Unabridged: The Best of 2023…So Far with Lupita Aquino, Liberty Hardy, and Greta Johnsen

Here by popular demand is our first Unabridged mid-year best of’s (so-far) episode, featuring a trio of our favorite bookish friends – Book Riot’s Liberty Hardy, Lupita Aquino (aka @Lupita.Reads) and Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen. We list and discuss our favorite 2023 releases we’ve read, the backslist we’re obsessed with, and a few picks we’re looking forward to in the back half of the year.

*This episode is exclusive to members of The Stacks Pack on patreon. To join this community, get inside access to the show, and listen now, click the link below.


Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. You can also find what we talked about on Amazon.

Connect with Liberty: Instagram | All the Books!
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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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 246 The Best Books of 2022 with Andrew Limbong

NPR Arts Desk reporter and Book of the Day podcast host Andrew Limbong joins The Stacks to count down his five favorite books of 2022. Traci shares her own list, making it our official top ten of the year. We also get into the trends we saw throughout 2022, and what we’re looking forward to in 2023.

The Stacks Book Club selection for December is True Biz by Sarah Nović. We will discuss the book on December 28th with Greta Johnsen.


Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Overcast | Stitcher | Transcript

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes and on Bookshop.org and Amazon.

To support The Stacks and find out more from this week’s sponsors, click here.

Connect with Andrew: Instagram | Twitter | Book of the Day
Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Shop | Patreon | Goodreads | Subscribe

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. If you prefer to support the show with 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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Best Things We Read in 2021

Dear Listeners,

Of all the lists and awards that are reigned down on bookss at the end of the year, this list is my most favrote. I have reached out to past guests from The Stacks in 2021 and asked them to share with us their favorite book they read this year, and the one book in 2022 they’re looking forward to. I love the list because, guests from The Stacks have the best taste in books, and the list is never what you’d expect to see in any other publication. My guests have range.

I hope you enjoy reconnecting with the many voices from our 2021 season.

Deesha Philyaw
Author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

The best book I read in 2021… I could not break a tie between my Duval homegirls’ books, Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz and The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton! Milk Blood Heat is a brilliant short story collection that left me breathless, made me laugh, and made me feel. Dantiel writes with such wisdom and care, on a craft level and on a narrative level. And I love that many of these exquisite stories are set in our hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is a faux oral history about a ’70s interracial rock n’ roll duo, and even though it’s fictional, the chorus of voices are so damn real and unforgettable! I just marveled at how Dawnie created this masterpiece, a sprawling epic full of secrets, pain, grief, and music.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Post-Traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson

Deesha was our guest for Episode 145, and then joined us to discuss The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans on Episode 148.

Kimberly Drew
Co-author of Black Futures

My top read this year was Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford. In the memoir Ashley so beautifully shines and opens a window into her life, while holding each reader so tenderly. I am grateful for her generosity. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez. I was fortunate to get an advanced copy and loved pouring through the rich pages.

Kimberly was our guest on Episode 146 where she discusses her book Black Futures with her co-author Jenna Wortham.

Vann Newkirk
Senior editor at The Atlantic

I fell in love with Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois. It was everything I needed in a pandemic book: it was compelling, beautiful, challenging, and for me it was so vivid and showed so much care for Black life in the South that it eased my homesickness and grief in a year of loss. I’ve never met a book quite like this one, and even now, months after I’ve finished, I keep it on my nightstand to flip through when inspired.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò’s Reconsidering Reparations. I’m fascinated by his arguments situating the idea of reparations in a forward-looking environmental context, and I’m excited to dig in.   

Vann was our guest for Episode 149 , and then joined us to discuss The New Wilderness by Diane Cook, Episode 152.

Mateo Askaripour
Author of Black Buck

The best book I read in 2021? Traci, how could you! It’s tough to narrow it down to one, so I’ll opt to mention a book that I loved and want to get even more shine: Give My Love to the Savages, by Chris Stuck. I read Give My Love to the Savages for a New York Times review of three short story collections, and while I went into the project ready to love all collections equally, man, Stuck’s is the one that blew me away (of course, the others were also powerful). 

With his debut collection, Stuck had me laughing one minute, cringing the next, and deep in thought the entire time. Each of his stories––all with their own original conceits––strike my favorite balancing act of incorporating humor while also having enough courage to not shy away from the truth. I could go on and on, and tell you about the character who wakes up as a six-foot penis, another who gets vitiligo and goes on a cruise, or the young man who’s offered a beautiful home on a lake, if he only has sex with a white man’s white wife, but I’ll stop here and leave it to you to read the rest.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I have a whole shelf full of unread books that need some love, and I’ll probably start with A Drop of Patience, by William Melvin Kelley, before making my way to some nonfiction. Right now, Gordon Parks’s A Hungry Heart, 50 Cent’s Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter, and Will, by Will Smith, are all in the running.

