place. This robe from Barefoot Dreams couldn’t be softer and more perfect for a slow morning in bed with a book.
  7. It’s not secret I love my Kibou minimalist diaper bag. It is very cute, functional, and it fits my Kindle. Plus, if you use the code THESTACKS at checkout you can get 10% off your order. Also, this one isn’t just for parents. I take it with me even when The Mini Stacks are nowhere to be found.
  8. Do good and look good in this tee shirt from The 1619 Project. Fifty percent of the sales price of this shirt goes to the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
  9. Simply Literary Co. has the best small batch bookish gear and it is full of personality.This book worm sweatshirt is the best bookish sweatshirt I’ve ever seen.
  10. These are my favorite socks for in the home and out in the world. They are warm, but not hot, they are thick, but fit nicely in sneakers, they are the best. (Use code: THESTACKS for 20% your first order)
  1. Since your favorite book lover needs a little green in their home this planter gift box is perfect.
  2. A candle that smells great and supports the National Park system is a perfect pair.
  3. How will you light all these candles? With the matches in this match cloche of course!
  4. If I’m reading I’m wrapping myself up in a cozy throw blanket, and these faux fur ones are my faves. 
  5. What better way to track reading than with this vibrant oversized planner?
  6. These West Elm coasters are perfect for any warm or cold reading beverage.
  7. This Noir Santal candle from AN Style is the best smell ever. I live for this candle. There are other great scents, but this one if my fave, and it gets me in the mood to relax and read.
  8. I love this cozy oversized chunky knit throw blanket. It is heavy enough for warmth, and moody enough for style.
  9. A gift Mr. Stacks got for me one year was a weekly flower delivery from a local florist, Whit Hazen (If you’re in LA I highly recommend Whit). It was the best five weeks of my life. I loved reading near my flowers and using them for my bookstagram photos. Here is a list of Black owned florists across the United States.

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. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed. For more information click here.

Top of The Stacks: October 2021

Here is a little glimpse of the best things I ate, wore, read, watched, and cooked this month. I also made sure to include my favorite chocolate based candy, because I think folks are sleeping on the goodness that is Reese’s Take 5 bars. Thank me later.


I found this article super interesting on the ways Black women are creating narratives around passing.

These are my favorite workout socks, and now they sponsor the show.

The best part of October is all the candy, my favorite chocolate candy are Reese’s Take 5 and if you don’t know you need to find out!

I was the guest host on Keep It! and it is a real life dream come true.

It finally got chilly in LA so I busted out my go to lasagna recipe I’ve been making/eating since 2005.

I wrote about these three books this month for my shereads.com column.

Wait, Lularich is the scam documentary of my life. I’d never seen or hear of these atrocious leggings but I’m all in now.

And of course the brilliant Sam Sanders did an episode on the documentary. Must listen.

Past podcast guest, Rebecca Carroll, wrote this piece on the moving Passing and it’s very good.

I got to talk about why books are the best on Nichole Perkin’s podcast, This is Good For You!

I know it’s a little early, but I did get the boys these Black Santa pajamas for the holidays and they’re perfect.

It’s not secret I love Colin Kaepernick, and his new show Colin in Black and White on Netflix is worth watching.

Sweater weather is here and I am ready in this cute and comfy (not itchy at all) cardigan.

I may or may not have started watching Succession at the start of the third season, I did not go back. I am the chaos.

Michelle, The Bachelorette, is here and I love it!

This is my favorite tea brand, and I finally tried their Chai tea bags, and they are very good.


WHAT I READ IN OCTOBER

THE STACKS OCTOBER EPISODES


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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Top of The Stacks: September 2021

It is already the end of September and I am truly confused as to where this month went. I got to go on a little getaway to a friend’s wedding in Oregon, met up with fellow book lovers Lauren (@literarylauren_) and Morgan (@nycbookgirl). I was in a major reading slump, but think things are getting better. I finished my read through of all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays. It took 39 months, but I did it. Also, as you’ll see, I spent a lot of time this month revisiting 9/11 and the ways it has changed so much of how we live today.


You know I love Sam Sanders, and he has Michaela Cole on the show this month, and it’s pretty spectacular.

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11 I read this piece. It has stuck with me, and this year there was also a podcast episode about the writing of this article. (Warning: There are graphic photos that accompany the article).

