The Best Things We Read in 2018

Dear Listeners,

Instead of giving you a round up of the “best books” of 2018, I’ve reached out to past guests from the podcast and asked them to share their favorite reads in 2018. I loved talking to this diverse group of humans about reading, hearing their unique perspectives on books and their power to change, inspire, excite, and frustrate, so I decided I’d ask them for more!  Each guest shared with me, in their own words, their favorite book they read in 2018 and one book they hope to get to in 2019. 

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.

Traci


Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

Dallas Lopez
Teacher and Law Student 

Moving to Oakland and identifying as an Urban Indian, I was enthralled by the complexity of Tommy Orange’s  There There and how he wove in the stories of multiple characters who all converge into one powerful yet, ironic ending. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Dallas was our guest for Episode 1 , and then joined us to discuss Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Episode 2.


CreditSonny Figueroa/The New York Times

Sarah Fong
PhD Candidate in Ethnic Studies

Zora Neal Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo moved me in a profound way. The Atlantic Slave Trade looms large in US history and yet it often feels as if we know very little about it. This of course is not true as there are many, many studies and stories written about the Middle Passage and the experience of slavery once captives reached the Americas. What is largely absent from the literature on US slavery, however, are the personal stories of those who lived it. Barracoon gifts us a deeply human glimpse of what enslavement meant for one man. In the telling of this story, I was struck by the interactions between Hurston and Kossola. I couldn’t help but wonder what the experience of interviewing Kossola meant for Hurston, and what that can tell us about how the legacy of slavery continues to ramify across generations.
Book(s) I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and  As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Sarah was our guest on Episode 3 and then returned to discuss Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, Episode 4.


Chris Maddox
TV Writer

My favorite book I read in 2018 was Mystery in Harare by Dr. M. J. Simms-Maddox. Not only was I trilled to read my grandmother’s second novel within her trilogy, but I also enjoyed learning aspects about Apartheid amidst a page-turning thriller.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III

Chris was our guest on Episode 5, and you can hear discuss Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, Episode 6.


Sam Pinkleton
Director and Choreographer

CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

My favorite read of 2018 was Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Friday Black , is a short story collection that must be read to be believed. He creates totally surreal universes that are more real than real life. This is the kind of book that made me breathless in the first few pages; that gave me that totally rare and specific feeling of knowing you’re reading something for the first time that you’ll carry with you forever.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Sam was our guest for Episode 7, and then joined us to discuss Vulgar Favors: The Hunt for Andrew Cunanan, the Man Who Killed Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth, Episode 8.


Vella Lovell
Actress (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

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I think my favorite book I read this year was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. It is the story of a young black couple whose marriage is interrupted in its first year by the young man being falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. It is a harsh, tender, unpredictable story about relationships, the inevitability of change, being black in America, the prison system, and love. Jones is incredibly skilled at left turns, and it is one of those books that completely drew me in. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.
Book(s) I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Swing Time by Zadie Smith and On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Vella was our guest on Episode 9, and returned to discuss New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, Episode 10.


Ross Asdourian
Producer, Author of Broken Bananah: Life, Love, and Sex… Without a Penis

My favorite read of 2018 was The Cannabis Manifesto by Steve DeAngelo. It is to the industry, what the documentary 13th is to incarceration. It’s an intelligent read and great knowledge base for a debate that will only consume more of the country with time. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood  by Trevor Noah

Ross joined The Stacks for Episode 13, and later discussed The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, Episode 14.


Lauren Fanella
Reader and Bookstagrammer, @literarylauren_

One of my favorite reads of 2018 was The Hours by Michael Cunningham. He seamlessly weaved the stories of three women living in different places at different times so effortlessly. The writing was beautiful and eloquent with richly drawn characters. This book had such a profound effect on me.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

You can hear Lauren on Episode 15 and then our discussion of Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore, Episode 16.


Ashley North
Celebrity Stylist and CEO

The book I enjoyed the most this year was Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison. I read it with my girls and it was fun to learn along with them.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Ashley was our guest on Episode 17, and discussed Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes on Episode 18.


