Women Talking by Miriam Toews

The Stacks received Women Talking from the publisher. For more information click here.

Women Talking is just that, a book about women talking, it is also so much more. Between 2005-2009 women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia were drugged and raped by a group of men in their colony, Women Talking is inspired by these events, and imagines a secret meeting between eight women and one man (their note taker, and our narrator) in a barn on the colony where they debate their options. Do they stay and fight or leave their home?

What is remarkable about this book is Toews’ ability to present multiple nuanced arguments for both staying and leaving, and never fully force us to pick one. She allows her reader space to understand the many sides without asking us to make the ultimate value judgement on what is right and wrong. What is the thing that must be done. Which, in a piece about rape and violation, seems like the most obvious choice, but going against that impulse is what keeps Women Talking interesting instead of predictable. She gives her characters the contradiction we so often resist in ourselves and those around us. She gives her characters the permission to be right and wrong in the same breath.

Toews is a professional writer, and it shows in the book. Her use of craft and nuance and the patience within the story make for an emotional (if not anxious) read. You’re never quite sure where she is taking you. She infuses Women Talking with the humor that is real and truthful in the face of trauma, but she does not shy away from the brutal unexpected pain that is also true when one is faced with the realization that they never have been, nor never will be safe. She complicates all of this by giving us a male narrator who is non-threat to the women. He is an interpreter for us and for the women, it is a layer that is practical and provoking.

Women Talking feels like a long conversation, a debate, a back and forth that never fully settles. Mostly this feels intentional, but there is a part of the book that feels safe in the unanswerable questions. Toews allows her readers to come to their own thoughts, but that also allows the reader to hide in their own biases. It is easy to be on the side of the women in the story, and it is easy to say these acts are heinous, but there is never a true call to respond, there is never a true call to react. Women Talking lacks the potency to make a point that feels somewhere out of reach. I am not sure what the take away from this story was, perhaps just that pain is part of life and we must carry on and find the joy in these things. Or maybe, that we all have the power to make choices for ourselves. These messages are true, but not particularly potent or urgent in this moment, or in the scope of the story.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book though I felt slightly underwhelmed when it was all said and done. I loved reading Toews’ story and her thinking and sensing her mulling over the questions she was asking through her characters. I’m not sure if she, or we, or they, every get to the answers, and perhaps none of us ever will.

Click here to hear Miriam Toews on The Short Stacks discussing Women Talking and more.

  • Hardcover: 240
  • PublisherBloomsbury Publishing (April 2, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Women Talking Amazon or IndieBound

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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Experiments in Joy by Gabrielle Civil

The Stacks received Experiments in Joy from the publisher. For more information click here.

To be perfectly honest I’d never heard of a performance memoir before I read Experiments in Joy, the second book by author and artist Gabrielle Civil. I was only nudged to pick up this book after booking Civil as a guest on The Stacks. In the case of Experiments in Joy, a performance memoir is a mix of letters, conversations, performance notes, photos, stage directions, criticism, and poetry to tell a fractured story of Civil’s life as an artist. It covers a handful of her performance pieces and gives them a fuller context than simply seeing the piece live.

I’ve never read anything like this book, and as a reader I oscillated between enjoying Civil’s process and being annoyed at having to read descriptions of things I would much rather be watching. The how of these pieces coming together was much more interesting to me than the actual what (think excerpts of scripts) that was sprinkled through out.

Civil is very honest and open with her audience, allowing us to read intimate letters from past collaborators and lovers. She shares insecurities in her own work and confronts her process head on. She also shares her joy and anxieties, her successes and reflections.You get to know her, and like her, through her process. This isn’t the kind of memoir where you hear about Civil’s childhood (at least not too much). It is more a memoir of the work itself as opposed to the person, though those things become inextricably linked when dealing with performance art.

Like in a collection of poems, some sections resonated with me and sparked interest, others were mere blips on my radar as I read toward the end of the book. I think that is ok. It doesn’t all have to land, and the sections can be read alone or in the context of the entire book.

If you’re an artist or someone who likes to grapple with the art of creation this book might spark something in you. If you’ve heard Gabrielle on The Stacks, you might likewise be intrigued to read this book. Hearing her speak about this book, and her first book Swallow the Fish, made me understand her work and the genre of Performance Memoir a lot better.

  • Paperback: 276
  • PublisherCivil Coping Mechanisms (February 15, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Experiments in Joy Amazon or IndieBound

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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

The Stacks received The World Only Spins Forward from the publisher. For more information click here.

To write a book about a play using only the words of other people is a somewhat disjointed prospect, and yet, that is exactly what Isaac Butler and Dan Kois set out to do with The World Only Spins Forward, their oral history of Tony Kushner’s play, Angels in America. It is the six degrees of Tony Kushner game, and it totally works.

