Ep. 91 The People Who Change Us with Vanessa Hua

Our guest today is Vanessa Hua. Vanessa is the author of A River of Stars and a columnist at The San Francisco Chronicle. We talk today about the differences between writing a column versus a novel, the people who change our lives without knowing, and untraditional motherhood.

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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.

Books

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Everything Else

Connect with Vanessa: Twitter | Instagram | Website

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The Stacks received A River of Stars from the publisher. For more information click here.

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

November Reading Wrap-Up 2019

I am over here reeling, because the end of November means we’re almost at the end of the year, where has the time gone? I read seven books this month, and they were, for the most part, pretty good books. Nothing out of this world, but nothing terrible. My standout was my re-read of Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli, if you haven’t read this one you should, you really should. Below you can see mini-reviews of everything I read in November.

November by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 0
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 15

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 5
Published in 2019: 3

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster

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

A data driven look at the questions of parenting. Emily Oster uses studies to help parents answer questions about breastfedding, day care, screen time, and more. It is a rational way to think about decision making, especially the kind that can feel very emotional.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The first half was particularly interesting as the topics tackled and the data provided really showed clear benefits and risks with certain parenting behavior (co-sleeping, breastfeeding etc). I loved how Oster reminds her reader that they need to look at what works best for their life, and I found that to be applicable even for things outside of parenting. If you are a parent of small children (or expecting), this book might be really helpful to remind you that you’re in control and your happiness matters.

Three Stars | Penguin Press | April 23, 2019 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment by August McLaughlin

(Photo: amazon.com)

Girl Boner is a podcast, a book, a general vibe, and a guide to sexual empowerment. McLaughlin uses the pages of this book to talk about all kinds of sex and how people who identify as women can embrace their sexuality without shame or fear.

I found this book to be inclusive in the best possible ways. I loved reading stories of sex workers along side the stories of women unhappy in their marriages next to advice on sex positions. McLaughlin makes a point of embracing the many forms of gender and sexual expression including trauma and mental health. She teaches her readers a lot along the way, though the book feels long winded in some sections. Girl Boner is sex positivity at its most accessible and basic, and that kind of writing around sex is rare, even in 2019. This one is refreshing and worth your time (and all you male identifying folks, there is something in here for you too).

Three Stars | Amberjack Publishing | August 7, 2018 | 368 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

Much Ado About Nothing is a romantic comedy with a darker side, as most of Shakespeare’s comedies tend to be. It is a fun play if you want it to be, but it can also be troubling. I enjoyed reading this one, though I thought the plot was a little sparse overall.

The idea of female reputation and purity is a huge theme throughout and feels relevant today. The way the women are discussed and shamed throughout the book felt like any given day on twitter. I was also shocked how little the main love interests, Beatrice and Benedick, actually interact with one another. All in all this was a fun little read though I imagine it will also be easily forgotten.

Three Stars | Pelican Shakespeare | September 1, 1999 | 98 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli

(Photo: amazon.com)

A powerful and emotional look at unaccompanied children coming to America. The book is short and so well crafted you leave it feeling full, if not sliightly devasted for hte plight of these children.

Luiselli is brilliant in how she tells this story, weaving together the children’s experiences with her own as their interpreter. She also layers the policy and politics in The United States that have landed us in this crisis. I can not recommend this book more highly, now more than ever.

Five Stars | Coffee House Press | April 4, 2017 | 128 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Tell Me How It Ends on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

(Photo: amazon.com)

My first experience in romance, aside from Fifty Shades of Grey, and I didn’t hate it. I actually rather enjoyed reading a book that felt like an escape from all the news and terrible things that happen in the world. That is not to say this book didn’t have some pretty toxic masculinity and a glaring lack of diversity. It just didn’t feel like watching an impeachment hearing, so it was a welcome relief.

The book is fun even though the plot is very thin and the characters are tropes. The sex is not gratuitous, its also not that frequent. I enjoyed the book and would consider reading more romance, because the experience of fully checking out while reading was enjoyable, even if the content was just okay.

Three Stars | William Morrow Paperbacks | August 6, 2016 | 384 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman

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

A comedic memoir about migrating from Iraq as a child and growing up different in America. Salman explores her childhood culture clashes, finding feminism, and eventually her struggles as an adult with love and life. It’s a book about where you fit in.

