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.


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)


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.

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.

Juan Vidal shares his own story of growing up, finding his way, and becoming a family man in his book Rap Dad. What makes this book different is that his story is framed by his relationship to hip-hop music and culture, and his love of Rap music.

Vidal doesn’t try to make his story universal. He shares his own personal development as a Colombian man, and he never pontificates on what it means to be a parent, a Christian, or an artist. He is willing to get personal, but never uses his own experiences as the model or the standard. There is no sense that Vidal knows any more than the rest of us, he just shares what he’s learned in the hopes that someone else might relate.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t always relate. I’m not a dad, a writer, a Christian, a Colombian, a man, or any of the other labels you might throw on Mr. Vidal. We do share a love of hip-hop music, but even there our tastes differ. Vidal fills the spaces between us with a humanity that I could connect with. I wanted to know Vidal and hear his story. His moral compass and compassion come shining through in Rap Dad, even if I didn’t always share his experiences.

When we talked about Rap Dad on The Stacks with actor Josh Segarra, I got to hear from someone who could identify with Vidal’s experiences and it made me appreciate the book more. I could learn from Segarra’s take-aways. It was a great reminder that not every book is for every person, and that is the beauty of art, that our experiences inform our understandings.

In Rap Dad, Juan Vidal uses his slang to tell his story, which lends the book a sense that you’re hearing from an old friend. As a lover of hip-hop I appreciated his authenticity. He talks to and about artists and songs I know and love, and introduced me to so many rappers I wasn’t familiar with. The book has an entire track list of all the songs he references (which is begging for a Spotify playlist). You get a sense for who Mr. Vidal is through his writing and his taste in music.

The structure of this book felt disjointed. I didn’t always follow Vidal’s points and often felt unfocused in reading the book. While everything on its own (Vidal himself, the stories, the conversations with hip-hop folks, etc.) were great on their own, it didn’t come together cohesively.

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.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Josh Segarra discussing Rap Dad

Hear The Short Stacks conversation with author, Juan Vidal

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • PublisherAtria Books (September 25, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Rap Dad 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, 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.

Ep. 44 Rap Dad by Juan Vidal — The Stacks Books Club (Josh Segarra)

We are joined again today by actor, Josh Segarra (Arrow, Sirens, Orange is the New Black) to discuss Rap Dad by Juan Vidal. A sort of a coming of age story rooted in becoming a parent in the hip-hop culture, Rap Dad is part memoir and part commentary on society. We talk redefining success in relationship to parenthood, intellectualizing religion, and Rap music as teacher. There isn’t a lot to spoil this week, so listen and enjoy. You can also hear Juan Vidal talk about writing Rap Dad on The Short Stacks Episode 4.

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. The Stacks participates in affiliate programs, and shopping through the links below (mostly Amazon) helps support the show, at no cost to you.

Connect with Josh: Josh’s 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.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


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 received Rap Dad from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 4: Juan Vidal//Rap Dad

On January 30th, we’re discussing Rap Dad by Juan Vidal as part of The Stacks Book Club, and to get you ready for that chat, I talked with Juan about his process in writing Rap Dad, how he finds time to write with four children, and about his favorite rappers. And with all The Short Stacks, there are no spoilers today, enjoy.

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. The Stacks participates in affiliate programs, and shopping through the links below (mostly Amazon) helps support the show, at no cost to you.

Connect with Juan: Juan’s Instagram | Juan’s Twitter 

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.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


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

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

Our first book for The Stacks Book Club of 2019, The Four Agreements a bestselling self-help classic. I was lucky enough to have lover of self-help books and celebrity trainer Alec Penix, join me for this discussion. If you’ve yet to listen, check it out here.

For reference The Four Agreements are:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Do not take anything personal
  • Do not make assumptions
  • Always do your best

There is a lot to be said for The Four Agreements honestly, if more people lived by the agreements, we would have a more empathetic and communicative society. If people really were true to the spirit of these agreements, to the people around them and to themselves, we would have a healthier world. If you take the agreements at face value, they’re wonderful and easy to remember and implement. However, nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and there are a lot of complex elements at play when we talk about human interaction. This is where the book misses the mark.

Ruiz is very cut and dry and comes across someone who is oblivious to the nuances of life. He makes a lot of assumptions about the people reading this book (which, is a no-no). There is a ton of victim shaming throughout the book. For example, he makes the point that we only take as much abuse as we think we deserve. This very well may be true for people who have horrible bosses or have mooching friends. However, this logic doesn’t hold up when we think of the child who is molested by their parent, or the mother torn from her child at the border of The United States. Do we value these people who have been victimized? Should they have demanded better for themselves? And to whom should they make such demands? The power dynamics of life are not always as clear cut as Mr. Ruiz says, and his saying it, offended me.