This Curry Salmon was so good and I made it with these charred green beans. I’m still thinking about this meal.

I loved this piece from Mitchell Jackson on grief, joy, and friendship.

I am not a pumpkin person at all, but I tried this pumpkin chai and I was pleasantly surprised.

Turning Point is a five part series on 9/11 and the history leading to the event and the repercussions thereafter.

Heather Ann Thompson wrote about Attica on the 50th anniversary of the uprising.

Speaking of the legacy of Attica, reading about what is going on at Rikers in NYC feels all too familiar.

Yes, these are still very much the only short I’ll wear.

Is anyone else obsessed with these Murdaugh murders and this podcast? This is a wild story that is very much still unfolding.

This oven-roasted chicken shawarma was so easy and so good. A perfect busy night dinner.

I’m pretending its not 80 degrees in LA in this sweater.

If you’re not already a member of The Stacks Pack on Patreon, you need to join. We just launched our first bonus episode (Kiese Laymon interview me), created a Discord community, and started a monthly list of book recommendations from an indie bookseller (Uncle Bobbie’s in Philly this month).

Imani Perry wrote a great piece Gayl Jones.

For those of you who are into this season of Bachelor in Paradise, this episode of Bachelor Party (hosted by friend of the pod, Juliet Litman) is so so so good.

This candle smells life a forrest which I am here for. It’s also huge.

I really appreciated this piece about interrupting as a (sometimes) sign of cooperation. It reminded me of this book about language and sexism, which I really enjoyed. Thanks to Tara for putting me up on the book.

My candy snack of the month has been these, Mr. Stacks had never heard of him, now we’re both fully addicted. They are SOOOO good.

I wrote about these three books this month for my shereads.com column.


WHAT I READ IN SEPTEMBER

The Stack September Episodes


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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Top of The Stacks: August 2021

I’m trying something new. I know I share A LOT about my taste in books, but I’m more than just books. So, inspired by Grace Attwood from The Stripe, at the end of each month I’ll be sharing all the stuff I was into all month long. It’ll be a mix of the things I enjoyed throughout the month like articles, podcast episodes, recipes, clothes, TV shows, and whatever else I think is worthy. I’ll also include a little round up of The Stacks for the month, and the books I read. This is the plan for now, but it could change. So if you have thoughts of what you’d like to see more or less of let me know in the comments!


This incredible article about how one family has coped with the loss of their son/brother/partner after his death on September 11th.

This article freaked me the fuck out, Californians, please vote NO on the recall.

This essay on the California recall was also fascinating.

This is the only tea I need.

My mom got me this new kettle for my birthday, and it is a dream.

Ways you can help folks in Haiti.

If you’re worried about COVID and kids, I found this episode of The Daily helpful.

The Stacks is offering bonus episodes over on Patreon, check it out.

I got to talk about one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, Othello, on The Book That Blank Podcast.

Did someone say Cacio e Pepe Panzanella with Corn and Burrata?

Feeling rageful these days, you’re not alone, this op-ed about the potential political ramifications of anti-vaxxer puts to words lots of my questions and thoughts.

How many of the 100 best YA books have you read? It looks like I’ve got some YA reading to do.

I hosted a conversation with author Laura Dave on IG live for Anthropologie and Simon & Schuster, they let me wear this cute jumper and I’m not over it yet.

My go to day time summer dress is on sale (the dress in the picture on this post).

I love a mess, so I obviously have been all in with F Boy Island.

Did y’all know about these cookies and not tell me?

My favorite mom accessory is my Kibou fannypack, and I was featured on their blog. You can use code THESTACKS for 10% off.

Finally an actually interesting conversation around celebrity #showergate. And yes, I’ve added the book to my TBR.

This Jeopardy host scandal is juicy. You can hear from the journalist who broke the story, Claire McNear, here.

I’ve got lots of mixed feelings on Malcolm Gladwell, but this episode about laundry was great.

My August book pairing column on shereads.com is live.

I’m slowly working my way through season two of Ted Lasso, and I’m so glad for a little joy.

In case you’re looking for things to do with all those summer peaches. Start here. End here. You’re welcome.

WHAT I READ IN AUGUST

The Stack August Episodes


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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Stacks x Million Book Project Fundraiser

We’re doing something big to celebrate three years of The Stacks! Our annual fundraiser is back!

