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.

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.

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.

The 2020 Stacks Book Club Battle of the Books

Its back! The 3rd Annual The Stacks Book Club Battle of the Books!

We did it in 2018 and 2019 and honestly, its the best tradition and I hope you’re all as thrilled for round three 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/thestacks2020 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 12/22) 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 Tuesday, December 22nd 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 2020 (winner’s choice). We will announce the winner of the tournament and the winner of the giveaway on Thursday, 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 Tuesday December 22nd . 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 Citizen: An American Lyric  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, Citizen: An American Lyric 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 16 books in the competition, so in each of those categories the books are rated on a scale of 1-16. Each book received a score from each category, 1 being the best, 16 the worst. I then tallied all the scores and divided by 7 (in the case of Citizen: An American Lyric only 5). The lower the score, the higher the ranking.

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. The Autobiography of Malcolm X – 3.28
  2. Sula – 3.85
  3. The Giver – 5.14
  4. Citizen 5.8
  5. The Undocumented Americans – 6.14
  6. Breathe – 6.57
  7. Sister Outsider – 7.57
  8. Trick Mirror – 7.71
  9. The Hating Game – 8.71
  10. Trust Exercise – 9.71
  11. Savage Appetites -9.85
  12. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – 10.14
  13. Three Women 10.28
  14. The Butterfly Effect – 11.14
  15. Cribsheet – 11.28
  16. Number One Chinese Restaurant – 12.28

Voting begins Tuesday December 22nd, 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 22nd – Sweet Sixteen 16

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 if you want to be part of the giveaway CLICK HERE
  3. Vote in each round on our Insta Stories,  starting Tuesday December 22.
  4. Spread the word!

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


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.

The Stacks Book Club — December 2020

In a book that combines essays, poetry and visual art, Claudia Rankine has crafted an instant classic with 2014’s Citizen: An American Lyric. The book is a powerful examination of racial aggression, from the types of interactions that are easy to overlook to overt acts of violence against Black bodies. Citizen, like anti-Black racism, does not stick to one tactic or form, instead it shape shifts leaving the reader surrounded by the many insidious ways that white supremacy functions and thrives. Art, sport, police violence, and more are part of this brilliant work of social criticism.

We will be discussing Citizen: An American Lyric on the podcast on Wednesday, December 30th. You can find out who our guest will be by listening to the podcast on December 2nd. If you’d like even more discussion around the book consider joining The Stacks Pack on Patreon and participating in The Stacks’ monthly virtual book club.

Order your copy of our December book on Bookshop.org or 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. 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.

The Unputdownables: Memoir

Back in May of 2019 I had this idea to do a series of book lists featuring your favorite most unputdownable books. The first (and only) edition was of course on nonfiction and then I dropped the ball, but I’m bring backing The Unputdownables here and now.

To start, I’ll share two or three of my favorite and more readable memoirs. Then I’ll share all of yours. I didn’t add anything to the list, this is all sourced from YOU! If something is missing, and you want your picks to be included in future editions of The Unputdownables make sure you’re following The Stacks on Instagram, and participating when you see the question box appear.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon – This should come as a surprise to approximately zero people. I love this book with my whole heart. Laymon is constantly examining and revising what is means to be Black, Southern, curious, alive, and free through the pages of his memoir. Not only is Heavy rhythmic and well written it is also generous and vulnerable and rich. If you’ve never read this book, please make time for it. I can not speak highly enough of the book itself and the man who wrote it. Kiese Laymon has also appeared on The Stacks podcast and in conversation with me on The Stacks Instagram.

The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson – A brutal and powerful story of Johnson’s kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. This memoir will make your heart race, however the violence and trauma is handled with care. It is incredibly readable and thought provoking. Johnson is a professional writer and The Other Side reads as a piece of art and a indictment on the ways violence against women is an accepted part of America’s identity. You can also hear Lacy M. Johnson on The Stacks from 2019.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah – An incredible story of Beah’s childhood as a solider in Sierra Leone. The book follows his journey, the atrocities he saw, and the ways he coped. Deeply moving and a reminder that you never know what other people carry with them.