As someone who loves the theatre and people who create it out of thin air, The World Only Spins Forward is an inside look at elite theatre creators doing some of their best work. We get to hear from artistic directors, actors, critics, scenic designers and more. The book is a lesson in how much time and effort and failure can go into creating something. It is a book about the artistic process. The World Only Spins Forward is a theatre kids dream, and because Angels in America is what it is, a seminal work of the modern theatre, the book ends up being accessible to the not-so-theatre geeky, too.

For those who don’t know, Angels in America is a two part play that was born in the late 1980’s. Its also known as “that gay play” or “the AIDS play” or some other minimizing or condescending, moniker. It is in truth a play that centers the AIDS crisis and gay characters, and it is, of course, much more. And the journey that the play goes on from its inception to the most recent production on Broadway in 2017 is well documented in The World Only Spins Forward.

Butler and Kois are clever in how they mix the mundane details of the theatre with the political implications of full frontal nudity on stage in 1993. They attempt to make the micro macro, and vice versa. Mostly they succeed, though I could have used more context for the times outside of the life of the play (for example, there is no mention of Magic Johnson’s announcement of his AIDS diagnosis, which happened in 1991). I wanted more on how the artists were grappling with real life, and how real life was allowed into this fantasy world.

To read Meryl Streep and Nathan Lane discuss acting and working with great text is one of the many joys of this book. To read truly creative people talk about their process and the obstacles of creating greatness is inspiring. To recognize the power that a piece of theatre can have on the lives of those who see it, and those tangentially connected to it is moving. The World Only Spins Forward gives its readers these things and more.

We have a lot of content about The World Only Spins Forward on the podcast, listen to the episodes below. Bonus, they are both spoiler free.

  • Hardcover: 448
  • PublisherBloomsbury USA (February 13, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • BuyThe World Only Spins Forward Amazon or IndieBound

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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

March 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

March was all about the backlist. I went on an amazing vacation and took a bunch of books I had been wanting to read for a long time, and I read them! What a treat. I really enjoyed almost everything I read in March. My stand out was Assata by Assata Shakur and the low-light was Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare. What were your favorites this month? Also worth noting, I read my first books on a Kindle, and I survived.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below.


March by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 1
E-Books: 2
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 6
Books Acquired: 12

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 1
Nonfiction Reads: 8
Published in 2019: 2


Assata: An Autobiography by Asssata Shakur

(Photo: amazon.com)

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.

If nothing else, Assata is a reminder of the struggle for Black equality that has spanned centuries, and the lengths the American government will go to stifle that quest. Racism, abuse, torture, and human rights violations are all part of Assata’s story, and the story of this struggle. She exposes corruption in the criminal justice system and even in The Black Panther Party. She is unapologetic and easy to connect with. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about a figure I had heard of, but really knew so little about, though there were times I’d wished she was more forthcoming with her own revolutionary activities, and the reasons why she might have been targeted by the police. The fact that this book is still so relevant over 30 years after it’s publication is a reminder of how much work needs to be done. I highly suggest this book for people who love a good memoir and people interested in the history of social justice movements, though I caution there are very graphic scenes of abuse through out the book.

Five Stars | Lawrence Hill Books | November 1, 2001 | 320 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Experiments in Joy by Gabrielle Civil

The Stacks received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A book unlike anything I’ver ever read, Experiments in Joy mixes the genre of memoir with the artist’s performance notes, letters, and cultural criticism into a book that encapsulates both the artist and the art. Civil is a performance artist, professor, and poet, and this book is a reflection on some of her pieces and her way of seeing the world and her place in it. In addition to Civil’s own words, there are conversations and letters from her collaborators and reviewers to deepen the readers understanding of the work.

I didn’t always connect with the book, but I felt deeply that the context given helped me to better understand Civil as a creative and an activist. The book is truly a glimpse at how one creates. The sections in which she gave context before or after laying out the performance pieces were my favorite along with the book reviews. To understand how the artist works and why is captivating for me and brought the performance notes to life. Civil is a beautiful writer, and her letters especially show her skills. For any lover of the arts this book as a unique look into process over product.

Three Stars | Civil Coping Mechanisms | February 15, 2019 | 276 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Gabrielle Civil on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 55) and Wild Beauty by Ntozake Shange (Ep. 56), and find a full review of Experiments in Joy HERE.


Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham

(Photo: amazon.com)

Paul Ham uses contemporaneous documents, reflections after the fact, and critical thinking in Hiroshima Nagasakito take down the conventional thinking about the use of nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945. This book is a fantastic work of nonfiction and does a great job of analyzing and deconstructing these acts of extreme violence

For 60+ years America has pushed a narrative about the “need” to drop an atomic bomb on a civilian target in order to avenge Pearl Harbor and/or to prevent “millions” of future US casualties. This book looks deeper into that idea and debunks much of reasoning that was flawed and so easily accepted by Americans and all of history. If you love history, politics, and smart writing, I would highly recommend Hiroshima Nagasaki. Though this book can be dense at parts (especially the first 100 pages) and lacks a real introduction for those not familiar with this moment in time, Ham’s writing is extremely readable. He mixes politics with humanity and covers many facets of these bombings its not all Harry Truman, it is also very much about the victims. I learned a lot about World War II, and was able to see the political maneuvering that America took part in that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Four Stars | Picador; Reprint edition | August 4, 2015 | 641 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

(Photo: amazon.com)

A vivid look at the culinary industry from the perspective of chef, Anthony Bourdain. This book is part memoir and part expose in which Bourdain shares what to never order from a restaurant and what the kitchen thinks of people who order a well done steak. It is an approachable book and an easy read.

Throughout Kitchen Confidential Bourdain seems hell bent on shocking his reader. He loves talking about sex, blood, and drugs. Its a little over played and can be cringeworthy at moments. There also seems to be a little self-congratulation around his relationships with his Latinx coworkers/employees. I was not familiar with Bourdain in life, and since his passing I am just barely more informed on his life and contributions. There was little sentimentality for me in reading this work and much of my criticisms come from who he presents himself as in this book, a bit of a know it all. Though I will say, his heart and passion come through loud and clear and I loved those moments of the book most.

I enjoyed reading this book, but 20 years after its first publication, I don’t know if the tone and approach stand the test of time. If you love Bourdain or want something a little rough and tumble you might really enjoy this one.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition | December 10, 2008 | 321 Pages | E-Book |Purchase on IndieBound


Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

In Love’s Labour’s Lost we meet a King and his male courtiers who take a pledge to become celibate, but then, of course, they meet some women and fall in love. The show revolves around the men trying to secretly get the women to love them despite the oath. While most of Shakespeare’s comedies are trivial, this one is nonsensical. There is a lot of disguise and mix ups that are confusing to read and not particularly necessary or interesting.

The only part of this play that I found remotely intriguing is the ending, in which the women finally get some power and put their feet down. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is a twist and makes some interesting points about duty over desire and the idea of reciprocity in relationships.

I wouldn’t suggest this play to anyone, but it might be more fun to see than read. The language is confusing and the there really isn’t much action at all.

One Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | June 5, 2000 | 160 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


New Erotica for Feminists: Satirical Fantasies of Love, Lust, and Equal Pay by Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, Carrie Wittmer

(Photo: amazon.com)

A book of quippy erotic fantasies of women being treated equal, or better than equal, to men. A world in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg is immortal, and Juliet tells Romeo off for being so love sick. While the idea is fun and smart, the execution left me wanting more.

The best and most effective satire calls out inequality by speaking truth to power and by forcing the audience to question their own complicity in the power structure. This book fails to do that. It seems to be content just being cute. It relies on the “erotica” to do a lot of the heavy lifting. The authors attempt to address intersectionality in the introduction, but then spend the rest of the book trivializing the aggression of men instead of addressing it head on. The book fits nicely into the White capitalist patriarchy as a piece of protest, meaning it is a safe way for women to vent without really forcing a deeper discussion at the issues at play.

If you’re looking for a light palate cleanser, this is might be a good choice, plus you can read it in about 90 minutes, but if you want something more biting I think there are other books to go to.

Two Stars | Plume | November 13, 2018 | 160 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

(Photo: amazon.com)

A true crime story about a White British woman who goes missing in Tokyo in 2000 and all that unfolds there after. The book looks at the crime, the family and their grief, the media and their coverage, and the police and their ability to figure out what happened.

What makes such a solid work of true crime is that the author, a journalist, is weaving many elements of this story together in an extremely readable way. The writing is no frills, but the story is full of surprises and is totally engaging. Parry is, for the most part, objective and helps the reader understand the cultural differences that makes this case unique . Plus the story itself is captivating, the book is over 400 pages but you want to read it in one sitting. I loved the commentary on race, class, culture, and gender throughout the book and would have liked even more. Getting to understand a criminal justice system that is so different than my own (that of The United States) was fascinating. Parry does a great job as our guide into a world I’d never known. If you like true crime, you’ll enjoy this book, though be warned there are trigger warnings for sexual assault and violence.

