The Best Things We Read in 2019

Dear Listeners,

I’ve reached out the guests from the 2019 season of The Stacks to share with us the best book they read this year. I enjoyed talking to each and everyone of our guests, and hearing from them again is a great way to end the year. Each guest shared with me their favorite read in 2019 and one book they hope to read in 2020.

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.


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

Of course this is a very hard question. I loved two books A LOT: Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev because it’s such a gripping tale of survival and redemption told through a feminist lens, and Shalmiyev is such a gorgeous writer. I also really enjoyed Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion because she’s so smart and, honestly, this woman could write a grocery list and it would be a deeply fun and engaging and insightful read. (I realize I’m adding another here but …) I also finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and I can’t stop thinking about it. I mean, every day it comes up.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 45, and then joined us to discuss All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, Episode 46.


Ben Blacker
Author, Podcaster, and Comedian

I did a lot of reading for homework this year, which included exploring a lot of horror novels and stories I’d somehow missed (turns out We Have Always Lived in the Castle is pretty great!). The books that stayed with me the most of those are two short story collections: Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer and Alexandra Kleeman’s Intimations. Due isn’t afraid of genre. In fact, she leans into everything that makes both horror and short stories wonderful– deftly drawn characters, warm, spooky, dangerous nostalgia, and an immersive sense of place. Kleeman’s stories are wilder, more surreal, and are horror-adjacent. Kleeman is a master at exploring language, and those unexpected turns of phrase somehow inform her characters’ world views; as the author is confined by available linguistic constructs, so are her characters trapped in their own bodies, their own homes. Unnerving and beautiful writing.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Horror Stories by Liz Phair

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 53, and then joined us to discuss The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, Episode 54.


Gabrielle Civil
Performance Artists and Author of Experiments in Joy

In 2019, two of my favorite books insisted on the urgency of life, love, and black feminist creativity. Tembi Locke’s memoir From Scratch swept me away in its depictions of an Italian love affair, cross-cultural family drama, untimely loss, grief, and deep family bonds. Locke’s voice is vibrant and the descriptions of food are mouth watering! More experimental and spare, Aisha Sasha John’s poetry collection I have to live.  transported me from Montreal to North Africa, from dance studios into the poet’s very heartbeat. No matter what happens, John insists on her own observations, insights, and indomitable existence.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Dub by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Gabrielle was our guest for Episode 55, and then joined us to discuss Wild Beuaty by Ntozake Shange, Episode 56.


Joseph Papa
Book Publicist

My favorite read of 2019 was Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister. Though I was a year late to it, it transformed the way I engage in many political discussions. It’s an urgent book that I genuinely think should be required reading for all adults with applications that go far beyond politics. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America by Eric Cervini

Joseph was our guest for Episode 61 , and then joined us to discuss Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler Episode 62.


Lori Gottlieb
Therapist and Author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

My favorite read of 2019 was Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. Olive Kitteridge absolutely slayed me, so I wondered how a sequel could possibly match the original. Turns out that Olive, Again, is possibly even more compelling as we see an older Olive woven into the lives of the residents of Crosby, Maine. Strout’s sentences are gorgeous, her plot twists surprising, her humor razor-sharp, her compassion deep, and her understanding of the human condition moving and profound. Olive is a both highly original and entirely universal, by turns hard to love and entirely lovable, like most of us. If this book doesn’t break your heart in two, make you cry in public or laugh so hard that water spills out of your nose, change the way you see yourself and others, and leave you with a grand sense of hope, you might be a hologram and not a human.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: I’m eagerly awaiting suggestions for what to read in 2020! In fact, I’ll be making good use of this blog post for that very reason!

Lori was our guest for Episode 63 , and then joined us to discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams , Episode 64.


Dave Cullen
Author of Parkland: Birth of a Movement

I was blown away by The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood this year (yes, I was officially the last person to get to it). But I have some advice: when an instant classic comes out, wait 34 years, so you can start the sequel the day after you finish. I DON’T recommend that, but it sure worked out well. I hate waiting! Everything was fresh. (by the way, I also loved The Testaments, though it won’t squeeze into my all-time top ten list like The Handmaid’s Tale).

Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Lori was our guest for Episode 65 , and then joined us to discuss Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson , Episode 66.


