Ep. 64 The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams — The Stacks Book Club (Lori Gottlieb)

New York Times Best Selling author Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone) is back to discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams for The Stacks Book Club. The book provides the reader with a range of emotions as it navigates Yip-Williams’ terminal cancer diagnosis and struggle to die with grace. We discuss our aversion to not having the answers, bucket lists, and how we, as a society, talk about and treat people living with and dying from cancer.
There are no spoilers on today’s episode.

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Lori: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — July 2019 Books

The time has come to announce our July books for The Stacks Book Club. This month there are three books, lucky you, and they are all very different from one another.

First up, on July 3rd, we’re reading a backlist short story collection called Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. The stories in this book, which came out in 1992, follow addicts, hustlers, and lost souls as they navigate life and death, rock bottom and redemption.

Then on July 17th, as voted by our Stacks Pack, we’ll be reading Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. This novel is a contemporary version of the tried and true courtroom drama. It has added elements of the obligations of parenthood and the stigma of being an outsider. It is both a page turner and an in depth look at humanity.

Lastly, on July 31st we’re talking about turning dreams into careers with WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson. In this book, Johnson, the founder of Create and Cultivate, offers a rallying cry for a new generation of women who are looking to redefine working on their own terms.

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our June books 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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

May 2019 Reading Wrap Up

May is always such a busy month for me with birthdays, graduations, and holidays, and this May was no different. I enjoyed most everything I read, with Ibram X. Kendi’s forthcoming book, How to Be an Antiracist as my clear favorite.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below, and check out reviews of all of these books over on The Stacks Instagram.


May by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 8
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 0
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 26

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 5
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 5
Published in 2019: 4


A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies. A romp involving four sets of characters whose plots intersect and merge in and around a forrest. While this is a fine play to read, it is a great deal of fun to actually see. There is a ton of physical comedy and sight gags, so it doesn’t fully translate to the page.

I personally love the lovers in this play, and to get more specific, the women lovers. Both Helena and Hermia are smart and sassy and tough as nails. They flip on a dime and their speeches are the most visceral of the whole show. I couldn’t help but want to watch the play the whole time I was reading it. If you’ve not read much Shakespeare this is a good one to start with since there is most likely a summer production being put up in a town near you. If not, check out the film, which is star studded and pretty good adaptation.

Four Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | August 1, 2000 | 352 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


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

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

In her debut novel, Etaf Rum sets out to tell the story of three generations of Palestinian women who are pushing up against the expectation of women in their community and their own hopes for their lives. The book tackles issues like abuse, gender roles, obedience, and freedom. And it has all the makings of something powerful, though the execution fell flat. I found the characters (both male and female) to be under developed and the story to be redundant. I never connected to anyone and figured out the ending within the first few pages.

I appreciate Rum and her effort to tell a story about people we rarely see, but the idea was the strongest part of this book, and not the execution. I wished there had been more nuance and complexity in character and plot development and in the writing. The fact that this book was written and published is a good thing, it is bringing more voices to the table, and for that Rum should be applauded.

Two Stars | Harper | March 5, 2019 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

(Photo: amazon.com)

This short little novel about a woman in Japan who lives an unconventional life as a worker at a convenience store is totally delightful. Murata asks her reader to chip away at what it means to be and act human? However she doesn’t take herself too seriously, the book is quirky and fun, while still asking huge questions about humanity. I really enjoyed this book and because it is so short you can read it in a day and reflect on the characters for a long while after.

Three Stars | Grove Press (First English Edition) | June 12, 2018 | 176 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

This was one of my most anticipated books for 2019. After reading Kendi’s National Book Award Winning book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America I knew whatever he wrote next I would need to read, and How to be an Antiracist does not dissapoint. The books is part memoir and part guide to identifying and combatting racist ideas in ourselves and in our culture. Kendi’s main premise is that there is no such thing as a “not racist” person, instead there are only racists thoughts and actions and antiracist thoughts and actions, and these two things can live simultaneously in any human, even Kendi himself.

