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.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. Jesus’ Son 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 really didn’t care about the characters in this book. The stories were fine and interesting, but overall, I wasn’t interested in what happened to them. Part of it is that this book feels overwhelmingly White and male. The point of view, the insights, and the issues all felt like shock and awe for White people, but missed the fact that many Black and Brown people are constantly living at the margins without as much sympathy, let alone books devoted to the quirk of their day to day lives.

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 singularity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is a fantastic writer with a unique style. He creates short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this book wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

I know many people consider this book to be a modern classic, and one of the greatest books of the last few decades. I am not one of those people. Author Dave Cullen (Columbine, Parkland) however is, and you can hear us discuss this book on the podcast:

Ep.66 Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson — The Stacks Book Club (Dave Cullen)

If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.

  • Paperback: 133
  • PublisherPicador; First edition (February 17, 2009)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Jesus’ Son 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. 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.

Ep. 66 Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson — The Stacks Book Club (Dave Cullen)

Today on The Stacks Book Club, we’re taking it to the backlist of American Fiction with Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. Our guest is New York Times Best Selling author Dave Cullen (Columbine, Parkland). On this episode we discuss chasing highs, what makes a good cover, and who gets to tell what stories.
There are spoilers on this episode.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

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.

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Connect with Dave: Website | Instagram | Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support 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 this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 65 Crafting a Compelling Narrative with Dave Cullen

Our guest today is two-time New York Times Best Selling author Dave Cullen. His first book, Columbine, is one of host, Traci Thomas’, favorite books. Cullen is most recently the author of Parkland: Birth of a Movement. Today we talk about following journalistic instincts, crafting a compelling narrative, and then we get a sneak peek into Dave Cullen’s forthcoming book, Soldiers First.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

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.

Books

Everything Else

Connect with Dave: Website | Instagram | Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support 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 this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

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


The Stacks received a copy of Parkland from the publisher. For more information click here.

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.

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. 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 Giveaway and Book Drive

To celebrate one year of The Stacks on #bookstagram, I wanted to do a giveaway for you, and a book drive for those in need of some good reading.

I have picked two organizations, Prisoners Literature Project and The Free Black Women’s Library Los Angeles.

To enter the giveaway here is what you need to do:

  1. Follow @thestackspod on Instagram
  2. Donate a book through these links: PLP Wishlist or FBWL-LA Wishlist
  3. Comment with the title of the book you donated
  4. Share your receipt in your Instagram stories and tag @thestackspod. If your account is private please DM @thestackspod.
  5. Every book you donate is an entry.

It is super simple, will make you feel good, and you’re entered to win:

  1. A copy of Parkland by Dave Cullen– one of The Stacks most anticipated reads of 2019
  2. A copy of the new UK edition (with new forward) of Columbine by Dave Cullen as gifted by the author.
  3. A book of your choosing by a Black author– in honor of Black History Month
  4. The Stacks Tote Bag
  5. The Stacks Bookmarks

So head over to The Stacks Instagram page and enter.


Giveaway closes February 21, 2019 at 11:59pm PST. Must be at least 18 years of age. Not affiliated with any organizations, publishers, authors, or websites.

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Ten Non-Fiction Books for Fiction Lovers

AB2EBDFE-7E76-4563-941D-06EB3B3B0AA9As I have become more engaged with the book world, and I have been outed as a non-fiction lover, I have had lots of conversations with many of you on what are some good non-fiction books. So I put together my list of top 10 non-fiction books for people who don’t read non-fiction.

This isn’t a list of the best non-fiction I’ve ever read, but books that I think those of you who love a good novel will enjoy. Those of you looking for a way in. Most of these books are more narrative driven, and use rich language to develop characters and events. While there are a variety of types of non-fiction books on this list, they are all captivating.

This list is presented in alphabetical order, I simply can not play favorites with these books.

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

 Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood This is the story of Trevor Noah’s upbringing as a mixed child in Apartheid South Africa. It is at once funny and poignant. You learn so much about his life, and gain a new appreciation for his success. I laughed at loud at parts and felt my self tearing up here and there.

Columbine In this deeply emotional reexamination of one of the most famous school shootings in American history. Author, David Cullen looks at the facts of the shooting and uses forensic experts, the killers’ own words, and all the evidence to figure out what really happened on April 20, 1999.

Jesus Land: A Memoir In this memoir by Julia Scheeres, we learn of her childhood with her adopted brother, David who is black, in racist rural Indiana. We see her life in the Mid-West and also her experience in a religious camp in the Dominican Republic. Scheeres’ story is heartrending and emotional. You can’t imagine the world she comes from and the stories she has to share.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption The story of a lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and his journey as an activist and advocate on behalf of those who are sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Not only is this book a memoir of Stevenson’s early days as a appeals lawyer, it is also a searing indictment of the United States criminal justice system.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir Over the course of five years, author Jesmyn Ward loses five young black men in her life. This book is her examination of why something like this could happen. It is a look at what it means to be young and black in America. Written with all her skill as a fiction writer, and all the truth of her lived experience. This is a really special book. We cover this book on The Stacks Podcast and you can listen to our episode here.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After In her memoir, Clemantine Wamariya (with co-author Elizabeth Weil) tells her unimaginable journey of life as a refugee from Rwanda in 1994. Clemantine and her sister Claire, travel through eight African countries, before they ultimately end up in America. While the book is about their journey, it is also about finding one’s voice and strength to carry on and to thrive. It is both devastating and empowering. The writing is beautiful.

Unbroken:A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption This is one of those stories that you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a movie (and guess what, this book is now a movie).  Laura Hillenbrand writes this story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned WWII pilot, turned prisoner of war, turned survivor. Its almost more than you can handle, and then you remember what Zamperini went through, and you remember you’re just reading.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith When it comes to non-fiction, author John Krakauer is my favorite. I can highly recommend any of his books (Where Men Win Glory is a personal favorite). In Under the Banner of Heaven Krakauer dives deep into the Fundamentalist Mormon Church. He examines the religion, their traditions, believes, and brings up many questions about Mormonism. This book is not to be missed.

Zeitoun Dave Eggers tells the story of a Muslim man caught in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The book takes place at the intersection of natural disaster response and The War on Terror. The story is almost beyond believe, and the storytelling is illuminating.

63439241-927F-48C9-B6A5-67C450C9950AThis list is a great starting place if you think you’re not so much of a non-fiction person. And if you make your way through this and think maybe you want a little more, here are ten bonus books. While some of these may be less accessible (more niche topics, more clinical writing) for pure fiction lovers, the stories are inescapably engrossing and the writing is of course delicious.

I hope that these books help you add a little non-fiction to your world of reading. And if you already love non-fiction I hope you find something here that sparks your interests. Tell me what you think of my list, and add any of your favorite non-fiction books.

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.