Rachel Overvoll
Author of Finding Feminism

My favorite read of 2019 was Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love By Amir Levine, Rachel Heller. This was my favorite read because it dove deep into attachment styles, relationship pit falls, and how to achieve a healthy partnership. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in personal development or personal growth.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Rachel was our guest for Episode 67, and then joined us to discuss Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, Episode 68.


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

My favorite read of 2019 was Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. I read a lot with my 3-year-old daughter and this is one of our favorites. It’s about a boy named Julián who dreams of becoming a mermaid. His grandmother makes a simple, meaningful gesture to affirm his dreams, and then they go on an adventure to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The illustrations are gorgeous and I appreciate that there’s an imaginative children’s book that helps my toddler and me talk about gender.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Dub by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Dani was our guest for Episode 71 , and then joined us to discuss The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, Episode 72.


Allison Punch
Reader and Bookstagrammer, @allisonreadsdc

My favorite book of 2019 was Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown. brown brings Black feminism, sex positivity and harm reduction to talk about how to seek pleasure in all aspects of our lives and thus radically liberate ourselves and others. It was an essential read for me at this point in my life to heal myself and transform the world.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Allison was our guest for Episode 73 , and then joined us to discuss The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, Episode 74.


Sarah Enni
Host of the First Draft Podcast and Author of Tell Me Everything

The book I enjoyed the most in 2019 was The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. A feminist fable retelling set as Christianity was sweeping through the medieval Russian countryside, the magic in this story swept me away.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Sarah was our guest for Episode 77, and then joined us to discuss Educated by Tara Westover, Episode 78.


Chris L. Terry
Author of Black Card

My favorite read of 2019 was Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, an exciting retelling of a 2500-year-old Hindu myth. The story is fast-paced with ornate, bold, and dazzling art, so it was perfect to share with my five-year-old, whose interest in the story had been piqued by a picture of Hanuman moving a mountain.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Chris was our guest for Episode 83, and then joined us to discuss We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Episode 84.


Vanessa Hua
Columnist and Author of A River of Stars

My favorite reads this year include the twisty turns of Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise and Elaine Castillo’s funny and poignant America is Not the Heart.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco by Alia Voz, The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen, and She Votes: How U.S. Women won the Suffrage & What Happened Next by Bridget Quinn

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 91, and then joined us to discuss Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, Episode 92.


Traci Thomas
Host of The Stacks

I read so many wonderful books this year, and one of the standouts was How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. This memoir is all about Jones coming of age as a gay Black man in Texas, his relationship to his mother, and the ways he fought to survive and thrive. The book is so well written, Jones is a poet and his use of language and craft is evident in every sentence.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi


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

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

In her memoir about living with her colon cancer diagnosis and coming to terms with her pending death, Julie Yip-Williams opens herself up to her reader to share her rage, fears, jealousy, and grace. She writes this book with a sense of humor and a commitment to honesty in all its many complexities.

The Unwinding of the Miracle is approachable and human. Yip-Williams presents the many parts of her life, both before cancer as a child in Vietnam and her final months as a mother of two dying from colon cancer, as though she is just reflecting in a journal. She is candid and vulnerable, it is almost as if she forgets there reader is there.

I didn’t cry when I read this book, which comes a bit of a shock to me, because I thought for sure in a memoir about coping with your pending death I would feel the need to cry. I didn’t. I felt bonded to Julie, and of course her story is sad and unfair and painful, but she takes her reader on a journey, where we too feel as though we can accept this terrible diagnosis. That our friend Julie is getting to die in a way that she is okay with. That we too can live our lives with a little more grace. And that we too can get big mad when it comes to slutty-second wives and birthday parties we’ll never get to attend.

While I found Yip-Williams life to be fascinating. I did not connect with her story as much pre-cancer. Perhaps because I knew where it was going, I didn’t really feel like I needed to take much stock in where she had been. For me, that wasn’t the interesting stuff. I was much more compelled with her navigating her own death. I was enthralled with her love for her children. I was moved by her honesty about the challenges that this type of diagnosis can add to a marriage. These sections are what will stick with me most when I think back on The Unwinding of the Miracle.