This is a fun one. The tone is very sarcastic and casual, and the pages are adorned with an abundance of footnotes chiming in with jokes and asides. Though there was some serious stuff in the book as well. Overall, I would’ve liked more reflection on her growth, as the book reads as a bunch of antidotal stories versus a clear narrative of who Salman is now. It felt at times as if she was holding back or worried about saying too much, or disrupting the conventionally accepted idea of a model immigrant.

Two Stars | Skyhorse Publishing | March 5, 2019 | 288 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Ayser Salman on The Stacks HERE.


Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

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

A collection of essays about what its like to be alive, and young, and female, in America in 2019. This book is super specific and in that it feels extremely relevant to this exact moment in time. It is a time capsule of what it feels like to be a millennial.

Tolentino is a great writer, though some of the essays feel can read as slightly over worked and tedious, and her arguments have dexterity. She opens up conversations on difficult women, marriage, optimization, and scammers in a way only a person of this moment could. She understand the levels and layers to these nuanced topics and works her way through, bringing us along with her. I didn’t love all the essays (the first few felt particularly slow to me), but by the end I was all in on Tolentio and Trick Mirror.

Four Stars | Random House | August 6, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


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

The Stacks Book Club — December 2019

For the month of December we’re reading two books, by two phenomenal women. One is a work of nonfiction that centers stories of immigrant children, the other a multigenerational family story of Black life in American.

First up, on December 4th we’re reading Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli is a confrontation between what we call “The American Dream” and the reality of coming to America for undocumented children. The book is short and packs a powerful punch.

Red at the Bone is Jacqueline Woodson’s newest release. It is the story of generations of one Black family as they navigate the everyday joys and trauma of life. A subtle story about being alive and the people and decisions thats make us who we are. We’ll be discussing Red at the Bone on the podcast on December 18th.

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 through Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our August books on 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 received a copy of Red at the Bone from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

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

October Reading Wrap-Up 2019

October was my best reading month so far in 2019. Not only did I read the most books I’ve read in a month (eleven), but I also had the most five star reads (three). I did have a few two star reads, which is never fun, but you can’t win them all. The stand outs this month were Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. Read below for mini-reviews of everything I read in October.

October by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 11
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 3
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 26

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 10
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 3
Published in 2019: 6

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of August, a twelve year old Black girl navigating a new life in Brooklyn. She moves north, with her father and brother, after her mother’s death. It’s the story of August growing up, finding new friends, and creating space her own space in the world.

This book is the best coming of age story I’ve ever read. She nails what it feels like to be Black and young and fearless and terrified and longing and female and free. Woodson understands what it means to be searching and to be found. The complexities of getting older are handled with care but without any sense of preciousness. And she does all of this in less than 200 pages. That kind of brevity is rare, and a sign of true mastery.

The love between August and her three friends speaks powerfully to beauty of Black female friendships. At times it took my breath away. There is an ease to Woodson’s writing that makes these young women come to life wholly and authentically. She doesn’t attempt to smooth over the traumas or stifle the triumphs Instead there is a reality filled with pain and heartbreak, and with so much joy.

Five Stars | Amistad | May 30, 2017| 192 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

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

Two pregnant women living in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles decide to escape north to San Francisco and raise their children free of constraint and expectation of their Chinese families in this novel.

First off, Hua is a really beautiful writer, she balances her sentences between art and information in a way that is enjoyable to read. The truth is, I just couldn’t connect with the story. I liked the lead characters and the plot moved, but nothing grabbed me. I didn’t feel that I had a stake in what happened to the people in this story one way or the other. I did listen to this book on audio, and its possible that the narrator was what didn’t work for me. All of this is to say, if you like novels about unconventional women who blaze their own trails, this might be a book for you.

Two Stars | Random House Audio | August 14, 2018 | 10 Hours 54 Minutes | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Black Card by Chris L. Terry

(Photo: amazon.com)

In this lightly satirical novel we follow our narrator as tries to get back his Black card, that’s been revoked. If you’re looking for comparison, this book felt like the mixed kids version of the TV show Atlanta. It’s funny, a little surreal, and sometimes felt smarter/more clever than me.

Overall I liked it. Terry is clearly a creative thinker and grappling with what it is to be mixed, and how that relates to both Blackness and Whiteness, and why that matters. I love seeing stories told about being more than one thing when it comes to race and ethnicity, because there are so many of us mixed kids out there (not just Black and White, but all sorts of combinations).

Three Stars | Catapult | August 13, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Chris L. Terry on The Stacks HERE.


