The Best Things We Read in 2019

Dear Listeners,

I’ve reached out the guests from the 2019 season of The Stacks to share with us the best book they read this year. I enjoyed talking to each and everyone of our guests, and hearing from them again is a great way to end the year. Each guest shared with me their favorite read in 2019 and one book they hope to read in 2020.

Thank you all for listening to the show, and thank you again to this group of amazing humans for sharing their reading life with all of us.

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

Of course this is a very hard question. I loved two books A LOT: Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev because it’s such a gripping tale of survival and redemption told through a feminist lens, and Shalmiyev is such a gorgeous writer. I also really enjoyed Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion because she’s so smart and, honestly, this woman could write a grocery list and it would be a deeply fun and engaging and insightful read. (I realize I’m adding another here but …) I also finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and I can’t stop thinking about it. I mean, every day it comes up.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 45, and then joined us to discuss All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, Episode 46.

Ben Blacker
Author, Podcaster, and Comedian

I did a lot of reading for homework this year, which included exploring a lot of horror novels and stories I’d somehow missed (turns out We Have Always Lived in the Castle is pretty great!). The books that stayed with me the most of those are two short story collections: Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer and Alexandra Kleeman’s Intimations. Due isn’t afraid of genre. In fact, she leans into everything that makes both horror and short stories wonderful– deftly drawn characters, warm, spooky, dangerous nostalgia, and an immersive sense of place. Kleeman’s stories are wilder, more surreal, and are horror-adjacent. Kleeman is a master at exploring language, and those unexpected turns of phrase somehow inform her characters’ world views; as the author is confined by available linguistic constructs, so are her characters trapped in their own bodies, their own homes. Unnerving and beautiful writing.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Horror Stories by Liz Phair

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 53, and then joined us to discuss The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, Episode 54.

Gabrielle Civil
Performance Artists and Author of Experiments in Joy

In 2019, two of my favorite books insisted on the urgency of life, love, and black feminist creativity. Tembi Locke’s memoir From Scratch swept me away in its depictions of an Italian love affair, cross-cultural family drama, untimely loss, grief, and deep family bonds. Locke’s voice is vibrant and the descriptions of food are mouth watering! More experimental and spare, Aisha Sasha John’s poetry collection I have to live.  transported me from Montreal to North Africa, from dance studios into the poet’s very heartbeat. No matter what happens, John insists on her own observations, insights, and indomitable existence.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Dub by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Gabrielle was our guest for Episode 55, and then joined us to discuss Wild Beuaty by Ntozake Shange, Episode 56.

Joseph Papa
Book Publicist

My favorite read of 2019 was Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister. Though I was a year late to it, it transformed the way I engage in many political discussions. It’s an urgent book that I genuinely think should be required reading for all adults with applications that go far beyond politics. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America by Eric Cervini

Joseph was our guest for Episode 61 , and then joined us to discuss Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler Episode 62.

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

My favorite read of 2019 was Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. Olive Kitteridge absolutely slayed me, so I wondered how a sequel could possibly match the original. Turns out that Olive, Again, is possibly even more compelling as we see an older Olive woven into the lives of the residents of Crosby, Maine. Strout’s sentences are gorgeous, her plot twists surprising, her humor razor-sharp, her compassion deep, and her understanding of the human condition moving and profound. Olive is a both highly original and entirely universal, by turns hard to love and entirely lovable, like most of us. If this book doesn’t break your heart in two, make you cry in public or laugh so hard that water spills out of your nose, change the way you see yourself and others, and leave you with a grand sense of hope, you might be a hologram and not a human.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: I’m eagerly awaiting suggestions for what to read in 2020! In fact, I’ll be making good use of this blog post for that very reason!

Lori was our guest for Episode 63 , and then joined us to discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams , Episode 64.

Dave Cullen
Author of Parkland: Birth of a Movement

I was blown away by The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood this year (yes, I was officially the last person to get to it). But I have some advice: when an instant classic comes out, wait 34 years, so you can start the sequel the day after you finish. I DON’T recommend that, but it sure worked out well. I hate waiting! Everything was fresh. (by the way, I also loved The Testaments, though it won’t squeeze into my all-time top ten list like The Handmaid’s Tale).

Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Lori was our guest for Episode 65 , and then joined us to discuss Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson , Episode 66.

Rachel Overvoll
Author of Finding Feminism

My favorite read of 2019 was Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love By Amir Levine, Rachel Heller. This was my favorite read because it dove deep into attachment styles, relationship pit falls, and how to achieve a healthy partnership. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in personal development or personal growth.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Rachel was our guest for Episode 67, and then joined us to discuss Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, Episode 68.