Four Stars | Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Reprint edition | May 22, 2012 | 454 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo

(Photo: amazon.com)

To articulate the fragility and toxicity of Whiteness to White people is one the the greatest challenges of anti-racism work, and in White Fragility Robin DiAngelo does just that methodically. This book is a take down of racist ideas and the entrenched denial around White supremacy.

White Fragility is admittedly written for White people by a White woman. DiAngelo is very clear in that, though, as a Black woman I found a lot of valuable insights in both how I can do better as I work toward anti racism and how I can approach uncomfortable situations with White people. I was able to understand the socialization of White people better, and to understand the tactics used to reinforce racism in our society.

This book is a great tool in any anti-racist’s tool box, along side one of my all time favorites, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. If you’re serious about the work this book helps to explain one road block that is often encountered, White Fragility.

Four Stars | Beacon Press | June 26, 2018 | 6 Hours 12 Minutes | Audiobook |Purchase on IndieBound


Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozake Shange

(Photo: amazon.com)

Reading Wild Beauty, was a new experience for me. I am familiar with Shange’s play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, but had never read a poetry collection until now. I enjoyed some of the poems and others I didn’t resonate with. Her style is rough and evocative and at times even felt like a call to action.

These poems are a look at the career of Shange as they span 40 years of her work. I started to notice which ones were from older collections and which were more recent. As with any collection some of the material connected with me and some didn’t. There were poems where I was stunned by the story, or moved by the language. There were also poems that I would zone out and have to read over and over and still felt like I missed the message. For someone who is new to poetry, I enjoyed this collection and I am really looking forward to discussing it on The Stacks on April 24th.

Three Stars | Atria / 37 INK; Bilingual edition | November 17, 2017 | 288 Pages | Hardcover |Purchase on IndieBound
Wild Beauty is TSBC pick for April 24. You can hear the TSBC episode with Gabrielle Civil HERE. Read a full review of Wild BeautyHERE.


Women Talking by Miriam Toews

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

One night eight Mennonite women gather to discuss their options and response to the repeated drugging and sexual assaults of themselves, their daughters, and the other women in their community. The book is written from as notes taken during these meetings and is inspired by true events.

Women Talking is a lot of just that, women talking. It is theoretical and examines the ideas of loyalty, faith, and safety. It is a feminist text in that it explores the equality of women and their rights to be alive and to have a say in their own lives. I really enjoyed the writing. I was hooked early and wanted to know what would happen in the end. I also found the use of the minutes to be irritating at times because it was a lot of back and forth interpreted by our scribe/narrator (who is a man, which added an element of conflict).

If you like fiction thats a little different, if you’re interested in religious communities and the role that women play in conservative spaces, this book is a great selection. Women Talking has been compared to Handmaid’s Tale which makes a lot of sense, but neglects the fact that Women Talking is based on true events (the assaults not the meeting) which makes it that much more devastating.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury Publishing | April 2, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover |Purchase on IndieBound
You can hear more from Miriam Toews about her process on Episode 11 of The Short 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 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.

Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

Love’s Labour’s Lost is a strange little play, and was my read for March for the #ShakeTheStacks Challenge. It starts with a King asking for his male courtiers to join him in a vow of celibacy (because women are a distraction from enlightenment) and leads to, of course, these men (including the King himself) meeting some women and wanting to break that vow almost immediately. I didn’t enjoy reading the play and found the language and the action very confusing. Mostly because there is a lot of langue and very little action.

What I did find interesting and worthwhile in this play, is that the ending is a bit of a twist. In a normal Shakespearean comedy everyone would end up madly in love, sing a little song, and literally get married. In Love’s Labour’s Lost that is not the case. The play instead ends with the women telling the men something along the lines of “its nice that you like us and all, but we couldn’t possibly trust you after all the lying and oath breaking, and so you need to do a year of community service, then we can see about that whole love thing”. It feels extremely modern and empowering for these female characters and I loved that twist. It couldn’t redeem the play for me, but it would make for very interesting conversation.

The rest of the play is just a bunch of talk about breaking oaths and falling in love and a lot of mistaken identity and role play. I’m sure it works much better on the stage than it does on the page, which makes sense, as it is a play. I certainly understand now why more people aren’t drawn to Love’s Labour’s Lost, and why we don’t see many productions of it. There is however a movie if you’re interested in seeing this play.

If you’re working your way through all of Shakespeare’s plays like I am for #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, good luck with this one, and please tell me your thoughts. If not, I would say you could read mostly any other one of Shakespeare’s plays and enjoy it more than I did Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I’ll be reading Richard II

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (June 5, 2000)
  • 1/5 stars
  • Buy Love’s Labour’s Lost on Amazon or IndieBound

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.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

A psychological thriller that is chockfull of suspense, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the kind of book that leaves you with way more questions than answers. This is my attempt at an honest without any spoilers (which basically means I won’t be saying much at all), but if you want my more detailed thoughts, check out our discussion of I’m Thinking of Ending Things on The Stacks Book Club with our guest, Niccole Thurman (Please take note, there are a ton of spoilers on this episode).

