Ep. 72 The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander — The Stacks Book Club (Dani McClain)

Today on The Stacks Book Club we are discussing Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World about the unexpected death of her husband and the life they built together. We are joined by Dani McClain author of We Live for the We to discuss this beautiful examination of a life well lived.
There are no spoilers on this episode.

LISTEN NOW

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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 Dani: Instagram | Twitter | Website

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.

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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.

July 2019 Reading Wrap Up

As this year has been progressing my reading has been slowing down in a major way. I only made it through seven books in July. I need to read at least eight books a month to hit my goal for 100 books in 2019, so I’ve got to pick it back up in August.

As far as what I read, I really enjoyed everything and the content was very diverse for women in business to forensic investigations. I think the two books thats really stood out were We Live for the We by Dani McClain and The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. Both books were read for the podcast, and I’m very grateful to Dani McClain for bringing them into my life. I also loved Michelle Obama’s memoir, though that was to be expected. She is such an inspirational woman.

July by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 0
Unread Shelf: 2
Books Acquired: 23

By Women Authors: 4
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1


Becoming by Michelle Obama

(Photo: amazon.com)

There is no doubt Michelle Obama is a national treasure and getting to hear about her life in her own words was such a wonderful experience. This memoir spans her childhood through the end of her husband, Barack Obama’s, presidency. She shares the ways her mother helped to shape her into the woman she is now, and she shares the ways she is shaping her own daughters. I was especially taken with the parts of the book in which we got an inside look at moments we had only seen through the media (the killing of Osama Bin Laden or when she touched The Queen).

The one place I wanted more from this book was when it came to what Michelle has learned and seen with her inside access to America. She and her family experienced so much racism and hatred from large swaths of the country, what did those experiences say to her about America? What did her inside access to the rich and famous say about income inequality? What has she seen that the rest of us could never fully understand? I just wished Michelle Obama was more candid in her observations about America. This was minor compared with how much I loved the book and her story and how much I felt inspired by her as a Black woman.

Four Stars | Random House Audio | November 13, 2018 | 19 Hours 3 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

(Photo: amazon.com)

An inside look at how doctors approach their patients and their work. This book answers questions about why a doctor might miss a diagnosis, or opt out of administering a test. It also looks at how patients can guide their doctors in the right direction within their interactions, and how they can help them to think differently about their presenting symptoms.

Overall I liked this book, though at times, I drifted in and out of paying attention as git repetitive in sections. The earlier chapters were more enjoyable as a lot of the information was new. I wished Groopman had taken more time to look at the factors that play into our implicit biases like race and class. That could have made for a more full and nuanced book that could help change the way doctors and patients interact.

Three Stars | Tantor Audio | March 28, 2007 | 10 Hours 27 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

(Photo: amazon.com)

A deep dive into the forensics and death industry and the corruption that lives just below the surface. This book is a jaw dropper, it will make you think about the systems that are in place in America and how they play into a history of racism that has led to the imprisonment of a disproportionate number of Black and Brown men.

I really enjoyed learning about this small part of the criminal justice system. The book is extremely well researched and reported and the stories in it are nearly unbelievable. I wished the authors had been more clear in linking the history of death investigation to the story they tell of one coroner and one forensic “expert”. There are missing links in this book that could round out the story telling. Overall it is interesting and opens the readers eyes to so much corruption. It almost feels like a gateway book into deeper dives into how forensics play a role in wrongful convictions and more.

Three Stars | PublicAffairs: 1st edition | February 27, 2018 | 416 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Radley Balko on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

(Photo: amazon.com)

The sudden death of her husband leads Elizabeth Alexander to reflect on life and love in this gorgeous memoir. Full of the kinds of observations about what it means to truly live a full life and what it means to be a part of a community, and a family.

I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this book. It is just beautiful. Alexander is a skilled poet and she seamlessly transitions her writing from verse to prose in this memoir. The book has a sense of deep pain but also extreme lightness. For anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one this book speaks to the magic that is inherent in that pain.

