The Best Things We Read in 2018

Dear Listeners,

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

Thank you all for listening to the show, and thank you again to this group of amazing humans for sharing their reading life with all of us.

Traci


Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

Dallas Lopez
Teacher and Law Student 

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

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


CreditSonny Figueroa/The New York Times

Sarah Fong
PhD Candidate in Ethnic Studies

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

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


Chris Maddox
TV Writer

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

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


Sam Pinkleton
Director and Choreographer

CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

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

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


Vella Lovell
Actress (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

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

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


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

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

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


Lauren Fanella
Reader and Bookstagrammer, @literarylauren_

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

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


Ashley North
Celebrity Stylist and CEO

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

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


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

Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Zeke Smith
Writer, Activist

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

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


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

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

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


Harris Cohn
Community Organizer and Activist

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

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


Heather John Fogarty
Journalist

Patricia Wall/The New York Times

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

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


Reneé Hicks
Founder of Book Girl Magic

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

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


Aja Gabel
Author of The Ensemble

Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

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

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


Traci Thomas
Host of The Stacks

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

You can find Traci on all of The Stacks episodes.


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

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

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

B2D1793F-316A-4CBD-BCD7-10949229785BAs we approach the midterm elections in the United States, I have been increasingly anxious about the state of the nation and what our future holds. Reading How Democracies Die for The Stacks Book Club was a helpful way for me to process what my anxiety is rooted in. I talk about the book on the podcast with Harris Cohn, and you can hear the full conversation here. No need to worry, there are no spoilers on the episode.

Here is a little more about How Democracies Die

Donald Trump’s presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. 

Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved.

I really enjoyed this book. I felt like I was learning so much as I read it. It breaks down differences between autocracies and democracies, it explains how democracies sustain themselves, and what institutions and norms preserve our democracy. The book is crash course in what makes our country run smoothly, and how those things can be eroded. I honestly couldn’t believe how little I know and how little I understand about the equilibrium of governments, both here in the US and abroad.

As the book dives deeper into the issues we’re facing in The United States Levitsky and Ziblatt do not shy away from institutional racism that has allowed America to stay a democracy. They call out the Southern Democrats disenfranchisement and remind us that Northerns were willing to look away while these suppression tactics were enacted. Better to preserve White rule, they thought, than to disturb the comfort Southern Democrats had due to the laws built to exclude Black Americans from participating in the democracy. Often times in books like this, the author won’t call out racism, instead they dance around the issue and find other euphemisms to explain what is going on. Not here. Ziblatt and Levitsky are upfront with the role that racism played and is still playing in our democracy.

This book doesn’t place blame completely on Donald Trump or any one person, but rather shows how certain actions (think the heist of Merrick Garland’s seat on The Supreme Court) have lead us in the direction where our country’s foundation is at risk. There is fair blame placed on both parties, but the authors seem to think the Republicans have been particularly cavalier and destructive with their power.

How Democracies Die ends by presenting a few options that The United States has to prevent a slip into an autocracy. They suggest solutions for both the Republicans and Democrats. They also caution that most countries that have fallen to a dictator had to hit rock bottom, before they could move toward democracy. It remains unclear if America, and her politicians, have the humility to compromise and move forward for the better of the country. I certainly hope so. Either way, I think you should check out this book. It is smart and if nothing else you will learn something. I would even say you will learn many things. It is worth your time.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Harris Cohn discussing How Democracies Die.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (January 16, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on How Democracies Die Amazon

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

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Ep. 30 How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt — The Stacks Book Club (Harris Cohn)

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgThis week on The Stacks Book Club, activist and organizer Harris Cohn is back to chat about  How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. This book was recently featured by Barack Obama on his Facebook page, as a book that speaks to the current moment in the United States. President Obama says it “is a useful primer on the importance of norms, institutional restraints and civic participation in maintaining a democracy – and how quickly those things can erode when we’re not paying attention. There are no spoilers this week, instead you get a civics lesson with lots to discuss.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Harris: Harris’ Twitter|Harris’ Instagram

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

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. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

October Books for The Stacks Book Club

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In the month of October we will be reading two books of nonfiction (we have to balance out all that fiction in September). Both books speak to the current moment in American culture, and have received high praise as “must read” books published in 2018.

Our first book is Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, and we will discuss it on the show on October 10th. Bad Blood is a work of investigative journalism that follows the unbelievable rise and fall of Theranos, a Silicon Valley biotech company, and its founder Elizabeth Holmes.

Then on October 24th we will be dissecting How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. In this book, we will learn about democracies of Europe and Latin America that have crumbled and how this systematic destruction comes about and how to fight against it.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. If you’re reading along, send over your thoughts or questions so we can have the conversations you want to hear. 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 October books on Amazon:

If you want to have input on future books we discuss on this show, become a member of The Stacks Pack by clicking here.


The Stacks received both of these book for free from the publishers. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency click here.

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.