Henry V by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

Henry V, a play you might not know, but you’ve probably heard a few famous lines from.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more”
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”
The play follows Henry, the new king, as he grapples with the responsibility of going to war, and what that says about him as a leader and as a man.

While I’m pretty over stories about Kings contemplating and ultimately going to war, I did get a lot out of this play. Henry has some wonderful speeches and meditates on some pretty heady stuff. This play got me thinking a lot about the responsibility of our leaders to the people versus the well being of the nation versus their own lust for power and legacy. It asks questions of who has blood on their hands? Is it the soldiers or the king that sends them to war? It all feels topical given what is going on in the world.

As a reader I loved reading the monologues from King Henry, but other parts fell flat, like the comedic bar scenes. There’s also a pretty spectacular courting scene in the play’s final act that shows how lacking in humanity our king is when he’s faced with courting (or conquering) a woman.

Three Stars | Pelican Shakespeare | September 1, 1999 | 121 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

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

A collection of short stories of middle school kids walking home from school. The stories are all unique and individual, but they intersect with the other stories in one way or another. It is a beautiful book about the few minutes a day kids are left unsupervised and get to experience the world on their own.

Something that Jason Reynolds is able to do with Look Both Ways is see the humanity in his characters. These kids have all had experiences that have shaped them, some more traumatic than others, but he finds a way to present this without making the kids their trauma. The characters are full of life and joy and they are impossible to forget. Its also worth noting, Reynolds can write! His prose are rich without being over worked. He doesn’t preach to his audience, he sees his reader and shares with them. As someone who doesn’t read YA or middle grade books, Look Both Ways was a welcome surprise that brought me to life as a reader and reminded me of goodness. It is a favorite read of 2019 for sure!

Five Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | October 8, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

(Photo: amazon.com)

Shea Serrano is hilarious and so smart. In his book Movies (and Other Things) he asks questions about movies and then answers them. It sounds like a pretty straight forward concept, but the genius in Shea Serrano is that he finds new and exciting ways to look at movies and the world. He opens up the conversation around movies so that you feel like you’re debating with your friend, and challenging yourself to see movies differently.

This book is laugh out loud funny. Not just the ideas behind it, but there are sentences that are so accurate you can’t help but laugh. Its not all funny (mostly it is) there is a little more going on in this one, for instance, the chapter on Selena talks about what it means to be Mexican American and the struggles of being two things at once. Of course, Serrano infuses his signature voice and his humor, but its more than that, trust me.

The only complaint I have about this book is that if you don’t know the movies or the genre, it can be a little harder to engage with certain chapters. Gangster movies aren’t my thing, so I felt a little lost when looking at the quintessential gangster movie scenes. Overall, if you like movies, you’ll get a kick out of this book.

Four Stars | Twelve Books | October 8, 2019 | 256 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of the Han family and their Chinese restaurant, The Beijing Duck House. When there is a fire that sets the restaurant a blaze the world of the Han family and their employees is shaken up and we’re left to sort the pieces.

This one wasn’t for me. It was too long and felt repetitive. I wasn’t excited by the characters or the plot, but rather felt like I was just going through the motions to get to the end of the book. There were some cute moments, and one scene at the end that was wonderful, but overall this wasn’t something that I enjoyed reading. I do think, however, this books would make a fantastic movie, in fact the whole time I was reading it I was wishing the movie already existed. The nuances of family drama might translate better to the screen, and certainly the food would be more appetizing that way.

Two Stars | Picador | June 19, 2018 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

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

The story of one Black family through time and place. We start in 2001 at 16 year old Melody’s coming of age ceremony and then unwrap the layers that make her family fragmented, strong, unique, and whole.

Woodson understands and articulates what it means to be Black and female in America, and this book puts her ability on display. She captures the delicious subtleties of life. In Red at the Bone we see class and race and gender norms and sexuality and so much humanity, and we get to see it all through the beautiful prose of Woodson. Woodson who is a master of brevity that lands a punch. I’m not sure this specific story will stick with me in five years, but I know that the feeling of reading Jacqueline Woodson will never fade.

Four Stars | Riverhead Books | September 17, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

(Photo: amazon.com)

We don’t normally read and review cookbooks around here, but we also are willing to try anything once, and I’m so glad we did. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a cookbook about the elements that make up everything we eat. Nosrat breaks it all down in the first 200 pages of the book, explaining each element and how to use it, and then give us 200+ pages of basic recipes to practice our skills.