Dani McClain
Author of We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood

My favorite read of 2019 was Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. I read a lot with my 3-year-old daughter and this is one of our favorites. It’s about a boy named Julián who dreams of becoming a mermaid. His grandmother makes a simple, meaningful gesture to affirm his dreams, and then they go on an adventure to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The illustrations are gorgeous and I appreciate that there’s an imaginative children’s book that helps my toddler and me talk about gender.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Dub by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Dani was our guest for Episode 71 , and then joined us to discuss The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, Episode 72.

Allison Punch
Reader and Bookstagrammer, @allisonreadsdc

My favorite book of 2019 was Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown. brown brings Black feminism, sex positivity and harm reduction to talk about how to seek pleasure in all aspects of our lives and thus radically liberate ourselves and others. It was an essential read for me at this point in my life to heal myself and transform the world.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Allison was our guest for Episode 73 , and then joined us to discuss The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, Episode 74.

Sarah Enni
Host of the First Draft Podcast and Author of Tell Me Everything

The book I enjoyed the most in 2019 was The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. A feminist fable retelling set as Christianity was sweeping through the medieval Russian countryside, the magic in this story swept me away.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Sarah was our guest for Episode 77, and then joined us to discuss Educated by Tara Westover, Episode 78.

Chris L. Terry
Author of Black Card

My favorite read of 2019 was Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, an exciting retelling of a 2500-year-old Hindu myth. The story is fast-paced with ornate, bold, and dazzling art, so it was perfect to share with my five-year-old, whose interest in the story had been piqued by a picture of Hanuman moving a mountain.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Chris was our guest for Episode 83, and then joined us to discuss We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Episode 84.

Vanessa Hua
Columnist and Author of A River of Stars

My favorite reads this year include the twisty turns of Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise and Elaine Castillo’s funny and poignant America is Not the Heart.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco by Alia Voz, The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen, and She Votes: How U.S. Women won the Suffrage & What Happened Next by Bridget Quinn

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 91, and then joined us to discuss Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, Episode 92.

Traci Thomas
Host of The Stacks

I read so many wonderful books this year, and one of the standouts was How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. This memoir is all about Jones coming of age as a gay Black man in Texas, his relationship to his mother, and the ways he fought to survive and thrive. The book is so well written, Jones is a poet and his use of language and craft is evident in every sentence.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Unputdownables: Nonfiction

I have been in a sort of reading slump, and I asked followers on Instagram to help me find a book of nonfiction that is “unputdownable”. The responses were SO good that I figured I would share them with you here and turn unputdownable books into a series on The Stacks website, featuring the most readable books by genre according to you all. Welcome to The Unputdownables.

To start, I’ll share two or three of my picks that fit the category (in this case nonfiction) and then share whatever you all sent my way. If you want to have your pick included in future editions of The Unputdownables make sure you’re following The Stacks on Instagram.

Ok here are my picks for The Unputdownables Nonfiction!

John Krakauer – I recognize this isn’t a book, but every book by John Krakauer is great, and I have read all of his books. They are so engaging and well researched and deep diving. Plus he covers a huge variety of topics from Fundamental Mormons to campus rape culture to Mount Everest. If you haven’t read his books, they are a must. If I had to pick just one, it would be Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.
Eiger Dreams | Into the Wild | Into Thin Air | Missoula | Under the Banner of Heaven | Where Men Win Glory

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres – I rave about this memoir all the time and most people don’t know it, but trust me it is amazing. The book is about Scheeres (who is White) and her adopted brothers (who are Black) and their violent and volatile, religious family.

Columbine by Dave Cullen – Another book that I constantly talk about, and for good reason. In this book, Cullen dives deep into the most infamous American school shooting. His research is impeccable and his story telling is out of this world.

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

Thats the list for our first ever Unputdownable round up of non fiction. Yo can get any of these books on Amazon or IndieBound. Make sure to share which books you would add to this list in the comments. Stay tuned for the next round of Unputdownables, coming soon.

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 The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Stacks Anniversary Superlatives

Its a little bit hard to even believe that one year ago today the first ever episode of The Stacks aired with our guest Dallas Lopez, and now 365 days later we have 62 episodes out in the world. In that time we have discussed 26 books for the The Stacks Book Club, met 33 different guests, had nine Short Stacks, and talked about countless books. But more than any of that, we’ve connected with so many wonderful bookish friends around the world. It has been my greatest pleasure.

