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


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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)

workman.com

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.


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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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here