The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

IMG_7843On this week of The Stacks podcast, we discussed The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. Our guest for this episode The Stacks Book Club was Becca Tobin, actress best known for her work on Glee, and co-host of Lady Gang podcast. You can listen to our full conversation about The Mars Room right here.

If you’ve not yet heard of the The Mars Room here is a little more information for you.

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

This book is a bleak examination of lives in proximity to incarceration. While the book mostly centers on Romy and her experiences, we do have other narrators, and other characters who steal our focus for moments throughout the book. The Mars Room feels like a much darker and less “entertaining” look at the prison system than what you might be familiar with from a show like Orange is the New Black (Netflix). One of the things I appreciated most with this book was how dark Kushner was willing to go. She romanticizes nothing. It is all bleak and full of despair. I find that choice to be a strong and refreshing choice.

Throughout the book we meet a lot of flawed and interesting and dynamic characters. People who have been dealt shitty hands and lived hard lives and yet have perspective and depth and hope, and sometimes, though not enough, humor. Through these people Kushner asks us to question our own relationship to the incarcerated, our own thoughts on gender identity, racism, and sexual assault, the power of institutions and more. There are moments in this book where Kushner gets caught up in showing us her point of view, that the book does become a little preachy. Kushner uses characters as devices to make larger points, which leads to some characters being full and dynamic and some feeling like they are just there to prove a point (Romy’s son Jackson comes to mind here).

A major problem with this book has to do with Kushner’s choice of featured characters. While she does include Latina and Black characters in secondary roles, none of the featured narrators are people of color, despite there being ample space to allow for their perspectives. In a book about incarceration, our central character is a pretty white woman. This type of whitewashing of a predominately Black and brown space is irritating at best, and something more cynical at worst.

When faced with the choice to leave the reader with hope or not, Kushner mostly choses not. I respect that. I think we are constantly looking for a silver lining, and sometimes when we strip that false hope away we see a picture of reality that can also be comforting. This book addresses this head on. If the reality of hopelessness that so many people live with scares you, or turns you off, this book isn’t for you, and thats OK. Aside from major issues of representation, I enjoyed this book and suggest it to those who are not faint of heart.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Becca Tobin discussing The Mars Room.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition Limited Issue edition (May 1, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy The Mars Room on Amazon

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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.

Hiroshima by John Hersey

EE8E4EB7-0AB7-45E2-95C2-99D93621B76BI have owned my copy of this book for over a decade and never picked it up. It wasn’t until I was sitting in Book Soup for a book event and looked over and saw it sitting there that I decided I should pick it up. I am so glad I did. If you’re not familiar with this classic work of nonfiction, here is more information for you.

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atom bomb ever dropped on a city. This book, John Hersey’s journalistic masterpiece, tells what happened on that day. Told through the memories of survivors, this timeless, powerful and compassionate document has become a classic “that stirs the conscience of humanity” (The New York Times).

Almost four decades after the original publication of this celebrated book, John Hersey went back to Hiroshima in search of the people whose stories he had told.  His account of what he discovered about them is now the eloquent and moving final chapter of Hiroshima.

One of the most horrific acts of war, and one of the hardest to justify, is the killing of civilians. The dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the stories that rose from the ashes, show us why. Hiroshima contains those stories. This book is haunting and powerful and allows the reader a glimpse into what it was like to live through August 6, 1945.

Hersey does little with language, he is direct with his words. There is no sense that this book was written in 1946, nothing that dates Hersey, except of course the subject matter. This isn’t a book full of eloquent prose, or even historical context. This is very much the story of six people who somehow continued to live even after the bomb fell. Hersey talks about his subjects with a distance that allows the reader to imagine themselves in Hiroshima, 1945. I found myself looking up from the page and just shaking my head wondering about the realty of such an atrocity, and also the unimaginable shock and horror that these people witnessed.

Hiroshima does a wonderful job of zeroing in on one perspective, that of the survivors, and erases almost all other chatter that surrounds the use of the atomic bomb. Hersey does not allow for a debate on weather or not it should have been dropped, who is to blame, what options were weighed, etc. He simply shares the stories of those who survived, if the act was right or wrong does not matter. The book is a reckoning of lived experience, not of tactical warfare. It is a brilliant stroke to isolate the intellectual conversations around the atom bomb from the very real effects its usage had on human lives. There is no rationalizing the bomb when you hear people share the things they’ve witnessed.