Jay Connor
Writer, Creator and Co-Host of The Extraordinary Negroes Podcast

Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

My favorite read of 2018 was Kiese Laymon’s Heavy. It’s one of the most emotional journeys I’ve ever experienced while reading a memoir. From it’s deconstruction and examination of the black male body’s place in America to it’s fascination with discovering truth, it’s an exceptional read. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young

Jay is our guest on Episode 19, and discussed Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Episode 20.


Becca Tobin
Actress (Glee), Co-Host of LadyGang Podcast and TV Show

Favorite book I read this year, Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty. I absolutely loved this read! Moriarty is the same author of another one of my favorite books, (and TV show) Big Little Lies. Her writing is fantastic and this is a very juicy read!!!
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

Becca was our guest on Episode 21, and returned to talk about The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, Episode 22.


Jo Piazza
Author of Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, and host of Committed podcast

I usually HATE short story collections. I feel like they’re usually just a big MFA masturbation, but I still think about every single story in Florida by Lauren Groff. I couldn’t wait to get to the next one and I have gifted it to at least 15 people.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Becoming by Michelle Obama

You can hear Jo on Episode 23, and our conversation about Motherhood by Sheila Heti on Episode 24.


Zeke Smith
Writer, Activist

My favorite read of 2018 was The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin. It’s a (light) fantasy romp with elves and goblins, diplomats and spies. Part graphic novel, part prose, Brangwain plays with point of view in a way that challenges perceptions of politics, friendship, and diplomacy. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen

You can hear Zeke on Episode 25, and our discussion of Less by Andrew Sean Greer, Episode 26


Nancy Rommelmann
Author of To The Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder

My favorite book of 2018 — which I had the delight of discussing with Traci on The Stacks! — was Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. It’s a masterful portrait of a charming sociopath/narcissist/whatever you want to call Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the “is there really anything here but hype?” blood-testing company Theranos. A friend recently told me that Carreyrou is his neighbor so you might be in for some real-life fan-girling from me in 2019.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump by Robby Soave

Nancy was our guest on Episode 27, and discussed her favorite read of the year Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou on Episode 28.


Harris Cohn
Community Organizer and Activist

My favorite read of 2018 was Give Us the Ballot:The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman.  It’s about the history of voting rights in America.  Makes me want to go hit the streets and make our country better!
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Harris was our guest on Episode 29, and returned to discuss How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Episode 30.


Heather John Fogarty
Journalist

Patricia Wall/The New York Times

It’s been years since I’ve read a novel as beautifully written as The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, which centers around a woman incarcerated in a California prison. It’s as bleak as it is beautiful, offering grittier snap shots of San Francisco and Los Angeles while also exploring the women’s prison system. I found myself rereading paragraphs just because the writing was so incredible. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

You can hear Heather on Episode 31, and our conversation of To The Bridge:A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann on Episode 32.


Reneé Hicks
Founder of Book Girl Magic

My favorite read of 2018 was Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper. It is such an empowering book for black women (and probably all women) to read. Cooper reminds us that being angry isn’t necessarily a bad thing, that we should never settle for less than we deserve and that our “rage” is our superpower. OWN IT!
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Reneé was our guest on Episode 33, and discussed The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison on Episode 34.


Aja Gabel
Author of The Ensemble

Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

My favorite read of 2018 was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. This collection of surreal feminist stories is the Joy Williams/George Saunders mashup of your dreams.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Exhalation by Ted Chiang

You can hear Aja on Episode 35, and our discussion of If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim on Episode 36.


Traci Thomas
Host of The Stacks

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward is a haunting memoir that has stuck with me throughout the year. Ward’s account of life in rural Mississippi set against the backdrop of the deaths of five young Black men in her life who died over four consecutive years. Ward’s writing is fantastic, and her story is as devastating as it is empowering, and what it all says about Black life in America is powerful beyond measure. A Black Lives Matter memoir, before we had the hashtag.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

You can find Traci on all of The Stacks episodes.