The book can be read by anyone. Kendi centers his own experiences, thoughts and actions, and uses his racist thinking as a way to connect to his reader. He basically says if I can be racist so can you and in turn we can all be antiracist if we so chose. Kendi takes his experiences and combbines them with more digestable bits of the history that were the majorty of Stamped from the Beginning. If race insterests you even a little, or you feel like you have work to do to embrace antiracism you should check this book out.

Four Stars | One World | August 20, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

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

In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone , Lori Gottlieb shares insights into therapy, she is both the therapist and the patient. The book focuses on five patients, Gottlieb being one of them, and throw us into these sessions and we get to hear what it is like to be on both sides of the couch.

I loved how Lori was able to extrapolate meaning from her sessions and use her patients for proxies for the reader. Two clients really stood out to me, Julie and John, and I won’t say more about either, but their stories were rivietting and a great reminder that everyone is going through something. One thing that Gottlieb doesn through out that is so smart, is that she leaves each section with a bit of a cliffhanger. It simulates what she herfelf must feel when sessions are out of time, just when she is getting somewhere with her clients. I think the book could have benifited from a little more editing because there were times I felt like I was ahead of Gottlieb, and knew what was coming next.

I enjoyed Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It was a very well crafted book about therapy and life and how we all tell our own stories, to ourselves and the world. If you love memoir and want something with heart but not lacking sense of humor, this book is for you.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | April 2, 2019 | 432 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks

(Photo: amazon.com)

When Kim Brooks left her four year old son in car so she could run into target, she wasn’t expecting for a passerby to call the police. But of course, thats exactly what happened, and it set into motion her years long legal battle, and this book. Small Animals is Brooks’ memoir of what happened to her and her family after her “lapse in judgment” and also a look into the broader landscape of modern parenting.

Brooks does a great job researching and presenting not only the state of modern (upper/middle class) parenting, but she also helps her reader understand how we got here. She explains how the need to constantly monitor kids is hurting their autonomy and ability to grow up. She also talks about the amount of anxiety that parents feel now that is exacerbated by social media and mom blogs, and how all that judgement fuels the parent industrial complex. While Brooks does attempt to acknowledge her own White privilege, she doesn’t go far enough in talking about the inequities between White mothers and those Black and Brown mothers who are incarcerated and separated from their children for far less. There is much more to explore at the intersection of race, sex, class, and motherhood.

Despite the omissions, this book is very solid. I enjoyed reading it and I think it makes a great read for parents of young children or those considering becoming parents. Brooks asks us all to look at the sexism and judgement we level against motherhood and the role of women in relationship to children.

Four Stars | Macmillan Publishing | August 21, 2018 | 8 Hours 14 Minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

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

If you’ve ever wondered how you could freshen up your gathering, weather it be a dinner party of a baby shower or a conference, this is a great book for you. Priya Parker has dedicated her life to gatherings and making them resonant and powerful. She shares her triumphs, best practices, and mistakes with her reader in this The Art of Gathering.

Parker states the obvious that we so often take for granted, as well as things that don’t often consider when hosting. One example that sticks out is setting the tone for your gathering. Making sure that your guests know where they are going and why, and no, not just an address. She also suggests that hosts shouldn’t be chill, and that who you keep off the guest list is as important as who you put on it. Parker spends equal time on social gatherings and professional gatherings, and while I didn’t have as much use for the professional gathering ideas, I could still appreciate the lessons. This book really makes you think about the role of gatherings and the roles we play in successful (and unsuccessful) gatherings, and that reflection is well worth it.

Three Stars | Penguin Audio | May 15, 2018 | 9 Hours 21 Minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

(Photo: amazon.com)

Julie Yip-Williams is very much the miracle of her own story. She was born blind in 1970’s Vietnam, and then flees to Hong Kong before she arrives in America and receives surgery to help restore her vision, she becomes a lawyer, gets married, and has children. This story is incredible and inspiring and would have been enough for a great memoir, and yet, that is just where this book starts. The real story here, is that in her 30’s Yip-Williams is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, and from that devastating diagnosis we get the rest of her story.

