The Stacks Book Club — October 2019

October is known as the spookiest month around, so here at The Stacks we’re interpreting that in our own way. No, we’re not going full out horror, but we are looking at mortality and murder all month long.

We’re kicking off October with The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. This book asks the question, “if you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?”. We follow the four Gold children who seek out a traveling psychic that can tell them when they will die and then we watch to see how each of them choses to live. We’ll be discussing this book on October 9th.

Then on October 23rd we’re diving into a little true crime with Chase Darkness with Me: How One True Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen. This is not your traditional true crime book, instead Jensen shares his own journey as a journalist covering murders and why he took the reigns to solve murders himself. Its a true crime narrative unlike any we’ve seen before. If Jensen’s name sounds familiar to you, its because he is the man who helped to finish Michelle Macnamara’s book I’ll be Gone in the Dark, after she suddenly passed away.

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

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


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

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

The Short Stacks 9: Isaac Butler//The World Only Spins Forward

On April 10th, we will be discussing The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois for The Stacks Book Club. To get you ready for that conversation, we have co-author Isaac Butler on The (not-so) Short Stacks to talk about his background in theatre, how this oral history came to be, the logistics of writing as a duo, and about Isaac’s Shakespeare podcast, Lend Me Your Ears. We cover a lot of ground today, including a detour into the world of chips.

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 Isaac: Isaac’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.


The Stacks received The World Only Spins Forward from the publisher. 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.

Open City by Teju Cole

Open City was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book with actor Behzad Dabu (How to Get Away with Murder, The Chi). If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are spoilers (though I don’t think there is much to spoil in this book).

For more on Open City read here: 

A haunting novel about identity, dislocation, and history, Teju Cole’s Open City is a profound work by an important new author who has much to say about our country and our world.

Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor named Julius wanders, reflecting on his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. He encounters people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey—which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.


In Open City we are paired with a protagonist, Julius, that is our guide, though we never get to know him well enough to care for him. He feels a little unreliable, but mostly, just aloof. He is constantly musing about the world around him, his place in it, what all of that means. He examines art and trauma and humanity and more, through out the course of this book, and because of his thinking, we too are asked to go reflect along with Julius. There is no real plot in the book. It starts, things happen to Julius, he goes on a trip, he meets new people, but mostly life happens and Julius moves forward, and then the book ends.  

What I appreciated most about this book was the variety of issues that Cole asks his readers to engage with. We reflect on the Holocaust, and classical music, on 9/11 and shoe shining. There is a variety of consciousness that Cole presents and that is refreshing. He doesn’t do any deep dives into any one thing, instead, like many people, he scratches the surface of what is in the zeitgeist. In presenting this variety of topics for reflection, Cole brings up some of the most controversial and provocative issues, but right as the thinking gets good and complex he changes the subject. It can feel frustrating, but it also allows the reader to do some reflecting on their own. I also think, Cole is grappling with many of these ideas himself. 

There were times the book felt disjointed. The chapter breaks made no sense. The dialogue was presented without punctuation or paragraph breaks. As soon as a character would start discussing a topic, like Israel and its relationship to Palestine, the subject would abruptly change. The book left me wanting more. It also left me with a lot to think about.

Open City felt like Cole’s musings on life and the futility of life. Things happen and we try to engage and then at some point we carry on. It is simple really, but leads to a sort of frustrating book with beautiful prose. Something that is lovely and also boring and then ugly and then interesting, and then its all over. Perhaps a metaphor for life?

I enjoyed reading this book overall. There were moments I was bored. There were also moments that filled me with energy as I allowed myself to consider things that I had previously taken for granted, for example the role of political parties in The United States. If you’re someone who likes philosophical conversations about hot button issues, this might be a nice pick for you. But be warned, very little happens.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Behzad Dabu discussing Open City

  • Paperback: 259 pages
  • PublisherRandom House Trade Paperbacks; 1 edition (January 17, 2012)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy onOpen City 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. 38 Open City by Teju Cole — The Stacks Book Club (Behzad Dabu)

This week actor Behzad Dabu (How to Get Away with Murder, The Chi) joins us again to discuss Teju Cole’s novel, Open City. The book is a meditation on borders, terror, and belonging set against the back drop of a post 9/11 New York City, and centers a Nigerian immigrant as our guide. This week we discuss the book in detail, there are spoilers, however this book is less about plot and more about big ideas. Listen at your own discretion.