This book is simply fantastic! I like to cook, but often feel I don’t know how to without detailed instructions. I find myself glued to my recipes and in a mild state of anxiety when trying something new. This book gives anyone the tools to make choices about how to cook and how to improvise. Its empowering. I would be remiss not to mentions the gorgeous illustrations from Wendy McNaughton. I can honestly say this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 480 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

(Photo: amazon.com)

A look at why humans are so bad at understanding and engaging with “strangers”. This book is deeply flawed and highly problematic. I found the arguments made to be harmful and irresponsible. In the past I’ve considered myself a Gladwell fan (I’ve read all his books and listened to his podcast) but this book feels like he’s reached his own tipping point, it is Gladwell for Gladwell’s sake.

One glaring is that there is no clear definition of the word “stranger”. We’re led through stories of people meeting for the first time and then of colleagues who’ve worked together for decades, and both are treated the same, we’re told they’re strangers. That can’t be.

Gladwell is a gifted storyteller (which is made all the more clear through his fantastic narration of the audiobook) and is known for making compelling arguments. Our understanding of who he is helps as he shifts from interesting scientific studies to unsubstantiated claims without batting an eye. He is riding on intellectual credit, but the arguments are weak at best when we look at them more deeply.

The most offensive piece of this book is his unwillingness to take power, sexism, and racism into account when discussing people and events like Larry Nassar, The Stanford Rape Case, and Sandra Bland. Instead of discussing racism and race he opts to discuss “misunderstanding”. Instead of discussing the power dynamics of sexual assault he expounds the harms of binge drinking, but nothing of misogyny. It’s a big mess, and he should’ve done better.

The book feels like an attempt to be both relevant and placate people who are tired of “identity politics”. He moves from one hot button issue to the next without any subtlety or nuance. He is name dropping iconic incidents to insure buzz for the book, instead of crafting compelling arguments that stand up to scrutiny. This book was enraging and irresponsible.

Two Stars | Hachette Audio | September 10, 2019 | 8 Hours 42 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

(Photo: amazon.com)

This satirical novel takes place in the near-future American South where Black people are caged in ghettos, and there are experimental treatments that will “demelanize” the black out of people (if you can afford it). It is in this world, where we find our narrator, a Black man, his White wife, and his mixed son.

More than anything else, while reading this book I kept thinking to myself, “Maurice Carlos Ruffin” is a smart person. His writing left me feeling taken care of, and I trusted that he had put thought into this world. That’s not to say that I always felt connected, or that I liked everything in this book, or that I didn’t think it could be cut down by at least 70 pages. I felt those things, and that I was reading the words of a smart and thoughtful author. My biggest issue with the book is that I wanted more world building. I wanted to know how America got to where it was when the reader shows up. I felt there were details missing that I wanted to know. Overall the book is thought provoking and examines race in a way that we so rarely see in literature these days.

Three Stars | One World | January 29, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss We Cast a Shadow on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Maurice Carlos Ruffin on The Short Stacks HERE.


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

Ep. 76 Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro — The Stacks Book Club (Clark Moore)

Actor Clark Moore is back for The Stacks Book Club as we discuss Never Let Me Go by Nobel Laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro. Our conversation focuses on answering a central question in the novel: Who gets to be human? We also discuss the genre of science fiction and the evolution of social movements.
There are spoilers on this episode.

https://amzn.to/2N4pwFq

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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.

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Connect with Clark: 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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. 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 disappoint. 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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

The Stacks received A Woman is No Man from the publisher. For more information click here

In her debut novel, A Woman is No Man, Etaf Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian women who are struggling to be their own person and still be deemed respectable in their culture. The book tackles issues like abuse, gender roles, obedience, and freedom. We watch as the characters grapple with their place in life and the future they see for themselves.

What worked for me in this book was the ambition that Rum displays in taking on this story. She is not afraid to show her audience the bleak reality that so many women who deal with domestic violence confront daily. She shows how the abuse of women is systemic inside a family and how cultural expectation can exasperate that. A Woman is No Man is not representative of all women of Palestinian descent, just as no story about a White man is true for all men who identify as White (something I feel compelled to say, and yet at the same time annoyed for feeling like that isn’t self evident). Rum has created a version of the world that is true based on her experiences and her imagination.