Mateo joined the show for Episode 151 to discuss his debut novel Black Buck.

R. O. Kwon
Co-Editor of Kink

A book I’ve especially appreciated this past year is Korean Art from 1953, a Phaidon survey of Korean contemporary art. It’s a gorgeous book full of art, thought, and history, truly a gift during this time of still limited museum-going. It came as a present from my friend Alex Chee when I was having a hard time, and I keep it on my desk so that I can look through it while I write.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I’m looking forward to so many books that will publish next year, but the only one I’ve already had the luck of reading a couple of times is Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s The Man Who Could Move Clouds, a memoir that could change your life. I don’t say this lightly; it has shifted my thinking on ghosts, power, and afterlives. I’ll say it again: it could change your life.

R. O. was our guest on Episode 154 to discuss her collection Kink which she co-edited with Garth Greenwell.

Mary H. K. Choi
Author of Yolk and Emergency Contact

My personal favorite book of 2021 was The Turnout by Megan Abbott. I can’t help it, unhinged, female ambition is so soothing for the way my operating system is set up. First of all, hi, it’s about ballet. Not only ballet but ballet-teacher sisters who grew up in total dysfunction in the long shadow of their ballet-teacher mother. It has basically all the things I think about this time of year—pain, sex, mental health issues, betrayal and The Nutcracker!
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I Guess I Live Here Now by Claire Ahn. It’s about immigrant parents who make good on the threat of: “If you don’t shape up you’re getting shipped back to TKCOUNTRYOFORIGIN.”

Mary was our guest on Episode 155 to discuss her book Yolk. We also discussed Mary’s book Emergency Contact for The Stacks Book Club on Episode 178.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Professor and Author of The Disordered Cosmos

One of the best books I read in 2021 was Elissa Washuta’s White Magic: Essays. There’s a lot that could be said about the content: a reading of pop culture — from the Oregon Trail to Twin Peaks — through the lens of a Cowlitz woman who is in search of love and a sense of self. And I learned a lot. But there is another layer of brilliance to this book: Washuta is a goddess of lyrical essay, and much as I was caught up in what she said about how she sees the world, I also found myself wanting to study how she said it. Plus, White Magic is a beautiful book, not just as a text but also physically. I loved the use of white text against black pages, and the gold-embossed cover. I cannot more highly recommend this book.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I’m super excited about Jean Chen Ho’s work of fiction Fiona and Jane.

Chanda was our guest on Episode to discuss her book, The Disordered Cosmos

Clint Smith
Author of How the Word Is Passed

It’s impossible to pick one but one of the best books I read this year was Reuben Jonathan Miller’s Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass IncarcerationMiller is a professor of social work at the University of Chicago and his book is written like a sociological memoir. Grounded in qualitative research on people coming home from prison, the book also weaves in deeply personal reflections about Miller’s relationship with his brother, who for years was in and out of prison. Miller’s proximity to the subject matter adds an invaluable layer of human texture to the story. It’s excellent.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: I hear Patrick Radden Keefe has a new book coming out which means it’s immediately going to the top of my list.

Clint was our guest on Episode 168 to discuss his book How the Word is Passed.

Mira Jacob
Author of Good Talk

The best book I read in 2021 was Kaitlyn Greenidge’s Libertie, which shows the inner life of a free-born black woman in the Reconstruction Era who isn’t trying to be anyone’s role model–a premise so loving and revolutionary that it has changed the way I read and write.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Okay, I am cheating with two. In my defense, I am looking forward to reading about 49 books in 2022. Alison B. Hart’s The Work Wife, which pulls apart female complicity in the cesspool that is Hollywood, and Sarah Thankam Matthews’ All This Could Be Different, which looks to be all the things I love–a running-off-the-rails queer immigrant love story. 

Mira was our guest on Episode 171 and returned to discuss The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui on Episode 174.

Nichole Perkins
Author of Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be

The best book I read in 2021 was My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. It’s a riveting debut collection that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, leaning into each story.
Book I’m looking forward to in 2022: Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn 

Nichole was our guest on Episode 184 and returned to discuss Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan on Episode 187.

Dawnie Walton
Author of The Final Revival of Opal and Nev

Between distressing news headlines and the rollercoaster of emotions that is publishing a debut novel, I frequently felt scrambled throughout this year. Brilliant new story and essay collections were my cure for getting over reading slumps (shout out to Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz, The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, and A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib). But the book that is currently pushing me out of a writing slump is Toni Morrison’s classic Song of Solomon, which I read for the first time last month (coincidentally, for The Stacks Book Club — thank you for the nudge, Traci!). Within this story Morrison leaps over years in the span of a sentence, experiments with a blend of seemingly disparate genres, and digs into the legends of several characters at once…and yet, the center always holds. As a reader I was enthralled by its wildness, and as a writer I am inspired to be braver, to roam in fresh and unexpected directions.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Finding MeViola Davis’ memoir, and The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan.