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

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

Real Jungle Tales by Jesse Byrd and Illustrated by Andressa Meissner

This week on The Short Stacks, we talked to children’s book author Jesse Byrd about his newest book, Real Jungle Tales. You can listen to that conversation here. 

Real Jungle Tales tells the story of a little Native American girl named Zee who gets punished on Halloween and can’t go trick-or-treating, and comes up with a plan to get candy from her friends. The book is for ages 4-8 and is in rhyming verse. 

Real Jungle Tales is beautiful, the illustrations (by Andressa Meissner)  are playful and vivid, and in sync with the energy and personality of our protagonist, Zee. She is painting vibrant pictures with her words, and the images match. There is a sense of whimsy as she schemes, which is shown threw the rhythms of the rhyming verse and the bright images. Byrd and Meissner are a perfect fit for Zee’s and her story.

Where this book really shines is the unapologetic and deliberate centering of Zee, a clever, creative, and playful Native American girl. We don’t often to get see that in children’s books, young girls of color leading the narrative, but Byrd has committed his work to this kind of representation, you get to meet a Martine a creole girl in his previous book, Sunny Days

According to Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s multicultural statistics for 2017 you are more likely to find a children’s book that centers a dinosaur than a Native American child, and when books have female leads, they are “highly likely” to be in pink or a bow (even when they are animals). Byrd doesn’t engage in any of that, instead he presents us with Zee. Smart, clad in a safari hat, and confident beyond measure. You can tell that he really respects children and wants to present them as they are, diverse, powerful, exciting.

It should also be said, that this book doesn’t focus on Zee’s ethnicity, instead it focuses on her desire to get some candy. Zee is not struggling with identity, or troubled, this book is not about overcoming societal obstacles, which many children’s books that have characters of color seem to be. No, this book is about a confident little girl problem solving and being herself. 

I did give a copy of this book to my 7 year old niece, and she loved it, sat there reading it at a restaurant, she is a little Black girl, and she saw herself in Zee. It was very powerful, not only for her, but also for me. 

I recommend this book to any of the young children in your life, especially if they are children of color and/or are great story tellers, or maybe just to kids who really like animals. I would challenge you to give this book to white children as well as children of color, and to little boys as well as girls. Why not?

You can get your copy of this book through Jesse’s publishing company Jesse B. Creative Inc. or through Amazon

Don’t forget to listen to Jesse Byrd on The Short Stacks discussing Real Jungle Tales and more. 

  • Hardcover: 24 pages
  • Publisher: Jesse B. Creative Inc. (January 16, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on Real Jungle Tales. Amazon

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

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

21 Reasons Why I Read Authors of Color

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This post was inspired by Diana from the Words Between Worlds Book Club, she asked me to write a guest post about why I read books by authors of color.

I am a reader.

I read for a lot of reasons, mostly to learn about people and places. I read to learn about things I’ve never heard of, and to read about things I’m obsessed with. I read a lot of nonfiction. I love nonfiction. I like the idea of truth and reality, and I know I’ll never fully get either.

Here is a list of some of the reasons why I read books by authors of color. Not that I, or anyone, need a reason. I want to note that while I do read the work of people of color to challenge the narratives that are presented by White authors, I also read authors of color without any relationship to White people. For me, these books exist in their own right and I read them for that reason alone. Reading authors of color is not always a conscious act of resistance. The list below has my reasons and then books that match those reasons. There are many books I love missing from this list, mostly because there are too many books by people of color that are absolutely amazing, and also because many of the books I love are out on loan and I needed a good stack for this picture. I’m just keeping it real.

And before I get too carried away, let me just say, I have a lot of work to do in diversifying my own reading. As a Black woman I skew toward Black authors. I am working on reading more authors who don’t look like me. I could always do a little better. So know that I am a work in progress.

Ok here goes….