I did not care for this book. I didn’t care about the plot or the characters, especially the female lead. I felt that she was lackluster and a clear example of what can go wrong when a man writes from the female perspective. She was two dimensional and constantly deferring to her boyfriend, Jake. The same was true for the plot. It lacked any excitement beyond a general sense of suspense. Sure, I was worried about what would happen next, but honestly, I didn’t really care what happened, I just wanted something to happen.

Without giving away anything, the ending was a let down and I felt it came out of left field. The book ended and I was confused to what had actually happened. When I read or watch suspense, I like to understand what went down and what clues I missed. I like to go back and see where the author was taking me and how I could have solved it on my own. I like to understand the twists. In the case of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I finished the book and couldn’t tell you how we got here. I would love to say more, but everything about this book is basically a spoiler.

I wouldn’t suggest this book to anyone. I will say, I have read a lot of reviews by a great number of people and publications that loved this book. Thriller is not my genre of choice, and perhaps my lack of exposure to the form left me grasping for straws by the end. If you want more on I’m Thinking of Ending Things, you can hear Niccole Thurman and I discuss this book in great detail, with all the spoilers, on The Stacks Episode 52.


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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton, Esq.

The Stacks received If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

In his how-not-to book about marriage, James Sexton gives us a load of relationship advice from the vantage point of a man that has seen a whole lot of marriages fail. Sexton has been litigating divorces for over twenty years, and according to him, he has seen it all. He shares his advice, observations, and a few funny stories in his book, If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late.

Sexton finds a way to keep this book engaging by never settling into a pattern with his advice and keeping it light (for the most part) and funny. He understands the task at hand and the expected form of the book, and plays into the genre perfectly. He also gives us juicy antidotes about people’s affairs, sexual fetishes, grocery shopping, and one crushing story about an abusive pimp. Like I said, Sexton has seen it all, and he has no problem sharing it with his readers.

Some advice in this book is basic, and common, and what you hear from every relationship expert ever. Suggestions like, listen to your partner, pay attention to your partner, communicate with your partner, show up for your partner. All of that is in this book. Of course you get that in this book and any book on marriage, but Sexton does liven things up a bit. He contributes advice like, splitting custody of your kids even when you’re happily married, having your money in “yours”, “mine”, and “ours” accounts, embracing a diverse sex life. He also suggests you treat your marriage like the only car you’ll ever have for the rest of your life, so what are you buying? And how often are you changing the oil and getting the brakes checked?

As I was reading, I sometimes felt like Sexton was over simplifying complex human emotions and interactions. Obviously he sees marriages in the final stages where a lot is on the line (custody, finances, housinng, etc.) and this amplifies any understanding of marriage (just as death can amplify any understanding of life). That isn’t to say he is wrong, it is just to say his advice comes from a very particular point of view, lacking any insight on how to be married “right”. It is all deductive reasoning. If this failed in one marriage, do the opposite and you’re all set. I’m not sure marriage is so simple as Sexton implies. He might be right, but he also may not be. Just because we agree something isn’t white, doesn’t mean it’s black.

If you’re looking for an easy read about relationships from a point of view you might not always consider, you should check out this book. It is an enjoyable read, and though I wouldn’t stake my marriage on it, it did help me look at things I do with my husband and think, I could certainly be a better partner in these ways. It was worth my time, and I’m glad to have read it.

Click to hear James Sexton on The Stacks talking about If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late and more.


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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

February 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Here is what I read for February. My standout by far was Lot by Bryan Washington which comes out in March. Its a collection of short stories, and I just loved it. I wasn’t a huge fan of I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid, but I am looking forward to discussing it on The Stacks as part of The Stacks Book Club in March.

As far as diverse reading, I read a whole bunch of books by queer men, four to be exact, I guess five if you want to included William Shakespeare, but thats a conversation for another day. I didn’t do so well reading women in February, only one book by a woman, possibly an all time low since I started keeping track. Only three of the books I read were by authors of color. I have my work cut out for me in March.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below.


February by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 9
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 1
DNF Books: 0
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 21

By Women Authors: 1
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 4
Nonfiction Reads: 5
Published in 2019: 4


Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner

(Photo: amazon.com)

Arguably one of the definitive plays of modern theatre, Angels in America, is a two part epic about the AIDS crisis in America in the mid 1980’s. The play has been celebrated since it was first produced in 1992, winning the Pulitzer Prize, multiple Tony Awards, and Emmy awards for the 2003 HBO adaptation of the play. The play is a behemoth of the stage and it works on the page as well.