For the next 30 days, The Stacks will be raising money for The Million Book Project to support their mission of bringing books and authors into prisons to facilitate meaningful conversations that break down barriers. The Million Book Project is an initiative that harnesses the power of literature to counter what prison does to the spirit. It was founded by author, poet, attorney, and activist Reginald Dwayne Betts. The Project’s work is to build a 500-book Freedom Library and place it in prisons in every state in this country, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. These curated libraries promise to build community among and between those incarcerated, prison staff, and friends and family back home.

The goal for The Stacks community is to raise $50,000 which will help to build ten new 500-book Freedom Libraries.

I know this is a whole lot of money, but I truly believe in the power of this community to do incredible and unbelievable things motivated by our love of books. Why should this be any different? If possible, I am asking folks to forgo buying a book this month, and instead to make a $25 donation for this incredible organization.

Take a look at what your donations will support:

$5 – Gifts in the single digits say solidarity & help nurture The Million Book Project.

$25 – Put a book or two in the hands of a reader in prison.

$150 – Provide a book club in a prison with a set of a next book to digest & discuss.

$500 – Supply the latest book of the month to book club participants in multiple prisons across a state.

Above & Beyond – Help to fill the shelves of a Freedom Library with books that open worlds and feed dreams.

Due to strict prison regulations we can only accept monetary donations through the link below, please do not send any physical books.

Please note: The Million Book Project has its institutional home within the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School. Click the button above to donate online or send checks to: Yale Law School Fund ATTN: The Million Book Project, 127 Wall Street. New Haven, CT 06511 (Please include in your memo line: Designation Number 38701)

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2020

Here it is, a list of my ten favorite reads of 2020. No, not every book in the list was published in 2020, but yes, every book on this list is superb. They’re presented here in alphabetical order with a few thoughts about each book. For more detailed reviews please check out The Stacks page on Instagram.

I did keep track of everything I read. Mostly because I’m a huge nerd and love a good spreadsheet, but also because I like to stay accountable to my reading goals.

Before I dive into my top 10 books, here is a little breakdown of what I read in 2020. I read a total of 95 books, which blew my goal of 36 out of the water. Though my goal was purposefully low because I didn’t know what to expect with the addition of The Mini Stacks this year.

  • 64 were by authors of color (67%)
  • 62 books were by women or nonbinary authors (65%)
  • 48 books were by women/femme authors of color (50%)
  • 45 books were published in 2020 (47%)
  • 52 books were acquired by me in 2020 (55%)
  • 59 books were nonfiction (62%)
  • 15 books received five stars (16%)
  • 1 books received one star (1%)

I love a good stat, and I could break down my reading even more, but I won’t. Instead here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2020.


Anna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee (2020)

A modern retelling of Anna Karenina set in current day NYC with socialite teenagers. Think “Gossip Girl” with amazing storytelling and wonderful characters.

I loved this book. Jenny Lee really creates something fun and exciting that I didn’t want to put down. I found myself so invested in the characters and their journeys. There’s a central love story that doesn’t feel corny, which is hard to do, especially with teenagers. This one comes highly recommended.


The Autobiography of Malcom X as told to Alex Haley (1965)

The story of one of our most important and influential leaders, Malcolm X. This book changed my life and the ways in which I see and relate to the world around me. I can credit it with helping me begin to understand racism as something systemic in America and not something only “bad” people do. This book is revolutionary.

One of the most impressive parts of this book is how Malcolm is able to stand in his truth and share that with the world and say it fully with his chest, and then learn something new and change his mind. That kind of courage is tough to imagine. His commitment to seeking justice and equality for Black folks was not to be interfered with, even if it was he who was getting in the way.

The Stacks Book Club discussion of The Autobiography of Malcom X can be found here.


Black Futures edited by Kimberley Drew and Jenna Wortham (2020)

Easily my most immersive and unique reading experience of 2020. Black Futures is a collection of essays, art, memes, conversations, recipes, lyrics, and more that attempt to detail and encompass the experience of Blackness today. This book is a time capsule of Blackness and a dream for our future.

