Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

0A544274-291F-4462-980B-D964D85B5239This week on The Stacks podcast, Lauren Fanella and I discussed Reincarnation Blues as part of The Stacks Book Club. You can listen to our full conversation about the book, its themes, and who we think should star in the TV series of our minds, right here. There are spoilers on the episode (there are none in this review), so I suggest you read the book before you listen.

If you’re not familiar with Reincarnation Blues by Micahel Poore, check out a little bit about the book here

First we live. Then we die. And then . . . we get another try? 

Ten thousand tries, to be exact. Ten thousand lives to “get it right.” Answer all the Big Questions. Achieve Wisdom. And Become One with Everything.
    
Milo has had 9,995 chances so far and has just five more lives to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her.

But Reincarnation Blues is more than a great love story: Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle—if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity. As darkly enchanting as the works of Neil Gaiman and as wisely hilarious as Kurt Vonnegut’s, Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues is the story of everything that makes life profound, beautiful, absurd, and heartbreaking.

My feelings about this book changed wildly as I read it. When I first started I was all in. I was 50 pages in telling my sister-in-law this is a must read. Then at about page 150 I was wanted to quit (and only held out because I’d heard good things, and had committed to covering it on the podcast). Then I got to the last 100 pages and was back in again.

I loved Michael Poore as an author. He is smart, and unsentimental, and witty, and flip, and emotional, and wise, and direct, and all the things that make a book like this resonate. He is fluid in his writing and his ideas are strong. He is never passive. He has a clear point of view on the important things in life. He has a strong moral compass when it comes to social justice and compassion, and that is what drives Milo and the entirety of Reincarnation Blues. He guides us as the readers through the universe as he sees it. I loved Poore so much, I even read the acknowledgements and swooned a little.

Its worth noting here, that Poore has opinions on prison, and rape culture, and soulmates, and the criminal justice system, and punishment, and meditation, and global warming, and the role of wealthy people in the economy, and so much more. He uses different lives to explore this major issues. In the discussion of these topics I was head over heels for this book. I’d never read a fiction book that was so direct in discussing these things, without being a fiction book about these things.

Of course, I also had parts of this book I wasn’t so into. I couldn’t quiet get into the story. The book felt more like a grouping of short stories, than a novel. I could never quiet get in a groove. And with each life being a different place and world and lifetime and era, I would fall in love with something or someone and then it would be gone. There were, of course, references to things in past (or future) lives, which I loved, but for the most part, I had to learn to enjoy the good moments and then let them go. Which I guess is a metaphor for life, or another one of Poore’s strong opinions on the way things should be.

The book is a little sci-fi, a little magical realism, and little bit of an adventure story, and then also a love story, and then once again its a story of humanity and one’s duty to society, its a genre-bending social commentary. Its unlike anything I’ve read. In a good way. While, I only gave it three stars, because it didn’t fully click with me, I could see this being a favorite book for a lot of people. It has all the potential to be a beloved book. It just wasn’t quiet for me. It is kind of a funny book like that. It could never really be the type of book that achieved consensus. Also, I don’t think I understood the ending. This happens to me more often than I’d like to admit.

If this review excites you, you should read this book. If you’re at all interested in a book about many lives and many characters and the big picture ideas of life, you should read this book. I don’t know how you’ll feel about it. I hope you’ll like it, you might not. I think either way, its worth a read. I’m certainly glad I read it. I now know I love Michael Poore.

Don’t forget to listen to Lauren and I discuss Reincarnation Blues further on the podcast.

  • Hard Cover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; First Edition edition (August 22, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Reincarnation Blues on Amazon

 

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

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

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

IMG_5774We read The Power of Habit for the Stacks Book Club, and you can listen to author Ross Asdourian and I talk about it right here.

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

In The Power of Habit, award-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to the sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

This is one of those books that makes you look at your life in a whole new way. I couldn’t help but think, how can I change my habits to become a better me. Thats not to say this book is really a “self-help” book, but more of a look at human behavior. It excites you into action (or maybe just the thought of action).