I really enjoyed rereading part one, Millennium Approaches, and it was my first time ever reading part two, Perestroika. Kushner does an amazing job of creating a world and characters and still maintaining the magic of the theatre. The most central idea of the entire play is change over time. How do we change? Can we ever really change? What happens when we do? What happens when we don’t?

Some of the scenes and dialogue are so wild and poetic and at times nonsensical, and it all works. Even when you’re confused or annoyed it works. There is something innately human about the story Kushner tells. If you’ve not read this play, it is worth your time. Or watch the star-studded HBO film. It is a cultural cornerstone, rightfully so, learn about it. Engage with it. Enjoy it.

Four Stars | Theatre Communications Group; 20th Anniversary Edition | December 24, 2013 | 304 Pages | Paperback


Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays about life in her own Black body, Emily Bernard writes about a random act of violence against her, academia, adopting her children, her relationship to her ancestors, among other things. I found this book to be inconsistent, the earlier essays (especially the first two) clearly had something to say. They were thoughtful and thought provoking. As the book went on, I lost interest in much of Bernard’s writing and couldn’t quiet find the through line.

It is worth noting this is not a book about deep trauma (aside from the first essay) and that is refreshing. Sure, racism and bias play into any work of nonfiction by a Black woman, how could it not, but Bernard is creating something more subtle, explaining a Black experience that we don’t often hear. One of a Black academic in Vermont, born and raised in the South, married to a White man, raising Ethiopian daughters. Black is the Body is the story of that truth. Bernard (and to some extent Knopf) allowing us to read these essays is, in a way, a form of resistance against the tropes of Blackness and the trauma that is associated with skin color.

I would suggest this book to readers who have read many Black nonfiction narratives and who might be interested in something a little different. Though not the best essay collection I’ve read, there is a lot to witness in this writing.

Three Stars | Knopf | January 29, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton, Esq.

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A divorce lawyers how-not-to be married. This book is full of advice, and whatever the opposite of advice is, for a happy marriage. Sexton is funny and charming, if not a little focused on gender roles and heteronormative ideas. In his defense (sort of), he deals in the legality of marriage, and until 2015, same sex relationships wasn’t something that he litigating.

I enjoyed If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late, it isn’t ground breaking, but it is exactly what it claims to be, and that is refreshing. It had some interesting and unique advice, like splitting custody of your kids even when you’re married. He also suggests speaking up when you’re unhappy and a lot of other common sense things, that many couples forget to do. Nothing life changing, but certainly helpful. I appreciate that Sexton doesn’t try to be a guru, he just shares what he’s seen, and as far as I can tell from this book, he has seen it all. The book does run a little longer than needed, and gets repetitive by the end.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to be a better partner or spouse, or are considering getting married, I would suggest you check out this book. It is a little different than the normal relationship advice, and goes down pretty easy.

Three Stars | Henry Holt and Co. | April 10, 2018 | 288 Pages | Hardcover
Hear James Sexton on The Stacks discussing his book (Ep. 49) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister(Ep. 50), and find a full review of If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late HERE.


I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

(Photo: amazon.com)

A psychological thriller about a relationship and theories on life and interaction. I don’t want to say much about this book for three reasons: first, we’re doing the book on podcast and we’ll be discussing it in detail, two, its a thriller so I don’t want to spoil anything, three, and most importantly, I’m not sure I understood what happened in this book.

What I will say, is there wasn’t much there for me in this book. I wasn’t wild about the depiction of the female lead, she was passive and demure in a way that was irritating. She continually deferred to the male lead (which is part of the plot) in the face of her own instincts, it wasn’t believable, it was clearly a male fantasy about a “good” woman. While the book is generally tense and a little scary, there wasn’t enough there there, and the ending fell flat for me.

I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this book, and it is entirely possible I missed it. If you do read this book tell me your thoughts, and be sure to tune into the episode where we talk about I’m Thinking of Ending Things, on March 27th.

Two Stars | Gallery/Scout Press; Reprint edition | March 21, 2017 | 240 Pages | Paperback
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is TSBC pick for March 27. You can hear the TSBC episode with Niccole Thurman HERE. Read a full review of I’m Thinking of Ending Things HERE.


I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter by David Chariandy

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

In this letter to his teenaged daughter, David Chariandy attempts explain the politics of race as he has experienced them. He discusses his own identity, Black and South Asian from Trinidad, and that of his ancestors in relationship to the world of his daughter. The role of family. What it means to be a person of color in Canada, and what it means to be alive in brown skin.