Here are a list of books submitted by you of your most unputdownable memoirs. If the book came up multiple times I will note that by placing the number times it came up in parenthesis. If I have read the book, I will note that too, by putting the book in bold. The books are in alphabetical order by title. Ok. here is your list of totally bingeable memoirs as told to me by YOU.

Thats the list for The Unputdownables: Memoir. Make sure to share which books you would add to this list in the comments. Stay tuned for the next round of The Unputdownables, coming soon.


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.

The Stacks 2nd Anniversary Superlatives

(Photo: Claire Leahy)

Today marks The Stacks’ second birthday! This little podcast baby is now a toddler!

In that time we have released 134 episodes, had over 70 guests, discussed countless books, and read thousands of pages. It has been an amazing journey and it wouldn’t be anything without all the love of support of this bookish community. I am beyond grateful to all of our guests, the publishers, the publicists, the authors, the readers, and anyone who has ever listened to the show.

This podcast has been one of my lives great joys.

Last year I created The Stacks Superlatives, and I thought we should do it again for year two! I have loved all of my guests and episodes, but there are a few that have stood out for me, so here they are!


Listener’s Favorite
Ep. 89 Staying True to Yourself with Jason Reynolds

This season an overwhelming crowd favorite was my conversation with author Jason Reynolds. Jason came on the show shortly after the release of his middle grade short story collection Look Both Ways. Jason brought with him his infectious and inspiring energy, and ridiculously good taste in books.

Most Therapuetic
Ep. 63 For the Love of Therapy with Lori Gottlieb
Ep. 64 The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams — The Stacks Book Club (Lori Gottlieb)

When you want to talk about real life stuff, you must call your therapist, and Lori Gottlieb is just that. The author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone talked with us about therapy, life, and loss. It was a really beautiful conversation about the ways we show up for each other and the ways we could do better. We then talked about Julie Yip-Williams death memoir, The Unwinding of the Miracle for The Stacks Book Club and it was a healing conversation about how we talk about death.

Most Poetic
Ep. 56 Wild Beauty by Ntozake Shange — The Stacks Book Club (Gabrielle Civil)

April is poetry month, and to help us tackle our first ever poetry collection, performance artists and author Gabrielle Civil joined us. We talked about Ntozake Shange’s collection Wild Beauty. Gabrielle made sure to encourage us all to read more poetry and to not worry about “getting it”.

Favorite Fellow Podcaster
Ep. 77 Its OK to Hate a Book with Sarah Enni
Ep. 78 Educated by Tara Westover — The Stacks Book Club (Sarah Enni)

Sarah Enni is an author and the host of The First Draft Podcast. On her show she sits down with authors and storytellers and discusses their creative process. It was such a delight to get together with someone else who does the same kind of show as me and to discuss books and podcasting. Not to mention all the wonderful insights Sarah had for The Stacks Book Club conversation of Educated by Tara Westover.

Book I Want Everyone to Read
Ep. 58 Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed — The Stacks Book Club (Keltie Knight)

If there was ever a book that could make you want to smile and cry at the same time it is Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. The book is a collection of Strayed’s advice from a column she once wrote for The Rumpus. When we talked about this book with Keltie Knight of The Lady Gang was a total delight. If nothing else I think this book is great reminder to be a littler more empathetic and compassionate when we can be, and to be more of a mother fucker when we need to be.

Most Charming
The Short Stacks 27: Shea Serrano//Movies (and Other Things)

I dare you to listen to this episode and not want to become BFFs with Shea Serrano. He is an author and columnist at The Ringer. His books are super creative and funny, and his latest, Movies (and Other Things) is no exception. Anyone who knows of Shea knows he is hilarious and ridiculously talented with words. He also has the cutest family, and seems like a great hang. He is so smart and thoughtful, and all the things. Look at me I’m gushing. Just go listen to his and then join him on Twitter where he and his followers give to charities and people and need, and sometimes even get called out by BARACK OBAMA!