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 Behzad: Behzad’s Website|Behzad’s Instagram|Behzad’s Twitter|Behzad’s Facebook

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 Ensemble by Aja Gabel

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

This is not the kind of book I normally pick up. It is character driven literary fiction, about a topic I have little to no interest in, classical music. But, because the author Aja Gabel was going to be a guest on the podcast (listen to our conversation here), I read The Ensemble and it is proof that I know nothing about my own reading taste.

Here is more information on The Ensemble

Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; on the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest and an angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness Quartet. After the group’s youthful, rocky start, they experience devastating failure and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty. They are always tied to each other – by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry, by choosing each other over and over again.


The Ensemble isn’t real life, its stylized life, life the way you wish it played out. Gabel’s characters say all the things you wish you’d thought to say in a fight, or right before a kiss, or in the throws of grief. They say what you wish you’d thought to say if you weren’t so overwhelmed. Jana, Brit, Henry, and Daniel aren’t common they’re normal with a splash of special. They are precise and piercing. Even their missteps are admirable and attractive. The Ensemble is reality plus. I couldn’t help but think what a great TV show this book would make, filled with gorgeous musicians, emotional outbursts, and a soundtrack that mixes Beethoven with acoustic Prince covers. Shonda Rhymes wishes she wrote this book, it is Grey’s Anatomy but with a string quartet. I mean all of this with such high praise. Sometimes reality isn’t enough. Sometimes you want to be around the beautiful people and watch them be sort of perfect, in failure and success.

Gabel knows her characters. She writes their relationships with a confidence you only gain from knowledge. She understands everyones weaknesses and motivations, who they are, and why. The dialogue and inner monologues are fantastic. She knows how to push their buttons how to turn them on, what makes them tick. As moments unfold, they feel right, I never once thought “Jana would never say that”, because of course she would say that. That is just so Jana.

The plot, which is minimal, doesn’t have its own life. It is the character I am missing in the book. I don’t know that Gabel cares to give us much plot, instead we get glimpses of our quartet. It could be any moment, and Gabel picked this one, and here we are. Sure some are major life moments, but some others feel small and benign. The plot feels a little but like an afterthought in this book. It wasn’t the focus and it wasn’t complex. The book doesn’t really have a start or a finish, we just stop getting invited back. This is the kind of book that many people love, character driven, a study of relationships. And for that, it is done extremely well. I would have loved more events. More action. More.

Oh, and then there is the music. Exactly as it should be. In the background, and sometimes loud and mostly soft and just right.

The Ensemble is simultaneously intimate and vast, with rich writing and complex characters. This book centers the realities of life, but with style. I’m glad I read this book. I never felt Gabel was trying to teach me anything, she didn’t attempt to change the way I see the world. Instead she wrote a beautiful small book about relationships and humanity, and gave them the best words to say, and let me do my thing.

If characters and life and small moments excite you. This is your book. Even if they don’t you still might enjoy this book. It has a magic to it, mostly its simple. What a refreshing thing to be in 2018.

To learn more about Aja and hear her on The Stacks click here.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • PublisherRiverhead Books; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 15, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on The Ensemble 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.

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

I had heard so many amazing things about A Lucky Man from a variety of people and when I saw it long-listed for The National Book Award, I had to pick it up and start reading.

More about A Lucky Man

In the nine expansive stories ofA Lucky Man, fathers and sons attempt to salvage relationships with friends and family members and confront mistakes made in the past. An imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his group from day camp at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege in ways he can barely grasp. A pair of college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And at a capoeira conference, two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history.

Jamel Brinkley’s stories, in a debut that announces the arrival of a significant new voice, reflect the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class―where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.


When you encounter a writer that takes the path less traveled, sometimes the work can feel overwrought and self-important. You sense the labor that went into being clever or different, as if the author is showing off how unique their thinking is compared to everyone around them. That is not the case with Jamel Brinkley and A Lucky Man. Brinkley instead proves himself to be authentically singular with these stories. His characters and events feel fresh and effortless, as if there was no other thing in the world for him to do but write these stories.

