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

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

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

July 2019 Reading Wrap Up

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

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

July by the Numbers

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

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


Becoming by Michelle Obama

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


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

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Stacks Book Club — August 2019 Books

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

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

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

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our August books on Amazon or IndieBound:

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

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

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

January 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Starting this month, I’ll be giving mini reviews for all of my reads each month. For longer reviews on each book check out The Stacks Instagram page. You can also find full length reviews for any books we feature on the show under the Reviews tab and any other reviews I just feel compelled to write. My hope is to streamline my reviews and make them easier for you all to read and enjoy.

I’ll also be giving you my month by the numbers, as a way to give you all a snapshot of what I read, and to hold myself accountable to reading diverse and inclusive books.

January by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 9
Audiobooks: 0
Five Star Reads: 1
DNF Books: 0
Unread Shelf: 9
Books Acquired: 21

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 4
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

(Photo: amazon.com)

Nicole Chung’s story of her transracial adoption, searching for her birth parents, and becoming a mother come together beautifully in this her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Chung is vulnerable and honest in a way that is rare, refreshing, and greatly appreciated as a reader. Chung shares her hopes, fears, insecurities, and expectations with her reader as if she is writing in her journal. I was deeply moved in reading this book, and found common ground with Chung when it came to identity, as I am the product of an interracial marriage.

There were pieces to the story that left me wanting more, and I feel a bit selfish to be asking for more from Chung who is so open with her reader. I would have liked more on what parts of her childhood (as a Korean raised by White parents) she is still grappling with as an adult, and how she interacts with the world because of her upbringing.

Overall, this book is very good. Chung is a writer with a gentle touch that packs a lot of power. She is unrelenting in sharing her own thoughts and experiences and for that I am grateful. Also there is Cindy, and I won’t say much, except that I felt so much love and respect for Cindy, and when you read the book, you’ll know. I would suggest this book to people who love a good emotional memoir, people interested in adoption stories, and people who enjoy the active search for identity.

Four Stars | Catapult | October 4, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover
All You Can Ever Know is TSBC pick for February 13. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nicole Chung HERE, and TSBC episode with Vanessa McGrady HERE.Read a full review of All You Can Ever Know, HERE.


Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

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

A collection of unique and imaginative short stories that provide a commentary on race, violence, consumerism, and survival in America. The writing is at times snarky and smart and then can flip in an instant to be poignant. Some of the stories in Friday Black were pitch perfect and found a great balance between reflection and experience. Some of the other stories never quiet landed with me. The two stories that stand out most (“Zimmer Land” and “Finklestein 5”) deal with the fragility of Black pain and the violence that Black people endure just to live. They comment on events and realities that are part of the American cultural zeitgeist.

I suggest Friday Black to lovers of short stories, racial politics, and people interested in thinking about capitalism in a different way. Warning, there is a lot of (stylized) violence in this book.

Three Stars | Mariner Books | October 23, 2018 | 208 Pages | Paperback
Friday Black is TSBC pick for February 27. Stay tuned for more content around this book. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah HERE, and TSBC episode with Wade Allain-Marcus HERE.Read a full review ofFriday Black, HERE.


Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A fictionalized look at life in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders as told from the perspective of three fifth graders. In her debut novel, Tayari Jones examines the changing responsibilities for Black children as the move toward adulthood. She engages with the unfortunate truth that Black children are forced to grow up too early, and that they are vulnerable to the world around them. Her characters have to come to terms with their Blackness and what that means to the rest of the world. Jones loves her characters and knows them well, she speaks for them without feeling corny or contrived, and develops them into complex characters. Their youth becomes a filter on which we, the readers, see injustices in their world.

Leaving Atlanta is mostly a character study and a coming of age story. If you love plot and action, and are looking for true crime, this book isn’t that (which is where it missed for me). However, if you love spending time with characters and thinking about the world from different perspectives, check it out. If you’re more interested in the Atlanta Child Murders you might like the Atlanta Monster podcast.

Three Stars | Grand Central Publishing (Reprint Edition) | August 1, 2003 | 272 Pages | Paperback


Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

(Photo: amazon.com)

An essay collection on feminism and the relationship of women to male entitlement. Rebecca Solnit’s essays are an indictment on how women are seen and treated in The United States. Solnit ranges from snarky to measured, and shows her self as a thought leader in the conversation around certain types of feminism, which is evidenced in my favorite essay “#yesallwomen”. Men Explain Things to Me misses the mark on intersectional feminism completely and makes no space for women of color and queer women. The book was originally published in 2014, and just over four years later it feels dated. I don’t doubt this book was forward thinking at the time of publication, and that Solnit’s own views have evolved in the last five years (this is my first time reading her work). Men Explain Things to Me is a reminder of the kind of feminism that centers White women and that we are, thankfully, moving away from.

While Men Explain Things to Me is a good collection, I wouldn’t suggest reading it, simply because it isn’t speaking to the current moment in the women’s movement. I would confidently recommend Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (full review here) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (full review here) as better looks at intersectional feminism today.