WHY I READ BOOKS BY AUTHORS OF COLOR

  1. Because people of color exist. Their stories exists, their experiences exist, and I choose to bear witness.
  2. I like to learn about people who are different than me. I have only lived one life, and I want to know about how other people have lived theirs.
  3. As a reminder that while we are different from each other, we are also more similar than we know.
  4. I want to learn about systemic racism so I can fight against it. People of color do a better job documenting and calling out the work of White supremacy. Often times bringing to the forefront theory I didn’t know, and explaining racism in a new way.
  5. To get intersectional. To learn about life from the cross section of race and any given issue, from gender studies to the environment. Intersectionality is important and is best understood by those who reside in the intersection.
  6. I love learning about history from a lens that is other than White and male.
  7. To learn about a topic that the White community is unwilling to look at, weather it be because White people are implicated, or White autors do not care to explore.
  8. Because representation matters, and so many people have been erased, books give them back their voices.
  9. To hear a good story.
  10. To laugh.
  11. To cry.
  12. To get really angry.
  13. To read an award winning book
  14. Because you don’t have to be White to write a great American novel.
  15. I read books my friends recommend to me. My friends read authors of color. My friends are cool and super smart.
  16. As a Black person, I want to learn about where I came from.
  17. As a Black person, I want to learn about the leaders who have fought for my rights.
  18. As a Black person, I want to learn about people who look like me. To see their struggles and their successes. To remind myself that I can never “turn off” or “take a break” from my Blackness, no matter what.
  19. To read books that teach me how to advocate for people who can not always advocate for themselves.
  20. To learn about a place I’ve never been, a place I hope to go to, a place I’ve always loved. To see the world.
  21. I know that my money speaks for me, and that in buying books by authors of color I am saying that these stories have value and worth. I am saying I support these stories and I support these authors.

These are just twenty-one reasons why. I could go on and on. Mostly, and this is the really important one, I read books by authors of color because I can, and because they are really fucking good.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but 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.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

78BB304E-DA7D-4F9A-BB17-42DF210C020EHere is yet another book I decided to read right away, because the movie is coming. I have read a little James Baldwin here and there and never been disappointed, but to be honest I was in no hurry to read this book, until I saw the trailer for the If Beale Street Could Talk.

If you’re not familiar with the this novel, here is a brief synopsis for you.

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

This book seamlessly marries a fictional story with very clear and searing commentary on injustice in America. Baldwin never wavers in this convictions about racism and the corruptness of the criminal justice system, however these ideas don’t come at the expense of believable characters or dialogue. The people found in this book embody the spirit of Baldwin’s thoughts and they live effortlessly in his words. The interactions feel authentic and the characters all have agency. They are not puppets for Baldwin’s believes, nor are they just there to move the story along.

If Beale Street Could Talk moves between present day and flashbacks, and is told through the eyes of Tish. Baldwin’s economy of words is beyond impressive, with a less skilled writer this book could easily be over 400 pages, but Bladwin keeps the book short and the emotion charged through out. He knows what he is trying to do an he executes. There are scenes in this book that are so tense that I shrieked out loud and had drop the book and walk away for a few moments to get my heart rate down. That kind of writing is not common, it is extraordinary.

While I enjoyed both the main character Fonny and Tish, the supporting characters were the real stars of this book for me. From both of Fonny and Tish’s family to the waiters at a small Spanish restaurant. The world is made vivid through the thoughts and actions of those who live in and around our young lovers.

The only thing I can say that I didn’t love about this book, is that I thought it got off to a slow start. I wasn’t fully invested in the book until about 50 pages in, and in a book thats less that 200 pages, thats a good chunk. However, once I got in, I was hooked.

You should read this book before you see the movie. I would say you should read this book even if you have no intention to see this movie at all. James Baldwin is considered one of the greats for a reason, his work is great. It is that simple.

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.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

IMG_7803This week on The Stacks Podcast, we discussed Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for The Stacks Book Club. I was joined by Jay Connor, a writer, and the creator and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. You can listen to our conversation about the themes in this book right here.

If you’re not familiar with this book, which came out in 2015, here is a small description.