Bucket List Moment
The Short Stacks 22: Ibram X. Kendi//How to Be and Antiraicst
Ep. 65 Crafting a Compelling Narrative with Dave Cullen

When I first set out to create this show, I had a bucket list of authors I wanted to have on The Stacks. Welp, in our second season, I got TWO of them! Both Dave Cullen (Columbine) and Ibram X. Kendi (Stamped from the Beginning) came on the podcast to talk about their newest books. It was a total dream come true, and you can most certainly hear me fan-girling like crazy over both of them!

Person You Most Want to Get a Drink With
The Short Stacks 23 : Tressie McMillian Cottom//Thick

I had the absolute best time talking with author, podcast host, and professor Tressie McMillan Cottom about her collection of essays Thick. I don’t know what to say about her beside, she is a force and if she ever wanted to grab a drink (or twelve) I would be so down. I know sitting with her would be hilarious and would teach me so much about the world.

Best Book Breakdown
Ep. 60 Beloved by Toni Morrison — The Stacks Book Club (DaMaris B. Hill)

DaMaris B. Hill (A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing) joined the show to talk about Beloved by Toni Morrison, and from the first sentence she blew me (and everyone at home) away. She was layering all kinds of history as she broke down the details and implications of this book. DaMaris taught me so much in the hour we sat talking, the whole time I just kept thinking “I would LOVE to be in her classroom”. If you’ve ever read the book, you must listen to this episode. She will blow you away.

Most Sentimental
Ep. 1 Talking Books with Dallas Lopez

You can’t have an anniversary if you never get started, and so this superlative goes to the first ever episode with our guest, and my friend, Dallas Lopez. Dallas, a high school English teacher, joined the show before I ever knew what the show was, and helped shape The Stacks. I would be lost without his ability to talk about books.
(I know this is breaking the rules, but I don’t care)


I would love to hear what books or episodes stick out for you. Share in the comments below. This list is making me want to go back and listen to every single episode of the podcast. Thank you again and again for being a part of this show and this community. Without all of you, there is no The Stacks.


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.

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2019

Putting together a list of favorite reads is always so fun and so tough for me. I read over 100 books this year, so narrowing it all down is a great way to reflect on what I learned and how I’ve changed in the last 365 days.

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 2018. I read a total of 101 books, exactly ONE book over my goal.

  • 49 were by authors of color (49%)
  • 54 books were by women (54%)
  • 31 books were by women of color (31%)
  • 40 books were published in 2019 (40%)
  • 62 books were acquired by me in 2019 (62%)
  • 61 books were nonfiction (61%)

Of the 101 books I read here is how the star ratings shook out

  • 17 books received five stars (17%)
  • 23 books received four stars (23%)
  • 45 books received three stars (45%)
  • 14 books received two stars (14%)
  • 2 books received one star (2%)

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 2019 (in alphabetical order), though they weren’t all published this year.


Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016)

The story of August, a twelve year old Black girl navigating a new life in Brooklyn. She moves north, with her father and brother, after her mother’s death. It’s the story of August growing up, finding new friends, and creating space her own space in the world.

This is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve ever read. The characters as vibrant and live in the space of confidence and insecurity that is so common for teenagers. She understands what it means to be lost and then found. She captures so much in this book, and does it all in less than 200 pages. That kind of brevity is rare, and a sign of true mastery.

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur (1987)

In the story of her life, Assata Shakur lets her reader in on her childhood, her relationship with the Black Liberation Movement, and her arrest and imprisonment. The prose are conversational and the content is enraging and devastating. Not only is this book a look back at the past, it is also a very clear indictment on the current state of affairs in The United States.

I loved that Shakur wasn’t presenting an objective history, but rather a deeply personal and emotionally charged retelling of her life. You can feel her passion and her rage in every sentence, and it is beautiful.