Duhigg uses examples from scientific experiments and everyday lives to illustrate his points. There is a variety of case studies and antidotal stories to keep the book engaging and diverse. The examples are broken down and used to drive his points home. I found some of the examples to be really effective, and some others to lack staying power.

One of the places I found the book to be particularly strong was Duhigg’s examination of social and political movements. How members of society can use habits to effect change. He talks about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery bus boycotts as examples of the power of habit in community. He highlights how the use of strategic and aggressive habits can sway people into action. These ideas made me think of the work that the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, and the activism we’re seeing from the Parkland survivors & Everytown. This book gave me a little hope as I look at the world and the many challenges we face.

While this book was thought provoking and engaging, it wasn’t anything special to me. It falls in line with other pop-pyschology books (think Predictably Irrational or Freakonomics). I appreciated what Duhigg had to say, but I’m not sure this book will stick with me in the long term. It was a great read and is a really good and interesting book. I think if you’re into pop-psychology and human behavior this is a great book for you. If you’re kick-starting your own transformation, this book might inspire you in your journey.

Don’t forget to listen to Ross and I discuss The Power of Habit further on the podcast.

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 7, 2014)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Power of Habit on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

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

August Books for The Stacks Book Club

C7B44B61-937D-4F48-8598-339F3504B5EDWe’re excited to share with you the books we’ll be reading in August. The way the weeks shake out, you get three books instead of just two. Lucky you. You read the books, you tune in the to podcast, and you enjoy the conversations. Oh, and if you have any questions you’d like asked on the show, don’t be shy. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod. We want the show to reflect your thoughts and questions, so send them our way.

August 1st, we’re reading Shonda Rhymes’ book Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own PersonIf you’re not familiar with her, Shonda Rhymes is the creator of hit TV shows, Grey’s AnatomyScandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, she is a real life Hollywood superhero. One year Shonda decided to stay saying “yes” to everything, and this book is all about that journey.

The next book we’re reading, on August 15th is Between the World and Me by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic). Coates is known for his work in examining the experience of Black Americans. Between The World and Me is a letter written to Coates’ son, and looks at the history and practices that have created a culture in America, where Black people are not valued as full citizens. He looks at slavery, discrimination, mass incarceration, and the murder of Black citizens by the police. Coates asks us not only how did this happen? But also, where do we go from here?

The last book for the month, which we will discuss on August 29th, is The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. This gritty novel tells the story of Romy, a mother who has been incarcerated for two life sentences. We see Romy in her life leading to prison and the world behind bars with thousands of other women struggling to survive.

Don’t forget to send us your thoughts on these books or any questions/topics you’d want to hear discussed on the show, and for special access to book selection join The Stacks Pack by clicking here.

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

 

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer

IMG_6134For this week’s The Stacks Book Club episode, we discussed Franklin Foer’s book, How Soccer Explains the World. Our guest Aaron Dolores, founder of Black Arrow FC, and I look at this book and what is has to say about race and class.

Before I do my complete review of the book, take a look at what its all about.

A groundbreaking work—named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated—How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world’s most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.

The first thing of note, is that this book was written in 2006, a World Cup year, and Foer is clearly a lover of the sport. The book has the feel of someone trying to convince us, that we’re missing out and we should like soccer too. There is an earnestness, and a romanticization of all the issues that come up in the book.

While I found the idea of this book to be exciting and interesting, in actuality it lacked. In his desire to convince us to like soccer, Foer is uncomfortably uncritical. Granted, this book was written 12 years ago and issues that are front in center today, were barely discussed then. However, Foer goes out of his way to dismiss things as racialist, instead of calling them out for their blatant racism. For example, a group of reporters calling an African player a   “monkey”. This dismissal of real issues is also present when Foer justifies violent hooliganism as a charming relic of an old way of life, instead of noting the aggressive nationalism at play. I don’t know if its all as bad as I say, but as I read the book, I kept thinking who is benefiting from this? And who is at risk?