 Three Stars | Haymarket Books | September 1, 2015 | 176 Pages | Paperback
See my full review of Men Explain Things to Me which you can read HERE.


Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation by Juan Vidal

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

Juan Vidal shares his own story of growing up, finding his way, and becoming a family man in his memoir Rap Dad. The book is a mix of stories from Vidal’s past, meditations on fatherhood, breaking down the importance of hip-hop culture, and conversations of folks in the Rap world about their own thoughts on fatherhood. The book didn’t always feel cohesive or flow, and I often couldn’t relate to his experiences, but Vidal’s willingness to write and discover in that process is refreshing. He is asking the questions of what it means to be a good parent in this hip-hop generation.

Rap Dad is worth your time. The content is different from most anything I’ve read. Vidal is a unique thinker, a fluid writer, and his lack of pretense is beyond refreshing. He is talking about a subculture, hip-hop heads, we so often ignore, especially in the context of parenting.

Three Stars | Atria | September 25, 2018 | 256 Pages | Hardcover
Rap Dad is TSBC pick for January 30. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Juan Vidal HERE, and TSBC episode with Josh Segarra HERE.Read a full review of Rap Dad, HERE.


Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption by Vanessa McGrady

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

In Rock Needs River, Vanessa McGrady shares her journey from deciding she wants to be a mother, to adopting her daughter Grace, to eventually taking in Grace’s homeless birth parents. McGrady navigates the sometimes murky boundaries of open adoption in this book.

What worked in Rock Needs River is that McGrady is clearly only speaking for herself. He triumphs and blunders are clearly her own. She finds a way to be relatable so that you’re rooting for her for get whatever it is she wants and needs, even when she does some pretty questionable things (thinking of a chat room sequence that is painfully cringe worthy). I struggled with McGrady’s sense of privilege when it came to Grace’s birth parents. She wanted them to do what she would do, and those parts feel very entitled and narrow minded. Don’t get me wrong, McGrady is beyond generous with them, but that gets lost in the feeling that McGrady wants her good deed to play out the way she wants it to (with thank you notes). She spends a good chunk of the book projecting her value system on them, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I really learned a lot about adoption. If you like a lighter approach to more serious topics this might be a good book for you. If you’re interested in adoption and the ways that life doesn’t always go according to plan, I’d check out Rock Needs River.

Three Stars | Little A | January 1, 2019 | 204 Pages | Hardcover
Hear Vanessa McGrady on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 45) and All You Can Ever Know(Ep. 46), and find a full review of Rock Needs River HERE.


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks challenge I read Romeo and Juliet. The play is the story of two teenaged, star crossed lovers who find each other despite their families’ rivalry.The story is a total cliche now, but of course then you remember Romeo and Juliet was one of the originals.

I loved rereading this play. Shakespeare is interested in the ideas of loyalty and vengeance, individual desire versus communal stability. The play is dealing with these massive ideas and somehow still taking them on with a kind of urgent poetry that is just begging to be said and heard. In reading the play I couldn’t help but fall in love with Juliet. Her speeches are rich and full of so much emotion. I found myself reading them over and over (mostly out loud).

If you like strong characters with a driving plot, don’t be intimidated by Romeo and Juliet. It is a great play, which I’m sure you’ve heard.

Five Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 128 Pages | Paperback
You can read my full review of  Romeo and Juliet HERE.



Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating. I got so much out of this book, it really connected with me emotionally. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable. There were times I thought Corrigan got a little cutesy, and didn’t need to, and some of her phrases seem beyond obvious (“Yes” and “No” come to mind), but I don’t think it hurt the book overall. The power of “Onward” was enough for an entire book to ride on.

While it is certainly not “required reading” it is a book that I could see being meaningful to anyone. I would check it out. I am certainly glad I did.

Four Stars | Random House | January 9, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

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

TAn oral history of Tony Kushner’s iconic play Angels in America, The World Only Spins Forward was a surprising delight. For a person who loves the theatre this book was more than I could have imagined. I loved hearing from actors, directors, production teams, and theatre critics as they unpack the significance of one of the great American plays. Hearing thespians expound on the nuances of characters and the importance of lines, or how to an angel should fly, was fulfilling. Using the tradition of oral history as a way for the theatre community to talk about this depiction of HIV and gay experience felt completely spot on. The LGBTQIA+ community kept the memories of their own alive through telling stories, writing plays, and creating the art that lives on and is celebrated today. This book is a little bit of art imitating life (on a few levels). Also, the cover. It is absolutely perfect.

The only thing that was hard for me as a reader was that a lot of references weren’t explained. I spent time googling people and events that I would have loved to hear more about from the people who were telling this story, the interviewees.

I don’t know that this book is for everyone. I think you’d have to be interested in Angels in America or the theatre at the very least. The World Only Spins Forward is total theatre nerd stuff, and as a proud member of that community, it was everything I wanted and more. If you love the theater, and acting, and how plays get made, you must read this one.

Four Stars | Bloomsbury | February 13, 2018 | 448 Pages | Hardcover


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

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