What makes this book different from other “death memoirs” is that Yip-Williams is relateabble. She is angry, and sad, and jealous, and hopeful, and messy, and all the things that you’d expect from a person confronting death. She is also funny, thankfully. She is a real and well rounded human who takes to her reader in and treats them as a friend and a confidant, not an audience. I enjoyed this book, but never felt fully connected emotionally. I didn’t have the cathartic cry I expected given the subject matter. There were moments where I felt the pangs of emotion, but I never gave in. I never ugly cried. No matter my reaction, this book very much belongs in the canon of books that deal with confronting what exactly it means to be alive.

Three Stars | Random House | February 5, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — June 2019 Books

Its time! Our June book announcement. This month we’ve selected two nonfiction books, one, the rediscovering a long forgotten fire, the other a memoir about facing death.

In honor of LGBTQIA+ Pride month, we’re reading Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler, on June 5th. This book chronicles an arson fire in a gay bar, The Upstairs Lounge, in June 1973 in New Orleans. This fire took the lives of 32 people and then was largely forgotten. Tinderbox examines this painful moment in history; the fire, the victims, the police response, and the social and political attitudes of the time.

On June 19th we’re reading The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams. Born blind in Vietnam, Julie Yip-William and her family flee to America, where she has surgery that gives her back partial sight. As the years progress Yip-Williams becomes a lawyer, a wife, and a mother. Then at 37, she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book is her reckoning. It explores life through the prism of death.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you, so if you’ve got thoughts or questions send them our way, they might even get featured on the show! You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our June books on Amazon or IndieBound:

  • Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (Amazon | IndieBound)
  • The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams (Amazon | 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.

April 2019 Reading Wrap Up

April was not my best reading month as far as content. I liked a lot of what I read, but I really didn’t love anything. I reread Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things and still found it excellent, but it wasn’t as thrilling as the first time around. I loved Fatimah Asghar’s poetry collection If They Come for Us, and was happy too participate in reading poems as part of National Poetry Month.I enjoyed mostly what I read all month, but was never really blown away.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below, and check out reviews of all of these books over on The Stacks Instagram


April by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 37

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 6
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 4


A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris B. Hill

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

In her collection of poetry that covers the history of incarceration of Black women in America, DaMaris Hill crafts poems that highlight the pain of being a Black woman and the undeniable strength that comes along with it. She tells of some of the most famous women of the Diaspora as well as many women whose stories were nearly lost to history.

The collection is both poems and small bits of historical context that allow the reader to get a deeper understanding of the poetry. I really enjoyed the contextual bits of this book. Not all of the poems resonated with me, some were too fare removed from the context given. I also found some to be extremely powerful. The section on Assata Shakur was my favorite.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury Publishing | January 15, 2019 | 192 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
DaMaris Hill is our guest on The Stacks, hear that conversation now, by clicking HERE.


Beloved by Toni Morrison

(Photo: amazon.com)

Every once in a while I will read a book that I can appreicate for its artistic beauty and masterful use of themes, language, and characters. I will be impressed by the dialogue and wowed by the sheer craft of the thing. And despite all of the beauty and skill, I won’t really like the book. That was the case for me with Beloved, Toni Morrison’s most famous and well regarded book. Its not that I didn’t think the book was spectacular, its just that it wasn’t for me. When I say a book is “too fiction-y” this book is a prime example.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it is the story of a runaway slave woman, Sethe, and her life as she lives free in Ohio mixed with the haunting of her past on the plantation and the early days of freedom. It is supernatural and haunting, and contains so many layers. I didn’t love the book, but I look forward to talking about it on The Stacks Book Club on May 22. I have a hunch that every time I discuss and dissect the book I will like it more and more. Toni Morrison’s works have a funny way of always having more to give.

Three Stars | Plume; Reprint edition | October 1, 1998 |275 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Beloved in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode HERE


If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of poetry about violence, race, gender, and mortality both in a cultural sense and in the more intimate context of what it means to be alive and human. These poems are so smart and tough and vibrant and some are funny and snarky, and in the best ways.