Where the book worked for me, was that the writing style was easy and straight forward. I didn’t always agree with what was being said, I understood the points being made. It is also worth noting, that most people who I have talked to who have read this book, love it. I think that can be attributed to the Foer’s style.

If you like soccer, you should read this book. It provides insight into the world’s most popular sport. If you’re not so into soccer, I think you can skip it, as it doesn’t really speak to the world on as grand of a scale as is presented in the title.

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 11, 2010)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy How Soccer Explains the World on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

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

 

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

IMG_6194 2Have you ever picked up a book thinking, this is “my kind of book”? Before you read it, before you even hear other people’s opinion of it, you know this is a book for you? Well, thats how I felt about New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. It is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, a group of novels written based on Shakespeare plays.  I knew it was going to be a hit with me, I love Shakespeare, so I even made it a pick for The Stacks Book Club. The only problem is, I ended up not liking the book at all.

Here is a little more about the book, before I dive into my thoughts.

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds – Osei, Dee, Ian, and his reluctant ‘girlfriend’ Mimi – Tracy Chevalier’s powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

Even re-reading that blurb of the book, makes me excited about all its potential. However, Chevalier does not deliver. The racism and bigotry in this book is handled as if it is no big deal. Its a lazy and inaccurate depiction of how prejudice works in America and on the school yard. The teachers, refer to Osei as the “bla— new boy” as if they are caught in the urge to say black, but must be PC. Considering how overtly racist these characters are, these seems like a unrealistic, false modesty. Its contrived at best. The book would be better off being more direct, the title should be Black Boy. The teachers should call Osei “colored” (as they would have in the 1970’s) and the current political correctness should be done away with.

This is the root problem with this book, there is no punch. There is no edge. There is no hurt. Its all a little too clean, and kind. If you’re talking about racism, lets talk about it. Its too big of a deal to get polite and shy away. Shakespeare certainly didn’t. IMG_6171

There is another major flaw in the story telling. There is no where for Osei to fall. In all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, those who end up as the tragic characters (Hamlet, MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet etc.) start off high and end in utter disrepair. The plays start off as near comedies, and then there is the fall. Othello, is leading ranks in the army, beloved by his troops, newly married, and off on another great battle. In New Boy, Osei is hated from the moment he walks on the school yard. Students notice him and shun him right away. He is nothing and therefore has nothing to lose. There are no stakes. The same is true of the Iago character, Ian. Ian is hated by all the kids, everyone is terrified of him, and he is known as a bully. Why would anyone ever listen to or trust him? In Othello, Iago is constantly called “honest Iago” and people love and trust him. This is what makes his betrayal and lies so devastating. We don’t see any of this in New Boy.

The book takes place over the course of a school day, this also diminishes any chance of building real emotions and consequences. How could any one of these children want to destroy one another after just a day? Chevalier really belittles her efforts by narrowing the time frame and the characters in this way.

This book minimizes the many characters and their motivations. It also neglects to embrace the complexity of racism and the feelings of entitlement that are clear in Shakespeare’s original. Chevalier has successfully stripped away much of what makes Othello great, and leaves us with the most simple and trivial version of what was once a complex and nuanced narrative.

I would not recommend this book to anyone, unless you’re planning to read through all of the Hogarth Shakespeare collection to compare the work of many contemporary artists, and to see how they each dive into Shakespeare’s source material. The good thing is that New Boy is very short, and an easy read. Its too bad the content isn’t any good. There are so many books on race, alienation, betrayal, and entitlement, that I can not suggest you spend time on this one. Honestly, you’re much better off reading the original (you can find my full review of that here).

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; Reprint edition (February 13, 2018)
  • 1/5 stars
  • Buy New Boy on Amazon

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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

July Books for The Stacks Book Club

8FD8BCA2-97DD-423F-A681-2E67A2382153Over here at The Stacks we’re ready to announce the two books we’ll be reading in July for The Stacks Book Club. You read the books, and you join us for our conversations on The Stacks Podcast. Its that easy.