I most appreciated the conversation between father and daughter which is often overlooked, especially in stories from people of color. While Chariandy doesn’t really delve into gender politics in this book, there is something tender and special about him making the choice to address his daughter (and yes, he has a son, he chose to write to his daughter). Mostly he focuses on what it means to be seen as Black and to have come from so many cultures. Chariandy’s daughter is mixed, as is he, and engaging with the complexity of these truths was where the book was at its best.

While sections of the book were captivating, there were also sections where Chariandy was unable to hold my attention. I appreciated the idea behind the book, but I don’t know that I understood why it needed to be written, or that it has a particularly strong point of view.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury | March 5, 2019 | 96 Pages | Hardcover


Lot by Bryan Washington

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

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 other stories of people from the “lot”.

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. I would find myself smirking at the humor and then feeling gutted a few pages later by the harsh realities of these character’s world. A well rounded collection that really illustrates a time, place, and people.

Some standout stories for me were “Lot”, “Waugh”, and “Congress”, but I would say each story enhances the next. This is a great collection, and its a debut by a 25-year-old. I can not wait for more from Bryan Washington.

Five Stars | Riverhead | March 19, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

One of my most anticipated reads of 2019, Parkland was not what I was expecting, but it was so well done, it didn’t matter. It should be said, if you’re expecting to read Columbine 2.0 you might feel a little let down. Parkland is about the children who survived the shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in February 2018, and the activism work they took on, as leaders of the March for Our Lives Movement.

Cullen is an expert storyteller. His empathy drips off the page and allows you to really see the humanity in people. I have to imagine, as one of his subjects, that empathy is palpable in person as well, I think thats how he gets such in depth looks at people. To think that this book was written and published in less than a year from the date of the shooting is incredible. Cullen chronicles all that the teens went through and accomplished without being too self serious or important. He lends the correct amount of gravity to events and still maintains an air of hope and possibility.

If you’re looking for a book about the mass murder and shooter, Parkland is not your book. There hasn’t been enough time for the comprehensive story on the tragedy in Parkland to come to light, let alone be written (it wasn’t until ten years after the Columbine shooting that Cullen’s book, Columbine came out). If you’re interested in the fight for gun safety laws and the kids that have started to make a difference. Then this book is perfect for you.

Four Stars | Harper | February 12, 2019 | 400 Pages | Hardcover


The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

One of Shakespeare’s early comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona tells the story of two men who love two women, and then that all changes. It is about the conflict between friendship and love and the crazy things people in love will do.

This play is just fine. It is fun to see and pretty boring to read. Neither the plot nor language is particularly exciting. Though this play is a great example of characters changing their minds, which when performed, can be pretty funny. Proteus, one of our gentlemen, falls in and out of love so quickly its hard to keep up. Something that is absolutely thrilling and deeply troubling when you see it on stage, but in writing feels a little manic. There are also two women characters who are smart and loyal and capable, which I always love seeing, especially in classic literature. Without spoiling, I will say the final scene of the play is worth the wait. It brings up ideas of female autonomy, forgiveness, and platonic male love, in a way that leaves the reader with a lot to think about. The ending of this play has been debated by scholars for decades, and there is still so much left undecided.

The Two Gentelmen of Verona is not a great play, its fine. I would say its better on the stage than the page, but if you’re working on reading Shakespeare, its a good place to start as it is an easy read and very digestible.

Three Stars | Penguin Classics; New edition | February 1, 2000 | 92 Pages | Paperback
For a complete review of The Two Gentelmen of Verona click HERE.


When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A memoir of a life committed to fighting for equality, When We Rise is a true ode to the power of resistance and an ode to the Gay Community. The story of San Francisco queer culture is told beautifully by Cleve Jones, a man who was there for so much of it. Jones guides us through the people and places that were pivotal in the movement, like Harvey Milk and Anne Kronenberg and the people that were footnotes of the time like Jim Jones and Anita Bryant. The book is a who’s who of San Francisco and the Gay Community.

This book isn’t all history, it is also hugely about humanity. Jones is known for creating the AIDS Quilt as a way of seeing and acknowledging those who died and making sure they were never forgotten. It is that kind of humanity that is throughout the entire book. Jones celebrates the beauty, power, creativity, and strength of the Gay community throughout this memoir. The love he has for his people is palpable in the book. He doesn’t shy away from talking about the drag queens and the sex and the freedom of the time. There is no shame, only a truthful story of what life was like, once upon a time.

I listened to this book and Jones narrates, and I loved hearing his inflections as he walked us through his life in the movement. I was especially moved as he recounted the utter devastation that AIDS had on his life and his community. If you’re interested in a story of Gay Rights, both history and humanity, told from the perspective of a man who was there, I highly recommend you check out When We Rise.