Dawnie was our guest on Episode 189, and she joined us to discuss Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison on Episode 191.

Amanda Montell
Author of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

The book that resonated with me most in 2021 was probably Milk Fed by the singular voice that is Melissa Broder. I don’t read a ton of fiction, so this was a wild card, but I think it’s just one of those books that arrived in my life right when I needed it. I’d describe it as a creamy, steamy, devourable novel about deprivation and desire in which a 20-something woman trapped in the prison of her own self-loathing learns to set herself free through sex, food, and spirituality. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety by Georgia Pritchett

Amanda was our guest on Episode 190, where we discussed her Cultush: The Language of Fanaticism.

Andrew Ti
Creator and co-host of the podcast Yo, Is This Racist?

Wow, do I feel uncomfortable saying “best” here, but the book I enjoyed the most was probably There There, by Tommy Orange. It’s a cool Native thriller that’s both literary and cinematic, and it just fucking dope.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: A comic book series, The Good Asian by Pornsak Pichetshote. 

Andrew was our guest on Episode 192, and he joined us to discuss A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib on Episode 196.

Lupita Aquino
Reader behind @lupita.reads on Instagram

The best book I read in 2021 was…..how dare you make me pick just one?!….The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan! It’s a book I think about often even though I finished it months ago. Traversing from the US, Lebanon and Syria to Palestine this novel at its core is a family saga that illuminates the way a family’s history/possible fated destiny becomes broken and changed by war. Captivating and beautifully written Alyan captures the realities of family dynamics through such a raw perspective which will leave you thinking the ways displacement ripples through every relationship we build. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos! 

Lupita was our guest on Episode 195, discussing the best books of 2021.

Traci Thomas
Host and creator of The Stacks

The best book I read in 2021 was A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib. The book is a nuanced and layered analysis of Black performance in America. I was taken with Abdurraqib’s ability to weave history, pop culture, and personal experiences into each essay, and to complicate my understanding of what it means to “perform”. This is one of those books that I just want to gush over to everyone I meet. A really special read.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2022: South to America by Imani Perry, and I’m very intrigued by Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley.

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

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2020

Here it is, a list of my ten favorite reads of 2020. No, not every book in the list was published in 2020, but yes, every book on this list is superb. They’re presented here in alphabetical order with a few thoughts about each book. For more detailed reviews please check out The Stacks page on Instagram.

I did keep track of everything I read. Mostly because I’m a huge nerd and love a good spreadsheet, but also because I like to stay accountable to my reading goals.

Before I dive into my top 10 books, here is a little breakdown of what I read in 2020. I read a total of 95 books, which blew my goal of 36 out of the water. Though my goal was purposefully low because I didn’t know what to expect with the addition of The Mini Stacks this year.

  • 64 were by authors of color (67%)
  • 62 books were by women or nonbinary authors (65%)
  • 48 books were by women/femme authors of color (50%)
  • 45 books were published in 2020 (47%)
  • 52 books were acquired by me in 2020 (55%)
  • 59 books were nonfiction (62%)
  • 15 books received five stars (16%)
  • 1 books received one star (1%)

I love a good stat, and I could break down my reading even more, but I won’t. Instead here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2020.

Anna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee (2020)

A modern retelling of Anna Karenina set in current day NYC with socialite teenagers. Think “Gossip Girl” with amazing storytelling and wonderful characters.

I loved this book. Jenny Lee really creates something fun and exciting that I didn’t want to put down. I found myself so invested in the characters and their journeys. There’s a central love story that doesn’t feel corny, which is hard to do, especially with teenagers. This one comes highly recommended.

The Autobiography of Malcom X as told to Alex Haley (1965)

The story of one of our most important and influential leaders, Malcolm X. This book changed my life and the ways in which I see and relate to the world around me. I can credit it with helping me begin to understand racism as something systemic in America and not something only “bad” people do. This book is revolutionary.

One of the most impressive parts of this book is how Malcolm is able to stand in his truth and share that with the world and say it fully with his chest, and then learn something new and change his mind. That kind of courage is tough to imagine. His commitment to seeking justice and equality for Black folks was not to be interfered with, even if it was he who was getting in the way.

The Stacks Book Club discussion of The Autobiography of Malcom X can be found here.