I loved this book so much. It is massive and rich and full of wisdom and joy and creativity and activism and defiance and beauty. It is the embodiment of the saying “Blackness is not a monolith”. The topics range from Black Indigeneity to self-care, from Ocean preservation to Colin Kaepernick. And it’s not just about each of these things the book connects the many seemingly disparate dots and exposes the multitudes we, Black folks, contain. Drew & Wortham clearly poured so much love into this collection and into telling our stories. A blessing.


Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry (2019)

A deeply personal examination of life, family, gender, race, memory, and violence Breathe is a lush and layered addition to the epistolary tradition in Black American writing.

Perry has created something that is both complex and direct. A combination that is nearly impossible to do well. She is audacious and generous in allowing the reader into her relationship with her sons. I kept asking myself where does she get off writing with this much skill and emotion? The care and love in these pages are unmistakable. I can barely scratch the surface of what I want to say about this book here.

The Stacks Book Club discussion of Breathe can be found here.


Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (2018)

This book was on this same list in 2018, but in 2020 I reread the book before Laymon was a guest on The Stacks. This time I listened on audio. This book holds up and is maybe even better the second time around. Heavy is an emotional memoir of Laymon’s life as a young Black man in Jackson, Mississippi.

The book is brutally honest and unyieldingly vulnerable. We are told of struggles and successes, addictions and abuses. Throughout Heavy there is blank space for the reader to connect to Laymon and to connect his life to a bigger picture of being Black in America. Laymon’s dedication to the written word and to the power of revision is striking.

You can hear Kiese Laymon on The Stacks on Episode 118 and Episode 122.


Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (2020)

When Natasha Trethewey was 19 her stepfather murdered her mother. Memorial Drive is the examination of that event, Trethewey’s childhood, and the ways trauma and memory are in a constant struggle.

This book is incredible. I had visceral reactions through out my reading. Tears. Gasps. Tightening of my chest. This story is painful, powerful, and beautifully told. The kind of bravery Trethewey mustered to put this story on the page is something I cannot comprehend. There are depictions of domestic violence in this book that are haunting. They are difficult to read (despite the fact that Trethewey is careful to protect her reader). These sections are necessary. They are not gratuitous. To tell this story without these details is to protect abusers and the systems that enable them.


Othello by William Shakespeare (1603)

This play is extraordinary. It might be my most favorite Shakespeare play (and at this point I’ve read almost all of them). It is smart and complex and feels timely every time I read it. Mostly because racism, sexism, and violent white boys never seem to go out of fashion. And yes, this was already on my 2018 list of favorite reads.

Iago’s rage and jealousy stuck out during this read more than anything else. He lies so convincingly and so consistently, the parallels to the party in power in America are haunting. The fearlessness with which white men take and destroy is front and center in Othello. Also Act 4 Scene 3 is a scene that I love so much as it shows the way women fight against instinct and intuition to love toxic men. It is beautiful and devastating.


The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (2020)

This short story collection is so good. It’s funny. It’s depressing. It’s complex. It’s rich. It’s Southern. It’s sobering. It’s sexy and violent. It’s specific. It’s surprising. It’s delicious. It’s Black and free and brilliant. Philyaw snapped on each and every story. They’re short and pack a major punch. There is no apology. There is no white gaze and for that I feel entirely grateful. I don’t want to tell you more. Just read this book.


Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream by Mychal Denzel Smith (2020)

A masterful work that calls into question the dissonance of The American Dream and the reality that is The United States. Smith asks for reflection and reimagining in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Abolition, justice, reform, and redistribution are all on the table in this brutal and searing call to action.

Smith is an incredible writer. He distills the contradictions of America and Americanness down to its true, immoral, and predatory essence. I was impressed by the ways Smith kept Stakes Is High in the current moment (the book is not afraid of confronting the here and now) and also rooted in a history that reminds us that none of this is new. The book is in conversation with the great texts on race and liberation in America, and is part of the tradition of abolition, revision, and rigorous curiosity.


Sula by Toni Morrison (1973)

The simple synopsis: the story of best friends, Sula and Nel, the town they grow up in, their families and their bond. The complicated synopsis: everything.

Sula is an incredible feat of storytelling. It’s smart. It’s funny. It’s tragic. Morrison says all she needs to say without any excess. The ways Morrison captures the joy and trauma and complexity of Blackness is what will always stick with me from this book. The humor that is an integral part of Blackness is not overlooked, it is the foundation of this story.

Find The Stacks episode on Sula here.


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. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.