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

To say that this is a good book, is almost trivializing all this book says and does. This is one of those books that changed the way I saw the world fundamentally. It changed how I interacted with the world as a Black woman, and also changed the way I saw other Black bodies. I all of a sudden felt as though I was part of something bigger, and also less a part of a something else.

The Dream is what Coates refers to when he talks about this notion of White exceptionalism or supremacy at the cost of the marginalized (and in this book more specifically Black folks). The Dream is the force that fights against Blackness. It is exclusionary, violent, and forgives all sins that are perpetrated in its name. To Coates, The Dream is how we can exist in a world with racists, but no white folks know any racists. The Dream is how we can excuse the horrors of slavery to the point that we have stripped the slaves of their humanity, even in the history books hundreds of years later. The Dream is what protects and defends Whiteness, and Coates calls this all to task. This book is not to make you comfortable, it is to make you think and understand how America functions.

Coates asks the reader to think and analyze ideas we often take for granted. To deeply question convention. One of his most controversial points is leveled around 9/11. Coates discusses why he is conflicted about the hero worship that came during and after September 11, 2001. He notes that this same neighborhood, Lower Manhattan, was home to the site of slave auctions and much plunder perpetrated against the Black Body. Its thoughts like this, really unpopular to many, that elevate this book. Coates is not sentimental, he is not afraid to speak his truth. And this is not the only moment that he confronts the reader on their beliefs.

Coates expertly weaves his own thoughts and feelings with the greater context of violence, racism, and hatred. However that is not all this book is, it is also a celebration of Blackness. Coates just as carefully reflects on the power of his time at Howard University, and how that time showed him the vastness of the Black cultural landscape. The diversity in the Black community, and the influence that had over him. This book is a master class in writing a thoughtful cultural critique. It blends the scholarly with the personal in both nostalgic and objective prose.

Most people could benefit from reading this book. Especially those people who live in The United States. What he is discussing and presenting the reader is a valuable perspective on race, violence, and Black bodies throughout the history of America. Read this book, please.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Jay Connor discussing Between the World and Me.

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (July 14, 2015)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Between the World and Me on Amazon

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

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Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

C453A6E7-C6C0-4746-BDF9-2E68F8A3D081Before I share any of my thoughts, here is a little bit about Harriet A. Washington’s book.

Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between black Americans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It reveals how blacks have historically been prey to grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and dissections. Moving into the twentieth century, it shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and the view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. Shocking new details about the government’s notorious Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less-well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, prisons, and private institutions.

This book is a major accomplishment on Washington’s part. It took her years of schooling and preparation to even be able to learn the correct way to speak of these medical abuses. You can sense her passion on the issues that are brought forth, and her immense understanding of all the forces at play. This book is ambitious and vast, and for that I am eternally grateful to Washington’s patience.

Aside from exposing the many atrocities against Black bodies, one of the most important things this book does is give context to the common idea that Black people are scared of medicine and doctors. Iatrophobia is the fear of doctors and medical treatment, and after reading this book you will come to understand that the Black communities fears are well founded.

The detailed language and intricacies of this book are admirable, however they do not make for an easy read. I really struggled to get through this book. Not only because the subject matter is devastating and infuriating, but also because the book is dense. Medical Apartheid is closer to reading a text book than anything else. It is a detailed history, and Washington takes herself and her subjects seriously. While there is great care to make sure the reader understands the medical jargon, there are plenty of statistics and clinical terms through out this book. There is a lot to get tripped up on. I made it through this book, but I had to work hard. I had to earn it.

The reward is an extremely well written expose on medical practices that target Black Americans. We are led from Marion Sims’ experiments on his female slaves through to governmental chemical attacks on Black neighborhoods in the American South. There is much that has been hidden away about the racist treatment of Blacks in this country, this book scrapes the surfaces of these events.

If you’re not sure you’re ready for such a dense look at a deeply troubling topic, you might consider reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which deals with one example of medical malpractice and theft of Black patients. Another book about racism in America is Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. I think Stamped from the Beginning (you can see my full review here) makes a great companion read with Medical Apartheid, as it dives into racism in America in a way that I have not often seen in books about race.