What is special about what Yip-Willaims has done, is that she asks her reader to reflect on their own lives, their own hopes and fears, without ever once actually asking the reader to do so. She presents her life and hopes that in learning more about her, we will take the time to get to know ourselves more intimately. Especially, while we still have time to live the lives we want, and be the person we’d always hoped we’d be. She leaves her readers with that gift, even in her death.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re looking for a much more in depth reflection on this book, hear our conversation of The Unwinding of the Miracle as part of The Stacks Book Club with author Lori Gottlieb.

Ep.64 The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams — The Stacks Book Club (Lori Gottlieb)

  • Hardcover: 336
  • PublisherRandom House (February 5, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Unwinding of the Miracle Amazon or 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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 64 The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams — The Stacks Book Club (Lori Gottlieb)

New York Times Best Selling author Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone) is back to discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams for The Stacks Book Club. The book provides the reader with a range of emotions as it navigates Yip-Williams’ terminal cancer diagnosis and struggle to die with grace. We discuss our aversion to not having the answers, bucket lists, and how we, as a society, talk about and treat people living with and dying from cancer.
There are no spoilers on today’s 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. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

May 2019 Reading Wrap Up

May is always such a busy month for me with birthdays, graduations, and holidays, and this May was no different. I enjoyed most everything I read, with Ibram X. Kendi’s forthcoming book, How to Be an Antiracist as my clear favorite.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below, and check out reviews of all of these books over on The Stacks Instagram.


May by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 8
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 26

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


A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies. A romp involving four sets of characters whose plots intersect and merge in and around a forrest. While this is a fine play to read, it is a great deal of fun to actually see. There is a ton of physical comedy and sight gags, so it doesn’t fully translate to the page.

I personally love the lovers in this play, and to get more specific, the women lovers. Both Helena and Hermia are smart and sassy and tough as nails. They flip on a dime and their speeches are the most visceral of the whole show. I couldn’t help but want to watch the play the whole time I was reading it. If you’ve not read much Shakespeare this is a good one to start with since there is most likely a summer production being put up in a town near you. If not, check out the film, which is star studded and pretty good adaptation.

Four Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | August 1, 2000 | 352 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


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

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

In her debut novel, Etaf Rum sets out to tell the story of three generations of Palestinian women who are pushing up against the expectation of women in their community and their own hopes for their lives. The book tackles issues like abuse, gender roles, obedience, and freedom. And it has all the makings of something powerful, though the execution fell flat. I found the characters (both male and female) to be under developed and the story to be redundant. I never connected to anyone and figured out the ending within the first few pages.

I appreciate Rum and her effort to tell a story about people we rarely see, but the idea was the strongest part of this book, and not the execution. I wished there had been more nuance and complexity in character and plot development and in the writing. The fact that this book was written and published is a good thing, it is bringing more voices to the table, and for that Rum should be applauded.

Two Stars | Harper | March 5, 2019 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Etaf Rum on the Short Stacks HERE


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

(Photo: amazon.com)

This short little novel about a woman in Japan who lives an unconventional life as a worker at a convenience store is totally delightful. Murata asks her reader to chip away at what it means to be and act human? However she doesn’t take herself too seriously, the book is quirky and fun, while still asking huge questions about humanity. I really enjoyed this book and because it is so short you can read it in a day and reflect on the characters for a long while after.

Three Stars | Grove Press (First English Edition) | June 12, 2018 | 176 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

This was one of my most anticipated books for 2019. After reading Kendi’s National Book Award Winning book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America I knew whatever he wrote next I would need to read, and How to Be an Antiracist does not disappoint. The books is part memoir and part guide to identifying and combatting racist ideas in ourselves and in our culture. Kendi’s main premise is that there is no such thing as a “not racist” person, instead there are only racists thoughts and actions and antiracist thoughts and actions, and these two things can live simultaneously in any human, even Kendi himself.

The book can be read by anyone. Kendi centers his own experiences, thoughts and actions, and uses his racist thinking as a way to connect to his reader. He basically says if I can be racist so can you and in turn we can all be antiracist if we so chose. Kendi takes his experiences and combbines them with more digestable bits of the history that were the majorty of Stamped from the Beginning. If race insterests you even a little, or you feel like you have work to do to embrace antiracism you should check this book out.