Black Futures edited by Kimberley Drew and Jenna Wortham (2020)

Easily my most immersive and unique reading experience of 2020. Black Futures is a collection of essays, art, memes, conversations, recipes, lyrics, and more that attempt to detail and encompass the experience of Blackness today. This book is a time capsule of Blackness and a dream for our future.

I loved this book so much. It is massive and rich and full of wisdom and joy and creativity and activism and defiance and beauty. It is the embodiment of the saying “Blackness is not a monolith”. The topics range from Black Indigeneity to self-care, from Ocean preservation to Colin Kaepernick. And it’s not just about each of these things the book connects the many seemingly disparate dots and exposes the multitudes we, Black folks, contain. Drew & Wortham clearly poured so much love into this collection and into telling our stories. A blessing.

Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry (2019)

A deeply personal examination of life, family, gender, race, memory, and violence Breathe is a lush and layered addition to the epistolary tradition in Black American writing.

Perry has created something that is both complex and direct. A combination that is nearly impossible to do well. She is audacious and generous in allowing the reader into her relationship with her sons. I kept asking myself where does she get off writing with this much skill and emotion? The care and love in these pages are unmistakable. I can barely scratch the surface of what I want to say about this book here.

The Stacks Book Club discussion of Breathe can be found here.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (2018)

This book was on this same list in 2018, but in 2020 I reread the book before Laymon was a guest on The Stacks. This time I listened on audio. This book holds up and is maybe even better the second time around. Heavy is an emotional memoir of Laymon’s life as a young Black man in Jackson, Mississippi.

The book is brutally honest and unyieldingly vulnerable. We are told of struggles and successes, addictions and abuses. Throughout Heavy there is blank space for the reader to connect to Laymon and to connect his life to a bigger picture of being Black in America. Laymon’s dedication to the written word and to the power of revision is striking.

You can hear Kiese Laymon on The Stacks on Episode 118 and Episode 122.

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (2020)

When Natasha Trethewey was 19 her stepfather murdered her mother. Memorial Drive is the examination of that event, Trethewey’s childhood, and the ways trauma and memory are in a constant struggle.

This book is incredible. I had visceral reactions through out my reading. Tears. Gasps. Tightening of my chest. This story is painful, powerful, and beautifully told. The kind of bravery Trethewey mustered to put this story on the page is something I cannot comprehend. There are depictions of domestic violence in this book that are haunting. They are difficult to read (despite the fact that Trethewey is careful to protect her reader). These sections are necessary. They are not gratuitous. To tell this story without these details is to protect abusers and the systems that enable them.

Othello by William Shakespeare (1603)

This play is extraordinary. It might be my most favorite Shakespeare play (and at this point I’ve read almost all of them). It is smart and complex and feels timely every time I read it. Mostly because racism, sexism, and violent white boys never seem to go out of fashion. And yes, this was already on my 2018 list of favorite reads.

Iago’s rage and jealousy stuck out during this read more than anything else. He lies so convincingly and so consistently, the parallels to the party in power in America are haunting. The fearlessness with which white men take and destroy is front and center in Othello. Also Act 4 Scene 3 is a scene that I love so much as it shows the way women fight against instinct and intuition to love toxic men. It is beautiful and devastating.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (2020)

This short story collection is so good. It’s funny. It’s depressing. It’s complex. It’s rich. It’s Southern. It’s sobering. It’s sexy and violent. It’s specific. It’s surprising. It’s delicious. It’s Black and free and brilliant. Philyaw snapped on each and every story. They’re short and pack a major punch. There is no apology. There is no white gaze and for that I feel entirely grateful. I don’t want to tell you more. Just read this book.

Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream by Mychal Denzel Smith (2020)

A masterful work that calls into question the dissonance of The American Dream and the reality that is The United States. Smith asks for reflection and reimagining in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Abolition, justice, reform, and redistribution are all on the table in this brutal and searing call to action.

Smith is an incredible writer. He distills the contradictions of America and Americanness down to its true, immoral, and predatory essence. I was impressed by the ways Smith kept Stakes Is High in the current moment (the book is not afraid of confronting the here and now) and also rooted in a history that reminds us that none of this is new. The book is in conversation with the great texts on race and liberation in America, and is part of the tradition of abolition, revision, and rigorous curiosity.

Sula by Toni Morrison (1973)

The simple synopsis: the story of best friends, Sula and Nel, the town they grow up in, their families and their bond. The complicated synopsis: everything.

Sula is an incredible feat of storytelling. It’s smart. It’s funny. It’s tragic. Morrison says all she needs to say without any excess. The ways Morrison captures the joy and trauma and complexity of Blackness is what will always stick with me from this book. The humor that is an integral part of Blackness is not overlooked, it is the foundation of this story.

Find The Stacks episode on Sula here.

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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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.