I have not read many short story collections and I think there is certainly a muscle needed to switch ones mind quickly between stories, a muscle that allows you to move on seamlessly from one set of characters to the next. I have still yet to develop that muscle. That being said, these stories are strong on their own, they are vulnerable and rich, and tell of life as a Black man in ways I’ve never seen depicted. There are no two dimensional characters in this book, there are no stereotypes. Everyone is layered and nuanced in a way that left me wanting more from many of the stories. I could easily imagine many being turned into movies. Brinkley obviously loves his characters, at times I felt that there is no way he created these people out of thin air, they felt like his loved ones, his real life friends and family somehow turned into fiction. I have no idea if that is true or not, but either way, you could feel the deep connection Brinkley has to the people in his book.

I often struggled transitioning between stories, and sometimes felt like too little happened. I felt unfulfilled. Sometimes so little happened I have forgotten what happened at all. This book is all suspense and sometimes there wasn’t enough payoff. I felt disconnected from the emotion of some of the stories. However, for a debut collection, I am thrilled to see what will come next as I thoroughly enjoyed the process of reading this book, even if it doesn’t stick with me down the road.

My personal favorite stories were “A Family” and “Everything the Mouth Eats”. This book has received much praise from critics and readers alike, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to you.

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 1, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on A Lucky Man 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. 21 Talking Fiction & Hollywood with Becca Tobin

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOur guest this week is Becca Tobin. Becca is most well known as an actress and a co-host of the podcast, Lady Gang. Today we walk  about Becca’s podcast becoming a TV show, how reading helped her deal with grief, and her love of fiction that feels a little like a rom-com.

We cover a lot of topics this week, and its all in the show notes below. Use the links below when you shop on Amazon and iTunes to help support The Stacks.

BOOKS

EVERYTHING ELSE

Connect with Becca: Becca’s Instagram|Lady Gang Instagram|Lady Gang Podcast

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.

Hidrate Spark – for 10% your purchase at hidratespark.com use code TRACI10 (valid through 8/30).

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.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

78BB304E-DA7D-4F9A-BB17-42DF210C020EHere is yet another book I decided to read right away, because the movie is coming. I have read a little James Baldwin here and there and never been disappointed, but to be honest I was in no hurry to read this book, until I saw the trailer for the If Beale Street Could Talk.

If you’re not familiar with the this novel, here is a brief synopsis for you.

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

This book seamlessly marries a fictional story with very clear and searing commentary on injustice in America. Baldwin never wavers in this convictions about racism and the corruptness of the criminal justice system, however these ideas don’t come at the expense of believable characters or dialogue. The people found in this book embody the spirit of Baldwin’s thoughts and they live effortlessly in his words. The interactions feel authentic and the characters all have agency. They are not puppets for Baldwin’s believes, nor are they just there to move the story along.

If Beale Street Could Talk moves between present day and flashbacks, and is told through the eyes of Tish. Baldwin’s economy of words is beyond impressive, with a less skilled writer this book could easily be over 400 pages, but Bladwin keeps the book short and the emotion charged through out. He knows what he is trying to do an he executes. There are scenes in this book that are so tense that I shrieked out loud and had drop the book and walk away for a few moments to get my heart rate down. That kind of writing is not common, it is extraordinary.

While I enjoyed both the main character Fonny and Tish, the supporting characters were the real stars of this book for me. From both of Fonny and Tish’s family to the waiters at a small Spanish restaurant. The world is made vivid through the thoughts and actions of those who live in and around our young lovers.

The only thing I can say that I didn’t love about this book, is that I thought it got off to a slow start. I wasn’t fully invested in the book until about 50 pages in, and in a book thats less that 200 pages, thats a good chunk. However, once I got in, I was hooked.

You should read this book before you see the movie. I would say you should read this book even if you have no intention to see this movie at all. James Baldwin is considered one of the greats for a reason, his work is great. It is that simple.

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.

Broken Bananah: Life, Love, and Sex… Without a Penis by Ross Asdourian

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This book doesn’t fall into my normal reading habits, as a matter of almost fact, I don’t like comedy books. I don’t use my reading time for laughter. However, I picked this book up cause I know the author, and can say I actually experienced part of his journey with him. Not in the way you’re thinking.

This book tells the story of Ross Asdourian, a single man in his 20’s, who breaks his penis during sex. It sounds like a joke, but its not. I won’t talk too much about the details, because the details are what make this book special. You feel like you’re right along with him through it all, even when you wish you weren’t.