In honor of our first trip around the sun, I wanted to share some of my The Stacks superlatives with all of you. While, I have loved every guest and every conversation, here are a handful that have stood out for me.

Listener’s Favorite
Ep. 20 Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates with Jay Connor

Whenever I ask listeners which episode they like most, the most common answer is Between the World and Me with Jay Connor. Jay is the creator and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast and hearing him discuss Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book is as engaging as it is revelatory. We talk race, parenting, and Coates’ skill as a writer in this fan favorite.

Literary Hero
Ep. 35 Prodigies, Time Machines, & Beautiful Writing with Aja Gabel
Ep. 36 If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim with Aja Gabel

Some people can just talk about books and make the stories come to life, and Aja Gabel is one of those people. The author of The Ensemble came to talk with us about her reading life, and playing the cello, and having a PhD. Then she blew our minds in her thoughtful and insightful reflections of If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, and it was a dream. Aja is so smart and creative and her understanding of writing and story telling added a true depth to this conversation.

Most Unlikely Pairing
Ep. 22 The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner with Becca Tobin

Becca Tobin is best known for her work on the LadyGang Podcast and playing Kitty Wilde on Glee, and while most people wouldn’t think that she’d even be on a book podcast, here she is talking about women in prison with us as we break down The Mars Room. Here at The Stacks, we like a surprise. Don’t worry she still brings her signature sass and sense of humor, which you can hear even more on her first episode where she talks about life in Hollywood.

Best Laugh
Ep. 9 Talking Books with Vella Lovell

Sometimes you just want to talk books with your gal pals, and this episdoe with Vella Lovell is just that. You may know Vella from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but I know her from our days acting in college, and we have blast talking theatre and Shakespeare. It is a great time.

Best Scammer
Ep. 27 Talking Investigative Journalism with Nancy Rommelmann
Ep. 28 Bad Blood by John Carreyrou with Nancy Rommelmann

I don’t like to brag, but it must be said, The Stacks was ahead of the curve when it came to Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. We were talking about America’s favorite scammer back in August with author and journalist Nancy Rommelmann (To The Bridge). Not only did Nancy break down Bad Blood, the book all about the Theranos scandal, she also talks about her own experiences with serial killers and psychopaths. Both of Nancy’s episodes will excite the true crime lover in you. By the way, if you love Nancy, you should also check out our episode where we break down her book, To The Bridge with journalist Heather John Fogarty.

Most Charming
The Short Stacks 1: Crystal Hana Kim//If You Leave Me

Our first guest for The Short Stacks was author Crystal Hana Kim, and holy cow is she a delightful human. She has the best energy and loves Earl Grey tea as much as I do. Plus, Crystal is a force on the page, her bookIf You Leave Me, is a stunner. The writing is gorgeous and flowing and leaves you gutted. After you listen tell me you don’t want to be BFFs with this badass author.

Book I Want Everyone to Read
The Short Stacks 8: Lacy M. Johnson//The Reckonings

If there is one book I can not stop raving about, it is The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson. This collection of essays is powerful and creative and necessary and took my completely by surprise. In order to complete my life’s mission, to get this book in all of your hands, I invited Lacy on the show for one of our Short Stack episodes and she did not disappoint, she was as interesting and smart in conversation as she is on the page.

Person You Most Want to Get a Drink With
Ep. 41 Comedy, Race, Travel, & Books with Tawny Newsome

Tawny Newsome is the best. She is smart, funny, cool, gorgeous, and is the kind of person you just want to be around. Lucky for all of us, we got her on tape, and we can listen to her over and over (and we do). Tawny is a co-host of Yo, Is This Racist? podcast and an actress, and she talks with us about what its like to be the race police, her love of travel and appreciations for lady comedians. But the truth is what makes this episode is just Tawny being Tawny.

Most #BlackGirlMagic
Ep. 33 Book Girl Magic with Renée Hicks
Ep. 34 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison with Renée Hicks

On her 24 hour stint in Los Angeles, we got to meet up with Renèe Hicks aka Book Girl Magic to talk books and it was, well, magical. Renèe shares her own, relatively recent, journey into reading and about her book club which centers the work of Black women authors. Then for The Stacks Book Club we talk about the great Toni Morrison’s debut, The Bluest Eye. Two truly special episodes with a truly special woman.

Best Book Breakdown
Ep. 48 Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah with Wade Allain-Marcus

Actor and writer Wade Allain-Marcus joined the podcast to discuss perhaps our most challenging read, Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Friday Black is collection of short stories that deal with race and class, gender and capitalism. The book is so smart and layered a ton of it went over my head, and that’s where Wade stepped in to give his insightful analysis. I don’t know what we would have done without him. He gave me, and many listeners a new understanding of Friday Black. It is also worth noting, author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah joined us for The Short Stacks to share his own perspectives on this award winning and thought provoking book.