Five Stars | One World | August 20, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

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

In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone , Lori Gottlieb shares insights into therapy, she is both the therapist and the patient. The book focuses on five patients, Gottlieb being one of them, and throw us into these sessions and we get to hear what it is like to be on both sides of the couch.

I loved how Lori was able to extrapolate meaning from her sessions and use her patients for proxies for the reader. Two clients really stood out to me, Julie and John, and I won’t say more about either, but their stories were rivietting and a great reminder that everyone is going through something. One thing that Gottlieb doesn through out that is so smart, is that she leaves each section with a bit of a cliffhanger. It simulates what she herfelf must feel when sessions are out of time, just when she is getting somewhere with her clients. I think the book could have benifited from a little more editing because there were times I felt like I was ahead of Gottlieb, and knew what was coming next.

I enjoyed Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It was a very well crafted book about therapy and life and how we all tell our own stories, to ourselves and the world. If you love memoir and want something with heart but not lacking sense of humor, this book is for you.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | April 2, 2019 | 432 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Lori Gottlieb on The Stacks HERE


Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks

(Photo: amazon.com)

When Kim Brooks left her four year old son in car so she could run into target, she wasn’t expecting for a passerby to call the police. But of course, thats exactly what happened, and it set into motion her years long legal battle, and this book. Small Animals is Brooks’ memoir of what happened to her and her family after her “lapse in judgment” and also a look into the broader landscape of modern parenting.

Brooks does a great job researching and presenting not only the state of modern (upper/middle class) parenting, but she also helps her reader understand how we got here. She explains how the need to constantly monitor kids is hurting their autonomy and ability to grow up. She also talks about the amount of anxiety that parents feel now that is exacerbated by social media and mom blogs, and how all that judgement fuels the parent industrial complex. While Brooks does attempt to acknowledge her own White privilege, she doesn’t go far enough in talking about the inequities between White mothers and those Black and Brown mothers who are incarcerated and separated from their children for far less. There is much more to explore at the intersection of race, sex, class, and motherhood.

Despite the omissions, this book is very solid. I enjoyed reading it and I think it makes a great read for parents of young children or those considering becoming parents. Brooks asks us all to look at the sexism and judgement we level against motherhood and the role of women in relationship to children.

Four Stars | Macmillan Publishing | August 21, 2018 | 8 Hours 14 Minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

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

If you’ve ever wondered how you could freshen up your gathering, weather it be a dinner party of a baby shower or a conference, this is a great book for you. Priya Parker has dedicated her life to gatherings and making them resonant and powerful. She shares her triumphs, best practices, and mistakes with her reader in this The Art of Gathering.

Parker states the obvious that we so often take for granted, as well as things that don’t often consider when hosting. One example that sticks out is setting the tone for your gathering. Making sure that your guests know where they are going and why, and no, not just an address. She also suggests that hosts shouldn’t be chill, and that who you keep off the guest list is as important as who you put on it. Parker spends equal time on social gatherings and professional gatherings, and while I didn’t have as much use for the professional gathering ideas, I could still appreciate the lessons. This book really makes you think about the role of gatherings and the roles we play in successful (and unsuccessful) gatherings, and that reflection is well worth it.

Three Stars | Penguin Audio | May 15, 2018 | 9 Hours 21 Minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

(Photo: amazon.com)

Julie Yip-Williams is very much the miracle of her own story. She was born blind in 1970’s Vietnam, and then flees to Hong Kong before she arrives in America and receives surgery to help restore her vision, she becomes a lawyer, gets married, and has children. This story is incredible and inspiring and would have been enough for a great memoir, and yet, that is just where this book starts. The real story here, is that in her 30’s Yip-Williams is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, and from that devastating diagnosis we get the rest of her story.

What makes this book different from other “death memoirs” is that Yip-Williams is relateabble. She is angry, and sad, and jealous, and hopeful, and messy, and all the things that you’d expect from a person confronting death. She is also funny, thankfully. She is a real and well rounded human who takes to her reader in and treats them as a friend and a confidant, not an audience. I enjoyed this book, but never felt fully connected emotionally. I didn’t have the cathartic cry I expected given the subject matter. There were moments where I felt the pangs of emotion, but I never gave in. I never ugly cried. No matter my reaction, this book very much belongs in the canon of books that deal with confronting what exactly it means to be alive.

Three Stars | Random House | February 5, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode HERE


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