In the 1980’s Hersey goes back to Hiroshima and follows up with his six main characters. What he finds out about their lives in the 40 years since the bombing makes up the Afterward of Hiroshima .  This was the section of the book I felt the least connected to. While I was grateful to know what happened to everyone, Hersey seemed to have changed from the man who wrote the initial part of the book. His writing style and point of view were different (as I have to assume anyone would be after living an additional 40 years). He did not have the economy of language that I loved so much in the first part of the book. It was a subtle shift, but one that distracted me.

I am grateful that this book exists and it has inspired me to want to read more on the subject (I plan to read both Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham and Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb by Ronald Takaki). I want to read more about the history of the bombs, how America was able to justify dropping them, and more of the arguments around nuclear warfare. I am glad that my introduction to Hiroshima came from Hiroshima, and started with the stories of those who were bombed, those who suffered the greatest cost. I will carry their voices with me as I continue to learn and understand why this happened.

This book is suitable for all people.  It is appropriate for teenagers learning about World War II for the first time, and adults of any age. It is short and easy to understand. There are a few graphic descriptions of injuries, and while they are hard to read, they are important to fully comprehend the magnitude of this act.

If you do read this book, or you have read this book, please share your thoughts in the comments. I would also appreciate any and all suggestions for other books on this topic.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 4, 1989)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Hiroshima 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.

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.

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.

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

 

Barraccon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neal Hurston

I had zero plans to read Barracoon by Zora Neal Hurston any time soon, but was invited to join a buddy read (one time book club) with some friends I’ve made on the internet. Which, sounds a little creepy, except that people who talk about books on the internet are the best. So I got the book a dug in.

Here is some insights into this book.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. 

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, and spent more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

Barracoon is hugely important. I hate when people call books important, mainly because I find it to be an overstatement. However this book is deserving of the moniker. This book comes from such a unique perspective, an African adult enslaved and taken to America who went on to live long enough to see freedom, and have his story documented in his own words. There are not many of these stories. Mainly because the legal slave trade ended in the early 1800’s and Slavery did not end until 1865, so one would have to be have been recorded right after slavery, when most people were not doing that type of work.

With all of that being said, to have this story is a gift. To give a singular voice to the tragedy of slavery and racism in The United States is rare. We are often told the story of many slaves (Amistad), or a generic fictitious narrative (Roots). This book is not that. This book is one story. The story of a man who is the link between Africa and America. A man who is afforded the luxury to not have to speak on behave of the many, but is allowed to speak for himself. This is not a luxury that Black people in America are often given. Hurston gave this gift.

The story of Cudjo is told in his own words. Hurston transcribes his words in his own dialect and does not compromise that for the sake of the reader. She wants you to hear what Cudjo says, and how he says it. His idiosyncratic phrases are as important to his story as the events themselves. They help to create the man. She gives the book its shape, but it is Cudjo who gives this book its heart.

The book is surrounded by a forward (by Alice Walker), a couple of introductions, an appendix, an afterward, and a glossary, all of which give this story a place and gravitas. I found these additional writings to be powerful in their own way. They helped to contextualize both the work of Hurston, and the world of Cudjo.

I do wish this book was longer. While it talks about Cudjo’s journey and his life as a free man, I wished there was more about his time as a slave, the world around him as he saw it. His opinions on moments in the world, or in his world. I wanted to hear more from him. Honestly it could have been about anything. I just wanted more.

Since this book was written in 1931, and not published until 2018, I would have loved more context on Cudjo and his family and their life after his passing. I wanted to know more about where Cudjo fits into our current world. What became of his legacy.

In truth, my only complaint is that I could have read so much more. I want more of Cudjo, and also more of these types of stories. More uniquely individual tales from Black people. The stories are there, and they are interesting and important, and Black people deserve to be heard and heralded. I hope this book opens those doors.

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; 1st Edition edition (May 8, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Barracoon 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

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

373D9DE5-DAF7-409C-8CC6-C66584EF3853.JPGI don’t like comedy. I don’t really like celebrity books much either. So picking up The Last Black Unicorn, is really out of character for me. In the last few years I’ve read a handful of books that fall into the celebrity comedic memoir category, and except for Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, I have disliked them all. That being said, I did decide to listen to The Last Black Unicorn, and it was kind of wonderful.

If you don’t know Tiffany Haddish (breakout star of Girls Trip), or the book here is a little more for you.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

By turns hilarious, filthy, and brutally honest, The Last Black Unicorn shows the world who Tiffany Haddish really is—humble, grateful, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. And now, she’s ready to inspire others through the power of laughter.

