Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

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Sometimes reading a “classic” makes me a little anxious. I have a long history of reading books that are called classics, and I just couldn’t get into them. This list includes, but is not limited to, Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. So when we decided to cover Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin in The Stacks Book Club, I was worried.

If you don’t know the story of Giovanni’s Room here is a little breakdown for you.

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

While all “classics” get that title for a reason, the reason for this one, I actually understand. Language is powerful when it is wielded by Baldwin. There is no tepid point of view, there is no doubt, the words are strong, powerful, and precise. You can sense that Baldwin is grappling with so much of the same ideas that we are as the reader. There is a vulnerability to this work that speaks volumes. Baldwin was something special, and this book shows that.

Giovanni’s Room has been seen as a quintessential text in Gay Literature, and for good reason. Baldwin humanizes the struggle for sexual identity in a way that few did in the 1950s, and still few can do now. David, the protagonist, takes a journey of exploration and self loathing. He is asking the most basic question of what it means to live the life we want versus living the life we think we should have. Baldwin is crafted something universal in this story, despite the stigma of homosexuality, especially at that time.

There are a lot of other themes that come up in this book, from gender roles to the refusal to succumb to love, from wealth to isolation. This book examines what makes us human, what makes us carry on, and what ultimately makes us give up. And while this book is specific in its story, it is universal in scope. There is emotion and feeling that is evoked in this book, and there are moments that are deeply personal for each reader.

I would suggest this book to almost anyone,  and especially to lovers of the art of writing, and to fans of James Baldwin. I would also suggest this book to people who are struggling with their sexuality, I have heard from many friends that it is healing and helpful in that journey.

Make sure to check out our Book Club conversation on The Stacks Episode 6, where we discuss this book in greater detail. As always, I’d love to hear what you think about the book and the episode.

If you’ve read the book and want a little more insight into Baldwin and his writing of Giovanni’s Room I would highly recommend this New Yorker article, The Unsparing Confessions of “Giovanni’s Room” by Colm Tóibín.

  • Paperback : 176 pages
  • PublisherVintage Books; 1 edition (2013)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Giovanni’s Room on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

 

Ep. 6 The Stacks Book Club – Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOn this week of The Stacks, we discuss Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin with our guest, TV writer Chris Maddox.

Giovanni’s Room is a classic American novel written in 1956, and the topics of masculinity, isolation, and love deferred are as relevant now as they were then. Our conversation traverses these themes from the book and more, like what we think of the title and who we think should star in the film version.
 
There are spoilers in this episode, so if you’ve yet to read the book proceed with caution.
Here are other things that we talked about this week on The Stacks.

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“The Unsparing Confessions of ‘Giovanni’s Room'” (Colm Tóibín, The New Yorker)

The Night Of (HBO)

Timothee Chalamet

Chris, Liam, & Luke Hemsworth

Girls (HBO)

Lena Dunham

Allison Williams

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

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

Connect with Chris: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

The Stacks Book Club June Picks

790DB80A-4D74-426E-B8D9-052C6E9265FA.JPGHere are the next picks for The Stacks Book Club. These books will be covered in the month of June on The Stacks Podcast. Make sure you read the books and then join us for our in depth conversations.

June 6th, I’ll be joined by actress, Vella Lovell and  we will discuss Tracy Chevalier’s  New Boy. This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which contemporary author’s reimagine Shakespeare’s plays. New Boy, is a retelling of Othello, set in a 1970’s suburban Washington School yard.

On June 20th join founder of Black Arrow FC, Aaron Dolores, will join the show to discuss How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer. This book uses soccer as a lens to reexamine the most pressing issues of our day, from globalization to racial and cultural dynamics. We’re reading this book at the start of the World Cup, to help contextualize the most popular sport and sporting event on the planet.

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

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

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

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

 

Here are links to other things we mentioned this week:

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward 24A574D7-9E32-46CB-A662-5096F00885A3

“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” (Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda)

“Black-ish” (ABC, S4. E16)

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Lee Daniels

Epigraph

Upcoming The Stacks Book Club Picks for May

 

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

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

Connect with Sarah: Instagram

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

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

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On this week of The Stacks, high school English teacher Dallas Lopez is back, and we’re talking about Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.
 
This is our very first The Stacks Book Club (TSBC) episode. Join us as we discuss the fears of leaving your home behind, the power of the human spirit to carry on, who we think should be in the movie, and a lot more.
 
There are spoilers in this episode, so if you’ve yet to read the book, listen at your own risk.

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Here are links to other things we mentioned this week:

“Here are Barack Obama’s Favorite Books and Music of 2017”  (Jamie Ducharme, Time)

“Manchester by the Sea” (Amazon Studios)

Riz Ahmed

Vella Lovell

 

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

Connect with Dallas: Instagram

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stack Book Club May Picks

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

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

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

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

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

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club April Picks

AF46C895-A674-432C-93AB-46EC5D70E4EC.JPGEvery other week on The Stacks Podcast we will be discussing The Stacks Book Club (TSBC) picks. We will be diving into conversations about the books, not only discussing the themes and its greater social and cultural context.

April 11th will be our very first TSBC episode, and we will be discussing Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. This book tells the story of two young people exploring a romance as their country dives into unrest. The books made it on many lists of the best books of 2017, including Barak Obama’s favorites.

On April 25th we will discuss Jesmyn Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped. In this book Ward deals with the death of five young men that were close to her, and what it means to live, and die, as a black man in the rural south.

We do plan on diving deep into these books, please know there will be spoilers. So make sure you read the book before you listen to any TSBC episodes.

I want the conversations to be engaging, and touch on the topics you want to hear about, send over you questions and thoughts about the books. Likewise, I am constantly looking for books to add to TSBC, your input is greatly appreciated. What books do you think deserve a good talking through?

Make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast so you don’t miss a single episode. I look forward to discussing these books with you in April. Happy reading, and I’ll see you in The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.