Most Sentimental
Ep. 1 Talking Books with Dallas Lopez

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

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

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

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The 2018 Stacks Book Club Battle of the Books

We’re bringing a little friendly competition into The Stacks world as 2018 comes to a close. You get to vote for the winners of this year’s best book from The Stacks Book Club, plus one participant will win one of these books and a tote!

Here is how it works. You go to or click here. You create your account put your predictions in for who you think will win. Then on The Stacks Instagram Stories, you’ll vote (start 12/20) for your favorite books in head to head battles, until we crown one winner, The Stacks Book Club Book of the Year. The results of each round will be updated over on Challonge (our bracket site) and on our Instagram @thestackspod.

You have until Thursday, December 20th at 9:00am PST to put in your predictions, the person who does the best will win one book from the 19 books in the tournament and a The Stacks Tote bag. We will announce the winner of the tournament and the winner of the giveaway on Monday, December 31st once the results are in.

Some of you might be wondering how the seedings worked out for the tournament, and I’ll be honest, I did a bunch of calculations to rank the books based on a slew of factors The rankings are full of bias, and assumptions, and thats what makes it fun, since ultimately YOU decide the best book. Here is what I looked at to rank these books, and below find a more detailed description of what that means. 

  • Podcast Downloads- Raw number of downloads that episode received according to my data (I know older episodes will be at a disadvantage as the podcast grew over time, but also newer episodes suffer because they haven’t been up as long, I’m hoping it all evens out). It is worth noting that I excluded Open City from this calculation since that episode is not out yet.
  • iTunes Episode Popularity- iTunes lets me see how popular each episode is. Its slight different than raw downloads, because they take into account listeners at the time of recording, but they also only include people listening through iTunes. Again,Open City  was excluded from this category, see above.
  • Goodreads Scores- I just looked up each book on Goodreads and took that score.
  • Goodreads Reviews- I took the raw number of Goodreads reviews for each book.
  • Test of Time- The older a book is, the more credit it got, because it has withstood the test of time. 
  • Social Media Input- I’ve asked you all to tell me your favorite book we read this year on Instagram and Twitter. Those responses are incorporated.
  • Traci’s Personal Ranking- Thats right, I’m influencing this competition a little. Why not?

There are 19 books in the competition, so in each of those categories the books are rated on a scale of 1-19. Each book received a score from each category, 1 being the best, 19 the worst. I then tallied all the scores and divided by 7 (in the case of Open City  only 5). The lower the score, the higher the ranking.

I know that sounds like a lot, but just trust me, it makes sense. Here are the rankings based on these calculations, and their total overall raw scores, remember lower is better. Where there was a tie, I broke the tie.

  • 1 Between the World and Me -5.142
  • 2 Giovanni’s Room – 5.571
  • 3 The Bluest Eye – 5.857
  • 4 Men We Reaped – 6.428
  • 5 Exit West – 6.714
  • 6 Bad Blood – 7.14
  • 7 Year of Yes – 7.714
  • 8 The Mars Room – 9.142
  • 9 If You Leave Me – 9.428
  • 10 Between the World and Me -5.142
  • 11 How Democracies Die – 9.714
  • 12 Less – 10
  • 13 Open City – 11
  • 14 Reincarnation Blues – 12.428
  • 15 Vulgar Favors – 12.571
  • 16 How Soccer Explains the World – 12.714
  • 17 To the Bridge – 13.428
  • 18 New Boy – 13.428
  • 19 Motherhood – 14.57

Voting begins Thursday December 20th, shortly after 9:00am PST for the first round, and will follow the schedule below. Remember you vote in The Stacks Instagram stories. You just click your favorite book in each round’s head to head matchup. Once the results are in, I’ll share the winners with you and we get ready for the next round. The schedule is below.

Round 1 – December 20th – Play In Games

Round 2 – December 23rd – Sweet Sixteen 16

Round 3 – December 26th – Elite 8

Round 4 – December 28th – Final 4

Round 5 – December 30th – Championship

That feels like a lot, trust me, it’ll be fun and worth it. Here is the important stuff.

  1. Make sure you’re following The Stacks on Instagram @thestackspod.
  2. Register for the bracket if you want to be part of the giveaway CLICK HERE
  3. Vote in each round on our Insta Stories,  starting Thursday December 20th.
  4. Spread the word!

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

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.