Four Stars | Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition | September 6, 2016 | 240 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

The Merchant of Venice is one of William Shakespeare’s more famous plays and is best known for being the play about “the Jew” but little more is said about this extremely complex and nuanced play. I was so glad to actually get a chance to reread it and attempt to examine the layers in this story.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, the Jew, lends out money and it isn’t repaid per the terms of the loan, and Shylock is ready to collect on the debt he is owed (pound of flesh anyone?). However once it turns out that he plans to fully collect everyone becomes incredulous and begs him to show a little mercy and compassion. This is an extremely common narrative in today’s society. After the murder of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, SC there was an immediate cry for the Black community to forgive the White Supremacist who murder these innocent people. We even saw the Black President of The United States, Barack Obama, sing “Amazing Grace” in his eulogy. This cry for mercy and forgiveness is often asked of “the other”.

There is a lot more that could be said about The Merchant of Venice, so far in my journey through Shakespeare’s cannon (#ShakeTheStacks Challenge) it feels like the most layered play. It feels urgent and painful and unfortunately more timely than I would like.

Four Stars | Penguin Classics | August 1, 2008 | 103 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


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

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

A book that looks at the many elements of mothering for Black women. The book moves between McClain’s personal doubts and questions and her reporting on how other mothers are doing the work to raise their children in progressive and engaged ways.

I didn’t think I would connect with this book as someone who isn’t a mother, and yet, I was moved deeply by it. We Live for the We is a great reminder that the work of parenting and mothering is not only for those who have birthed or adopted children, but also to the friends and relatives who help shape those young lives. The book takes on a variety of topics that intersect and build off one another, things like pregnancy, children’s bodies, education, and activism. There is a lot in this book that is important for those who parent of all races, but especially for Black mothers.

Four Stars | Bold Type Books | April 2, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Dani McClain on The Stacks HERE


WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson

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

Jaclyn Johnson (of Create & Cultivate fame) knows her stuff. She is a smart woman with a lot of insight and a very clear voice and point of view. I didn’t always like her writing style (a little too casual and filled with hashtags and pop culture references), and wonder if it will age well over time, but I appreciated much of what she had to say. She has great advice, like be a pleasure to work with, we are our reputations, and much more. She’s not rewriting the business world, but she is making it more approachable and accessible for young female entrepreneurs.

One place Johnson could have elevated WorkParty was by choosing to be more intersectional in her approach. She has centered her own story so much she doesn’t leave room to discuss Black and Brown women, people who are gender non-conforming, women who have disabilities, women who come from lower socio-economic groups and all the hurdles that these communities have to overcome just to get a seat at the table.

Overall I was surprised in the best ways by this book. There is certainly advice I will take with me as I grow as a business woman running The Stacks.

Three Stars | Gallery Books: Reprint Edition | March 5, 2019 | 256 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss WorkParty on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking 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. 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 — August 2019 Books

August is just around the corner, which means its time to share out picks for The Stacks Book Club for August. We’ve got two very different (and very good) nonfiction stories for you!

Our first book, for the August 14th, is The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. In her memoir, Alexander shares what it is like to have loved and lost after the sudden death of her husband. She uses her skills as a poet to tell this beautiful story of love, family, community, grief, and a life well lived. This memoir was touted as Michelle Obama’s favorite book of 2015 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Then on August 28th, we’re reading The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington. This book might not scream “beach read” but trust us, this book is hard to put down. This true crime story explains how two men in Mississippi could be imprisoned for over 30 years for a crimes they didn’t commit and how the forensic experts who helped convict them have a long history of exploiting the death investigation industry and the racist history of The United States. Hold on, this one is a wild ride.

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 August books on Amazon or IndieBound:

  • The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander (Amazon | IndieBound)
  • The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington (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.

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

In her memoir about living with her colon cancer diagnosis and coming to terms with her pending death, Julie Yip-Williams opens herself up to her reader to share her rage, fears, jealousy, and grace. She writes this book with a sense of humor and a commitment to honesty in all its many complexities.

The Unwinding of the Miracle is approachable and human. Yip-Williams presents the many parts of her life, both before cancer as a child in Vietnam and her final months as a mother of two dying from colon cancer, as though she is just reflecting in a journal. She is candid and vulnerable, it is almost as if she forgets there reader is there.