Here is what I liked most about this book, its actually funny. Haddish does a great job of weaving her signature “tell it like it is” humor in with her own life events. She isn’t afraid of being too much, or going too far. She indulges us in the funny and bizarre events in her life, and doesn’t shy away from the darker moments. She talks about an abusive ex-husband, a childhood in foster car, and even her career trajectory in comedy. Her vulnerability makes this book both hilarious and heartbreaking.

I think its worth noting that in The Last Black Unicorn we do get to a little name-dropping, which I love. I love hearing celebrities talk about each other. Who doesn’t want to know about Jada and Will Smith using Groupon for the first time? Haddish only names those that she likes, and gives nicknames to those who didn’t treat her well. I respect it, and I appreciate it .

I wish that this book dug a little deeper. There are parts of her life she skims over. The story is a little disjointed, and the writing itself isn’t great. I can forgive most of that because she has lived such an interesting life, the content is strong. Its worth noting, that I listened to this book, and it is Haddish who narrates. She lived the life, she wrote the book, and she can perform those words. The audiobook is fantastic.

I think most people would enjoy this book. Its not too long, and helps to bring a little context to another person’s story. It is R-rated, and she talks about very adult stuff, just in case you wanted to play the audiobook in the car with your kiddos. If you’re like me and don’t like this genre, I would still say its worth reading.

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (December 5, 2017)
  • Audio Book: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy The Last Black Unicorn on Amazon

 

If you want to listen to this book, and get a FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

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

 

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

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Sometimes reading a “classic” makes me a little anxious. I have a long history of reading books that are called classics, and I just couldn’t get into them. This list includes, but is not limited to, Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. So when we decided to cover Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin in The Stacks Book Club, I was worried.

If you don’t know the story of Giovanni’s Room here is a little breakdown for you.

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

While all “classics” get that title for a reason, the reason for this one, I actually understand. Language is powerful when it is wielded by Baldwin. There is no tepid point of view, there is no doubt, the words are strong, powerful, and precise. You can sense that Baldwin is grappling with so much of the same ideas that we are as the reader. There is a vulnerability to this work that speaks volumes. Baldwin was something special, and this book shows that.

Giovanni’s Room has been seen as a quintessential text in Gay Literature, and for good reason. Baldwin humanizes the struggle for sexual identity in a way that few did in the 1950s, and still few can do now. David, the protagonist, takes a journey of exploration and self loathing. He is asking the most basic question of what it means to live the life we want versus living the life we think we should have. Baldwin is crafted something universal in this story, despite the stigma of homosexuality, especially at that time.

There are a lot of other themes that come up in this book, from gender roles to the refusal to succumb to love, from wealth to isolation. This book examines what makes us human, what makes us carry on, and what ultimately makes us give up. And while this book is specific in its story, it is universal in scope. There is emotion and feeling that is evoked in this book, and there are moments that are deeply personal for each reader.

I would suggest this book to almost anyone,  and especially to lovers of the art of writing, and to fans of James Baldwin. I would also suggest this book to people who are struggling with their sexuality, I have heard from many friends that it is healing and helpful in that journey.

Make sure to check out our Book Club conversation on The Stacks Episode 6, where we discuss this book in greater detail. As always, I’d love to hear what you think about the book and the episode.

If you’ve read the book and want a little more insight into Baldwin and his writing of Giovanni’s Room I would highly recommend this New Yorker article, The Unsparing Confessions of “Giovanni’s Room” by Colm Tóibín.

  • Paperback : 176 pages
  • PublisherVintage Books; 1 edition (2013)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Giovanni’s Room 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

 

 

Broken Bananah: Life, Love, and Sex… Without a Penis by Ross Asdourian

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This book doesn’t fall into my normal reading habits, as a matter of almost fact, I don’t like comedy books. I don’t use my reading time for laughter. However, I picked this book up cause I know the author, and can say I actually experienced part of his journey with him. Not in the way you’re thinking.

This book tells the story of Ross Asdourian, a single man in his 20’s, who breaks his penis during sex. It sounds like a joke, but its not. I won’t talk too much about the details, because the details are what make this book special. You feel like you’re right along with him through it all, even when you wish you weren’t.

Asdourian does an expert job of weaving his personal life, his sex life, and his many past lives together in this memoir. You meet characters along the way (one of which is named after me, so yes, I’m bragging) and they are all quirky and hilarious. I guess when you read a comedy book, you should expect a little hilarity.

That being said, this book isn’t all funny. Broken Bananah also offers a (very) unique perspective on what is important in life and love, and that things could always be worse. Its hard to imagine worse than the potential loss of your main sex organ, but Asdourian puts it all in perspective. He gets vulnerable and honest in a way you don’t typically see in these types of books.