What I appreciate in these poems beyond the craft itself is that the content ties in the historical and deeply personal. Asghar talks about being an orphan along side the fracturing of India and Pakistan. She takes the many parts of her identity and reflects them back to her audience. She reminds us all of the pain and joy in the world to which we must bear witness.

Five Stars | One World Books | August 7, 2018 | 128 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. It is both about the falling down and the getting back up of life. Before we recognized the opioid crisis as a crisis and before we sympathized with addicts, Jesus’ Son gave a human perspective to those that suffer from addiction. The book feels ahead of its time in this way. I couldn’t help but see Johnson’s ability to tell this story as a part of his own privilege. He gets to tell the stories of this specific group of users, instead of having to be responsible for all people who have ever been addicted. It is a great thing for an artist to be able to do, though I wonder if a Black author’s work would have been granted that kind of specificity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is fantastic at all the twists and the short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this one wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

Two Stars | Picador | Febbruary 17, 2009 | 133 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Richard II by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks Challenge I read Richard II. It looks at the reign and fall of King Richard II, and is a glimpse into the fragility of power and the necessity of legitimacy. This play has the potential to be boring, however Shakespeare crafts dynamic characters who use their speech as a way to influence and persuade. I was particularly struck by the diversity in oratory style between Bolingbroke and Richard. Both men attempt to convince those around them to follow their lead, and both do it in drastically different ways. I found a couple of Richard’s speeches to be some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful. On top of the beauty, the play is easy to read and understand, which isn’t always the case for The Bard.

Richard II is an engaging and thrilling read. It is a play about politics and legitimacy. It feels especially relevant in today’s climate. What does it take to overthrow the leader? It is a dramatization of a theoretical question of who has the will of the people. The play is more cerebral than action packed, but it works beautifully and leaves the reader with much to think about.

Three Stars | Penguin Classics; reprint edition | December 1, 2000 | 160 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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

A collection of essays that are at once smart, funny, and truly thought provoking. Cottom is one of the most critical and nuanced thinkers on race and gender in this moment in The United States.Thick is effortless in its ability to move between ideas of intersectionality, the art of “the turn” is perfected in these pages. As the collection goes on the essays build on each other and deepen the readers understanding of Cottom and the work she has dedicated her life to. It is because of this depth that the second half of the book really stood out for me.

Some of Thick was challenging to read. I often had to go back and reread sentences and passages because I found myself lost in her arguments. That is less a criticism and more an observation about the style of the book. I applaud Cottom for not making her work small to accommodate her reader. Her writing is too important for that. Go read Thick. You will learn things, you will connect dots you never knew you could. It is powerful and empowering.

Four Stars | The New Press | January 8, 2019 | 224 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler

(Photo: amazon.com)

In June 1973, there was a fire at the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans that left 32 people dead. This tragedy was barely acknowledged when it happened and has since, been largely lost to history. In his book, Tinderbox, Robert Fieseler attempts to shed light on the events of June 24, 1973, and the connect those events with the early days of the Gay Liberation Movement.

Tinderbox functions on two levels, one the story of the fire and the people and city directly involved, and two the story of the movement that was connected to it. The true crime part of this book is fantastic. In particular, the pages where Fieseler describes the fire itself were vivid and horrifying. The history of the movement falls a little flatter, the connection feels forced. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if you like true crime, you will too, even if some sections are not as good as the rest.

Three Stars | Liveright | June 5, 2018 | 384 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Robert W. Fieseler on The Short Stacks HERE, and stay tuned as we will discuss this book in detail on The Stacks Book Club, June 5th.


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

(Photo: amazon.com)

A reread of one of my favorite books from last year (you can find my first review here). Cheryl Strayed’s advice column from her days at The Rumpus strikes all the right chords. I love this book. I don’t know how else to say it. It is full of reminders and suggestions on how to live life a little better. Its not polite or even precious, its more in your face. Its the kind of book that opens you up a little bit. Thats what makes it so great. Strayed even says, most of the time you know what you must do, this book, like her advice, is just a nudge in the right direction.