Four Stars | Hachette Audio | November 29, 2016 | 9 Hours 31 Minutes | Audiobook


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.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

The Stacks received Friday Black from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

In his debut book, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has crafted an ambitious and exciting short story collection with, Friday Black. The stories meet at the intersection of race, politics, and capitalism. And just like the range of topics and ideas Adjei-Brenyah addresses with these stories, the genre is likewise ranging and evolving as the collection goes on. The stories of Friday Black are genre-bending and contain elements of surrealism, science fiction, satire, and afrofuturism. Nothing about this collection is easy to define, which of course, is part of the magic.

We discussed Friday Black for The Stacks Book Club with Wade Allain-Marcus, and the conversation is as ranging as the book itself, so please go give it a listen. You can also hear author Adjei-Brenyah as a guest on The Short Stacks talk about how the book came into the world. I found that both of these conversations helped me to form my opinions on this book.

The use of race and violence in this book is genius. We are asked to confront what happens to our society if White capitalist patriarchy is our guiding value. If Black life continues to be made expendable, and if we continue to think that our goodness is tied up in the things we own, where does that path take us?. Friday Black forces us to look at one set of answers to these questions. It is bleak and grotesque in all together terrifying.

The stories that landed most with me were “The Finkelstein 5”, “Zimmerland”, and “Friday Black”. Each one was shocking and smart and violent and thought provoking. They engaged with politics and race as well as engaging with genres and imagery. They felt like anchors for me on my journey through Friday Black.

Friday Black is the kind of story collection that keeps you thinking and working to decipher the many hidden gems and references. I can’t tell you that I “got” all the stories. Some things made little sense to me in the moment, and still remain unclear. However some of the stories have come more into focus as I have time away from the book, and have talked to others about their understandings. The stories feel a little ahead of their time and I wonder how I might feel about Friday Black in 10 or 15 years. I hold out hope that the stories I didn’t quite understand (“The Hospital Where”) will become more clear and more resonant with time.

Adjei-Brenyah uses a lot of satire in this book, and that can often be challenging to decipher, especially in the written word. If you miss the subtleties in the stories, you might just miss the whole point. That rings especially true in the story “Lark Street”, where a young man comes face to face with the twin fetuses that his girlfriend has recently terminated through the use of a morning after pill. If you look at this story out of context, it can feel like a pro-life fable about the autonomy of any form of life. However, in conversation with the other stories, we see a cautionary tale that mocks the idea of embryos being anything other than a collection of cells. That is how these stories work together as a true collection. The topics may vary wildly, but the through line is the tone and the controversial nature of the topics. They all play to the same themes but engage with them on many fronts.

While not every story in the book landed for me, the overall ambition and scope of the project is thrilling. Adjei-Brenyah is debut author with a lot to say, and after reading Friday Black I look forward to whatever is next for him. I hope this project will get produced, as I would love to see the world of Friday Black on the screen.

We have so much more on Friday Blackon the podcast, listen to the episodes below.

  • Paperback: 208
  • PublisherMariner Books; First Edition edition (October 23, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Friday Black 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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

Nicole Chung’s story of her transracial adoption, search for her birth parents, and becoming a mother come together beautifully in this, her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. We featured Chung and her book on The Stacks podcast, you can hear Chung talk about her process on The Short Stacks, and a full discussion of the book (with spoilers) with author Vanessa McGrady for The Stacks Book Club.

What makes All You Can Ever Know special, is Chung’s willingness to be open and vulnerable with her story. She embraces the complexities of adoption and identity, and her reader is privileged to get to hear her inner most thoughts on these subjects. Chung weaves three families together, her birth family, her adoptive family, and the family she has created with her husband in the most fluid and natural way. It all makes sense. She finds the balance between the three and that allows for a much deeper understanding of who she is.

Chung was adopted by White parents into a White family and community, and is by birth Korean. This element, her transracial adoption, was what I found most interesting. I would have loved even more about this as Chung grows older and comes into her own. We hear a lot about how it effected her as a child, and her desires to be white, or more accurately, be the same as those around her. However, as the book goes on we don’t really get to revisit her relationship to her ethnicity once out of her White hometown.

I really enjoyed reading this book and learning about adoption in such an intimate way. Chung doesn’t speak for all adoptees or for anyone else in All You Can Ever Know, and yet she is able to tap into the ideas of family and belonging that feel universal. I suggest this book to lovers of memoir, people interested in adoption stories, and people who appreciate small stories.

We have so much more on All You Can Ever Know on the podcast, listen to the episodes below.


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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.