A Woman is No Man has the makings of something powerful, though the execution fell flat for me. I wasn’t moved by the characters. They all blended together. Their pain was collective, and thus they functioned as a chorus instead of three distinct protagonists. Of all the female leads, Fareeda was the most complex and in turn the most interesting to read about. Overall, the men and women in the story felt more like vessels to make a point rather than fully developed humans. While I loved the structure (multiple points of view through generations) I found that the plot was lacking, which led to repetitive dialogue throughout. The ending came as no surprise to me, though the book seemed to be headed toward a big reveal.

Simply put, this book wasn’t for me. I appreciate the story that Rum is telling, even if I didn’t like the execution. I wished for more complexity and depth. A Woman is No Man felt safe, even though it was telling the story of immense pain and inner conflict. It is worth noting, while I didn’t love this book, it has had much success including making it on the New York Times Best Seller list, and being chosen by Jenna Bush Hager for the her book club on The Today Show.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re looking for more about A Woman is No Man check out Etaf Rum on The Short Stacks.

The Short Stacks 14: Etaf Rum//A Woman is No Man

  • Hardcover: 352
  • PublisherHarper (March 5, 2019)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy A Woman is No Man Amazon or IndieBound

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

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

The Short Stacks 14: Etaf Rum//A Woman is No Man

Etaf Rum is a debut author, whose book A Woman is No Man, is one of the buzziest of the season. The story follows three generations of women in a Palestinian family, and throughout we are asked to grapple with the themes of identity, self worth, abuse, and empowerment. Rum shares with us what it is like to hear from her readers, some of her goals, and what books she keeps around for inspiration.

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 independent bookstore, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Etaf: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Website | Books and Beans Instagram

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The Stacks received A Woman is No Man from the publisher. For more information click here.

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

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is perhaps the most critically acclaimed book written by one of the most prolific and celebrated authors. It is the story of a woman, Sethe, who escaped slavery, only to be haunted by her past life both on and off the plantation. The book is parts historical fiction and part surreal ghost story. The book has been turned into a film, won a Pulitzer Prize, and continues to be assigned in schools across the country. When we talk about the “great American novel” Beloved makes the list.

There is something funny that happens to books when they’re proceeded with superlatives, they become untouchable and intimidating. A fear creeps in, that the reader won’t understand or appreciate the book, and often that can start long before the reader ever starts reading. That was the case for me when I picked up Beloved for the first time as part of The Stacks Book Club. I was so nervous and intimidated by the book and what I might think of it. Would I “get” it? Would I like it? Would I be moved as so many others had been?

The truth is, my answer was mostly, no. I didn’t really “get” it, I didn’t really like it, and while I was moved by specific scenes and passages, I wasn’t over come by this book. And the more I think about that, the more I think thats allowed.

As I read Beloved I appreciated the skill and mastery of Ms. Morrison. I was impressed by her ability to create layer after layer of meaning in her story. Her ability to write nuance is unmatched in my reading, she understanding of how pain manifests itself in people is art in itself. I read Beloved and understood what makes both Ms. Morrison and the book so great, though I personally was never personally overcome. What I’m learning, especially when it comes to great work, is that both things can be true and live together. There are both technical and emotional components to any good piece of art, and you can appreciate one even if the other doesn’t resonate. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Of all the themes in Beloved, the idea of generational trauma, is what spoke to me most. Morrison connects the years of suffering under chattel slavery to the everyday manifestations of trauma on her characters. She creates characters that are complete with confidence and crazy, which is so very human. Your heart aches for the women in this story, their fear, pain, and rage is deserved, and Morrison never lets you forget that. Weather she is recounting events from years ago or writing dialogue, the trauma in this story is never far from view. It haunts the world of the book.

The book moves between points of view and events without much set up, the years skip around, and sometimes its hard to know exactly where you are in the story. This was challenging for me to connect with, though on a second or third reading, I think this complexity would add so much to my enjoyment of the book. Like in a good scary movie or thriller, Morrison is leaving us Easter eggs to pick up on, only when we’re revisit her novel.

There is a lot to unpack and look into when talking about Beloved it is not an easy read, and the subject matter is not comfortable. This book requires a commitment of the reader. The expectation of greatness from her reader is partly what makes her books so good. Toni Morrison demands you bring your full self to her work, and that you take your time, and if you do, you might just be rewarded with a story that will stay with you for life. This book is worth you time. I can’t promise you’ll like it, but if you read it with an open mind, I think there is much to appreciate about this story.