How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

The books is part memoir and part guide to identifying and combatting racist ideas in ourselves and in our culture. Kendi’s main premise is that there is no such thing as a “not racist” person, instead there are only racists thoughts and actions, and antiracist thoughts and actions, and these two things can live simultaneously in any human, even Kendi himself.

This was one of my most anticipated books for 2019, and it did not disappoint. Kendi is able to make combatting racism approachable. Most Americans can read this book and find ways to reflect on their own contributions to racism and their own role in changing the system. I also loved getting to see a more personal side of Kendi, a man I admire greatly.


How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

A stunning memoir about finding ones self at the intersection of sexuality and race. Saeed Jones shares his coming of age and his questioning of his identity and belonging and it is incredible to read. Jones’ use of prose and poetry is effortless and serves the story and creates a piece that is as enjoyable to read as it is painful.

I learned a lot about the ways we get in the way of young queer people’s, especially of color, exploration of their identities. In How We Fight for Our Lives I was able to understand the types of violence both physical and emotional, that often accompany the shame and fear about living as one’s true self. I loved this book. Saeed Jones is a force.


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

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A collection of short stories of middle school kids walking home from school. The stories are all unique and individual, but they intersect with the other stories in one way or another. It is a beautiful book about the few minutes a day kids are left unsupervised and get to experience the world on their own.

This book was the biggest surprise for me this year. Admittedly middle grade short stories isn’t a genre I’d think I’d like, and yet here we are. Something that Jason Reynolds is able to do with Look Both Ways is see the humanity in his characters. These kids have all had experiences that have shaped them, some more traumatic than others, but he finds a way to present this without making the kids into their trauma. The characters are full of life and joy and they are impossible to forget. Its also worth noting, Reynolds can write!


Lot by Bryan Washington

A collection of short stories about Black and Brown life in a neighborhood in Houston, told all in the first person with differing narrators, this book is a work of creativity and true craft. Unlike most short story collections where there is no sense of progress or growth over time, in Lot, Washington uses one family as our anchor and we get to watch as their lives unfold through alternating stories. That is supplemented with a cast of characters from the”lot” and their lives.

Washington’s perspective on life and sex and family and gentrification are subtle and smart and really beautiful. The stories are small and intimate. He centers queerness and cultural homophobia in a way that is honest and not preachy. Some standout stories for me were “Lot”, “Waugh”, and “Congress”, but I would say each story enhances the next.


Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

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A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating.

I loved this book. I got so much out of it and wept openly in sections. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Historical fiction at its best. The Nickel Boys is inspired by a real life nightmare of a reform school, and follows two fictional characters who grapple with the horrors they experience, the friendships they create, and the prejudice they face as young Black men in Jim Crow Florida.

Colson Whitehead is a professional writer of the finest caliber. He is exacting and precise. There is not a word wasted in this book. You get to know the characters and feel for them deeply. The way this story unfolds is near perfection.


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

A beautifully told oral history of the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived the day. The accounts range from employees who went to work in the World Trade Center to the Vice President tucked away in a bunker, to a mother who gave birth on that fateful day, to worried family members whose loved ones were aboard hijacked planes. This book encapsulates the emotions and voices of a nation in fear, and without any answers.

What this book does best is connect the reader to the anxiety of that day. It is an extremely emotional book and there were times in my reading where I could feel my heart rate quicken as I turned each page. More than any event this book is about the feelings. We all know what happened that day, but this book will live on as a document of what it felt like to live through this historic event.


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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A collection of essays that are at once smart, funny, and truly thought provoking. Cottom is one of the most critical and nuanced thinkers on race and gender, and she centers the experience of Black women consistently in her work. Thick is effortless in its ability to move between ideas of intersectionality, the art of “the turn” is perfected in these pages.

I loved how I felt challenged in reading this book. I didn’t always understand what Cottom was saying on the first read, and was forced to go back and grapple with the work. I applaud Cottom for not making her work small to accommodate her reader. Her writing is too important for that. Go read Thick. You will learn things, you will connect dots you never knew you could. It is powerful and empowering.


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.