If you’re looking for some concepts to help you in your dealings with yourself and others, especially at the start of a new year, this could be a good book for you, but be careful not to take everything Ruiz says to heart. He too is only human, and has work to do on himself as well.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Alec Penix discussing The Four Agreements.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • PublisherAmber-Allen Publishing (November 7, 1997)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy onThe Four Agreements 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, 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

21 Reasons Why I Read Authors of Color

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This post was inspired by Diana from the Words Between Worlds Book Club, she asked me to write a guest post about why I read books by authors of color.

I am a reader.

I read for a lot of reasons, mostly to learn about people and places. I read to learn about things I’ve never heard of, and to read about things I’m obsessed with. I read a lot of nonfiction. I love nonfiction. I like the idea of truth and reality, and I know I’ll never fully get either.

Here is a list of some of the reasons why I read books by authors of color. Not that I, or anyone, need a reason. I want to note that while I do read the work of people of color to challenge the narratives that are presented by White authors, I also read authors of color without any relationship to White people. For me, these books exist in their own right and I read them for that reason alone. Reading authors of color is not always a conscious act of resistance. The list below has my reasons and then books that match those reasons. There are many books I love missing from this list, mostly because there are too many books by people of color that are absolutely amazing, and also because many of the books I love are out on loan and I needed a good stack for this picture. I’m just keeping it real.

And before I get too carried away, let me just say, I have a lot of work to do in diversifying my own reading. As a Black woman I skew toward Black authors. I am working on reading more authors who don’t look like me. I could always do a little better. So know that I am a work in progress.

Ok here goes….

WHY I READ BOOKS BY AUTHORS OF COLOR

  1. Because people of color exist. Their stories exists, their experiences exist, and I choose to bear witness.
  2. I like to learn about people who are different than me. I have only lived one life, and I want to know about how other people have lived theirs.
  3. As a reminder that while we are different from each other, we are also more similar than we know.
  4. I want to learn about systemic racism so I can fight against it. People of color do a better job documenting and calling out the work of White supremacy. Often times bringing to the forefront theory I didn’t know, and explaining racism in a new way.
  5. To get intersectional. To learn about life from the cross section of race and any given issue, from gender studies to the environment. Intersectionality is important and is best understood by those who reside in the intersection.
  6. I love learning about history from a lens that is other than White and male.
  7. To learn about a topic that the White community is unwilling to look at, weather it be because White people are implicated, or White autors do not care to explore.
  8. Because representation matters, and so many people have been erased, books give them back their voices.
  9. To hear a good story.
  10. To laugh.
  11. To cry.
  12. To get really angry.
  13. To read an award winning book
  14. Because you don’t have to be White to write a great American novel.
  15. I read books my friends recommend to me. My friends read authors of color. My friends are cool and super smart.
  16. As a Black person, I want to learn about where I came from.
  17. As a Black person, I want to learn about the leaders who have fought for my rights.
  18. As a Black person, I want to learn about people who look like me. To see their struggles and their successes. To remind myself that I can never “turn off” or “take a break” from my Blackness, no matter what.
  19. To read books that teach me how to advocate for people who can not always advocate for themselves.
  20. To learn about a place I’ve never been, a place I hope to go to, a place I’ve always loved. To see the world.
  21. I know that my money speaks for me, and that in buying books by authors of color I am saying that these stories have value and worth. I am saying I support these stories and I support these authors.

These are just twenty-one reasons why. I could go on and on. Mostly, and this is the really important one, I read books by authors of color because I can, and because they are really fucking good.


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.

The Devils Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

2912C833-EC19-4E44-A72B-70B58A50E35BA friend gave me her copy of The Devil’s Highway, and told me I had to read it. This was back in February, and I just wasn’t into it. I couldn’t motivate myself to pick it up. However, in the last few weeks with all thats going on with family separation at the US border I felt compelled to finally pick up this book.

Here is a little about this book.

In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, the “Devil’s Highway.” Three years later, Luis Alberto Urrea wrote about what happened to them. The result was a national bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a “book of the year” in multiple newspapers, and a work proclaimed as a modern American classic.

This book is so well crafted. It is a heartbreaking story, however there is still strength in its telling.  Urrea uses beautiful yet uncomplicated prose to describe the story of the US-Mexico border and all those who are caught navigating it’s terrain.

The Devil’s Highway is the story of one group that is representative of a greater population. Those people who feel that life has gotten too hard where ever they are, that it is better to leave home and try to find something better. Even if that means going through hell.

I think it trivializes the magnitude of this book to say it is “timely”. It does speak to this current political moment, but it was written over 15 years ago, and it spoke to that moment as well. It speaks to any moment where one group of people is trying to keep out another group. It speaks to humanity. It speaks to human nature. That is what makes this book powerful. It is about how we treat one another, when the option is, to be kind or to be cruel.