I have to admit, I had very low expectations for this book. When I think of self-published books, I usually think of something close to unreadable. Turns out I don’t know anything and there are plenty of great books that started out by being self published.

If you’re not one for graphic details on sexual intercourse, porn, masturbation, blood, and medical procedure, I can not in good conscious recommend this book to you. This book relies heavily on a good pun for the male anatomy, and is a little crass, which I’m sure you guessed given the title.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think you might too. It isn’t anything I would normally read or enjoy, but turns out I can surprise myself sometimes. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book.

  • Paperback : 182 pages
  • Publisher: Self Published (April 9, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Broken Bananah 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

 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

IMG_4493This book is very special to me, as it is the very first book we covered on the podcast, as part of The Stacks Book Club (TSBC). You can hear my conversation about this book, with my guest, Dallas Lopez here on the second episode of The Stacks.

If you’re not familiar with this book here is a little blurb about Hamid’s work:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

There is something so unique and moving about this book. I noticed it right away. The first sentence of this book is powerful, and yet still tender. Hamid crafts his sentences to unfold in front of your very eyes. You think you know here he is going, and yet still you never quite see the end of the sentence coming. At the risk of sounding cliche, the writing in this book is beautiful. It is a thread that is present throughout the book, and is what gives this book its heart.

The premise of Exit West is genius. Following two young refugees who have recently come together is unique. This is not the story of the family of five picking up and leaving home. This book allowed me to think about migrants we rarely think of, young lovers. Those deciding to make a go of it. It gave a new face to the struggle for freedom and equality.

While I did feel the book was full of amazing ideas, and it forced me to confront so many stereotypes and so much of who I would like to think I would be in the face of a crisis. The book doesn’t do much in the way of plot. It is mostly there to stir up ideas. To ask us questions. To reflect a certain version of the world and to see how we respond.

The last fifth of the book fizzled out a bit for me. I wanted so much for the end of this book to be as spectacular and emotional as where it started, and it didn’t deliver in that. I have come to think though, that my desire for an explosive ending says more about me than the book. Hamid carefully crafted this story, and he made sure the ending fit the larger metaphor he was sharing with his readers. I was just too caught up to see it at first. The more I think about this book the more I have come to love the ending.

I really enjoyed this book. It was special and magical and gorgeous and maybe even a little bit sexy. I would suggest it for just about anyone, in fact I did, thats why it was my very first TSBC pick.

If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you think of it. If you’ve listened to the podcast, I’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation.

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (March 7, 2017)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Exit West on Amazon

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Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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Why didn’t everyone I’ve ever known force me in a room and make me read this book? How has it taken me this long to finally pick it up? It is going to take a while for me to forgive myself for being this late to the Octavia Butler party.

Here is the blurb on this book

Dana, a modern Black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the White son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

This was the book I didn’t know I always needed. It has a Black female protagonist, time travel, slavery, interracial relationships, colorism, and so much more. It is Afrofuturist goodness. There is so much complexity and so many levels that are layered in. Butler is deliberate with her work and it pays off. A short book, that packs a huge punch.

This book is mostly set during slavery and takes those issues on head on. The events that take place on the plantation are brutal and Butler does delve into that, if you struggle with graphic descriptions of abuse be cautious with this book. (It is worth stating, that any book that is honest about slavery will have graphic language that surrounds life for Black people in that time.) The genius of this book is how Butler juxtaposes life in the present (1976) with that of the antebellum South. The book is really asking us to explore the effects of Slavery on present day Black Americans. The guilt and obligation of the Black savior. What is the role of the Black woman in relationship to the power of the White man? Is personal good more valid than collective evil? How much do Black people have to give of themselves in order to protect the systems that preserve White supremacy?

I’m not sure that in the end I felt any closer to answering those questions. I’m not sure that in the end I ever really liked the characters at all. I did appreciate them as vehicles to look deeper into what Butler is examining when it comes to race and gender power politics. The book is plot driven, and that makes for a fast-paced book, but it does leave out some of the internal struggles that would have developed more well rounded characters. As much as I enjoyed this book, I did miss having a connection with the characters.

I think this book is important for what it is, (a Black Sci-Fi book written by a Black woman in the 1970’s), and I also think this book is important for what it says and what it brings up. Now that I’ve finally read something by Octavia Butler, I can not wait to read more

Go pick up your copy of Kindred it is a classic for a reason. Enjoy!

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (2003)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Kindred 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.