Five Stars | Vintage; Original edition | July 10, 2012 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Tune into the The Stacks Book Club conversation of Tiny Beautiful Things HERE .


The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris

(Photo: amazon.com)

The Truths We Hold is part of a tradition of books for future presidential candidates, they almost all have them. One part memoir, one part policy platform, and one part resume. These books aren’t particularly insightful, though they are a glimpse into the candidate on their very best days (even the bad ones are good or have packaged lessons to take away). Barack Obama famously wrote The Audacity of Hope on the eve of his candidacy, and that book gave America a glimpse into the changes Obama wanted to make in this country. Likewise Harris lays out the things she has achieved as prosecutor and attorney general, and the direction she thinks America should go. It is all well written and readable, but it is all so safe. I understand why, but I wish there was another way. I will wait and read her tell all after she is president.

The final section of the book are the truths she lives by, and aside from learning about her courtship with her husband, this is the best part of the book. Its a little insight into how she ticks. It should also be said, she reads her book and does a fantastic job. Her charisma shines through, and if nothing else, you finish the book and really like the woman.

Three Stars | Penguin Audio | January 8, 2019 | 9 hours and 26 minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young

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

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is the exact book you might expect from Damon Young, of Very Smart Brothas. It is smart and funny, and yet it still makes you think. The book is dynamic and covers a range of topics from what is a “good dude” to Black anxiety, to gentrification, homophobia, to name a few. The book is good, though some of the essays are stronger than others, and sometimes thats frustrating.

There are four essays that really stand out, and whats interesting is they all have a common thread: Women. Each one of these essays (about his controversial piece on rape on VSB, his wife, his mother, and his daughter) is vulnerable but still maintains the style that Young is known for. There is an ease to his voice though saying the hard things, admitting fault, calling out his own privilege, and taking others to task must have been extremely challenging. There is a humility to these essays that allows them to soar above the rest. The book is worth a read, even if at times I found Young to be reaching for a laugh when he didn’t need one. His story is enough.

Three Stars | Ecco | March 26, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Damon Young on the Short Stacks HERE


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

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs 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.

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.

Ep. 46 All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung — The Stacks Book Club (Vanessa McGrady)

All You Can Ever Know is an emotional memoir on adoption and identity by Nicole Chung. It is also this week’s pick for The Stacks Book Club. We are again joined by author Vanessa McGrady (author of Rock Needs River) to discuss All You Can Ever Know. We talk about transracial adoptions, adoption mythology, and expectations versus reality. There are spoilers this week, listen at your own risk, or check out The Short Stacks feature author Nicole Chung, which is spoiler free.

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. The Stacks participates in affiliate programs, and shopping through the links below (mostly Amazon) helps support the show, at no cost to you.

Connect with Vanessa: Vanessa’s Website | Vanessa’s Twitter | Vanessa’s Instagram

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | The Stacks Website | Facebook | Twitter | Subscribe | Patreon | Goodreads | Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 6: Nicole Chung//All You Can Ever Know

Today on The Short Stacks author Nicole Chung joins us to discuss her memoir, and The Stacks Book Club pick, All You Can Ever Know. The book addresses her transracial adoption, her decision to find her birth family, and becoming a mother. Nicole shares with The Stacks the chaotic setting in which she wrote the book, why she felt compelled to tell her story, and much more. There are no spoilers this week, so listen and enjoy, and then come back on Wednesday to hear our TSBC conversation around All You Can Ever Know.

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. The Stacks participates in affiliate programs, and shopping through the links below (mostly Amazon) helps support the show, at no cost to you.

Connect with Nicole: Nicole’ Website | Nicole’s Twitter | Nicole’s Instagram

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | The Stacks Website | Facebook | Twitter | Subscribe | Patreon | Goodreads | Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

January 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Starting this month, I’ll be giving mini reviews for all of my reads each month. For longer reviews on each book check out The Stacks Instagram page. You can also find full length reviews for any books we feature on the show under the Reviews tab and any other reviews I just feel compelled to write. My hope is to streamline my reviews and make them easier for you all to read and enjoy.