Asdourian does an expert job of weaving his personal life, his sex life, and his many past lives together in this memoir. You meet characters along the way (one of which is named after me, so yes, I’m bragging) and they are all quirky and hilarious. I guess when you read a comedy book, you should expect a little hilarity.

That being said, this book isn’t all funny. Broken Bananah also offers a (very) unique perspective on what is important in life and love, and that things could always be worse. Its hard to imagine worse than the potential loss of your main sex organ, but Asdourian puts it all in perspective. He gets vulnerable and honest in a way you don’t typically see in these types of books.

I have to admit, I had very low expectations for this book. When I think of self-published books, I usually think of something close to unreadable. Turns out I don’t know anything and there are plenty of great books that started out by being self published.

If you’re not one for graphic details on sexual intercourse, porn, masturbation, blood, and medical procedure, I can not in good conscious recommend this book to you. This book relies heavily on a good pun for the male anatomy, and is a little crass, which I’m sure you guessed given the title.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think you might too. It isn’t anything I would normally read or enjoy, but turns out I can surprise myself sometimes. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book.

  • Paperback : 182 pages
  • Publisher: Self Published (April 9, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Broken Bananah on Amazon

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 Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes by Sarah Burns

IMG_5205This book falls perfectly in my wheel house, a book about true crime, a book about racial politics in the United States, and a book about the wrongfully convicted. I already knew a lot about this story, and the facts of this case before reading the book, in fact I had already seen the PBS Documentary.  That being said, if you’re not familiar with this story, here is some context.

On April 20th, 1989, two passersby discovered the body of the “Central Park jogger” crumpled in a ravine. She’d been raped and severely beaten. Within days five black and Latino teenagers were apprehended, all five confessing to the crime. The staggering torrent of media coverage that ensued, coupled with fierce public outcry, exposed the deep-seated race and class divisions in New York City at the time. The minors were tried and convicted as adults despite no evidence linking them to the victim. Over a decade later, when DNA tests connected serial rapist Matias Reyes to the crime, the government, law enforcement, social institutions and media of New York were exposed as having undermined the individuals they were designed to protect. Here, Sarah Burns recounts this historic case for the first time since the young men’s convictions were overturned, telling, at last, the full story of one of New York’s most legendary crimes.

As I mentioned I was already keyed into this story. I had seen the documentary years ago and was really moved by it. This book, is written by the same woman, Sarah Burns, who was a co-creator on the film (her father, legendary documentarian Ken Burns, is also a co-creator). Both the book and film share from one another, and I can only imagine how ground shaking this book would be if you were relatively unfamiliar with this story.

Burns does a fantastic job of detailing not only the events of 1989 and 1990, but also recreating the environment and cultural current of the time. She walks us through how something like this could happen; the media frenzy, the racist attitudes, and so much more. Her writing is straightforward, though also a little biased (and I think rightfully so). This is not a “we need to hear both sides of this story” kind of book. In all fairness, the “other side”, the side of the city of New York, has been driving the narrative on the Central Park Five for the last 20+ years. She is righting a wrong. She is setting a record straight.

You can sense Burn’s frustration with the system through out the book. The Central Park Five is a searing indictment of the way that the NYPD and District Attorney’s office handled this case. Burns does lean in a little deeper and remind us that this case could happen to anyone, as the practices used to convict these young men are still very much alive and well in today’s judicial system.

The only thing that this book lacks for me is a deeper connection to the boys who were dubbed The Central Park Five. I wish Burns dove deeper into repercussions these events had on the five teenagers. At the center of this story is not only wrongdoings by the city of New York, but also the story of those who were wronged. This book is more styled to be a piece of journalism chronicling the events, and less and expose on the lives that were altered. I would have loved for it to have done both things.

If you’re not familiar with this story, or the revelations that have come up in the last 15 years, I highly recommend this book, and the documentary. It is also worth noting that Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time) has signed on for a five-episode Netflix series about The Central Park Five set to film this summer. I’m obviously looking forward to this as well.

If you’re familiar with this story or have read the book or seen the documentary I would love to hear from you. Leave your comments below.

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books (May 9, 2012)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy The Central Park Five on Amazon

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.