Urrea makes a point to include the narratives not only of the men walking through the desert, but also that of the coyotes, and the border agents, and the US law enforcement. He includes consulate workers from Mexico, and families of those men who left home. He is inclusive in his work, and yet he is clear in his point of view. Its a challenging balancing act, that Urrea executes perfectly. It is what gives this book credence and authenticity.

This book is graphic, and there are moments where I wanted to turn away from the story, because it was overwhelming and bleak. This book is wonderful. It is powerful. It made me feel things. It allowed me space to think about immigration and compassion. It has allowed me more perspective as I think about what it means to be American, and who has to stay out, so I can stay in.

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.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu

AF357627-167C-4A24-A9EB-25093AF52EB2Before I say anything about this book, here is the premise.

For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there.

Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story. Searing and unforgettable, The Line Becomes a River goes behind the headlines, making urgent and personal the violence our border wreaks on both sides of the line.

This book enraged me. I found it to be a self serving and romantic look at immigration into The United States. Cantu’s story is told through short glimpses into his life. He tells us little antidotes of how he was kind to an immigrant he captured on the border, of how he literally takes the shirt off his back to give one man, and how he asks people their names. He tells us so much of his humanity, and so much of the humanity of all the border agents around him. Even the bad ones come off as not that bad, they’re Cantu’s friends after all. The problem is there is no journalistic integrity. Cantu never sites anything about his experiences, there are no dates, no records, no direct quotes. So how are we to know if any of this book really even happened? And if it did, did it happen how he says?

Every once and a while Cantu will give us a little historical context into the border, its development, the changes in its policing, and the violence that has led so many to leave central America looking for a better life in the USA. In these more academic moments, Cantu does use quotes from other writers. Thankfully. Its the only time actual quotations are used.

The Line Becomes a River is a love letter to Cantu. He writes about his trauma and his growth and the things that haunt him and the things he’s scared of, and his dreams, so much about his dreams. Its a memoir, so of course it’ll be told through his lens. However this book takes it to the extreme. He always does the right thing. He is never in the wrong, he just happens to be in the wrong profession (a profession he chose to go into for perspective). He is always our hero. There is however no one to corroborate any of his stories. It might all be fiction, how are we to know?

There is another conversation at play here, and that comes from Cantu’s desire to be a border agent in the first place. He says its because, after studying the border in college, he wants to see the border in a new way. He wants to be on the front lines. I got the sense that this book was always in the back of his mind. That when he took the job, he knew his experiences would become something more, a vehicle for him.

Cantu tells us, he is trying to humanize the immigrants he comes in contact with, but even that falls short. I couldn’t stop thinking about how the whole book felt like a ode to himself. His growth, his ability to see the humanity that others missed, his trauma, his struggling, his triumph. He is so centered in the book, its hard to believe he really can see anyone else.

When The Line Becomes a River received a lot a criticism after its release, Cantu took to twitter and said the following

“To be clear: during my years as a BP agent, I was complicit in perpetuating institutional violence and flawed, deadly policy. My book is about acknowledging that, it’s about thinking through the ways we normalize violence and dehumanize migrants as individuals and as a society.

I’m not here to defend BP. But I am here to listen and learn from the ways my writing may be construed to normalize, eroticize, or beautify border violence, and the ways my voice may amplified at the expense of those who suffer from it. Ultimately, I’m here to work against it.”

Even this clarification feels a little off. Cantu was not, as he states complicit, he was an active participant. Just like in the book, he misses the fact that he enables this activity and behavior. And it is worth noting, he does not ever truly condemn the border patrol or the US policies around immigration as violent, hostile, or hateful. He more notes that these things are true, but doesn’t do any work to say why it is that way. Just thats how it is, and isn’t it so sad that he had to live through this.

The last third of the book focuses on Cantu’s journey on the other side of the system. His undoucmented Mexican friend isn’t allowed back in the USA. Simply befriending an undocumented immigrant and helping out while he goes through court proceedings, does not wash away Cantu’s sins. Asking us to believe that it does is condescending.  It also does not mean that you’re humanizing other undocumented people. Cantu’s one experience is not neccessarily indicative of the greater picture, no matter how many pages he writes about it.

Cantu’s sense of entitlement to these stories is felt through out this book. Without any real research or journalistic integrity, we are told this story. We are asked to follow this man and trust his observations, because he is Mexican America, because he worked in border patrol, because he was given a book deal. I simply could not buy in. I don’t believe you should have to either. I would not suggest you read this book. If you’re looking for books about immigration that are both good stories and give insight into the lives of migrants and/or the border patrol look into, The Devil’s HighwayThe Far Away Brothers, and Tell Me How It Ends.Each of these books uses well sited research and beautiful writing to tell stories from the border. In addition, Radio Lab has a fantastic (and also very graphic) three part podcast about the border that is wonderful. I think these are all a much better use of your time.

Did you read this book? What did you think? I would love to hear your opinions. Comment below.

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