I’ll also be giving you my month by the numbers, as a way to give you all a snapshot of what I read, and to hold myself accountable to reading diverse and inclusive books.

January by the Numbers

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

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 4
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

(Photo: amazon.com)

Nicole Chung’s story of her transracial adoption, searching for her birth parents, and becoming a mother come together beautifully in this her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Chung is vulnerable and honest in a way that is rare, refreshing, and greatly appreciated as a reader. Chung shares her hopes, fears, insecurities, and expectations with her reader as if she is writing in her journal. I was deeply moved in reading this book, and found common ground with Chung when it came to identity, as I am the product of an interracial marriage.

There were pieces to the story that left me wanting more, and I feel a bit selfish to be asking for more from Chung who is so open with her reader. I would have liked more on what parts of her childhood (as a Korean raised by White parents) she is still grappling with as an adult, and how she interacts with the world because of her upbringing.

Overall, this book is very good. Chung is a writer with a gentle touch that packs a lot of power. She is unrelenting in sharing her own thoughts and experiences and for that I am grateful. Also there is Cindy, and I won’t say much, except that I felt so much love and respect for Cindy, and when you read the book, you’ll know. I would suggest this book to people who love a good emotional memoir, people interested in adoption stories, and people who enjoy the active search for identity.

Four Stars | Catapult | October 4, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover
All You Can Ever Know is TSBC pick for February 13. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nicole Chung HERE, and TSBC episode with Vanessa McGrady HERE.Read a full review of All You Can Ever Know, HERE.


Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

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 unique and imaginative short stories that provide a commentary on race, violence, consumerism, and survival in America. The writing is at times snarky and smart and then can flip in an instant to be poignant. Some of the stories in Friday Black were pitch perfect and found a great balance between reflection and experience. Some of the other stories never quiet landed with me. The two stories that stand out most (“Zimmer Land” and “Finklestein 5”) deal with the fragility of Black pain and the violence that Black people endure just to live. They comment on events and realities that are part of the American cultural zeitgeist.

I suggest Friday Black to lovers of short stories, racial politics, and people interested in thinking about capitalism in a different way. Warning, there is a lot of (stylized) violence in this book.

Three Stars | Mariner Books | October 23, 2018 | 208 Pages | Paperback
Friday Black is TSBC pick for February 27. Stay tuned for more content around this book. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah HERE, and TSBC episode with Wade Allain-Marcus HERE.Read a full review ofFriday Black, HERE.


Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A fictionalized look at life in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders as told from the perspective of three fifth graders. In her debut novel, Tayari Jones examines the changing responsibilities for Black children as the move toward adulthood. She engages with the unfortunate truth that Black children are forced to grow up too early, and that they are vulnerable to the world around them. Her characters have to come to terms with their Blackness and what that means to the rest of the world. Jones loves her characters and knows them well, she speaks for them without feeling corny or contrived, and develops them into complex characters. Their youth becomes a filter on which we, the readers, see injustices in their world.

Leaving Atlanta is mostly a character study and a coming of age story. If you love plot and action, and are looking for true crime, this book isn’t that (which is where it missed for me). However, if you love spending time with characters and thinking about the world from different perspectives, check it out. If you’re more interested in the Atlanta Child Murders you might like the Atlanta Monster podcast.

Three Stars | Grand Central Publishing (Reprint Edition) | August 1, 2003 | 272 Pages | Paperback


Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

(Photo: amazon.com)

An essay collection on feminism and the relationship of women to male entitlement. Rebecca Solnit’s essays are an indictment on how women are seen and treated in The United States. Solnit ranges from snarky to measured, and shows her self as a thought leader in the conversation around certain types of feminism, which is evidenced in my favorite essay “#yesallwomen”. Men Explain Things to Me misses the mark on intersectional feminism completely and makes no space for women of color and queer women. The book was originally published in 2014, and just over four years later it feels dated. I don’t doubt this book was forward thinking at the time of publication, and that Solnit’s own views have evolved in the last five years (this is my first time reading her work). Men Explain Things to Me is a reminder of the kind of feminism that centers White women and that we are, thankfully, moving away from.