The first book we’re reading on July 4th is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. This books is all about our habits, how they work, why they form, and how we can change our lives through changing our habits. The book ties in examples from people’s personal lives, the business world, and even social movements. Its an good book for anyone, and it is especially exciting for those of us who like to why we are the way we are.

Then on July 18th, we’re discussing Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore. This novel tells the story of a man, Milo, who is reincarnated over 10,000 times to be with his one true love, death herself. Both dark and humorous, emotional and thought provoking, this is a book you’ll want on your summer reading list.

Don’t forget to send over your thoughts and questions about the books so we can ask them on the show. We want to hear from all of you. 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.

Vulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth

IMG_5910.JPGI talked extensively aboutVulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth with Tony nominated choreographer Sam Pinkleton, on an episode of The Stacks podcast. You can hear us discuss and sort through the many layers of this book there.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of serial killer Andrew Cunanan and his crimes, here is a little more about this book.

On July 15, 1997, Gianni Versace was shot and killed on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. But months before Versace’s murder, award-winning journalist Maureen Orth was already investigating a major story on Cunanan for Vanity Fair. Culled from interviews with more than four hundred people and insights gleaned from thousands of pages of police reports, Vulgar Favors tells the complete story of Andrew Cunanan, his unwitting victims, and the moneyed world in which they lived . . . and died. Orth reveals how Cunanan met Versace, and why police and the FBI repeatedly failed to catch him. Here is a gripping odyssey that races across America—from California’s wealthy gay underworld to modest Midwestern homes of families mourning the loss of their sons to South Beach and its unapologetic decadence. Vulgar Favors is at once a masterwork of investigative journalism and a riveting account of a sociopath, his crimes, and the mysteries he left along the way.

There are parts of this book that are interesting and fascinating. There are whole sections and chapters that I couldn’t stop reading. Orth’s ability to paint the scene of Cunanan’s life and more specifically his crimes, are some of the best parts of this book. I had a hard time sleeping thinking about hist first murder. It is about as haunting as they come.

Where I struggled with this book, and ultimately what turned me away from it, was Orth’s contextualizing of the story. Orth’s tone is intolerant at best, and outwardly homophobic at worst. She has a disdain for Cunanan, which of course makes sense, but she also judges those people in his world. And his world is that of gay men in the 1990’s. I can’t help but think that the “vulgar” in the title is directed at the Cunanan and his community. She discusses sex, drugs, and lifestyle as if this community is synonymous with all gay people all over. Its generalization at its worst. If you’d never met a gay person, you might think that all they did was pay each other for sex and snort (or swallow) meth.

Vulgar Favors is a book about a man who is obsessed with lies and celebrity and Orth gets wrapped up in that herself. She name drops through out, and forces connections where none exist. Her sources, and she has a whole lot, can feel a little unreliable, who doesn’t want to distance themselves from a man who killed five people, before then killing himself?

The story is multilayered and entertaining, but Orth can’t resist turning it into spectacle. She draws conclusions and connects dots that just might not be there. Vulgar Favors is full of contradictions and hearsay. While I enjoyed the book for what it is, if you read it, read it as a period piece from 1999, and not historical fact. Its a reminder of how people felt about homosexuality not too long ago. Its a reminder of different era of technology and media. You can also watch the FX Series The Assassination of Gianni Versace; American Crime Story and be just as entertained and not feel quite as icky.

If you do read this book, which is just fine, I would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (October 3, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Vulgar Favors 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. 8 The Stacks Book Club – Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgChoreographer Sam Pinkleton is back in time for The Stacks Book Club to take on true crime, with Vulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth.

Vulgar Favors examines the serial killer Andrew Cunanan, who murdered 5 men in 1997 culminating in the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace. We discuss Cunanan and his victims, but mostly we focus on the tone of the book. We examine the term “gay crime” and why we find this and so much of the book to be problematic.

While there are spoilers in this episode, this book covers a real life event, which means all of the information is out in the public. You can listen without ruining the book.

Discussed this week:8E581578-8D11-49A9-85E5-9D03E7209E74

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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 this show.

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

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.509E8204-E248-4688-A6D3-EC4A5C6E722C

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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 this show.

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