For a more in depth conversation on Beloved, check out The Stacks Book Club episode with DaMaris B. Hill where we discuss the themes, characters, and social implications of this story.

  • Paperack: 275
  • PublisherPlume (October 1 , 1998)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Beloved Amazon or IndieBound

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

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

April 2019 Reading Wrap Up

April was not my best reading month as far as content. I liked a lot of what I read, but I really didn’t love anything. I reread Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things and still found it excellent, but it wasn’t as thrilling as the first time around. I loved Fatimah Asghar’s poetry collection If They Come for Us, and was happy too participate in reading poems as part of National Poetry Month.I enjoyed mostly what I read all month, but was never really blown away.

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


April by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 37

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 6
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 4


A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris B. Hill

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

In her collection of poetry that covers the history of incarceration of Black women in America, DaMaris Hill crafts poems that highlight the pain of being a Black woman and the undeniable strength that comes along with it. She tells of some of the most famous women of the Diaspora as well as many women whose stories were nearly lost to history.

The collection is both poems and small bits of historical context that allow the reader to get a deeper understanding of the poetry. I really enjoyed the contextual bits of this book. Not all of the poems resonated with me, some were too fare removed from the context given. I also found some to be extremely powerful. The section on Assata Shakur was my favorite.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury Publishing | January 15, 2019 | 192 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
DaMaris Hill is our guest on The Stacks, hear that conversation now, by clicking HERE.


Beloved by Toni Morrison

(Photo: amazon.com)

Every once in a while I will read a book that I can appreicate for its artistic beauty and masterful use of themes, language, and characters. I will be impressed by the dialogue and wowed by the sheer craft of the thing. And despite all of the beauty and skill, I won’t really like the book. That was the case for me with Beloved, Toni Morrison’s most famous and well regarded book. Its not that I didn’t think the book was spectacular, its just that it wasn’t for me. When I say a book is “too fiction-y” this book is a prime example.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it is the story of a runaway slave woman, Sethe, and her life as she lives free in Ohio mixed with the haunting of her past on the plantation and the early days of freedom. It is supernatural and haunting, and contains so many layers. I didn’t love the book, but I look forward to talking about it on The Stacks Book Club on May 22. I have a hunch that every time I discuss and dissect the book I will like it more and more. Toni Morrison’s works have a funny way of always having more to give.

Three Stars | Plume; Reprint edition | October 1, 1998 |275 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Beloved in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode HERE


If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of poetry about violence, race, gender, and mortality both in a cultural sense and in the more intimate context of what it means to be alive and human. These poems are so smart and tough and vibrant and some are funny and snarky in the best ways.

What I appreciate in these poems beyond the craft itself is that the content ties in the historical and deeply personal. Asghar talks about being an orphan along side the fracturing of India and Pakistan. She takes the many parts of her identity and reflects them back to her audience. She reminds us all of the pain and joy in the world to which we must bear witness.

Five Stars | One World Books | August 7, 2018 | 128 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. It is both about the falling down and the getting back up of life. Before we recognized the opioid crisis as a crisis and before we sympathized with addicts, Jesus’ Son gave a human perspective to those that suffer from addiction. The book feels ahead of its time in this way. I couldn’t help but see Johnson’s ability to tell this story as a part of his own privilege. He gets to tell the stories of this specific group of users, instead of having to be responsible for all people who have ever been addicted. It is a great thing for an artist to be able to do, though I wonder if a Black author’s work would have been granted that kind of specificity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is fantastic at all the twists and the short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this one wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

Two Stars | Picador | Febbruary 17, 2009 | 133 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Jesus’ Son in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode HERE


Richard II by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks Challenge I read Richard II. It looks at the reign and fall of King Richard II, and is a glimpse into the fragility of power and the necessity of legitimacy. This play has the potential to be boring, however Shakespeare crafts dynamic characters who use their speech as a way to influence and persuade. I was particularly struck by the diversity in oratory style between Bolingbroke and Richard. Both men attempt to convince those around them to follow their lead, and both do it in drastically different ways. I found a couple of Richard’s speeches to be some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful. On top of the beauty, the play is easy to read and understand, which isn’t always the case for The Bard.

Richard II is an engaging and thrilling read. It is a play about politics and legitimacy. It feels especially relevant in today’s climate. What does it take to overthrow the leader? It is a dramatization of a theoretical question of who has the will of the people. The play is more cerebral than action packed, but it works beautifully and leaves the reader with much to think about.