While Men Explain Things to Me is a good collection, I wouldn’t suggest reading it, simply because it isn’t speaking to the current moment in the women’s movement. I would confidently recommend Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (full review here) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (full review here) as better looks at intersectional feminism today.

 Three Stars | Haymarket Books | September 1, 2015 | 176 Pages | Paperback
See my full review of Men Explain Things to Me which you can read HERE.


Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation by Juan Vidal

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

Juan Vidal shares his own story of growing up, finding his way, and becoming a family man in his memoir Rap Dad. The book is a mix of stories from Vidal’s past, meditations on fatherhood, breaking down the importance of hip-hop culture, and conversations of folks in the Rap world about their own thoughts on fatherhood. The book didn’t always feel cohesive or flow, and I often couldn’t relate to his experiences, but Vidal’s willingness to write and discover in that process is refreshing. He is asking the questions of what it means to be a good parent in this hip-hop generation.

Rap Dad is worth your time. The content is different from most anything I’ve read. Vidal is a unique thinker, a fluid writer, and his lack of pretense is beyond refreshing. He is talking about a subculture, hip-hop heads, we so often ignore, especially in the context of parenting.

Three Stars | Atria | September 25, 2018 | 256 Pages | Hardcover
Rap Dad is TSBC pick for January 30. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Juan Vidal HERE, and TSBC episode with Josh Segarra HERE.Read a full review of Rap Dad, HERE.


Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption by Vanessa McGrady

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

In Rock Needs River, Vanessa McGrady shares her journey from deciding she wants to be a mother, to adopting her daughter Grace, to eventually taking in Grace’s homeless birth parents. McGrady navigates the sometimes murky boundaries of open adoption in this book.

What worked in Rock Needs River is that McGrady is clearly only speaking for herself. He triumphs and blunders are clearly her own. She finds a way to be relatable so that you’re rooting for her for get whatever it is she wants and needs, even when she does some pretty questionable things (thinking of a chat room sequence that is painfully cringe worthy). I struggled with McGrady’s sense of privilege when it came to Grace’s birth parents. She wanted them to do what she would do, and those parts feel very entitled and narrow minded. Don’t get me wrong, McGrady is beyond generous with them, but that gets lost in the feeling that McGrady wants her good deed to play out the way she wants it to (with thank you notes). She spends a good chunk of the book projecting her value system on them, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I really learned a lot about adoption. If you like a lighter approach to more serious topics this might be a good book for you. If you’re interested in adoption and the ways that life doesn’t always go according to plan, I’d check out Rock Needs River.

Three Stars | Little A | January 1, 2019 | 204 Pages | Hardcover
Hear Vanessa McGrady on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 45) and All You Can Ever Know(Ep. 46), and find a full review of Rock Needs River HERE.


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks challenge I read Romeo and Juliet. The play is the story of two teenaged, star crossed lovers who find each other despite their families’ rivalry.The story is a total cliche now, but of course then you remember Romeo and Juliet was one of the originals.

I loved rereading this play. Shakespeare is interested in the ideas of loyalty and vengeance, individual desire versus communal stability. The play is dealing with these massive ideas and somehow still taking them on with a kind of urgent poetry that is just begging to be said and heard. In reading the play I couldn’t help but fall in love with Juliet. Her speeches are rich and full of so much emotion. I found myself reading them over and over (mostly out loud).

If you like strong characters with a driving plot, don’t be intimidated by Romeo and Juliet. It is a great play, which I’m sure you’ve heard.

Five Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 128 Pages | Paperback
You can read my full review of  Romeo and Juliet HERE.



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

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating. I got so much out of this book, it really connected with me emotionally. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable. There were times I thought Corrigan got a little cutesy, and didn’t need to, and some of her phrases seem beyond obvious (“Yes” and “No” come to mind), but I don’t think it hurt the book overall. The power of “Onward” was enough for an entire book to ride on.