I recommend this book to anyone who is passionate about understanding anti-Black racism in The United States, anyone who works in fields where they conduct experiments on humans, or anyone passionate about medicine. Give yourself time, and be patient. This book is worth it.

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 8, 2008)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Medical Apartheid on Amazon
  • Listen to Medical Apartheid on Audible (for your free 30-day trial and audiobook download click here)

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

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

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.

Ep. 9 Talking Books with Vella Lovell

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgActress Vella Lovell (Crazy Ex- Girlfriend, The Big Sick) joins us this week to nerd out on books. Vella talks about reading as an actor, examining scripts for clues to her character’s inner workings, and being a good scene partner. Vella also talks about trusting Oprah’s Book Club recommendations and her love of self help books, especially as a spiritual guide for working actors. We also talk about why it doesn’t matter how you read, it just matters that you pick up a book and get started.

Check out all the books, plays, and movies Traci and Vella discuss right here in the show notes.

BOOKS

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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

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

B5DEB0BF-DB0D-48AD-9963-60B75E9C0F0BAs far as I can tell, An American Marriage has been the most hyped and talked about book in 2018. The day the book was released it was also announced that it would be part of Oprah’s Book Club which is about as much buzz as a new book can get. So before I read this book (which I of course ordered as soon as I saw it was on Oprah’s list) I knew I was in for something.

If you don’t know much about this book, here is a little synopsis.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

Before I go further, I am trying to talk about An American Marriage without spoilers, but if you haven’t read the book, you might want to proceed with caution.

I enjoyed this book. I read it in about three sittings, the writing is smooth and easy to consume. While I wanted to know what came next, I had already figured out what would happen. There were no surprises (for me). I just wanted to hear Jones tell me her story. Jones is the MVP of this book. She creates a story that is nothing special, with characters that are polarizing and mostly unlikeable (I know some of you might disagree), that I still wanted to read and know where everyone ends up. The book is neither plot driven nor a full introspection on the characters, its somewhere in between. Its a good place to be.

As a reader the main question of this book, is which character do you want to come out on top. Whose side are you on? I had a hard time picking sides. While I felt for Roy, (how could you not?) I also felt for Celestial. Twelve years isn’t a life sentence, but its long enough to destroy a marriage, especially one thats only 18 months old. Its not so much looking for excuses or passing blame, its just that for me, none of it was simple or cut and dry. I could understand where they were coming from and wish it could’ve all played out differently. Or at least that they both had mediators to help them communicate with each other.

Let me also say this, loud and clear, Andre is the worst. What a cornball. I’ll take any team he is not on. Andre is a strong no for me. I couldn’t let this review proceed any further with out getting that all off my chest.

What I’ve discovered from discussing this book with friends and family, is that we all bring to this book whatever we feel about marriage. Thats what makes this book powerful, and worthy of praise, and continued conversation. We all look at Roy and Celestial and we see ourselves and our partners, our failed and successful relationships. The ones that got away, and what we attribute to a successful relationship.  The things we each value most in love; loyalty, forgiveness, communication, physical connection, are the things we base our arguments on for why we’re #TeamRoy or #TeamCelestial. That is the beauty of the book. No matter what you think of the characters and their choices, you see yourself in it, you see yourself navigating this most terrible of situations.

I recommend this book. I’m glad I read it, and met these characters and saw their world. I don’t know that it will stick with me for years to come. I enjoyed it in the moment. It touches on wrongful convictions in a important way, and in a way I’ve never seen in fiction before. Jones asks us to look at the cost of incarceration on those who are ultimately cleared for their crimes. For that alone, this book is worth reading, and lucky for us this book takes on even more. I can’t wait for the movie, it must be coming right?

And since I know you all want to know, and since we’re picking teams, I’m going on the record as #TeamTayari all the way.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Oprah’s Book Club edition (February 6, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy An American Marriage on Amazon

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