Three Stars | Penguin Classics; reprint edition | December 1, 2000 | 160 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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

A collection of essays that are at once smart, funny, and truly thought provoking. Cottom is one of the most critical and nuanced thinkers on race and gender in this moment in The United States.Thick is effortless in its ability to move between ideas of intersectionality, the art of “the turn” is perfected in these pages. As the collection goes on the essays build on each other and deepen the readers understanding of Cottom and the work she has dedicated her life to. It is because of this depth that the second half of the book really stood out for me.

Some of Thick was challenging to read. I often had to go back and reread sentences and passages because I found myself lost in her arguments. That is less a criticism and more an observation about the style of the book. I applaud Cottom for not making her work small to accommodate her reader. Her writing is too important for that. Go read Thick. You will learn things, you will connect dots you never knew you could. It is powerful and empowering.

Five Stars | The New Press | January 8, 2019 | 224 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler

(Photo: amazon.com)

In June 1973, there was a fire at the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans that left 32 people dead. This tragedy was barely acknowledged when it happened and has since, been largely lost to history. In his book, Tinderbox, Robert Fieseler attempts to shed light on the events of June 24, 1973, and the connect those events with the early days of the Gay Liberation Movement.

Tinderbox functions on two levels, one the story of the fire and the people and city directly involved, and two the story of the movement that was connected to it. The true crime part of this book is fantastic. In particular, the pages where Fieseler describes the fire itself were vivid and horrifying. The history of the movement falls a little flatter, the connection feels forced. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if you like true crime, you will too, even if some sections are not as good as the rest.

Three Stars | Liveright | June 5, 2018 | 384 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Robert W. Fieseler on The Short Stacks HERE, and hear our in depth discussion of Tinderbox on The Stacks HERE.


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

(Photo: amazon.com)

A reread of one of my favorite books from last year (you can find my first review here). Cheryl Strayed’s advice column from her days at The Rumpus strikes all the right chords. I love this book. I don’t know how else to say it. It is full of reminders and suggestions on how to live life a little better. Its not polite or even precious, its more in your face. Its the kind of book that opens you up a little bit. Thats what makes it so great. Strayed even says, most of the time you know what you must do, this book, like her advice, is just a nudge in the right direction.

Five Stars | Vintage; Original edition | July 10, 2012 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Tune into the The Stacks Book Club conversation of Tiny Beautiful Things HERE .


The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris

(Photo: amazon.com)

The Truths We Hold is part of a tradition of books for future presidential candidates, they almost all have them. One part memoir, one part policy platform, and one part resume. These books aren’t particularly insightful, though they are a glimpse into the candidate on their very best days (even the bad ones are good or have packaged lessons to take away). Barack Obama famously wrote The Audacity of Hope on the eve of his candidacy, and that book gave America a glimpse into the changes Obama wanted to make in this country. Likewise Harris lays out the things she has achieved as prosecutor and attorney general, and the direction she thinks America should go. It is all well written and readable, but it is all so safe. I understand why, but I wish there was another way. I will wait and read her tell all after she is president.

The final section of the book are the truths she lives by, and aside from learning about her courtship with her husband, this is the best part of the book. Its a little insight into how she ticks. It should also be said, she reads her book and does a fantastic job. Her charisma shines through, and if nothing else, you finish the book and really like the woman.

Three Stars | Penguin Audio | January 8, 2019 | 9 hours and 26 minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young

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

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is the exact book you might expect from Damon Young, of Very Smart Brothas. It is smart and funny, and yet it still makes you think. The book is dynamic and covers a range of topics from what is a “good dude” to Black anxiety, to gentrification, homophobia, to name a few. The book is good, though some of the essays are stronger than others, and sometimes thats frustrating.

There are four essays that really stand out, and whats interesting is they all have a common thread: Women. Each one of these essays (about his controversial piece on rape on VSB, his wife, his mother, and his daughter) is vulnerable but still maintains the style that Young is known for. There is an ease to his voice though saying the hard things, admitting fault, calling out his own privilege, and taking others to task must have been extremely challenging. There is a humility to these essays that allows them to soar above the rest. The book is worth a read, even if at times I found Young to be reaching for a laugh when he didn’t need one. His story is enough.

Three Stars | Ecco | March 26, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Damon Young on the Short Stacks 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. 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.