While it is certainly not “required reading” it is a book that I could see being meaningful to anyone. I would check it out. I am certainly glad I did.

Four Stars | Random House | January 9, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


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

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

TAn oral history of Tony Kushner’s iconic play Angels in America, The World Only Spins Forward was a surprising delight. For a person who loves the theatre this book was more than I could have imagined. I loved hearing from actors, directors, production teams, and theatre critics as they unpack the significance of one of the great American plays. Hearing thespians expound on the nuances of characters and the importance of lines, or how to an angel should fly, was fulfilling. Using the tradition of oral history as a way for the theatre community to talk about this depiction of HIV and gay experience felt completely spot on. The LGBTQIA+ community kept the memories of their own alive through telling stories, writing plays, and creating the art that lives on and is celebrated today. This book is a little bit of art imitating life (on a few levels). Also, the cover. It is absolutely perfect.

The only thing that was hard for me as a reader was that a lot of references weren’t explained. I spent time googling people and events that I would have loved to hear more about from the people who were telling this story, the interviewees.

I don’t know that this book is for everyone. I think you’d have to be interested in Angels in America or the theatre at the very least. The World Only Spins Forward is total theatre nerd stuff, and as a proud member of that community, it was everything I wanted and more. If you love the theater, and acting, and how plays get made, you must read this one.

Four Stars | Bloomsbury | February 13, 2018 | 448 Pages | Hardcover


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.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

109E7C7A-C34F-4CBA-AD1C-86315A297A24If You Leave Me was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book in detail with author of The Ensemble, Aja Gabel. If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are plenty of spoilers throughout our conversation. If you’ve not read the book, but want to hear more about it, check out our first ever episode of The Short Stacks (mini episodes focused on authors and their writing processes) featuring the author of If You Leave Me, Crystal Hana Kim. Listen here, and no spoilers.

Here is more about If You Leave Me

An emotionally riveting novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.


What I appreciated most about If You Leave Me is how patient Crystal Hana Kim is with her reader. She allows us the space and time to luxuriate and unpack her novel. The book layers issues, one on top of the other. Kim gives us realistic struggles that are intertwined and complex, subtle and subdued, instead of hammering us over the head with “themes” and “imagery”. In reading this book, you feel the respect Kim gives her characters, and you the reader. She  is entrusting us with her stories. The book is bleak, almost relentlessly so. It doesn’t feel so sad in the reading, but after, you’re hit with the heaviness of what you’ve just read, and what it all means.

If You Leave Me is a story of war and so much more than war, and If You Leave Me illustrates the depth of human struggle and triumph that surrounds war. These little moments that are both monumental and common. Mental illness and distress is a major thread in this book, and Kim isn’t heavy handed. She methodically illustrates grief and depression, allowing the pain to unfold. Kim is barely there. You understand, but she never says it, he characters do not have the words. The same goes for feminism, survivors guilt, and so much more. Kim shows us, but never tells.

The book is told through the eyes of five narrators, and this too is expertly done. Our guides through this narrow landscape age and grow. They change before our eyes, the events her hear about shape them. People I once rooted for were , become reprehensible. You are shown glimpses of these people. This format works to give us a more complete picture of the world without explanation.

While I quiet enjoyed If You Leave Me, it did slow down at points for me. There were moments of  extreme pain, or pleasure, or revelation, and then moments where I felt the momentum stalled out. They never lasted long, but I could sense the absence of movement. The words remained beautiful, but the story dimmed.

This is a book you read in a few days; in front of a fire, on a vacation, uninterrupted. The premise is unlike anything I’ve read, but the story itself feels familiar and accessible. I loved the writing and the simplicity, but also the depth of topics that were woven throughout this book. If you love a rich story with developed characters and plenty of emotion, this is your book. This is the first novel by Crystal Hana Kim, and I look forward to whatever is next from her.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Aja Gabel discussing If You Leave Me

Hear The Short Stacks conversation with author, Crystal Hana Kim

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • PublisherWilliam Morrow (August 7, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on If You Leave Me Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.