I didn’t cry when I read this book, which comes a bit of a shock to me, because I thought for sure in a memoir about coping with your pending death I would feel the need to cry. I didn’t. I felt bonded to Julie, and of course her story is sad and unfair and painful, but she takes her reader on a journey, where we too feel as though we can accept this terrible diagnosis. That our friend Julie is getting to die in a way that she is okay with. That we too can live our lives with a little more grace. And that we too can get big mad when it comes to slutty-second wives and birthday parties we’ll never get to attend.

While I found Yip-Williams life to be fascinating. I did not connect with her story as much pre-cancer. Perhaps because I knew where it was going, I didn’t really feel like I needed to take much stock in where she had been. For me, that wasn’t the interesting stuff. I was much more compelled with her navigating her own death. I was enthralled with her love for her children. I was moved by her honesty about the challenges that this type of diagnosis can add to a marriage. These sections are what will stick with me most when I think back on The Unwinding of the Miracle.

What is special about what Yip-Willaims has done, is that she asks her reader to reflect on their own lives, their own hopes and fears, without ever once actually asking the reader to do so. She presents her life and hopes that in learning more about her, we will take the time to get to know ourselves more intimately. Especially, while we still have time to live the lives we want, and be the person we’d always hoped we’d be. She leaves her readers with that gift, even in her death.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re looking for a much more in depth reflection on this book, hear our conversation of The Unwinding of the Miracle as part of The Stacks Book Club with author Lori Gottlieb.

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

  • Hardcover: 336
  • PublisherRandom House (February 5, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Unwinding of the Miracle 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.

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.

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.

Connect with Lori: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but 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: 1
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
Hear our conversation with Etaf Rum on the Short Stacks HERE


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.

Five 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
Hear Lori Gottlieb on The Stacks HERE


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
We discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode 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. 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.

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

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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

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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

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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.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

C3AC3073-5D3F-4AFD-AE59-A65863E1162FI have had this book by Celeste Ng on my list for a few months, and I finally decided to read it. I knew it had to do with the mysterious death of a teenage girl, and I knew that by the end of the book I would know “who done it”, which was important to me because an unresolved ending ruins my week.

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

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

This book is really well written. The story weaves through the thoughts and minds of all the members of the Lee family, and dives into their history as individuals and into how they relate to each other. I understand why so many people love this book. For me, it didn’t work, I couldn’t get myself to care about any of them, aside from a general feeling of “thats too bad”. I generally don’t like these types of books, family dramas. I decided to read Everything I Never Told You because of the mysterious death part, which I’m always interested in. I thought solving the mystery would play a more active part in the book. However after reading it, Lydia’s death is more of device to look deeper into the family’s dynamic. A device that gave us flashbacks that went on and on, and often times felt redundant. I wanted more plot and more movement forward.

The Lee family, like every family, has issues, and they are intensified by the racism they face as the only mixed race, Chinese and White American, family in the town. The book takes place in 1977 Ohio, which can only be described as intolerant and racist. In addition to racial taunting there are lots of elements dealing with sexism in this book, Ng questions a woman’s role in the family, and in the world. A lot of the racism and sexism in this book felt unspecific and stereotypical. Not that it wasn’t believable (I find that bigots tend to be pretty uncreative), but more that they are so commonplace they felt unexceptional. Which may have been the point.

The way that Ng writes about the shock and grief of the Lee family, is really well done. It is sometimes subtle, and sometimes not, which is true to how grief can look and feel. She takes care with each of her characters, even though I felt that they all kind of felt like the same voice. I enjoyed seeing the Lee’s carrying on and adapting after Lydias death. That is where I found myself enjoying the book most.

Overall I would say, that this was not the book I thought it was going to be. I wanted a book about the death of a teenage girl and what happens next, and instead I got a book that looked back and inward at a family. It is a solid book. If you like a family drama, if you like multiple perspectives on the same events, if you like flashbacks, this is your book. If you like a little more plot or action, I might skip it, however the writing is good enough to carry you through the 300 or so pages.

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.

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.